Leon Panetta has long been known as a careful and experienced hand in Washington, D.C.
He has held many responsible posts, including CIA Director, White House Chief of Staff, Office of Management and Budget Director, respected Member of Congress.
So it is with some amazement and bafflement that one views several Panetta pronouncements since becoming Secretary of Defense less than two weeks ago
In his visit to Iraq this week, he echoed the claims of the George W. Bush Administration that the U.S. went to war in Iraq as part of the war against al-Qaeda – a claim long debunked by reputable observers.
He told U.S. troops there: “The reason you guys are here is because on 9/11 the United States got attacked.”
Wrong, it was a war of choice, not a war of necessity. George W, Rummy and Wolfy wanted to oust Saddam Hussein. No Iraq connection to 9/11. And it has cost a lot of people, Americans and Iraqis, their lives.
About the Iraqi government, Panetta said: “Do they want us to stay, don’t they want us to stay? Do they want to get a minister of defense or don’t they want to get a minister of defense? Dammit, make a decision.”
Colorful, but not exactly diplomatic.
In Afghanistan, Panetta told reporters repeatedly that the United States would keep 70,000 troops in Afghanistan until the end of 2014.
Pentagon spokespeople later said the Defense Secretary misspoke, because the Obama Administration has not indicated its position on troop withdrawals beyond the 33,000 due out by September 2012 – except that all troops are due to leave by the end of 2014.
To explain his missteps and his salty language in front of reporters, Panetta told NBC reporter Jim Miklaszewski, “Hey, I’m Italian. What can I tell you?”
I wonder if that is the only explanation!