Leon Panetta, former U.S. Secretary of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director, found himself in the eye of a storm this week after a book that he authored faced sharp criticism from senior administration officials here. The book was critical of President Barack Obama’s handling of the fight against the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Syria and Iraq.
Mr. Panetta’s tome of 500-plus pages, titled Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace , and published by Penguin Press, was described in the U.S. media as “frank,” “feisty,” “very readable,” and “not as scathing as the one by Mr. Panetta’s predecessor, Robert Gates, but more openly critical than those of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.”
In an interview, Mr. Panetta explained the context for his writing, saying that he believed that Mr. Obama was “concerned about the frustration and exhaustion of the country having fought two wars… [and hoped] that perhaps others in the world could step up to the plate and take on these issues.” He added that as a result “there was a kind of a mixed message that went out with regard to the role of the U.S.”
In remarks with various media houses here, Mr. Panetta said the errors associated with the Obama administration would be the White House’s decision to not push harder for residual troops to remain in Iraq after 2011; rejection of the advice of Mr. Panetta and Ms. Clinton to arm moderate Syrian rebels in 2012; and not coming down on Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad heavily enough after the chemical weapons attack of 2013.
However, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Monday that Mr. Obama was “proud of the record of leadership that he has demonstrated.”