Leon Panetta discusses Qatar, Iran, Russia, N. Korea



Mon, 23 Oct 2017 - 09:05 GMT


Mon, 23 Oct 2017 - 09:05 GMT

Leon Panetta, then-defense secretary, at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland in 2012. REUTERS/ Yuri Gripas

Leon Panetta, then-defense secretary, at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland in 2012. REUTERS/ Yuri Gripas

CAIRO – 23 October 2017: Director of the CIA and secretary of defense of the United States are respectively both roles that demand and provide a wealth of experience from those deemed suitable to take on such a demanding role. Leon Panetta has occupied both offices during his professional career, and is consequently a foremost expert on international politics and global security threats.

A conference, organized for Monday by the Hudson Institute, provided Panetta the platform to voice his opinion on global security issues dictating the international atmosphere at this time.

In a world possessed by “more flashpoints than the end of WW2”, Panetta highlighted the heightened challenges and security threats the world is facing today.

Rather fittingly of the subject at hand, the conference suffered a continued disturbance, as protestors in the conference room proclaimed that “these are the terrorists,” gestulating to the stage while the interviewer awkwardly attempted to bring peace. Akin to his diplomatic experience, the interviewer was saved by Panetta’s touch of humor and desire to carry on unaffected.

Four issues dominated the agenda: North Korea, Iran, Russia and Qatar.

North Korea

Adopting a critical stance of the administration, Panetta condemned all military plans to deal with North Korea as doomed to fail. Any military action would inevitably lead to the loss on many thousands of lives and the likely use of nuclear weapons.

Working with China, North Korea’s only ally in the region, to apply diplomatic pressure on the North has continually failed to establish any tangible results.

Photo 2: Chinese Communist Party official Liu Yunshan with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang. REUTERS/Kyodo

The U.S. needs to implement a policy of “containment and deterrence,” asserted Panetta.

An increased military presence is necessary to defend the U.S.’s major allies in the region, South Korea and Japan, and the U.S. itself. An effective missile shield needs to be developed and implemented to counter North Korea’s growing intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability.

The U.S. needs to work with the international community to enforce tighter sanctions on the North and squeeze the country of all available revenues. However, it is vital that the global community works together to enforce all-encompassing economic restrictions.

“Overt and covert” capabilities must also be extended into the peninsula.

Panetta was highly critical of the administration, and particularly President Trump, for the escalation in aggressive rhetoric. This only serves to increase tensions, which may lead to a catastrophic miscalculation and the eventual likelihood of war.


“If you fail to stick your word, it sends a clear message to others.” This was the message reiterated persistently by Panetta in the discussion on global security issues.

Obama failed catastrophically here. His inaction against Assad after proclaiming that the “red line” was drawn at nuclear weapons, undermines the influence of the United States as a global power. Credibility is lost, and trust evaporates.

In respect to the Iran nuclear deal, Panetta said, “The worst thing you can do is break your word.” To pull out of the agreement would ruin the credibility of the U.S. to participate in diplomacy and coordinate international treaties.

Panetta identified two major threats coming out of the Middle East: failed states and terrorism. These are inter-linked notions, as failed states become crucibles for the development of terrorism.

“By no means is ISIS going away,” Panetta stated. “The worst thing the United States could do is to declare a victory.” The ousting of ISIS from Raqqa was a major blow to the self-proclaimed caliphate, but it is only the beginning of an insurgency.

Iranian aspirations to establish a Shiite triangle across the Middle East is a major, if not the principal, threat to stability in the Middle East.

Photo 3: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with Syrian Prime Minister Emad Khamis in Tehran, Iran on January 18, 2017. REUTERS

“We have to confront the influence of Iran.”

“Iran provides support for terrorism…[and] disruption in the Middle East.”

Panetta’s recommendation for dealing with Iran is bold and controversial, and in reality unlikely to gain established support.

He argues for the need to develop a Middle Eastern coalition to work together in cohesion, possibly form a “joint military command” and work together to go after terrorism pockets.

He argues the coalition in Libya was “successful and effective” – a challengeable suggestion.

Although against Iranian interference in Iraq, specifically in the northern Kurdish region, he highlights the necessity for a unified Iraq in order to maintain stability and harmony. Iraqi’s, whether Sunni, Shiite or Kurdish, must work together to enjoy the economic fruits under the sand.

“The Kurds have sacrificed a lot, but so have others,” Panetta said.

In Syria, Russian firepower and Iranian proxies have led to Assad’s expected “victory” in the country. Yet, Panetta does not expect the conflict to end.

“Right now, I think we are looking at a continuing civil war,” he said. “It’s almost going to be a proxy war.” The U.S. has to make it clear that it is not going anywhere and will not allow Iranian and Russian influence to prevail.


“We are in a new chapter of the Cold War with Russia,” Panetta said.

“Putin in many ways is an easy read,” he continued. He is about Russia, the restoration of Soviet Union territories into a greater Russia and the expansion of Russian power.

Photo 4: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. AFP

Putin is a bully who reads weakness and takes advantage of it where possible. This is what led to Russia’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, as well as the Russian intervention in Syria.

The U.S. needs to counter Russian aspirations of greater global power, especially in the Middle East.

“We are not going to surrender the Middle East to Russia,” Panetta stated. The U.S. needs to draw lines and stick to them, and not allow Russia the room to move and adapt.

“We’ve got to send a clear message,” he said, emphasizing again the need for the U.S. to stick to and uphold its word.


Qatar has a mixed record of supporting and funding terrorism. While it proclaims to be firmly against terrorism, it has funded and supported the Muslim Brotherhood and given support to terrorist organizations such as Hamas, al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Photo 5: Former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi (R) meets with U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi (L) at the presidential palace in Cairo on July 31, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Two fundamental threats to the Middle East are terrorism and Iran, and Qatar plays a surface and back-handed game with both.

While Qatar has enforced measures to prevent the funding of terrorism and has implemented laws to this effect, more has to be done.

The international community “really needs to have a commitment by Qatar that they are in fact going to abide by what they say they’re doing.”

Washington under the Trump administration only creates more obstacles. “I’ve never seen Washington as dysfunctional as it is today,” Panetta stated.


Joseph Colonna



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