Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Panetta Kerfuffle

I have been reading, hearing, watching all day the criticism of Barack Obama's pick of Leon Panetta to head the CIA. I am absolutely baffled by the criticism over this pick, much of which is aimed at Panetta's supposed lack of intelligence experience. My sense is that when Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), the incoming chair of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, felt slighted by not being informed of the Panetta pick in advance of the news and criticized the pick, others, including many Republicans, saw an opportunity to pile on.

There are a number of reasons why the criticism of the Panetta pick is asinine:

1. As a very successful White House chief of staff (1994-7) who was largely responsible for turning around a wobbly Clinton presidency, Panetta demonstrated great management skills--a must for CIA Director. Also as chief of staff, Panetta was one of the chief consumers of the intel coming from CIA.

2. As Paul Begala pointed out on CNN tonight, as OMB Director (1993-4), Panetta oversaw the CIA's budget including the so-called black budget that few get to see. Also, as OMB Director, you need good budget and management skills which he has demonstrated.

3. Panetta was part of the Iraq Study Group.

4. Not all CIA Directors come from CIA ranks or the intelligence field. George H.W. Bush had little intel background when he served in that capacity under President Ford.

5. Nor does an intel background guarantee success. George Tenet was a company man. How'd that turn out?

6. As a 16 year veteran of Capitol Hill, Panetta knows how to lobby on behalf of an agency or cause. Former members of Congress make great lobbyists.

The criticism and trashing of Panetta, a well-respected public servant by individuals on both sides of the aisle, is mere politics. I suspect and hope the President-elect will not cave in and withdraw the pick. Panetta would make a fine addition to the Obama administration.

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