Feature

Why Obama chose Panetta

Explaining a surprise choice for the CIA's new boss

Barack Obama has thrown his first curveball, said Jennifer Rubin in Commentary online. The president-elect has reportedly picked Leon Panetta, a "Clinton crony" with next to no experience in intelligence matters, as his CIA director. The move is "completely incomprehensible," unless the main requirements for the job are solid management skills, "loyalty to the Democratic Party, and vocal criticism of the Bush administration."

Actually, that about sums up what a president needs in a CIA chief, said Michael Ledeen in National Review Online. Obama is apparently following advice Karl Rove brushed aside in the very early days of the Bush administration—put somebody you absolutely trust in charge at Langley. Panetta will "watch Obama's back at a place that's full of stilettos and a track record for attempted presidential assassination second to none."

There's another reason why choosing Panetta makes sense, said Steve Benen in The Washington Monthly. He is dead-set against using torture under any circumstances. Also, his experience as Bill Clinton's chief of staff taught him how the White House works, so he'll be able to get his agency's point of view across to the Oval Office.

Some of the best CIA directors have had little or no experience coming in, said Carl Hulse and Mark Mazzetti in The New York Times, including George H.W. Bush. But this surprise move has met early opposition on Capitol Hill. And "given the focus on the intelligence apparatus in the wake of the terror attacks and the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq," anybody Obama picked for this job was destined to be closely examined.

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