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    • CommentAuthorRon Edwards
    • CommentTimeJan 18th 2009 edited
     

    As usual, it's striking how close each of us is to the political news in simple human terms. In my early and middle teens, I participated in some protests and some campaigning for Leon Panetta's return to politics in the 1976 elections, seeking Congressional office as a Democrat after a fairly high-powered career as a Republican staffer. He had a lot of cred due to defying Nixon from within his own power-structure over civil rights, and he was a big supporter of the SALT agreements. Nukes were a big deal then. Drawing them down, U.S.-first, was a national priority to an extent that was discarded during the Reagan years and later forgotten, as apparently the modern Non-Proliferation Treaty is a lot like getting to the U.S. coast from Cuba - don't do it, don't do it, oh, you did it? Then welcome, citizen! But I digress.

    The point is that some time in 1976, I remember being in a smallish community-center type meeting room - maybe even a classroom at Monterey Peninsula College? - for one of his earlier campaigning events. It was pretty grass-roots. He was really fired up. He stated, even shouted: "No more nuclear weapons!" I cheered and clapped. It was exciting to be a youngster looking at what seemed like a new America finally emerging from under the shadow of Nixon and the Vietnam War, the two defining, apparently unchanging features of my understanding of politics.

    Here's Panetta's Wikipedia entry. Interesting how it doesn't mention a bit about the nukes; perhaps I'm only remembering what was important to my local situation, but as I recall, that was the big thing that rocketed him to office.

    Here are some of the thoughts about the appointment.

    Obama's Picks for Top Intel Jobs Stir Mixed Reactions (NPR Newshour)
    Was Panetta picked in a panic? (journalist opinion piece)
    Obama picks a conscience for the CIA; see also What's CIA Director Hayden hidin'? (former CIA officer; Veteran Intelligence Officers for Peace)

    Also, here's a really interesting interview concerning some of the people originally thought to be considered for the post: Ex-CIA Officials Tied to Rendition Program and Faulty Iraq Intel Tapped to Head Obama’s Intelligence Transition Team

    Best, Ron
    edited to fix a link

    • CommentAuthorDave Y.
    • CommentTimeJan 26th 2009
     

    Ron,

    "Panetta, a few feet away from me in a different America"

    By "different America", do you mean that the story you're thinking of where you're a few feet away took place in a different America, one that has changed so much since then?

    Or do you mean that Panetta himself is in a "different America" from the one you reside in; that is, one that intersects your America briefly in that moment and then he goes on to be DCI and you go on to be you?

    Dave

  1.  

    Whoa. I have to read that a few times. ... OK, I get it.

    My intended meaning was the first. Specifically that at that moment, and apparently culturally forgotten, the Cold War was deemed to be over. Given the SALT talks, given Nixon's resignation, given Hoover's death, given the withdrawal from Vietnam (at the time acknowledged as North Vietnam's victory, a phrasing we never use today), and (more vaguely) the Church, Pike, and Rockefeller investigations, the U.S. had apparently undergone a full self-reevaluation. How we approached war/peace was different. How youth related to age was different. How we viewed the Soviet Union was different. How we thought of humans in nature was different. Hell, how we thought of sex was different.

    To the people about ten years older than me, whose views and goals were easily identified with (i) Robert Kennedy in his last year of life, (ii) the Beat poet Gary Snyder, or (iii) Muhammed Ali as Vietnam War refuser and Black Moslem, it seemed as if a full transformation had truly occurred, and that's how it was presented to me at the time. That someone like Panetta, who incidentally was very ethnic-looking for a politician at that time, could defy both stereotypes of Republican and Democrat and represent precisely his supporters' views on a crucial issue ... well, that seemed pretty much like what the adults around me had been looking for and never found until now.

    It's also hard to convey the raw loathing and terror that nuclear weapons buildup engendered at the time, which we discussed in this forum a while ago. It was utterly nondenominational - U.S., U.S.S.R., who cared, a nuke was a nuke.

    I recognize now that so much was entrenched and indeed occurring that such a view was froth on the waves. There were some clues: I knew an anti-Shah Iranian, and about SAVAK, which most Americans didn't, for instance. But who knew that the beloved intellectual "liberal" Henry Kissinger was as powerful as ever? Who knew what was boiling over in Lebanon and what that would mean? The interventions and brush wars in Central America and Africa were ramping up to Vietnam levels and no one really knew much about it until it was too late.

    It was a different America in my experience of life, but beyond that, it probably wasn't.

    Best, Ron

  2.  

    Update: Wow! Nearly a clean sweep of the major intelligence agencies so far. Panetta's the CIA chief. McConnell's resigned (perhaps gracelessly, as opposed to simply being replaced), Ronald Burgess is the new DIA chief (temping for DNI at the moment), and Dennis Blair is the new DNI. If Mueller gets the axe too, then that might be the single most drastic revision of the intelligence apparatus in U.S. history.

    The question remains: is this going to be merely a shifting-about in the drivers' seats, with specific activities carrying on as usual? The ones I have in mind are Pentagon stovepiping, off-the-leash Special Forces ops, and off-the-leash CIA ops. Or can we hope for a revision of those activities, by eliminating the middle-level control of lower-level function? I'm talking about the Office of Special Plans and the Office of Strategic Influence, or rather, their functional legacy that remained after their nominal closure. Rumsfeld even boasted that the latter, for instance, would still proceed full blast although its "office" no longer had a name (Ministry of Truth and Peace.

    That's my concern when it comes to intelligence administrations. Chiefs can come and go. Big ideas can be batted around. But the functions and actions of the subdepartments and divisions and desks have lives of their own, including budgets, closed-off barriers to scrutiny, loyal staffs, and powerful allies outside their agencies. Stansfield Turner took the directorship of the CIA (then the equivalent of the DNI and the DCI combined) as a hard-core reformer, and I don't think he ever penetrated more than 15% down into the depths.