Leon Panetta

Secretary of Defense of United States

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  • In-Country Power
  • International Power
  • Respect
  • Military Strength
  • Intelligence
  • Special Skill: Expeditious Exiter

Official Stats

  • Official Title: Secretary of Defense
  • Government: Well-established Democracy
  • Years Left in Office: Indefinite (appointed position)
  • Political Classification:
  • Education: BA in Political Science, J.D. in Law
  • Age: 76 (born June 27, 1938)

Leon Panetta Facts and Information

Important Points

  • Leon Panetta is the current US Secretary of Defense: one of the most powerful positions in the US
  • The Secretary of Defense is second only to the President himself in the chain of military command, including the control of the nuclear arsenal
  • Secretary Panetta is overseeing a huge transition period of the US military, both in size and strategic focus
  • Secretary Panetta is in charge of wrapping up 2 active wars, reducing the defense budget, and preparing the US for new threats like terrorism and cyberwar
  • Secretary Panetta digs drones, and is likely investing heavily in those technologies

The Rundown

He may be a secretary, but Leon Panetta ain’t your typical coffee-fetchin, folder-filing assistant…au contraire!... he is the most powerful secretary on the planet as the US Secretary of Defense! The power he wields is virtually second-to-none…okay actually it is exactly second-to-one, that one being the President of the United Sates himself! That’s right, Mr. Panetta is second-in-command of the most mighty and massive military on the planet! So who he is and how he operates is of great significance to not just the US, but to the entire world. And Leon has his work cut out for him right now as the US is exiting 2 different active wars, dealing with new security threats, and shifting strategic focus globally, all while facing tremendous budgetary cuts to the Department of Defense. Damn! We should get to know this dude, and the all-important position he currently is commanding!

First off, let’s deal with the job description: The US Secretary of Defense is the top banana and chief executive officer of the entire Department of Defense (DoD). Because the US is so freakin’ awesomely dedicated to democracy and ensuring civilian control of the military, the Secretary of Defense is always a civilian (that is, non-active military person), appointed by the President of the US and approved by the Congress, and is also a member of the President’s Cabinet and by law a member of the National Security Council. High profile, big-time power player position, baby! But what does he/she do?

The Secretary of Defense has total “authority, direction and control over the Department of Defense”. In other words, the dude has penultimate command and control over all military forces of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines…sorry Coast Guardians! You guys fall under the Department of Homeland Security, not the DoD! The Secretary of Defense is second only to the President himself in the chain of military command, for all operational and administrative purposes.

In this regard, the Secretary is the principal defense policy adviser to the President, is responsible for the formulation of general defense policy, and for the execution of approved policy…which realistically means the Secretary authorizes troop deployment, conducts wars, and decides on the strategic focus of the armed services. That is a tall order for the most pro-active and powerful military entity on the planet.

Oh, and one other minor detail attached to this gig: The Secretary of Defense and the President together constitute the National Command Authority, which has sole authority to launch strategic nuclear weapons. All nuclear weapons are governed by this dual-authority – both the Prez and the Secretary of Defense must concur before a strategic nuclear strike may be ordered. How’s that for a high-pressure job? Because the Secretary of Defense is second only to the Office of President in the military hierarchy, it has sometimes unofficially been referred to as a de facto “deputy commander in chief”. But this deputy got a lot more clout than Deputy Dog, or even Deputy Barney Fife, so let’s now find out more about the actual dude currently sitting in this all powerful seat, and what he is up to…

Leon Panetta is a most distinguished Italian-American and California native that has spent virtually his entire life dedicated to public service, and is a pretty darn smart, centrist, level-headed guy who has played for both teams during his illustrious career. (No! Not those teams! I meant he has been both a Republican and a Democrat!)  After graduating from Santa Clara Law School, Leon began his long and distinguished public service career in 1964 as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, after which he went to work in Washington as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senate minority whip Republican Tom Kuchel of California. In 1969 he became the assistant to Robert H. Finch, Secretary of the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare under the Nixon administration. Later that same year, he was appointed director of the U.S. Office for Civil Rights, where he was responsible for enforcing equal education laws, and also served briefly as executive assistant to the Republican mayor of New York City.

He later returned to sunny CA, where he practiced law until he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976 as a Democrat (what a flip-flopper! lol), a position he held for 16 years. Leon was a key participant in agriculture, healthcare, and federal budget issues, and from 1989 to 1993 he chaired the House Budget Committee. He authored a wide range of legislation, including the Hunger Prevention Act of 1988, Medicare and Medicaid coverage of hospice care for the terminally ill, and numerous environmental acts. Yep, that Democratic-type stuff, which was getting him massive street cred in the party itself, and his fortunes continues to rise when the great Democratic savior of Billy-boy Clinton came into power in 1992…

He left Congress in 1993 to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget for the incoming Clinton administration, where he was instrumental in developing the policies that led to a balanced federal budget and eventual budget surpluses. In fact, Leon has a lot of experience with finance and budgets, having worked on many budgetary committees and subcommittees over his career and was even Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on the Budget for 6 years…gaining budgetary skills that he now finds quite useful in his current job, but more on that in a minute….

