The Riggs Report: Panetta’s take on the North Korea threat

​August 10, 2017

Former CIA director says negotiations, not bluster, are key to avoiding war

Leon Panetta has always been a refreshingly candid political figure. That was true when I first knew him as a second-term congressman representing a big swath of California’s Central Coast.

Panetta would regularly schedule round table sessions for local media. And I, working in my first job as a radio reporter in San Luis Obispo, made a point of attending these sessions where we were able to pose questions on whatever topics came to mind.

I was reminded of that candor this week, when I read Panetta’s remarks and warnings about how the Trump White House is using bluster and threats in response to North Korea’s nuclear and military saber-rattling.

Panetta told POLITICO’s Carla Marinucci that Trump’s response to this brewing crisis, threatening “fire and fury” directed at North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, is reckless and dangerous.

“You’ve got two bullies chiding each other with outrageous comments, and it doesn’t help the situation in terms of trying to resolve something that has to be resolved peacefully because the consequences of nuclear war would be devastating,” Panetta told POLITICO on Tuesday.

Panetta said that deterring further aggression depends, not on an exchange of insults, but on establishing talks through diplomatic channels.

“You have to make very clear that if they do anything that is provocative, that we can come back in a way that will end the regime,” Panetta said. “That, frankly, for 60 years, is what we’ve been doing, and as a result, we’ve been able to avoid war.”

Panetta, who along with wife Sylvia, now runs the Panetta Institute for Public Policy at California State University, Monterey Bay, also noted in the POLITICO interview that there’s a disturbing lack of predictability about how Trump will play out this foreign policy crisis. Much of that, he said, has to do with Trump’s lack of interest in policy detail.

Panetta’s views coincide with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), who criticized Trump’s “bombastic comments” this week.

Feinstein, who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Defense subcommittee, is also calling for the U.S. to pursue diplomatic talks, noting that the current practice of isolating North Korea has not slowed the country’s march toward further development of nuclear weapons.

Panetta is one of California’s most experienced and knowledgeable political exports, a resident of Monterey who was courted at times to run for governor of California, even as he became a savvy creature of Washington: a Republican-turned-Democrat who served in Congress, as budget director and chief of staff in the Clinton White House, and as CIA director and secretary of defense.

That level of experience makes Panetta someone to listen to, especially in dangerous times.