This post was written by Hatchet reporter Pim Anukularmphai.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke in the Jack Morton Auditorium on Tuesday about his recently published memoir and national security challenges. Katie Causey | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reflected on his time in President Barack Obama’s cabinet Tuesday at the Jack Morton Auditorium, joining a lineup of former department heads to speak on campus this year.
Leon Panetta, also a former director of the CIA, came to GW to talk about his memoir, “Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace,” which was published last week. This past summer, former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton visited campus to discuss their respective memoirs.
School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno moderated the conversation Tuesday, which also focused on national security and foreign policy and was part of an SMPA series.
1. Criticism of Congress, Obama
Panetta, who served as secretary of defense from 2011 to 2013, said Congress “discouraged” the president’s ability to make change.
He also said Obama’s key weakness was his reluctance to offend members of both the Republican and Democratic parties.
“[Obama] is fully capable of getting in the ring and challenging the process,” he said.
Panetta argued that in a democracy, an effective president either accomplishes tasks through leadership or crisis.
2. Russia as threat to U.S. interests
Panetta called Russia’s intervention in Ukraine “a warm-up act.” He said President Vladimir Putin is interested in reasserting authority over the former Soviet Union, and that Russia will attempt to gain influence over its former republics.
He recommended that the United States work closely with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to enforce economic sanctions against Russia.
3. The fight against extremism, terrorism
When the conversation turned to the Middle East, Panetta said putting “boots on the ground” in neighboring countries would prevent the Islamic State from expanding.
He also said maintaining a military presence in Middle Eastern countries would prevent the Taliban from reversing democratization efforts.
Panetta said having troops in Afghanistan was “not a wasted effort,” claiming it taught Afghani citizens how to recognize illegitimate leaders.
“We’ve given them the right start, we’ve given them a chance,” he said.
Cavan Kharrazian, a member of the Progressive Student Union, other members of the organization and CODEPINK held a protest outside the SMPA building against Leon Panetta and the use of drones in war. Lydia Francis | Hatchet Photographer
4. Students protest
Outside of the auditorium, members of the Progressive Student Union demonstrated against the event, accusing Panetta of violating the Geneva Conventions by authorizing drone attacks and causing the deaths of American citizens.
“GW students will not stand for our University supporting and publicizing a war criminal,” said PSU member Cavan Kharrazian.
While Panetta was speaking about his opposition to budget sequesters in Jack Morton, an attendee stood up and began yelling that “we need that money for education.” She was then escorted from the auditorium.