By Richard McGregor in Washington
It is remarkable that Barack Obama, only months after a convincing re-election, seems to keep falling back on his self-professed powerlessness when pressed about his second-term agenda.
Be it on closing down Guantanamo Bay, ending the across-the-board budget cuts (known as sequestration), restricting firearms sales or bringing Obamacare into life, Mr Obama talks more about what he can’t get done than the other way round.
The president suffered the indignity at a Tuesday press conference of being asked if his second-term administration still had any “juice” left, joking in response that maybe he should “just pack up and go home”. Read more
Rand Paul (Getty Images)
Rand Paul’s marathon filibuster last week – aimed at holding up the confirmation of John Brennan as head of the CIA – was much more than a parliamentary stunt. It has opened up interesting new debates and divisions on the future direction of US foreign policy.
Senator Paul’s highlighting of the Obama administration’s use of drones for “targeted killings” of terrorist suspects, has established an unlikely alliance between the libertarian right and the liberal left. Until Paul took up the drones issue, it was mainly the likes of the American Civil Liberties Union, who were making the running in criticising the drone strikes. But, as Paul illustrated, there is a good libertarian case for suspicion of the over-mighty covert state. Even more interestingly, Paul’s stand placed him directly at odds with the neoconservative wing of his own Republican Party.
The Wall Street Journal has denounced Paul for appealing to “impressionable libertarian kids” – a condemnation quoted with approval by John McCain, one of the party’s leading foreign-policy hawks.
Conveniently for President Obama, this argument between the two wings of the Republican Party places the president somewhere in the middle. He will never be as hawkish as the Republican neocons, many of whom are pressing for intervention in Syria, an assault on Iran and denouncing cuts in the Pentagon budget. On the other hand, the president’s expansion of the drone war and his unwillingness to rein in the burgeoning national-security apparatus makes him very far from being a “libertarian kid”. Read more
It is a common error in politics to underestimate your adversary. Ever since Hugo Chávez fell ill from cancer two years ago, many imagined that his rule and his oil-fuelled socialist revolution would also end with his death, undermined by its own prodigious inefficiency and corruption. But now that the Venezuelan president has actually died, it no longer quite looks that way.
Chávez is now bound for mythology. In the imagination of his mourning supporters, he may come to occupy a space similar to Che Guevara’s – another martyr of the revolutionary left, albeit one without as large a cheque book. Indeed, Chávez’s early death is likely to prolong “chavismo” for a few more years rather than bring it to an abrupt end. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
The success of a book can sometimes tell you as much about the times as about the book itself. That may be the case with Why Nations Fail, which was published last year to great acclaim from reviewers and prize juries, and even compared to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Read more
John Brennan – Barack Obama’s nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director – testifies before the Senate intelligence committee today. The hearing offers a rare moment of public scrutiny of the government’s expanded use of drones to kill suspected terrorists, which has returned to the news this week.
By Shannon Bond in New York with Geoff Dyer in Washington. All times are GMT.
John Brennan’s confirmation hearing on Thursday for CIA director is shaping up to be a rare moment of scrutiny into the war on terror, especially the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists. Among politicians, there is little opposition to the basic idea of targeted killings, but a growing feeling among some members of both parties that the programme has got out of control. Here are 10 questions he should be asked.
1) Legality. The legal opinion that justifies killing suspected al-Qaeda terrorists who are Americans is being shared with some members of Congress, but is secret for everyone else. If the government claims the authority to kill some of its citizens, at the very least shouldn’t the legal justification be made public?
2) The Decider. According to a leaked summary of the legal opinion, drone strikes can be authorised by an “informed, high-level official”. How senior does that official have to be? Only the president? His counter-terrorism adviser? Military commanders in the field? And what happens if other high-level officials disagree? Read more
Hold back the celebratory cupcakes (Getty)
As the FT reported this morning, the US has refused to give the Europeans the big, bold announcement on trade that they were desperately seeking.
The plan was that tomorrow’s US-EU summit would announce the beginning of negotiations to form a trade agreement between the US and Europe. But, for now, the Americans are refusing to play ball.
In Brussels, some may see this as a lamentable lack of vision. In fact, it is simply a welcome injection of some scepticism and realism. Read more
The former Republican senator can expect a bumpy ride as he answers questions on how he would play the role of President Obama’s new defence secretary. Hagel needs to persuade at least five of his former colleagues to support him to avoid a filibuster that would torpedo his appointment.
Ben Fenton, from the FT’s Live News Desk, and Johanna Kassel follow the hearing.
Facing a grilling: Chuck Hagel (Getty)
Chuck Hagel’s keenly awaited confirmation hearing on Thursday to be the next US defence secretary is likely to be dominated by the hot-button issues that have already got him into trouble with some of his fellow Republicans (and a few Democrats) – his position on Israel, his opposition to Iran sanctions, his criticism of the Iraq war and his views on gays.
If so, that will be a shame, because it would be both interesting and important to hear him explain what his brand of “principled realism” actually means for US foreign policy. The hearing could provide a seminal debate on America’s global role. Here are ten questions he should be asked.
1) Defence budget. You said in September 2011 that the defence budget was “bloated”. That was before the Pentagon announced $485bn in cuts over the next decade. Is the budget still bloated? Are more cuts possible or necessary?
2) Pentagon cuts. To meet the cuts that have already been announced, will the Pentagon need to axe some important capabilities? Can the US still afford all of its aircraft carrier groups? Is the F-35 jet fighter too expensive to support? Does the US need such a large presence in Europe? Read more
Welcome to our rolling coverage of Barack Obama’s inauguration for another four years as US president, complete with agenda-setting speech. By Johanna Kassel in New York and Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington with contributions from FT correspondents. All times are EST.
5.40 As we wrap things up for the night, a round up of the best the FT has to offer about President Obama’s second inauguration. Thanks for joining us
5.30 As the parade continues, running about 45 minutes behind schedule, the arrival of the president and first lady at the balls will be delayed. We’ll leave them to review the rest of the floats and bands as the sun sets on Washington.