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Is Reaching Out Futile?

But Dionne cites "an important undercurrent in Republican thinking: that the GOP should place its bets on the prospect that Obama's policies will fail, knowing that if the president succeeds, he and the Democrats are likely to gain ground no matter what Republicans do. This is hardly in keeping with the bipartisan spirit the White House seeks to foster. But it's a lot easier than coming up with new ideas."

And Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times opinion column: "As the debate over President Obama's economic stimulus plan gets under way, one thing is certain: many of the plan's opponents aren't arguing in good faith. Conservatives really, really don't want to see a second New Deal, and they certainly don't want to see government activism vindicated. So they are reaching for any stick they can find with which to beat proposals for increased government spending. . . .

"Basically, conservatives are throwing any objection they can think of against the Obama plan, hoping that something will stick.

"But here's the thing: Most Americans aren't listening. The most encouraging thing I've heard lately is Mr. Obama's reported response to Republican objections to a spending-oriented economic plan: 'I won.' Indeed he did -- and he should disregard the huffing and puffing of those who lost."

Rollback Watch

With a blistering critique of the Bush era, Obama this morning announced his plans to overhaul environmental policy and overturn some key Bush decisions.

"The days of Washington dragging its heels are over," Obama said. "My administration will not deny facts; we will be guided by them. We cannot afford to pass the buck or push the burden onto the states."

William Branigin, Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson have the details on washingtonpost.com.

Matthew B. Stannard writes in the San Francisco Chronicle that "in the brief time he's been in the White House, analysts say, Obama has issued a series of orders, statements and speeches that convey a single message to America and the world: The Bush administration is over."

Rob Stein and Michael Shear write in Saturday's Washington Post: "President Obama yesterday lifted a ban on U.S. funding for international health groups that perform abortions, promote legalizing the procedure or provide counseling about terminating pregnancies.

"Obama issued a memorandum rescinding the Mexico City Policy, also known as the 'global gag rule,' which President Ronald Reagan originally instituted in 1984, President Bill Clinton reversed in 1993 and President George W. Bush revived in 2001.

"The memorandum revokes Bush's order, calling the limitations on funding 'excessively broad' and adding that 'they have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family programs in foreign nations.' In an accompanying statement, Obama said he would also work with Congress to restore U.S. funding support for the United Nations Population Fund 'to reduce poverty, improve the health of women and children, prevent HIV/AIDS and provide family planning assistance to women in 154 countries.'"

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer talks to White House Counsel Greg Craig about Obama's executive orders last week banning torture and ordering the closure of Guantanamo within a year

"He explained that Obama's bold legal moves were the result of a 'painstaking' process that started in Iowa, before the first presidential caucus. It was there that then-candidate Obama met with a handful of former high-ranking military officers who opposed the Bush Administration's legalization of abusive interrogations. . . .

"Top C.I.A. officials have argued for years that so-called 'enhanced' interrogation techniques have yielded life-saving intelligence breakthroughs."

But apparently Obama's advisers found their arguments lacking. "During the transition period, unknown to the public, Obama's legal, intelligence, and national-security advisers visited Langley for two long sessions with current and former intelligence-community members. They debated whether a ban on brutal interrogation practices would hurt their ability to gather intelligence, and the advisers asked the intelligence veterans to prepare a cost-benefit analysis. The conclusions may surprise defenders of harsh interrogation tactics. 'There was unanimity among Obama's expert advisers,' Craig said, 'that to change the practices would not in any material way affect the collection of intelligence.'"

Afghanistan Watch

What to do in Afghanistan is shaping up as one of the most complicated issues facing Obama -- with the new president finding himself under increasing pressure to reassess his campaign promise to send in more troops.

Helene Cooper writes in the New York Times that "even as Mr. Obama's military planners prepare for the first wave of the new Afghanistan 'surge,' there is growing debate, including among those who agree with the plan to send more troops, about whether -- or how -- the troops can accomplish their mission, and just what the mission is. . . .

"Some foreign policy experts argue that Mr. Obama's decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan is simply an extension of Bush administration policy in the region, with the difference being that Mr. Obama could be putting more American lives at risk to pursue a failed policy. . . .

"'There's clearly a consensus that things are heading in the wrong direction,' [said Andrew Bacevich, an international relations professor at Boston University]. 'What's not clear to me is why sending 30,000 more troops is the essential step to changing that. My understanding of the larger objective of the allied enterprise in Afghanistan is to bring into existence something that looks like a modern cohesive Afghan state. Well, it could be that that's an unrealistic objective. It could be that sending 30,000 more troops is throwing money and lives down a rat hole.'"

And former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern writes in a Washington Post opinion piece that Obama should give peace a chance: "As you settle into the Oval Office, Mr. President, may I offer a suggestion? Please do not try to put Afghanistan aright with the U.S. military. To send our troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan would be a near-perfect example of going from the frying pan into the fire. . . .

"I have believed for some time that military power is no solution to terrorism. The hatred of U.S. policies in the Middle East -- our occupation of Iraq, our backing for repressive regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, our support of Israel -- that drives the terrorist impulse against us would better be resolved by ending our military presence throughout the arc of conflict. . . .

"So let me suggest a truly audacious hope for your administration: How about a five-year time-out on war -- unless, of course, there is a genuine threat to the nation?"

Quick Takes

* Joby Warrick writes in The Washington Post about al-Qaeda's consternation over our new president. "The departure of George W. Bush deprived al-Qaeda of a polarizing American leader who reliably drove recruits and donations to the terrorist group. . . . With Obama, al-Qaeda faces an entirely new challenge, experts say: a U.S. president who campaigned to end the Iraq war and to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and who polls show is well liked throughout the Muslim world."

* Karen DeYoung and Peter Finn write in The Washington Post that Obama officials are finding that the Bush team had no comprehensive case files on many 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay. Astonishingly, some anonymous former officials tell The Post that this highlights the "complexity and dangers" involved in closing the prison.

* Erroll Morris, in his New York Times blog, asks the head photo editors of three news services -- Vincent Amalvy (AFP), Santiago Lyon (AP) and Jim Bourg (Reuters) -- to pick the photographs of former president Bush that they believe captured the character of the man and of his administration. Great stuff.

* Brian C. Kalt writes in a Washington Post op-ed that George Lardner Jr. was wrong to argue, on the same page two weeks ago, that Bush could legally revoke a pardon he granted to New York real estate developer Isaac Toussie.

* Henry Louis Gates Jr. traces the history of blacks at the White House for The Root.

Cartoon Watch

Tom Toles on the changing of the guard, Jeff Danziger on faith, Mike Luckovich on TMI, Rex Babin and Tony Auth on torture and Gitmo, Joel Pett on common ground, and Pat Bagley on trashing Bush.


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