Analysis: For Obama, scandal complicates moves on Cabinet, national security

Tue Nov 13, 2012 7:31pm EST
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By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A week after winning a second term, President Barack Obama faces a widening scandal within his national security team that complicates plans to reshape his Cabinet and could reverberate through decisions on the war in Afghanistan, the fight against al Qaeda and efforts to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.

The White House sought on Tuesday to limit the fallout from an FBI probe that led to the resignation of CIA director David Petraeus because of an extramarital affair, and now involves General John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. U.S. defense officials are looking into a series of "flirtatious" emails Allen sent to a woman at the center of the Petraeus case.

White House spokesman Jay Carney rejected the notion that the scandal could undermine Americans' safety. He said Obama had confidence in Allen to continue "ably" commanding U.S. forces in Afghanistan while the investigation proceeds and expressed faith in the CIA's acting director, Michael Morell.

Obama "has confidence in the military to carry out the various missions that he has asked them to carry out," Carney said.

Even so, the scandal - which comes as Obama already was preparing to fill other key vacancies in his national security team - makes for an embarrassing sendoff to the president's first post-election trip abroad, a three-nation Southeast Asia tour starting this weekend.

In an attempt to stabilize his national security team and get the scandal behind him, Obama may decide to accelerate key personnel moves that could ripple through his administration.

He must pick a successor for departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and national security adviser Tom Donilon are among those likely to get consideration.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has long been rumored to be leaving; among those mentioned as possible replacements are Kerry, Panetta's deputy Ashton Carter, and Michele Flournoy, who was Panetta's policy chief before stepping down this year. Flournoy would become the first woman to serve as America's defense chief.   Continued...

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency General David Petraeus attends the Allen & Co Media Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho July 12, 2012. Petraeus resigned as CIA director on November 9, 2012 he publicly admitted to having engaged in an extramarital affair. Picture taken July 12, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart