Ford vs. Assad

At the Naval Postgraduate School yesterday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta had some words of praise for NATO. He said the organization’s efforts to protect civilians and establish a no-fly zone were key to helping the rebels get where they are today, in the capital, Tripoli. As Panetta put it: “It is a credit to the great job of nations working together on a common mission, something that is absolutely essential if we are to provide security in the future.” Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice described the situation on the ground in Libya as “fluid” and reiterated that it appears to be at a “tipping point.” Opposition forces are meanwhile trying to solidify their control through funding and organizational efforts. Mahmoud Jibril, the prime minister of the rebels’ government, the National Transition Council, said there would be a meeting in Qatar today to talk about international aid for the country. The State Department is still attempting to have frozen Libyan assets released to the rebels.

Rice also has Syria on her mind. A draft UN resolution that would impose sanctions on Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle is making the rounds in New York, and it faces a potential veto from Russia and/or China. Ambassador Rice stressed that the resolution does not call for military action, and that the Syrian people “have been very clear they don't want any foreign military intervention.”

Ambassador Robert Ford made it quite clear yesterday that he was willing to ignore Damascus’s restrictions on diplomats’ travel within Syria. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Ford had not requested permission to travel to Jassem yesterday. “He informed the Syrian foreign ministry after the visit," according to Nuland, and he explained to the Syrian government that he did not ask for permission because it wasn't granting anyone permission. “He has over the last six weeks three times requested permission to go to Aleppo, for example, and three times has been denied,” Nuland said. When asked whether Ford was trying to get expelled by traveling unannounced, Nuland responded, “He is trying to do his job.”

On a relatively gaffe-free trip to Asia, Vice President Joe Biden is coming under fire from presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman for a comment he made about China’s one-child policy. Biden said he was “not second-guessing” Beijing’s stance, which Romney took as meaning that Biden approved of the policy. Romney said: “Instead of condoning the policy, Vice President Biden should have condemned it in the strongest possible terms.” Biden’s office responded: “The Vice President believes such practices are repugnant. He also pointed out, in China, that the policy is, as a practical matter, unsustainable.”

And in Washington today, Attorney General Eric Holder will be speaking with the relatives of victims of 9/11 about the ongoing investigation into News Corp hacking allegations.