Panetta Heads to the Hill

Ambassador Ryan Crocker is back in the spotlight. Nominated to be the next ambassador to Afghanistan, he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations committee yesterday on the situation on the ground in the country. He said the United States “cannot afford” to abandon Afghanistan again—as it did in 1989, after which came the rise of the Taliban. “We’re not out to, clearly, create a shining city on a hill,” Crocker commented, but Washington does need to make sure some sort of workable government is in place before getting out. Next week, General David Petraeus, the commander of forces in Afghanistan, is slated to submit his official recommendation about the number of troops that should start pulling out next month.

CIA Director Leon Panetta, nominated to be the next secretary of defense, is on the Hill today for his confirmation hearing. In a written response to the Senate Armed Services Committee that was made public yesterday, Panetta explained the threat posed by Somalia. He said that al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group operating within the country, seems intent on extending its reach and undertaking operations abroad. Al-Shabab leaders, he said, “showing an increasing desire to stage international terrorist attacks in addition to their acts of violence inside Somalia.” Outside of Somalia, Panetta said working with Pakistan is integral to the fight against al-Qaeda. And he held out the prospect of withholding aid if Pakistan neglects to keep adequate pressure on insurgents: “Future requests for security assistance will be informed by Pakistan’s response to the counter-terrorism steps we have proposed.”

Vice President Joe Biden is meeting again today with a bipartisan group of six lawmakers to work in forging an agreement about budget cuts and the debt ceiling. Republicans are threatening to refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless spending cuts in the amount of the increase are enacted. Today’s focus: taxes.