Obama finds himself caught in this first intra-party vise between his instinct to pick competence over ideology. His first rumored choices for CIA were competent picks — but both would have been eviscerated by the intellectual left because of their anger at Bush over interrogation practices. He’s allowing ideology to trump competence for the first time in one of his major appointments.
It appears that left/right politics may not be the best way to view the Panetta choice. Either that or the "intellectual left" has swelled with some surprising new members.
I always liked Panetta. He served in the Army and is openly proud of it. He seems to be a good lawyer (oxymoronic though it may seem). He’s a good manager. And he’s going to watch Obama’s back at a place that’s full of stilettos and a track record for attempted presidential assassination second to none. But Italians know all about political assassination; you may remember Julius Caesar. Or Aldo Moro. The self-proclaimed cognoscenti will deride his lack of "spycraft," and he’s never worked in the intel bureaucracy or, for that matter, in foreign policy or national security. But he’s been chief of staff, which involved all that stuff. I think it’s a smart move.
"Ishmael Jones" (via K. J. Lopez):
A “safe” choice, viewed as inoffensive by the CIA’s top bureaucrats, would have been dangerous. Directors Tenet and Hayden were placid Washington civil servants of neutral loyalties, quickly coopted by the CIA’s bureaucracy. A military officer might have had good leadership experience but would have lacked sound partisan political connections. The choice is a brave one because it can open Mr. Obama to charges of appointing a loyalist to a crucial post. But that is exactly what is needed at this time.
And then there are those crazy lefties Doug Feith and Richard Perle. Pinkos all.
I think Andrew Sullivan has a much more insightful evaluation of the situation:
Feinstein and Rockefeller sense a real individual with real clout at the agency, whom they cannot control. There may have been a lack of foresight 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.
Again, I don’t have any opinion as to whether Panetta will be good, bad or otherwise. But just because the Intel whiners and their bruised egos are shrieking about Panetta’s lack of "competence" and complaining that Obama has been hijacked by the "intellectual left" doesn’t make it so. Scratch a little deeper, as Sullivan says, and you’ll find a bunch of people frightened at the prospect that their own complicity in brazenly illegal acts will be exposed by someone who doesn’t have skin in the game.