Forget the question of whether the Secret Service can protect President Obama from physical threats from strangers. Can no one protect him from the political threats posed by his own friends?
Leon Panetta, who served Obama as both director of central intelligence and secretary of defense, has a book out next week in which he takes issue with White House foreign policy. Time has a timely I-told-you-so excerpt today about Iraq: "My fear, as I voiced to the President and others, was that if the country split apart or slid back into the violence that we’d seen in the years immediately following the U.S. invasion, it could become a new haven for terrorists to plot attacks against the U.S. Iraq’s stability was not only in Iraq’s interest but also in ours," Panetta writes.
He and deputies Michele Flournoy and Ash Carter pushed for an agreement that would maintain a larger military presence after the U.S. withdrawal, but the White House pushed back, and as Panetta tells it, things got tense. (It's worth recalling that Flournoy and Carter were both passed over as Panetta's successor in favor of Chuck Hagel, and over the objections of some liberals.)
To my frustration, the White House coordinated the negotiations but never really led them. Officials there seemed content to endorse an agreement if State and Defense could reach one, but without the President’s active advocacy, al-Maliki was allowed to slip away. The deal never materialized. To this day, I believe that a small U.S. troop presence in Iraq could have effectively advised the Iraqi military on how to deal with al-Qaeda’s resurgence and the sectarian violence that has engulfed the country.
This isn't the first time Panetta has criticized Obama—late last month he said Syrian rebels should have been armed sooner—but this is a pointed critique coming at a bad time for the president, who still seems to be in search of a strategy for ISIS that will be both effective and politically viable.