UPDATE 1308: SASC Chairman Levin gavels the hearing to a close, so senators — almost all of whom were long gone from the hearing room — can break for lunch and then meet again for a closed session with Panetta today in a few hours. We stand adjourned from live-blogging operations but look for much more coverage here on Buzz.
UPDATE 1254: “If we’re going to maintain our national defense, we’ve got to maintain our industrial base, and our technological base,” Panetta says. Another generic statement of principle, along with general praise for research and development, but no pointed questions from senators or detailed answers from the nominee.
New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen explains that her constituents are frustrated with the outmoded American export controls — a standard complaint from the defense industry. Panetta says he agrees with Gates that we’ve got to find a better way to help American companies trade internationally. No follow-ups from either.
UPDATE 1249: Panetta confirms to Virginia Sen. Jim Webb that there’ll be no American ground forces in Libya now or after Qaddafi falls. They had a whole back-and-forth about the generic wisdom of the president seeking the support of Congress when it comes to the deployment of military forces, but Panetta never had to go so far as to address specifically whether the full Congress should formally vote on the Libya intervention.
UPDATE 1237: Ohio Sen. Rob Portman gets Panetta to agree to the value of “competition” and “cost-sharing” in the acquisition world — code for GE’s bid to self-fund development of the F136 engine over the next year, so long as it gets approval or commitments to do so. Panetta has been speaking very generically all day, and neither of them mentioned GE or the alternate engine, so we still don’t know where Panetta stands on this question.
UPDATE 1217: Maine Sen. Susan Collins points out to Panetta that the U.S. plans to spend about $12 billion this year just to support the Afghan National Army. This year, Afghanistan’s entire gross domestic product will be about $30 billion — much of which comes from international assistance, she says. The numbers are never going to add up, Collins argues: How will Afghanistan pay for the Army the U.S. has stood up and trained so it can defend itself?
Panetta doesn’t have a compelling answer: He acknowledges that he “shares her concerns,” but says that if the U.S. continues to work with the Afghans beyond the planned transfer of military authority in 2014, the two countries can find a way to make things work.
UPDATE 1207: “We don’t spend enough time talking about cyber-warfare,” Panetta tells New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand. He says he’d like to connect with the National Security Agency and other international allies to determine a joint strategy for dealing with potential cyber-attacks. More promises to investigate, focus, meet, “work with,” etc., but Panetta is still playing his cards very close, even as he makes clear he considers cyber an important area of focus.
UPDATE 1159: There’s a range of Islamic extremist terror groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Panetta told Texas Sen. John Cornyn, as well as terror groups in Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. Al Shabab, the Somali terror group “has been looking at targets beyond Somalia,” he warns — plus you’ve got Hezbollah and others. Although the U.S. has made progress fighting al Qaeda, Panetta says, there are many other threats out there, too.
UPDATE 1150: “What happens to this army when we leave, because they can’t afford it?” So asked Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, in an impassioned line of questioning about the tens of billions of dollars the U.S. has spent on development and military projects in Afghanistan. She also gave the example of a power plant in Kabul that the U.S. built for $300 million — at the time it was a success; the Afghans loved it, she said. But within only a few years, officials in Kabul announced they couldn’t afford the fuel for it, and now they buy electricity “from another country,” she said. McCaskill urged Panetta to be sure as DoD pursues these projects, officials keep in mind sustainability and long-term costs.
“I share your concern about, where are they going to draw the resources they need not only to sustain the army and police force but to be a country, to carry on their responsibilities,” Panetta said. “That’s going to be part of the governance challenge they face there, to be sure that, as a nation, they develop resources and revenues they need to be a country. That’s got to be part of it. Otherwise it’s not going to work.”
UPDATE 1136: “What do I tell a family in South Carolina who’s lost a son or daughter in Afghanistan to an IED we know was made in Pakistan — and we can’t do a damn thing about it?” Sen. Lindsey Graham asks Panetta.
Panetta was a little caught off guard, but responded carefully: “This is one of those situations that’s frustrating and angering and one where I think we’ve got to say to that family, we are not just walking away from that responsibility, but continuing to put pressure on those countries that are involved with that.”
UPDATE 1130: “They still remain dangerous,” Panetta tells Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson of the effects on the terror network of the death of its leader, Osama bin Laden. “Yes it’s had an impact, yes I think it’s weakened them, but they still remain dangerous and we still have to go after them.” Panetta tells senators that he can get into specific intel with them in a closed session, but it’s interesting how reserved he is about the effects of bin Laden’s death. Gates has said it could be a “game changer,” but Panetta was much less enthusiastic about the effects of bin Laden’s death.
