Crocker Takes the Lead

Ryan Crocker is officially back in the saddle again. He was sworn in today as ambassador to Afghanistan. He made sure to say right off the bat that Washington was not going to make a hasty departure from the country: “There will be no rush for the exits.” But he did say that it is “time for us to step back and for the Afghans to step forward.” He faced a similarly tough situation in Iraq, where he learned that “you don't get positive change overnight.” Crocker though is certainly no stranger to Afghanistan. He helped reopen the U.S. embassy there in 2002; this time, he’ll take charge of the largest diplomatic mission in the world. Crocker is replacing Karl Eikenberry, the general turned ambassador.

Hillary Clinton is wrapping up her most recent world tour. In Hong Kong today, the secretary of state tried to reassure business leaders that Washington would meet its debt commitments. “I am confident that Congress will do the right thing and secure a deal on the debt ceiling,” Clinton said as the August 2 deadline looms. She also let her audience know that the United States is in Asia “to stay.”

Yesterday in Hong Kong, Clinton said that North Korea’s vice foreign minister (and former lead nuclear negotiator) Kim Kae-gwan will be in New York this week for what Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell called “preliminary” talks. As he put it, “We are going to lay out very clearly our expectations for what will be necessary to resume not only six-party talks but direct engagement between the United States and North Korea.” Kim’s visit does not mean, according to one U.S. official, that Washington is “on the fast track to resumption of six party talks.”

Back at home, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was formally sworn in on Friday. Touching on sore budget issues, Panetta said he firmly believes that there doesn’t have to be a choice between security and “fiscal discipline,” noting that the Pentagon does “not have a blank check from the American people.” He also vowed to be a “tireless advocate” for service members.