February 9th, 2009
11:47 AM ET

Morning Buzz: President Obama in Primetime

Then-Sen. Obama spoke with Sam and Dannielle Ericson while canvassing for votes in Elkhart, Indiana last May. Obama returns to the town as president today.

Then-Sen. Obama spoke with Sam and Dannielle Ericson while canvassing for votes in Elkhart, Indiana last May. Obama returns to the town as president today.

Penny Manis
AC360° Senior Producer

President Barack Obama holds his first formal news conference since his Presidency tonight at 8pet. He’ll make remarks and take reporters’ questions. It’s going to be a special night on AC360 as we run the major chunks of this press conference and the multiple guests on our panel offer analysis.

The President is on a major Public Relations offensive to sell his economic recovery plan to the American people. This press conference comes as a compromise version of the $827 billion recovery plan is expected to go up for Senate vote tomorrow, and then assuming it passes (as expected, albeit narrowly) the House and Senate have to compromise on their respective versions before it can become law.


Filed under: Penny Manis • The Buzz
February 9th, 2009
11:44 AM ET

Holbrooke says Afghan war ‘tougher than Iraq’

Nicholas Kulish and Helene Cooper

The war in Afghanistan will be “much tougher than Iraq,” President Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan said at a security conference here on Sunday.

“There is no magic formula in Afghanistan,” the envoy, Richard C. Holbrooke, warned an audience of European policy makers and military planners. “There is no Dayton agreement in Afghanistan,” he added, referring to the peace accord he negotiated to end the war in Bosnia. “It’s going to be a long, difficult struggle.”


Filed under: Afghanistan • First 100 Days • Global 360°
February 9th, 2009
11:36 AM ET

Obama's 100 days of problems?

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

Tomorrow marks the end of the third week of President Barack Obama's Hundred Days. After what can only be described as a euphoric inauguration, Obama has encountered some trouble.

Despite his effort to court Republicans in the House, he failed to obtain a single GOP vote for the economic recovery package.

The Senate is moving toward an expected passage of a similar stimulus bill, obtaining the crucial support of three Republican senators only by cutting spending by tens of billions.

Keep Reading...

February 9th, 2009
11:35 AM ET

The dissenter who changed the war

Thomas E. Ricks

Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno was an unlikely dissident, with little in his past to suggest that he would buck his superiors and push the U.S. military in radically new directions.

A 1976 West Point graduate and veteran of the Persian Gulf War and the Kosovo campaign, Odierno had earned a reputation as the best of the Army's conventional thinkers - intelligent and ambitious, but focused on using the tools in front of him rather than discovering new and unexpected ones. That image was only reinforced during his first tour in Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003.


Filed under: First 100 Days • Iraq • War on Terror
February 9th, 2009
11:33 AM ET

World Leaders and Interfaith Cooperation

President Obama announced Thursday that he is changing the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

President Obama announced Thursday that he is changing the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

Eboo Patel
The Washington Post

It was striking to hear the similarities in the speeches that Tony Blair and Barack Obama gave at the National Prayer Breakfast last week. They each told their personal stories of growing up in nonbeliever households and finding their way to faith. They each quoted "Golden Rule" type scriptures from different faiths. They each spoke more of faith-inspired service to the world than the inner life of prayer and the soul. And they talked about interfaith cooperation as an antidote to religious extremism.

As Blair said, "If faith becomes the property of extremists, it will originate discord. But if, by contrast, different faiths can reach out to and have knowledge of one another, then instead of being reactionary, religious faith can be a force for progress."


Filed under: Eboo Patel • Raw Politics • Religion
February 9th, 2009
11:26 AM ET

The toughest job

Michelle Rhee

Much has been said and written about education in our city recently, and I want to set the record straight with students, parents and, especially, teachers. My thoughts about teachers have not always come through accurately. Much has been lost that they should know.

I often speak of our district's performance data with sadness and outrage. The situation for our city's children is dire. Yet while I acknowledge the seriousness of the work we face, I want to be clear about something: I do not blame teachers for the low achievement levels.


Filed under: Education
February 9th, 2009
11:04 AM ET

Why I support the stimulus

Arlen Specter

I am supporting the economic stimulus package for one simple reason: The country cannot afford not to take action.

