Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Panetta v. DiFi; a spot of trouble?

When I wrote my post yesterday about Leon Panetta at the CIA, I mentioned that he is from California, and would presumably get along with the Congressional Dems from here. I didn't mention that Dianne Feinstein is incoming chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee because that didn't seem like an important detail.

Oops. The LA Times reported that Feinstein was not notified of the choice. She would like an intelligence professional in that job. My reaction is that it was a somewhat surprising mistake on the part of the Obama team. Seems like fairly standard protocol. Marc Ambinder thinks Panetta's name was leaked, and that the Obama team had every intention of notifying Feinstein. Which makes sense.

On the other hand, TPM, which is covering this thoroughly, is reporting that the Obama did consult with Ron Wyden (D-OR), but not Feinstein. So there is still some mystery.

It's an odd little rift between Feinstein (and Jay Rockefeller, outgoing chair) and the Obama team. But the choice is playing well among liberals. Mcjoan at Daily Kos, who followed the FISA debate closely, is dismissive of the two Senators' concerns:

Of course, anybody with a score card who actually paid attention to the FISA debate knows that putting surveillance authority exclusively in the hands of the court was pretty much the whole point of the original FISA legislation, and that Feinstein is continuing to be either overwhelmingly obtuse or profoundly dishonest on that count; it's her inadequate cover for capitulating to the Bush administration and eroding the Constitution.
Josh Marshall has a good take:

[M]y very preliminary impression is that the people whose opinions I respect most seem open to or in favor of the pick, whereas those opposing it strike me as more motivated by turf and power struggles.
Change we can believe in? Sounds like it. Obama is, after all, serious about this whole "making government work" thing. Policy over personalities.

Andrew Sullivan concurs. He agrees with mcjoan:
The more I think about this, the more it seems to me that the snub of these two [Feinstein and Rockefeller] was a deliberate signal. Their oversight of Bush's war crimes was pathetic.
He links to a great interview at the National Review - of all places - by - of all people - Kathryn Jean Lopez. The interviewee, "Ishmael Jones," (I assume a pseudonym), an ex-CIA officer, loves Panetta in this job.

He’s an excellent choice because he will be loyal to the president first, not to the CIA. Mr. Obama needs someone who can be trusted, a person who will support him when the going gets tough.

A “safe” choice, viewed as inoffensive by the CIA’s top bureaucrats, would have been dangerous. Directors Tenet and Hayden were placid Washington civil servants of neutral loyalties, quickly coopted by the CIA’s bureaucracy. A military officer might have had good leadership experience but would have lacked sound partisan political connections.

The choice is a brave one because it can open Mr. Obama to charges of appointing a loyalist to a crucial post. But that is exactly what is needed at this time.
My initial impression seems to be confirmed; Obama wants a great manager, and that's what he is getting. He wants to make sure the CIA actually works as it is supposed to. I'm not sure how having an old hand, an experienced intel pro, would do that. Obama is letting people know that a fresh perspective is needed.

It also looks like Feinstein doesn't have a lot of support, at least on first blush. Of course, the absolutely last thing she wants to do is embarrass Obama on something like this. I don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell she will really oppose Panetta. It's the President's perogative to choose his cabinet. Not informing Feinstein may or may not have been intentional; I'm still leaning towards it being a leak that hit the press too early. There will, I assume, be some kind of minor face-saving moment, when DiFi meets with Obama personally, he apologizes for the oversight, she accepts his apology, and then they both issue statements about how much they are looking forward to working together, blah blah blah.

Of course, then she and Panetta will have to figure out how to work together, but I don't think that will be an issue. Whether or not Feinstein and Obama agree on policy questions about intelligence reform is a big deal, but we can't tell much about that at this point.

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