Leon Panetta, CIA Chief?

I have nothing in particular against Leon Panetta, who seems to be a classic Clintonite pragmatist. That said, he has no evident qualification to be CIA Director other than general administrative ability. So why has Barack Obama nominated him for the post?

Obama preferred someone with intelligence experience, like John Brennan. The problem is that just about everyone who fits that description had, like Brennan, some involvement in devising the intelligence strategies of the last seven years. Those strategies, including but not limited to the interrogation of terrorists, have been spectacularly successful. Normally, participation in them would be a major plus in a candidate for CIA director.

But the Democrats have committed themselves, for political reasons, to harsh criticisms of these and other aspects of the Bush administration’s anti-terror campaign. So Obama had to abandon Brennan’s nomination, and he is now stuck with someone who not only had nothing to do with the Bush administration’s highly successful policies, but was adamantly opposed to them. Panetta fits the necessary political profile, so he will be CIA Director even though he has no experience in intelligence.

Thus do political considerations sometimes constrain a President’s ability to put the right people in executive posts.

UPDATE: Paul and I were working on posts on Panetta’s appointment simultaneously; it’s interesting to see how our takes on the appointment are both similar and different. It’s notable, I think, that both of our post titles ended with a question mark.

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