Let's Get Critical

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had some strong words for the Forum for the Future, a meeting of government, business and civil society leaders in Qatar. She slammed Arab governments for corruption and lack of political reform, warning that extremists were using the democratic-development vacuum as fuel for their agendas. “Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries' problems for a little while, but not forever,” Clinton said, noting that the foundations of many governments are “sinking into the sand.” She added that the people are growing tired of “corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order.”

One country she singled out was Lebanon. Yesterday, Hezbollah and its allies resigned from and collapsed the government of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, pushing the country toward crisis. Hezbollah is not happy about a UN-backed investigation into the assassination of Saad’s father which is set to hold some members of the group responsible for the killing. Of Hezbollah’s resignation Clinton said, “We view what happened today as a transparent effort by those forces inside Lebanon, as well as interests outside Lebanon, to subvert justice and undermine Lebanon's stability and progress.” She added that the special tribunal’s work “must go forward so justice can be served and impunity ended.”

Vice President Joe Biden is still busy making unannounced visits. He arrived in Baghdad early this morning to meet with Iraqi leaders. This is his first visit since a government was formed last month. According to Biden, he’s was visiting “to help the Iraqis celebrate the progress they made.” His focus was on the future, discussing bilateral relations with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and America’s role in the country following the planned December 2011 U.S. troop withdrawal. Al-Maliki wants all troops out by the end of the year, but some of the higher-ups in the Iraqi military want some kind of U.S. military presence to remain in Iraq after the scheduled pullout. Biden also met with the top U.S. civilian and military leaders in Iraq, Ambassador James Jeffrey and General Lloyd Austin.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made his way to Tokyo after a bumpy few days in Beijing. Gates and his Japanese counterpart, Toshimi Kitazawa, said they would put an agreement to relocate a U.S. base on Okinawa into practice. This has long been a hot-button issue; locals who want the base moved off of Okinawa altogether have opposed the agreement. The two also pledged to strengthen security ties against the backdrop of an increasingly aggressive North Korea and a rising China. Gates said that Pyongyang needs to tone down its behavior.

With military relations with China on a rocky course, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is trying the economic approach. In a speech yesterday, he said that Beijing and Washington should give cooperation another go, though of course China needs to revalue its currency, loosen up the government’s grip on the economy, fix trade imbalances and so on. Chinese President Hu Jintao will be in Washington next week for talks.

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari is on his way to the United States. He’s visiting to attend Friday’s memorial service for the late special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. Though Zardari doesn’t have a sitdown scheduled with President Obama, he will be meeting with Secretary of State Clinton.

And Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen warned about the threat of cyberwarfare at a press conference yesterday. He labeled the threat “substantial” and said though the “threat from China is significant,” they aren’t the only potential attackers in this “enormously complex and critical area.”

In the Wall Street Journal today, former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, Karl Rove, writes that President Obama’s interim chief of staff, Pete Rouse, played a central role in bringing the new chief of staff, William Daley, into the White House. According to Rove, Rouse “appears to have gone so far as to tell the president that to strengthen the White House, he must cast off long-time aides who wanted more authority but weren’t up to it.” He cites outgoing White House spokesman Robert Gibbs as a case in point. Gibbs was rumored to have wanted a senior advisory role in the administration, but instead he is leaving the White House. And apparently there are a lot of kinks to work out in Obama’s inner circle, from overlapping responsibilities to personality conflicts and stagnant perspectives.