Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A Mistake We Cannot Afford To Make

President elect Barack Obama has made a rare and unusual mistake in building an otherwise talented and able Executive team. But it is so serious mistake it puts his Presidency and our entire country at risk. The selection of Leon Edward Panetta to lead the Central Intelligence Agency is a game changing, and possibly a life changing, error.

I'll discussed Panetta's serious disqualifications for the job momentarily. But the very reason Obama made such a poor choice is equally important. Barack Obama clearly wanted a more experienced and qualified leader at this critical time.

Pamela Hess, writing for the Associated Press, tracks the rocky road that led to the Panetta designation. Hess writes, in her article
Obama's intel picks short on direct experience:

The Obama transition team's long delay in selecting CIA and national intelligence directors is a reflection of the complicated demands of the jobs and Obama's own policies and priorities.

The search for Obama's new CIA chief had been stalled since November, when John Brennan, Obama's transition intelligence adviser, abruptly withdrew his name from consideration. Brennan said his potential nomination had sparked outrage among civil rights and human rights groups, who argued that he had not been outspoken enough in his condemnation of President George W. Bush's policies.

And despite an internal list of former and current CIA officials who had impressive administrative credentials, all either worked in intelligence during the Bush administration's development of controversial policies on interrogation and torture or earlier, during the months leading up to the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

In short, Obama's political promises during the campaign and intense pressure from the far left thwarted Obama's natural inclination to chose talented and experienced leaders. But Panetta is a compromise in one area where compromise is both unwise and unwarranted.

Forced to compromise, Obama made perhaps the only choice left to him. Leon Panetta is a bright, experienced and talented executive. I have always liked Panetta. He is honest and loyal. As President Clinton's Chief of Staff Panetta was a pragmatic and detailed, if uninspired and unimaginative, manager. He can be trusted by President Obama.

But Panetta has virtually no experience in areas of either covert intelligence or military affairs. And his pontifications in these areas reflect a naivete that is positively frightening. And he has generally spoken out against the agency, it's leaders and activities. His record is one of reducing both the size, scope and funding of the agency. It can't be a surprise that rumblings from within the intelligence community are so very negative.

Again quoting from the AP report:

Veterans of the CIA were caught off guard by the selection.

"I'm at a loss," said Robert Grenier, a former director of the CIA's counterterrorism center and 27-year veteran of the agency who now is managing director of Kroll, a security consulting company.

The lack of intelligence experience puts Panetta at "a tremendous disadvantage," Grenier told The Associated Press in an interview.

"Intelligence by its very nature is an esoteric world. And right now the agency is confronted with numerous pressing challenges overseas, and to have no background is a serious deficit. I don't say that he can't succeed. It may that he can compensate for the obvious deficit."

The fear among many in the intelligence community is that Panetta will gut the agency just at the moment it was finally regaining the size, scope and strength it needs to defend America against it's modern enemies of religious fanatics and terrorist organizations.

The dismantling and mismanagement of the CIA under the Clinton administration is often cited as a reason the agency missed key advance information about the al-Qaeda attack on 9/11. The weak and mismanaged agency also misread the information about the Iraq threat and "weapons of mass destruction."

Now is not the time to place a novice in charge of a key defense agency. Nor is it the time to tear down the agency in order to rebuild it later.

The President elect needs to rethink this nomination.


Vigilante said...

I have to grant you, Wizard, that you make some strong points here. I am not a fan of this appointment from several perspectives.

Stella by Starlight said...

I'm unsure about Pannetta. I do know Panetta's accomplished a lot for education in California, but that has nothing to do with the heading the CIA.

I don't have anything against the man personally, just that his lack of experience in intelligence unnerves me. You've left me with some facts to consider.

Great post, Wizard.