Leon Panetta Lacks Statesmanship

By Sajjad Shaukat

A renowned political thinker Morgenthau opines that foreign policy of a country should be moulded in accordance with the circumstances of time and place. But it is most surprising that while serving at a key post of the sole superpower, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has always reflected confused policy, shown through his illogical and contradictory statements.

In this respect, during his recent visit to India, while pampering New Delhi, Leon Panetta has repeatedly pointed out that drone attacks would continue on save havens of terrorists in Pakistan. Afterwards, in Kabul by reviving US old blame game Panetta allegedly said on June 7 that the US was reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan due to safe havens, “the country offered to insurgents in neighbouring Afghanistan.” He further remarked, “It is difficult to achieve peace in Afghanistan as long as there are safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan.” On the one hand, US Defense Secretary Panetta has blamed Islamabad for cross-border terrorism, while on the other, American CIA, India RAW and Israeli Mossad, based in Afghanistan have been sending well-trained militants in Pakistan, who not only attack the check posts of Pakistan’s security forces, but also target schools and mosques intermittently. In this connection, Leon Panetta set aside the fact that US-led NATO forces have failed in coping with the resistance of Afghan Taliban who are fighting a war of liberation. Notably, at the same time, he stated, “Pakistan’s cooperation is critical to US efforts to stabilise Afghanistan before most foreign combat troops leave at the end of 2014.” However, it indicates contradictory thoughts of Panetta.

While no breakthrough occurred between Pak-US talks on various issues to restore NATO supplies across Pakistan to Afghanistan, US drone attacks killed more than 50 people in 14 days in North Waziristan and South Waziristan.. At a critical moment in negotiations with Pakistan, Panetta’s harsh comments created complication to narrow the differences between both the countries. It shows Leon Panetta’s irresponsible approach.

During his trip to New Delhi US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also encouraged India to take a more active role in Afghanistan as most foreign combat troops leave in 2014. In this regard, Indian rulers did not pay heed to Panetta’s demands, and showed their reservations because they know that by keeping permanent presence in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO troops, US seeks to transfer the heavy burden to their shoulders by entangling News Delhi in Afghanistan to face regular attacks of the Afghan militants. They are also aware of the fact that if well-trained NATO forces, equipped with sophisticated weaponry, failed in coping with the Afghan militants, as to how American small contingency would succeed.

It is mentionable that on June 8, a US Senate panel voted cuts in aid to Pakistan and threatened to withhold even more cash, if Islamabad does not reopen its supply routes for NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.

Quite contrary to his earlier statements, on June 13, Leon Panetta remarked during a Congress hearing that the US should examine setting conditions for aid to Pakistan, but not cutting it off, because Islamabad’s closure of supply lines to the Afghan war costs American taxpayers millions of dollars a month. He elaborated that the reliance on a longer Central Asian route to transport supplies was costing Washington $100 million a month, which is very expensive. This shows enigmatic approach of Panetta who lacks foresight.

Earlier Leon Panetta had disclosed that Pakistan has demanded $5,000 per truck and has ruled out paying this amount “considering the financial challenges.” In this respect, Panetta’s false statement was exposed when on June 13, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar clarified by dispelling the impression that talks with America on reopening the supply routes were hostage to any Pakistani demand for high tariffs as pre-requisite.

Sources suggest that stalemate still exists between Pakistan and US to conclude agreement because by rejecting US duress for earlier restoration of NATO transport routes, Pakistan’s civil and military leaders remain firm on their stand that the issue of NATO supply lines would be decided in light of the parliamentary guidelines.

Nonetheless, Pakistan seeks to discuss all the related issues instead of resumption of NATO supply unilaterally. So it is especially, owing to US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s duplicity which is creating real obstacles in reaching an agreement between Pakistan and the US.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar reiterated that seeking apology from the US on Salala incident which killed 24 soldiers on Army outpost in Pakistan on November 26, last year is essential for resumption of the NATO route. But having no opinion of his own, and following obstinacy of other American officials, Panetta ruled out an apology on June 21.

Leon Panetta’s lack of statesmanship could also be judged from some of his other statements. For example, during his Asia visit, on June 2, 2012, he revealed in Singapore, “The United States will shift a majority of its warships to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020” as part of a new US military strategy in Asia. Panetta’s Asia visit came at a time of renewed tension over claims in the South China Sea between China and Philippines, a major US ally. US also backs Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia in this regard. Panetta sought to dispel the notion that the shift in US new defense policy was designed to contain China’s emergence as a global power.

But Panetta forgot that during his visit to Australia, on November 17, 2011, President Barrack Obama already pointed out, “The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay,” and he would “send military aircraft and marines to Australia for a training hub to help allies and to protect US interests across Asia.” He also explained that the US is not afraid of China. It proves that, while remaining confused, Leon Panetta himself does not know what he is saying. His personality doe not possess leadership qualities.

Consequently, after the withdrawal of occupying forces, US ambivalent strategy will throw Afghanistan in an era of further uncertainty and chaos, intensifying country’s intractable issues.

In an era, when European governments are cutting defense budgets, the United States is increasingly tilting towards defense challenges in Asia, while many of NATO’s other members, preoccupied by economic problems, have little appetite for American foreign adventures. Even they will be reluctant to fund American military presence in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO troops. It also raises the question of whether the US, which accounts for three-quarters of NATO defense spending, will remain committed to the organization.

Even in the US, in May, this year, the Pentagon has been under orders to cut spending by $487 billion from projected defense over the next decade as the Obama Administration tries to rein in its trillion-dollar deficit.

Leon Panetta strictly opposed the cut in defense budget, while Republican  representative Buck McKeon, Chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, told Panetta that he was “clearly operating under some misconceptions” about the defense policy bill.” In this context, some lawmakers who preferred other public welfare programmes have also criticized Panetta.

It is notable that the US cost of war against terrorism which is more than 8 trillion dollars is rapidly growing, causing other related problems inside America in wake of debt crisis. While public is protesting against the prolonged war in Afghanistan, and somewhere else including drone attacks especially on Pakistan. Moreover, modern world trends like renunciation of war, peaceful settlement of disputes and economic development have rapidly been strengthening in the Cyber age.

Nevertheless, while wavering between fact and skepticism, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has ignored all these ground realties. Politicians may follow ambivalent policy, but it is not the job of statesmen to reflect such an ambiguous strategy. In these terms, Panetta lacks statesmanship.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations

Email: sajjad_logic@yahoo.com ..Follow the search result of Sajjad Shaukat

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