Panetta: Obama sending mixed signals to enemies

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta knocked President Obama for sending mixed signals to America's enemies during a wide-ranging Fox News interview Tuesday evening. 

Panetta said the U.S.'s credibility is suffering due to actions the president has taken, and that enemies of the United States are "getting a mixed message as to whether the United States will stand by its word."

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"It's very important that when the president says something that we do it," he said, in reference to Obama threatening to conduct airstrikes against Syrian leader Bashar Assad if he used chemical weapons and then changing his mind.

Panetta's appearance on Fox News's "The O'Reilly Factor" capped a day of TV appearances to discuss his new book, Worthy Fights, which was released Tuesday and contains pointed criticism of the president, including his handling of the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The former CIA director broadened that critique during the Fox News interview to include the president's handling of a resurgent Russia under its president Vladimir Putin.

Panetta avoided outright disapproval of the president, but laid out policy prescriptions that Obama has declined to take in response to Russia's incursions into Ukraine.

"I would have taken some very tough positions with regards to Putin," he said. "Not just sanctions but I would have also provided military aid to the Ukrainians, resurrected the whole issue on missile defense."

"I would make sure that NATO was strengthened in terms of the surrounding countries, and I would have provided an additional energy resource to make clear to Russia, to make clear that they alone could not blackmail these countries through energy," he added. 

"Well that's the kind of tough position that needs to be taken if we're going to confront Putin," Panetta said. "When you deal with Putin, you better deal with him from strength."

During the interview, Panetta addressed several other concerns he has expressed in earlier interviews on his book.  

He called the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq after 2011 "a mistake" and also said the administration's failure to anticipate ISIS's rise was "more than just an intelligence failure, it's a policy failure." 

Panetta backed the idea of using special forces against ISIS in Iraq if military leaders recommended it. 

"If the military thinks that we ought to have special forces, boots on the ground, in order to do what's right, I think the president ought to be open to that kind of recommendation," he said. 

Several times, Panetta said he doubted whether the president had the will to make tough decisions. 

"I'm a guy who believes that Barack Obama by virtue of what I've seen in the time I've been there has the guts to do the right thing — the real question is will he make the decision to do it," he said. 

Panetta declined to say who was the better president between Bill Clinton and Obama, but said, "They're both bright, they're both able, they both want to do what's right for our country." 

"I think the difference is that Bill Clinton likes politics, like the engagement in politics, Barack Obama does not like that process of engaging in politics and I think that hurts his presidency. It hurts him in terms of getting things done," said Panetta, who served as White House chief of staff under Clinton. 

"If the president doesn't engage with [Congress], then you've got a situation where everybody gives up," he added. "That is what concerns me."