Former Secretary of Defense and CIA director Leon Panetta took more swipes at the Obama administration on Tuesday night during his book tour, when he sat down with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell at New York City’s 92Y and said that exchanging U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for five Guantanamo terrorists was something he was always against. Panetta’s new book, Worthy Fights, illustrates a highly unflattering picture of the Obama administration. Panetta said:
This issue came up when I was Secretary of Defense and at the time I understand we were trying to open up broader negotiations with the Taliban and this was the price of being able to develop the broader negotiations. And I said, ‘Wait a minute. We’re going to provide five of their worst people in exchange for a prisoner? I said, ‘This doesn’t make a lot of sense. We ought to go back and try to negotiate with them.’ I said, ‘In addition, there is no guarantee that these people who are among the worst in terms of the people we are maintaining at Guantanamo,’ I said, ‘There’s no guarantee that these people are gonna be secure and that they’re not gonna engage back in the battle.’
Panetta went on to explain:
I had an obligation as Secretary of Defense to assure the Congress that we would not exchange anybody unless we were damn sure that they were secure and that we kept track of them. So, I was opposed to the deal, because we had none of those assurances and as a result of it, it kind of went away. When I saw it come back, I was very concerned about the exchange that took place. Of course we want to get our people back. Of course we want to be able to make sure that no one is left behind, but we also want to make sure that we are not releasing the kind of terrorist who are then going to re-engage in the battle and come back and hit the United States again. I think we’ve got to take every step to make sure that doesn’t happen, and I’m not assured that is the case with the five we sent to countries there.
Panetta also criticized President Obama for his “red line” threat remarks last year on Labor Day weekend, when the president said the U.S. would “take action” on Bashar Assad if chemical weapons were used against Syrian rebels. Mitchell reminded Panetta that Obama had taken a walk with his Chief of Staff around the garden over Labor Day weekend and, after speaking with him about it, changed his mind.
About this, Panetta said:
I don’t know what the hell went into that decision. He should’ve, instead of walking around the garden, probably walked into the national security chamber and talked with some of the other people that are part of the national security team. I think this was, probably, one of the most serious failings in terms of foreign policy. Why? Because when you’re commander-in-chief and president of the United States and you draw a red line with regards to a particular issue–and I guess you could argue, should he have drawn a redline with regards to the use of chemical weapons–my view was we should.
He added, “Once you draw that line, the credibility of the United States is on the line. And so when chemical weapons were used and innocent people are killed: Men, women and children are killed as a result of that. They clearly have crossed that line. When the United States says, ‘We said we’re going to take action and we will take action as a result of what took place.’ And, frankly, I thought he was gonna take action.”
Panetta also said he believes the United States should be aiding the Ukrainians militarily with more weapons to push back at Putin as well as threaten the Russian leader with resurrecting missile defense in Eastern Europe if he fails to cooperate with the United States’ demands.