President-elect Obama has made his first completely incomprehensible appointment: Leon Panetta for CIA Director. No, I’m serious. Clinton OMB Director and Chief of Staff to head a key intelligence agency. One can refer to him as an “experienced bureaucrat” (to be kind) or a “Clinton crony” (to be blunt). Granted, he is not an ideologue nor is he ethically challenged, as some of the other appointees. But he does not remotely approach the stature of the other national security team members, nor does he bring any particular expertise to this key role.
His Congressional career is devoid of any significant national security experience. And while he did serve on the Iraq Study Group ( so did Sandra Day O’Connor) that group’s recommendation — a slow-motion retreat from Iraq and rejection of a military option for victory — has been proven faulty.
The question looms:why him? A colleague directs me to a skeptical New York Times report which suggests the reasoning behind the pick:
President-elect Barack Obama has selected Leon E. Panetta, the former congressman and White House chief of staff, to take over the Central Intelligence Agency, an organization that Mr. Obama criticized during the campaign for using interrogation methods he decried as torture, Democratic officials said Monday. Mr. Panetta has a reputation in Washington as a competent manager with strong background in budget issues, but has little hands-on intelligence experience.
So if the criteria for the post are loyalty to the Democratic party and vocal criticism of the Bush administration, Panetta would become a more logical pick. But that hardly seems appropriate in these dangerous times. Now is not the the time for an entirely political appointment to a key national security position. On a day when Bill Richardson’s withdrawal is being chewed over you have to wonder what is going on with the Obama transition team. Really, Leon Panetta at CIA?
UPDATE: Two Democratic Senate Intelligence Committe veterans, Sen. Diane Feinstein and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, slam the Panetta pick. They apparently think we need an intelligence professional to run an intelligence agency. How whacky is that?