Tapper: Panetta's criticisms raise legitimate questions over Obama's leadership on Ebola, too

There are plenty of legitimate concerns over Barack Obama’s competency, but not just because of Leon Panetta’s new memoir.  Hugh Hewitt interviewed CNN host Jake Tapper last night to discuss the fallout from Panetta’s book, which reveals that the White House sometimes just prefers to make no decision at all and let issues become moot. Panetta claims that is how Obama handled the issue of arming Syrian rebels in 2011 forward, and rebukes Obama for not making a decision. Given that, Hugh asks, aren’t there legitimate concerns how Obama is handling any of the crises facing the US, including Ebola? Tapper concurs that there’s room for legitimate questions, given what Panetta, Robert Gates, and even Hillary Clinton have revealed in their memoirs:

HH: Let me ask you, then, to overlay the key part of last night’s Leon Panetta interview with Bill O’Reilly. I don’t know if you had a chance to watch that, but have you had Secretary Panetta on, yet?

JT: No, Gloria Borger did the interview for CNN, and we ran a big chunk of that yesterday on the show.

HH: Well, I hope he sits down with you. I want to talk to him as well, and he’s very candid, and of course, he’s got the same sort of experience set that both Gates and Rumsfeld had, and they’re serious guys, and they take it seriously. But one of the things he described in that interview with O’Reilly is that there really was no decision ever made on bombing Syria.

JT: Right.

HH: It just didn’t happen. And I’m wondering if the same “leadership” style is at work in the Ebola crisis at the White House, which is not to decide is to decide to do nothing?

JT: It’s a legitimate question. I mean, I think that these criticisms that we’ve heard from Secretary Gates, Secretary Panetta, Secretary Clinton to a degree, her criticism of don’t do stupid stuff is not a philosophy, you know, you can discount one of them. You know, maybe you can discount two of them. I don’t know how you discount three of them. There are questions about whether the kind of centralized leadership style is appropriate for the times in which we live, and that’s certainly what Secretary Panetta is saying, that at the very least, he thought that a decision should have been made, even if the decision was don’t arm the ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels. He thought that at the very least, it should have been announced. He was also very critical on the subject of whether or not the Obama administration should have pressed harder for there to be troops kept in Iraq.

This does not appear in the clip, but it’s worth adding into this conversation. Should Panetta have published his memoir now, or should he have waited? Former Obama aide Bill Burton called it “dishonorable” and “sad,” but Tapper disagrees:

HH: No, it genuinely is a portrait of a lassitudinous. Now Bill Burton on your network, I think it was with Wolf, former deputy press secretary, said that Secretary Panetta was doing a dishonorable thing by publishing this book. That struck a lot of people as raw. What did you make of that comment?

JT: Well look, I mean, as a reporter, I’m biased in favor of people being candid. And as a reporter, I’m biased in favor of any…so I can’t say that I like Paul O’Neill’s insider take on Bush, but not say that I also like Panetta’s insider take on Obama. I like them all. I want all of it. So you know, I think dishonorable is the wrong term. I could certainly understand why somebody would say, because first of all, I mean, a word like dishonorable, to whom are you supposed to have honor? Is it the country? Is it an individual? I could see why somebody might think it’s not the most loyal thing in the world to write a book that describes your view of somebody who gave you a job, but you have to remember also, Panetta, Clinton, Gates, these are people who had big names, and there was a lot of regard for them before President Obama asked them to do anything. So they don’t owe anything. But generally speaking, I don’t have a problem with any of these people writing their books, because I’m a journalist, and that would be completely contrary to what I do.

“Dishonorable” is too strong for merely publishing memoirs while Obama is still in office. It’s certainly unusual, but only if Panetta promised to wait would it be unethical. Paul O’Neill’s book aimed to settle some scores, but that tended to minimize the impact of his memoirs — although as I recall, Bush’s critics were all too pleased to cite from it. Still, that was O’Neill’s prerogative. Panetta, on the other hand, does not appear to be attacking Obama for the sake of settling scores but to express his concern over the direction of national security policy under Obama. Given the debacles we’ve seen — from Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Iraq, not to mention Iran and Russia — those concerns also appear to be very legitimate.