Leon Panetta

PEBO’s selection of a distinctly non-Company man to head the Central Intelligence Agency is raising a lot of eyebrows:

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.

Yet the choice encountered early opposition on Capitol Hill, with some senior Democrats questioning why the president-elect would pick a C.I.A. chief without a deep reservoir of intelligence or counterterrorism experience.

“My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein who, as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, would be in charge of Mr. Panetta’s confirmation.

Senator Feinstein said that she had not been notified by Mr. Obama’s transition team about the selection.

Apparently, Feinstein and Jay Rockefeller (the previous Intelligence Committee chair), had their hearts set on Steve Kappes.

Matthew Yglesias thinks it would have been nice if Feinstein and Rockefeller had questioned the president’s intelligence judgments back in 2003:

Not to be mean about this, but I wish Sens Feinstein and Rockefeller had shown such concern about pushing back against the executive branch on intelligence matters back when, as members of the Intelligence Committee, both decided to back the invasion of Iraq rather than doing their jobs and calling attention to the problems with the intelligence the administration was presenting. Somehow other members of the SSIC like Dick Durbin and Carl Levin managed to figure out what was going on.

Matt doesn’t buy the argument that Panetta’s lack of direct intelligence experience disqualifies him for DCI:

With regard to the Panetta situation, it’s worth noting that not only has it never been the case that the CIA Director must be a career intelligence professional, it’s also long been the case that past service as a White House Chief of Staff has been viewed as a wide-ranging qualification for future public office. Alexander Haig became Secretary of State. Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney both went on to serve as Secretary of Defense. James Baker become Secretary of Treasury and Secretary of State. There’s nothing unusual about the idea that service in that job qualifies people for senior national security positions.

And he points to Rush Holt’s strongly approving response to Obama’s announcement (at Attackerman):

“Having served in Congress in the wake of Watergate and the domestic surveillance abuses that surfaced during the 1970s, Mr. Panetta understands how a democratic government should operate. He also demonstrated skill in running the Office of Management and Budget and as Chief of Staff under President Clinton. We need the CIA to collect reliable, actionable intelligence in ways that respect American values and honor the Constitution. Mr. Panetta’s background and reputation indicate he would serve the intelligence community, the President, and the country well.”

One of Josh Marshall’s intelligence contacts thinks Feinstein et al. want someone they can control:

I think there is a lot more here than is being said. I believe that Feinstein did not want someone like Panetta who has a large and independent power base and network. If you get a career guy they are a lot easier to isolate and move around. Panetta has been around for a long time and has his own network. I actually think that it is a good choice. He knows how intelligence needs to be presented to the President – that is the critical issue here.
The issue is not intell guy or non-intell guy. The big issue for Blair and Panetta is strategic or tactical orientation. We are fighting two wars and the warfighter always screams they don’t have enough intel or enough of anything for that matter. The dice are so loaded for support to the warfighter that critical strategic intelligence for the President and other senior leaders goes wanting due to time constraints on collection assets.

We need a significant re-orientation away from tactical support by CIA and other National agencies and back to their primary mission – direct intelligence support to the President. The last 15 years have seen an explosion of tactical intelligence capability with the advent of UAVs (which DoD fought against for so long due to the fighter pilot mentality). National systems need to be re-oriented to national priorities and away from tactical or operational desires of the warfighter.

I think the Panetta selection is another indication of the change coming. I was concerned that the selection of Jones as National Security Advisor and Blair as DNI underscored the great concern that I have about the militarization of intelligence. The selection of Panetta, with a much wider and deeper power base than either of them, makes me hopeful in this regard. Panetta is a skilled operator, he knows how to get things done. He knows how to get a budget approved and to make the wheels of government work. He will be a force – both in the Administration and on the Hill — much larger than any career guy could be. This is good. It gives the CIA the opportunity to re-create itself within the current structure.

The righties, of course, are outraged. Allahpundit — who tends to provide more perceptive commentary in that crowd, despite his truly obnoxious name — sees the Panetta pick as an anti-torture statement:

Ace wonders if this is about having a dependable yes man at the top. Not really. It’s about having a guy at the top who’s untainted by “torture.” So untainted, in fact, that he’s also untainted by any intel experience whatsoever.

Indeed: Panetta was crystal clear on his feelings about torture in this short piece he wrote for the Washington Monthly a year ago:

According to the latest polls, two-thirds of the American public believes that torturing suspected terrorists to gain important information is justified in some circumstances. How did we transform from champions of human dignity and individual rights into a nation of armchair torturers? One word: fear.

Fear is blinding, hateful, and vengeful. It makes the end justify the means. And why not? If torture can stop the next terrorist attack, the next suicide bomber, then what’s wrong with a little waterboarding or electric shock?

The simple answer is the rule of law. Our Constitution defines the rules that guide our nation. It was drafted by those who looked around the world of the eighteenth century and saw persecution, torture, and other crimes against humanity and believed that America could be better than that. This new nation would recognize that every individual has an inherent right to personal dignity, to justice, to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.

We have preached these values to the world. We have made clear that there are certain lines Americans will not cross because we respect the dignity of every human being. That pledge was written into the oath of office given to every president, “to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” It’s what is supposed to make our leaders different from every tyrant, dictator, or despot. We are sworn to govern by the rule of law, not by brute force.

We cannot simply suspend these beliefs in the name of national security. Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise. We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground.

We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that.

11 Responses to “Leon Panetta”

  1. Mark says:

    A few notes:
    1. First, not all righties are outraged – obviously libertarians like me are quite supportive of this pick. Less obviously, though, neo-conservative icons like Douglas Feith are also on board – more on this later at my place.
    2. Second, Rush Holt is “The Man” – always has been, always will be, especially when it comes to foreign policy, intelligence, and civil liberties issues. It’s worth noting that his pre-politics background as a nuclear physicist (with, IIRC, a pretty high security clearance – but I may be wrong on that) gives him an infinitely more well-rounded set of qualifications on intelligence/national security issues than all but a handful of politicians, including Feinstein and Rockefeller.

  2. Kathy says:

    First, not all righties are outraged – obviously libertarians like me are quite supportive of this pick.

    That begs the question is what is a libertarian — something I have been completely at sea about for, like, forever.

    I always thought a libertarian was someone who believes in small government combined with personal liberties — so a libertarian would oppose government spending on social programs, say, but would also oppose making abortion illegal. Although I suppose a libertarian might take the “overturn Roe v. Wade and leave it up to the states” position.

    But at any rate, there is also another type of self-defined libertarian who, to my understanding, does not appear any different from a neoconservative or a plain vanilla right-winger (whatever that is). An example of this type is Bruce McQuain, at QandO. He claims to be a libertarian, but he supports the Bush admin’s level of defense spending; he supports warrantless surveillance; he supports the Bush admin’s interrogation practices (i.e., torture). So where is the libertarian in there?

    The above, I hasten to add, though, is ancillary to your point, which is well-taken: Don’t Generalize. 🙂

  3. Mark says:

    There are of course, numerous varieties of libertarianism. But for the most part, libertarianism in its purest form boils down to “all is acceptable except the use of force or fraud.” Of course, there are relatively few libertarians who are outright purists, but the vast majority of philosophically grounded libertarians are essentially foreign policy non-interventionists who vehemently oppose torture and other infringements on civil liberties. As for people like Bruce McQuain….they do a good job demonstrating the way in which partisanship undermines ideology and creates what I have dubbed “talk radio dogmatism,” which I have discussed in my two best-received posts in recent weeks, available here:


    and here:


    But if you want to understand the true philosophical libertarian positions on this stuff, look no further than libertarianism’s flagship publication, Reason, or its two (intensely rivalrous) flagship think tanks, Cato and the Mises Institute.

  4. Libertarians, Kathy, and I’m sure Mark will correct me when I get it wrong, are essentially paleo-cons, or more accurately, traditional, Jeffersonian style conservatives (or perhaps even more accurately; Goldwater style conservatism).

    There is, as students of political alignments might profer, very little conservative about the modern conservative movement. In the realm of foreign policy, modern conservatism, or neoconservatism, is far too adventurous to truly be conservative. Just like social conservatism. What is conservative about letting the government decide what a couple can do in their bedroom, or legislate morality?

