Published March 18, 2011
Obama-Saudi Rift Complicates Plans for Libya Attack
“Military operations are over. Within 48 hours everything will be finished. Our forces are almost in Benghazi. Whatever the decision, it will be too late.”
A U.N.-backed move against Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi may not begin until late Sunday or early Monday as the U.S.-European coalition behind the move looks for ways to minimize the appearance of Western leadership.
Jordan and Qatar have signaled willingness to help in the effort to stop Qaddafi from wiping out the final pocket of the rebellion against his 42-year rule. But, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the most significant players in the Arab League, are resisting American and European pleas to put a Muslim face on the action.
In statements to the Wall Street Journal and others, Saudi diplomats have suggested that given the lack of trust between the Sunni royal houses of the Persian Gulf and the Obama administration, the Arab powers are resisting Western requests for help.
The Saudis on Thursday moved swiftly to suppress protests in their own nation and continue to aid their Sunni cousins in Bahrain with an effort to crack down on an Iranian-backed Shiite uprising there.
American opposition to the Saudis’ use of force to quell the conflict in Bahrain and silence the small but growing protest movement in their own country has deepened the rift between Washington and Riyadh that first opened when Obama ignored Saudi pleas and cut loose longtime U.S. ally, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The concern among the Saudis centers around setting standards for the use of force to intervene against regimes in the region. The Saudi royals are clearly bracing for things to get worse with unrest there and don’t want to set a precedent that could leave them fighting Shiite rebels under the threat of Western military intervention.
The prospects for an effective no-fly zone in Libya have already been reduced by the collapse of rebel forces, now trapped in the port city of Benghazi and under a sustained artillery barrage by Qaddafi’s army.
If the rebels can survive the current siege for long enough to allow U.N.-approved action against Qaddafi’s forces, the best hope seems to be the establishment of some kind of a free city protected by a Western air and sea power.
That scenario means the involvement of Arab forces would be even more crucial since no Western nation is willing to commit ground forces to protect the rebels. Such a move would also inflame the already unstable region. Only troops from other Muslim nations would likely be able to act as the defenders of Benghazi.
President Obama has been adamant that the U.S. should not take the lead in the crisis and reports suggest that America will provide only background support for any action in Libya. And while France and Britain are preparing to provide some air support to the rebels, they have not suggested a willingness to provide the close-in assistance from helicopter gunships needed to drive Qaddafi’s troops behind a protective cordon around Benghazi.
The friction between Obama and America’s traditional allies in the region will seriously complicate the president’s belated push for military action in Libya.
No End in Sight For Japan Radiation Worries
“This is something that will likely take some time to work through, possibly weeks, as eventually you remove the majority of the heat from the reactors and then the spent-fuel pools.”
-- Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko briefing reporters on the situation in Japan.
Whether the Japanese were intentionally downplaying the nuclear risks in that country or if the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant simply defies anyone’s understanding doesn’t really matter anymore.
It is now clear that the meltdowns or partial meltdowns at the facility will cause havoc for many days to come in the already beleaguered nation and will have a ripple effect across the globe.
Other large economies are now scrambling to prop up Japan’s currency as the debt-ridden nation faces not just hundreds of billions of dollars in recovery cost from the massive earthquake and tsunami of a week ago, but also ongoing disruptions to its economy amid radiation evacuations and power interruptions.
General Motors has already idled one American plant because of a lack of Japanese-made parts and other disruptions will likely follow, particularly if concerns grow about radioactive contamination on U.S.-bound exports from the Japanese vendors still operating.
Nuclear scientists now seem to believe that even if a worse catastrophe can be avoided in the coming hours and days, serious contamination problems will dog Japan for weeks to come.
For now, U.S. officials are monitoring the winds headed for the West Coast for contamination and preparing to respond in the event of a large-scale emission of radioactive contamination across the Pacific.
Reid Tries to Fracture House GOP
“Not only no, but Hell no.”
-- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, outlining the chances of Senate passage of certain provisions in a Republican spending plan, including the elimination of subsidies for abortion provider Planned Parenthood.
Passage of a three-week stopgap measure to fund the government seems to have exhausted the capacity for compromise in Congress.
House Republicans tell Power Play that the new spending plan, which will keep the government operating until April 8 and reduce current outlays by $6 billion, had a toxic effect.
“That was a stretch,” said one freshman member who voted for the current plan. “Now it’s time to finish our work and move on to bigger things.”
This delights Senate Democrats and their leader, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid. Having embraced a rope-a-dope strategy with House Republicans, Senate Democrats are betting that growing fractures in the House Republican caucus will force House Speaker John Boehner to rely on the votes of moderate Democrats to prevent a government shutdown and pass President Obama’s requested increase of the federal debt limit.
As House members prepare to head home for a week to face constituents fed up by the ongoing budget stalemate, Reid is betting that Boehner’s caucus will return even sorer over calls for compromise.
The defection of 54 GOP House members this week on the short-term spending plan meant Boehner needed 30 Democratic votes to put the legislation through. That puts Reid and Boehner on more equal footing once final negotiations resume.
Reid tried to further agitate House Republicans this week by ramping up his rhetoric, promising to defend subsidies to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading abortion provider, and National Public Radio, widely despised on the right for its liberal posture.
Reid also ostentatiously refused to consider any long-term changes to Social Security benefits until at least 2031. In so doing, Reid was slamming the door on a soon-to-be released Republican plan that aims to reduce future deficits by tackling entitlement spending.
Reid is clearly hoping to leave Boehner with two choices: Keep his caucus together and face a springtime government shutdown and no chance for a deal on a 2012 budget or build a fiscal coalition with moderate Democrats and face a growing rebellion in his own ranks.
Terrible Timing for Obama Trip
“Our neighbors in the Americas are bound to us by shared history, values and interests. What I will convey this week is that we are partners in progress.”
-- President Obama in a USA Today op-ed explaining his rationale for a trip to Latin America.
In his first two years in office, President Obama often cancelled foreign trips to tend to domestic concerns, particularly the passage of his national health-care law.
But despite being at one of the most chaotic moments of his presidency and with his approval ratings on the skids, Obama is pressing ahead with a five-day tour of Brazil, Chile and El Salvador with his family.
Aside from a pending military action against the Libyan government and growing worries about radiation plumes at a stricken Japanese nuclear plant, Obama is also facing serious concerns about energy prices and economic disruptions here at home.
Obama is also dogged by a perception that he has been aloof from the ongoing budget and debt battles that have engulfed Capitol Hill. Members of his own party fault him for a lack of leadership and Republicans say he has been AWOL from serious negotiations.
Images of the first family on the trip will be jarring in juxtaposition to the frightful scenes from Japan and Libya. News of lavish hospitality will also be in stark contrast with the feelings of increasingly anxious American consumers.
There may not ever be a politically perfect time for a president and his family to head overseas, but it is hard to think of a worse one.
Dem Mayor Accused of Holding Back Cops Amid Violent Labor Protest
“I'm not going to discuss my personal conversations with the mayor.”
-- Lansing, Mich. Police Chief Teresa Szymanski refusing to answer questions form a reporter from WWMT about claims that Mayor Virg Bernero gave the order for officers to ignore calls for help from Michigan state troopers battling union protesters at the state capitol.
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, the Democrat who got skunked in Michigan’s 2010 gubernatorial election by Republican Rick Snyder, is facing claims that he held back his police department from helping state troopers deal with a melee at the state capitol.
The protests by labor groups in Lansing against a plan to seek higher contributions from state government workers to their own benefits took an ugly turn and ended with multiple arrests, including one man who allegedly broke into the building by smashing a window while carrying a knife.
This comes as threats and vandalism against Republican legislators in Wisconsin escalates in the wake of the passage of their crackdown on government unions.
Labor leaders like Richard Trumka are promising to spread the unrest to other state capitals as legislatures enter their annual budget seasons facing a combined national budget shortfall estimated at more than $124 billion.
Meanwhile, Indiana House Democrats have now been in hiding for nearly a month as part of an effort to block Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels’ efforts to overhaul the state’s education system.
Republican lawmakers there are preparing today to use procedural maneuvers to move ahead on budget issues and other pressing business despite the lack of a quorum.
Labor groups have promised protests in reprisal.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“There might be a chance to stop final assault on Benghazi. If you do that, then you have a situation in which the rebels have a capital. You have protective cordon around it, and then you actually have the rescue, a humanitarian rescue of 700,000 people in the city. And you also have of the sort of institution of a rebel territory, which will be protected and could in the future be the base of an assault against Qaddafi in time.”