Tag Archives: Leon Panetta

Kelly’s a downer; Trump is worse

Political junkies such as yours truly are writing about White House chiefs of staff lately. The trials, troubles and travails of John Kelly have elevated this post to the top of our minds.

Seriously, though, Kelly only deserves part of the blame for what ails the White House these days.

The main source of the difficulty rests with the man who sits behind the big ol’ desk in the Oval Office. Donald Trump’s the Public Culprit No. 1.

Kelly is unlikely to last much longer as chief of staff, no matter what he says about his desire to stay on the job or what the president says about his faith in the job Kelly is doing. This Rob Porter matter is threatening to swallow Gen. Kelly whole. Indeed, Kelly — a retired Marine Corps four-star general — has made a mess of the controversy surrounding Porter’s alleged spouse-beating.

The question has to center now on who would want the job after Kelly departs. Who, indeed, would subject himself to the whims and whimsy of the president?

Trump doesn’t take guidance well. He wants to be his own man. I can’t blame him for that, except that as president he needs a chief of staff who’ll tell him the truth, even when it hurts. Kelly apparently can’t do that.

Successful White House chiefs of staff — men such as James Baker III, Leon Panetta, Dick Cheney come to mind — have employed considerable political expertise to tell the presidents they served when they were making a mistake. I’m trying to imagine John Kelly delivering that kind of advice to Donald Trump. I can’t get there.

Trump operates in a constant state of chaos. He is tempestuous by nature. He relishes conflict. How can a president function successfully when his world is full of tumult and tension? He cannot. It’s that clear and simple.

So it now becomes a question of who is going to sign on to be the 45th president’s next whipping boy?

Donald Trump promised he would surround himself with “the best people.” The best of the best has to be the individual who runs the White House. Good luck finding someone to fill that bill.

Benghazi probe gets punctured

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, center, is escorted to a secure floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, to be questioned in a closed-door hearing of the House Benghazi Committee. The panel, chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., is investigating the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where a violent mob killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Benghazi has become a sort of buzz word in Washington.

It’s come to mean far more than it should mean, which ought only to identify the place where four brave Americans died in a spasm of confusion and anger in a firefight on Sept. 11, 2012 at the U.S. consulate in that Libyan city.

The term also has come to symbolize the ongoing effort to derail the presidential ambitions of the individual who was secretary of state at the time of the tragedy.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has testified before a House select committee. So have others with direct knowledge of what happened. And yet, the probe goes on and on and on …

Now we hear from a former congressional lawyer who said, by golly, that all the parties concerned did what was humanly possible to save the lives of the four Americans who died.

End of argument? One might hope so.

But … no-o-o-o!

The lawyer, Dana Chipman, who worked for the Benghazi select panel, said there was no more that could have been done. The terrorists who attacked the consulate overwhelmed the facility in a surprise attack.


That won’t stop Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., from continuing his pursuit of something — anything! — he can find that will undermine the presumed Democratic Party presidential nominee’s political quest.

According to the Huffington Post: “I think you ordered exactly the right forces to move out and to head toward a position where they could reinforce what was occurring in Benghazi or in Tripoli or elsewhere in the region,” Chipman told (Defense Secretary Leon) Panetta in the committee’s January interview with the former defense secretary, according to transcribed excerpts. “And, sir, I don’t disagree with the actions you took, the recommendations you made, and the decisions you directed.”

So, there you have it. End of story? It should be. It probably won’t end anytime soon. Maybe it’ll never end.


Politics is the roughest of them all

Yes sir. Politics and to an extent public service can be the roughest of the rough jobs on Earth.

You bring someone on board to carry out your policies, they do your bidding and then they return to private life, write a book and then blast those policies to smithereens.

Leon Panetta is the latest former public official to turn on the man who hired him. His criticism of President Obama is drawing praise from Republicans (no surprise, there) and condemnation from Democrats (again, no surprise).


It’s the norm, I suppose.

Panetta, whose dossier is sparkling — former leading member of Congress from California, former White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration, former CIA director, former defense secretary — now says Obama disregarded his advice about leaving a “residual force” of personnel in Iraq. He also says the president misunderstood the threat posed by the Islamic State. He says the president is reluctant to engage his critics.

Yes, he’s written a book.

Is he the first former presidential insider to trash his boss? Hardly. Hillary Clinton has done so. Ditto for Robert Gates. They both are former Obama hands who’ve said unkind thing about him.

George W. Bush got the treatment from former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill; Bill Clinton got ripped by one-time political aide George Stephanopoulos.

Frankly, none of this serves any president well.

Still, there’s something quite unsettling about the latest trashing of Obama by his former defense chiefs and his one-time secretary of state. They come at a time of intense international crisis.

Panetta’s critique is particularly unnerving as the president looks for answers to dealing with ISIL, fighting a deadly disease in West Africa, trying to find peace between Israel and the Palestinians, seeking a solution to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine … and God knows what else is going on around the world.

Why not make these people pledge — in writing — to keep their thoughts to themselves until after the president leaves office? Is that too much to ask?