Hear Me Out

It's been hearings galore this week. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said yesterday before the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Iranian leadership has begun debating whether the country should produce a nuclear weapon. Though Tehran hasn’t decided to pursue the bomb for sure, Clapper commented, “Iran is technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon in the next few years, if it chooses to do so.” He was releasing an update to the 2007 NIE on Iran’s nuclear program. But don’t expect to get your hands on it anytime soon—the government doesn’t plan to release an unclassified version.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen both appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday to present their budget (they were in the House on Wednesday). Defense is requesting $553 billion plus $117.8 billion for overseas operations. Getting into the details, Gates said that $12.8 billion would be spent in 2012 to train and outfit the growing Afghan security force. Washington wants to increase the force size by 45,000 to 70,000 people, but some senators criticized the plan, questioning whether Afghanistan could ever afford the increased numbers.

And after CIA Director Leon Panetta hinted that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility might be necessary to keep around, Secretary Gates added that prospects for closure are grim: the change “is very, very low given the very broad opposition to doing that here in the Congress.” The secretary of defense also commented on Iraq, arguing that the State Department needs its requested funding “for the transition in Iraq” or “we are really going to be in the soup.” The gains made thus far could easily disappear if state can’t follow through after forces leave the country.

The face isn’t the only thing that changed in the White House press briefing room. During his first week on the job, Jay Carney, President Obama’s new press secretary, walked the party lines a bit better than his predecessor, Robert Gibbs. He, for instance, declined to fire back when a question was asked about one of House Speaker John Boehner’s recent criticisms of Obama. It’s early days, so who knows, he could get a bit more daring after a few months behind the podium.

On the Hill yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington will be “reprogramming” $150 million worth of aid for Egypt, which will give the administration “flexibility to respond to Egyptian needs moving forward.” She had a classified briefing with senators yesterday on the unrest in the Middle East.