Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Panetta to CIA

News yesterday of Leon Panetta's selection to be the Director of the CIA (and also, the expected appointment of ADM Denny Blair as the Director of National Intelligence). Lots of DC-based chatter about the Panetta choice, with some focusing on his Panetta's utter lack of intelligence community experience, some focusing on his legislative experience (8 terms in the House), and some talking about his time in the Clinton White House (Budget Director and Chief of Staff).

On the whole, I think Panetta is a good choice. He's an old DC hand, he knows how to get things done, he understands the appropriations process, he knows Congress, and he understands the White House. Good judgment and steady leadership is what CIA needs at the top, the spooks can have the #2 job and keep themselves happy.

What I don't understand here is why Panetta would take the job? Well, not true really. What interests me is the hypnotic lure of public service. Leon Panetta is 70 years old and firmly planted in his California think-tank. Most importantly, he used to be the White House Chief of Staff--you know, the guy who hauls the Director of Central Intelligence in and reads him the riot act when the President isn't happy. Except that under the new rubric, The Rahminator will be calling in ADM Blair for the horeswhipping....DCI is too far down the totem pole. What I'm getting at is that this is really a step down for Panetta, but it goes to show you the how strong the lure of public service is, especially when your party has been in the wilderness for a while.

6 comments:

Mudge said...

Maybe it is more than just doing more duty in Washington, although I believe your hunch has merit. Perhaps at age 70, recognizing his inability to take up arms and do his part in the war on terror (always hated that term by the way) he instead views this appointment as an opportunity to lend his talents to helping those who are at the forefront of keeping our nation safe from attack. Also, following your hunch, maybe it isn't serving in Washington as much as it is serving in THIS Washington. To be a part of this Administration as what may be the last of your public service assignments may have been the deal maker. It is bound to be difficult, and he is no stranger to the difficult. But it also has the potential to be hugely satisfying. While I am one of the 20-30% who still feel history will acquit President Bush of the conventional wisdom indictments so prevalent today, I also believe that the country will start to improve its economic and diplomatic stature in the coming years. To be a part of that, as the icing on your lifelong public service cake, in an historic moment in our nation's politics, may really be why he would accept what appears to be a demotion. But I haven't talked with Leon in over 5 decades so I am just guessing.

Ghost of J Edgar said...

You don't have to be in a top cabinet position or sitting to the right of the President to have power in Washington if you are in charge of the right agency.

Sally said...

Let's stop referring to Congress, Cabinet posts or any lofty positions of that ilk as 'public service.' I've heard that term far too often lately, particularly in relation to the Caroline Kennedy debacle, as though those jobs are rooted merely in a noble spirit of patriotism and selflessness. When I hear the term public service, I think of the Peace Corps or a group of volunteers holding sandbags to hold back a flood. It's not as if 'public service' in Washington doesn't offer its share of perks.

Mudge said...

Disagree Sally. Notwithstanding all the perks of being, say, President of the United States, you couldn't pay me enough money to ever consider taking that job. Nor could you pay 99.99% of all the people who are experts at telling him exactly how to be a president to do the job themselves. Our Constitution requires those positions. I'm thankful it isn't like jury duty and that there are those who volunteer to fill those slots, with our elective support, so I don't have to. Sure, there are those who get their priorities all wrong in fulfilling their duties and thre are even outright criminals who seek the office for the sake of nothing but personal gain. But there are people just like that in the military, the police force, fire stations and, gasp, yes, even the peace corps. I take the view that it really is a service. It is damned hard work, not without sacrifice, and it is necessary to keeping our nation functioning. That it is done with varying degrees of competence and in ways that might mask the "service-like" nature of the job, it is nevertheless service. And at the point that I think my fellow citizens who volunteer themselves for that service are failing miserably, then maybe then I'll gain the motivation to go try it out myself...but I doubt it.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

I'm definitely with Mudge on this one, especially when you consider the paycuts many of these folks take.

Sally said...

I stand by my original statement. It would be wonderful if these folks were drawn only by a desire to serve their country. But do you really think that is the chief motivation for the majority (not all) of them? No--it's the irresistible lure of power. And Wahoo, maybe the pay isn't as great as what many of them leave behind, but those folks have already amassed their fortunes--the pay certainly isn't BAD, and the work schedule is pretty damn light most of the time.

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