The President plans to move Leon Panetta from heading the CIA to heading the Pentagon. As Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, Panetta will have to be confirmed by the Senate. With the President’s doctrine for foreign policy and national security proving mostly a bust, the Senate should expect the new Secretary to help turn around the Administration’s sad record.
Furthermore, Obama has called on the Pentagon to conduct a new review of defense needs. Since the U.S. Armed Forces are already overstretched, the new Secretary will have to provide an honest assessment and not just rubber-stamp Obama’s desire for gutting their budget. Congress needs to know if Panetta is up to the challenge.
Here are the top five questions Congress ought to throw at Panetta:
1. Defense budget: President Obama has repudiated his own defense review (the Quadrennial Defense Review), which he delivered in 2010 and which by law is supposed to provide an honest assessment of project needs. Now, his recent decision to pick an arbitrary goal of $400 billion in defense cuts over the next decade—and then ask for a review to justify it—will be your first job in office. Why should we trust you to do anything but rubber-stamp his demands?
2. Vital priorities: Do you agree that instead of cutting defense, the next Secretary of Defense should be focused on: helping the U.S. military win in Afghanistan; identifying a clear plan for the United States with and in Iraq beyond December; avoiding mission creep in Libya while actually helping create a coherent strategy for the Arab “Spring”; and crafting a clear, more effective policy toward Iran, especially to prevent it from becoming a nuclear power?
3. China: We need a rational, credible plan to counter the People’s Republic of China’s large-scale military modernization program. Can you deliver on a plan that will ensure the U.S. remains a capable stabilizing military force in Asia—one that never has to fear intimidation from China?
4. Missile defense: Since entering office, President Obama has negotiated the new START nuclear agreement with Russia that has diminished U.S. stature as a nuclear power. He has cut back U.S. missile defense posture to what he believes is just-enough, just-in-time missile defense, rather than building robust defenses that would answer potential threats. Do you think that was smart? Would it not have been wiser to do everything within his power to ensure that the U.S. and its allies have the most robust defenses possible against threats from Iran and North Korea?
5. Homeland protection: The U.S. must be better prepared for protecting the homeland. Despite all its rhetoric, this Administration actually cut the number of specially trained and equipped military forces that would respond to a weapons of mass destruction incident. That seems wrongheaded. Will you do more to ensure the homeland is adequately protected, including for emerging threats like cyber attacks?