An Overwhelming Confirmation

June 22, 2011 By Melissa Silverman

Yesterday, CIA Director Leon Panetta was confirmed by the Senate in an overwhelming, bipartisan 100-0 vote to replace Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense. This evening, President Obama will address the nation at 8p.m. on troop levels in Afghanistan. He is expected to speak for about 10 minutes and call for a reduction of 10,000 troops this year. In addition, reports indicate that President Obama will call to bring home all of the “surge” forces, an additional 33,000 troops he sent in, by the end of 2012.  First Lady Michelle Obama continues her visit focusing on women and youth in South Africa, yesterday visiting with former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Must Reads

Who’s In the News

Tim Pawlenty warns GOP on perils of isolationism (Politico, James Hohmann)

In an hour long interview, Pawlenty took a hawkish position at a time when prominent Republicans have publicly called for significant troop reductions and polls have shown increasing doubt among GOP voters that the conflict can be won. Pawlenty said he supported Obama’s 2009 troop surge but was “very disappointed that he also simultaneously announced the withdrawal deadline in the same speech.”

McCain, Graham show courage on Libya (CNN-Opinion, Nicolaus Mills)

In speaking out, the two senators have put themselves at odds with their party’s presidential contenders, a number of whom voiced strong criticism of Obama’s Libya policy at last week’s New Hampshire primary debate. But in challenging the growing isolationism in today’s Republican Party, McCain and Graham have also borrowed a page from history. Their actions harkens back to the choice a small group of key Republicans made in the early 1940s, when they supported America’s first peace-time draft.

Leon Panetta, CIA director, unanimously confirmed by Senate as defense secretary (Washington Post, Felicia Sonmez)

The Senate on Tuesday unanimously confirmed CIA Director Leon Panetta to serve as the next secretary of defense. Panetta, who was tapped by President Obama in April to succeed Robert M. Gates as head of the Pentagon, is expected to assume his new post early next month. Gates had earlier announced that he planned to step down this year after serving as defense secretary for 4½ years.

Smart Power

David Brooks’ Shot at Foreign Aid (Talking Points Memo Café, David Shore)

Brooks is correct that progress in other countries proceeds along different tracks and time lines. But for every time Secretary Clinton has talked about the varied tools in the smart power tool box, she has also highlighted the challenge of working simultaneously on “the urgent, the important, and the long-term.”

Kissinger: The U.S. holds all the soft power (The Globe and Mail)

“All the inventions of soft power—Facebook, Google, twitter—they all came from the United States…In terms of creative potential, the United States still has huge assets.”

Politics/Foreign Policy

Obama’s task: maintaining support for Afghan war (Washington Post, Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung)

As he begins the promised withdrawal, Obama’s challenge will be to provide his generals with the resources to wage the war’s final phase while persuading Congress that, at a time of fiscal strain, maintaining most of a $10 billion-a-month war effort is worthwhile.

Volatile Food Prices Grab G-20’s Full Attention (NPR, Eleanor Beardsley)

Recent reports by the U.N. and food relief organizations predict that global food prices could double in the next two decades, affecting the world’s poorest people. Relief organization Oxfam estimates that in the last few years, rising staples prices have pushed 44 million people into poverty.

Senate’s spending measure backlog (Politico Op-Ed, Rep. Robert Aderholt & Rep. John Culberson)

Senate leadership needs to know that the American people elected them to do just that — lead. The reality is that waiting only puts our national security and disaster relief operations on hold and leaves our nation’s veterans hanging in the balance.

US Pledges $7.5 Million In Humanitarian Aid To Ivory Coast, Liberia (RTT News)

The latest U.S. contribution includes $6.5 million in support for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and $1 million for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). This assistance will help provide basic life support such as food, health care, and essential household items; the construction and maintenance of camps where needed; increasing access to clean water; and will support efforts to restore family links severed as a result of displacement.