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“The Elephant In The Room With Leon Panetta”: A Political Actor Working For Someone Else’s Electoral Gain?

In his widely read blog of Beltway goings-on, Chris Cillizza made the following fairly obvious point about former defense Ssecretary Leon Panetta’s Obama-bashing media tour:

What’s fascinating about this gripe with Obama is how much it plays into a) the argument that Hillary Clinton made against him in the 2008 presidential primary and b) the argument Hillary Clinton will likely make when (sorry, if) she runs for president in 2016. That argument, in short: I have been there and done that. I know what it takes to move the levers of power in Washington—and I am willing to do whatever it takes to make them move.

In addition, Panetta’s criticisms mainly involve Obama’s reluctance to use military force—also a fault line between Clinton and Obama, particularly on the matter of arming the Syrian rebels.

But the Beltway press shouldn’t be afraid to explicitly ask if Panetta is serving as an agent of Clinton’s official-but-not-yet-official presidential campaign. It’s not just that his criticisms dovetail with Clinton’s and are no doubt politically convenient for her as she attempts to draw a difference with the Obama administration—there are explicit ties to the shadow Clinton campaign that should make this question fair game.

Panetta has taken up residence at Beacon Global Strategies, where he is a senior counselor. He has deep ties to the group’s leaders; Jeremy Bash, Beacon’s founder and managing director, was Panetta’s chief of staff at both the CIA and the Pentagon. Another founder and managing director is Philippe Reines—one of Hillary’s closest allies and someone widely understood to still be managing her public profile.

Reines helped found Beacon after years spent with Hillary. He joined her Senate office in 2002 and later moved to the State Department when she became secretary. He is Clinton’s “chief personal defender,” in the words of New York magazine, who reported in a profile earlier this year that in addition to running Beacon, Reines’s “second full-time job” is working for Hillary. When she decides to run, Reines will be part of the campaign. In many ways, he already is.

So Panetta’s very close ties to Clinton’s non-campaign campaign should naturally raise the question if he, too, is an explicit part of it.

Note that Panetta first made a splash with his tough criticisms of Obama during a September 21 interview with 60 Minutes, in which he blasted the president for not arming the Syrian opposition sooner. “I think that would’ve helped,” he said. “And I think in part, we pay the price for not doing that in what we see happening with ISIS.” The “paying the price” line made headlines around the country the next day.

That very same Sunday, Bill Clinton appeared on CNN—and made the exact same point, and made it clear that Panetta and his wife were on the same page. “I supported two years ago the proposal that Hillary and Secretary Panetta and then–CIA director General Petraeus made to give more robust armed support to the Syrians,” he told Fareed Zakaria.

With Reines managing Hillary’s public image, and Panetta and Bill Clinton making the same point on the same day, the question of coordination is unavoidable.

That’s not to say Panetta’s criticisms shouldn’t be considered on their merits, nor that there’s anything wrong with this coordination. But it’s crucial context in which to understand his position—that perhaps he’s not just a reluctant critic trying to call out policy failures, but also a political actor working for someone else’s electoral gain.

 

By: George Zornick, The Nation, October 9, 2014

October 12, 2014 Posted by | Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“One-Dimensional Foreign Policy Thinking”: Leon Panetta Is What’s Wrong With D.C.

When Harry Truman apocryphally said, “if you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog” he might have had someone like Leon Panetta in mind. Not content with letting Republicans pummel his old boss, President Obama’s former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense released a new memoir this week that attacks Obama for “losing his way” on foreign policy, for sending “mixed messages” to allies and enemies alike and for failing to use military force more promiscuously in protecting US interests in the Middle East.

There is more here, however, than just DC-style situational loyalty. In Panetta’s obsessive focus on the politics of national security, his fetishization of military force and his utter lack of strategic vision, what is also evident is the one-dimensional foreign policy thinking that so dominates Washington—and which Panetta has long embodied.

