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Former Defense Secretary Panetta Offers Latest NPS Guest Lecture

The Honorable Leon Panetta, former Secretary of Defense, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and White House Chief of Staff, speaks to NPS students, faculty and staff during the latest Secretary of the Navy Guest Lecture in King Auditorium, Aug. 11. Panetta shared his perspective on current national security issues, seasoned through his more than 50 years of public service.

The Honorable Leon Panetta, former Secretary of Defense, shared his seasoned perspective on the demands of leadership, and national security’s greatest current challenges, during the latest Secretary of the Navy Guest Lecture (SGL) at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), Aug. 11.

A packed house of students, faculty and staff in King Auditorium got an inside perspective from Panetta’s more than 50 years of public service, speaking openly about challenges, hope and assurance – stressing that those in attendance would become the leaders the United States must have to protect and preserve our national security.

“We are coming together at a critical time in the history of our country, facing global and domestic challenges,” said Panetta. “Our nation, as we are all aware, is confronting a series of complex and dangerous flashpoints in the world, I think perhaps more dangerous points since the end of World War II.”

Panetta charged the students with recognizing their personal responsibility, to become leaders that will be able to face those challenges at home and abroad, and he reminded them that their presence here, at the Navy’s graduate university, serves that critical purpose.

“Originally chartered to focus on science and technology, NPS has evolved into an institution that provides and focuses on current and future readiness, on advances in technology, on educational and operational programs that directly support all facets of our national defense and homeland security,” Panetta said. “Most importantly, it helps make you better leaders, more effective critical thinkers, and in turn, you will become the kind of leaders I think we need in the 21st century.”

Panetta’s career in service has come full circle. Elected to the House of Representatives in 1976 representing Monterey in what was then California’s 16th District, Panetta has since served in several senior positions in the federal government, including Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, White House Chief of Staff, and of course, Secretary of Defense. Panetta returned to the area following his tenure as SECDEF, to become more involved in his Panetta Institute for Public Policy, founded in 1997 at California State University, Monterey Bay.

“At the Panetta Institute, we discuss how in a democracy we govern either by leadership or by crisis. If leadership is there and is willing to take the risk, then we can avoid or at least contain crisis. Make no mistake, as a leader you’re going to have to take risks, in business or in the military,” he said.

Panetta warned of the inherent challenges in allowing a nation to govern by crisis, in other words, by constantly reacting to the crisis of the moment.

“There is a price to pay,” he said. “And the price is we lose the trust of the American people in our system of government.

“In many ways, each of us are being tested by crisis, both at home and abroad. Here at home, our very ability to govern is being tested by political gridlock,” he continued. “In my 50 years of public service, I have seen Washington at its best and seen Washington at its worst. The good news is I have seen Washington work.”

Panetta spoke candidly throughout his presentation, expressing hope in the ability for challenge to create strength. And he thanked the students at NPS for accepting the call to be part of the solution.

“I honestly think that change in this country is not going to happen from the top down, it’s going to happen from the bottom up, from people who are dedicated to finding solutions,” Panetta said. “Every day we are witness to a series of flash points in which any provocation or miscalculation could result in greater conflict.”

But, he stressed, it is ultimately the United States that must remain at the helm of an international effort to defeat terrorism. “The reality is, if the United States doesn’t provide world leadership in dealing with these crises, no one else will,” he said.

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