The news brought surprise and criticism from Capitol Hill to Kabul, since no one had been briefed on this possibility. Then yesterday Administration claimed that nothing had really changed. It even rolled out former Afghan commander and now CIA Director David Petraeus to say that Mr. Panetta's words had been "overanalyzed" and that he was merely describing a "progressive transition" before the planned combat pullout in 2014.
But Mr. Panetta is no rookie free-lancer, and others were reporting yesterday that the 2013 plan has been in the works for some time. Our guess is that the Pentagon chief had merely outrun his blocking by a few weeks.
The announcement follows Sarkozy's remarks last week that he wants French forces out by the end of 2013. Both the French and American Presidents are facing elections this year, and both want to signal to their weary electorates that the military mission has been accomplished. As Mr. Obama put it in October when he announced the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, "The tide of war is receding."
It may be receding for the U.S., at least for now, but it's far from clear that it will be in Afghanistan. The Taliban have taken major losses over the past two years, and the NATO-Afghan forces have established control over much of the south of the country.
Is Israel preparing to attack Iran?
By David Ignatius
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the US could then stop them militarily.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t want to leave the fate of Israel dependent on American action which would be triggered by intelligence that Iran is building a bomb, which it hasn’t done yet.
President Obama and Panetta are said to have cautioned the Israelis that the US opposes an attack, believing that it would derail an increasingly successful international economic sanctions program and other non-military efforts to stop Iran from crossing the threshold. But the White House hasn’t yet decided precisely how the US would respond if the Israelis do attack.
The Obama administration is conducting intense discussions about what an Israeli attack would mean for the US: whether Iran would target U.S. ships in the region or try to close the Strait of Hormuz; and what effect the conflict and a likely spike in oil prices would have on the fragile global economy.
The administration appears to favor staying out of the conflict unless Iran hits U.S. assets, which would trigger a strong U.S. response.
NEW YORK TIMES
Romney Isn’t Concerned
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Earlier this week, Mr. Romney told a startled CNN interviewer, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.”
Faced with criticism, the candidate has claimed that he didn’t mean what he seemed to mean, and that his words were taken out of context. But he quite clearly did mean what he said. I believe Mr. Romney when he says he isn’t concerned about the poor. What I don’t believe is his assertion that he’s equally unconcerned about the rich, who are “doing fine.” After all, if that’s what he really feels, why does he propose showering them with money?
And we’re talking about a lot of money. According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, Mr. Romney’s tax plan would actually raise taxes on many lower-income Americans, while sharply cutting taxes at the top end. More than 80 percent of the tax cuts would go to people making more than $200,000 a year, almost half to those making more than $1 million a year, with the average member of the million-plus club getting a $145,000 tax break.
And these big tax breaks would create a big budget hole, increasing the deficit by $180 billion a year — and making those draconian cuts in safety-net programs necessary.
Which brings us back to Mr. Romney’s lack of concern. You can say this for the former Massachusetts governor and Bain Capital executive: He is opening up new frontiers in American politics. Even conservative politicians used to find it necessary to pretend that they cared about the poor.
WALL STREET JOURNAL
Jobs Power Market Rebound. The labor market grew in January at its most robust pace since last spring, adding 243,000 jobs, in a sign that the economy's momentum carried into the new year. Kathleen Madigan reports on Markets Hub.
The U.S. economy added more jobs in January than in any month since early last year, pushing down the unemployment rate to a level not seen since President Barack Obama's first full month in office.The News Hub panel provides comprehensive coverage of the improving U.S. employment picture. The Labor Department reported 243,000 non-farm payroll jobs were added in January.
Facebook builds Washington presence ahead of IPO. The company has put political veterans in key executive roles and board positions. It’s also quickly built up a powerhouse Washington lobbying operation and established a political action committee to make it easy for employees to donate to candidates.
Facebook filed for its initial public offering Feb.1, giving us more insight how the tech titan operates. Here’s a look at some of the social networking giant’s shareholders and their affiliations with the company.
These initial public offerings took Wall Street by storm as they raked in billions of dollars. As Facebook files IPO paperwork, here’s a look at the top IPOs in U.S. history.
It will need those relationships, experts say, as it tries to ward off regulations and investigations over its privacy practices — which are among the greatest risks to its unbridled growth, the company revealed this week in a federal filing for its plannedstock offering.
WORD OF WISDOM
A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.
George S. Patton
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Diplomats are just as essential to starting a war as soldiers are for finishing it!