Panetta to carry po­lit­i­cal bag­gage to the Pen­tagon

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

De­fense Sec­re­tary-des­ig­nate Leon E. Panetta faces an early test when he takes of­fice July 1, as the White House pushes for deeper cuts in de­fense spend­ing and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans say no way.

Which­ever way Mr. Panetta goes, the Pen­tagon will see a change in style.

Though out­go­ing Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates is a ca­reer civil ser­vant who served Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic pres­i­dents, Mr. Panetta, cur­rently the CIA di­rec­tor, is a ca­reer Demo­cratic politi­cian who knows 2012 is cru­cial for Pres­i­dent Obama po­lit­i­cally.

“Panetta was a pleas­ant sur­prise at the CIA,” said Loren Thompson, who di­rects the probusi­ness Lex­ing­ton In­sti­tute. “The Pen­tagon is a much big­ger place, and no­body ex­pects him to stick around long enough to fig­ure it out.

“I think the pri­or­ity mis­sion for Panetta is to get the pres­i­dent re-elected, mak­ing sure, as un­der Gates, the Pen­tagon is not a prob­lem for a cam­paign that is fo­cused else­where.”

With the first stage of the re­duc­tion of U.S. troops in Afghanistan set­tled last week and the draw­down in Iraq con­tin­u­ing, Mr. Panetta’s ten­ure may be dom­i­nated by the bud­get.

Mr. Gates’ last bud­get is now be­fore Congress. At $670 bil­lion for the fis­cal year be­gin­ning Oct. 1, it cements pro­gram cuts he made in Mr. Obama’s first years.

But the pres­i­dent wants more, about $40 bil­lion a year through 2023. Those types of deep re­duc­tions would de­but in Mr. Panetta’s first bud­get, which will be for­mu­lated this fall and sent to the White House and then Congress in Fe­bru­ary.

James Carafano, a mil­i­tary an­a­lyst at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, said achiev­ing those kinds of cuts is un­likely, de­spite White House rhetoric.

“First, there are left and right lim­its,” he said. “On the one hand, Obama has waved a hand and says he wants cuts, but much of those can and will be pushed to out-years.

“Panetta will be faced with readi­ness con­cerns, and the fact there are no more easy pro­cure­ment cuts or [Gates-or­dered] ‘ef­fi­cien­cies.’ So its not clear that Panetta can do much on that front.”

With ma­jor de­ci­sions on Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya set­tled, Mr. Panetta “has two tough years of try­ing to square the cir­cle. Ba­si­cally he’ll just try to be the ‘good sol­dier’ for the pres­i­dent,” Mr. Carafano said.

At his June 9 Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing, Mr. Panetta pledged: “My No. 1 job will be to en­sure that Amer­ica con­tin­ues to have the best-trained, the best-equipped and the strong­est mil­i­tary in the world in or­der to make sure that we pro­tect our coun­try.”

On Capi­tol Hill, Democrats are push­ing for de­fense cuts in on­go­ing debt-re­duc­tion talks with the White House and Repub­li­cans. Most Repub­li­can mem­bers op­pose drain­ing the Pen­tagon, cit­ing harm done to the armed forces in the postViet­nam 1970s and the postCold War 1990s.

If Mr. Panetta signs on to the White House’s smaller mil­i­tary blue­print, he will face a brawl with the GOP.

Joe Kasper, a spokesman for House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee mem­ber Dun­can Hunter, Cal­i­for nia Repub­li­can, as­serted: “Mr. Hunter says no to de­fense cuts. But if any re­duc­tions make it into what­ever agree­ment should come out of the ne­go­ti­a­tion, there will def­i­nitely need to be some type of anal­y­sis on po­ten­tial im­pact to na­tional se­cu­rity and global op­er­a­tions.

“Na­tional se­cu­rity needs to be viewed through a long-term lens. While it might be tempt­ing to thin the de­fense bud­get in the in­ter­est of fur­ther­ing dis­cre­tionary bud­get sav­ings, there are di­rect con­se­quences with do­ing that.”

Said House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can: “Propos­ing to cut de­fense spend­ing by nearly $500 bil­lion in the com­ing decade with­out first con­duct­ing the nec­es­sary due dili­gence to de­ter­mine what our nation’s ba­sic de­fense re­quire­ments will be is an in­vi­ta­tion to other coun­tries to chal­lenge Amer­ica’s supremacy.”

In a po­lit­i­cal party lack­ing a na­tional se­cu­rity star [the Pen­tagon has been run by Repub­li­can sec­re­taries since the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion], Mr. Panetta emerged at CIA as a strong Demo­cratic voice for de­fend­ing Amer­ica.

Mr. Panetta, who turns 73 on June 28, pushed his of­fi­cers abroad to take risks in bat­tling al Qaeda. In Wash­ing­ton, he ar­gued for more ag­gres­sive airstrikes on terrorism sus­pects in Pak­istan and Ye­men.

It was Mr. Panetta’s CIA who found Osama bin Laden holed up in a walled com­pound in Pak­istan, where Navy SEALs killed the al Qaeda leader.

Mr. Panetta be­gins work at a much larger in­sti­tu­tion. There are nearly as many work­ers at the Pen­tagon alone as the roughly 30,000 CIA of­fi­cers and an­a­lysts. He will over­see 2.2 mil­lion uni­formed ac­tive and Re­serve troops and a com­plex, multi­bil­lion-dol­lar ac­qui­si­tion sys­tem.

BLOOMBERG

CA­REER POLITI­CIAN: De­fense Sec­re­tary-des­ig­nate Leon E. Panetta may anger Repub­li­cans by do­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s bid­ding at the Pen­tagon.

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