Commentary Magazine


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It Might Be His Finest Moment

Kimberley Strassel observes that Leon Panetta has become the administration’s ”fall guy” for the CIA. She recounts the damage done to his agency, which started with the release of the enhanced interrogation memos:

Arguing against the full release of these memos was Mr. Panetta and four prior CIA directors. Disclosure, they said, would damage national security. Arguing for their release was Mr. Holder, and White House General Counsel Greg Craig, who articulated the views of Moveon.org. The president threw the left some red meat, refusing even Mr. Panetta’s pleas to redact certain sensitive details.

True, the president showed up at the CIA a few days later to reassure Mr. Panetta’s demoralized troops. Don’t “be discouraged” that you’ve “made mistakes,” the president said, smiling, as Mr. Panetta stood grimly by. “That’s how we learn.” Mr. Obama vowed to be “vigorous in protecting” the organization. Later, at the White House, he announced plans to release photos showing detainee abuse—at the demand of the ACLU.

Then came House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s full-frontal assault, claiming the agency had lied to her about waterboarding.

And then this week’s outrage:

Reversing prior promises not to prosecute CIA officials who “acted in good faith,” Mr. Holder appointed a special counsel with the ability to prosecute officials who acted in good faith. This was paired with release of a 2004 CIA report that the administration spun as more proof of agency incompetence. As a finishing touch, the White House yanked the interrogation program out of Mr. Panetta’s hands, relocating it with the FBI.

Well it’s not quite right to say Panetta is the “fall guy”—he’s the guy being run over by the Holder/Obama/netroot truck. He’s not being held responsible for the assault on the CIA; he’s being ignored.

Those in key Washington jobs hate to walk away. The proximity to power, even if they don’t wield it, can be intoxicating. And there are always supporters whispering in your ear: “Stay! It’d be worse if you weren’t there.” In Panetta’s case, it’s hard to see how. And it’s even harder to see why Panetta, if he truly believes all Obama administration decisions imperil his agency and national security, would remain. He’s had a long run in Washington and gained a fair measure of bipartisan support. Sometimes the most memorable and impressive thing a Washington insider can do is quit. At least it would force the Obama team, for a fleeting moment, to listen to what he has to say.