The National Defense University hosted Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Sec. Leon Panetta in a dialogue on "current international issues." The two discussed various security matters, ranging from the impact of the debt ceiling agreement on foreign aid to U.S.-Pakistan relations.
Both Panetta and Clinton said a holistic approach needs to be considered when addressing budget cuts. The State Department receives 1% of the discretionary budget, and Clinton cautioned against further cuts, which she said would harm U.S. ability to aid in development, especially in the politically volatile Middle East and North Africa.
As a result of last month's debt ceiling agreement, both the State and Defense saw reductions. Sec. Panetta said he can live with $350 billion of Defense cuts because they match previously projected DoD reductions. But, he said he is concerned, instead, with longer ranging cuts projected for the future. If the newly created "super committee" fails to reach an agreement or if Congress fails to pass their proposal, a trigger will go into place which includes an additional $500 billion of Defense cuts. "It would have devastating effects on national defense," Panetta said.
Long-time colleagues from the Clinton administration (Panetta served as White House Chief of Staff), the two cabinet officials continue a series of discussions that began while Robert Gates lead the Pentagon. The traditional rivalry between Department of Defense (DoD) and State over funding and prestige has lessened as the demands for "nation building" in Iraq and Afghanistan have required greater cooperation between the military and civil development agencies like USAID.
Sec. Clinton has spent her time at the State Dep. stressing the importance of the military-development link. During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the State Deptartment's 2012 budget, she said, "Our military commanders are emphatic they cannot succeed without a strong civilian partner." Sec. Clinton told the committee, "Retreating from our civilian surge in Afghanistan with our troops still in the field would be a grave mistake."
As for the tense U.S. - Pakistan relationship, Panetta said it is "complicated." The partnership was further strained over the weekend with reports that Pakistani security officials may have given the Chinese access to the American helicopter downed during the bid Laden raid. Congress is already considering foreign aid cuts to Pakistan as skepticism grows about the Pakistanis' ability to fight terrorism as required by aid agreements with the U.S.