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In Defense of the Panetta Pick

Tuesday, January 6, 2009  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA is an amazing though controversial book. I am listening to it again, and recommend the interview I conducted with Weiner from September 2007 as an intro to the book, and as background to the discussion of the selection of Leon Panetta to lead the CIA. Many fans of the CIA blasted Weiner’s book as a one-sided assault on a crucial arm of our national security infrastructure that passed far too quickly over the Agency’s many successes. Others argued that because of the nature of the CIA, the public, and even serious historians like Weiner, will only know about the organization’s failures.

I think the book is an invaluable contribution to the public’s understanding of how the CIA works, and whether or not Weiner got everything right, the lesson is that the CIA has often gotten things wrong and to the great detriment of the country. The intelligence professionals who work there are by-and-large extraordinary public servants, and their patriotism and courage is never adequately conveyed, but their jobs require a near perfection that it is impossible to expect much less demand.

The job of the DCIA is enormously important, and has often been filled by individuals with no background in intelligence or even national security. Sometimes it has been filled by people with such backgrounds but with very little in the way of senior executive experience. Weiner’s book makes clear that a good DCIA will have one essential attribute –access to the president. No matter how experienced in intelligence or management, a DCIA who stays at Langley without ever or even often getting to the president to present the Agency’s findings, warnings and recommendations will be a failed DCIA.

In Panetta’s favor is the likelihood of access and his experience managing the White House under Clinton. Panetta is widely regarded as very smart as well, and widely liked across both parties. Though a liberal, the experience of having skippered a White House staff will have schooled Panetta in the art of getting to the president when it must happen and in the ways of winning internal Executive Branch dust-ups. The Congressional background didn’t help Porter Goss much, but perhaps it will help Panetta keep the budget cutters away.

Panetta’s a patriot, an experienced Washington hand, and close to the president-elect. As with many of the other early appointments on the incoming national security team, conservatives should be asking themselves if they ought not to be thanking their stars that the new team appears very realistic about the world they are being called on to lead and the enemies they will be facing.

Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA

The Weiner interview and many others with key authors of books central to understanding the national security of the United States are contained in my recent The War Against the West. When I interviewed’s Glenn Greenwald yesterday and learned he had never read The Looming Tower, I thought to myself that this explains part of his naivete about Hamas –he hasn’t done the basic reading. People who want to understand the war in which we are engaged have to work at it by reading books like Weiner’s, Lawrence Wright’s and the many other titles that are extraordinary efforts at reporting and analysis.

And if you won’t read the books, at least read the conversations with their authors.

The War Against the West

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Jeffrey Goldberg and Robert Kaplan On Gaza On Today’s Show

Tuesday, January 6, 2009  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Two Atlantic writers join me on today’s program to discuss the Israel-Hamas war –Jeffrey Goldberg and Robert Kaplan.

Kaplan is very familiar to my audience, and every one of his visits very welcome. His most recent book is Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts.

Goldberg has extensive experience in Israel, and his book Prisoners, is all about the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

Goldberg wrote this on his blog yesterday:

I have friends in Gaza about whom I worry a great deal; I’ve seen many people killed in Gaza; I’ve served in the Israeli Army in Gaza; I’ve been kidnapped in Gaza; I’ve reported for years from Gaza; I hope my former army doesn’t kill the wrong people in Gaza; I hope Israeli soldiers all leave Gaza alive; I know they’ll be back in Gaza; I think this operation will work; and I have no actual hope that it will work for very long, because nothing works for very long in the Middle East. Gaza is where dreams of reconciliation go to die. Gaza is where the dream of Palestinian statehood goes to die; Gaza is where the Zionist dream might yet die. Or, more to the point, might be murdered.

Goldberg ought to be guesting on every cable channel –if cable channels were interested in what is happening in Gaza that is.

Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground (Vintage Departures)Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror (Vintage)

An Interview With Michael Oren From The Israeli-Gaza Border

Tuesday, January 6, 2009  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Professor Michael Oren of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and the Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service is also a reservist in the IDF. He has been called up to active duty, and I interviewed him yesterday from his position near the Israeli-Gaza border.

The transcript is here. The podcast is here.

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