By any objective measure, Leon Panetta has been a terrible Defense Secretary. Just look at the series of missteps and gaffes he has committed in his young tenure at the Pentagon. He claimed that the President sent 100 combat equipped soldiers to central Africa not to help combat and disarm the Lord’s Resistance Army, but to combat Al Qaeda. He defended a continued presence in Iraq because of Al Qaeda and 9-11. He has become similar to a George W. Bush action figure circa 2005, shouting 9-11 and Al Qaeda at every opportunity.

And when you factor in his ridiculous rhetoric on the defense budget, you see real problems.

But it’s on defense spending where Panetta has really gone off the deep end — taking on maximalist, almost apocalyptic, positions including calling potential cuts “catastrophic,” “draconian” “doomsday”-inducing and akin to America “shooting itself in the head.” This tracks with [what] he said in August, when he wrote only days after the hard fought debt limit deal was signed that automatic cuts to the DoD budget “would undermine the military’s ability to protect America and its vital interests around the globe” and that such a move would “do real damage to our security.” This is bizarre hyperbole, particularly since Panetta hasn’t identified a single way in which these cuts will “hollow” out the US military.

In fact, as Ben Armbruster pointed out recently, when pushed to identify what risks would come from these reductions in current military spending (a fiscal outlay that far surpasses US spending during the Cold War) the best example that Panetta could point to was that the US presence in Latin America and Africa would have to be reduced. And why? Because according to Panetta the US would need to maintain a presence in the Middle East and the Far East.

Panetta doubled down on that today, intimating that troops scheduled home from Iraq and Afghanistan would be used in Asia to stop China’s advancing military. “Advancing” on what I have no idea.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan will allow the Pentagon to shift more of its resources to Asia, signaling the administration’s resolve to check China’s rapid military buildup despite budget woes at home.

In his first trip to Japan as Pentagon chief, Mr. Panetta said the U.S. was at a “turning point” and saw Asia as the nation’s next big priority after 10 years of war.

Despite intense budget pressures, Mr. Panetta said he did not expect U.S. forces in Asia to face cuts in the coming round of belt-tightening. Officials said the Pentagon was looking at ways to expand the U.S.’s presence in the region, particularly across Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, by shifting resources from other areas.

My favorite part of this is when Panetta said that China had to be more “transparent” about their advanced weapons it is developing. Because if there’s one thing the US military always puts first, it’s transparency.

There’s no indication that China needs to be checked militarily, outside of fantasist ravings from the likes of Bill Kristol, desperately searching for a new villain to fight, circa 2001. This is lunatic fringe stuff, the idea that the rise of China must be checked in some fashion militarily. If you didn’t notice, it’s on the economic front that China is eating America’s lunch, not on the guns and planes front.

Panetta sounds like a caricature of how “hawkish” liberals desperate to suck up to the foreign policy establishment sound. In a way they’re more dangerous than the neocons, because they’re trying so hard to prove their “toughness.”

The upshot of this is that Panetta will have the US deploying to the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, with some kind of full readiness, keeping the military-industrial complex well-fed while the social safety net slowly withers. It’s a vision of no cuts to defense, with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security paying the price, that would be right at home in the House GOP.

When the President announced the draw down of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, I don’t think he added the proviso that those troops would be shuttled off to Asia to provide a check on China. Someone should inform him that his Defense Secretary is running around saying that.