    The only place where modern conservatism and traditional libertarian conservatism come close towards each other is in the realm of fiscal conservatism which both follow along a friedman-esque philosophy on economic issues (though modern conservativism tends to tilt too much towards corporatocracy than libertarianism).

    Interestingly enough, this is why we’re such good friends with Mark over here. Mark is in many more ways a true conservative than many of the righties that infest the interwebs, but modern liberalism, and the traditional conservative principles that drive libertarianism have more in common than traditional conservatives and movement conservatives; perhaps the one true difference that can’t be reconciled being philosophies on economic issues.

    But for a simple definition, think of libertarians who truly and completely believe in small government, and tend not to be hypocritical in practicing those philosophies. I tend to have a lot of respect for those folks, (even if I tend to think they are batshit insane at times…).

  5. Mark says:

    Holy cow! A Kyle sighting! Good to hear from ya!

    Anyways, you’re mostly right about the similarities between paleo-conservatism and libertarianism – substantively, there are relatively few differences except on things like gay marriage and some other morals legislation (althoug paleos are not quite the same as religious conservatives on those issues). However, libertarians and conservatives (paleo or otherwise) have different intellectual roots, with libertarians drawing more from classical liberalism like Thoreau and Emerson, and conservatives drawing more from the “organic change” tradition of Burke. In this sense, libertarians (particularly of the cosmopolitan variety that I ascribe to) actually have similar intellectual foundations to many liberals; indeed, libertarian giant FA Hayek vastly preferred the word “liberal” to “libertarian,” and argued that many socialists were in fact classical liberals who had been led astray out of frustration with capitalism. He even wrote a well-known essay entitled “Why I Am Not A Conservative.”

    That said, even though I am not a conservative of any strain, I have a lot of respect for philosophical conservatism. As you note, what passes for conservatism in the public eye today has relatively little to do with any cognizable strain of conservatism, which is very much the point I was trying to make in the above-referenced posts. And you are correct that neo-conservatism is not recognizably conservative in a traditional sense; however, one of the other points I try to make in the above posts (as well as in my post this afternoon) is that what passes for conservatism in the public eye is not really recognizably neo-conservative either.

    As for your point on economic issues, I tend to think that many of the various strains of libertarianism and conservatism would be perfectly capable of finding common ground with modern liberals and Progressives if each were freed of their respective coalition’s dogmatism. For instance, libertarians and conservatives have this tendency to forget that both Hayek and Friedman (not to mention Adam Smith) strongly believed in the need for, and utility of, social safety nets – their objections to the modern welfare state were primarily as to form rather than intent. Similarly, there is no need for free market views to be inherently pro-corporatist; after all, small business, the working poor, and blue collar workers are probably hurt by regulation more frequently than big business. The trouble is that political incentives and dogmatism create a situation where libertarians and conservatives rarely push much for deregulation in those arenas and instead focus on deregulation in arenas that will primarily benefit big business. This is something I’ve been working hard to change. FWIW, I’m about two chapters in to Robert Reich’s “Supercapitalism”; so far, it’s a really good book with which I haven’t found much to disagree and thus provides an excellent example of the way in which ideology freed of dogmatism can form the basis for constructive debate (as opposed to Naomi Klein’s ridiculous screed that is based on a complete misrepresentation of Milton Friedman’s arguments).

    As a final note, if you want to get an idea of what the various strains of conservatism would argue if they were freed from the “talk radio dogmatism” that permeates our debate, I highly recommend checking out the various blogs and articles at Culture11.

  6. Kathy says:

    Thank you for your reply to my reply, Mark. I will definitely read those two posts of yours. I do know about Reason (I actually had a free subscription at one point) and the Cato Institute. The other one you mentioned I have never heard of.

  7. Yes, Mark, an official Kyle sighting, and, in fact, another! I still read this blog everyday, and will actually start writing on Wednesdays on top of being a player in our weekly podcasts, but I’ve taken the time following the election to branch out to other things, including a novel, the tenth chapter of which I have to revise before I publish it online.

