A of couple snippets from CIA Director Leon Panetta’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee to replace Robert Gates as defense secretary:
Panetta said he reached out to former secretaries of defense who impressed on him the importance of focusing on the management of the Pentagon, the nation’s largest agency. “It requires focus and hands-on management, which is frankly the only way I know how to do business,” Panetta said.
Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) asked whether Panetta would send Congress a budget amendment for fiscal 2012 – something defense insiders are predicting will happen. Panetta’s response, again, was typical of a congressional nominee, non-committal. “I do not know the answer to that.”
But the big question is the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan. Panetta told Levin that he agreed with the president’s statement that the drawdown should be “significant,” but the committee’s Republicans are drilling down a bit further. McCain asked whether Panetta agreed with Gates that the drawdown be “modest,” and Panetta dodged, instead saying that he would let Gates, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus and the president make that decision, saying that if he is confirmed, he would make a decision. “But I’m not in that position right now.”
And Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who’s still smarting over the end of F-22 Raptor production, asked Panetta whether he would be committed to Pentagon’s lone fifth-generation fighter, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and supporting air dominance. “I want to make sure that we have the very best in terms of our fighter planes,” Panetta said. “But I also know there are extensive costs. … I think we have to watch it very carefully.”