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Leon Panetta criticizes Obama, calls for 'some boots on the ground'

In a critical new book, former CIA Director Leon Panetta knocks the president for relying "on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader."

In the third high-profile book this year to detail behind-the-scenes conversations inside the White House, another former member of Obama's administration has opened up with criticisms of the president's embattled foreign policy.

President Barack Obama "needs to jump in the ring" and fight the problems facing the United States for the entirety of the next two years of his term, former CIA Director Leon Panetta said this week.

"Too often in my view the president relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader," he writes in his new 512-page memoir, "Worthy Fights." Panetta's critical account is similar to those of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

"I think [Obama's] hope was that somehow this thing would all go in the right direction."'

In the book, released Tuesday, Panetta has harsh words for the president's handling of the current situation in Syria and Iraq. He writes that Obama's past decisions in the two countries strengthened the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which consequently made the battle against the terror group more difficult. Panetta was the former secretary of defense who led the CIA and later the Pentagon as a team of U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

"This is a moment in time where [the president and Congress] have to step up to the plate and make the tough decisions that have to be made in order to govern this country," he said during an interview Monday with USA Today. "I think the leadership probably would respond if the president said, 'Damnit, we're going to try to do the right thing.' "

During a separate interview with the "Today Show," Panetta said Obama must have all options on the table in order to deal with the challenge of winning against ISIS. The extreme Islamic fighters most recently took over the eastern part of the Syrian border town of Kobani, where they have been battling Kurdish forces for control.

While serving at the White House, Panetta previously urged Obama to leave behind a residual force of combat troops in Iraq. He warned that Iraq again could eventually become a safe haven for terror groups. Obama attempted to persuade Nouri al-Maliki, then-prime minister of Iraq, to allow a continued presence of 8,000 to 10,000 U.S. troops and intelligence. But al-Maliki put up resistance. In his book, Panetta questions whether or not Obama pushed hard enough against the prime minister. 

"I think [Obama's] hope was that somehow this thing would all go in the right direction. But the fact was, unless we had that presence there, we would lose the leverage on Maliki to keep them in the right place," Panetta said Tuesday on the "Today Show." Keeping 10,000 troops in Iraq, he added, would have put pressure on Maliki and hindered the rise of ISIS.

Panetta agreed with Obama on his decision to go to war with ISIS. Not acting against the militants would have given them a base of operations in the Middle East, which they could then use as a foundation to attack the United States.

But, in order for the United States to win against the terror group, "you need to have some boots on the ground," he said, adding that the opposition forces in Syria should serve as those troops.

"I think we're looking at a 30-year war history here, in which it's going to take a long time to be able to go after these elements," Panetta told the newspaper.

Vice President Joe Biden and officials at the U.S. Department of State criticized Panetta's memoir before its release on Tuesday. Speaking to students at Harvard University last week, Biden blasted former members of the Obama administration who have written "inappropriate" books about the White House.

"The fact of the matter is, the ability to identify a moderate middle in Syria was — there was no moderate middle, because the moderate middle are made up of shopkeepers, not soldiers," Biden said last week. "They're made up of people who, in fact, have — ordinary elements of the middle class of that country."