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Nora McAlvanah

Nora McAlvanah

Posted January 6, 2009 | 02:49 PM (EST)

What About a 3 PM Phone Call?


Leon Panetta's selection as CIA chief not only is being criticized on its own merits, but also is being panned as a procedural blunder, a gaffe that highlights the charges of inexperience that plagued Obama in the early days of his campaign. The fact that Dianne Feinstein, the incoming Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who will be in charge of Panetta's confirmation, was not notified of the selection speaks either to the transition team's oversight or its arrogance.

Either the pick was leaked, which is exactly what you need when you are dealing with intelligence, or Obama set aside senatorial courtesy in favor of spontaneity and secrecy.

In a similarly surprising announcement, Obama's team evidently decided not to alert anyone who was likely to be upset about the Rick Warren pick ahead of time, including none other than Feinstein, the Chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Even though news of Warren's involvement came out of Feinstein's committee, she was forced to release a statement after Obama's noting Warren was "solely the choice of the president-elect."

In the early days of his campaign, Obama risked starting off on the wrong foot by not consulting operatives in key states. In March '07, Obama's missed out on millions of fundraising dollars simply by failing to return the calls of a small group of highly influential donors and operatives in New Jersey known as "The Group." Obviously, Obama's focus on running a strictly "outsider's" campaign gave way to a disciplined, cautious and inclusive operation. But shades of Obama's "go-it-alone" approach seem to be returning.

If Obama is going to bring "outsiders" (aka Clinton insiders) to the table, he needs to do it while showing an ability to operate within the current political parameters. If you are hoping to restore morale to a battered intelligence community, you do not want to begin with a sneak attack. And, if you are hoping to run a transition based on transparency, then giving the impression your latest pick was planned and plotted in a back room is also a dead end.

In tapping Panetta to lead the CIA, Obama reached for a Washington veteran, one who cut his teeth as a nice guy and a good manager. He surely knows the value of using DC's institutional advantages. And, if not, isn't that why you hired Rahm Emanuel? To pick up the phone and show some congressional courtesy?