Paul Greenberg

If we've avoided another major terrorist assault on these shores, there can't have been that much of a terrorist threat in the first place, right? Or if there had been, it must be gone by now. (Forget London, Madrid and now Mumbai. Those attacks were just coincidences and no business of ours.) Surely this nation's escaping a repeat of September 11th can't be due to the active vigilance of an administration that the next president spent so much of his campaign deriding.

Who needs someone experienced in counterintelligence to head the CIA? What's needed is a mover-and-shaker, a party strategist and long-time congressman popular with the Democratic establishment, a chief of staff with exceptional organizational skills -- even enough to keep a notoriously disorganized president like Bill Clinton in vague control. In short, a nominee who knows a lot about Washington and isn't tainted by any connection with this CIA. Who else but ... Leon Panetta! He's got the right priorities: politics first and last, national security an afterthought. If that.

Barack Obama's choice of the Hon. Leon Panetta to preside over Langley says a lot about his own priorities: When it comes to getting the economy out of the ditch it's in, to heck with partisan politics. The next president wants an experienced financier who's been in the thick of (messy) things, never mind that he'll be a holdover from the Bush team. Much like the respected secretary of defense whom Barack Obama chose to keep on. After all, the economy, like the military, is important, indeed crucial. Politics be damned. Experience counts. Especially if these key officials are going to be working for a largely inexperienced president and commander-in-chief.

But who cares about the CIA? Why would the next president insist on experience in that job? What counts most in filling that portfolio is his party's prejudices against anyone associated with the current administration, especially anyone who believes in spying on terrorists, ferreting out their bank accounts, tracing their international calls and all the rest. That kind of experience may be a disqualifier when it comes to directing Barack Obama's new-age CIA.

Leon Panetta may know more Democratic pols and less about counterintelligence than anyone else Barack Obama could have chosen for this job. Which ought to make him a shoo-in for confirmation by this Senate.

As for protecting the country, well, who says the age of miracles is past? With an amateur in charge of the CIA, it'll be a miracle if the country gets through the next few years as safely as it has the years since September 11th. Keep the faith. They say God looks after fools, drunkards and the United States. Let's hope so.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.