Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Week in Review

Middle East
Iran and Pakistan have agreed to boost security ties and strengthen regional cooperation, Iran’s Press tv reported Wednesday. Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik, meeting with the Iranian ambassador to Islamabad, Mashallah Shakeri, on Tuesday, said, “Iran and Pakistan are two brother and Muslim countries which would never let insecurity and border problems damage solidarity among their nations.” The Iranian ambassador reportedly called for the two countries to exchange intelligence and carry out joint operations against drug traffickers. The same day, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani also spoke of the need for regional cooperation to establish peace and security in the region, adding that foreign forces in the region do not have this goal. The Iranian official was meeting with Pakistan’s Minister of Population Welfare Firdous Ashiq Awan in Tehran. Iran’s Fars News Agency reports that Tehran has sent 5,300 tons of aid to Pakistan during recent months, in the wake of the massive floods that have affected more than 20 million Pakistanis. The Pakistani minister reportedly expressed appreciation to Iran for this assistance. These signs of increasing solidarity between Iran and Pakistan—based largely on a shared foundation of Muslim ideology and anti-Western sentiment—should be cause for concern for the West. An unstable, nuclear-armed state, with an increasingly radicalized population, allying with a terrorist-sponsoring, nuclear-aspiring state would make for a dangerous combination.
In an effort to get the United Nations to declare it free of Lebanon border violations, Israel has agreed to withdraw Israeli forces from the northern part of a village that straddles the Israeli-Lebanese border. Israeli Security Cabinet officials voted on Wednesday to transfer the northern section of Ghajar, an Arab village, to UN control. At the conclusion of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, UN Resolution 1701 stipulated that Israel must withdraw from all Lebanese territory, including the northern part of Ghajar. Village residents are reportedly against the move, wanting the fate of the village to instead be linked with that of the Golan Heights. “We demand that the village remain whole and that the debate on it be part of a peace agreement with Syria stipulating the return of the Golan Heights,” said council spokesman Najib Khatib. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon will take over security for the northern part of the village, supposedly to prevent Hezbollah infiltration. While this may sound plausible in theory, unifil’s track record in southern Lebanon—where it has simply looked on while Hezbollah has rearmed and rebuilt to be stronger than ever—does not provide much assurance. In reality, this unilateral retreat by Israel is just one more concession by Israel that will weaken its security and only be met with more demands from its Arab enemies.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to push for a one-time three-month freeze on “settlement construction” in a bid to restart peace talks with the Palestinians. The proposed freeze, negotiated by Prime Minister Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on November 11, has yet to be approved by the Israeli cabinet. The United States has offered a package of incentives, including military aid, if Israel implements the freeze. It is hoped that in three months, “enough progress could be made on exchanging settlement blocks for other land, as well as other significant issues, so that a settlement freeze would no longer be a Palestinian demand for moving forward” (New York Times, November 15). Even if the freeze comes into effect, it is a vain hope that any real progress toward peace will be made.
Ireland’s economy continues to be in serious trouble, once again creating headlines around the world discussing the euro’s demise. The Irish government is worried that the country’s banks may need another €20 million to stay afloat. Ireland is heavily indebted already. Including guarantees that it has made to its banks, Ireland’s budget deficit—the amount of money it cannot pay on just this year’s budget—is 32 percent of its gdp. Yet Ireland is adamantly refusing to go to Europe for a bailout. Ireland wants to protect its low corporate tax rate—12.5 percent. Ireland attracts a lot of investment this way, and so does much more business with the U.S. and UK than it does with Germany. This gives it a lot of independence from Germany. Naturally, Berlin wants to force Ireland to raises its corporate tax rate, and so become more reliant on Germany. As Stratfor writes, “Without that tax advantage, many of the reasons firms set up subsidiaries in Ireland would fall away, and Ireland would look a lot less exceptional and be a lot more vulnerable to Berlin’s desires” (November 17). The whole situation further exposes that Germany is using the financial crisis to its own advantage.
The EU failed to agree on a budget for 2011, when a final attempt to negotiate a solution fell apart on November 15. Members of the European Parliament (meps) wanted new powers in future budget planning—such as being able to collect money through Europe’s “own resources”—i.e., Europe-wide taxes. They also wanted budget “flexibility”—the ability for the budget to expand when faced with unexpected expenses. On the other hand, Britain demanded that the budget rise by no more than 2.9 percent—less than half the increase that meps originally wanted. In the meantime, the EU will continue to use the 2010 budget on into 2011. Expect more of these kinds of confrontations—where Europe wants more power and some nations, led by Britain, refuse to budge—until Britain leaves the Union.
