Leon Panetta Really Doesn’t Matter

Old political paradigms, like sagging, time-ravaged 80s hair metal bands on re-union tours, die hard.

Case in point? An appointee to Director of CIA (now a real, actual job title after the Community re-organization, unlike the previous 50 plus years) is of decisive importance. The real game is whither the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in a post-Warlord Imperial City.

The Warlord’s militarization of American policy and domestic culture ballooned the DoD/military’s budgetary preponderance in the Community. We won’t rehash all the Community re-organization pros and cons here again. Suffice to say that if the DNI is to serve as the manager of the Community — as the Director of Central Intelligence was envisioned in 1947 — DNI control = budgets = tasking = (in theory) a viable intelligence product cycle for consumers.

Can the DNI work? That’s still an open question. This macro strategic and domestic political objective transcends by far who sits at a desk in a radically diminished player.

We are much heartened by the reported choice of Admiral (ret.) Dennis Blair as DNI. By all accounts — and we have not met or even been in the same room with him — he brings gifts of intellect and mature judgment. Frankly, a civilian coming in as DNI probably would doom Community reform for decades. A military man of stature in our opinion is the best choice to achieve the still elusive real DNI control and thus building a foundation for sustainable reform. To knock heads together, drill down into the silos and even have a shot at success.

We don’t personally favor military control over the Community as a first principle. Yet at this beginning phase it is we believe essential to normalize the Community ethos and stamp out the still existing radical ‘war psychosis’.

New Chair Amid The Rubble

As for CIA? It declared war on a White House and lost. That’s not a moral judgment. It’s simply objective fact – with a predictable outcome. Ironic for the time, another foiled suicide attack.

The Agency is an institutional hologram of its earlier Tenet era self (which already was inert self parody). Institutions are cadres which come down to people. The torrential influx of newbies, rather than be imbued with internal cohesive culture, merely diluted and debased the already watered down stock. Add to mix the corrupting influence of contractor affluence and disaffection and confusion over outsourcing, the defeat and marginalization of the Agency in its collective psyche, the tangible loss of bureaucratic status even on processed analytical product, and well, you get what we have now.

Kappes is a terrific officer. Unlike Tenet, that old hack ‘The Magician’ McLaughlin, his deputy, and others, Kappes did stand his ground against the Neocons. As we’ve written before, one of our wryest memories is lunching with a very famous Neocon in the admittedly pleasant AEI dining facilities, listening to him declaim Iraq failed because Wolfowitz was too nice and Kappes refused to follow-up on WMD leads from reliable Iranian sources.

Contrary to what babbling idiots say on television (Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, take a bow), outsiders in fact do not fair well at CIA. (We won’t go into the whole interesting spectacle of Clinton’s portrait unhung). Bush was there only 355 days — enough time to find the head and make a hilarious trip to London to tell the Prime Minister that MI 5 was bugging him, not Uncle Sam. Stansfield Turner a complete and total disaster. Woolsey was so ineffectual at both the White House and internally that he focused on a few space-based projects like a lost boy playing with his Lego. Tenet was and is a mere staffer and an instinctual fluffer. And so on.

Which brings us to Leon. Under the Old Paradigm, Kappes would make sense. He has the internal cadre confidence to restore a pulse (however feeble) to the patient. He is respected internationally. The Neocons loathe him with a fiery passion. But 2009 is not 1980. The CIA Director no longer makes the Daily Brief or Briefing. The Agency no longer controls the intelligence product cycle. Should the DNI reforms work, CIA will become even more marginal.

If the Agency is to find a way for itself in the New Paradigm it will need an ambassador. Both to the White House and the rest of the broader policy elite. Leon Panetta can be that person. Would he be our first choice? Tenth? Fifteenth? No. But the cultural and bureaucratic anti-bodies need to reconfigure their auto immune response. Getting invited to be in the room and calls returned mean more now. Kappes or others can focus on eating soup with a knife and try to get the DO to be what it always should have been.

Is Panetta there merely because is ‘anti-torture’? He and about 200 million other Americans. DoJ’s rescue from the Movement fringe already made that inevitable. Panetta undoubtedly likes apple pie and hot dogs. If the Boy King wants his own ‘Moral Clarity’ ™ there are plenty of other licensees.

Retroactive Mau Mau?

Much has been said about Feinstein et al.’s pique. Co-option has always been a problem with both SSCI and HPSCI and is nothing new (we know, Ms. Maddow, the world began for you in 2002). It seems bizarre for the Left to descend *now* on Feinstein and Rockefeller for not falling on their swords under the Warlord’s reign of real fear. Were they craven? Absolutely. Ineffectual beyond the telling of it? No question. Complicit? Obviously. But if they are to be indicted the entire Duma should be expunged almost to an intern. Starting with Harry Reid.

As we mentioned there are legitimate reasons for wanting a career officer. Including, by the way, the word ‘oversight’ which few on the Left clawing at Feinstein seem to understand fully. Calling a Director to a hearing (open or closed) does nothing if the Director himself has been isolated and cut off internally and doesn’t know enough even to dissemble. It’s one thing to be on guard like trial attorneys for nuance, verb tense and misdirection at a hearing. And another to know it’s pointless because the Director knows less about what’s happening on the floors below him than the national desk at the New York Times.

In sum, we think Blair is an excellent choice. Panetta? A little odd but the Agency should be glad it’s not worse.