Panetta Defends Iraq Withdrawal

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta defended the President’s decision to withdraw US troops from Iraq by year’s end in the face of criticism from a senior GOP lawmaker. During his opening remarks at Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking member, said the withdrawal “represents a failure of leadership, both Iraqi and American,” and added that “it was a sad case of political expediency supplanting negative consequences for the stability of Iraq and the national security interests of the United States.” McCain also cited a recent report from the US special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction claiming that Iraq will not be able to fully protect itself until at least 2020, including defending its airspace. In response, Panetta asserted that the goal for Iraq to be “sovereign, stable, and self-reliant” has been achieved. “Today, thanks to innumerable sacrifices from all involved, Iraq is governing itself. It is a sovereign nation. It is an emerging source of stability in a vital part of the world. And, as an emerging democracy, it is capable of being able to address its own security needs,” he said.