Good Sunday morning. The staff is coming in and we're preparing for today's program. Prepare along with us – read what we're reading this morning.
On our radar: the latest on the killing of a former Taliban minister who was a member of the Afghan Peace Council, the latest from the campaign trail here in the U.S., and of course, Mother's Day.
Check out what we're reading, and be sure to watch our interviews with Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and John Cornyn (R-Texas); Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado); Sen. Joe Lieberman and Rep. Peter King; and finally, Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer.
Oh, and don't miss a special tribute to close the show.
State of the Union airs today at 9am/12pm ET.
BREAKING THIS MORNING...
An unknown gunman assassinated Mullah Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban minister who was an important go-between in potential peace talks, as he headed to a government meeting on reconciliation Sunday morning, Afghan officials confirmed.
Mr. Rahmani, who lived openly in Kabul under close protection from the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence service, was killed in his car by a lone gunman who then escaped, according to a fellow member of the High Peace Council, Muallawi Shafiullah Nuristani.
“His assassination is a big loss, it will affect the peace process because he played an important role in mediating the peace talks and was a trusted person among the Taliban,” Mr. Shafiullah said. Mr. Rahmani had been the minister of higher education during the Taliban regime and was known as a relative moderate.
CAMPAIGN 2012 / SENATE POLITICS
The primary victory of a Tea Party-blessed candidate in Indiana illustrates how closely Republican hopes for a majority in the Senate are tied to candidates who pledge to infuse the chamber with the deep-seated conservatism that has been the hallmark of the House since the Republicans gained control in 2010. ...
“We need to shake up the Republicans,” said Sarah Steelman, the Missouri state treasurer, who is seeking her party’s nomination to run against Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat. Asked if that meant new leadership in the Senate, Ms. Steelman replied, “Possibly.” ...
At times, [McConnell’s] attempts to navigate the treacherous divide between placating conservatives and not appearing obstinate fall flat. Late last year, he insisted on a vote on his own alternative to the Senate Democrats’ version of the payroll tax cut bill, to demonstrate that Republicans supported the continued cut. But Mr. DeMint and other conservatives led a rebellion, and the bill received a humiliating 20 votes. When Mr. McConnell talked his conference into approving a short-term measure instead, it blew up in the House, with conservative members there complaining that Mr. McConnell had sold them out.
SYRIA / AFGHANISTAN / MIDDLE EAST
The dirigible, a white 117-foot-long surveillance balloon called an aerostat by the military, and scores more like it at almost every military base in the country, have become constant features of the skies over Kabul and Kandahar, and anywhere else American troops are concentrated or interested in.
Shimmering more than 1,500 feet up in the daytime haze, or each visible as a single light blinking at night, the balloons, with infrared and color video cameras, are central players in the American military’s shift toward using technology for surveillance and intelligence. ...
First used in Iraq in 2004, the helium balloons were introduced to Afghanistan in 2007, and the military has been shipping them here ever since. ...
For the Taliban, the blimps have become things to fear.
In the face of spiraling costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, the State Department has slashed — and may jettison entirely by the end of the year — a multibillion-dollar police training program that was to have been the centerpiece of a hugely expanded civilian mission here.
What was originally envisioned as a training cadre of about 350 American law enforcement officers was quickly scaled back to 190 and then to 100. The latest restructuring calls for 50 advisers, but most experts and even some State Department officials say even they may be withdrawn by the end of this year.
The training effort, which began in October and has already cost $500 million, was conceived of as the largest component of a mission billed as the most ambitious American aid effort since the Marshall Plan. Instead, it has emerged as the latest high-profile example of the waning American influence here following the military withdrawal, and it reflects a costly miscalculation on the part of American officials, who did not count on the Iraqi government to assert its sovereignty so aggressively.
“I think that with the departure of the military, the Iraqis decided to say, ‘O.K., how large is the American presence here?’” said James F. Jeffrey, the American ambassador to Iraq, in an interview. “How large should it be? How does this equate with our sovereignty? In various areas they obviously expressed some concerns.”
