NATO's Dim Future

Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates has a little message for NATO. He sounded an ominous warning of the organization's “dim if not dismal future,” citing dwindling funds and a lack of “appetite and patience” amongst NATO nations. He cautioned that future leaders in Washington “may not consider the return on America's investment in NATO worth the cost.” He said countries need to step up and foot more of the NATO bills, along with criticizing the organization for its failures in Afghanistan.

Leon Panetta meanwhile avoided questions about Afghanistan troop withdrawals when he appeared yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. If confirmed, Panetta will replace Gates as SecDef. He just agreed with President Obama’s recent comments that the drawdown would be “significant” and deflected questions about whether he concurred with Gates’s statements that July’s withdrawal should be “modest.” He also noted that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s hold on power is being weakened by opposition efforts.

Meanwhile, Michael Leiter, who was running the National Counterterrorism Center, has resigned. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the choice was totally Leiter’s: “He has been in that position through two administrations for four years, which is a significant period of time.” DNI James Clapper commented that the current deputy director Andy Liepman would step up to run the organization until Obama nominates a replacement.

Will Secretary of State Hillary Clinton be the next World Bank president? Reuters released a report late yesterday that it had inside information from multiple sources: “Clinton wants the job.” Current World Bank President Robert Zoellick is supposed to depart in mid-2012 and Clinton herself has expressed that she has no interest in staying on for a second term as secretary of state. But very early this morning, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Philippe Reines tried to put an end to the rumors. He said, “With all due respect to my friends at Reuters, the story is bogus.”

This week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a report that questioned the efficacy of some of the State Department’s efforts in Afghanistan and wondered whether U.S. money flowing into the country was doing much of anything. U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman responded yesterday, arguing that development aid is the key way to make sure the country is stable enough for troops to pull out.

Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said today that China was “a little surprised” and also “concerned” that Pyongyang broke off its talks with the South at the end of last month. He noted that Beijing’s leaders “very much want to see improvement in dialogue between the North and South and we encourage that process as well.”