In the most recent Obama administration shake up, Bob Gates will be leaving the Department of Defense, Leon Pannetta will move from the CIA to DoD, General David Petraeus will move from Afghanistan to the CIA and Ryan Crocker will move from Texas A&M (from whence came Bob Gates) to Afghanistan. As in the previous major changes in the White House staff and the economic team, competent, experienced hands are being replaced by…competent experienced hands. And so as Rahm Emanuel became Bill Daley and Larry Summers became Gene Sperling, we witness another changing of the guard designed to right the course of this haphazardly lurching administration that cannot seem to find its footing either at home or abroad.
The problem is that the root of the issue may not lie with the staff, but rather with the person doing the staffing.
Looking at this most recent reorganization, I have to ask what it will achieve? Putting partisanship aside, I do not question the competence of Panetta, Petraeus and Crocker, or their patriotism. They are all proven public servants, and certainly as qualified to hold their new positions as many who have come before them. But these appointments promise little improvement in our foreign policy and national security, which continues to be directed by a President who cannot or will not get his team moving in a coherent direction.
Mr. Obama famously campaigned on a message of change, and in general change can be good–that is if it is change with a purpose. But there is a sort of grim sameness to these changes. More “gown-ups” are being called in, more of the non-partisan career types who will make the trains run on time. But it is increasingly apparent that these trains, even if they be efficiently managed high-speed ones, have no particular destination and we are in a global situation in which a lack of policy is even worse than a bad policy.
The best hope is that the President will shake himself free from his inclination to respond to individual events based on the recommendation of the loudest voice in the room at the moment–perhaps in the hopes of silencing the ruckus–and develop a serious vision for his foreign policy team. That hope, however, may prove to be as ephemeral as Mr. Obama’s campaign rhetoric. We will more likely settle for hoping Messrs. Panetta, Petraeus, and Crocker (and is it cynical to expect we are going to hear Mr. Gates’ name again before January, 2012?) can hold things together in their respective fiefdoms for the next twenty months, and that we don’t encounter too many icebergs in the interim.