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Leon Panetta’s 5 challenges

Leon Panetta’s 5 challenges

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Leon Panetta, President Barack Obama’s choice to replace Robert Gates as defense secretary, faces a grilling Thursday from the Senate Armed Services Committee, and senators will have plenty to ask him about.
Leon Panetta, President Barack Obama’s choice to replace Robert Gates as defense secretary, faces a grilling Thursday from the Senate Armed Services Committee, and senators will have plenty to ask him about.

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Published by: Journal of Foreign Relations on Jun 09, 2011
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Leon Panetta’s 5 challenges
Leon Panetta, President Barack Obama’s choice toreplace Robert Gates as defense secretary, faces agrilling Thursday from the Senate Armed ServicesCommittee, and senators will have plenty to ask himabout.Panetta, currently serving as CIA director, is expectedto win easy confirmation to take over when Gatesretires June 30. He will face lots of unfinished business Gates is leaving behind,including the Afghanistan troop withdrawals and the need to make deep cuts inPentagon spending.“The stakes are potentially quite high,” said Andrew Krepinevich, president of theCenter for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense-oriented think tank.Here are the five issues at the top of Panetta’s list.
1. Afghanistan
Once confirmed, Panetta, a former White House chief of staff, will most likely need tohelp mediate a dispute among administration officials over how many of the nearly100,000 troops to begin pulling out of Afghanistan next month.Some officials, backed by Vice President Joe Biden, are reportedly considering a largewithdrawal, perhaps as much as the entire force of 30,000 troops that were “surged”into Afghanistan over the past 18 months. They have a lot of cover from members of Congress concerned about the increasing cost and wary of public fatigue over a warnow in its 10th year: A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Monday showed 73percent of Americans want a substantial withdrawal this summer.But military leaders worry that taking too many troops out of the fight too fast willthreaten gains made over the past year, and Gates is backing them up on his way outthe door. “We have the momentum. We have succeeded in stopping the Taliban’smomentum. … But we’ve just kind of turned that corner, and I think we need to keepthe pressure on,” he told Marines during a visit Monday to Kandahar province, alongtime Taliban stronghold that has become more peaceful over the past year.
 
Panetta said in response toa committee questionnaireobtained by POLITICO that hesupports a “responsible, conditions-based drawdown,” and largely backed thePentagon line that current security gains are “fragile and reversible.”
2. Cutting the Pentagon budget
Defense analysts saw the choice of Panetta as a sign that Obama is serious aboutsqueezing an additional $400 billion out of the Pentagon and other security agenciesover the next 12 years — on top of cuts the president already proposed in his fiscal2012 budget. Panetta’s experience as Office of Management and Budget chief andHouse Budget Committee chairman could help him find savings where Gates wasunwilling to go.Panetta, in his responses to the committee, said he expects “difficult choices will haveto be made.” That’s an understatement. When Gates last month ordered a review of Pentagon spending in response to Obama’s call, he said nothing would be held sacred.But he made clear that Congress and the president will have to assume the risk anddecide what to cut.Panetta said he would play a “large role” in the review, which he expects will becompleted this fall.Among the savings likely to be most contentious: military benefits, such as health care;expensive weapons systems, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; a proposed new ballistic missile submarine; and a change in strategy to reduce the U.S. militarypresence in some parts of the world.
3. Libya
The stalemate between Muammar Qadhafi’s forces and rebels has pushed the “days,not weeks” Obama promised for U.S. military involvement into months and hascreated a simmering problem that flares at inconvenient times. Congress is gettingantsy about the fact that Obama never sought authorization for the operation, as theWar Powers Act requires. The House has adopted a resolution demanding informationabout U.S. goals in Libya and barring the deployment of ground troops there.Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennesseeasked the Senate on Wednesday to do the same amid growing congressionalopposition to U.S. involvement.
 
Gates never liked the operation. He said last weekend that the decision to launch itwas his biggest disagreement with Obama.Now, Panetta has to help figure out an endgame for a $1 billion mission for which theultimate goals exceed the commitment and resources to carry them out. “I think it’s just a matter of time before Qadhafi goes,” Obama said Tuesday. But on Wednesday,NATO leaders again made clear they won’t force him out. Meanwhile, Qadhafi, whocelebrated his 69th birthday Tuesday, has vowed to fight to the death.
4. Ending “don’t ask, don’t tell”
It’s showtime for one of Obama’s signature initiatives — and one that Gates alsochampioned. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen last week said themilitary is on track to meet its goal to certify this summer its readiness to allow gaysand lesbians to serve openly. Certification would trigger a 60-day waiting period before the law Congress passed last December can be put into practice.House Republicans are still steaming over the repeal, but they’ve gotten no help fromthe service chiefs, who have pledged to follow the law. Still, military leaders don’texpect the process to be problem free, and Panetta will have to endure any “I told youso” comments from lawmakers and activists who have warned about possiblenegative effects on military readiness.Panetta — who supports ending the ban — also will have to deal with pro-repealactivists upset that gay service members are still being discharged from the military. If certification doesn’t occur before he takes office, expect them to push him to get itdone quickly.“Is this going to happen on Secretary Gates’s watch? The answer seems to be maybenot. And that leads to the question, why not?” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive directorof the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, one of the leading groups pushing torepeal the ban.In his response to senators, Panetta said, “I will work closely with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to assess whether the elements for certification in the law are met before signingit myself” if Gates doesn’t do it first.
5. The Iraq endgame
Under Gates, Obama moved toward fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw all

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