The security reshuffle

The President’s national security team is in need of remaking. The first reason is the long-held desire of Hillary Clinton to step down. Her reasons have not been made public. Perhaps she is planning a presidential run in 2016, but that does not matter. The fact is that the president needs a new Secretary of State.

He is also in need of a new Director of the CIA. David Petraeus is the one appointee this columnist suggested a President Romney would be wise to keep in place, but things have moved on, and Petraeus has quit. There is some confusion surrounding the circumstances of his resignation, and the president would be wise to get to the bottom of this before appointing Clinton’s replacement.

The proximate cause of Petraeus’s resignation is that he had an affair. It is thought – apparently by the general himself – that for someone in so delicate a position to leave himself open to blackmail is a clear misjudgment. Though the possibility of blackmail has now disappeared, since the affair is now public, the misjudgment itself is thought so bad as to force resignation. But how widely should this standard be applied? The Commander in Chief of all US forces had an affair in the 1990s. And what if a Treasury Secretary should similarly render himself vulnerable? The Treasury sees a great deal of market sensitive data – something much more commercially valuable than anything to which the CIA is privy.

Is there something more to emerge? The administration’s description of the tragic events which led to the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans has shifted as more information has become public. At first it was a spontaneous demonstration against a YouTube trailer for a bad film that got out of hand. (Read: not our fault). Only later did it emerge that it seems to have been a long-planned attack by a terrorist group. At this point, it seems reasonable to ask, could, or should, the administration have anticipated this, and taken steps to secure the consulate? Petraeus was due to answer those questions before Congress when he resigned. It seems reasonable to ask if the administration knew this was a long-planned terrorist assault while they were still trying to peddle the line that it was a spontaneous demonstration.

As Howard Baker put it, in a different context, “what did the president know and when did he know it?” Perhaps more pertinently in the immediate sense, what did the Ambassador to the UN know, and when did she know it, since Susan Rice is the president’s favored candidate to succeed Hillary Clinton. The Senate will wish to enquire into this and the ambassador’s nomination could stall over her answers to these questions. 

No smoking gun has come to light, and none may ever do so. Perhaps the president knows his ambassador has nothing to hide. But given the uncertainties surrounding Ambassador Rice’s position, the president may be hoping that Secretary Clinton is willing to stay on for a few months, until the Benghazi situation has been thoroughly investigated. 

John Kerry may hope that the position of Susan Rice will become untenable. He has coveted the State Department for some time and is said to be uninterested in Defense.  This columnist does not approve of his nomination for either, but thinks him more manifestly unsuited for the Pentagon. 

Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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