UPDATE 1120: Panetta tells New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte that he agrees with Gates’ perspective that you can’t apply across-the-board cuts to DoD, that the Mother of All Reviews has to drive the strategy of these cutbacks. But he is cautious to tell the committee that he wants to wait for the results of the mega-review before he makes conclusions or recommendations about what happens. Panetta has the SASC right where he wants it: Senators are being very positive while he is being very cautious not to commit himself to anything in this hearing.
UPDATE 1116: Under questioning from Akaka, Panetta says that if he’s confirmed — he’ll be confirmed, folks — that he’ll see if he can’t speed up the timetable under which DoD will be able to stand a full audit. Many of the Pentagon’s divisions and services can be audited, as with a standard federal agency, but the whole department has defied attempts to get an overall financial picture. This is a lingering sore point for lawmakers, especially defense advocates such as Republican House Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia, who says the administration’s proposed budget cuts can’t be taken seriously because the same administration can’t produce a complete picture of DoD’s finances.
UPDATE 1112: “My first and foremost priority is to protect this country, but I can’t do it unless I have good fighting men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect this country,” Panetta tells Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka. Panetta reemphasizes his responsibility, as SecDef, to be sure troops are well compensated, well treated, even as America asks its service members to deploy time and time again. “It’s going to be my job if confirmed as secretary of defense to be sure we are providing those benefits.”
What’s interesting about today’s hearing is that, from what I’ve seen, the senators haven’t asked explicitly about Gates’ and Mullen’s warnings about the high and growing military personnel costs. I had to miss a few minutes but otherwise I don’t think it has come up.
UPDATE 1105: Panetta tells Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown that the government of Pakistan needs to recognize that the terrorists who are hiding inside it are Pakistan’s enemies as well as America’s. Panetta also reaffirms President Obama’s view that the American goal in Afghanistan is to create a stable, secure country that terrorists can’t use as a lawless safe haven to launch attacks on the U.S. We’re not there yet, Panetta says, but we can get there as long as we focus on the important security goal.
Do the Afghans have a will to take over security on their own, Brown asks? Panetta says he thinks they do, but concedes “It’s not easy. It is difficult. But I think they understand this is ultimately their country,” and they’re going to have to be the ones to figure this out.
Brown says he’s concerned American assistance might be indirectly going to terrorists. Panetta concedes there’s corruption in the Afghan government — one of the responsibilities the U.S. needs to continue to execute, he says, is making sure American or other international aid doesn’t somehow reach the bad guys.
UPDATE 1100: Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed warns of DoD’s “acquisition bow wave,” the projected surge in costs for weapons. Panetta vows to take a close look at it and study what needs to be done, but beyond vowing to improve the process, he doesn’t have specific prescriptions for what he’ll do to improve the acquisitions process.
UPDATE 1057: “There’s no question that the whole arena of cyber attacks, developing technologies in the information area,” are a threat, Panetta says. “I’ve often said the next Pearl Harbor could be a cyber attack … We have to aggressively be able to counter that. It’s going to take defensive measures as well as offensive measures to counter that.” Panetta vows to work closely, if confirmed, with government and private-sector counterparts on a cyber strategy. But no specifics beyond that promise.
UPDATE 1055: Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed wants to know what’ll happen if the budgets of other agencies suffer along with, or more than, DoD, including State, USAID, etc. “We could be successful interdicting terrorist groups,” etc., he says, “but if there’s no health care or development or anything, we could end up with a population that’s disgruntled and hostile toward us.”
Panetta agrees Afghanistan must be “a whole of government operation,” cites “important assistance” from USAID, Justice, Ag. If the U.S. doesn’t follow up what DoD does, “we’ll never be able to fully secure these countries.”
UPDATE 1049: Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss wants Panetta to commit to “fifth-generation fighters,” but Panetta is holding back for now. He vows to take a look at all the weapons programs, but he won’t lay down any markers in this hearing.
ANALYSIS: Panetta’s reluctance to say anything new about the F-35 program, beyond generically reaffirming he knows it exists, is very interesting — could that, and his “everything’s on the table” rhetoric, indicate that he is open to major program changes or delays?
UPDATE 1020: Levin wants to know how much of the proposed $400 billion in cuts over the next 10 years will come specifically from DoD. “I will certainly ask whether or not that decision has been made,” Panetta says.
UPDATE 1019: “This is a totally unacceptable situation,” Levin says of the al Qaeda and Haqqani Network havens that continue to persist in Afghanistan. Panetta says he agrees and has urged his Pakistani counterparts to act. “This is a difficult challenge, this relationship with Pakistan is one of the most critical and yet complicated and frustrating relationships we have,” he says.
We need Pakistan to be our ally, Panetta says, because American supply lines go through there, and because their nuclear stockpile could potentially become a nightmare. And yet we know they harbor terrorists, either actively or through deliberate inaction.
