American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 30, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta offered his perspective at a gathering here yesterday evening on what he termed the “strategic turning point” facing the nation.
Accepting the 2012 Dwight D. Eisenhower Award, presented by members of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress during a dinner in his honor hosted by the group, Panetta said Eisenhower’s legacy of “compromise, patience, [and] conviction … remains valuable and instructive to all of us today.”
Eisenhower’s life of service, he added, offers lessons on the importance of statesmanship, of long-term strategic planning and of leadership in war and politics.
The secretary reminded the audience of the challenges America faces: the wear that follows 10 years of war; a diminished but determined terrorist threat; an uncertain global geopolitical situation; and a range of weapons that includes a growing nuclear menace and an elusive but pervasive cyber threat.
“At the same time we face this myriad of threat, we also face another national security threat: the long-term debt and the record deficits,” Panetta said.
To meet that threat, Panetta noted, he and “the entire leadership” of the Defense Department did the painful but necessary work of crafting “a new defense strategy for the long haul,” to shape a defense capability that will sustain the nation’s global leadership in a constrained spending environment.
The department must do its part “to help America put its fiscal house in order,” the secretary said.
“That’s because I agree with what President Eisenhower said in his first state of the union speech,” Panetta continued. “’To amass military power without regard to economic capacity would be to defend ourselves against one kind of disaster by inviting another.’”
The new defense strategy will produce a force that is small, agile, technologically advanced and able to confront aggression at any time or place, he said.
The process of developing that strategy and shaping defense spending plans to support it required the department, he said, to “make tradeoffs and that we put our long-term interest ahead of short-term political pressures.”
“But that’s the nature of governing,” the secretary continued. Over his career in public service, Panetta added, he has learned “that governing requires people coming together to get things done, not to pound their fists on the table, not to stand in the way.”
One of his greatest concerns as secretary, Panetta said, “is the dysfunction that we see in Washington.
“It threatens our security and it raises questions about the capacity of our democracy to respond to crisis,” he added. “But dysfunction is a political crutch, It’s a political excuse. It is not a part of the American spirit.”
Panetta said he hopes Congress will work with the department to implement the strategy and the budget, and “ensure that we have the strong military the country needs for the future.”
Another important lesson Eisenhower’s legacy provides, the secretary said, is the service and sacrifice of a single generation can leave all of us a better life.”
The Americans who have volunteered to be sent to faraway battlefields over the last 10 years are such a generation, Panetta said.
During his recent trip to Afghanistan, Panetta said he was “struck by how even in a tough situation, these dedicated young men and women remain intently focused on the long-term mission.”
The strategy International Security Assistance Force commander Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen and his forces have in place in Afghanistan is effective, Panetta said. Violence is down, the secretary noted, the Taliban are weakened, and Afghan forces are fighting alongside their U.S. and ISAF counterparts.
“We cannot allow the outrages of war to undermine” that strategy, he said.
Panetta acknowledged that the American and Afghan people are tired of war. That is understandable, he said, “but we must summon the will to see this strategy through to success.”
The secretary offered another quote from Eisenhower: “Without American leadership in the search, the pursuit of a just and enduring peace is hopeless. Nowhere in the world -- outside this land -- is there the richness of resources, and stamina, and will needed to lead what at times must be a costly and exhausting effort.”
Americans and their leaders, Panetta said, must summon the will to “fight for that American dream for a better life, but most of all, fight for a government of, by and for all people.”