European Vacation? Pentagon defends final Panetta trip to allies

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta next week will make his final trip abroad, a dream swing through Madrid, Lisbon, Rome and London, prompting reporters to ask: Is there a national security need or is this a junket?

Tony Capaccio, of Bloomberg, invoked Panetta’s Italian-American heritage to press the Pentagon spokesman in Tuesday’s briefing to give a military or strategic reason for the high-cost visit of a defense secretary and his “entourage” to Rome.

“This is his first swing through Europe,” as defense secretary, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little argued, of Panetta. “We do it as a way of signaling our strong commitment to NATO and to our partners and allies who have been with us through Afghanistan and many other challenges.”

Little said all of Panetta’s counterparts in Portugal, Spain, France and London have visited the U.S., so the trip is reciprocal and appropriate to deepen relationships with “very strong NATO allies.”

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