Playing Panetta politics

PLAYING PANETTA POLITICS…. Leon Panetta’s leaked introduction as the next head of the CIA has drawn some complaints from key corners, but the transition office is apparently not too worried about the nomination.

“I think he’s going to be fine,” senior adviser David Axelrod said. Of concerns that Panetta might not have enough experience with the CIA’s culture, Axelrod said Panetta “will do well. He’s tough and smart.” […]

Pinetta is a powerful guy, and that means that Obama has put a powerful guy in this position, which means that, in Obama’s administration, the CIA is going to get its due.

Indeed, while the concerns from Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Jay Rockefeller have received a fair amount of attention, some key lawmakers are lining up their support for Panetta, including Senate Intelligence Committee members Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), chairman of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel.

A lingering issue is over notification — Chairwoman Feinstein was obviously angry that she learned of the Panetta choice from reading the New York Times, rather than from the transition team directly. Obama aides said this was an unintended leak, but Elana Schor reports that at least one member of the Senate Intelligence Committee was informed about the pick in advance, it just wasn’t its chair.

Did Obama and his team deliberately send Feinstein a message by snubbing her? It seems unlikely, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Turf battles notwithstanding, the more complaints I hear about Panetta at the CIA, the more I find the concerns underwhelming. Feinstein and Rockefeller feel snubbed? Given their recent track record, I don’t much care. The head of the CIA should come from within the agency? At least six recent CIA chiefs didn’t. Panetta doesn’t have a background in national security intelligence? Nonsense, as White House chief of staff and an ISG member, Panetta dealt with the very sensitive intelligence on a daily basis. Indeed, he learned very well precisely how to process intelligence to help the president see the big picture.

If we start with a premise that Obama wanted to find a credible, experienced manager, who’s dealt with intelligence but remains untainted by the Bush-era scandals, Panetta starts to look like an ideal choice.

As Sullivan concluded, “[I]t’s obvious that Obama has actually found someone both capable of running a bureaucracy as complex as the CIA, of a stature to be approved by the Congress and maintain good relations, and with the good sense to know how interrogation based on torture is never right and much less effective than legal methods. It remains an inspired choice. And the critics help show why.”