You Know It Had To Have Hurt

Up until this week, Obama has drawn generally high marks for his appointments during the transition.  There have been some moans and groans depending on which part of the political spectrum you inhabit, but despite the disapproval of these groups, most have been pleasantly surprised with the picks thus far.  Then this week comes along and the grumblings have begun in earnest.

I’ve already covered my thoughts on Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General; given the nature of the job and the relative insignificance of the office, it’s not a bad choice.  Perhaps if Gupta were tapped to fill the post that Tom Daschle is slated to fill I might have reservations, but if you’re going to fill a chief educator of the public on medical issues, a well liked medical reporter with some considerable medical creds in his background isn’t a bad way to go.

The other controversial choice is the pick to tap Leon Panetta as the director of the CIA.

I’ve watched with interest over the past couple of days on how this has unfolded.  Rightwing blowhards are obviously against the pick, but then if Obama created a Department of Religion and Faith, and then tapped Jesus Christ himself to be the head, they would still complain.  They have taken it upon themselves to be professional dissenters with hardly a moment’s pause being spent deciding if dissent is actually warranted.

I find myself not completely sympathetic either to Diane Feinstein who strikes me as being upset because she wasn’t granted her due propriety and because the Panetta pick was unconventional.  She’s gone on the record saying she would have preferred the head of the CIA having experience in the intelligence community; a criticism that echoes that of the opposition-based right.

Interesting, to me anyway, is the idea that a CIA director without prior intelligence community experience is doomed to failure, because, you know, there has never been such a creature that did his job so well that they renamed the headquarters after him (perhaps that bit of IOKIYAR flavored irony stems from the fact that said individual was a Republican).

Those outside of these circles have appeared to me to express first confusion, and as we learn more about Panetta, growing hope that he will in fact be an effective director, one whose managerial skills and political clout will allow him to enact reforms much needed in the agency and the intelligence community.  I find myself perhaps in most agreement with this assessment:

I am a tad amused by the insistence that we need a CIA director with “intelligence” experience. Really? Then why in the hell is the CIA Headquarters named for a guy who was, by this criteria, one of the least experienced CIA Director’s ever named. I refer of course to George H. W. Bush. Don’t get me wrong. I like Bush 41. He is an honorable, decent man. He did brief stints as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN and to China. But he also headed the Republican National Committee. You do not get much more political than that. In fact, very few CIA Directors have every had “prior” intelligence experience.

In terms of temperament Leon Panetta reminds me a lot of Bush 41. Both are politicians but neither seemed to relish the partisan blood feuds that have become the norm in Washington over the last twenty years.

But Panetta has some decided advantages over George Bush Sr. Unlike Bush senior, he served as White House Chief of Staff and headed up the Office of Management and Budget. So he actually goes into the job with more management experience the Bush 41 ever had.

So what kind of experience are we looking for?

Do we want someone who has been to a CIA training center and completed the Field Officer’s Training Course? Sorry, I do not think any of the CIA Directors in the last fifty years have done that. Richard Helms and William Colby had OSS experience. I don’t think they ever did FOTC.

Do we want someone who understands the difference between intelligence collection and intelligence analysis? Absolutely. And I think Panetta meets that bill. Do we want someone who understands how certain decisions based on imprecise or inadequate information can damage irreparably a Presidency? Yes!

I find the longing of former CIA people for the “perfect” boss a little sad. The current Director, General Hayden, is a competent manager but still is faulted by some I know for allowing politics to sway his decisions. Others praise Hayden for restoring morale damaged by the political pandering of George Tenet. The quest for a perfect CIA Director may be the equivalent to Monty Python’s search for the Holy Grail.

The needs at CIA are very simple. People need to be held accountable. Rewarded for good work and punished for grievous errors. No one at CIA, for example, received as much as a reprimand for the failure to share critical intelligence about Al Qaeda operatives with the FBI. When you fail to hold those in charge for such an error you send a very strong message–no one cares.

You also need a leader at CIA who can tell the President that the case for going to war in Iraq is not strong and is in fact off base. But we saw the exact opposite under George Tenet. As I have pointed out in previous pieces, Tenet did some good in restoring morale in the aftermath of the disaster that was John Deutch.

Thus, a generally positive approach to the seemingly unconventional pick.  Who provides this clear-eyed insight?  None other than Larry Johnson.  I know, I kind of crept that up on ya, didn’t I?  I apologize for any heart attacks I may have caused.

With this, I’ve two thoughts.  First, I’m interested at how quickly the crazy comes out of the woodwork in the comments to Johnson’s post.  At this time the most recent post up at NQ is the typical kind of paranoid drivel that has become the once illustrious blog’s trademark.  The entire left is out to get them blah blah blah.

Of course, all too often we create our own demons.  Criticism is fine, by all means, get you some if you have it.  But what No Quarter turned into during the election and in its aftermath went far beyond the constraints of healthy criticism, and delved into ratfucking insanity (“whitey tape” anyone?).  That genie was let out of the bottle, and it’ll take a little more than a few sane posts to stuff it back in.

My other thought on this doesn’t involve my own private shadenfreude.  I, like so many others, was baffled by the Panetta pick.  But after learning more about him, I’ve come to think that there’s more than a little room to hope that he will indeed serve well.  Further, I don’t think this will lead ultimately to the end of the intelligence community as it implodes in a fit of primadonna-esque indignity.  I may have never been a member of the intelligence community, but I have been a member of the greater defense community.

You see, when you pledge to protect this country with or without a uniform, you do so with the promise to follow the orders of your boss; the President of the United States.  It’s called professionalism, and it transcends any and all concepts of personal ideology or political preference.  A majority of my time in the military was served under George W. Bush, and it wasn’t like I just refused to serve–that just isn’t done.

So either the CIA will deal with Panetta, and serve him as faithfully as they would any other appointee of the President they serve, or they truly aren’t as professional as we as  a country deserve.  I’m going to put my money on the former.

As for Larry Johnson, no, you no can has your credibility back!

(edited by DrGail)

2 Responses to “You Know It Had To Have Hurt”

  1. Dustin says:

    This post may not redeem old LJ but it sure puts him back in the “to watch” RSS folder, no?

  2. Nah, the crazy is still rampant over there. If he is following a track that Taylor Marsh followed, I would give it a month or two and check back to see if the parakeet has survived.

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