Democratic officials said Mr. Obama had selected Mr. Panetta for his managerial skills, his bipartisan standing, and the foreign policy and budget experience....Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is now the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and will conduct any confirmation hearing, is openly expressing disapproval, both because Panetta is not an intelligence professional and because she was not consulted. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the outgoing chair of the committee, is also said to disapprove.
The choice of Mr. Panetta comes nearly two weeks after Mr. Obama had otherwise wrapped up his major personnel moves. It appears to reflect the difficulty Mr. Obama has encountered in finding a candidate who is capable of taking charge of the agency but is not tied to the interrogation and detention program run by the C.I.A. under President Bush.By contrast, Panetta wrote a piece in The Washington Monthly that said: "We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that." That's very nice, but a million bloggers have written the same thing. If you aren't on the inside, dealing with the details and responsible for outcomes, it takes nothing to say that, and in fact, it's the most obvious opinion that anyone would take. It's not impressive to have thought that up, and it certainly doesn't amount to a qualification for anything other than to appease the people who bellyached about Brennan.
Aides have said that Mr. Obama had originally hoped to select a C.I.A. director with extensive field experience, especially in combating terrorist networks. But his first choice for the job, John O. Brennan, had to withdraw his name amid criticism over his alleged role in the formation of the agency’s detention and interrogation program after the Sept. 11 attacks.
But, we're told, Panetta has strong management skills — generic skill, supposedly applicable to anything.
If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Panetta would take control of the agency most directly responsible for hunting senior leaders of Al Qaeda around the world. He would also become the oldest director in the agency’s history....He's 70. A 70-year-old man with no background will lead the hunt for al Qaeda.
“It’s a puzzling choice and a high-risk choice,” said Amy Zegart, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has written extensively on intelligence matters.
“The best way to change intelligence policies from the Bush administration responsibly is to pick someone intimately familiar with them,” Ms. Zegart said. “This is intelligence, not tax or transportation policy. You can’t hit the ground running by reading briefing books and asking smart questions.”
IN THE COMMENTS: TheCrankyProfessor said:
If people think the Clintons gutted America's ability to respond to terrorism by treating it as a law enforcement issue, this appointment ought to signal that intelligence is now purely a political issue. So appoint a politician.
ADDED: Andrew Sullivan says:
Feinstein and Rockefeller sense a real individual with real clout at the agency, whom they cannot control. There may have been a lack of foreisght [sic] here in not phoning Feinstein ahead of time. But it is also indisputable that many leading intelligence Democrats were deeply complicit in the Bush torture program and his illegal wire-tapping. It was just as important for the president-elect to pick someone not beholden to them either.So, if your opponents oppose something, you should be for it? It seems to me you need better reasons than that. Obama and the congressional Democrats should want to project an image of seriousness and competence — and actually be serious and competent.
Some are now citing Panetta's appointment as somehow "political" rather than substantive. But it'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.
How is it obvious that Obama has found someone with the right skills? Where do these judgments come from? Do you think some people just have "good sense" and then they automatically know what is "never right" and what is "much less effective"? Whatever happened to deep knowledge and real-world experience? Now, you're willing to go on assertions of good character and a cocky belief in the soundness of what your instincts tell you is obvious and right? That attitude is positively... Bushian. And I remember when Andrew Sullivan loved exactly that about Bush.