Asked by ABC over the weekend if he’d stay on as defense secretary if Mitt Romney wins the presidential election in November, Leon Panetta had a simple answer: “I don’t engage in hypotheticals.”
The wisdom of such an approach can be seen in the stumble by the Tokyo-based The Diplomat online international-affairs magazine. It reported Monday that U.S. Army Brigadier General Neil Tolley, commander of American special forces in South Korea, said that U.S. troops have secretly parachuted into North Korea on spying missions. Tuesday, following a flurry of what must have been tactical-nuclear communications, The Diplomat issued a clarification:
While the author strongly disputes the contention that any quote was fabricated, we acknowledge the possibility that Brig. Gen. Tolley was speaking hypothetically, about future war plans rather than current operations. The author insists he heard no such qualification, but if there has been a misunderstanding then we regret any confusion.
Reporter David Axe defends his story here. And reporter Sean Naylor of Army Times, wires:
I was there. Maybe a misspeak but Tolley clearly said ROK and US troops were going into NK for recon, as @daxe reported.