For a supposedly intelligent man, Obama has made an especially poor choice in his reported choice of Leon Panetta as CIA chief.
To say Panetta is inexperienced in intelligence would be an understatement. He is profoundly inexperienced, even more so than other previous CIA chiefs who came from a basically non-intelligence background. His main qualification appears to be that he was President Clinton’s chief of staff, and yet nevertheless supported Obama in his campaign against Hillary.
Well, I guess the Panetta appointment represents “change.” And we can only “hope” it doesn’t lead to a further and dangerous undermining of the already troubled CIA.
It is a mark of Panetta’s profound lack of qualifications for the job that even Democrat partisans such as incoming chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Diane Fienstein and departing chairman John D. Rockefeller sounded stunned and displeased. Feinstein was particularly upset that she had not been consulted about the choice—never a good move for an incoming President trying to work and play well with Congress—and she made it clear she would have preferred someone with a background in intelligence.
This doesn’t mean Panetta’s confirmation is truly threatened, however. It appears that whatever Obama wants, Obama will get.
The real problem that seems to have led to the appointment of such a complete outsider was that everyone with any sort of background in intelligence was considered tainted by ties to the supposedly nefarious Bush-era CIA, which approved controversial techniques such as waterboarding.
So Obama decided to throw out the baby (intelligence) with the bathwater (coercive interrogation techniques). To find a CIA head with the properly squeaky clean hands, Obama had to find one with no hands-on experience at all. Panetta fit the bill, since he not only had the requisite lack of background, but he had also been outspoken in his condemnation of all CIA practices that could conjure up any suggestion that they might arguably represent torture. Therefore he was doubleplusgood.
Panetta’s inexperience might not have made that much of a difference with a President who was not a complete neophyte himself. But unfortunately, Obama has no more credentials than Panetta has in that arena. What’s more, Obama recently appointed as Director of National Intelligence retired Navy Admiral Dennis Blair, who likewise has no experience in intelligence.
This makes for quite a troika. As blogger “Spook86,” who represents himself as being a former intelligence officer, says, it “doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.” No, not exactly.
It’s not as though we are in an era right now in which intelligence is relatively unimportant. It is widely conceded that it is vital. Does Obama not think so? Does he consider it an afterthought? Does he feel that PC considerations and placating the left wing of his party trump finding a competent person to head the intelligence community? Or does he think all that’s required is to be a good administrator, and the rest can be learned on the job? If so, is this an extension of the hubris that has plagued him from the very start of his campaign?
[ADDENDUM: The WSJ wonders if this signals an upcoming purge in the CIA of all persons associated with the "torture" years. If so, the entire agency would end up staffed by neophytes. How very reassuring that would be.]