State of the Union Early Bird for February 20, 2011
February 20th, 2011
05:16 AM ET
4 years ago

State of the Union Early Bird for February 20, 2011

(CNN)–It's early, and State of the Union is bringing you the best of the morning headlines to go with your cup of coffee.

On our radar this morning:  The budget battles in the U.S., and the political unrest abroad.

Check out what we're reading this morning, and make sure to watch our exclusive interview with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at 9am/12pm ET.

BUDGET BATTLES

Mr. President, we can't do it alone

His actions are more important than his reassuring words. Can the president, who already added a new open-ended health care entitlement, suddenly summon the courage to rein in the other entitlements? Is he willing to fight to ensure that the mission of health and retirement security is fulfilled?

And can he bring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on board? The president needs to convey to his Democratic leaders in Congress the same message put forward by his own deficit commission: Denial is no strategy for a nation awash in deficits. We can’t afford to fiddle while we still have time to head off a European-style debt crisis.

Government shutdown would halt many, but not all, services

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers were laid off and most services ground to a halt in 1995 and 1996 when open political warfare shut down the government.

Since then, technology has changed and the government has been reorganized. But a shutdown that could occur as soon as March 4 would have profound, if unpredictable, effects across the country, much like the last one 15 years ago.

"The government is so different today than it was the last time agencies went through that," said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president of the Professional Services Council, which represents 330 companies that do business with the federal government. "You don't really prepare for disasters until it's upon you."

UNREST IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Unrest in the Middle East and North Africa - country by country

When Armies Decide

Leaders of Libya and Yemen meet protests with deadly force

The unrest convulsing the region has swept through the two police states, where deaths have climbed past 100 and demonstrators have grown fearless against tear gas and bullets. But even if the scenario is similar to the narrative played out in the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, it is far from certain whether demonstrations can dislodge Libyan President Moammar Kadafi and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Unlike Egypt, Libya and Yemen are tribal nations, and the two leaders have skillfully manipulated clan loyalties for decades.

Libyan protesters risk 'suicide' by army hands

The pro-government Al-Zahf al-Akhdar newspaper warned that the government would "violently and thunderously respond" to the protests, and said those opposing the regime risked "suicide".

Yemen's unrest could embolden al-Qaeda – or sideline it amid democratic hopes

"If we change the system, if we have a real government, I am sure we won't have al-Qaeda or terrorism anymore," said Mohsin Bin Farid, secretary general of the opposition party, League of the Sons of Yemen.

"There is something momentous unfolding in the region and al-Qaeda is not an actor in it. They feel left out," said Marina Ottaway, head of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Even the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamist organizations, are calling for democracy . . . It's a problem for al-Qaeda that these protest movements are predominantly secular."

"2010 was the year of al-Qaeda," said Said Obaid, a terrorism analyst who wrote a book about AQAP. "They have gotten stronger."

Bahrain unrest: U.S. lobbying effort preceded easing of crackdown on protesters

The apparent suspension of a police crackdown on Bahraini demonstrators followed two days of lobbying by the Obama administration, which leaned on the country's leaders to exercise restraint amid fears that the unrest would be exploited by radical groups with ties to Iran, according to current and former U.S. government officials with detailed knowledge of the events.

US faces difficult situation in Bahrain, home to US Fifth Fleet

For years, the US has considered Bahrain an important ally in the region. As with Egypt, the US has sold advanced military equipment to the kingdom – including fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, and battle tanks (some of which were used to confront demonstrators). Last year, the US provided around $20 million in military aid to Bahrain.

Perhaps more critical, Bahrain also is the homeport for the US Fifth Fleet.

From there, US warships and contingents of US Marines can keep an eye on – and, if necessary, rattle sabers – close to oil shipping lanes, Iran, and the increasing activity of pirates. (It was reported Saturday that an ocean-going sailboat with four Americans aboard had been hijacked by pirates.)

Thanks for reading!

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