Former Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, discussed his new book “Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace” as well as both frustrations and concerns with the current state of U.S. governing while speaking with GW students at the Jack Morton Auditorium in the School of Media and Public Affairs on Tuesday afternoon. Panetta also provided insight on conflicts abroad and discussed his views on drones. In his discussion of his memoir, Panetta addressed critiques that he was too harsh on President Obama.
“I was honored to serve this administration, I was honored to serve this President. I respect him a great deal, I want him to succeed in every way – I want this country to succeed in every way,” he said. “And frankly, as I described in the book, during the time that I was both CIA director and Secretary of Defense, the president really did support the operations that we were involved in.”
Despite his respect, Panetta also discussed his concerns over the lack of compromise between the executive and legislative branches of government.
“Governing is not easy, you have to deal with people you don’t like,” he maintained. “I was particularly concerned about sequester…I remember going to the president, I went to the leadership of the congress. I said [the sequester] is going to hurt the country. It’s going to hurt our national defense. We’re not going to be able to do maintenance, we’re not going to be able to deploy forces.”
Frustrations aimed at Washington proved to be the staple of Panetta’s address.
“We are living at a time when we face these huge threats abroad, we’re facing huge issues here at home, and there’s a sense that somehow, everybody has kind of pulled back and given up,” noted the former Congressman. “They’re not working together to develop a budget deal. They’re not working together to develop immigration reform. They’re not working together to develop funding for infrastructure. They’re not working together to pass vital trade legislation. They’re not working together to pass energy legislation, to get jobs legislation in place. They’ve largely given up on that.”
When asked if he had any regrets about drone policy during his tenure as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Panetta explained why he did not.
“I think that my responsibility as Director of the CIA, and for that matter Secretary of Defense, like the President’s, is to protect this country – to protect the American people and provide for the safety of our people,” he stated. “And if the steps we took to try to go after an enemy who would attack us again – who would not hesitate to attack us – if the steps we took were effective in undermining that enemy, then I have no regrets.”
As moderator and Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs, Frank Sesno shifted the conversation to Russia, Panetta provided his insights on Vladmir Putin.
“I think that [Putin] wants to reassert the authority of the old Soviet Union,” Panetta said. “I think he wants to be able to gain influence over those former republics that were part of the Soviet Union and begin to bring them, again, under the sphere of influence of Russia. I think that [Ukraine] is just a warm-up act.”
The event, co-sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was the latest installment of the School of Media and Public Affair’s Conversation Series, in which Director Sesno hosts prominent political figures to discuss current events and the media.