Driving the Week: Japan, Libya and the Deficit

Mark Halperin on Morning Joe previews what’s next.

1.What happens next in Japan?

The world has reacted with concern and sympathy as the Japanese people deal with a crisis of massive proportions. As the extent of the damage emerges, the focus will center on the loss of life, nuclear dangers, rescue efforts, and rebuilding strategies. Will Americans stay engaged as the tragedy unfolds?

2. Will western nations be drawn into the conflict in Libya?
With the Arab League backing a no-fly zone and the anti-government forces in retreat, some critics are urging President Obama to do more to intervene. But the practical difficulties and slippery slope of a US-led military role remain the same. What could cause the president to change his approach?

3. Is deficit reduction a short-term or long-term game?
Some believe further budget deals – including raising the federal debt ceiling – require moving to a global solution that includes major tax and entitlement reform. Others believe it is premature to strike the grand bargain—that more time is needed to build bipartisan trust and deepen behind-the-scenes talks. Despite the president’s remarks last week about the inadvisability of running the government on a series of stop-gap deals, the White House is still in the latter camp. What might prompt the president to hasten the negotiating timetable?

4. Is Afghanistan at a tipping point?

President Karzai’s latest comments appearing to encourage the withdrawal of outside military forces drew a quick American rebuke. But the remarks came after a rough stretch between the Afghan government and the US military, including some tragic civilian deaths. With more buzz about a possible change in policy, is there a growing realization in Washington that the war needs a major course correction?

5. Is anyone moving up in the 2012 Republican sweepstakes?

Mitt Romney is still being battered regularly by people in both parties, yet he remains the solid GOP frontrunner. But Haley Barbour is planning political events in Chicago, Iowa, California; Mitch Daniels is making waves tackling balky Democrats in the Indiana legislature; and fundraisers and staffers are picking teams at an increasingly rapid clip. Is this the week someone tries to outpace Romney and separate from the pack?

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