Better Sticks

The United States and Australia have kicked off defense talks in Melbourne. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, among others, will participate in the negotiations. Washington is expected to get more access to Australian territory, potentially including a new operating base for U.S. military in the Pacific. One of the joint concerns at the conference is a rising China, whose “rapid growth in recent years is among the most consequential developments in the Asia-Pacific, and indeed the world,” Clinton said yesterday. She urged China to “be a responsible player." Gates meanwhile made the U.S. intention clear: “We are looking for an enhanced presence for the United States in Asia and not some sort of cutback.”

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is with President Obama in India and is spending some of his time meeting with business leaders there. He offered praise for the country’s “very careful, very pragmatic” economic reforms, even though some U.S. executives have argued recently that the reforms intended to spur growth are halfhearted. Geithner made the case for straightening out trade imbalances since “balance matters a lot to the sustainability of (economic) expansion.” Turning to domestic matters, the treasury secretary said that the U.S. economy is doing better and that “chances of a double-dip recession look lower than they have been over the last three, six to 12 months.”

Vice President Joe Biden had a ninety-minute meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New Orleans at a conference of Jewish groups. The prime minister reportedly told Biden that pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program must be increased. The threat of military force is needed to deter Tehran, according to Netanyahu. In a speech, Biden addressed the concern, saying Washington is “absolutely committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” Running counter to Netanyahu's prescriptions, Gates said today that military force is not the only stick Washington has when it comes to Iran. He said, “I disagree that only a credible military threat can get Iran to take the actions that it needs to, to end its nuclear weapons program.” The political-economic approach is working. Netanyahu will leave New Orleans today and head to New York. He’ll meet with Clinton on Thursday to discuss the peace process and the settlement issue.

Elsewhere, Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said that NATO should get behind Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai’s goal of a complete security transfer to Afghan forces by 2014. Mullen noted that “we’re clearly not here yet,” but, he said, “as a target at this point that makes sense.” NATO members will be talking about the timeline at a summit in Lisbon from on November 19 and 20.

Back at home, President Obama is going to have to make tough choices about his national-security team over the next few months. A slew of tenures and retirements are coming up—Gates, Mullen, his Vice Chairman James Cartwright, the Army chief George W. Casey Jr., and the chief of naval operations Gary Roughead. And Obama is going to have to find good replacements for all of those people. John Hamre, head of CSIS, and Michele Flournoy, the Pentagon’s under secretary for policy, are rumored to be in line for the secretary of defense spot.

And Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Saturday that Washington is concerned about a young Chinese man who managed to disguise himself as an old Caucasian male and board a flight to Canada. The administration isn’t so much worried that the man was going to Canada to seek refugee status but that his success represents a breach in security that terrorists might be able to make use of.