Top of the Agenda: Congress Leaves As Sequester Takes Effect
The sequester took effect today as $85 billion worth of across-the-board spending cuts to defense and domestic programs began rolling in. Congress on Thursday abandoned efforts (NYT) to avert the reductions after the Senate shot down competing bills to mitigate the impact of the cuts. President Obama is scheduled to meet Friday (WaPo) with congressional leaders at the White House, but House Republicans are focusing attention on the next deadline of March 27, drafting a measure that would avoid a government shutdown (Politico) while leaving the sequester in place through the end of September.
"Washington has reached a strange place indeed when the opposition party offers the president more control over spending — and he refuses it. Apparently, in addition to its policy objections, the White House figured that a softened sequester couldn't force Republicans to accept a long-term deal including higher revenue. It's a gamble that the worse things might get now, the better they will get later," writes a Washington Post editorial.
"Liberal Democrats don't just like the deep reductions in the Pentagon budget; they also steadfastly oppose any modification of future Medicare and Social Security benefits, which is one crucial element of a long-term budget deal. Tea Party Republicans don't just see any spending cuts as a positive; they also oppose any further revenue increases, which are the other crucial element of a deal," writes a Boston Globe editorial.
"[Chuck] Hagel must also reassure allies that the United States, and its military, are not in complete disarray. That will be hard to do as long as the sequester is in force. Nor does it help that the United States already has but one aircraft carrier deployed overseas. Not only does that signal America's inability to maintain 24-hour sea-based aircraft operations from the onset of a crisis, it also feeds the worst fears of allies and friends that the United States is slowly, but inexorably, turning inward," writes Dov Zakheim for Foreign Policy.
Malaysian, Filipino Standoff Ends in Violence
Two Malaysian police offers and at least twelve Filipinos died in a standoff on Friday (Reuters). Around 100 followers of the Sultanate of Sulu in the southern Philippines landed in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah last month, demanding recognition and payment from the Malaysian government.
THAILAND: Six people were injured in a bomb blast (AFP) in southern Thailand a day after the government signed a peace deal with an insurgent group in the Muslim-dominated south.
CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick explores the roots of the insurgency in Thailand's deep south in this article.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Death Toll Mounts in Bangladesh
At least forty-four people have died during violent clashes (NYT) between protesters and security forces across Bangladesh on Thursday after a tribunal sentenced an Islamic leader to death for crimes against humanity committed during the country's 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
PAKISTAN: The presidents of Iran and Pakistan will attend the groundbreaking (Dawn) of a $7.5 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline that is likely to bring U.S.-Pakistan ties under renewed stress.
In this Policy Innovation Memorandum, CFR's Daniel Markey argues that U.S. officials should resist temptations to lend support to Pakistani leaders with "pro-American" leanings.
U.S. Criticizes Erdogan's Comments on Israel
The White House issued a statement condemning comments made by Turkish Prime Minister RecepTayyip Erdoganequating Zionism (Haaretz) with crimes against humanity. Outrage over the remarks threatens to overshadow Kerry's visit to the NATO ally on his first official overseas trip.
This CFR Task Force Report outlines a growing bilateral relationship between the United States and Turkey.
SYRIA: A New York Times report said that the CIAhas been training (NYT) groups of Syrian rebels in Jordan since last year as part of a covert program.
CFR's Stewart Patrick discusses the dire humanitarian situation in Syria in this blog post.
UN Accused of Cholera Cover-Up
A UN dispute tribunal in Nairobi, Kenya, found that UN officials, not wanting to upset the government of Robert Mugabe, did not act on warnings by senior staff about a cholera outbreak (al-Jazeera) in Zimbabwe that began in 2008 and claimed more than 4,000 lives.
IVORY COAST: Ivory Coast's ex-President Laurent Gbagbo made his first remarks (BBC) since 2011 tothe International Criminal Court, which is deciding whether he should face charges over post-poll violence two years ago.
EU Unemployment Hits Another High
Official data showed that unemployment in the eurozone peaked to its highest rate (WSJ) on record of 11.9 percent in January. Contributing to the rise was a surprise jump in Italy's jobless rate to 11.7 percent in January, up from 11.3 percentin December.
VATICAN: Eighty-five-year old Pope Benedict XVI abdicated on Thursday after an eight-year reign (FT), clearing the way for cardinals to pick a successor for the Roman Catholic Church.
Former Haitian President in Court
Former Haitian President Jean-Claude Duvalier testified before a court about his dictatorial past (MiamiHerald), facing questions about whether executions and torture occurred during his reign between 1971 and 1986.