Leon Panetta reads his own audio book and his sincerity and devotion to the country shine through. However, so does a bit of arrogance that seems to be hiding under a cloak of humility. He never seems to believe he is quite up to the task offered, but always accepts it. Born to Italian immigrants, in a family of modest means, he grew up helping in the family’s Italian Cafe and than on the family farm in California. He became a lawyer, enlisted in the army and then began a career as a public servant.
He began his career as a Republican, working for a Senator and then assistant to Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He then moved on to become the Civil Rights Director in President Nixon’s administration, a position he was eventually forced from when he had a conflict of interest regarding Nixon’s policy. He then worked for Mayor John Lindsay, after which he switched parties and ran for and won a Congressional seat in California, as a Democrat. He morphed over the years into a Liberal Democrat and he became much more involved in politics in the Clinton and Obama administration at the highest levels of the government. It is hard to know if his change of political parties was caused by a change in his beliefs (possibly due to being spurned by the Republican Party), or a change in the career opportunities he was offered, or a combination of both. However, he was always interested in the health and welfare of others and worked tirelessly to advance the cause of civil rights wherever he perceived a need, in education, in health services, in the armed forces, in the work place and in the military.
As years passed, he morphed into the Director of the OMB and the Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton. Then in President Obama’s administration, he was the head of the CIA and the Secretary of Defense. He has held many highly respected positions throughout his career. He has been intricately involved in many avenues of the government from finances to security and has sat in on the highest level of briefings. He was involved in sorting out many of the scandals in both the Clinton and the Obama Presidency and in solving many of its security problems in the Middle East. He is well versed in the way our country operates and was a highly qualified and dedicated public servant for his entire career. He has been loyal to those he served, working in government in some capacity for almost his entire career, except for a brief stint when he worked with his brother in a law practice.
The book is really his memoir, a worthy read for those who know him and those who want to learn more about this dedicated member of the group of elite men and women who serve us all. It is not a tell-all, there are no major “aha” moments. He does reveal the aspects of government with which he disagreed in the various administrations in which he worked, but for the most part, I found the book highly supportive of President Obama and President Clinton. If it is a “cheerleading” attempt to prop up Hilary Clinton for her Presidential run, as some say, it is not over the top. However, he fails to explain many of the governmental gaffes that were under her purview, and he does not fully explain many of Obama’s. I did not find it to be a very negative judgment of his governing style and decisions, as implied by his critics.
I found the book a bit disingenuous. He brushed off Nancy Pelosi’s attempt to justify her lie about not knowing that there were enhanced interrogations during the Iraq war and allowed her to get away with it. He blows off the supporters of the soldiers who felt that they could have done more in Benghazi to save Ambassador Stevens, and he implies that anyone disagreeing with the government’s assessment is lying and making false statements about the circumstances. In actuality, it was the government that lied, insisting that “the uprising” was caused by a video rather than what it was, a planned terrorist attack on our embassy. It was not a casual riot and the President doubled down on that lie and supported it. News media actually twisted some of his statements to say that he supported the idea of terrorists in his Rose Garden speech, when that speech referred to 9/11/01, not the Benghazi 9/11 attack. Panetta basically brushed off the criticisms of Obama and Clinton’s decisions at that time, as well as the false statements made by National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, for which she has never apologized. I, for one, tend to believe the boots on the ground more than the words coming from the administration, since by now, there have been many more instances of announcements that have proven to be false.
Although Panetta disagrees with some of Obama’s policies in the Middle East, he explains away his culpability with the Arab Spring, the decline of all the gains in Iraq and the uprising in Syria. He does not mention his lack of support for our allies and greater support for our enemies, with more than a brief stroke of his own pen. He does hold Obama’s feet to the fire, however, regarding the rise of Isis and the fall of Iraq.
The book is already obsolete in terms of its politics with the outbreak of Ebola in our own country because of a flawed CDC policy, and the enormous success of Isis in the Middle East, which in retrospect is highly suspect because of the flawed decisions and policy of Obama’s administration. Obama was warned about the anticipated problems but he would not listen. He describes a President who takes credit for getting Bin Laden, but he does not talk about the fact that his loose lips might have caused the downing of the plane with 22 Navy Seals on board, six of whom were involved in the operation, and he dismisses it as an almost accidental effort by the enemy. Perhaps he does not wish to elaborate because this President may take too much credit for his accomplishments and too little responsibility for his failures. Obama is great at giving speeches from a teleprompter, wonderful at inspiring and rallying those around him, but he prefers his own counsel to that of others, most often disregarding the advice of his advisors.
I found that Leon Panetta was often a bit hypocritical, working to protect the environment and the coast of Monterey but not concerned about putting windmills on Cape Cod. As an environmentalist, he wanted to protect his “own” environment in terms of view and optics, preventing oil drilling anywhere near there, but didn’t mind wind energy which would blight the Hyannis harbor with monstrous windmills and a constant underlying hum. He often sounded like an idealist, rather than a realist and I found him to be more of a politician in the end, showing his Democratic operatives far more leeway and treating them with far more respect in his comments than he did the Republicans, especially when it came to remarks about the Tea Party and the leaders of the Republican Party. He used words that were unflattering, bordering on insulting, unnecessarily showing his bias.
In essence, the book is just more politics, treating the hypocrisy of the Democrats as acceptable and worthwhile, while calling the hypocrisy of the GOP destructive. At the same time, he is all the while propping up his own worthy reputation. The book is a detailed presentation of the history of events during the almost five decades he was in the government’s employ and will be an enjoyable read for his family members and those that are his close friends. For the average reader, the information presented already exists on Wikipedia.