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Pentagon Chiefs Say Senators Should Focus on Current Issues

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2013 – During two television interviews that aired today, the Pentagon’s senior leaders urged the Senate Armed Services Committee to pay attention to current issues.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded  to questions about defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s Jan. 31 confirmation hearing before that committee. They offered their assessment of the turbulent eight-hour proceedings during interviews with CNN’s Candy Crowley on “State of the Union” and NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.”

President Barack Obama announced in January his nomination of Hagel to succeed Panetta, who will retire. Hagel is a Vietnam combat veteran who earned two Purple Hearts during his 1967-68 enlistment. After a business career during which he founded a cellular phone company, Hagel won election to two Senate terms representing Nebraska, ending in 2009.

The secretary, who served nine terms in Congress as representative for California’s 16th congressional district, observed during his responses on the “Sunday shows” that “the political knives were out” during the hearing.

Panetta noted to Todd that much of the committee’s questioning focused on statements Hagel had made, sometimes in the Senate, during previous administrations. The committee’s members, he said, largely neglected the issues that now confront the nominated leader of the Defense Department.

“What about the war in Afghanistan?” the secretary asked. “What about the war on terrorism? What about the budget sequester and the impact it’s going to have on readiness? What about Middle East turmoil? What about cyber attacks -- all of the issues that confront a secretary of defense? Frankly, … we just did not see enough time discussing those issues, and in the end, that’s what counts.”

While the Senate has yet to vote on the nomination, Hagel is “absolutely” prepared to step in as secretary, Panetta said.

“I know Chuck Hagel,” the secretary told Crowley. “And I think he's got good experience with regards to public service. He understands the issues of the Defense Department. I think he'll be a great secretary of defense.”

The chairman agreed with the secretary’s view of the hearing and zeroed in on the current conflict, telling Todd he, too, was “somewhat surprised at the things that weren’t discussed in depth” during the proceedings.

“I’m always concerned when Afghanistan isn’t prominent in any conversation we’re having as Americans, because we’ve got 68,000 young men and women serving there,” Dempsey said.

The general said he’s had a chance to get to know Hagel and learn his opinions on strategic issues.

“We had several opportunities to talk about strategy, and I found him well-prepared and very thoughtful,” the chairman said.

Dempsey noted he wouldn’t by principle criticize a “potential boss,” but added, “I think he’s got great credentials. My personal contacts with him have been very positive. And if he’s confirmed, I look forward to working with him.”

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Leon E. Panetta
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

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