Tags: Panetta | Obama | White House | intelligence

Panetta Argues for 'Worthy Fights'

By    |   Wednesday, 22 October 2014 08:01 AM

On Oct. 13, former almost everything Leon Panetta appeared in Washington before a sizeable audience to discuss his new book, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace.

Panetta was ably interviewed by Mike Allen, chief white house correspondent for Politico. The event brought together three Washington treasures — C-SPAN; the Politics & Prose bookstore, recently sold to new owners to ensure its continuity; and the Historic Sixth and I Street Synagogue in Chinatown, which is one of the venues Politics & Prose uses when it expects a crowd too large to accommodate at the store.

Panetta has said that he wanted to return to his walnut ranch and family in California at the time he took the job as Secretary of Defense but only relented when the president asked him personally. Now he plans finally to return to California and has no plans or ambitions for office. Thus he fully assumes the role of eminence grise, and he performed that role to the fullest at this book presentation.

It is easy to forget, as this writer had, that Panetta began public service by advising two nominal Republicans, Sen. Thomas Kuchel of California and Robert Finch, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the Nixon cabinet. His list of high government posts include director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, White House Chief of Staff for Clinton, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and Secretary of Defense, both under President Obama.

The press has already reported that the White House would probably prefer that Panetta and other former White House staffers and cabinet officers wait until after the president leaves office before they write about their experiences, but the book and consulting businesses being what they are, these people are likely to continue to write and publish when it suits them, which probably means when their agents see maximum value.

Allen elicited from Panetta both criticism and praise for the Obama White House. Among Panetta's former jobs is as chairman of the House Budget Committee, and he candidly told the audience that he had advised Obama to accept the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles Commission that Obama himself had appointed, and that he should then work with Republicans to implement those recommendations, but Obama did not take this advice.

Panetta went on to express disappointment at Obama's reluctance to engage personally with legislators of both parties to promote the administration's agenda. He observed that there are people in Congress who are not smart, not honest and not likeable, but that the job of president calls for engagement in order to legislate in areas like the budget, immigration, infrastructure and healthcare.

As to the last Panetta, gave Obama full credit, and he also praised the president for giving the go-ahead for the risky attack on Osama bin Laden despite counsel of caution from most advisers.

Certainly another newsworthy product of this event was Panetta's expression of support for Hillary Clinton for president, couched in terms that voters should support Clinton if they are looking for someone with the qualities she brings — intelligence, experience and toughness.

Panetta was especially eloquent in his support for the war on terror as the necessary response to the attacks of 9/11. Regarding the current challenges in Iraq and Syria, he expressed confidence that the U.S. can conduct a successful campaign to retake the territory lost in Iraq. Syria, he advised, presents a tougher challenge, because it will be necessary first to cultivate reliable contacts that can provide the needed intelligence necessary to inform operations.

In another moment of extraordinary candor, Panetta lamented a decades-long trend of concentrating power in the White House, one that has reduced cabinet officials to virtual props for photo ops at the White House and elsewhere.

Panetta advised young people who are interested in politics and public service to get engaged by getting an internship or job on Capitol Hill.

For this writer, if the Democrats are bound to continue their march toward dominance as what former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., famously called "the party of government," one can hope that voices of moderation and patriotism like Leon Panetta's will still be heard.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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On Oct. 13, former almost everything Leon Panetta appeared in Washington before a sizeable audience to discuss his new book, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace.
Panetta, Obama, White House, intelligence
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 08:01 AM
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