Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Another Clinton Appointee
AN AWFUL PICK
By RALPH PETERS
January 7, 2009 --
WOULD you ask your accountant to perform brain surgery on your child? That's the closest analogy I can find to the choice of Democratic Party hack Leon Panetta to head the CIA.
Earth to President-elect Obama: Intelligence is serious. And infernally complicated. When we politicize it - as we have for 16 years - we get 9/11. Or, yes, Iraq.
The extreme left, to which Panetta's nomination panders, howled that Bush and Cheney corrupted the intelligence system. Well, I worked in the intel world in the mid 1990s and saw how the Clinton team undermined the system's integrity.
Al Qaeda a serious threat? The Clinton White House didn't want to hear it. Clinton was the pioneer in corrupting intelligence. Bush was just a follow-on homesteader.
Now we've fallen so low that left-wing cadres can applaud the nomination of a CIA chief whose sole qualification is that he's a party loyalist, untainted by experience.
The director's job at the CIA isn't a party favor. This is potentially a matter of life and death for thousands of Americans. But the choice of Panetta tells us all that Barack Obama doesn't take intelligence seriously.
Mark my words: It'll bite him in the butt.
After the military, the intel community is the most complex arm of government. You can't do on-the-job training at the top. While a CIA boss needn't be a career intelligence professional, he or she does need a deep familiarity with the purposes, capabilities, limitations and intricacies of intelligence.
Oh, and you'd better understand the intelligence bureaucracy.
Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), who was blindsided - and appalled - by the Obama mafia's choice, has the essential knowledge of how the system works. She, or a similar expert, should have gotten this nod. But the president-elect wanted a clean-slate yes-man, not a person of knowledge and integrity.
We're witnessing the initial costs of Obama's career-long lack of interest in foreign policy, the military and intelligence. He doesn't think the top job at the CIA's important and just wants political cover on that flank. (Guess we got Panetta because Caroline Kennedy has another engagement.)
Forget a "team of rivals." Obama's creating a campaign staff for 2012.
Of course, he's reeling from the shrill rage of the Moveon.org crowd over his nomination of grown-ups to be his national-security adviser, director of national intelligence, administrator of veterans' affairs and, yes, secretary of state. (By the way, how could Hillary be dumb enough to accept a job where success is impossible?)
Panetta's appointment is a sop to the hard left, a signal that intelligence will be emasculated for the next four - or eight - years.
Think morale's been bad at the CIA? Just wait.
Conservatives played into this scenario by insisting that any CIA analysis that didn't match the Bush administration's positions perfectly amounted to an attack on the White House. Well, sorry. The intelligence community's job isn't to make anybody feel good - its core mission is to provide nonpartisan analysis to our leaders.
To be a qualified D-CIA, a man or woman needs a sophisticated grasp of three things: The intel system, foreign-policy challenges and the Pentagon (which owns most of our intelligence personnel and hardware). Panetta has no background - none - in any of these areas. He was never interested.
If you handed Leon Panetta a blank map of Asia, I'd bet my life he couldn't plot Baghdad, Kabul or Beijing within 500 miles of their actual locations. (Maybe he can see China from his California think tank?)
This shameless hack appointment is the first action by the incoming administration that seriously worries me. Get intelligence wrong and you get dead Americans.
Ralph Peters was a career intelligence officer in the US Army.