Former President Barack Obama’s CIA director, Leon Panetta, told CNN Monday that President Joe Biden must take “responsibility” for the disaster that has unfolded in Kabul, Afghanistan, over the last 36 hours and compared the Biden administration’s lack of foresight to that of John F. Kennedy’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.
Panetta, who presided over some strategic operations in Afghanistan during Obama’s term, suggested that the Biden administration had suffered from a significant intelligence failure.
“I think of John Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs,” he told CNN. “It unfolded quickly and the president thought that everything would be fine and that was not the case.”
He then suggested that Biden follow in Kennedy’s footsteps when handling the fallout from the Taliban takeover of Kabul and take responsibility for what happened Sunday, admitting that there were intelligence failures.
“President Kennedy took responsibility for what took place,” Panetta said. “I strongly recommend to President Biden that he take responsibility … admit the mistakes that were made.”
Biden is scheduled to address the nation at 3:45 p.m. EST — a change from the administration’s statements Sunday evening, assuring Americans that the president would speak sometime before Wednesday when he was scheduled to return from a vacation at Camp David. Sunday night, the White House had called a lid on communication for Monday, noting, at the time, that Biden would not have any press availability.
That changed Monday morning. Biden’s team announced around 10 am EST that the president would return early to the White House from Camp David and deliver remarks on the Afghan pullout. The White House address will narrowly edge out speeches from other world leaders on the subject; both Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron have addresses to their respective nations planned for Monday evening.
Panetta is not the first Obama administration official to have harsh words for Biden’s national security team. Brett Bruen, the director of global engagement for the Obama White House, issued a blistering op-ed in USA Today Monday morning, demanding that Biden “shake up” his national security team and fire individuals in his administration who earned their jobs through political allies.
“President Biden needs to fire his national security adviser and several other senior leaders who oversaw the botched execution of our withdrawal from Afghanistan. He has to restructure how and with whom he is making major foreign policy decisions, allowing for more input from career experts,” Bruen wrote. “There should be absolutely no more donors appointed to represent us abroad. The stakes are just too high. Finally, there is an urgency to repairing the extensive damage done to our reputation and credibility on the world stage.”
Bruen, like many critics, acknowledged that “we were always going to pull out” of Afghanistan but faulted Biden and national security advisor Jake Sullivan for ramping up the timeline for withdrawal without considering the implications of speeding along the process.
“Unfortunately, it seems [Sullivan] allowed the president’s push for an end to our involvement in the country ahead of Sept. 11 to drive the American timeline,” Bruen said. “That was a catastrophic error. Our people were unprepared. We failed to get them out of harm’s way. The Afghan government and military clearly were not ready either.”