    Anyway, one thing that really struck out at me was when you mentioned the metropolitan strain of Libertarianism, and I think that’s because my first two experiences with libertarians came from very different strains of libertarianism. One would aptly be called a metropolitan strain, if you will, and the other might be a more rural, or self sufficient/borderline survivalist strain.

    Of the first, I speak of my wife’s best friend’s husband. This was definitely a metropolitan libertarian, a physicist steeped in academia. My impression of him was that he had come to libertarianism as a sort of intellectual epiphany; a theoretical world view that under libertarian precepts society would run at its maximum efficiency and freedom.

    The second was my political science professor who took on a much more personal view of libertarianism. He was a libertarian because he led a far more self sufficient life style. While the first had an intellectual attachment to the idea that government needed to get out of the way, the second had a personal, life experience, based attachment that he preferred government to be out of the way.

    Since then, I’ve continued to notice the difference between the two types of libertarians, and one difference that strikes me is that the more rural strain, so to speak, tends to be a little more willing to align itself with the more recognizable “right” or as you cleverly coin those practitioners of “talk radio dogmatism”.

    This, I think, is a function of cultural discrepencies. That’s to say the differences between the two strains of libertarianism isn’t as I imply above born from the differences between intellectual and personal motivations, but instead are born from cultural identifiers. Thus you’ll see the more rural cultural identifying libertarian be a little more socially conservative than the metro strain.

    In any case, this is among one of the many reasons I’m not as large a presence around here anymore; political culture, science, and theory is what really motivates me and interests me, and in the post election era, there’s not nearly the need or demand for that kind of thought compared to much more pragmatic and issue based thought that my colleagues here provide. Being who and what I am, I have few pet issues, and lack the passion to speak out on world events the way that the rest do.

  8. Mark says:

    The Mises folks are more or less the same group of libertarians that runs LewRockwell.com, and they are the leading institution of the paleo-variety of libertarianism.

    Good to here your novel’s coming along – let me know when it’s done, because I know I’d love to read it (unless, of course, you’re writing purely for personal consumption and don’t want anyone to read it).

    The technical term for my variety of libertarianism is actually “cosmopolitan,” rather than metropolitan, because “cosmopolitan” refers to a more or less “worldly” view of the world, which is why I like to think it owes more to classical liberalism than Ron Paul’s paleo-libertarianism, which has much closer ties to the “paleo” variety of conservatism (and really all varieties of conservatism). That said, your metro/rural distinction is a pretty dead-on characterization of the differences between the two camps. I hadn’t thought about it much, but your description of the causes of that distinction probably gets closer to the heart of the issue than just about any other explanation I’ve seen (and believe me, that is a debate that has been going on in libertarian circles for decades). There are some exceptions, to be sure, but that’s probably as accurate as you can get while painting with a fairly broad brush. Except for issues of international relations (where paleos/rural libertarians tend to be far more passionate about their non-interventionism, bordering on outright isolationism), I also think you’re right about paleos’ willingness to adopt “talk-radio” styles of argumentation – although they’ve been getting gradually (by which I mean ‘baby steps’) better on issues like race relations, crime, and social policy for probably the last 10 years. This is largely, I think, the result of the way in which paleos have been treated by pro-war conservatives, for whom paleos tend to reserve their most venom. But it’s an interesting point that really warrants more in depth exploration in the future.

    Anyways, if you’re still interested in writing about political theory but don’t think there’s a post-election audience for it here at CFLF, you are always more than welcome to write at PE whenever and however sporadically you wish. Since I’ve long focused almost entirely on theory and am still responsible for about 80% of the output, most of our audience has a never-ending interest in theory. We’re actually at an all-time high right now in terms of burned feeds even though our posting is pretty sporadic, and our daily visits are actually slightly higher than they were before I converted my blogging to focus primarily on theory last year (and haven’t dropped at all from pre-election levels). It’s certainly not as large an audience as you have here at CFLF, but it’s a niche audience that tends to generate some good discussion. Heck, if you signed on, I’d even change the “libertarian” in our sub-heading to “dispassionate.” Obviously, cross-posting would be more than welcome.

