Former Congressman Leon Panetta, who served as budget director and chief of staff to President Clinton before being appointed to lead the CIA by Barack Obama, was confirmed in a 100-0 vote by the U.S. Senate today to take over for outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Panetta oversaw the U.S. military operation that captured and killed Osama bin Laden early in May, which no doubt burnished his reputation and helped guarantee his confirmation by a body that refused to even vote on whether a Nobel Prize-wining economist could serve at the Federal Reserve.
He will be the first Democrat to lead the Pentagon since 1997. Panetta will oversee the military when all indications point to the president outlining a substantial drawdown from Afghanistan during a speech Wednesday, reducing forces to their lowest level since the “surge” of late 2009. Nonetheless, roughly double the number of American soldiers will be in that country as when Obama took office, leaving room to his left for a less hawkish candidate–like former Utah Gov. and China Ambassador Jon Huntsman, who has galled the Republican establishment with his calls for relatively rapid withdrawal–to claim the anti-war vote, a bloc that backed the president in 2007 and 2008 because he opposed the Iraq War from the start.