Skip to main content

Defense secretary tells enemies 'we will not back down'

By Charley Keyes, CNN Senior National Security Producer
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Panetta says the United States is near "the strategic defeat of al Qaeda"
  • He urges Congress "to be a full partner" in the mission of protecting America
  • And he says he sees no reason for "a seven-second delay" when he talks

Washington (CNN) -- Three weeks into the job, new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was like a high-tech weapons systems Friday, firing off messages in all directions.

The setting was his ceremonial swearing-in at the Pentagon by Vice President Joe Biden.

To America's enemies: "We will not back down when our homeland is threatened. We will do whatever it takes to defend this country. And no one attacks the United States of American and gets away with it"

To al Qaeda: "We are within reach of achieving the strategic defeat of al Qaeda but to do that we have to continue to put pressure wherever they are. And if we do, and continue that commitment, then ultimately we will succeed."

To Congress: "I can't do this job without you, it's that simple. I really believe Congress has to be a full partner in the department's mission of protecting America."

To taxpayers and the national debate over defense cuts: "We will face the fiscal challenges that confront us but we will do it in a way that maintains the strength of our country. Based on my long experience in government and with working with budgets, I really believe we don't have to make a choice between fiscal discipline and national security."

And to the fans of his straight talk, Panetta said that, like Biden, his immigrant parents had taught him to speak plainly and directly.

"And sometimes that's gotten us in trouble," he said, bringing laughter from the audience. "As a result there was some talk here of trying to put a seven-second delay on the microphones for this ceremony, but I can't imagine why the hell that should be necessary."