The unemployment figures announced Friday, the latest earnings reports and the continuing crisis in banking make it clear that failure to act will leave the United States facing a far deeper crisis in three or six months. By then the cost of action will be much greater - or it may be too late.

Wave after wave of bad economic news has created its own psychology of fear and lowered expectations. As in the old Movietone News, the eyes and ears of the world are upon the United States. Failure to act would be devastating not just for Wall Street and Main Street but for much of the rest of the world, which is looking to our country for leadership in this crisis.


Filed under: Economy • First 100 Days • Raw Politics
February 9th, 2009
11:02 AM ET

"Little America"

Afghan police destroy poppy fields in Helmand province.

Afghan police destroy poppy fields in Helmand province.

Atia Abawi

Once known as "Little America", Helmand Province in Afghanistan's southern region is now considered one of the most volatile provinces of the war on terror in the region.

But before the Soviet invasion in the 1970s, USAID poured in vast resources and projects to help the province prosper. They built dams, irrigation systems and were welcomed by Afghans in this fertile area.

Now Helmand is permeated with insurgents, warfare and opium poppies. Afghanistan is responsible for over 90% of the world's opium, Helmand is responsible for more than two-thirds.


Filed under: Afghanistan • Global 360° • In the Field
February 9th, 2009
10:32 AM ET

US and the world

Joe Klein


I've just arrived here in Israel for the Tuesday elections after a foggy and slightly mind-bending weekend at the Munich Security Conference–an event which, in recent years, has been marked by tense confrontations between the U.S. and Russia. Two years ago, Vladimir Putin used the opportunity to slam U.S. policy in Iraq; for its part, the U.S. presence has been led and largely defined by Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman–neither of whom was present this year, due to the stimulus votes in Congress. Their absence helped reinforce an abrupt shift in tone: the U.S. delegation, led by Joe Biden, was all reason and light...and nuance. This seemed to both please and confuse our NATO allies, and boggle the rest of the world. Indeed, the U.S. responded not at all to the anachronistic rantings of the Iranian Ali Larijani, said to be a "responsible" conservative and known to be very close to the Supreme Leader. It was Britain's Foreign Minister David Miliband who chastised Larijani–in the driest, most elegant way imaginable: "It's not going to get better than this," he said, referring to Biden's offer of an open hand. In other words, you'd better stop your public ranting and take advantage of the moment.


Filed under: First 100 Days • Global 360° • Joe Biden
February 9th, 2009
10:00 AM ET

Will Israeli elections bridge a growing gap between Palestinians and Israelis?

An Israeli soldier confronts Palestinian protesters during a demonstration Friday in the West Bank village of Jayyus.

An Israeli soldier confronts Palestinian protesters during a demonstration Friday in the West Bank village of Jayyus.

Ben Wedeman
CNN International Correspondent

My eyes stung, I was coughing, my nose was running. Along with cameraman David Hawley and freelance producer Kareem Khadder, I had just been tear-gassed—not for the first time last Friday—during a day-long clash between Palestinian kids and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Na’alin, on the West Bank.

We had gone there to gauge the Palestinian view of next Tuesday’s Israeli elections. Na’alin, and many other towns and villages like it in the West Bank, are in the forefront of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Here, it all comes down to the most basic element in the century-old conflict: control of the land.

Na’alin is an old town, with factories and workshops, surrounded by olive groves. But in recent years neighbouring Israeli settlements, built since the June 1967 war, have increasingly encroached on Na’alin’s farmland, and Israel, under the pretext of security, has built its security barrier around the town. As a result, Na’alin residents say that have lost access to much of their land, their water sources, in short their livelihood. Beginning two years ago, every Friday they hold protests against Israel’s settlement expansion and barrier building.

Most Na’alin residents are not ideological hotheads—before the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in September 2000, many worked in Israel, are still fluent in Hebrew and do business with Israelis looking for a good deal on car repairs and other services.

For that reason I thought Na’alin would be a good place to see what Palestinians are thinking. What I heard was universal pessimism. No one I spoke with expressed the slightest hope that any of the leading candidates—Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Kadima’s Tzipi Livni, Israel Beitenu’s Avigdor Lieberman and Labour’s Ehud Barak—would do anything to remove the settlements that are slowly strangling Na’alin.