  9. Mark says:

    Kyle – one more thing. If you decide you’re interested and go to investigate my claims, it’s worth mentioning that my Sitemeter seems to be broken today, and for some reason stopped showing hits after about 11 AM – although it may just be a glitch on my computer.

  10. MCQ says:

    “An example of this type is Bruce McQuain, at QandO. He claims to be a libertarian, but he supports the Bush admin’s level of defense spending; he supports warrantless surveillance; he supports the Bush admin’s interrogation practices (i.e., torture). So where is the libertarian in there?”

    Hi Kathy,

    I certainly don’t mind being discussed – you know the saying, the only bad publicity is no publicity – but if you’re going to discuss what I believe, I’d appreciate it if you would actually discuss what I believe and not what you think I believe.



    Key sentence from the first post: “But in a broader argument, we’re saying that you can make all the technical arguments you care to make, rationalize torture and murder as some sort of burning necessity upon which our safety is dependent and claim that abuse is fair pay-back for the behavior of our enemies, but we, all of us, reject any argument which tries to legitimize torture and abuse, and we reject it on principle.’

    I can’t make it any clearer than that.

    Warrentless Wiretaps – I’ve never supported them. Jon Henke and Dale Franks wrote extensively about FISA at the blog, but I didn’t. But this remark found in one of my posts should make the point:

    ” Sometimes I wonder. Listened in to Laura Ingraham for a short while. She spoke specifically about this subject and the segued into the “warrentless wiretapping” subject. She read a piece which pointed out that FDR ignored the law and okayed domestic monitoring of communication in an attempt to prevent spying and sabotage.

    Law? Who needs it, right?

    Having done that she immediately turned to immigration and wondered why we weren’t vigorously enforcing existing immigration laws?

    Heh … the irony bell apparently never went off. ”

    In other words, the rule of law which protects the rights of individuals requires that those who would infringe upon those rights, even legally, first go to a judge and show legitimate probable cause. In my estimation, ‘warrentless wiretaps” don’t measure up to that standard.


    As for defense spending, I support the spending necessary to properly defend this country – it is one of the few constitutionally legitimate areas of spending there is.

    “The above, I hasten to add, though, is ancillary to your point, which is well-taken: Don’t Generalize.”

    Even more important than that, Kathy – don’t mischaracterize.

    And this:

    “As for people like Bruce McQuain….they do a good job demonstrating the way in which partisanship undermines ideology and creates what I have dubbed “talk radio dogmatism,” which I have discussed in my two best-received posts in recent weeks …”

    Well, Mark, that may be true in theory. And I’m as amused as anyone by a clever label. But it sort of damages your point if you have your facts wrong about the person you claim is doing the “demonstrating”.

    Here are a another couple of posts which should help make the point:


    Again, thanks for the mention.


  11. Kathy says:


    If I got your positions on torture and warrantless surveillance wrong (and those links certainly indicate that I did), I am not just willing but very happy to acknowledge it. The only substantive point I would disagree with is your suggestion, in one of the linked posts about torture, that the torture of detainees in U.S. custody is essentially a problem of individuals ignoring guidance or not having been given guidance. That’s not true. There is no serious question anymore that the abuse of detainees at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib and elsewhere was the result of a deliberately planned program designed by senior Bush admin officials, most notably Dick Cheney, David Addington, Donald Rumsfeld, and Bush himself, and buttressed with atrociously reasoned “legal” arguments prepared by a handful of Bush admin attorneys whose loyalty was to Bush and his administration’s policies and ideology and not to the law; namely, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Jim Haynes, and a few others.

    This is a very important distinction for more than one reason, but clearly the most salient of those reasons goes to the issue of accountability. Torture is a war crime regardless of who does it, but if the president, vice-president, the latter’s chief of staff, and the most senior lawyers advising the administration actually knowingly put the program together and had it rubber-stamped by lawyers chosen for their ideological willingness to do so, then we’re talking about a much more systemic, institutionalized problem than a few bad apples would be — and these men (Cheney, bush, Addington, Rumsfeld, Yoo, Haynes, and Gonzales) need to be charged with war crimes and brought to trial.


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