Programming is to computer science as experiments are to chemistry (or other sciences). It is THE central tool to the discipline. Being able to do it is an important skill. But it isn't actually central to the K-12 introductory experience. You could teach intro chemistry without doing any hands-on experiments. In some ways, the students would have a lesser experience, but most of them would be able to learn all the relevant concepts without actually doing them. Similarly, I think you could easily construct an introductory CS course that didn't have programming.
I agree with Robb that frequently the programming gets in the way of understanding. Kids get so caught up in debugging that they don't really understand the logic of the program. They lose sight of the problem that the program is supposed to solve because the problems that they're focused on are of the "it won't compile" variety. Who knows if the proposed solution (the program) is a good solution to the problem, we can't tell if it won't even run! (Okay, we the experienced programmers can tell. But the student can't.)
I was a biochemistry major and I took two years of high school chemistry (thus the root of my analogies!). I was a junior in college before I understood WHY you do experiments. It was all cookbook to me until then, completely disconnected from anything we learned in lecture. I figured they made you do it so you would have the experience of having done it so you could get a job following those kinds of instructions in the future. "Oh yes sir, I've done many titration experiments." I became a chemistry teacher and despite my experience, I advocate for having students do experiments.
There are many reasons for students to run experiments. It gives them lab skills which they can't get any other way - reading about titration is very different from actually having to work a stopcock correctly. For kids who are kinesthetic learners, or ones who need to SEE to understand, it helps them understand the concepts discussed in class. It can help them understand the scientific method in a different way and can help them understand the very nature of science research. (One of the reasons that I hated experimentation is that there's experimental error. It's all so beautiful and perfect in theory.) It's the same with programming and computer science. In introductory science classes, we use experiments judiciously, allowing students to gain the benefits but recognizing that there's a lot of material to cover and much of it is not best comprehended through direct experimentation. We should do the same with programming.
We should introduce students to programming as a tool without having it be the focus of introductory courses. Have them do it some, sure, but not at the expense of understanding the big ideas - most of which aren't about programming at all. Help students understand that programming is a tool, not an endpoint.