As we sheltered from the tear gas behind a house, Na’alin resident Hani Khawaja told me, “I don’t expect anything to come out of the elections that will please the Palestinians. Just killings, expulsions and land confiscations.”

Another man, Ayub Srour, had a slightly different approach. He prefers Israeli leaders to be honest about their intentions, and not raise hopes only then to dash them. He wants Likud leader and long-time hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu to win. “At least he’s honest. He says he’ll expel us, and he will expel us. He says he’s slaughter us, and he will slaughter us.”

I’ve covered almost every Israeli election since 1996. With each election, the Palestinian feeling of despair and hopelessness only deepens.

Since the last election in the spring of 2006, Palestinians have seen Israel and Hizballah go to war, West Bank settlements continue to expand, Hamas and Fatah fight it out in the Gaza Strip—with Hamas taking control in June 2007. They’ve also seen a series of Israeli incursions into Gaza, culminating recently in the 22-day Israeli offensive that left large parts of the strip in ruins.

Meanwhile many Palestinians say their leadership—often described as moderate and pro-western—in Ramallah is incapable of reversing the trend of settlement expansion. The same leadership has been unable to convince Israel to remove few of the hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints that make travelling around the West Bank a test of patience and endurance.

In short, when Palestinians look back over the last 15 years since the Oslo Accords were signed, they’ve seen their lot only go from bad to worse.

As a result, more and more Palestinians are convinced the only way to beat the Israelis is to join them, to discard heretofore failed attempts at creating a Palestinian state in an ever smaller, ever more economically unviable territory, and go for what is known as the one-state solution, whereby Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza should relinquish their dream of an independent Palestinian state, and instead insist on equal rights in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, an area that is, for all intents and purposes, under Israel’s control anyway.

The one state solution is an anathema to many Israelis, who are well aware that, with their higher birth-rate, Palestinians (those living within Israel proper, plus Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza) could well become a majority within a generation.

Israelis increasingly worry the national struggle between Israel and the Palestinians will be transformed into an internal struggle, for equal rights for all those living within historical Palestine. Those fears prompted Israel’s current caretaker prime minister, Ehud Olmert, to warn as far back as November 2007 that if Israel doesn’t move quickly to achieve a two state solution, it will be in a position not unlike South Africa during the apartheid area, whereby a minority—in this case Israeli Jews—rules over a restive majority—the Palestinians—by means of brute force, repression and discriminatory laws.

Many Palestinians argue that is already the case, that Israeli restrictions on movement, residence, and work amount to apartheid in all but name.

The bedrock of Israeli antipathy toward the Palestinians is part of the reason for the growing strength of the Israel Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) Party, led by Avigdor Leiberman. He argues that Israel’s Palestinian minority (they make up about 20 percent of the population) as a potential fifth column working against the aims of the Jewish majority.

Leiberman has focused much of his fire on Palestinian Knesset members such as Ahmed Tibi, accusing him and others of sympathising with Israel’s enemies, Hamas and Hizballah. His solution is to compel all of Knesset members—and possibly all Israeli citizens—to make an oath of loyalty to the state. Another of Leiberman’s proposals is to redraw Israel’s boundaries to exclude as many of its Palestinians as possible.

Tibi responds that Leiberman’s growing clout is symptomatic of “an obvious fascist phenomena invading Israeli society. During the last years, racism became mainstream.”

Back in the town of Na’alin, the kids throwing stones at Israeli troops do have some odd companions. Young Israelis—some of them self-described anarchists—also take part in the protests.

They don’t throw stones, but they do offer useful advice. “Laththam! Laththam!” one Israeli with black tattoos on his arms tells a young boy—he couldn’t be more than 12 years old–hurling rocks with a home-made sling. “Laththam” is Arabic for “cover your face,” the advice imparted because if Israeli troops can identify stone throwers, they arrest them.

There still is cooperation of sorts between Palestinians and Israelis, but it’s an increasingly rare commodity. And this election probably won’t do anything to bridge the growing gap between the two—the curious friendship in Na’alin notwithstanding.

Filed under: Israel • Palestine
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