Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (Reid Silverman/The Enterprise) Former Defense secretary Leon Panetta (Reid Silverman/The Enterprise)

Maybe the wrong ex-cabinet official is plotting a 2016 presidential run. While Hillary Clinton racks up the speaking fees and avoids speaking on current national security matters her former colleague, ex-CIA chief and ex-secretary of Defense has been out speaking hard truths. Leon Panetta recently took the president to task for his lack of leadership on the shutdown and for his baffling Syria policy.

And this week Panetta, in accepting an award from the Anti-Defamation League, Panetta said bluntly that “we may need to use military force”:

Panetta, who was receiving the ADL’s William and Naomi Gorowitz Institute Service Award, said the US needs to “maintain a healthy skepticism” when
negotiating to suss out Iran’s true level of commitment to the process. . . .  the Supreme Leader . . . is key, and he is not likely to give up enrichment,” Panetta warned. “We have to remain strong. We have to remain consistent.”

Panetta reemphasized the American line that the US has “no friend, no better ally in the world than Israel,” but he expressed concern over the “growing sense of isolationism in this country [the US]” over the last ten years of fighting two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the shifting power dynamics among world leaders. “The fact remains that we live in a very dangerous world,” he said. “We continue to have threats from North Korea as they test nuclear weapons. We have instability and fragility in the Middle East. All of this happens at a time when we are imperiled by gridlock in Washington.”

Too bad he’s not running for something. Panetta is one of a diminishing band of pro-defense, pro-internationalist Democrats. As such he is someone like-minded Republicans should seek to make common cause in promoting an adequate funding for our national security budget and an active role for the United States in the world.

For showing nerve, candor and good judgment in his post-administration career, we say, well done Mr. Panetta.