Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Week in Review

A tumultuous new government in Iraq; violent protests, this time in London; blockbuster Turkish entertainment; and is Jerusalem a capital or a settlement?
Middle East
Incumbent Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was reelected on Thursday. The day before, Iraqi political parties had agreed to a framework for a new government, ending eight months of gridlock following inconclusive elections March 7. Rival political parties have reached a power-sharing deal wherein Shiite Maliki remains prime minister and Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani retains the presidency, with the position of speaker going to Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni—an arrangement that looks much like the previous government. This is a victory for Iraq’s Iran-backed Shiites, with Maliki, whose National Alliance actually won less seats in the March election than the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, remaining in power. Iraqiya’s leader, Iyad Allawi, had fought hard to become the new prime minister. Iraqiya lawmakers were clearly not happy with the deal, with about two thirds of them, including Allawi, walking out of the parliamentary session, charging that agreements between the alliance leaders had not been honored. “It is obvious that they want to monopolize power,” Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq of Iraqiya said of the Shiites. Maliki now has 30 days to form a government, and the Iraqiya walkout will complicate that process. Still, the progress thus far represents a major victory for Iran and a defeat for the United States. As the Independent wrote on Thursday, “The United States is facing a decisive political defeat in Iraq over the formation of a new government, as its influence in the country sinks lower than at any time since the invasion of 2003. … The U.S. campaign to promote its favored candidate, Iyad Allawi, as president appears to have failed spectacularly. … Iran has outmaneuvered the U.S. in shaping the new government to its own liking.”
In perhaps another instance of an ill-timed announcement, the Israeli Interior Ministry said plans had progressed for the construction of some 1,000 new housing units in southern Jerusalem. The publication of the building plans by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee on November 5 occurred shortly before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left for a trip to the United States for the annual convention of the Jewish Federations of North America and to discuss the peace process with Vice President Joseph Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The announcement, however, concerned building plans that had already been approved some six months earlier and which were simply being published for public review, one more step in the process before construction begins. The prime minister’s office issued a statement saying that “Jerusalem is not a settlement, it is the capital of Israel.” While this latest incident will have little impact on any peace talks—which are destined to fail in any case—it does once again highlight the increasing tension between Israel and America. On Wednesday, Clinton said the U.S. was “deeply disappointed” with Israel’s announcement, and that it was “counterproductive to our efforts to resume negotiations between the parties.” Watch as this relationship continues to deteriorate.
Turkey has produced another anti-Israel movie that highlights revenge against the Israel Defense Forces for the Mavi Marmara incident earlier this year where Israel’s navy confronted terrorists on board the Gaza-bound vessel. In Valley of the Wolves—Palestine, a revenge campaign is carried out against a fictitious Israeli who ordered the boarding of the boat, with Israeli soldiers being brutally murdered and blown up. “We were trying to show that Israel and the United States are behind acts of terrorism,” Bahadır Özdener, a scriptwriter for the movie, told ntv. The $10 million production—the most expensive film ever made in Turkey—will start showing in late January, with Turkish cinemas and tv stations already showing trailers of the violent action movie. The film will do nothing to ease increasing tensions between Israel and Turkey.
Europe’s debt crisis continues, but this week it was Ireland and Portugal making the headlines. On November 10, Goldman Sachs warned that financial troubles in these two countries made it more likely that they would require a bailout. lch.Clearnet, one of Europe’s largest clearing houses, increased the amount of deposit it requires on all Irish positions to 15 percent. This caused interest rates on Ireland’s 10-year bonds to jump half a percent to 8.64 percent, the highest rate since Ireland joined the euro. This high interest rates indicates that investors are not sure that Ireland can pay back its debt. The interest rate on Portugal’s bonds also broke a record, climbing to 6.8 percent. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso on November 11 said that the European Union stood ready to rescue Ireland. “What is important to know is that we have all the necessary instruments in place now to support Ireland if necessary,” he said. “We are monitoring the situation closely.” Continue to watch Europe’s economic turmoil, as it will continue to drive political change on the Continent.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy revealed his true feelings about Europe and Euroskepticism at a speech in Berlin on November 10. “In every member state, there are people who believe their country can survive alone in the globalized world. It is more than an illusion—it is a lie,” he said in a speech to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. “We have together to fight the danger of a new Euroskepticism. This is no longer the monopoly of a few countries.” “The biggest enemy of Europe today is fear,” he continued. “Fear leads to egoism, egoism leads to nationalism, and nationalism leads to war.” Expect the leaders in Europe, who believe euro-federalism is an absolute good, to continue to push the continent toward closer integration.
