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Leon Panetta: A Legacy of the Conventional Wisdom

February 27, 2013 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

In a likely end to his public career, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is retiring after the Senate confirmed his successor, Chuck Hagel, on Tuesday.

Panetta’s previous experience at the Office of Management and Budget led some to hope that he would ably lead the Pentagon into a new world of limited resources. But he turned out to be a reincarnation of Ronald Reagan’s first defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger

Known as “Cap the Knife” from when he headed OMB, Weinberger turned into “Cap the Shovel,” promoting a large-scale military buildup even as deficits rose dramatically.

The most important issue facing the Pentagon today is how to operate with less money. The 9/11 terrorist attacks sparked a global campaign against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, two lengthy wars, and several more limited operations. Military outlays exploded. The wars are winding down and al-Qaida is much weakened. But America’s aggressive, interventionist military policy is creating more enemies than it is killing and Washington’s fiscal position has collapsed. Even Panetta acknowledged that “We’re facing a huge budget crisis in the country.”

His failure to accommodate a rapidly changing world will be Panetta’s most important, and disappointing, legacy at the Pentagon.”

Yet rather than propose reasonable cuts, he engaged in scaremongering, proclaiming that we “cannot maintain a strong defense if sequester is allowed to happen.” Even though America would retain the world’s most advanced military and remain allied with every major industrialized state other than China and Russia.

Panetta also told Congress that the cuts would “undermine our ability to meet our national security objectives and require a significant revision to our defense strategy.” Yet such a revision is long overdue.

He worried that the cuts would reduce America’s “ability to be … engaged around the world” and “ability to support the Afghan war.” However, Washington should reduce its role after the collapse of hegemonic communism and rise of allied states, and the United States should withdraw from Afghanistan. Panetta has even opposed accelerating America’s exit from its long war in Afghanistan.

The shift from justified counter-terrorism to unjustified nation-building occurred long ago and failed to deliver honest and competent governance in Kabul. In response, Panetta gave the most cliched answer of all: “I think because of those that have paid the price for this war we owe it to them to stick to this mission and get it finished.” But that means more …read more
Source: OP-EDS

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