By 1994 he was appointed as the President’s chief of staff, and over the next three years was at the helm of White House operations and policy making. After leaving the Beltway in 1997, Panetta established and co-directed his own think-tank named the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, served on numerous boards and commissions (i.e.  co-chaired California Forward, the Pew Oceans Commission, and Governor Schwarzenegger’s Council on Base Support and Retention), and in 2006 he served on the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan national commission seeking a new course for the war in Iraq. Wow! This dude is a dynamo!

By 2009, he was getting called back into the big leagues to serve his country once more in the top slots of power: In January 2009 he accepted President Obama’s request to return to Washington as director of the CIA. The supreme spook! He was only in the position for a couple of years, BUT as director of the CIA, Panetta presided over the operations that led to Osama bin Laden’s death! Boo-yah! How’s that for a sweet résumé entry? Man, I wonder if that got him a stellar raise, or at least a commemorative death watch?

But on to the now. President Obama nominated Leon to the position of Secretary of Defense in 2011, and he was confirmed by the United States Senate by a 100-0 vote in July 2011. Mr. Panetta is now in command of the world’s most powerful military, in what history will definitely call a critical phase of transition.  How so, and what is Leon leaning towards?

Well, Panetta has taken over this position at a most crucial time of change for the US DoD. BTW, he took over from one of the best American leaders ever, an extremely awesome and talented Robert Gates, who held the job for the previous 5 years. Gates had to deal with the management of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and did the best job anyone on earth could have walking into the quagmire of those messes, but now Leon Panetta is the overseer of the end of these wars. Panetta (and the Prez) are the ones that are deciding how fast the draw-down of American troops will be out of these war-zones, and how exactly to try and mop up the messes without either country falling back apart too quickly. Good luck with that boys!

Just as important, Defense Secretary Panetta is in charge of the DoD just as its gigantic budget is being slashed! As the US is facing the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, the federal budget is being cut across the board…and for the first time since the end of World War 2, the Department of Defense is being forced to share in the pain. Plain talking, it’s like this: the Pentagon has to definitely reduce its spending by HALF A TRILLION dollars in the next decade, with the possibility that they may be expected to trim a full TRILLION dollars out of their annual budget eventually! Wowsers! The DoD losing almost 20% of its mondo massive budget? How the hell is Leon (and the US) dealing with that?

Well, it means that Panetta will be reducing troops abroad, and probably the number of US troops altogether, as well as scaling back spending on the nuclear arsenal, warships, combat aircraft, salaries, and retirement and health benefits. This is resulting is a serious shift of doctrine that will slowly shrink the military, and in so doing make it clear that the Pentagon will not maintain the ability to fight two sustained ground wars at once: a standard hallmark of US defense policy of the past.

Instead, Panetta says that a smaller, finer-tuned, and highly trained US military will be just large enough to fight and win one major conflict, while also being able to “spoil” a second adversary’s ambitions in another part of the world while conducting a number of other smaller operations, like providing disaster relief or enforcing a no-flight zone. Leon also stresses that they have to focus on new, unconventional types of warfare like cyber-attacks and drone technologies that will be the wave of the future…from both offensive and defensive postures.
Yeah, Leon actually really digs the drone stuff, as it is the rapidly expanding (and way cool) war technology of the future that will allow for smaller actual human troop numbers, while possibly simultaneously making the military even more lethal! Death from the skies! Secret almost invisible death at that!

Bottom line: smaller US military, smaller US nuclear arsenal, rapidly expanding development and use of drones and cyberwarfare, with an increased role of DoD in counterterrorism and cybersecurity. Additionally, Panetta is in charge of where the US will be re-focusing its vision and its troops geographically to meet the new challenges of the 21st century, with an increased focus on Asia and the Pacific Ocean, thus transferring bases/troops out of the Middle East and Europe.

Are you starting to see the massive sweeping changes that Secretary Panetta is overseeing? The slayer of Bin Laden is now in charge of slaying the defense budget, while simultaneously maintaining the US’s standing as the most powerful military on the planet. A huge order to fill, indeed. Let’s hope Leon figures out how to fight the good fight for the future of the US, which of course affects the entire world. It’s a world that will likely see less troops, less nukes, and more drones! As Yoda would say: “Begun, the Drone Wars have!” I think Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta would totally agree!

But then again, who would be so foolish as to disagree with the wrinkled green Jedi master?

Posted: Jan 2012

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