Defense Secretary Calls for Action
Published: Friday, February 8, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 8, 2013 14:02
Outgoing U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called on students and members of Congress to take action to solve American security and budget issues in an address in Gaston Hall Wednesday morning.
Panetta referred to America’s economic and military crises as a crossroads that poses threats to the nation’s security and growth.
“How we confront these problems, how we deal with these challenges will, in many ways, determine that future course of America,” Panetta said. “It will determine whether the United States will be a leader in the 21st century or whether we will be just another failed empire in history.”
In order for the country to succeed, Panetta said that national leadership must act proactively to apprehend and avoid crisis rather than waiting for and responding to problems.
“[We] govern in our democracy either through leadership or through crisis,” Panetta said. “If leadership is there, and there are those that are elected who are willing to take the risks associated with leadership, to make the tough decisions that have to be made, then hopefully crisis can be avoided. But if leadership is not there, if it's absent for whatever reason, then make no mistake about it — crisis drives policy in this country.”
Warning that such crises create uncertainty in public opinion, Panetta spoke about the Department of Defense’s role in lowering the national deficit. Panetta said that the department must become more agile and project power in the Pacific while maintaining more than one enemy at a time in order to sustain national security.
“This can't be about cutting. It has to be about investing,” Panetta said. “Budgets are not just numbers. Budgets are about priorities. And so what are our priorities that we have to invest in for the future?”
Panetta said that risk comes from inadequate legislation and decision-making.
“[Frankly,] we're going to need legislation. We've asked for legislation from the Congress to try to give us the tools we need — the legal tools we need so that we can develop a partnership with the private sector to be able to confront these challenges,” Panetta said. “What creates a serious risk today is the pervasive budget uncertainty that threatens our security and threatens our economic future.
Panetta described the urgent threat of sequestration, a tool in federal budget control that leads to automatic spending cuts. Panetta said that these cuts would lead to declines in defense, education, childcare, law enforcement and the American standard of life.
“No one that I've talked to doesn't think that [sequestration] is a dangerous tool to impact the country,” Panetta said. “Make no mistake, if these cuts happen, there will be a serious disruption in defense programs and a sharp decline in our military readiness. We have already begun an all-out effort to plan for how to operate under such a scenario. But it's all also very clear that there are no good options.”
Panetta encouraged Republican and Democratic decision makers to work together to implement a practical plan.
“My fear is that there is a dangerous and callous attitude that is developing among some Republicans and some Democrats that these dangerous cuts can be allowed to take place in order to blame the other party for the consequences,” Panetta said. “This is a kind of ‘so what?’ attitude that says, ‘Let's see how bad it can get in order to have the other party blink.’”
Panetta, a graduate of Santa Clara University, opened his address by thanking Georgetown for educating key public service leaders and maintaining its Jesuit identity.
“I want to thank you for the invitation to be here and to hopefully give you one of my last speeches as Secretary of Defense,” Panetta said. “It's appropriate that I do this at Georgetown. As the product of Jesuit education, as a Catholic and as a beneficiary, over the years, of your outstanding faculty and staff and your important policy contributions that this university has made in a number of areas that affect people of this country, I'm truly honored to have this opportunity today.”
Panetta said that his Catholic upbringing and Jesuit education influenced his morals and value system.
“It was that education and my Catholic upbringing — particularly as the son of Italian immigrants — that instilled in me the very core principles and values that I carry with me to this day,” Panetta said. “My faith, my belief in hard work, my belief that you have to give something back to this country — that's what a democracy is all about, my belief in knowing the difference between right and wrong.”
Before opening the floor to questions, Panetta urged the students to hold elected leaders accountable for strengthening the country.
“We bless ourselves with the hope that everything's going to be okay in this country. But very frankly, it won't mean a thing unless you're willing to fight for it,” Panetta said. “So my message to you, the students in this audience, is that doesn't mean a thing if you are not willing to fight for the American dream. That torch of duty is now passing to a new generation, and with it passes the responsibility to never stop fighting for that better future.”
Panetta inspired members of the audience while surprising them with his serious tone and subject matter.
“I really enjoyed it, and I thought it was really interesting that he spoke so much about the budget and fiscal matters because I thought he was going to talk more about the military capacity and the shift to Asia,” Stephanie Lella, a graduate student at Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, said. “I didn’t think he was going to talk so much about Congress and all the issues that are facing it. It was refreshing and very important.”