from The Water's Edge

The World Next Week: Congress’s Recess, Syrian Violence, Hiroshima Anniversary, and NASA’s Mars Mission

August 02, 2012

Darkness sets in over the U.S. Capitol building. (Jonathan Ernst/courtesy Reuters)
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The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I discussed where things stand in Washington as Congress recesses for the summer; the continued violence in Syria; the 67th anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing; and the upcoming Mars landing of NASA’s rover, Curiosity.


The highlights:

  • House and Senate leaders agreed this week, with the White House’s blessing, to a deal to fund the U.S. government for the first six months of FY13, which starts October 1. Assuming that the full House and Senate approve the deal when they return to Washington after Labor Day, the federal government won’t be shutting down just before the November 6 elections. Congressional Democrats and Republicans are still at loggerheads, however, about how to head off the looming “fiscal cliff.” George W. Bush’s tax cuts, Barack Obama’s payroll tax cut, and extended unemployment insurance are all set to expire at year’s end, and another rendezvous with the national debt ceiling looms in January, which is when the $1.2 trillion in across-the-board budgets cuts (“sequestration”) mandated by last year’s Budget Control Act are set to go into effect. Last week the Senate followed the House’s lead and passed the Sequestration Transparency Act, which requires the Obama administration to report back within 30 days of the law’s signing on how precisely defense and domestic programs will be cut. That’s not a report that the Obama White House is looking forward to releasing less than two months before Election Day
  • Kofi Annan has stepped down as special envoy to Syria, effective August 31, while the UN observer mission’s latest 30-day mandate is set to expire on August 20. Meanwhile, France, which assumed the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council this week, has plans to call an urgent meeting to address the deteriorating situation in Syria. That meeting is not likely to change the current diplomatic dynamics. China and Russia remain opposed to a more forceful international response, even in light of the continued erosion of support inside Syria for Bashar al-Assad’s government and growing fighting in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo. The Obama administration has authorized some clandestine help for the Syrian rebels, but how much is unclear. The administration has to grapple with the fact that the Syrian opposition is fractured and that if Assad is ousted, which seems increasingly likely, the next government may be neither stable nor effective.
  • There is some good news to report on the nonproliferation front sixty-seven years after the bombing of Hiroshima. The U.S. and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons have plunged from their heights during the Cold War and may yet fall further. Likewise, John Kennedy’s fear a half century ago that the world would have more than twenty-five nuclear powers by the start of the twenty-first century hasn’t materialized. And the United States has been able to build a broad-based coalition that has imposed significant economic sanctions on Iran for its nuclear activities. But there is also a lot of bad news. Iran seems bent on acquiring at least the capability to build nuclear weapons, North Korea has rebuffed efforts to force it to give up its nuclear weapons, China and Pakistan are building up their nuclear forces even as U.S. and Russian numbers come down, and an illicit network in nuclear materials continues to thrive.
  • NASA has spent $2.5 billion to get the Curiosity rover to Mars. If the 2,000-pound rover lands safely on Sunday as planned, it will carry out a range of scientific experiments that should shed light on whether life ever existed on the red planet. If the landing goes badly—and by all accounts Curiosity is attempting one of the most difficult descents ever—NASA will have spent a fortune to create Mars’s first junkyard. That wouldn’t be good for the agency’s image, which has lost its sheen since the days of Alan Shepard, John Glenn, and Neil Armstrong. A lousy landing no doubt also would be used in countless articles and commentaries as a metaphor for America’s purported decline.
  • Bob’s Figure of the Week is Mario Draghi. My Figure of the Week is 600 million. As always, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out why.

For more on the topics we discussed in the podcast check out:

U.S. Congress Rises for Summer Recess. Politico concludes that Congress is set to punt on spending and tax cuts. The Washington Post flags five things to watch for in Congress this week. The Post also reports on the deal to avert government shutdown and on the Senate’s consideration of comprehensive cyber security legislation. AP discusses House and Senate support for new sanctions on Iran.

Violence Continues in Syria. The Chicago Tribune writes that France will outline options for UN strategies in Syria as it chairs the UN Security Council for the month. The Washington Post reports that Kofi Annan’s legacy may be bruised by the failed negotiations with Syria. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad commemorates the 67th anniversary of the Syrian army as they engage opposition forces in Aleppo. Alon Ben-Meir shares his thoughts on U.S.-Russia relations amidst the Syrian crisis. CNN shares Assad’s message to the Syrian armed forces.

The 67th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima. The Japan Times reports that Hiroshima is set to grade nations on disarmament initiatives. Time reflects on the U.S.-Israel-Iran stalemate. The New York Times analyzes intensifying talks between the United States and Israel on Iran options. Stewart Patrick discusses Iran, the bomb, and U.S. public opinion.

NASA’s Curiosity Mission to Mars. The Washington Post reports that NASA’s newest rover will land on Mars on Sunday. Time shares ten amazing tools aboard the Curiosity rover. The Wall Street Journal discusses that NASA’s cooperation with foreign space programs. USA Today shows educational video about Curiosity rover’s entry, descent, and landing onto Mars. The Global Times reports that China and India have signed a space agreement allowing for a Chinese space antenna in Patagonia.