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Obama's new foreign-policy and security team: Could Colin Powell be on it?

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“I just don’t see him pushing any new initiative in terms of Middle East peace, not right away,” he adds. “And he certainly won’t be launching any kind of military involvement in Syria or Iran.”  

Some presidents' second terms have had a sharper foreign policy tilt than their first, but the dense domestic agenda suggests that Obama’s case could be the reverse, at least initially. Obama launched an ambitious Middle East initiative his first week in office, and delivered a series of big-themed speeches in foreign capitals in his first six months.

The out-of-the-blocks domestic focus, coupled with the departure of at least one top cabinet member handling foreign policy, means Obama will need to put in place in relatively short order a foreign-policy and national security team that he can rely on.

That team is expected to have some big shoes to fill.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has long said she would step down at the end of Obama’s first term, although recently she has said she would be willing to stay on board – perhaps for a couple of months – until a replacement is confirmed.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has not spoken publicly of any plans to leave his post. But Pentagon watchers note that Secretary Panetta spends almost every weekend at his home in California, and they speculate that he may decide to step down at some point next year.

The departure of Secretary Clinton and, potentially, Panetta could set in motion a game of musical chairs in the administration, with perhaps a new face or two joining some familiar administration faces for a reshuffling of foreign-policy and national security assignments.

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