Commentary Magazine

Panetta — Not Right for the Job

The news that CIA Director Leon Panetta has canceled a secret program that would have, if carried out properly, covertly killed top al Qaeda leaders, has dominated recent headlines. That’s right — not the lowly al-Qaeda operatives that American forces have been targeting in Afghanistan for the last eight years, but top leaders who have been elusively traversing the territories of Afghanistan and Pakistan, plotting terrorist attacks against the United States of America at home and abroad.

That a program of this nature exists should be a non-starter. If our intelligence community is not hunting down our enemies, then what exactly are they doing? The real story is that Panetta has not the stomach to implement this program fully. It’s helpful to recall the criticism levied at Obama and Panetta when the nomination for CIA director was announced:

The selection pairs a top military man with a quintessential Washington insider – but that combination appeared to irk some key Senate Democrats, who expressed concern that Panetta does not have an intelligence background. “My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time,” said California Sen. Diane Feinstein, who will oversee Panetta’s confirmation as chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence.

Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), the vice chairman of the committee, also questioned the choice of Panetta. “Job number one at the CIA is to track down and stop terrorists. In a post-9-11 world, intelligence experience would seem to be a prerequisite for the job of CIA Director. While I will reserve final judgment on President-elect Obama’s nomination for the leader of our terror-fighting agency, I will be looking hard at Panetta’s intelligence expertise and qualifications.”

And in a quintessential Washington-insider move, Panetta revealed the secret plans for this program soon after hearing about it. In this case, Senators Feinstein and Bond were exactly right: Leon Panetta is not the right man for the job.

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