Published On: Mon, Feb 4th, 2013

So Long, Secretary Panetta!

On January 21, 2013, Barack Obama took the Oath of Office, becoming president for his second term. However, several members of his Cabinet will not be joining him for “Round 2.” Among these is Leon Edward Panetta, Obama’s Secretary of Defense. Panetta had Obama’s full trust and enjoyed nearly unrestricted access to the Oval Office and his presence in the White House will definitely be missed. Leon Panetta has a long history with the US government, launching his career as a government lawyer forced to resign during the Civil Rights Movement in 1970 after going against promises made to Southern legislators by the presidential administration and making a quick transition to non-racist policies in the South. His resignation however, served as the beginning and not the end of a very promising career of service to the US people. Having replaced Robert Gates in the Obama administration on July 1, 2011, Panetta took office as Secretary of Defense and was certain to make his opinions heard regarding the defense budget cuts, women in the military, and USA’s military might amongst other issues. Dealing with defense is a difficult thing, especially during a time with changing relations, rising powers and an economic recession.

In terms of actual defense policy, Panetta ensured that the USA has not lost its might in light of the recession. Panetta showed no reservations in making his opinions heard regarding debt reduction and the military budget. He was quite insistent on making sure that the military budget was not being cut without a full assessment of the consequences. The idea of using force is inherent to US policy, especially when dealing with powers like Iran. He has ensured the public on several occasions that the USA would not sit on the sidelines and allow for the Iranians to neither develop a nuclear weapon nor block the Straits of Hormuz. While he states that weapons are on the table, he does encourage the use of sanctions and simply, diplomacy. The US has always used a combination of military and civilian power, and Panetta underlined the importance of maintaining its role given rising powers in the East. Secretary Panetta was one of the key officials who oversaw Obama’s Pivot to Asia. He visited the region on multiple occasions and engaged with allies such as South Korea, Australia and also with China. He also was responsible for the negotiations of resulting in the deployment of 2000 troops in Australia.

In addition to this, Panetta believed that healthcare and retirement benefits for army veterans could be somewhat reduced due to the recession. Panetta demonstrated his full support for the homosexuals working within the US military after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a policy that allowed for discrimination of openly homosexual soldiers. By the end of his term as US Secretary of Defense, Panetta fulfilled what many call his lifetime goal: giving women equal access to all combat jobs in the military.  This equal access to combat jobs was a great achievement for Panetta and something that he had worked towards achieving for a long time. It would have served as the perfect cherry on top of a fulfilling career in public service.

The end of his career however, has put him, and the Obama administration as a whole, in a compromising position. Over the course of a couple weeks, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham put a hold on the nomination of Chuck Hagel as the new Secretary of Defense. Graham argues that Panetta along with Hilary Clinton are responsible for the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the murder of 4 US citizens including the US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. Graham stated: “The one thing I’m not going to do is vote on a new secretary of Defense until the old secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, who I like very much, testifies about what happened in Benghazi.” While there is a discrepancy between the story told by the Obama administration and the actual happenings, Panetta is not to blame for this issue. It is most definitely a shame that Senator Graham is forcing Panetta to testify on this issue in order for the administration to move forward with Hagel’s nomination. The incident in Benghazi is a shortcoming on the part of the State Department and the CIA, and not the Department of Defense.

After having spent so many years serving his country and working towards a safe USA, it is a pity that his last days of service are spent testifying to an event that was not necessarily his fault, rather than celebrating his many successes. Panetta has not made clear whether or not he will be retiring for good, however he will move back to California later this year to work in the Panetta Institute of Public Policy that he set up with his wife. After such a promising career, and a lifetime of service to the American people, Panetta’s numerous successes deserve recognition that is not overshadowed by this forced testimony which seems to be a mere reflection of the failure of bipartisanship in the Congress. So, Mr. Panetta, in hopes of reminding the world of your cherry, here is a thank you for your years of service, from your participation in the Civil Rights Movement to defending equal rights for women in the military. Your legacy will live on long past your possible retirement.

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