In May, then German President Horst Köhler resigned amid a chorus of criticism after he said that Germany may have to deploy its army in order to safeguard economic interests. Six months later, Germany’s most popular politician said he agrees with Köhler. “I ask myself to this day what was so bold about (Köhler’s) comment,” said German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg on November 9. “I would have liked to see somewhat more support from us all on this question.” “I have repeatedly pointed out this year that we in our country must really do something to articulate the relationship between regional security and economic interests without coming to deadlock,” he said at a defense conference in Berlin. Guttenberg warned that growing demand for natural resources could lead to new conflicts. “The raw materials needs of emerging powers are constantly growing, and thus competing with our requirements,” he said. “I think in particular of what is happening today with rare earths.” Piracy was another specific area that Guttenberg said could warrant military intervention. “Piracy in the 21st century is thus not just a side note, but a serious challenge to our economic performance, one to be taken seriously,” said the defense minister. “In a globalized world … common interests are to be protected in order to bring stability.” Guttenberg is leading the way in creating a newly assertive Germany.
On Wednesday, a United Nations report claiming that North Korea is sharing illegal nuclear technology with Iran, Myanmar and Syria was submitted to the UN Security Council, after China dropped its objections to the report. In early May, the 70-page report was sent to a Security Council subcommittee, but Beijing objected to its being distributed to the entire 15-member Council until this week. The report says Pyongyang is using “multiple layers of intermediaries, shell companies and financial institutions” to “circumvent” UN sanctions. It calls for probing into these illegal activities and for the international community to work to counter them. U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said this “should be a wake-up call for the U.S. and other responsible nations. Instead of continuing its failed strategy of seeking to engage the regime in endless negotiation, the administration must ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang,” she said. Both Beijing’s power to suppress crucial information and Pyongyang’s defiant behavior are signs of the shift in global power. Both bode poorly for the West.
China desires increased cooperation with Russia within the Group of 20 framework, Chinese President Hu Jintao said at a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday. Hu explained that the aim would be to use the body to advance the interests of emerging economies, including China and Russia. Medvedev agreed with his Chinese counterpart saying that the bric nations—Brazil, Russia, India and China—have effected positive change in the international monetary system. The two sides agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation within the bric organization, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (apec) forum, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (sco). Medvedev also said that high-level meetings between China and Russia have become a fine tradition in the two countries’ relations. Expect the Russo-Chinese strategic partnership to gain momentum in the years ahead, culminating, ultimately, in full-scale alliance.
Moscow has earmarked $63.4 billion for national defense and security in 2011, Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin announced on Monday. The figure, representing 19 percent of Russia’s annual budget, is a sharp increase from the previously announced 2011 defense budget of $49.4 billion. The budget also marks a significant increase over Russia’s 2010 defense budget of $41.5 billion. Next year’s budget, the largest ever for Moscow, allocates $14.9 billion for new arms purchases.
News of another series of mass rape emerged from the Democratic Republic of Congo last week. On November 5, UN spokesman Maurizio Giuliano announced that 600 girls were raped along the border between Congo and Angola during a large-scale expulsion of illegal immigrants. Giuliano said they could not tell on which side of the border the rapes actually occurred on. “What worries us is that rape seems to be becoming endemic in several parts of Congo,” he said. “We fear it’s becoming part of the routine.” The UN’s presence seems to have done nothing to stem the number of rapes in Congo.
On Wednesday, the presidential deficit commission submitted its recommendations to put the United States on firm financial footing. The drastic spending reductions included changes to both the tax code and entitlement programs. “America cannot be great if we go broke,” the 50-page proposal stated frankly. “Our economy will not grow and our country will not be able to compete without a plan to get this crushing debt burden off our back.” The draft recommends tough limits on discretionary spending that would save $200 billion by 2015, and changes to tax rates, the health system, farm subsidies, retirement costs and Social Security. On the same day, the Treasury Department announced that the federal government has begun the 2011 fiscal year with the third-highest deficit ever: more than $140 billion.
Violent protests spread to Britain on Wednesday when more than 50,000 students, lecturers and supporters marched through London to the headquarters of the Conservative Party in Millbank Tower. The protesters, reacting to plans to increase the cost of studying at university and cut public funding to universities, pushed police and burned signs, and some even pushed into the building’s lobby, smashing windows and spraying graffiti. The incident is one of the early warning signs of how unwilling Britons are to tighten their belts and pull their country’s finances back from the brink.