Gates Goes to Shangri-La

Robert Gates is on his final trip to the great “abroad” as secretary of defense. He’ll be in Singapore for an annual security conference, the Shangri-La Dialogue (the IISS Asia Security Summit), and then will move on to Brussels for a NATO meeting. Subjects on the top of the Singapore agenda will include Afghanistan and North Korea’s nuclear program, but officials indicate that the larger goal of the visit is to demonstrate Washington’s commitment to Asia amid the administration's personnel shuffles and defense budget cuts

DNI James Clapper is reportedly in Asia as well—in Seoul where he's scheduled to meet with South Korea’s foreign minister, defense minister and intel chief to talk in particular about Kim Jong-il’s recent visit to China.

Back at home, President Barack Obama made the rumored nomination of General Martin Dempsey to be the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff official yesterday. General James Cartwright was long assumed to be Obama’s frontrunner, but the Marine and current vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was passed over late in the game. Gates and the current chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen, both opposed his nomination. Dempsey was just made Army chief of staff last month, and General Ray Odierno, former commander in Iraq, has been tapped to take over that job.

As all of these national-security-leadership shakeups are playing out, the situations on the ground in America's war zones continue to be, well, complicated. Afghan President Hamid Karzai once again called on NATO to stop killing civilians with its airstrikes. He offered a threat along with the statement. “If they continue their attacks on our houses, then their presence will change from a force that is fighting against terrorism to a force that is fighting against the people of Afghanistan,” Karzai noted, and “history shows what Afghans do with trespassers and with occupiers.” Earlier, on Air Force One, White House spokesman Jay Carney had addressed the situation, saying, “We work very hard, our military in Afghanistan, to do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties” and that Washington takes Karzai’s concerns “very seriously.”

And on Friday, the State Department got a new spokesman. The now–deputy State Department spokesman Marc Toner announced that Ambassador Victoria Nuland would be taking over the job. It has been over two months since PJ Crowley resigned as State Department spokesman after criticizing the Pentagon’s treatment of accused WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning.