Team Players

John Cole is furious [UPDATE: merely “disgusted“] at Dianne Feinstein and other Democrats critical of the nomination of Leon Panetta as CIA director, saying it proves that the party are “unparalleled masters at fratricide.”

Way to go, team. Feinstein, who had no problem voting yea for Porter Goss, George Tenet, and Michael Hayden, as well as Mike Mukasey, Robert Mueller, and Donald Rumsfeld, has deftly just knee-capped her own party’s nominee for CIA, and is now in the position of doing an about face and looking like a complete and total hack or denying the incoming President his selection, something she never did to any of Bush’s choices.

I couldn’t disagree more.  One of the chief issues that frustrated conservatives such as John and myself had during the first six years of the Bush administration was a Republican Congress that saw itself as a rubber stamp for a president of their party.

While their performance in office can certainly be criticized, Goss, Hayden, Rumsfeld, et. al. were slam dunk qualified for their jobs.  Each had nearly ideal skill and experience sets, on paper at least, for their positions.  Goss was a former CIA officer who’d been chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.  Hayden is a career intel professional.  Rumsfeld had been SECDEF once before.

By contrast, Panetta, while a skilled politico, has no senior level intel experience.  Feinstein, as chairman of the Intel committee, owes it to her country, her constituents, and her party to raise questions about what seems, at first blush at least, to be a square peg going into a round hole.  It may be — indeed, my sense at the moment is that it will turn out that way — that Panetta will seem like a decent choice upon further reflection, the choice is one that warrants scrutiny.

If the job of Members of Congress is merely to serve as cheerleaders for the president if he’s of their party and critics when he’s not, we should scrap Separation of Powers and replace it with the Responsible Government model of the parliamentary system.  It’d be much more efficient.   For a variety of reasons, though, the Framers chose to go in a different direction.

Except in the context of elections, Feinstein and Obama are not on the same “team.” Senators represent a different constituency than the president.  Moreover, they represent a different institution with different prerogatives and responsibilities.   Feinstein is doing her job by conducting oversight to protect against executive bungling and overreach.   If more of her counterparts across the aisle had done the same, they might still be in the majority.

Photo credit: ICanHasCheeseburger via Vox.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Franklin says:

    Good point.

  2. Some people really seem to want a one-party state, or worse a dictator.

  3. Leisureguy says:

    The argument would be more persuasive if the “intelligence professionals” hadn’t done such a very bad job—although Tenet was awarded the Medal of Freedom (an honor somewhat sullied by Jerry Bremer’s also getting it). Porter Goss was such a hack that even Bush had to get rid of him. Tenet was famously wrong. And all the professionals had no trouble at all with a policy of torture and illegal detainment. I think that Obama is selecting Panetta because Panetta has been extremely good at what he does, knows the Washington ropes, and will be tasked with getting the CIA back on track.

    Feinstein is not a person for whom I have much respect. She, like Charles Schumer, pushed for Mike Mukasey, who has done a very bad job IMO, and also she pushed for telecom immunity for whatever crimes they may have committed (and we will probably never know what those were).

  4. Leisureguy says:

    Oh: on the general point that Congress should not simply give the President whatever he asks—the policy the GOP followed under Bush—I agree. Congress should use good reasoning, sound discussion, and transparent processes to do what is best for the country. But the Congress we have is quite parochial in its interests, alas. Recall that Bob Corker (R-Nissan, TN) helped kill the effort to help the American car industry.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Should Congressional oversight be limited to appointees of the other party?

  6. charles johnson says:

    Some previous very successful heads of the CIA had no real prior intel experience. George H.W. Bush comes to mind. Panetta was picked because he’s a competent administrator who knows both the White House and the Hill, he has no links to torture or illegal spying, and is on record forcefully opposing the torture we committed.

    Dawn Johnsen is the pick that really fills me with pride though.

  7. John Cole says:

    I wouldn’t say I am furious- nothing the Democrats do really makes me furious, because I completely and totally expect them to screw up everything they touch. The chief difference between the two parties is that the Republicans screw things up out of venality, the Democrats do it because they are idiots.

    Having said that, I think the real point here is that Feinstein had no problem rubber-stamping every Bush appointee, and now appears to be knee-capping her own party’s pick before he even has a hearing. That simply makes no sense to me, either politically or in the service of the good government points that you correctly bring up.

  8. Anderson says:

    Feinstein is doing her job by conducting oversight to protect against executive bungling and overreach.

    Too bad that was of no discernible interest to her when the President was a Republican.

    Panetta can go into CIA, kick ass & take names, and get some smart people running the place. That would be a big change, considering that, no lie, the nation’s premier intel agency was being run by people who acted as if torture were the best way to conduct interrogations.

  9. Joe says:

    I agree with what your saying but I also agree that she is a party hack. I can think of tons of examples where she seems to intentionally fowl up the democratic plan. She is a dino. Glad there is oversight but she is transparent

  10. […] Just disgusted. James Joyner (proud new papa!) makes a great point about my post last night regarding DiFi’s reaction to the Panetta pick: […]

  11. markm says:

    Some previous very successful heads of the CIA had no real prior intel experience. George H.W. Bush comes to mind.

    I think things are a little more intense today than they were back then. I doubt there would be much grumbling about Panetta if there wasn’t so much going on at the moment and for the foreseeable future.

  12. charles johnson says:

    Things are more intense today that during the cold war, immediately before the overthrow of the Shah, etc?

    That’s arguable, but I don’t wish to argue it.

    For the record, I don’t think things were especially tense then or now. We currently have no plausible existential threats. America hasn’t had to truly fight for its security in 60 years.

  13. Davebo says:

    Perhaps if we had competent leadership at CIA things would be a great deal less intense today.

  14. The chief difference between the two parties is that the Republicans screw things up out of venality, the Democrats do it because they are idiots.

    That’s really interesting. My understanding is that in Washington, D.C., it was the Democrats that were known as the evil party and the Republicans that were known as the stupid party.

    Perhaps Mr. Cole would like to collect the last dozen or so headlines from any Big Media source dealing with the venality of elected officials and give us a scorecard on how many were Republicans and how many were Democrats. Of course, the scorecard may get a bit muddled because of Big Media’s habit of reporting on venal politicians of no discernable party affiliation, and we all know what that means, don’t we? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more.

  15. Barry says:

    “That’s really interesting. My understanding is that in Washington, D.C., it was the Democrats that were known as the evil party and the Republicans that were known as the stupid party.”

    The opposite, actually.

    “Perhaps Mr. Cole would like to collect the last dozen or so headlines from any Big Media source dealing with the venality of elected officials and give us a scorecard on how many were Republicans and how many were Democrats. ”

    I’d guess about 9:1 would be about Democratic politicians, or rather one particular one (hint: ‘governor’ and ‘land of Lincoln’).

  16. Feinstein goes rogue…

    FEINSTEIN GOES ROGUE…. Just a few weeks ago, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined her colleagues in urging Rod Blagojevich not to fill Illinois’ vacant Senate seat, warning him that his appointment would not be seated. Yesterday, she changed her …