The near-flawless Obama transition hiccupped Monday with the surprise announcement that former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta was the new president's choice to head the Central Intelligence Agency. The well-respected Panetta - Democrats and Republicans alike have praised his work and know him to be a strong executive with a first-class understanding of budgets and politics - is not someone who is considered to have experience in the netherworld of intelligence operations.
In this sense he mirrors former President Jimmy Carter's initial choice of Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorenson to lead the CIA. Sorenson, whose vantage point inside JFK's inner circle gave him a more than passing acquaintance with at least a few of the CIA's more interesting Kennedy-era adventures, saw his nomination go nowhere when people realized he was just not qualified for the job, which at that time also included the responsibility of leading the U.S. intelligence community. But Panetta's qualifications - or lack thereof - isn't the real story here.
The Obamacracy's initial reaction was less than approving. Daily Kos, a Web site hub of pro-Obama activity and opinion, decried the choice as "weak." But what's truly interesting is the vehemence of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein's strongly-worded criticism of the nomination.
"I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA director," she said in a statement. "My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time." As the incoming chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has the responsibility for presiding over Panetta's confirmation hearing and is indicating she might oppose the nomination.
Clearly, she is not happy. To figure out why she's upset, you need go any further than the first line of her statement, which again brings to mind the rocky relations between the incoming Carter Administration and the Democrats on Capitol Hill. You just can't make an announcement of this magnitude without letting the relevant committee chairman know in advance and without giving them the opportunity to offer their opinion. It's a rookie mistake that, hopefully for Obama's mistake, won't happen again.
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