It’s been rumored for quite some time, but now it's almost official: Leon Panetta, now the head of the CIA, will replace outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and General David Petraeus, currently the commander of forces in Afghanistan, will step in for Panetta. The administration is expected to make the nominations this week. After that, it would be up to the Senate to confirm Petraeus and Panetta.
But wait, there's more. It seems like Obama is looking to give the spot of ambassador to Afghanistan to Ryan Crocker, currently dean of the Bush School at Texas A&M and a former ambassador to Iraq (and, incidentally, a TNI contributor). Crocker, along with Petraeus, is often given credit for turning the tides in Iraq. The departure of the current ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, hasn’t yet been announced and Crocker hasn’t been officially nominated as a replacement. In addition to filling the positions of Gates (who is expected to leave his post over the summer), Panetta and Eikenberry, Obama will also have to find a replacement for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admiral Mike Mullen, who is going to step down in the fall.
Gates and Petraeus have at least one major milestone to work out before they leave their current posts: the planned start of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. Washington is supposed to start taking its troops out of the country in July, but Gates has not yet heard Petraeus’s thoughts on just how many should leave. The secretary of defense expects that the recommendations “will be coming in the not-too-distant-future.”
Meanwhile, the fight in Libya presses on, and the administration has decided to give $25 million worth of aid to rebels attempting to oust Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. President Obama made it official in a memo to Defense Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The aid won’t consist of arms but rather nonlethal assistance like vehicles and medical equipment. Yesterday, Obama and Gates sat down with British Defense Secretary Liam Fox for almost there hours to talk about the situation in Libya.
Washington continues to be concerned about the situation in Syria, where the government, with the help of an outside power, has cracked down harshly on protesters. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said yesterday that Washington has proof Iran is supporting the Syrian government’s “brutal violence” against demonstrators. She said that the United States “condemns [the violence] in the strongest terms.” Rice didn’t mince words: “Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is disingenuously blaming outsiders while at the same time seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria's citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by the Iranian regime.” The ambassador’s remarks came after a meeting in which the Security Council did not come to an agreement on a proposed statement that would condemn Syria’s crackdown and call for an investigation into the matter.