The business of princes

Kathryn Jean Lopez at the National Review cites a former CIA person who thinks Leon Panetta is a good appointment for DCI simply because he's an outsider to the agency and would be in a position to break its culture. Panetta wouldn't be the first appointee to the CIA whose primary qualification was not being from there. If you read the text very carefully though, "Ishmael Jones" isn't praising Panetta, so much as endorsing what he believes is Obama's plan to bring it to heel, because he thinks Obama is a jealous taskmaster, unlike GWB who tolerated insubordination out of a "misplaced sense" of loyalty to subordinates.

“Ishmael Jones” is a former deep-cover officer with the Central Intelligence Agency. He is author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, published last year by Encounter Books. I asked him this morning what he thought of the Panetta pick and what Obama should be thinking about the CIA.

Q: Would Leon Panetta have been your CIA chief choice?

A: He’s an excellent choice because he will be loyal to the president first, not to the CIA. Mr. Obama needs someone who can be trusted, a person who will support him when the going gets tough.

A “safe” choice, viewed as inoffensive by the CIA’s top bureaucrats, would have been dangerous. Directors Tenet and Hayden were placid Washington civil servants of neutral loyalties, quickly coopted by the CIA’s bureaucracy. A military officer might have had good leadership experience but would have lacked sound partisan political connections.

The choice is a brave one because it can open Mr. Obama to charges of appointing a loyalist to a crucial post. But that is exactly what is needed at this time.

Q: More generally speaking: Whomever the nominee, what’s the opportunity Obama has to seize when it comes to the CIA?

A: The superbly run Obama campaign showed that the Obama people know how to manage an effective organization. Reform of the CIA can begin simply by requiring the CIA to obey existing laws and directives: 1) The CIA must get its clandestine-service officers out of the United States and spying in and on foreign countries. The great majority of CIA employees now live and work within the U.S. 2) Its clandestine operations should move away from embassies because, unlike the old Soviet targets, terrorists and nuclear proliferators do not attend diplomatic cocktail parties. Congress has already funded this move, but the CIA has not complied. 3) Ruthlessly streamline the bloat. Terrorists have flat chains of command and no bureaucratic turfs. The CIA has dozens of byzantine management layers which, octopus-like, loop back upon themselves. Human-source intelligence collection has been effectively strangled. 4) The CIA must strictly account for the handling of taxpayers’ money, as the law already requires. Post-9/11, the CIA has become a place to get rich for contractors and former managers.

I'm not sure "Jones" is right. The difference between campaigning and governing is the difference between making promises and keeping them. Assuming "Jones" is right then the good news is that a President is finally going to try and control the CIA; the bad news is that President is Barack Obama.

Caroline Glick, speaking at a Center for Security Policy Forum, talks about another kind of ruthlessness, possibly involving Iran's willingness to deep six Hamas in exchange for breathing room. If Iran abandon's Hamas, then Olmert and Livni may, against all odds, secure Gaza. Now why would Iran do that? Because, Glick explains, times are tough and there's only room for one survivor at a time.

in contrast to the situation in 2006, today Iran seems to have little interest in expanding the war and so saving Hamas from military defeat and humiliation. Speaking on Hizbullah's Al Manar television network on Sunday, Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran's National Security Council, its chief nuclear negotiator and a close advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, essentially told Hamas that it is on its own.

In his words, "We believe that the great popular solidarity with the Palestinian people as expressed all over the world should reflect on the will of the Arab and Islamic countries and other countries that have an independent will so that these will move in a concerted, cooperative, and cohesive manner to draft a collective initiative that can achieve two main things as an inevitable first step. These are putting an immediate end to aggression and second breaking the siege and quickly securing humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza."

In other words, Iran's response to its great enemy's the war against its proxy is to suggest forming a commission.

There are many possible explanations for Iran's actions. First there is the fact that war is an expensive proposition and Iran today is in trouble on that score. In the summer of 2006, oil cost nearly $80 a barrel. Today it is being traded at $46 a barrel. Iran revised its 2009 budget downward on Monday based on the assumption that oil will average $37 a barrel in 2009.

Over the past several months, Iran has been begging OPEC to cut back supply quotas to jack up the price of oil. But, perhaps in the interest of weakening Iran, Saudi Arabia has consistently refused Iran's requests. To date, OPEC's cutbacks in supply have been far too small to offset the decrease in demand. And the loss of billions in oil revenues may simply have priced Iran out of running a two-front terror war.

Then too, Washington-based Iran expert Michael Ledeen from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies argued on Monday in his blog at Pajamas Media website that Iran's apparent decision to sit this war out may well be the result of the regime's weakness. Its recent crackdown on dissidents - with the execution of nine people on Christmas Day - and the unleashing of regime supporters in riots against the Egyptian, Jordanian, Saudi, Turkish and French embassies as well as the home of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi lends to the conclusion that the regime is worried about its own survival. As Ledeen notes Teheran may view another expensive terror war as a spark which could incite a popular revolution or simply destabilize the country ahead of June's scheduled presidential elections.

There is also the possibility that Iran simply miscalculated. It believed that ahead of Israel's February 10 elections, the lame-duck Olmert-Livni-Barak government, which was already traumatized by the 2006 war, would opt not to fight. This would have been a reasonable assumption.

The coin of the political realm is power. It's sobering to consider that the CIA may care more about the CIA, Obama about Obama and Khamenei about Khamenei than anybody else. As to the public, maybe Ayn Rand was right to cynically observe that everyone was on his own. "The idea that 'the public interest' supersedes private interests and rights can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals take precedence over the interests and rights of others."