Aside from the President, the Secretary of Defense is the most powerful civilian official in the U.S. military. Departing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who will leave office in early 2013, has overseen a number of great changes in the U.S. armed forces during his time in office.
Notable among these are the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2012 in order to allow openly gay service members, as well as the decision made in 2013 by the Pentagon to allow female soldiers to serve in combat. When asked whether fostering such diversity in the military should be a top priority for the Pentagon, Ray Bullock, a senior Political Science major, believes that these changes in our armed forces “wouldn’t make a difference” as far as he is concerned, illustrating to some extent how issues which previously aroused great public sentiment now have become much less contentious, to say the least.
However, as much as one may examine Panetta’s record, it is also important to note that before 2008 he was a strong critic of the military interventionism undertaken by President George W. Bush as well as the torture practices carried out by government branches such as the C.I.A. during Bush’s tenure. Nevertheless, Panetta subsequently served as Director of C.I.A. for President Bush’s successor. During his time in these positions the U.S. not only continued the military interventionism started during President Bush’s administration, it actually increased its military operations into countries such as Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, to name a few. It is troubling, to say the least, that Panetta would criticize such war-mongering while a republican was a President, yet be in charge of it when a member of his own party is in the White House. Did all his concerns about U.S. war-mongering and torture disappear simply disappear because a President from his own political party was elected? In this respect it seems as if Panetta’s term in office saw him pay more attention to increasing gender diversity in the military and making homosexuals feel welcome.
Maria Simone Otterlei, a junior Communications major, believes that while the Pentagon should “encourage” such things, it should have “greater priorities” such as, in one’s own opinion, ending pointless American military intervention in the Middle East. Then again, perhaps Secretary Panetta might issue a regulation before he retires in February, 2013, which states that combat positions may only be undertaken by homosexual or female service members. Of course, such a policy would mean the U.S. would then have to curtail much of its military adventurism because women and homosexuals comprise only a fraction of service members, but then again, curtailing our military interventionism was what Panetta believed to begin with.