19 July 2011
by Jeff Huber
by Jeff Huber
Buddy Hackett impersonator Leon Panetta, who just stepped into Uncle Bob Gates’ vacated billet in America’s Pentarchy, has set a new benchmark in ethnic humor. He spent his first greet-and-grip trip abroad grinding his heel into his tinkle tool, saying more stupid things per minute of media exposure than George W. Bush ever did, and shrugged it all off in an MSNBC interview with “I’m Italian, what the frick can I tell you?”
|"Beats the shipoopi out of me."|
Tell me you’re not really the frickin’ Secretary of Defense, Uncle Leo. Moe, Larry and the Holy Ghost. Where do we find such bureaucratic twits?
Panetta began his government career as an Army intelligence officer during Lyndon Johnson’s surge in the Vietnam War. Military intelligence is to both the military and intelligence what McDonald’s is to food. Officers in combat branches have to be able to fly airplanes or drive ships or lead frightened young men in desperate attacks against machine gun nests. The only requirement for becoming an intelligence officer is to never know what the hell you’re talking about. Panetta was discharged after a two-year tour as a first lieutenant and awarded an Army Commendation Medal, a medal normally given to junior enlisted and officer personnel for not getting caught masturbating in the middle of the parade ground at high noon. (Fair disclosure: in the course of my career I received six Navy Commendation Medals, which shows you how good I was at not getting caught).
Uncle Leo didn’t claw his way to the top of the warmongery by the sheer inertia of his lack of competence in military and intelligence matters alone. He was a political prodigy. In high school Panetta joined JSA (aka Junior Statesmen of America aka Junior State of America). He was vice president of the student body as a junior and as a senior he was president. He graduated from Santa Clara University in 1960 magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. In 1963 he got his Juris Doctor from Santa Clara School of Law.
There’s no mention of Panetta having served in Vietnam, and you can bet a shiny new District of Columbia quarter that we would have heard about it if he had. It isn’t clear where exactly Panetta did serve, but I’d be willing to double down that he got himself stationed in Washington, just like a lot of wannabe politicos getting their military service block checked on their way to bigger and more malevolent things. It’s a tried and true career path that continues to be beaten by ambitious youth eager to acquire the creeping corruption that accompanies the incremental accumulation of power.
Why did law school graduate Panetta become an Army intelligence officer instead of an Army JAG? It’s hard to say for sure, but in Washington lawyers are as common as call girls. If you’re a Washington lawyer with an ultra top-secret security clearance from your days in military intelligence, on the other hand, you defecate 24-karat ingots.
In 1966, newly discharged First Lt. Panetta cashed in his credentials on a job as legislative aid to the Senate minority whip, and before he could say “Jimmy Hoffa poured into a pond of poached piranhas” three times, he knew where all the bodies were burid and he was a made guy. The higher and higher up the ladder the mob kicked him, they more they could trust him to keep their secrets because he had as much blood on his hands as anybody else.
After Panetta rode this gravy train through a series of appointed positions, he switched parties in 1971 and was elected to nine terms as a congressman. (He reportedly claimed to have left the Republican Party because it had moved away from political the center. Heh. The Republican Party hasn’t been in sliding distance of the political center since it was against slavery.)
Uncle Leo left the legislature to become Bill Clinton’s director of the Office of Management and Budget. Panetta had worked budget issues in Congress, though one can hardly imagine that he ever dirtied his hands on a spreadsheet. Possessing actual skills involved with areas one works in is for the servant classes, not for high rollers like Panetta. But his fluency in the Big Schmooze made him a natural to move up as Clinton’s White House chief of Staff, where no asset is more valuable than knowing how to deploy elbows and trim the sails to catch the prevailing winds.
Eyebrows collided with hairlines, however, when young Mr. Obama nominated Panetta to head the CIA, and his elevation to defense secretary popped optical organs out of their orbits. Talk about trading one empty hat for another. It was telling that at his defense post confirmation hearing, Uncle Leo predicted that the next Pearl Harbor could be a cyber attack. Clue in, Leon. We’ve already had cyber attacks, on the Pentagon itself no less.
So it’s little wonder that Uncle Leo devoured his feet during his first, uh, trip abroad. Oddly, though, his witless comments rang of a certain savant veracity. We may snicker that he told the troops they were in Iraq because of 9/11, but why else was he going to say they were there? Because their last commander in chief lied to the entire world to justify an invasion that had been on the neocon agenda since the late nineties, and because their present commander in chief is too much of a weakling to put an end to the “strategic mistake” like he pledged he would? And how else could Panetta justify telling the troops that they’ll have to continue to fight and die for a strategic mistake as soon as the Iraqis get off the dime and ask us to stay like he wants them to?
As to Panetta’s comment to the embedded war beat press that despite promises from the White House we’ll keep 70,000 troops in Afghanistan until 2004, I don’t see what the furor is all about. This White House hasn’t kept any of its frickin’ war promises yet. Why start now and set a bad precedent?
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is author of the critically lauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance.