The Passion of Leon Panetta

Should we pity the CIA director for getting steamrolled by Eric Holder and the White House?

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In the ongoing drama of the release of the CIA interrogation memos, conventional portraits of Attorney General Eric Holder and CIA Director Leon Panetta have emerged: Holder is the brusque legal muscle who pushes aside administration pleas to spare the CIA; Panetta, meanwhile, is the feckless victim, bulldozed by both the White House and the Justice Department. Simplified as it may be, this is the rough dynamic pundits are portraying as they debate the larger question of whether the two men can cooperate effectively in Obama's national security team.

Here's how commentators are pitting the Panetta-Holder split:

Leon Panetta

  • A Fall Guy, says Kimberly Strassel in a Wall Street Journal column. Strassel lists the times Obama has gone over Panetta's head and left the CIA "out to dry." Now she says the President is "opening old wounds" between the agency and the Justice department, so that now the CIA views them not "as their lawyer" but "as their prosecutor."
  • Emasculated, asserts Charles Krauthammer in Fox News All-Stars, as quoted in the National Review. "If I were head of the CIA as Panetta is, who has been trumped and rebuffed and humiliated, had his agency emasculated, he ought to resign on principle."
  • Ignored and Indecisive, adds Jennifer Rubin at Commentary. "He's not being held responsible for the assault on the CIA; he's being ignored." She goes on to wonder how Panetta could stay in his job "if he truly believes all Obama administration decisions imperil his agency and national security."

Eric Holder

  • Driving a Transnational Agenda , argues Andrew C. McCarthy in National Review. "The probe is a nakedly political, banana republic-style criminalizing of policy differences and political rivalry...Why would Holder retrace this well-worn ground when intimidating our intelligence-gatherers so obviously damages national security?" McCarthy believes that Holder and Obama are pushing the U.S. away from constitutional law, and toward "a doctrine of post-sovereign globalism in which America is seen as owing its principal allegiance to the international legal order."
  • Asserting an Independent Role, suggests a report by Carrie Johnson and Anne E. Kornblut in the Washington Post. They argue that Holder is changing the dynamic between the Justice Department and the White House--with Obama's tacit approval, of course. "Holder and his Justice Department have prevailed over strong objections from the CIA and the intelligence community. Holder hasn't won every one of those battles, but he has won many."
  • Fighting an In-House Battle, says Marcy Wheeler at FireDogLake. "What I'm interested in is that a fight that, in May, was portrayed (by a very good journalist) as a fight within the CIA, and between CIA and Congress, is now being portrayed as a fight within the Obama Administration."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.