Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: Addressing the Future
Addressing the present day, Panetta admitted that it has been a decade of turmoil, of war and crisis, but, thankfully, he felt that the “torch [of service] has now passed to a new generation, and the nation has once again benefitted from that.” This proved to be a segue for the other key point of Secretary Panetta’s speech: the country has reached a turning point, an historic opportunity, thanks to myriad developments that have occurred in recent years. Examples of these developments include:
- The opportunity Iraq now has to establish democracy in a key part of the world (though it won’t be easy).
- Speaking of Iraq, our troops are now home from there. “Last night at the White House, we honored those who served in Iraq; it was the beginning, not the end, of a series of tributes this country will pay to the veterans of that conflict.” As this new generation of American veterans return home, we must embrace them and support them. We must provide education or assistance finding a job.
- Even though the troops are now out of Iraq, Afghanistan remains a challenging campaign. We have seen the level of violence go down, with the notable exception of the past couple of days. We are transitioning to a greater role being played by Afghan forces in controlling their country. This week’s violent attacks “will not change or alter our commitment to get this done.”
- We have decimated Al Qaeda leadership, and we will continue to do everything possible to protect this country and its citizens from terrorism.
- We have reasserted our essential global leadership role and shown that we remain an indispensable partner to a stable and secure world.
- In his travels across the world the past few months, a consistent theme Panetta has noticed has been the desire of countries across the globe to increase their partnership with our military forces.
- As we turn a corner on a decade of war, it is vital that we maintain and even enhance those factors which have allowed us to overcome the challenges of the 9/11 era: the strongest military in world; effective diplomacy; and an innovative, dynamic, and strong economy.
- Finally, despite the frustrations we may have with it at the moment, we have the best system of government on earth.
Despite all of the positive achievements, however, there are still numerous and complex challenges that remain. Even though we are out of Iraq, we are “still a nation at war.” The risk of terrorism remains; he cited Yemen, Somalia, and North Africa as specific areas of concern. Another challenge is the dangerous proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; we have to confront the behavior of countries like North Korea and Iran if they threaten global stability. Additionally, there are growing worries about cyber attacks, “a whole new area of the war front” which must be addressed. Perhaps the most glaring threat to our national security, however, is the long-term debt and high deficits facing the country. Panetta cited his background in budgetary policy as making him realize just how important it is as a national security issue.
As Secretary of Defense, Panetta has special say in regards to the role of the nation’s military. “We have to be willing to make difficult decisions about how to reshape our defense strategy, how to maintain our military strength for the future, while also doing our part to reduce the deficit.” With that in mind, the Department of Defense came up with ways to reduce the defense budget by almost $500 million over the next decade. Developing a strategy to adjust to these cuts has been (and is) “an enormous undertaking.” By necessity, the force will be smaller, “but we must ensure it is extremely capable and agile and ready to go wherever we need them to go to defend this country.” He went on: “We are going to maintain and even enhance our presence in vital regions of the world to develop an innovative force to establish partnerships… We will be able to defeat any adversary, anytime, anywhere.”
Another part of restructuring the country’s defense is investing in new capabilities to address a new century of military strategy: cyber warfare, unmanned systems, space, and special operations forces, for example. “Those technologies are crucial for our ability to have a strong defense in the future,” he said. Furthermore, the defense must be able to mobilize, which requires a strong National Guard and military reserve.
To do all these things, “we have to make some painful and politically tough decisions… and we have.” However, Panetta warned that “we cannot balance the federal budget on the back of defense alone. We have done our part. Now it’s time for Congress to step up to the plate and make sure that we do not devastate our national defense by allowing… sequester” – which would create hundreds of millions in more defense cuts – to go into effect. To make compromise a reality, “We can’t just sit back and count on things to work out,” Panetta said. “It will take leadership, sacrifice, and a willingness to fight.”
To make these sorts of difficult decisions “is what our forefathers intended when they established this great country, this remarkable system… a wonderful formula for ensuring that power is never centralized in one branch of government.” However, as has become glaringly evident recently, this system “also happens to be a perfect formula for gridlock.” The key for breaking that gridlock is making sacrifices and finding compromise. I believe Panetta’s best line of the night, if not his main idea, was this: “All of us in Washington need to demonstrate the same leadership that we counted on our troops to display in battle. They made sacrifices in order to achieve their mission; surely those of us in Washington can make sacrifices to govern this nation.”
Share This Article
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.