Leon Panetta sworn in as new secretary of defense

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Gates, who ran the Pentagon for 4½ years, also hands to Panetta the challenge of implementing a repeal of the two-decade-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prohibits gays from serving openly in uniform. Preparations within the military for ending the gay ban are said to have gone well, but the historic change carries the potential for disruption or discontent. It will fall to Panetta to manage a smooth transition.

Leon Panetta (right) replaces Robert Gates as the new Secretary of Defense. (Photo: Associated Press)

Adams, now a professor of international relations at American University, said Panetta has the advantage of being close to Obama and having enduring friendships on Capitol Hill. He served 16 years in the House, including the last four as chairman of the House Budget Committee.

"Republicans and Democrats alike have always found Panetta very user-friendly," Adams said. "He gets along with people."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has called Panetta a "home run choice" by Obama to succeed Gates. The Senate approved his nomination last week on a 100-0 vote and he was being sworn in at the Pentagon on Friday morning.

Panetta also is well positioned to continue what Gates has called one of his most important bureaucratic accomplishments: a productive relationship with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

State and Defense have a long history of friction, but Gates locked arms with Clinton in an effort to minimize conflict. Panetta already has a longstanding friendship with her, having worked in the Clinton White House while she was first lady.

In 2006 Panetta served alongside Gates on the Iraq Study Group, where he revealed himself to be a skeptic of the war. He urged a U.S. strategy that would bring combat forces out of Iraq and redirect the military's efforts to focus on al-Qaida and training Iraqi security forces. He later called the war "divisive, unstable and dangerous."

On his watch later this year, Panetta may face an Iraqi government request that some of the roughly 47,000 U.S. forces still in the country stay beyond the end of this year, when all U.S. troops are supposed to go home.

Erudite, gregarious and a savvy political operator, Panetta began his public life as a Republican. He served in the Nixon administration as a special assistant to the secretary of Health, Education and Welfare and as director of the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. He switched to the Democratic Party in the 1970s and was first elected to the House in 1976.

Panetta was born in Monterey, Calif., and earned a bachelor of arts degree in political science and a law degree, both from Santa Clara University. He served in the Army as an intelligence officer from 1964 to 1966.

In his farewell speech on the Pentagon's ceremonial parade ground Thursday, Gates joked that Panetta should take a lesson from Gates' example as a former CIA director who arrived at the Pentagon expecting a short tenure.

"My parting advice for Leon," Gates said, "is to get his office just the way he likes it. He may be here longer than he thinks."

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