Panetta Vows to Put National Security, Troops First

WASHINGTON, June 9, 2011 — Leon E. Panet­ta told the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee today that if he’s con­firmed as the next defense sec­re­tary, his first and fore­most mis­sion will be to pro­tect the Unit­ed States and ensure it has the “best-trained, the best-equipped and the strongest mil­i­tary in the world” to pro­vide that defense.

Panet­ta, who has served as direc­tor of the CIA since Feb­ru­ary 2009, said dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing that he will work close­ly with the ser­vice sec­re­taries and chiefs and Con­gress, and that he will be a staunch advo­cate for mil­i­tary mem­bers and their fam­i­lies.

“I believe it’s impor­tant to have a can­did, open line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the sec­re­tary and all of the ser­vice chiefs,” he said. “They’re the ones that are out there lead­ing each of their ser­vices. And I need to know what they’re think­ing, and I need to know what is impor­tant in terms of serv­ing the inter­ests of the troops that they direct­ly lead.”

The Unit­ed States owes mem­bers of the all-vol­un­teer force who have stepped for­ward to serve, as well as their fam­i­lies, the “best lead­er­ship, the best train­ing, the best equip­ment, the best ben­e­fits [and] the best health care that we can give them,” he told the pan­el.

Panet­ta pledged to fight for sup­port and to be “mind­ful of the stress­es” on mil­i­tary mem­bers and their fam­i­lies as he makes deploy­ment deci­sions. “They put their lives on the line to fight for Amer­i­ca, and I will just as sure­ly fight for them and for the fam­i­lies who sup­port and sus­tain them,” he said.

The president’s nom­i­nee for the top Pen­ta­gon post said he feels hon­ored to be con­sid­ered to fol­low in the foot­steps of Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates, who he said “will be remem­bered as one of the great­est sec­re­taries of defense in our nation’s his­to­ry for the way he led the depart­ment dur­ing a time of war and for the cru­cial reforms that he’s tried to put in place in the way the Pen­ta­gon does busi­ness.”

“Those are reforms that I intend to car­ry on,” he told the com­mit­tee, promis­ing to use a “focused, hands-on” man­age­ment style to run the depart­ment.

If he is con­firmed, Panet­ta said, he will lead the depart­ment at a time of “his­toric change” and as the nation con­fronts “a mul­ti­tude of chal­lenges.”

These, he said, include the oper­a­tions under way in Iraq and Afghanistan, al-Qai­da and oth­er ter­ror­ist net­works, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of dan­ger­ous weapons, ris­ing inter­na­tion­al pow­ers, and polit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tions under way in the Mid­dle East and North­ern Africa. In addi­tion, “the next Pearl Har­bor that we face could well be a cyber attack,” he said.

“We are no longer in the Cold War,” Panet­ta declared. “This is more like the ‘Bliz­zard War’ — a bliz­zard of chal­lenges that draw speed and inten­si­ty from ter­ror­ism, from rapid­ly devel­op­ing tech­nolo­gies and the ris­ing num­ber of pow­ers on the world stage.”

This comes as the Defense Depart­ment attempts to cut $400 bil­lion in spend­ing as part of the administration’s deficit-reduc­tion ini­tia­tives, Panet­ta not­ed.

“Our chal­lenge will be to design bud­gets that elim­i­nate waste­ful and duplica­tive spend­ing while pro­tect­ing those core ele­ments that we absolute­ly need for our nation’s defense,” he told the pan­el.

Panet­ta said he does­n’t believe the Unit­ed States needs to choose between strong fis­cal dis­ci­pline and a strong nation­al defense.

“I don’t deny that there are going to be tough deci­sions that have to be made and tough choic­es that have to be made,” he said. “But we owe it to our cit­i­zens to pro­vide both strong fis­cal dis­ci­pline and a strong nation­al defense.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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