WASHINGTON (AP) — As Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's plane returned home from his final official overseas trip, his staff gathered to salute his time as Pentagon chief. And they presented him with a symbol of his tenure months at the helm of the world's largest military: a plastic meat ax.
Panetta may go down in history as the CIA director who got Osama bin Laden. But his 19 months as defense secretary came at a critical moment — dominated by the nation's fiscal crisis and an endless struggle to protect the defense budget from billions in automatic spending cuts he repeatedly compared to a meat ax.
For President Barack Obama, Panetta's experience as a congressman and as budget director in the Clinton administration made him the perfect choice to take on Capitol Hill.