One of the more frequent criticisms of President Bush held that he often placed loyalty above all other considerations, and put those who had shown him the greatest loyalty into positions for which they were (to put it kindly) not cut out. The most frequently cited example is probably former FEMA Director Michael “Brownie” Brown, who became a lightning rod for criticism over the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Bush’s aborted nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court also comes to mind.
This was the sort of thing that many of Bush’s detractors said they Hoped would Change under a new, Democratic president — such as, say, Barack Obama.
While many of Obama’s nominees are certainly of debatable merit (and there will be some very interesting debates in the Senate when those nominees come up for approval), there is one nomination that is garnering tremendous criticism from both sides of the aisle already: Leon Panetta as Director of Central Intelligence. Panetta is an extremely capable and accomplished individual. He served in both the Nixon and Clinton administrations, as well as Congress. He headed up the federal budget process for both the legislative branch (as chairman of the House Budget Committee) and the executive (as Bill Clinton’s Director of OMB). He holds a law degree, and has had a legal career of some renown. And in the 1960’s, he did a two-year stint as an officer in the U.S. Army, entering as a 2nd Lieutenant and getting promoted twice before leaving as a Captain.
But never in his storied career has he done anything that would even hint at an aptitude for intelligence.
Some of Panetta’s experiences and skills would certainly serve him well at the CIA. He would be good at making sure the Agency stays within its budget and uses its funding most efficiently. He would keep the Agency from getting too close to breaking laws. And his lengthy experiences in government would help him maintain good relations with other agencies and government bodies.
But those are all peripheral to the primary task of the CIA: to collect information, analyze it, and manage it to best uphold our national security.
We’ve seen, far too often, what happens when the CIA fails. The price is often paid in blood — American blood. “Failures of Intelligence” are often cited as the prime factors in the success of the 9/11 attacks. Such failures also lie at the heart of the the Saddam-WMD mistake. And now Barack Obama — for whatever reason — wants to put in charge of the CIA a man with literally zero experience in intelligence, espionage, and covert operations.