In a major national security reshuffling, President Barack Obama announced Thursday afternoon four new appointments, a new team that Obama said will help the United States "stay focused on our missions, maintain our momentum, and keep our nation secure."
Obama nominated Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as the new CIA director, and sent the incumbent CIA Director Leon Panetta to the Pentagon to replace the retiring Robert Gates.
Gates, the well-praised Republican secretary of defense, is planning to leave his five-year post on June 30 at age 67. Obama said Gates, a Bush holdover who had gained Obama's trust, will be remembered as "one of the finest defense of secretaries in American history."
"When I took office, Bob Gates had already served under seven presidents, and he carried a clock that counted down the days, hours, and minutes until he could return to Washington state with his wife Becky," Obama said, with Gates, Panetta, Petraeus, and other officials standing next to him at the White House.
"And as a grateful nation, we can all agree that Bob has more than earned the right to return to private life, which he has decided to do at the end of June," said Obama, who originally convinced Gates to serve for one more year, and later extended that by at least another year.
The Democratic Panetta, who has served as the spy agency head for a little over two years, is assumed to get confirmed by the Senate in time to start his new job on July 1.
Obama said Petraeus will take over Panetta's position by the beginning of September, pending Senate confirmation. Between July and September, the CIA may require an interim director.
"After nearly 40 years in uniform, including leading American and coalition forces in some of the most challenging military missions since 9/11, David Petraeus will retire from the Army that he loves to become the next CIA director," Obama said.
Petraeus' job is to be filled by Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Allen in September. Announcing the most extensive national security team shake-up since he took office, Obama also picked Ryan Crocker as the next U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.
"These are the leaders that I've chosen to help guide us through the difficult days ahead," Obama said.
After the realignment, the new team will help set strategy on the transition in Afghanistan, turmoil in the Middle East, and defense budget battles at home in Washington.
With both Petraeus and Gates leaving their posts, both of whom were extensively involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Obama's goal of a planned reduction of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in July also seems more on track.