Former CIA Director and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta Monday called the Iran nuclear agreement a “riverboat gamble” with an adversary that “can’t be trusted,” and said the Islamic State posed “a serious threat to this country” that would have to be met by escalated military engagement in the Middle East.
Panetta, previously a longtime California congressman and White House chief of staff, was in Boise to receive an award for his 50 years of public service. He decried what he called partisan gridlock in Washington.
“I think Washington is probably in its worst shape that I’ve seen in the 50 years I’ve been involved,” he said. “It’s high in gridlock and partisanship and seems unable to deal with the issues that are important to this country.”
Panetta said arms control agreements are “probably by their very nature gambles,” and that the Iran nuclear deal was “probably a riverboat gamble in terms of whether or not ultimately Iran will change the way they do business.”
He applauded the prisoner exchange with Iran that includes Boise pastor Saeed Abedini.
“But at the same time I don’t think we ought to kid ourselves that things are simply going to change with regard to Iran,” he continued. “My experience is they can’t be trusted, that they’re a country that continues to support terrorism in that part of the world and continues to promote instability.”
He said the agreement would forestall Iran nuclear development but did not go far enough in dismantling Iran’s “infrastructure for enrichment” or setting a more rigorous inspection schedule.
“We are now at a stage where this agreement will be tested by how tough we are in enforcing its requirements,” he said.
Panetta said the next president will have two major challenges: breaking the gridlock in Washington and promoting U.S. leadership in world affairs.
“I’ve never seen the number of flashpoints that are out there that we’re confronting today,” he said. “If the United States does not lead in dealing with these kinds of issues, nobody else will.”
On Islamic State: Panetta said the President had defined the mission to defeat the organization. “I think the important thing now is to fulfill that mission, which means that we have to commit the necessary force there” to carry it out.
“That doesn’t mean we need 150,000 troops on the ground,” he added. “But it does mean that we need increase air attacks, we have to provide special forces on the ground, and develop group forces that can take back the territory.”
On refugee resettlement: The former CIA director said the U.S. had “established some pretty good checks” on individuals entering the country.
“The problem I see is whether or not with the larger number of refugees that are coming, whether we have adequately developed and funded that check system,” Panetta said. “ I don’t think we ought to shut our borders,” he added. “I do think we need to fund the necessary steps, increase the number of people involved, to do the kind of check that will ensure that we are secure.”
The award: Panetta received the Frank and Bethine Church Award for Public Service from the Frank Church Institute at Boise State University.
“I worked with Sen. Church when he was in Congress and with his wife on civil rights,” Panetta said. “This is for me a great honor to receive an award in their name.”