Iran's Syrian Meddling

Leon Panetta has gotten over one hurdle in his path to secretary of defense—the Senate Armed Services Committee backed him in a unanimous vote yesterday, not that that really surprised anyone. His case will now go to the full Senate for a vote at a time yet undetermined.

Speaking in Washington yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Tehran for messing around in Syria: “Iran is supporting the Assad regime’s vicious assaults on peaceful protesters and military actions against its own cities.” She also drew comparisons between the Iranian election protests two years ago and what is unfolding in Syria today, referencing in particular Neda Agha-Soltan, who was killed during a demonstration in Iran, and Hamza al-Khateeb, a thirteen year old reportedly tortured and killed by Syrian forces.

Outgoing SecDef Robert Gates is still sounding alarm bells about NATO. Last week, he talked about the organization’s dim future in a bluntly worded speech he has no regrets about. In an interview with the AP, Gates added that he is worried NATO’s core of support is being replaced by a younger generation that just doesn’t have the same attachment to the alliance: “People like me who have an emotional stake in Europe and NATO are aging out.” Washington, he said, won’t make a sudden break with the organization or the Europeans, “but it'll just be slowly growing apart — it's a troubled marriage.”

Gates took a farewell world tour as he closes out his time as secretary of defense. Admiral Mike Mullen is heading to the airwaves. He sat down with David Letterman earlier this week and Charlie Rose yesterday. Washington might be pulling some troops out of Afghanistan, Mullen commented on Charlie Rose, but that doesn’t mean the administration is abandoning the country. He said that a prevalent question within Afghanistan is, “You left us before, are you going to leave us again?” The outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the United States wouldn’t make the same mistakes it made back in the late ’80s, exiting the country after a secret war with the Soviets and leaving the way open for the Taliban to rise up.