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How Leon Panetta could change Washington as next Defense secretary

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This could, in turn, portend policy changes. “The power narrative of this administration on security issues has been an alliance between Clinton and Gates against the vice president and the national security adviser,” Dr. Biddle says. “From what I can tell, neither of the camps has ever persuaded the other of its views, and neither one has made much effort at breaking into the other’s fortress. What you get is a series of compromised stalemates.”

More shifts are in store for Obama’s national security team. The current term of Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ends later this year. He is widely expected to be replaced by Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

On Thursday, Obama will also announce a new ambassador to Afghanistan: veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker.

For now, the role of the next Defense secretary looms largest. Someone more closely aligned with Mr. Biden, analysts point out, could conceivably spur a renewed push for a speedier withdrawal from Afghanistan. Panetta is a longtime friend of Biden, with whom he served in Congress, and they have a history of supporting each other in White House power struggles.

During his time at the CIA, Panetta has intensified drone strikes against insurgents in Pakistan – an approach that Biden, too, has supported.

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