Leon Panetta Hypes al Qaeda to Ward Off More Defense Cuts

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Speaking at Offutt Air Base, Nebraska -- Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has disconcertingly started his tenure fear-mongering about al Qaeda as a justification not to go beyond the President's proposed $400 billion cuts to the Defense Department over ten years. 

From a report in the Omaha World-Herald:

The military can handle this week's debt ceiling deal that slices nearly $400 billion from projected defense spending over the next decade, Panetta told the crowd.

What the military can't handle, he said, is $600 billion in additional defense cuts that would be spread out over the next decade. Those cuts could be automatically triggered as part of the debt ceiling deal if a congressional "super committee" deadlocks on the way to further cut spending or raise revenues.

Those cuts would "seriously weaken the defense of this country," Panetta said. "That's the last thing we need to do."

The report went on to say about Panetta's comments:

He ticked off a list of potential dangers to the United States, beginning with al-Qaida.

The terrorist network is weakened, Panetta told the crowd, and lacks its longtime leader after the Central Intelligence Agency -- then led by Panetta -- helped locate and kill Osama bin Laden in May.

Panetta called the joint military operation that killed bin Laden, "one of the proudest moments I've had" but warned that the group bin Laden founded is still bent on harming Americans.

It seems that one week, al Qaeda is on the run and "near collapse" and the next, al Qaeda remains the reason why the US needs to continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a Pentagon designed to fight the wrong wars.

This is irresponsible hyping of a threat to justify massive defense spending during a period of real fiscal stress. 

Leon Panetta needs to get to work transforming the Pentagon and needs to elevate his game -- learning how to talk about vital national security deliverables in terms of deeds done and future strategy rather than trying to convince increasingly skeptical Americans that national security is purely a function of the dollars spent.

Image credit: Reuters

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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