Today’s Top World News from The Washington Post:
- Departing U.S. general in Afghanistan weighs gains and uncertainty--Since 2001, there have been 11 commanders of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, five of whom, like Allen, also commanded NATO forces. But no other general was forced to focus in equal measure on both fighting a war and withdrawing from it. That meant putting Afghan soldiers in charge of combat operations even as many observers said they were unprepared. It meant building trust with an Afghan president known for intransigence, and fighting the Taliban while support waned in the United States. Those were the predictable challenges. Then there were the unexpected tests: the insider attacks, the burning of Korans on a U.S. military base, the Pentagon investigation into a trove of Allen’s e-mails for possible sexual impropriety — which cleared Allen of wrongdoing last week, reports Kevin Sieff.
- Egypt’s military chief says clashes threaten the state--CAIRO — Egypt’s military chief warned Tuesday of a potential “collapse of the state” after a fourth night of violent street battles between protesters and Egyptian security forces in Cairo and other major cities, heightening the prospect that the country’s military might be forced to intervene. The warning from Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who also serves as defense minister, indicated that troops could be pressed into action soon, analysts said. But it remained unclear on whose behalf the generals might interfere, underscoring the lingering questions about the scope of President Mohamed Morsi’s control over the armed forces and state institutions that once answered to Hosni Mubarak, report Abigail Hauslohner and Ingy Hassieb.
- Arab nations, U.S. pledge hundreds of millions for Syria crisis--BEIRUT — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened a donor conference for humanitarian aid for Syria on Wednesday by calling on all parties, especially the government of President Bashar al-Assad, to end the violence in the nearly two-year old conflict that, by United Nations estimates, has left at least 60,000 dead. “The situation in Syria is catastrophic and getting worse by the day,” the U.N. chief said at the conference, which is being held in Kuwait and has drawn representatives from more than 60 countries as well as several non-governmental organizations, reports Babak Dehghanpisheh and Colum Lynch.
-Deep spending cuts are likely, lawmakers say, with no deal on sequester in sight--Less than a month after averting one fiscal crisis, Washington began bracing Tuesday for another, as lawmakers in both parties predicted that deep, across-the-board spending cuts would probably hit the Pentagon and other federal agencies on March 1. An array of proposals are in the works to delay or replace the cuts. But party leaders say they see no clear path to compromise, particularly given a growing sentiment among Republicans to pocket the cuts and move on to larger battles over health and retirement spending. Defense companies weigh in on sequestration: If a series of automatic federal budgets cuts were to go into effect through a process known as sequestration, it would drastically alter the business landscape for many of the region’s prominent defense contractors. Here’s a primer on what the companies have said and done so far when it comes to sequestration, reports Lori Montgomery.
-WashPost-ABC News Poll: President Obama’s popularity surges to three-year high--President Obama is riding a wave of personal popularity into his second term, with his highest favorability ratings since his first year in office, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Fully 60 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Obama in the new poll, up slightly from October but a clear shift in opinion from an election year in which his ratings hovered in the mid-to-low 50s. And by 39 percent to 26 percent, the president now has more “strongly” positive ratings than strongly negative reviews, breaking a two-year stretch in which intense opposition was on par with (or higher than) intense support. Obama’s inaugural address earned fewer positive marks and appears to have served mainly as a pep rally, with raving reviews from supporters and plenty of yawns from his opponents. While the speech drew twice as many cheers as jeers — 51 percent approved while 24 percent disapproved — a quarter of Americans had no opinion on the speech. More than eight in 10 Democrats approved of Obama’s second inaugural, but at least three in 10 Republicans and independents have no reaction at all, report Scott Clement and Aaron Blake.
- Obama makes his immigration push--LAS VEGAS — President Obama on Tuesday put the weight of his administration behind efforts to pass legislation allowing many of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants to earn citizenship, seeking to build on a rapidly shifting political consensus around the issue. Obama dedicated the first trip of his second term to calling for an overhaul of immigration laws, making clear that it is one of his top domestic priorities. The president — who has said that not passing an overhaul in his first term was his biggest failure — also suggested he has little patience for Congress and would demand that lawmakers vote on his more permissive plan if they do not swiftly pass their own, report Zachary A. Goldfarb and Rosalind Helderman.