As Hungary prepares to take over the presidency of Europe, Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi vowed that his nation would use its new influence to support Germany. “A strong and successful Germany is vital for the strength of Europe,” Martonyi told the press, after meeting with his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle in Berlin on November 4, according to Hungarian newswire service mti. As EU president, “we will support all that is important for Germany,” he said. The role of president of the European Council rotates among EU nations, with each nation taking the helm for six months. Hungary will hold the presidency for the first half of 2011, and then Poland will take it for the second half. Hungary also wants to use its stint in the presidency to push for a “Danube Strategy.” EUbusiness reports that such a strategy “aims at modernizing road, rail and river infrastructure, attracting more tourists, creating a regional energy market and reinforcing security, all while protecting the environment.” The Danube begins in Germany, and this kind of strategy will integrate all of the Danube nations more closely. It will make them more dependent on the industrial, export-oriented power upstream. Germany’s economic power already makes it the de facto leader of Europe. Germany will only continue to expand its power in Europe in 2011.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a powerful speech at the Christian Democratic Union (cdu) Conference on November 15, where she asserted Germany’s role as a major world power. Merkel also emphasized Germany’s role as a Christian nation. “Whoever wants to live here must learn German … (and) obey our laws,” she said. “It’s not that we have too much Islam, but rather that we have too little Christianity …. We speak too little of our Judeo-Christian heritage.” “The gist of the speech was that Germany was a European leader, it should not be ashamed of its German identity and it needed a modern army to defend its interests. However, its standing in the world was not guaranteed and the looming demographic crisis could very well threaten its preeminent position,” Stratfor wrote of Merkel’s comments. “Its politicians are beginning to speak of a German security and defense strategy in mature tones, without a prerequisite ‘we’re sorry’ attached to every policy statement. In short, Germany is ascending to what it feels is its rightful place as a global power, if not one of the world’s true superpowers.” The article concludes: “Current Cold War-era institutions that dominate Europe politically, economically and in terms of security—the European Union and nato—were not originally designed for a unified, assertive and unashamed Germany. The Germany that Merkel spoke to on Monday will either make these institutions work for Berlin or will leave them behind” (November 16). Merkel’s speech clearly demonstrates that Germany is no longer inhibited by its past, but is openly becoming an overtly self-interested nation once again.
Reaffirming what Merkel said about Germany’s Christian heritage, a row has erupted in Bavaria over a school’s decision to remove a cross in one of its classrooms. Every state school classroom in Bavaria has a crucifix, but, due to a court ruling, schools have to remove them if parents complain. The Suddeutsche Zeitung reported on November 17 that exactly this happened. The Christian Social Union (csu), ally of Merkel’s cdu, is demanding that the cross be returned. csu member Gerhard Weber said, “I have no understanding for one parent’s demand to take a cross out of a classroom if it defies the wishes of the majority of other parents.” Cases like this show what an influence the Catholic Church already has on parts of Germany. Expect that influence to grow.
Germany has been on a heightened terror alert, with German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière giving an urgent warning to the nation on November 17. The German government has been warning of the high risk of a terrorist attack for several weeks, but it was saying it had no concrete information. “The situation has changed,” said de Maizière. Now there are “concrete investigation leads.” Spiegel Online reports that “De Maizière’s warning to the German public is one of the most explicit warnings ever given in Germany.” The next day, German police reported that police in Namibia found a piece of suspicious luggage at the airport that was possibly meant for an Air Berlin flight to Munich. The luggage contained batteries, a detonator and a ticking clock. However, an Air Berlin spokesperson said there were no explosives in the device. Continue to watch Germany and the backlash against Islamists that could come.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams met Pope Benedict xvi on November 18 in Rome. They met after Williams visited the Vatican for a conference on Christian unity that marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. At the conference, the pope said that his top priority in unifying the church was dialogue with the “Orthodox churches and the ancient Eastern churches, with which bonds of the closest intimacy exist.” He said, “[W]e have reached a crucial point of confrontation and reflection: the role of the bishop of Rome in the communion of the church.” In other words, the Orthodox churches are close to coming under Rome’s authority. The union of churches generally is “a commitment that falls into what could be called political categories, in which negotiating ability or greater capacity to reach compromise come into play,” he said—i.e., other churches must obey Catholicism. Williams’s meeting with the pope came after five Anglican bishops announced they were leaving for Rome. The meeting was private, and neither party revealed the details of their conversation. However, on Vatican Radio, Williams said that he did not see the pope’s invitation to Anglicans as “an aggressive act.” He also stated that “Christians are drawn closer together than in any other circumstances when they face persecution.” Expect the Vatican to move on all sides to bring other churches into the fold. For more information, see our article “The Church that Swallowed a Church” from the January Trumpet.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is on the ropes once again. Being beset by scandals that would be unthinkable in a longstanding democracy such as the U.S. or Britain is common for Berlusconi. But this time his allies seem to be deserting him. The New York Times writes that Berlusconi’s “former loyalists, who did not abandon him when he lost power in 2006 but who sense political weakness the way a dog smells fear, have visibly begun repositioning themselves for the next chapter—when Mr. Berlusconi is unlikely to be the leading man.” On November 15, four ministers associated with Gianfranco Fini, who founded the People of Liberty party with Berlusconi, but later fell out with the prime minister, resigned. On November 13, Berlusconi’s government agreed to hold a confidence vote after the budget for 2011 has been approved. If he loses the vote, to be held on December 14, in either the upper or lower chambers of Italy’s parliament, then he will have to resign. On the same day, Italy’s Constitutional Court will decide if a law that grants the prime minister immunity from prosecution is constitutional. If it is not, he could face charges that he bribed a lawyer to give false testimony. And so Berlusconi’s allies are turning. Having said that, many have forecast Berlusconi’s demise before, only to be wrong time and time again. The real kingmaker in Italy is the Catholic Church. Ultimately, whether Berlusconi stays in power or not is up to the church.
