Policy & Strategy

Pentagon chief: ‘We’re within an inch of war almost every day’

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta offered a blunt assessment of
the threats facing the United States on Wednesday, saying the potential for another war breaking out remains high in places like North Korea.

“We’re within an inch of war almost every day in that part
of the world,” Panetta said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, in
response to a question about the threats in the Korean Peninsula. “And we just have to be very careful
about what we say and what we do.”

{mosads}Blitzer then asked Panetta, who joined with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for an interview during the secretaries’ NATO
meeting in Brussels, whether the North Korean threat kept him up at night.

“Unfortunately, these days there’s a helluva lot that keeps
me awake,” Panetta responded, listing Iran, Syria, the Middle East, cyber
warfare and weapons of mass destruction as other insomnia-inducing issues.

Panetta responded to charges from Republican
presidential candidate Mitt Romney that “incompetence” from the Obama
administration led North Korea to launch its failed long-range missile last week.

“I think it’s pretty clear this administration took a firm
stand with regard to provocative behavior North Korea engaged in,” Panetta
said. “We made clear they should
not do it, and we condemned the action even though it was not successful.”

Panetta would not say what action the Obama administration
would take if North Korea now conducts its third nuclear test, as is suspected.
It would be “another provocation,” the defense secretary said, and would
“worsen” the U.S.-North Korea relationship.

On the violence in Syria, Clinton said the regime of
President Bashar al-Assad is “running out of time.”

“I don’t think we’re halfway through this story yet,” she
said. “We’re going to see a lot happen over the next few weeks, and it truly is
up to the Assad regime. They’re the ones that hold it in their power to end the
violence.”

Clinton said the Obama administration was waiting to see
whether or not Assad was implementing the peace plan from UN-Arab League envoy
Kofi Annan and upholding a cease-fire, which appears to be faltering.

Panetta said the Obama administration is not getting
involved in Syria militarily unless the international community backs involvement,
which is what happened in Libya. In Syria, however, Russia and China remain
opposed to the UN Security Council taking stronger action than the peace plan. 


More from The Hill:

Taliban sets up fundraising hotlines, pleads for donations

Watch: Panetta talks about the Iranian threat

Poll: Iran bigger threat to US than North Korea


Panetta apologizes for Afghan photos


Key Dem warns Obama on Afghanistan spending


Tags Hillary Clinton

Most Popular

Load more

Video

See all Video