Gates on the Move

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates surprised everyone by arriving in Kabul today. He is in the country on his first visit since General David Petraeus took over for the embattled General Stanley McChrystal as commander of forces in Afghanistan. Petraeus met Gates on the runway. Speaking to reporters, the general emphasized the U.S. attempt to improve its intelligence-gathering efforts in Afghanistan. Gates meanwhile went on to meet with President Hamid Karzai as well as various U.S. military commanders. Karzai and Gates will hold a press conference later on this evening.

Gates had just wrapped up another surprise visit to Iraq during which he voiced some opinions on Afghanistan. He said he expected troops currently embroiled in a bitter counterinsurgency campaign to be there for another few years. Though he wasn’t sure about the specific timeframe, he said “My gut tells me that we will probably have a troop presence in Afghanistan for some period of time . . . I would say certainly more than two years.”

And the peace process has finally been restarted. Hillary Clinton was flanked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the State Department today, acknowledging the difficulties that lie ahead while striking an optimistic chord: “I fervently believe that the two men sitting on either side of me, that you are the leaders who can make this long-cherished dream a reality.” The meeting was expected to last three hours. Afterward, special envoy George Mitchell will brief the press. Everyone will be waiting to see if the leaders agree to meet each other again. It will likely be a tough sell, as Netanyahu has said repeatedly over the last few days that Israel isn’t going to budge on the settlement issue. A freeze on settlement construction will expire in a couple weeks and Israel has no intention to renew it. The Palestinians have said that a renewal of construction would mean the end of peace talks.