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Bombings, Afghan trip show challenges abroad for Obama

By Ben Pershing
After a long and intense focus on getting his health bill passed, President Obama's surprise trip to Afghanistan this weekend and Monday's horrific Moscow subway bombings served as fresh reminders that the hardest and most important work of his presidency may lie outside the domestic arena.

"At least 36 people have been killed after two female suicide bombers blew themselves up on Moscow Metro trains in the morning rush hour, officials say," BBC News reports, adding: "Twenty-four died in the first blast at 0756 (0356 GMT) as a train stood at the central Lubyanka station, beneath the offices of the FSB intelligence agency. About 40 minutes later, a second explosion ripped through a train at Park Kultury, leaving another 12 dead.The FSB said it was likely a group from the North Caucasus was responsible." The Los Angeles Times writes: "The explosions blasted through the underground at rush hour, just as the city's commuters jam the metro system on their way to work and school. It was the first such attack in the capital in six years, raising the grim specter of violence creeping back into the symbolic and bureaucratic heart of Russia. ... The explosions come just a few days after the 10th anniversary of Vladimir V. Putin's election to the presidency. Now serving as prime minister after being forced from the Kremlin by term limits, Putin is widely seen as Russia's top leader, and many analysts expect him to return to the presidency in the next elections. Putin's time in power has been marked by struggle with Islamists in the Caucasus. After two recent Chechen wars; the installation of proxy leadership and lingering, heavy-handed efforts to squash violence, bloody unrest continues to roil the southern edge of Russia -- and raise questions about the government's ability to stabilize the country."

CNN says "A Web site associated with Chechen separatists claimed responsibility for the attacks." The Wall Street Journal notes: "Attacks blamed on Islamist separatists from the Caucasus republic of Chechnya shook Moscow and other parts of central Russia until 2004. Since then, the bombings had all but stopped in and around the Russian capital, although Chechen Islamists claimed responsibility for a November bombing that derailed a high-speed train between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Russian security services have killed several leading terrorists in the North Caucuses in recent weeks, including Said Buryatsky, whom the government linked to the Nevsky Express train bombing." The Times of London reports: "Mr Medvedev's new representative to the North Caucasus had been so confident about its prospects that he sent the President a $15 billion plan on Friday to turn the region into a tourism magnet. The strike at the heart of Moscow explodes that myth but would also represent chilling affirmation of a boast by the Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov to take the war to Russia. He threatened last month: 'Blood will no longer be limited to our cities and towns. The war is coming to their cities.' Today's attacks are a direct challenge to Mr Medvedev, who will be under pressure to emulate his predecessor Vladimir Putin, who launched a pitiless war on Chechnya in 1999 to crush separatists."

The Moscow bombings come just after Obama visited the front lines of America's own war against terrorism. The New York Times writes: "President Obama personally delivered pointed criticism to President Hamid Karzai in a face-to-face meeting on Sunday, flying here for an unannounced visit that reflected growing vexation with Mr. Karzai as America's military commitment to defeat the Taliban insurgency has deepened. Mr. Obama's visit was shrouded in secrecy and lasted only a few hours, but included a boisterous pep rally with American troops. It was his first trip as president to the scene of an eight-year-old war he has stamped as his own." USA Today says the trip "comes at a critical time in a war that Obama has made his own. ... Obama has taken ownership of the war since assuming office, boosting the number of troops, putting in a new commander and retooling strategy. He has ordered an additional 30,000 servicemembers to the country. By the end of summer, there will be 100,000 U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan, up from 34,000 when Obama came into office." McClatchy writes that "The recent military offensive in Marjah helped shore up flagging public support in America for Obama's strategy in Afghanistan . But support at home could waver as the fighting intensifies this summer. ... The Obama administration has struggled to find the right mix of pressure and praise to persuade Karzai to crack down on rampant government corruption that has severely undermined the Afghan president's political stature."

The trip required stealth, Reuters reports: "Any trip by a U.S. president requires careful planning, but sneaking him into Afghanistan -- a country in the midst of an eight-year war with Islamic militants -- is a special case. ... For security reasons, the trip was cloaked in secrecy. He arrived at night and left while it was still dark. Reporters were barred from telling anyone where they were going on Saturday evening as they made their way to Andrews Air Force Base, where the presidential aircraft is housed. Upon arrival, staff and members of the media were bussed to the hangar where a gleaming Air Force One awaited. Normally the aircraft is positioned outside for the president's arrival. But that night it stayed under cover, taxiing out in darkness once Obama was on board to avoid alerting uninvolved military members at the base of its departure. Obama himself snuck into Andrews. After leaving the White House on Friday afternoon with the 'cover' of spending the weekend at Camp David, the presidential retreat, he flew from there by helicopter to the base on Saturday night to make the secret trip." Mediaite notes that "Karzai was notified about the American President's arrival just an hour before he showed up, and the trip has been kept under such tight secrecy that reporters were only allowed to write about the event after Obama departed."

On the home front, the legislative fight over health reform may be over but the debate rages on ... and on and on. The New York Times says, "Around the country this weekend, members of Congress found a bewildering crosscurrent of political forces awaiting them, on-the-ground evidence of how the issue has divided the country by party, race and region. ... The receptions members of Congress received were a contrast to the seething anger visible immediately after the bill passed. Voters were more concerned and engaged than enraged. Some Democrats who backed the overhaul trumpeted their votes, signaling that they would embrace the bill in their fall campaigns -- despite polls so far showing strong public concern. ... Opponents of the bill carried their arguments from the halls of the Capitol back to their districts, warning that the new law would increase the deficit, cut access to health care and be the first step toward a government takeover of health care." The Washington Post reports, "Bricks were thrown through windows of a Republican Party office in the Charlottesville area late last week in an act that seemed similar to incidents of political vandalism reported elsewhere."

