Michael Cohen looks at the very disturbing track record of Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense, something he has compiled in record time. Contrary to his Republican predecessor, Panetta has made some truly ridiculous statements about the impact of even modest cuts in defense spending.
But it’s on defense spending where Panetta has really gone off the deep end — taking on maximalist, almost apocalyptic, positions including calling potential cuts “catastrophic,” “draconian” “doomsday”-inducing and akin to America “shooting itself in the head.” This tracks with he said in August, when he wrote only days after the hard fought debt limit deal was signed that automatic cuts to the DoD budget “would undermine the military’s ability to protect America and its vital interests around the globe” and that such a move would “do real damage to our security.” This is bizarre hyperbole, particularly sincePanetta hasn’t identified a single way in which these cuts will “hollow” out the US military.
In fact, as Ben Armbruster pointed out recently when pushed to identify what risks would come from these reductions in current military spending (a fiscal outlay that far surpasses US spending during the Cold War) the best example that Panetta could point to was that the US presence in Latin America and Africa would have to be reduced. And why? Because according to Panetta the US would need to maintain a presence in the Middle East and the Far East.
It’s funny that sounds a bit like “prioritizing” – no wonder it was so confusing to the head of the Defense Department.
In a speech last week at the Woodrow Wilson center Panetta offered a litany of “threats” that continue to face the United States, “terrorism, nuclear proliferation, rogue states,cyber attacks; revolutions in the Middle East, economic crisis in Europe, the rise of new powers like China and India.” It reads a bit like the Pentagon’s current greatest hits.
According to Panetta, “all of these changes represent security, geopolitical, economic and demographic shifts in the international order that make the world more unpredictable, more volatile and, yes, more dangerous.” That these words are practically identical to the ones spoken by Mitt Romney at the VFW convention in August are disturbing enough; that by any appreciable measure the world today is far less dangerous than any point in recent history only compounds the strategic incoherence of Panetta’s statement.
I asked Bill Hartung, who is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy and a defense budget expert how he would rate the absurdity of these comments on a scale of 1 to 10 . . . his response was 12. And Hartung should know – he served on the Sustainable Defense Task Force which outlined about one trillion dollars in defense cuts over ten years that would NOT turn the military into a hollow force.
As I keep pointing out, the US spends many times more on defense than the next several largest countries put together. The notion that cuts in defense spending will hurt our national security is simply ridiculous. It’s like claiming that a 5% tax increase on Bill Gates will be devastating to his finances.
Panetta was also terrible as CIA director, where he resolutely worked to prevent anything remotely like justice for agents that engaged in torture.