Slashing Command

Yesterday, Robert Gates announced some major military shake-ups. In an effort to cut costs and make the department more efficient, the secretary of defense announced that he plans to close down the Joint Forces Command, based in Norfolk, Virginia, scale back the use of outside contractors as well as the number of generals and admirals across the services. The Pentagon’s goal is to slash $100 billion from its budget over the next five years. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen is on board at least. He issued a statement yesterday saying that he is in “full support” of Gates’s initiatives. And, what’s more, he’s been “intimately involved in their development from the very start.”

Meanwhile, General David Petraeus, formerly of CENTCOM, now heading up our military effort in Afghanistan, is gearing up for some time in the spotlight. He’ll kick off his talk-show tour on Sunday with David Gregory on Meet the Press. Katie Couric will have a face-to-face with him on August 20 and George Stephanopolous will get the general at the end of the month. He’s kept a low profile since he took over from Stanley McChrystal last month, but is expected to talk about progress, the 30,000 additional troops due in Afghanistan next month and the withdrawal timetable.

U.S. special envoy George Mitchell is back in the Middle East for a quick trip to try for the fifth time to press Israeli and Palestinian leaders to get to the direct-talks table. He got to Israel yesterday and will stay through Wednesday, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The Arab League has already given the OK on direct talks, but Abbas remains hesitant despite international pressure.

Back at home, Letitia Long became the first woman to lead a major intelligence agency. On Monday she was sworn in as director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. She’s been in government for over thirty years.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez isn’t happy about the U.S. administration’s choice of ambassador to his country. Larry Palmer, Obama’s choice, recently said that Venezuela’s army has a low-morale problem and the country has an issue with Colombia rebels hiding out within its borders. For that, he is unacceptable. Both sides are so far sticking to their guns.

South Korea wrapped up a naval drill yesterday near the dicey North-South maritime border, part of a ramp-up in drills and readiness post–the Cheonan sinking. In what might be the understatement of the year, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said that “it is not a helpful sign by North Korea,” adding “it’s unclear to us exactly what North Korea feels it is trying to achieve through this ongoing chest-thumping that it has engaged in.” Seoul and Washington will hold their largest joint land-based drill next week (something that occurs every August, regardless of warship torpedoing).