Just 11 days into his tenure as defense secretary, Leon Panetta has demonstrated a flair for making blunt, unscripted comments.
But his inability to stick to prepared talking points is getting him into rhetorical trouble.
On Monday, in his first visit to Iraq as Pentagon chief, Panetta appeared to justify the US invasion of the country as part of the war against al Qaeda, a controversial argument made by the George W Bush administration but rebutted by president Barack Obama and many Democrats.
Two days earlier, in Kabul, Panetta told reporters — repeatedly — that the US would keep 70,000 troops in Afghanistan until the end of 2014. That would have come as unwelcome news to the White House, which has pledged to bring far more service members home by then, and his aides scurried afterward to say he misspoke.
In contrast to his poker-faced predecessor, Robert M Gates, it turns out that Panetta happily speaks off the cuff and doesn’t seem to edit his thoughts too closely.