After three decades of persecution that virtually eradicated its presence, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has resurrected itself to become the dominant group in the fragmented opposition movement pursuing a 14-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Exiled Brotherhood members and their supporters hold the biggest number of seats in the Syrian National Council, the main opposition umbrella group. They control its relief committee, which distributes aid and money to Syrians participating in the revolt. The Brotherhood is also moving on its own to send funding and weapons to the rebels, who continued to skirmish Saturday with Syrian troops despite a month-old U.N.-brokered cease-fire. ...
The Brotherhood’s rise is stirring concerns in some neighboring countries and in the wider international community that the fall of the minority Alawite regime in Damascus would be followed by the ascent of a Sunni Islamist government, extending into a volatile region a trend set in Egypt and Tunisia. In those countries, Brotherhood-affiliated parties won the largest number of parliamentary seats in post-revolution elections.
Brotherhood leaders say they have been reaching out to Syria’s neighbors, including Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon — as well as to U.S. and European diplomats — to reassure them that they have no intention of dominating a future Syrian political system or establishing any form of Islamist government. ...
“First, we are a really moderate Islamic movement compared to others worldwide. We are open-minded,” Molham al-Drobi, who is a member of the Brotherhood’s leadership, said. “And I personally do not believe we could dominate politics in Syria even if we wanted to. We don’t have the will, and we don’t have the means.”
Standing in a plywood-walled command post before Gen. John R. Allen, the supreme allied commander in Afghanistan, the nervous-but-earnest young lieutenant cast his platoon’s task for the day in the grand terms of counterinsurgency strategy — the American military’s wartime playbook for the past several years. The goal of the platoon’s walk through a bazaar and meetings with village leaders, the lieutenant said, was for the Afghan government to be “seen as an effective governing body that gains legitimacy with the local population.”
Such ambition used to elicit enthusiastic praise from visiting generals. Not anymore.
“How are you going to create that as an end state?” Allen asked, making no effort to mask his deep skepticism.
Faced with an order from President Obama to withdraw 23,000 troops by the end of the summer, and the prospect of further reductions next year, Allen is hastily transforming the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. Instead of trying to continue large U.S. counterinsurgency operations for as long as he can, he is accelerating a handover of responsibility to Afghan security forces. He plans to order American and NATO troops to push Afghans into the lead across much of the country this summer, even in insurgent-ridden places that had not been candidates for an early transfer.
“My instruction to my commanders is to get the [Afghans] into the fight,” Allen said in an interview. “The sooner I can get them there, while I still have the time and the combat power, the more I can catch them if they fall.”
Syria has urged international mediator Kofi Annan to take action against what is calls "armed groups". Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud made the appeal at the official funeral for people killed in Thursday’s bombings in Damascus.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority pledged their commitment to peace, after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's envoy Yitzhak Molcho travelled to Ramallah Saturday night to deliver a letter on his behalf to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office after the meeting said, "Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to achieving peace and the sides hope that the exchange of letters between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu will further this goal."
The letter from Netanyahu comes in response to one which Abbas sent him last month in which he stated that talks would only be renewed when Israel froze construction in east Jerusalem and the settlements.
Will Republicans pay a price this fall for last week's fiasco in which Speaker Frank McNulty thwarted the will of a majority in the House of Representatives who favored same-sex civil unions?
Some political insiders and activists seem to think so, but I'm skeptical — and I say that as someone who has supported civil unions in print for at least six years. Or maybe it's just my wishful thinking. Divided government has been good for Colorado these past two years, suppressing the worst instincts of both parties. I'd hate to see it end. ...
The virtue of divided government is that it empowers those willing to compromise and to leave behind the elements of their agenda that are most revolting to opponents. It takes the far left and far right out of play.
CALL YOUR MOTHER...
Happy Mother’s Day.
It didn’t take long for Anna Jarvis, the creator of Mother’s Day, to regret the commercialization of the celebration. In 1908, she began campaigning for a holiday, and in 1914, Mother’s Day was adopted in the United States. By the 1920s, Jarvis was disillusioned at how her idea had become corrupted by the greeting card and floral businesses. She remained disappointed and was even arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace during a protest against how her holiday had been treated.