None of this should come as a surprise. When Panetta became CIA director in 2009, he was demonstrably unqualified for the job. He had no background in foreign policy, intelligence or national security. His most apparent and highly-touted skill was that he understood his way around bureaucratic Washington.

At both Langley and the Pentagon he became a forceful advocate for—or, some might say, bureaucratic captive of—the agencies he ran. As CIA Director he pushed back on efforts to expose the agency’s illegal activities during the Bush Administration —in particular, the use of torture (which he had once decried).

At DoD he ran around with his hair practically on fire denouncing cuts to the defense budget in out-sized, apocalyptic terms. The “catastrophic,” “draconian” cuts would initiate a “doomsday mechanism” and “invite aggression,” he claimed and always without specific examples. Ironically, when Panetta was chairman of the House Budget Committee in the early 1990s, he took the exact opposite position and pushed for huge cuts to the defense budget.

For Panetta, principles appear to be determined by wherever he happens to be sitting at any given moment.

However, his irresponsible threat-mongering and his constant stream of gaffes and misstatements (like the claim that the US was in Iraq because of 9/11 and that the war was worth it) masked a stunningly narrow and parochial foreign policy vision. It wasn’t just that Panetta was saying crazy things. As his new memoir shows, he apparently believed them.

Take, for example, Panetta’s now oft-repeated position on troop withdrawals from Iraq in 2011, a move that as Secretary of Defense he praised but now three years later labels a failure. While Panetta acknowledges that the adamant refusal of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to maintain a troop presence in Iraq was a key impediment, he has a brilliant after-the-fact solution: the US should have just turned up the heat on Maliki.

According to Panetta, the US could have simply said that we would withdraw both reconstruction and military aid to Iraq until Maliki bent to America’s will. That Panetta thinks that threatening and demeaning the Iraqi leader was a worthy step to make in order to maintain a US force that the Iraqis clearly didn’t want is remarkably short-sighted. Panetta seems utterly uninterested in the question of what happens if Maliki called the US bluff or, if he said yes, how would that affect the long-term relationship between the US and Iraq. For Panetta, the only thing that mattered in 2011 was maintaining a residual US military force in the country, which he says—without much in the way of evidence—would have helped prevent the rise of ISIS.

Panetta is fond of such retrospective certainty. He asserts that if the US had backed Syrian rebels militarily it would have built up a moderate counter-weight to ISIS. He also labels the president’s failure to use force against Syria when it crossed Obama’s “redline” and used chemical weapons against his own people a damaging “blow to American credibility.” According to Panetta, “the power of the United States rests on its word, and clear signals are important both to deter adventurism and to reassure allies that we can be counted on.” The implication is that if the US had merely bombed Assad, those clear signals would have been sent and received by enemies and allies alike.

Of less concern to Panetta are not only the potential negative consequences from using force but also the actual diplomatic agreement negotiated by the US to completely destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons. While he gives a perfunctory nod to this “important accomplishment” in his memoir, he complains that “hesitation and half-steps have consequences.”

As for what those specific consequences are, other than vague platitudes about credibility and signals: your guess is as good as mine. For Panetta, the act of using force is seemingly more important than the actual tangible result achieved by using force.

Nowhere is this mindset of war as a presentational tool more evident than Panetta’s discussion of the 2009 surge in Afghanistan. While Panetta says the focus on the Taliban, rather than al Qaeda, was misplaced and he complains that the military actively tried to box in Obama on troop levels … he says that there was no reason for the decision on the surge to have taken so long.

“For him to defy his military advisers on a matter so central to the success of his foreign policy and so early in his presidency would have represented an almost impossible risk,” says Panetta. Translation: the surge was a bad idea, but the politics of national security demanded that Obama send American troops to fight a war that Panetta in his memoir calls “not a ringing success.”

Ironically, in his public appearances Panetta has been forcefully stating that a commander-in-chief must keep all options on the table—an implicit criticism of Obama’s refusal to put troops on the ground to fight ISIS. But in Afghanistan, the one option that Panetta appears to believe we should not have had on the table was defying the military and not surging, which is nothing if not an interesting twist on the principle of civilian control of the military. For Panetta, “all options” means only one thing—use of force.

Here, Panetta could not be more explicit. He says President Obama was a “strong leader on security issues” in his first term and cites as evidence Obama’s support for CIA military operations and the fact that he was “tough on terrorism.”

Now, however, Panetta believes that the president has “lost his way” because since then because he’s shown greater “ambivalence” about using military force. If Obama is willing to “roll up his sleeves” on ISIS he can restore that strong legacy. For Panetta, might always equals right.

Panetta likes to present himself an “honest,” “straight-talking,” aw-shucks kind of guy—the son of Italian immigrants who has lived the American Dream. But in reality he is the quintessential example of how Washington corrupts. Principles are conditional and where you sit is where you stand; politics trumps policy, even bad policy that puts American lives at risk; military force is a magic elixir not only in solving international problems but in burnishing one’s public image (though it appears for Panetta that this mainly applies to Democrats); it’s also the most important criteria in how you judge a president’s national security decision-making and his or her requisite strength.

During a recent interview on CNN, Panetta took a break from bashing the president who appointed him to two Cabinet offices to offer one of those platitudes that long-time DC denizens love to state without a moment of introspection. “Logic doesn’t work in Washington,” he said.

You can say that again.

 

By: Michael Cohen, The Daily Beast, October 8, 2014

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Leon Panetta, National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Et Tu, Leon?”: Continuing The Tradition Of Those Who Feel Ungrateful Besmirching Of A Presidency Is A Mere Patriotic Duty

So let’s say you’re a former congressman, CIA director and Secretary of Defense. You (and probably a ghost or two) have been noodling with a memoir for a long time. You’re finally out of office and want to make some dough and remind people you’re still a big deal. You know that in the heat of a midterm election that’s supposed to be a “referendum” on your former boss, and with much of the world focused on U.S. airstrikes in the Middle East, you can get a lot of attention and sell a lot of books by biting the hand that fed you and criticizing the president. Do you hold back for a while until said president is out of office, as Vice President Joe Biden suggested everyone should do? Or do you cash right in?

Well, we know Leon Panetta decided to cash right in. He didn’t go far out of his way to advertise his book as a devastating expose of a weak and America-endangering president, but he’s doing interviews that lend themselves to the impression that he thinks Obama erred grieveously by failing to leave combat troops in Iraq and fight for higher defense spending. And thus, as WaPo’s Dana Milbank points out in a column that excoriates Panetta for “stunning disloyalty” to Obama, his book was seized upon immediately by Republicans–notably Bobby Jindal, who was doing a big Let’s Give the Pentagon A Lot More Money speech the day before the book came out–as evidence of their national security case against the 44th president.

Now as Milbank admits, Panetta (like Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton before him) probably thinks of his service to the current administration as just the capstone of a career that was in full flower when Barack Obama was still in middle school. As it happens, Panetta is treated like a living deity out here on the Central Coast, which he used to represent in Congress. But his current work revolves around the Leon Panetta Institute for Public Policy, which mainly hosts lectures and seminars featuring big-name has-been Beltway Movers and Shakers who engage in Bipartisan Discussions of the Issues of the Day. I suppose a little extra street cred from Republicans owing to book tour interviews that sadly dismiss Barack Obama as out of his league doesn’t hurt this post-political legacy-building.

I doubt I’ll actually read Panetta’s book, but those who do can perhaps check my impression that Leon went deeply native at the Pentagon and continued the deplorable tradition of Secretaries of Defense who just can’t stop rattling the cup for more money for the ravening beast. If so, I suppose his current carping is in the bipartisan tradition of those who feel ungrateful besmirching of a presidency is a mere patriotic duty to ensure no occupant of that office forgets his extraconstitutional duty to the Empire.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, The Maddow Blog, October 7, 2014

October 8, 2014 Posted by | Defense Budget, Dept of Defense, Leon Panetta | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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