Politico examines the electoral danger -- or lack thereof -- to the 34 House Democrats who bucked their party on the health vote: "Yet for all the threats and gnashing of teeth, the vast majority of those members aren't likely to pay a heavy political cost for their apostasy. More than half don't have to worry at all about the emergence of a heavyweight challenge from within their own party--they are either retiring, have already won the Democratic nomination or the filing deadline for candidates has already passed in their states. Another eight hold seats with filing deadlines in the next month, leaving little time to recruit top opponents or for prospective intraparty challengers to meet ballot requirements. ... Add it all up and the odds are long that many--or even any--of the gang of 34 will be denied the Democratic nomination." The new Washington Post poll finds that "[s]hifts among core constituencies suggest that President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) may have reaped some benefit from the legislation's passage, but the public's take on the Democratic Party has not budged, and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) appears to be losing popularity. None of the central players in passing health-care reform appears to be winning favor with the bill's opponents."

The Wall Street Journal looks at the state of Republicans' favorite health reform issue: "The health-care legislation has dealt another blow to a movement seeking to limit the amount doctors have to pay in medical-malpractice suits. As a result, tort-overhaul advocates, who battle the well-organized lobby of plaintiffs' lawyers, are struggling to find ways to fight back. ... Some advocates of a tort overhaul--critics of how the nation's courts compensate the injured--said the bill failed to address their chief concern, that outsize jury verdicts have driven up the cost of malpractice insurance. Such verdicts have also caused doctors to practice "defensive medicine" in which they order unnecessary and pricey tests or procedures, according to tort-overhaul advocates. The setback comes after two recent and similar court decisions. In February, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state's cap on medical-malpractice damages, saying it conflicted with the state's constitution. Earlier this week, the Georgia Supreme Court quashed a law that had limited pain-and-suffering awards in malpractice cases to $350,000."

The Associated Press reports on a winner: "Chalk one up for the pharmaceutical lobby. The U.S. drug industry fended off price curbs and other hefty restrictions in President Barack Obama's health care law even as it prepares for plenty of new business when an estimated 32 million uninsured Americans gain health coverage. To be sure, the law also levies taxes and imposes other costs on pharmaceutical companies, leaving its final impact on the industry's bottom line uncertain. ... Either way, pharmaceutical lobbyists won new federal policies they coveted and set a trajectory for long-term industry growth. ... 'Pharma came out of this better than anyone else,' said Ramsey Baghdadi, a Washington health policy analyst who projects a $30 billion, 10-year net gain for the industry. 'I don't see how they could have done much better.' ... The impressive list of wins is testament to a carefully planned and well-financed lobbying strategy, led by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry's deep-pocketed trade group." Robert Samuelson is gloomy: "When historians recount the momentous events of recent weeks, they will note a curious coincidence. On March 15, Moody's Investors Service -- the bond rating agency -- published a paper warning that the exploding U.S. government debt could cause a downgrade of Treasury bonds. Just six days later, the House of Representatives passed President Obama's health care legislation costing $900 billion or so over a decade and worsening an already-bleak budget outlook. Should the United States someday suffer a budget crisis, it will be hard not to conclude that Obama and his allies sowed the seeds, because they ignored conspicuous warnings."

After AP hit Mitt Romney with a tough piece on the similarities between Obama's bill and the Massachusetts plan, Politico weighs in: "In the days immediately before and after passage of the landmark health care reform bill, Mitt Romney responded so forcefully as to suggest his own political fate is tied to the new law. It may well be. Just as health care, or "Obamacare," as it is derided on the right, hangs over this year's midterm elections, it is also already casting a shadow upon the 2012 presidential contest - and its GOP front-runner. What was once thought to be an asset for Romney, his passage as Massachusetts governor of a health care mandate for the state's residents, now poses a potentially serious threat to his White House hopes." Norman Podhoretz defends another 2012 candidate: "Nothing annoys certain of my fellow conservative intellectuals more than when I remind them, as on occasion I mischievously do, that the derogatory things they say about Sarah Palin are uncannily similar to what many of their forebears once said about Ronald Reagan. ... What I am trying to say is not that Sarah Palin would necessarily make a great president but that the criteria by which she is being judged by her conservative critics--never mind the deranged hatred she inspires on the left--tell us next to nothing about the kind of president she would make."

It was a busy weekend at the White House. AP writes: "Fed up with waiting, President Barack Obama announced Saturday he would bypass a vacationing Senate and name 15 people to key administration jobs, wielding for the first time the blunt political tool known as the recess appointment. The move immediately deepened the divide between the Democratic president and Republicans in the Senate following a long, bruising fight over health care." The Los Angeles Times says Obama's "move reflected the frustration within the White House about what they see as obstructionist actions by a Republican minority that is intent on blocking the administration's agenda. The Republicans saw the move as confirmation that President Obama had abandoned his pledges of trying to govern in a bipartisan way and further deepened their skepticism over the administration's economic policy."

By Ben Pershing  |  March 29, 2010; 8:12 AM ET
Categories:  The Rundown  
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This hold up in Congress is just an attempt to make Obama look like a dictator. The republicans are "stopping" the socialist agenda of Obama by stopping the appointments of defense, tsa, and labor goodness. At least that's the impression I got till I read this article on the history of recess appointments in context to Bush and Obama check it out

Posted by: republicanblack | March 29, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Who is this Sarah Palin I keep reading about?

Oh, is she the former future-mother-in-law of Playgirl model Levi Johnston?

Posted by: HughBriss | March 29, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

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