On CIA Pick, Obama Is So Far Outside the Box, He Can’t Even See the Box

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Look at that smirk! Photo: Getty Images

By picking Leon Panetta, a former congressman and Clinton-era chief of staff, to head up the CIA, Obama is finally hearing a reaction to one of his appointments that isn't "good job." Two Democratic senators on the Intelligence Committee — both of whom Obama snubbed by not informing them of the pick — have already criticized Panetta's lack of intelligence experience. It's been widely acknowledged that Obama faced a difficult task in finding someone untainted by the cavalier, torture-friendly, domestic-spytastic Bush years, and Panetta brings with him solid anti-torture bona fides. Can his purity overcome his untraditional background? Who knows, but sometime soon Obama's outside-the-box tendencies should stop being so surprising to everyone.

• Josh Marshall feels "suspicious of the congressional reaction to this appointment" and is "more inclined to support" Panetta because of it. [Talking Points Memo]

• Jennifer Rubin calls this Obama's "first completely incomprehensible appointment." Panetta "does not remotely approach the stature of the other national security team members, nor does he bring any particular expertise to this key role." [Contentions/Commentary]

• Marc Ambinder says "it's hard to find a veteran with recent experience who wasn't tainted by the Bush Administration's policy decisions," and Obama could satisfy critics by "appointing a strong deputy CIA director, a deputy with experience." [Atlantic]

• Joe Klein thinks appointing Panetta "smells a bit of desperation," as he "doesn't have much, if any, experience in spook world." [Swampland/Time]

• Steve Benen points out that Panetta is not really without some intelligence background. "At a minimum, he had the highest of security clearances during his tenure as White House chief of staff, and no doubt spent a lot of time in intelligence briefings and in the situation room, and he was a member of the Iraq Study Group." [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Matthew Yglesias similarly contends that "it’s not like Panetta was just pulled out of nowhere — he was White House chief of staff where he had a hand in overseeing the entire federal government. He’s got the administrative chops and he’s held the intelligence clearances." And plenty of other CIA heads weren't career intelligence professionals. [Think Progress]

• Michael Crowley points out that George Tenet had plenty of intelligence experience: "And we all know how that turned out." [Stump/New Repubic]

• Michael Goldfarb thinks "Panetta will be competent, but the CIA will continue to be a thorn in the side of any president who tries to exert control over its enormous bureaucracy and covert programs." [Blog/Weekly Standard]

• Andrew Sullivan says that, "significantly," Panetta is "detached from the torture regime and its apparatus in a way that anyone involved in the CIA in the last eight years would not be." [Atlantic]

• David Corn calls it "an unusual choice," but Obama is "repudiating the waterboarding ways of the Bush-Cheney administration" by picking "a zero-tolerance critic of the use of torture." [Mojo Blog/Mother Jones]

• Ezra Klein is hopeful that while it's unknown "what Panetta will do as head of the CIA," as an avowed anti-torturer, we at least "can say what he won't do. And maybe, for now, that's improvement enough." [American Prospect]

• Chuck Todd and friends believe that by giving in to the "intellectual left," Obama is "allowing ideology to trump competence for the first time in one of his major appointments." [First
Read/MSNBC
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• Michael Ledeen says Panetta is a veteran, a "good lawyer," and a "good manager." Despite his lack of direct intelligence experience, picking him is "a smart move." [Corner/National Review]