Sound strategy is built on accurate threat assessment. The two intelligence directors appointed today will help restore this vital foundation undermined by the distortions and manipulations of the past eight years.
President-elect Barack Obama on Friday appointed two seasoned professionals to the top intelligence posts. Dennis Blair will become the next Director for National Intelligence. He brings experience, honesty and great intelligence to a job that demands all that and more. Anyone who knows him, and I do, has no doubt that he will call it straight, never hesitate to tell the president the truth, however inconvenient, and will never, ever tell the president that something is a "slam-dunk."
Leon Panetta, who will now head the CIA, has to repair an agency abused and largely ignored by the Bush administration. As Bill Clinton's chief of staff, he was a major customer of intelligence products and knows better than most what the civilian leadership of the country needs from the agency. Blair, in introducing Panetta, spoke of his integrity. This, too, has been in short supply. There is no question that he will steer the agency away from torture and abuse. Like Blair, he has the confidence and standing to tell the president or the secretaries of state and defense when they are wrong.
We desperately need these correctives. Even as Blair and Panetta were being introduced, former Secretary of Defense William Perry predicted that the new president will face a nuclear crisis with Iran. Obama will need objective estimates of Iran's capabilities, both nuclear and missile, the ability of our military to counter these assets, judgments on the internal decision-making process of Iran and the prospects for tough diplomacy to change Iran's trajectory.
The country did not get any of this from the current administration. President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and his deputies manipulated the intelligence process to justify preconceived policies. The wreckage left behind includes the failure to act on intelligence of imminent attacks on America by Al Qaeda, the massive misinformation of WMD in Iraq, false claims of Niger yellowcake, forged memos and an inflated threat from Iran.
Cleaning out this stable is a Herculean task. We are lucky to have men like Blair and Panetta willing to sacrifice for the good of the nation.