U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will visit Louisville on March 1 as part of the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center for Political Leadership lecture series. The scholarship program founded by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has hosted several high-profiled speakers in the past including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner. Panetta will be the first sitting secretary of defense to headline the lecture series, but the center isn’t clear on what he will discuss.
But McConnell Center Director Gary L. Gregg says given international conflicts with countries such as Iran and the end of the two major wars, this address could be a defining speech for U.S. defense.
“This will be our first secretary of defense so we’re very excited about that and particularly at this time in American history when the defense department is coming under such pressure financially and we’re winding down these two important wars overseas. It’s just a really fabulous time for us here in the Louisville community to hear from our secretary of defense,” he says.
Earlier this week, Panetta and other top military leaders defended President Obama’s budget that makes $487 billion in reductions over a decade. The defense secretary promised the Pentagon would do its part to help reduce the government’s deficit and has backed the “slimmed-down” military.
“It was this Congress that mandated, on a bipartisan basis, that we reduce the defense budget, and we need your partnership to do this in a manner that preserves the strongest military in the world,” Panetta said. “This will be a test of whether reducing the deficit is about talk or action.”
Last year, however, he warned Congress against drastic cuts to the defense budget as a result of and he’s stressed the need to maintain entitlements to veterans.
Gregg says the lecture series has brought in top U.S. officials to the city to discuss those sort of issues and give the community a front row seat on policy-making.
“Having the chance to bring people like that who will come make major statements on public policy right here in Louisville brings a lot of prestige—not only for the university—but for our city. Brings a lot of international coverage for our city and we think it’s just really great for our community to be able to meet these folks,” he says.
Before being appointed defense secretary, Panetta served as Mr. Obama’s director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He also served as White House chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton.