Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was on ABC’s This Week with Jake Tapper this morning, during which he was subjected to questions on nearly every facet of the administration’s national-security policy.
Most notable, Tapper asked him his reaction to Pakistan’s recent decision to sentence a CIA asset, a doctor who aided in the search for Osama bin Laden, to 33 years in prison. Tapper asked whether there was anything the U.S. could do to protect the man, and whether Pakistan’s actions could be seen as “a shot across the bow” to “anyone who helps the United States.”
Panetta was visibly emotional in his response, saying, “It’s — it is so difficult to understand, and it’s so disturbing that they would sentence this doctor to 33 years for helping in the search for the most notorious terrorist in our times.” He argued that “this doctor was not working against Pakistan. He was working against al-Qaeda.” The secretary also noted, unprompted, that the fiasco “does not help in the effort to reestablish a relationship between the United States and Pakistan.”
Tapper continued to prod him on that issue, asking whether it remains accurate to call Pakistan an ally. Panetta suggested that Pakistan “has been one of the most complicated relationships that we’ve had,” but an essential one because the country has nuclear weapons and is a “critical” player in the important region. Further, he explained that because many Pakistanis, too, have died as a result of terrorism, the country is “dealing with common threats. They’re dealing with the terrorist threat just like we are.”
#more#Panetta was also pushed on the recently revealed cooperation between the Obama administration and a filmmaking crew for a movie about the Osama bin Laden raid, but he pushed back against Tapper, confirming that “nothing inappropriate was shared with them. We get inquiries every day from the entertainment industry . . . but we will not give them anything inappropriate.”
Later on, the discussion turned to the Pentagon’s budget, its role in fiscal discipline, and the looming threat of a defense sequester. Panetta forthrightly acknowledged that “when you’re facing the size deficits and debt that we’re facing, obviously defense has to play a role in trying to be able to achieve fiscal responsibility.” To that end, he noted that the Defense Department had already proposed a more modest budget, which he felt “meets not only the goal of savings but also, more importantly, protects a strong national defense for this country.”
But the imminent possibility of further sequester cuts, he explains, is “what does concern” him; he said another $500 billion in cuts “would be disastrous in terms of our national defense.” Tapper noted to him that Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid has said he is ready to let the sequester occur, and Panetta repeated that “what both Republicans and Democrats need to do and the leaders on both sides is to recognize that if sequester takes place, it would be disastrous for our national defense.” Congressional leaders, in the secretary’s view, “have a responsibility to come together, find the money necessary to de-trigger sequester. That’s what they ought to be working on now.”