Dempsey's Uncertain Future

Current Army Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey’s words are being watched a bit more closely since he became President Obama’s choice to replace outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. In London today, Dempsey commented on the recent death of Osama bin Laden, noting that it’s too early to say exactly what it means. “I don't know that we have yet come to understand what his particular demise might mean for the future,” Dempsey said. He was also circumspect on the topic of the Arab Spring: “Here I think our imaginations are just beginning to touch the edges of what it might mean.”

Succession in the Joint Chiefs of Staff might be sorted out, but there is still some shuffling to be done. Yesterday, President Obama announced that he would nominate John Bryson to replace Gary Locke atop the Commerce Department. (Locke is nominated to be the next ambassador to China.) But some GOP senators are threatening to block the appointment of any replacement if the Obama administration doesn’t send free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress for approval. White House spokesman Jay Carney said that blocking the nomination would be “folly.” The agreements were worked out during the Bush administration, but the Obama administration isn’t sending them to Congress until the body approves workers’ benefits. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday that she is “absolutely sure” the deal with Colombia will be passed.

Clinton will be heading to the UAE next week for a Libya Contact Group meeting on June 9. Muammar Qaddafi seems intent on staying in power so the group will be considering ways to increase the pressure on the Libyan leader. Then she’ll visit Africa to talk about trade at the African Growth and Opportunity Act Minsterial Forum. “She will showcase this centerpiece of our trade policy with Africa and engage with government, private sector and civil society representatives from 37 different countries,” according to Deputy State Department Spokesman Marc Toner.

Outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is doing a bit of reflection as his days in office wind down. After serving eight presidents, Gates noted, things can get a bit stale: “I think one of the reasons it’s probably time for me to leave is that sometimes too much experience can get in the way, and you can get too cautious.” He acknowledged that he may indeed be more cautious that he should be.

Gates also addressed Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent warnings about the repercussions of NATO-caused civilian deaths in Afghanistan. The secretary of defense said that Karzai was clearly reflecting the pain his people have suffered during “thirty years of war,” but that in the end, “he also recognizes, and the Afghan people do, that we are their ally, that we are their friend and we are trying to help them develop the capability to protect themselves.”

Vice President Joe Biden will meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome this week, in addition to sitting down with Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili.