Leon Panetta: Obama "has got to get into the ring" with Congress

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday that President Obama needs to be more engaged in fighting for his priorities in Washington because the country can't stand another two and a half years of stalemate between the White House and Congress.

"Right now, I think it's Washington at its worst because of the gridlock and the stalemate that's involved in this town," Panetta said in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday. "This country cannot tolerate another two and a half years of stalemate. The president can't tolerate it. If he wants to be able to get the things done that he wants done, and I respect him for what he wants to get done, he has got to get into the ring. Everybody got to get in and fight to make sure that we do the right thing for the country."

Panetta has made headlines in recent days for his criticism of the president in his new book, "Worthy Fights," which questions both Mr. Obama's strategy on issues like arming rebels in Syria to the way he advocates for his own policies in public.

He expanded Sunday on such critique: that the president treats debates as a law professor, with too much logic and too little passion.

"I don't mind presidents who have the quality of a law professor in looking at the issues and determining just exactly, you know, what needs to be done. But presidents need to also have the heart of a warrior. That's the way you get things done, is you engage in the fight," Panetta said.

He welcomed the news that Mr. Obama might be looking to shake up his staff before his final years in office, warning that years with the same advisers can lead to "isolation"

"As a result, the president doesn't get exposed to a broad range of views that he needs in order to make the decisions. So bringing new life in, bringing new views in would be very helpful to giving the president that greater exposure to a lot of different options that he's going to have to consider if he's going to get things done," he said.

Panetta also weighed in on the ongoing fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In his book, Panetta suggested that Mr. Obama made a mistake in not pushing harder to secure a residual U.S. troop presence in Iraq after the 2011 withdrawal deadline - a decision that he says helped pave the way for ISIS' rise to power.

He said Mr. Obama has "taken the right steps" now, but said the strategy will demand "a lot of patience" as the U.S. works to boost the Iraqi army and train moderate Syrian rebels.

"All of this requires great leadership on the part of the United States," Panetta said. "We're going to have to keep this together and we're going to have to be very patient. We're going to have to be very determined."

The U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have helped stifle some of ISIS' momentum "to a degree," Panetta said, but it is crucial that the U.S. have information from the ground on where the enemy is located.

"You've got to have boots on the ground. It doesn't have to be American boots on the ground, but you have got to have people on the ground who can identify targets and who can help us develop the kind of effective airstrikes that are going to be needed if we're going to be able to undermine, destroy this vicious enemy that we're dealing with," he said.

He also said Mr. Obama should be "open to whatever recommendations are made," including troops on the ground if military advisers recommend that.

He suggested both National Security Adviser Susan Rice and the president should not have publicly ruled out using U.S. combat troops.

"You want to protect every possible option because we are dealing with a very resilient enemy. And the only way you deal with a resilient enemy is with flexibility, adaptability, and the kind of determination that we're going to need if we're ever going to win this war," he said.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.