OPINION by Ruth Marcus: In D.C., a season for pragmatism?
-Justice Department’s Lanny Breuer oversaw some of largest criminal cases in U.S. history—The outgoing head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, who presided over some of the largest criminal cases ever brought by the United States but also came under fire in the “Fast and Furious” controversy, defended his legacy Tuesday, saying his prosecutors have worked aggressively to bring criminals to justice. Lanny A. Breuer, 54, one of the department’s longest-serving assistant attorneys general, oversaw the Deepwater Horizon case against BP, which resulted in guilty pleas to 14 criminal counts, including manslaughter. The company will pay $4 billion, the largest criminal payment in U.S. history, for its role in the 2010 drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, reports Sari Horwitz.
-Op-ed: In response to Newtown shootings, think of Daniel--Mark Barden is a musician and Jackie Barden is a teacher. They live in Newtown, Conn.-- Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence is the latest in a series of events following the Dec. 14shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Our 7-year-old son, Daniel, 19 of his first-grade classmates and six educators were killed in the tragedy. We believe this hearing is an opportunity to rise above the hard-line rhetoric and intransigence that too often lead to inaction and hopelessness, and we hope that our leaders and our nation will start a new conversation with a chance of achieving real change.
-The Root: Reforming Prison's Harshest Tactic--The Angola 3 case may help change the arbitrary and sometimes abusive use of solitary confinement. This is the second of two parts. Click here to read part 1, "Freedom After 40 Years in Solitary?" In December 2012 the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit to curb the use of solitary confinement in that state's prisons, broadly decrying it as "extreme isolation" that imperils the physical and psychological well-being of inmates on solo lockdown and risks undermining prison safety overall. Also in 2012, Maine lawmakers -- including a Republican governor considered tough on crime -- voted to formally ratchet back the use of solitary confinement in that state. In addition, Congress hosted a rare special hearing on the practice, highlighting the fact that the United States has no federal guidelines precisely defining when solitary confinement should begin, when it should end and which infractions merit such an added punishment for prisoners. By Katti Gray.
- Post-Lehman, the push for global financial protections stalls--Five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a global push to tighten financial regulation around the world has slowed in the face of a tepid recovery and a tough industry lobbying effort. Important progress has been made. Banks in the United States and Europe have socked away capital to guard against a fresh economic downturn, and evolving rules may force them to split off some of their riskier operations. Jobless Americans are paying millions in unnecessary fees to collect unemployment benefits, according to a new report. But the post-Lehman goal — of a global scheme that would immunize the financial system from another large-scale shock — remains incomplete, report Howard Schneider and Danielle Douglas.
- Watchdog questions Treasury’s exit plan for Ally Financial--In the four years since the federal government pumped billions into the nation’s financial firms to stave off economic collapse, virtually all of the biggest companies have repaid their debts. But Ally Financial, once one of the largest auto lenders in the country, still owes the government $11.4 billion. Now a government watchdog is pressing the Treasury Department to develop a plan for Ally to repay taxpayers, who own 74 percent of the company. In a report to Congress being issued Wednesday, the special inspector general for the Troubled Assets Relief Program criticizes Treasury for being slow to get Ally into line. Jobless Americans are paying millions in unnecessary fees to collect unemployment benefits, according to a new report, reports Danielle Douglas,.
- Slow economic growth could mask solid economic recovery--Don’t be fooled by economists’ predictions of slower economic growth during the fourth quarter. The forecasts mask what many believe is a pretty solid recovery. The government will release its first estimate of the nation’s gross domestic product Wednesday morning, and the consensus prediction is for a paltry growth rate of 1.1 percent. Some are expecting growth to slow to as little as 0.4 percent — barely above stall speed. Jobless Americans are paying millions in unnecessary fees to collect unemployment benefits, according to a new report. But dig a little deeper, and the picture is not so grim. The third quarter was inflated by atypical increases in defense spending and business inventories that pushed the growth rate up to 3.1 percent, reports Ylan Q. Mui,.