Biden misses the significance of Panetta’s criticism

Joe Biden took a shot at Leon Panetta for criticizing the Obama administration in his forthcoming book, Worthy Fights. The Vice President complained:

I’m finding that former administration officials, as soon as they leave, write books, which I think is inappropriate. But any rate; no, I’m serious. I do think it’s inappropriate. At least give the guy a chance to get out of office.

Biden’s statement is self-serving — unlike Panetta, the Vice President is inextricably linked with Obama — but the comment does align with conventional wisdom in Washington that it is disloyal for a former official to criticize an administration in which he or she served while that administration is still in power.

However, Biden misses (or ignores) the implication of Panetta’s decision to buck ordinary practice. Panetta’s decision implies that Obama’s failings are extraordinary.

A former official should not write a gossipy “kiss-and-tell” books about the president or his associates. Nor is it good form, while the president is still in office, to write about ordinary policy disagreements even if they regard relatively important domestic issues.

But suppose a former official believes that the president is botching momentous matters of national security. Should the official “at least give the guy a chance to get out of office”?

Clearly not. By then it will be too late.

Panetta presumably hopes that Obama, in the nearly two-and-a-half years that remain of his presidency, will overcome his deficiencies (Panetta says the president “avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities”) and offer a serious response to the rapidly mounting threats posed by our enemies, including ISIS. In fact, Obama recently changed course in Iraq and Syria, albeit half-heartedly it seems.

Under these circumstances, Panetta is acting honorably by voicing his concerns about Obama’s leadership. And if, by adding his unique voice to the chorus of those expressing the same concerns, he can somehow influence administration policy going forward, then Panetta will have performed a huge service to the country.

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