Dispensable Leaders

The U.S. embassy in Syria was attacked by hundreds pro-government protesters yesterday, though there were no casualties and Marine guards were able to push the attackers back. Washington responded by issuing a formal protest, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had some very specific words of warning for Bashar al-Assad and his government. Shortly after the attacks, Clinton condemned them and criticized the Syrian government for not protecting the embassy. She added that Assad has “lost legitimacy” and Damascus needs to meet its “international obligations immediately,” warning Assad that he is “not indispensable.” Damascus certainly isn’t going down without a fight. Today, a Syrian official criticized Clinton’s criticisms and listed reforms the government in Damascus is currently undertaking. The official called Clinton’s response to the attack “additional evidence of the flagrant U.S. interference in Syrian domestic affairs.”

Working together, Afghanistan and Pakistan have decided to form a joint military force to deal with issues along their shared border. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Washington is on board: “We call on both sides to continue to engage cooperatively to lower tensions on the border and to ensure the protection of the local population in the border regions.” And those rural lands are currently the areas of most concern, according to Army Lieutenant General David Rodriguez on his last day as deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and head of the Joint Command.

As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen continues his security-related meetings in China, information is emerging about Chinese military capabilities. Reports indicate that Beijing’s first aircraft carrier, a Soviet-era Varyag, could be ready for tests in the next few weeks—and that others are coming up through the pipeline. According to the China Daily, Mullen’s counterpart Chen Bingde told the admiral that research into such matters was “very valuable.” Reports also indicate that China is working on more advanced satellites. Washington, meanwhile, is working on plans for a joint naval exercise in the South China Sea later this month. Chen called the timing of the exercise “inappropriate”

Admiral Mullen will head to South Korea after he wraps up in China to attend the inauguration of General James Thurman as commander of forces in the Republic of Korea. He’s expected to also talk about North Korea while he is in Seoul.

In other news, new Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is rounding out his first trip to Iraq by meeting with Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish regional government. And meeting last night, the Middle East Quartet didn’t manage to come to an agreement on how to spur the peace process onward, but they’re going to give it another shot today. Details were hard to come by, but one senior administration official described “gaps impeding progress."