Politics is a rollercoaster of an industry, and Leon Panetta has enjoyed (if that’s the right word) many ups and downs in the past couple of years.
After President Obama nominated Panetta to head the CIA in 2009, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinOvernight Regulation: Trump repeals 'blacklisting' rule Dems delay Senate panel vote on Supreme Court nominee Dems get it wrong: 'Originalism' is mainstream, even for liberal judges MORE (D-Calif.) publicly questioned his qualifications.
Panetta survived that controversy, much of which wasn’t his fault. (The Obama administration had failed to give an adequate “heads-up” to Congress on the Panetta nod.)
Months after his Senate confirmation, Panetta was at odds with another California Democrat: Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi accused the CIA of misleading Congress on the use of interrogation techniques, a charge Panetta swiftly denied.
The Pelosi-Panetta conflict dominated the news cycle for days. Yet that uproar also subsided.
But another one was on the horizon: the 10-year anniversary of 9-11, where a major storyline was going to be Osama bin Laden remaining at large.
For the CIA, Sept. 11, 2011, would have been a double blow: a reminder of the agency’s failure a decade ago and its inability to locate the most wanted man on the planet.
What happened on Sunday changed that narrative.
Panetta and other senior Obama administration officials played a part in one of the most daring and remarkable covert operations in American history.
In a wise move, Panetta did not inform Pakistani intelligence officials of the impending raid to get bin Laden. Doing so, as he told legislators on Tuesday, could have jeopardized the entire operation.
Panetta, 72, served as White House budget director and chief of staff after leaving Congress.
He had accomplished a lot and could have opted to retire. Instead, he returned to government service and will be forever remembered as the CIA chief who brought bin Laden to justice.
But Panetta doesn’t have much time to rest on his laurels, having accepted Obama’s nomination to become Defense secretary.
That job is never easy, but it’s especially challenging now, with the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, along with dangerous dictators in Iran and North Korea.
Panetta certainly deserves the praise he is getting, though as he knows, it’s best not to bask in it. Politics is a fickle business.