Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s trip last week to Asia was largely overshadowed by the sex scandal that engulfed CIA Director David H. Petraeus and also delayed the promotion of Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Concerns over the coming fiscal crisis and a possible $660 billion defense budget cut also dominated debate in Washington and distracted attention from the Pentagon’s new shift to Asia.
Still, Mr. Panetta said the new defense strategy is “very important,” and he outlined the Pentagon’s so-called pivot to Asia in a meeting with reporters aboard his Air Force jet on the way to Australia for a ministerial meeting.
Asked whether the shift of forces and alliances to Asia would undermine security efforts in the Middle East, the defense secretary said:
“Look, the United States is the strongest military power in the world, and we remain the strongest military power in the world. And that means that we can walk and chew gum at the same time, which means that we have to cover the threats that exist in the world, not just in the Asia-Pacific region, but throughout the world. And that’s what we’re doing.”
In Asia, Mr. Panetta outlined the steps being taken to bolster forces in the region that defense officials say is covertly aimed at countering China’s new high-tech weaponry but publicly described as advancing general peace and security.
“I want to stress for all of you that the rebalancing to this region is a very important part of the new defense strategy