I think it is fair to say that a lot of the higher-echelon government jobs, particularly in the Federal Government, are sui generis. Therefore, it is not necessarily fair to expect the people who fill those jobs to have prior experience that is directly on point. Often, the best candidate for the job might not even have much or any experience that is directly relevant in that field, but we can safely assume that intellectual capacity and general managerial experience will prevent any truly epic screw-ups from occurring.
Apparently, being the Director of the CIA is not one of those jobs.
In case you missed it, Leon Panetta was called before Congress today and asked to explain exactly what in the world is going on over in Egypt. His answer was, essentially, “No worries, Mubarak will be stepping down by the end of the day.” As you may have noticed, that did not happen. This raised the rather obvious question of where the Director of the CIA got this thoroughly erroneous information that he gave to Congress. It turns out, he got it from the same place the rest of us got it: from watching his television.
American officials said Mr. Panetta was basing his statement not on secret intelligence but on media broadcasts, which began circulating before he sat down before the House Intelligence Committee.
Well, as Alberto Gonzales can tell you, making a fool out of yourself in front of Congress isn’t necessarily fatal to anything except your political career. However, the next time Leon Panetta is called to give a time-pressured answer about what’s happening in a global hotspot around the country, he might well be advising the President in the context of a split-second decision that could put numerous lives at risk. Let’s hope when that time comes, Mr. Panetta has something on hand besides what he just saw on MSNBC.