Obama's challenge deepens in naming a new security team
BY BEN FELLER Associated Press
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
11/14/12 at 2:55 AM
WASHINGTON - Barely a week after winning re-election, President Barack Obama suddenly confronts a deepening challenge in assembling a new national security team, his task complicated by a scandal that has cost him a CIA chief and raised doubts about his Afghanistan war commander.
Hard questions from Congress, potentially bitter confirmation hearings and a scandal of infidelity and inappropriate emails are suddenly shaping the fight ahead. The White House portrayed a president focused on the economy and confident in his military and intelligence leadership, but clearly not thrilled.
When asked if the personnel troubles were an unwelcome distraction, presidential spokesman Jay Carney said: "I certainly wouldn't call it welcome."
Obama was already expecting to have to replace his chief diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and perhaps his defense secretary, Leon Panetta. Those two alone - plus Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who is also leaving - help shape Obama's thinking and represent him before the world.
Now Obama is without his CIA director, David Petraeus, the once acclaimed military general in Iraq and Afghanistan who resigned in disgrace last week over an extramarital affair.
The details of that scandal keep expanding Tuesday, including the revelation that the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, is under investigation by the Pentagon for potentially inappropriate communications with another woman in the case. That, in turn, has frozen Allen's nomination to be the next commander of U.S. European Command and the commander of NATO forces in Europe, which casts more doubt about a military leadership in which each move affects another.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Obama put Allen's nomination on hold at the request of Panetta.
The general succeeded Petraeus as the top American commander in Afghanistan in July 2011 and has been working with Panetta on how best to pace the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Even beyond the surprise difficulties, Obama could have trouble with the rest of his high-stakes turnover.
When Clinton leaves, a favorite to replace her is Susan Rice, an Obama loyalist who serves as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She could face a bruising confirmation hearing given that she was the first face of the administration's maligned explanation of the fatal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
"She's clearly going to have a little more difficult time than she would have if she hadn't gone out on all those talk shows," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., the second-ranking Senate Republican. Kyl is retiring at year's end and likely would not get a vote on Rice, but he said: "As of right now, I wouldn't support her."
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Rice could have a difficult time winning confirmation, although he didn't take a position.
"I'm concerned about the fact that she went on Sunday shows and said it was the product of a spontaneous uprising as opposed to a terrorist attack,'' Rubio said. "Why did they wait so long to publicly ...change their position on it? I think she'd have to answer questions about that, no doubt about it."
The unfolding Petraeus story caused a commotion on Capitol Hill as well, as lawmakers complained that they should have been told about the investigation earlier.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called the latest revelations "a Greek tragedy."
Acting CIA Director Michael Morell met with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and ranking Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia on Tuesday, to explain the CIA's understanding of events that led Petraeus to resign.
That session came ahead of meetings with the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, according to congressional aides.
The chairman and top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee said their panel would go ahead with Thursday's scheduled confirmation hearing on the nomination of Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who is to replace Allen as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, if Allen is indeed promoted.
Original Print Headline: Tough task for security team
Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks to reporters about Libya on Tuesday on Capitol Hill in Washington. ALEX BRANDON/Associated Press