Defense Secretary nominee Leon Panetta said he supports President Obama's withdrawal of “significant” numbers of U.S. troops from Afghanistan starting next month but said that conditions on the ground would shape that decision. “If we lose in Afghanistan, we not only create another safe haven for Al Qaeda and their militant allies, but the world becomes a much more threatened place because of that loss, particularly in that region," he said at his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing today.
The current CIA Director also spoke about the current relationship with Pakistan. “Pakistan is one of the most critical and yet one of the most complicated and frustrating relationships that we have…but we have to maintain the relationship." He also said bin Laden’s death impacted Al Qaeda's capabilities, “Yes it’s weakened them, they are still dangerous and we still have to go after them.”
He also testified at the hearing on the defense budget. “The days of large growth, unlimited defense budgets are over. “Our challenge will be to design budgets that eliminate wasteful and duplicative spending while protecting those core elements that we absolutely need for our nation’s defense.” He later said “the next Pearl Harbor that we face could well be a cyber attack” and that “we are no longer in the cold war, more like the blizzard war.”
If confirmed, Mr. Panetta, will be the 23rd U.S. Defense Secretary. President Obama nominated him on April 28 in a White House ceremony to replace Robert Gates who is retiring after 5 years in office and served in this position in the George W. Bush & Obama Administrations. Mr. Panetta, who was appointed CIA Director in 2009, served as President Clinton’s Chief of Staff 1994-97 and his Budget Director 1993-94. He also served in the U.S. House representing California 1997-93 and was the House Budget Committee Chairman 1989-93. Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin chairs this committee hearing.