The Replacements

As of July 1, Leon Panetta will be the new defense secretary. Senators voted unanimously yesterday on the appointment. Panetta, currently the CIA director, will be taking over for outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is retiring. He received special accolades from Senator John McCain for his “extraordinary career of service.” Panetta will be the one to implement the first wave of U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, and President Obama will announce his plan for that pullout this evening.

General David Petraeus, the current commander of forces in Afghanistan, is in line to replace Panetta atop the Agency in September, but that timeline might change a bit. It seems Petraeus is getting a bit burnt out. Gates said, “I think we would like to have a change of command somewhat sooner, and it is to give General Petraeus a little time.” So Lt. Gen. John Allen’s nomination process might be switched into overdrive—that is, if the Senate can make it happen before their August recess. “It may or may not happen,” Gates noted, as it all depends on the Senate’s schedule.

Tunisians put ousted former President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and his wife on trial and on Monday and sentenced them both to thirty-five years in prison for embezzlement of public funds. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland is pleased with the outcome. “The fact that the Tunisians are making progress from where they were just six months ago in terms of rule of law, is something that we are gratified to see,” Nuland noted. Though the United States is happy to see a verdict, the details are a bit murky. Though Washington had called on Tunisia to put on a trial worthy of a democracy, with due process and accountability, Nuland couldn’t provide a “legal analysis” of how the proceeding actually played out.

Ahead of a Saturday meeting with Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai told the United States, very diplomatically, to keep out of its business. He suggested that the role Washington should play in China's neighborhood, should it want to, is in “counsel[ing] restraint to those countries that have frequently been taking provocative action and ask[ing] them to be more responsible in their behavior.”

And Attorney General Eric Holder is once again under pressure from Congress to move trials of terrorist suspects out of civilian courts. In the Washington Post today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, from the state of Kentucky where two suspected terrorists were arrested in May, said “Guantanamo is uniquely suited to the unconventional threat posed by foreign terrorists” and that civilian courts are not suitable places to try “foreign fighters captured in the war on terrorism.” Holder has frequently disagreed with that assertion, saying just last week that civilian courts are the “most effective terror-fighting weapon.”