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Obama's new national security team faces major challenges

President Obama's new national security team, headed by Leon Panetta and General David Petraeus, has a wealth of experience. But it faces major challenges, especially in Afghanistan.

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Mr. Panetta (who began his political life as a Republican before switching to the Democratic Party) spent 16 years as a member of Congress from California, a background that should help in his Senate confirmation process as well as in selling the administration’s Pentagon budget to lawmakers. Gates reportedly recommended Panetta as his replacement.

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As commander of the US-led multinational force in Iraq and then in Afghanistan – between which assignments he headed the US Central Command overseeing all US military activity in the Middle East and Central Asia – Gen. Petraeus was the US military’s most senior battlefield consumer of intelligence information.

“Over the last ten years, the military and the CIA have drawn closer and closer together, largely as a result of these two wars,” former deputy CIA director John McLaughlin told Politico. “The military and the CIA have been cheek-and-jowl ever since Iraq…. There’s a comfort level between these two cultures that is more developed than it was some years ago.”

Bipartisan support for Obama's picks

So far, Obama’s picks to head his national security team are getting bipartisan plaudits.

“I could not be more pleased with these selections,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services Committee. “I hope these nominees receive swift approval by the United States Senate.”

Sen. Graham called Panetta “an outstanding choice” and Petraeus “a national treasurer,” and he said, “I have never met a diplomat more capable than Ryan Crocker.”

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Dianne Feinstein (D) of California praised the choices as well.

Still, regarding Petraeus at CIA she made a point of noting that being “a consumer of intelligence” is “a different role than leading the top civilian intelligence agency.” It wasn’t the first time that Feinstein had expressed concern about the militarization of the gathering, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence – including its use as a guide to congressional decisions.

Others have noted that Petraeus and the CIA have differed over the degree of progress in Afghanistan.

The US-led effort there has seen recent setbacks, including the recent escape of hundreds of Taliban fighters and the killing of eight US troops and a civilian contractor by a veteran Afghan military pilot.

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