Former CIA director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has been generating significant buzz for his criticism of President Obama on several issues as chronicled in his soon-to-be-released memoir, "Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace."
Yet while the media focuses on the substance of Panetta's arguments against a sitting president and former boss -- which would seem out of character especially for a long-time member of the political establishment -- there is an underlying motive for why Panetta might be criticizing the president beyond mere fact-cleansing that the media may be wholly ignoring.
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta laughs alongside former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prior to presenting her with the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service during a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, February 14, 2013. (Image Source: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
A simple study of Leon Panetta's background indicates that his criticism of the president's failure or refusal to (i) Leave behind a residual force in Iraq, (ii) Arm Syrian rebels in 2012 (which both Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advocated) and (iii) Enforce a "Red Line" in Syria crossed by President Bashar al-Assad in 2013 could be political, involving an allegiance with the Clintons germane to 2016.
Leave aside for a second the fact that Panetta may have had genuine differences with President Obama, and as such wants to set the record straight and protect his legacy -- and in light of the conflagration of foreign policy failures subsequent to his tenure in the Obama administration, such distancing and record-setting would seem perfectly reasonable.
Irrespective of Panetta's record under President Obama, there is a massive elephant in the room: After serving in Congress from 1977-1993, Panetta spent four years in Bill Clinton's administration, gaining an appointment as director of the Office of Management and Budget where he served from January 1993-July 1994, and then as President Clinton's chief of staff from July 1994-January 1997.
Why is this such a crucial aspect of Panetta's background?
Given how closely Panetta worked with Bill Clinton, and the duration of his tenure in the Clinton White House, it stands to reason that Panetta would have developed a deep loyalty to both Bill and Hillary Clinton. Certainly his words in a recent USA Today interview are consistent with this assumption:
[Panetta asserts that Hillary Clinton] would be a "great" president. "One thing about the Clintons is, they want to get it done," he says, in words that draw an implicit contrast with Obama. "When it comes to being president of the United States, it's one thing to talk a good game. It's another thing to deliver, to make things happen."
Even without reading between the lines, is Leon Panetta not taking an explicit dig at President Obama's leadership qualities, in contrast with those of Hillary Clinton?
Panetta's arguments that President Obama was an ineffective leader on foreign policy who made certain critical errors in Iraq and Syria are consistent at least thematically with what Hillary Clinton herself argued in her own memoir, "Hard Choices." Ms. Clinton has been working to portray herself as a more serious/strategic and "hawkish" leader on foreign policy, who had sincere differences with the president on crucial foreign policy decisions.
Such a narrative of competency and toughness would appear to contrast favorably for someone seeking a Democratic nomination in 2016.
That Panetta would lend credence to such a narrative, publicly supporting Hillary Clinton while subsequently putting down President Obama, should, in light of Panetta's longstanding political allegiances, at the very least draw some media scrutiny.
To date, it has not.
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