Panetta and Iraq - Obama Regretting His Appointment Yet?
Leon Panetta is an experienced Washington hand, at least according to Obama. As with anything else in the Beltway, being an old hand can be a good thing - and a bad thing. When it comes to politicians, old hands tend to get swept out when the voting public gets annoyed with the establishment. In the cabinet, switching faces isn't necessarily so easy. That's not to say that anyone in the administration is talking already about Panetta moving on - no one is. It is pointing out that he's managed to speak out of turn twice in under two weeks on the job. It's not time to talk change, but it can't be going down easy in the White House.
Foreign policy wonks must be having at least a little fun with this one. First Panetta slips on the long-term plans for Afghanistan, mentioning troop levels on the ground in 2014. Then, he told troops in Baghdad that they were there because of 9/11 and Al-Qaeda - the old Bush refrain. The Obama administration doesn't agree with that assessment, nor do many experts on the region. Saddam Hussein was never definitively linked to the organization, and the vast majority of reports on the activities of Al-Qaeda in Iraq suggest that the organization had no real presence there until after Hussein was deposed. The Pentagon has officially been of the opinion that Hussein had no links to Al-Qaeda as far back as 2008, and the 9/11 Commission dismissed the claims in 2004. For being an old hand, Panetta seems to have forgotten that old news.Going forward, it will be interesting to watch if there are any significant changes in Panetta's style when speaking publicly, or if it becomes obvious that the administration is trying to keep him on a shorter leash. To be fair, the Secretary of Defense is under more public scrutiny than the Director of the CIA. Panetta probably needs to learn to shift gears to deal with that difference. In the meantime, the media gets to engage in "Panetta watch" to see what he says next. Popcorn anyone?