UPDATE 1014: Panetta winds up opening statement having stated his commitment to the troops, and having promised to give his best advice to the SASC — and promising to the committee that he’ll “always, always” seek yours. Levin thanks Panetta for his statement and begins a list of standard questions — does Panetta have any conflicts of interest, will he agree to appear before the SASC, will he make documents available, etc. — to which Panetta answers “yes.” Now the senators will ask their own personal questions, and the show begins.
UPDATE 1010: Panetta says that based on his long service, “we don’t have to choose between strong fiscal discipline and a strong national defense.” There’ll be tough choices, he says, but DoD and the Congress and get through and reach both goals.
UPDATE 1008: “This is no longer the Cold War. This is more like the ‘Blizzard War,'” Panetta tells the committee. “A blizzard of challenges.” Terrorism, cyber-attacks, rising powers, “nations in turmoil,” etc, he says. There is reason to be confident that the U.S. can meet these challenges, he says, but “only if we keep our pressure up.”
UPDATE 1005: Panetta tells the SASC he’s spent a number of hours with SecDef Gates. Panetta and Gates have served together in many roles for a long time, he says, and he assures committee members that they’re simpatico in their views about the importance of national security and the defense of the United States.
“Our all volunteer force has been stretched by combat that has lasted nearly a decade,” Panetta says. “Every deployment decision I make will be mindful of the stresses on the men in uniform and their families,” he says. Former SecDefs have also told Panetta how important it is to keep focused on the management of the Pentagon. “It’s the biggest enterprise in the government and it requires focused, hands-on management. Which is the only way I know how to do business.”
In a crowd pleasing phrase, Panetta tells the committee: “I’m a creature of the Congress,” and says the Pentagon is only improved by close relationship with lawmakers.
UPDATE 1000: Panetta is recognized for his opening statement. He begins: “The role of secretary of defense involves a very large responsibility in size alone. Still, in a very basic way, it’s similar to the role of CIA director in that our first and foremost mission is to protect the country. If confirmed my number one job will be to ensure that America continues to have the best trained, best equipped and strongest military in the world in order to make sure that we protect our country.”
Panetta’s youngest son, Jim, served in Afghanistan and was awarded a Bronze Star, he adds.
UPDATE 0949: California Sens. Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, are recognized to introduce their fellow Californian, Panetta, to the SASC. Feinstein gives a long introduction detailing Panetta’s career, and praises his success “restoring badly damaged relationships with Congress” over in Langley.
UPDATE 0947: McCain says DoD needs to focus on how it buys “services,” not only weapons programs that are “over cost, behind schedule and not providing improvements in capabilities.” He argues that Austerity America — Buzz’s term, not his — will necessitate especially intense fiscal discipline if the Pentagon wants to get through this thing intact.
UPDATE: 0943: Ranking Republican John McCain, in his opening statement, says Americans should be looking for “continuity” with the “wise judgments” made by SecDef Gates over his tenure. The U.S. faces decision points, McCain says, that will determine whether the U.S. keeps its status as the world’s top military power, or loses it. “Defense spending is not what is sinking this country into fiscal crisis,” McCain says. If Washington acts on that assumption, it will “create a situation that’s truly unaffordable — the decline of U.S. military power.”
UPDATE 0940: Levin quotes Panetta declaring the importance of “a line” — a moral, ethical, principled lined that you won’t cross no matter what. The chairman says he hopes Panetta will maintain that line as SecDef, then goes on to praise Panetta for his role in the Osama bin Laden raid. Levin winds up his statement with praise for the SecDef incumbent, Robert M. Gates, who has proved to be an enduringly popular figure in Congress and generally across the U.S.
“His judgment and candor have earned him the trust and respect of all those who have worked with him,” Levin says.
UPDATE: 0935: SASC Chairman Sen. Carl Levin has opened the hearing with a statement setting out the many challenges that Panetta will face as secretary of defense. Loose nukes, a possible extension of U.S. forces serving in Iraq, the Afghanistan drawdown, and the stress on the force all are major points on Levin’s list. He reminds listeners that not only are troops worn out from all this optemo, their families need support too.
Levin also tells Panetta that Congress and DoD will have to “scrub every expense” in the defense budget as both bodies work together to figure out how they’re going to cut $400 billion over the next decade. Levin is frustrated because the Obama administration hasn’t said exactly how much of that $400 billion will specifically going to come from the defense budget.
President Obama’s nominee to become the next secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, appears this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Check back here on Buzz and follow us on Twitter @DoDBuzz for full coverage.
There’s a whole mess of previews out there for this morning’s hearing. Here’s the latest from
• Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio, who writes that Panetta is concerned about North Korea.
• The WaPo’s Ed O’Keefe, who has a list of sample questions for Panetta
• AP’s national security team, which writes that Panetta believes that “everything must be on the table” when it comes to budget cutting.
• Chuck Hoskinson of POLITICO, who lays down the five biggest challenges that Panetta will face. Assuming he gets confirmed, of course. Which he will. Or will he?