Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta criticized Congress on Monday for what he sees as a refusal to govern and collaborate across the aisle.
His speech, which took place at Schoenberg Hall in front of a packed audience of about 500 people, was part of the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture series presented by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations in their first joint lecture event.
Each year, the lecture is held in honor of Pearl, a journalist who was kidnapped and killed by terrorists while working in Pakistan in 2002.
Alexandra Lieben, deputy director of the Burkle Center, said the School of Public Affairs and the Burkle Center invited Panetta to speak because of his experience and expertise in public policy.
“He’s been around for decades,” she said. “He’s a role model for our students and he’s a role model for the community.”
Panetta served as a congressman, White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and secretary of defense who oversaw the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.
His speech focused on his belief in the tenacity necessary to pass legislation.
“Governing is not a pretty-please process; it is a kick-ass process,” Panetta said. “You have to go after people.”
He said he thinks officials must work hard to communicate with their colleagues.
“It’d be wonderful if logic alone worked in Washington. It doesn’t,” Panetta said. “You’ve gotta carry a bat into battle.”
In the current political climate, Panetta said he sees a Congress that not only lacks persistence in passing legislation, but that might not even want to.
Panetta cited the recent letter sent by Republican senators to Iran’s leaders and the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress without notifying the president as events he had not seen during his long career in government.
In addition to discussing governance, Panetta touched on a theme of the lecture series in general: journalism and its role in society.
He described the danger that some reporters face today, saying many journalists have been “threatened, kidnapped and murdered because they only want to do their job.” According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, about 700 journalists have been killed on the job since 9/11.
Judea Pearl, a computer science and statistics professor at UCLA and the father of Daniel Pearl, spoke at the event before Panetta about how he overcame his initial skepticism of journalists once he saw his son’s work.
“The universe is not made of gadgets and theorems; it is made by people, and people are moved by facts,” he said.
Part of the purpose of Panetta’s memoir, “Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace,” is to tell of his experience accomplishing goals in government, he said. Citing his experience balancing the federal budget as chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton, he said he hopes the experiences described in his book will help show the government how it can – and should – function.
“What I wanted to do was to tell the story of how to get things done,” Panetta said. “(Washington) can work if you want it to work.”