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Whether flying a plane or heading the CIA, it's best to have someone with experience

By Ron Martz
(from the blog: http://justthewriteword.blogspot.com)

The arguments being offered in support of President-elect Barack Obama's choice of Leon Panetta to be CIA director are laughably disingenuous at best and downright scary at worst.

Panetta is the former White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, a former Congressman from California, and a certified policy wonk. Obama has decided that this aging remnant from a previous administration is the best candidate to run the troubled and somewhat dysfunctional outfit that is the CIA in these troubled and dysfunctional times.

It apparently does not matter to Obama or to Panetta's supporters that the man has absolutely zero experience in intelligence, counter-terrorism, or military affairs. That's zero, zilch, nada.

A Jan. 6 posting on Slate by Fred Kaplan quotes Richard Clarke, Clinton's counter-terrorism director as saying that Panetta is qualified to run what arguably may be the nation's most important asset in the fight against terrorism because he "was in all of the important national security meetings for years, both as [Office of Management and Budget] director and as chief of staff. He made substantive contributions well outside of his job description. And as OMB director, he was one of a very few people who knew about all of the covert and special-access programs."

That's not unlike saying that Panetta is qualified to do brain surgery because he watched brain surgeries being done and talked to doctors about doing brain surgeries.

Or, that he is qualified to fly for Delta or any other major airline because he was a passenger on planes and talked to pilots about flying.

It just doesn't make any sense.

Clarke's argument, and that being offered by other Dems, is that Panetta is qualified to handle this crucial job because he is a Washington insider who knows how to get things done. It does not matter that he doesn't have any experience.

That argument is the mirror image of the one offered by Dems when John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his VP candidate. She, her detractors railed, and continue to rail, was not a Washington insider who wouldn't be able to get anything done because she did not have enough experience.

That argument against Palin was as disingenuous as the argument on behalf of Panetta.

But more than disingenuous, the arguments favoring Panetta seems downright scary. The CIA seems to be an agency in need of adult supervision by someone with some moral and ethical backbone who has been in the agency before, or perhaps is still in the agency.

It was given a free hand under Bush and needs to be reined in a bit to focus on developing sources and methods around the world that will ferret out information relevant to possible attacks on the U.S. mainland and American citizens.

My guess is that Panetta will know how to deal with the CIA's budget, but not with sources and methods necessary in a world in which terrorists are winning. They are winning simply by making us change how we live. The new normal, as it is called by some, is all because of terrorism and our inability to deal with it.

That Panetta is against torture is a plus for him, because while torture may work in the short term, it demeans us as a nation. It puts us on the same level with the terrorists. Surely there are experienced people out there who are either in the agency or who recently retired who are free of the taint of Bush-Cheney approved torture.

Panetta is a political hack who carries the baggage of the Clinton White House. Where is Obama's change? Putting Panetta in charge of the CIA is certainly not change.

My sense is that once Panetta is confirmed, he will have much the same effect on CIA operations and morale as Stansfield Turner did under then-President Jimmy Carter. According to this 1977 story in Time magazine, Turner decided to clean up the agency and down-size it by pink-slipping hundreds of agents, many of whom were covert operatives with expertise in the languages of terrorists, most notably Arabic.

If that happens again, it may be time to look for real estate in another part of the world.

This choice of Panetta makes me wonder about Obama and his thinking process. Either he has no real concept about the culture of the CIA and what makes it tick (which is extremely likely since he himself is so inexperienced in government), or he doesn't think the threat posed by terrorism is all that serious.

Either way, it's a bit frightening to consider.

The bottom line: If I'm flying I want a pilot at the controls, not an airline policy maker. If I'm having brain surgery done, I want a brain surgeon handling the scalpel, not someone who does the hospital's budget.

With the the head of the CIA, it's the same principle.

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