Panetta Back in Town, Blasts Washington Dysfunction

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

 Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had a familiar message for the crowd of Pentagon officials and defense industry executives: “The dysfunction in Washington, from my point view, is probably the greatest national security threat we face,” he said April 15.

Panetta spoke at the National Defense Industrial Association's annual awards dinner in Tysons Corner, Virginia, where he received the organization's Dwight D. Eisenhower Award.

“If the leadership of this country can’t come together to agree on what is in our national interest and what we need to do in order to maintain the strength of this country, and if all they are going to do is basically fight each other to gridlock, … then we’re going to pay a hell of a price for that,” said Panetta, who left the Defense Department in 2013. Prior to that, he led the Central Intelligence Agency.

There is a lack of leadership throughout government, and Americans are “starving” for it, he said. “Today I’ve never seen Washington as partisan and as a gridlocked as it is. And in many ways I think that will determine kind of what the path of the country will be in the 21st century."

If Washington continues to govern by crisis, the United States will decline and it “will not be able to protect our freedoms, our economy or our national security.”

Policy makers just keep kicking the can down the road, Panetta said. This should not be happening at a time when the United States is facing “an unprecedented set of flash points around the world."

He slammed Republicans and Democrats in Congress and President Obama for their inability to even agree on the country’s strategy to combat the Islamic State.

“This country ought to be unified in terms of what kind of authority do we want to provide the president of the United States in order to confront an enemy,” he said. “To not be able to do that sends a hell of a message to the world.”

When Panetta served in Congress, “we thought that governing is not only good for the nation, but that governing is good politics,” he said. “I’m not so sure that the parties have come to the conclusion that governing is good politics right now.” A case in point was the government's failure to reach a debt ceiling agreement, which led to the Budget Control Act and painful budget cuts for federal agencies, he noted. “In my day, frankly, the leadership at that time would never have allowed that to happen. You don’t just stand back and allow the country to be hurt." 

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget

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