Panetta on 2009 Iranian Protests: Obama Should Have Sent ‘Clearer Message’ of Support

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CNN host Jake Tapper on Tuesday that former President Barack Obama should have sent a "clearer message" in 2009 by standing stronger with Iranian protesters.

Panetta joined CNN's Tapper for an interview in the wake of recent protests in Iran against the country's hardline Islamic government. Tapper referenced the 2009 mass protests in Iran and asked the former defense secretary whether he thought that the Obama administration "dropped the ball" by not being more aggressive in its support of the protesters.

Panetta, who served as Obama's CIA director in 2009, noted the 2009 Iranian Green Movement protests were much larger than the ones present in Iran right now, and it would have been appropriate for the United States to have "sent a clearer message" of support those protesting a restrictive government.

"I do think that that was an appropriate time for the United States to have sent a clearer message that we stand by those who try to represent the rights of people," Panetta said. "That's what the United States is all about, and it would have been important to have sent that message at the time."

Panetta's sentiments echo those of Obama's first defense secretary, Robert Gates, who wrote in his 2014 book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, that the Obama administration should have done more, at least "rhetorically."

"At the time, I was persuaded by the State Department's experts and by CIA analysts who briefed us in the Situation Room that too powerful an American voice on behalf of the protesters might provide ammunition for the regime to label the protest movement a tool of the United States and CIA and thus be used against them," Gates wrote.

"In retrospect, I think we could and should have done more, at least rhetorically," Gates added.