Leon Panetta wasn’t so sure Barack Obama made the right choice when the president picked him to lead the CIA and later the Defense Department.
“I had worked on budget issues,” Panetta told a crowd of more than 250 Wednesday during a World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth luncheon at the Fort Worth Club. “I was surprised.
“He said, ‘The reason I want you to do this is to help restore the credibility of the CIA,’” Panetta said. “I thought that the intelligence area was very important, frankly, especially after 9-11. I was willing to take on that challenge.”
Panetta, who became known as the man who developed a plan to kill Osama bin Laden, said his move to the CIA worked out well.
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“That operation sent a clear message to the world: Nobody attacks this country and gets away with it,” he said.
Panetta, who served as CIA director from 2009 to 2011 and defense secretary from 2011 to 2013, has left public office and released his memoir: Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace.
But he said the United States remains as risk.
“We are in the war on terrorism,” he said. “We are confronting an enemy who is prepared to attack and kill us.
“We’ve got to take a very comprehensive approach.”
Variety of issues addressed
Panetta was introduced to the crowd by former Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief, who told him he would never really be able to leave public service, before beginning a conversation for the crowd with Lee Cullum of KERA-TV.
In his book, he criticizes President Obama and questions his leadership, noting that the president “avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities.”
He particularly criticized the way the president handled the war in Iraq.
On Wednesday, he weighed in on several issues.
One of the biggest national security threats to America: Congress. “They can’t do a damn thing,” he said. “And what bothers me more than anything is they’ve given up.”
He said members of Congress aren’t abiding by their oaths of office to take care of the country. “It’s up to the next president to decide if we are going to continue this or get back to the business of running this country.”
U.S. relations with Israel: “We have a very special relationship with Israel,” he said. “We support them.” And that’s why it’s key for Obama to overcome an often strained relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“There are a whole series of threats [both countries] face,” Panetta said. “The last thing we need is the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel to not get along.”
Hillary Clinton’s emails: When asked about the 2016 potential Democratic presidential candidate’s use of a private email account to conduct business while Secretary of State, Panetta said he’s not a fan of email.
“I appreciate the new technology, but when you are in a job that involves a lot of responsibility, I don’t want to deal with people in emails,” he said. “I want to deal with them in person.”
“If she decides to run for president, this election is not going to turn on what the hell she did with her emails,” he said. “It’s going to turn on vision.”
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610