France’s Constitutional Court will decide whether same-sex “marriage” will be legal in France, it was announced on November 16. It will rule on whether or not a rule making same-sex “marriage” illegal is constitutional. It will take up to three months to decide. As these kinds of court cases push Europe leftward, expect the Vatican to respond. For more information, see last week’s column by Brad Macdonald, “Will the Vatican Retaliate?”
China’s state-controlled telecommunications firm hijacked 15 percent of all Web traffic for 18 minutes in April of this year according to a November 17 report to the U.S. Congress. The massive amount of data redirected by China included e-mail exchanges from the U.S. Department of Defense, Senate, Department of Commerce and nasa. The incident has raised concerns that the Chinese may have decrypted messages, manipulated data, or harvested sensitive information from re-routed e-mails. Some cybersecurity community members suspect that the incident is proof that China tested a cyberweapon that targets Internet traffic from foreign servers. Although Chinese officials have rejected U.S. claims that the re-routing was intentional, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s report says it could have been “malicious.” Vice chairwoman of the commission Carolyn Bartholomew said China’s efforts to penetrate U.S. networks “appear to be more sophisticated than techniques used in the past. The massive scale and the extensive intelligence and reconnaissance components of recent high-profile, China-based computer exploitations suggest that there continues to be some level of state support for these activities.”
Foreign ministers from China, India and Russia have vowed to boost cooperation in the areas of energy, aerospace, high-tech sectors, innovation, trade, cultural exchanges and geopolitical affairs. They made the pledges on Monday after two days of meetings in Wuhan, China. At the meetings, Chinese officials also emphasized the need for Russia, Japan and Singapore to ally themselves with China economically in order to capitalize on the massive influence they collectively wield within the international monetary system. Expect economic and political cooperation between these Eastern powers to increase, and for that camaraderie to pave the way for military alliance.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin left Bulgaria last weekend with an agreement for Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom to work with Bulgarian Energy Holding to build and run the Bulgarian section of the South Stream pipeline. The pipeline is planned to transport Russian gas through the Black Sea, and over Bulgaria to arrive in Europe’s Balkan region. The agreement, Moscow’s most recent victory in a rapid expansion of Kremlin-operated energy firms into the EU, means that Bulgaria has followed Poland’s example of teaming up with Russia to circumvent the EU’s anti-monopoly legislation. European energy officials have expressed concern over the Russian-Bulgarian deal because of its failure to comply with EU legislation, and because the EU views South Stream as a rival to Europe’s ongoing Nabucco project. Nabucco is aimed at breaking Russia’s grip on the European energy sector by linking Iraq and Caspian Sea reserves to Europe via Turkey, which would bypass Russia altogether. Some analysts believe that a primary aim of South Stream is to hinder the progress of Nabucco. Expect the Kremlin to intensify efforts to expand influence into Eastern Europe and other former Eastern bloc territories. Watch for tensions between Russia and the EU to build in this area as each tries to expand its territory and power, even if for now these tensions largely simmer under the surface.
Latin America/Africa
Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez seems to have rescued himself from a very tricky position. In August, one of the world’s most wanted drug smugglers, Walid Makled, was arrested in Colombia. He is rumored to have recordings of all of his dealings—including those with high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government. If released, that information would be catastrophic—and could even bring down Chávez’s government. Key government members could faces charges of money laundering, drug trafficking and even terrorism. But on November 16, Colombia agreed to extradite Makled to Venezuela, not to the U.S. In exchange, a desperate Chávez is giving a lot to Colombia. On November 18, Venezuela announced it would extradite at least four members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (farc) and National Liberation Army—rebel groups that Chávez usually protects—to Colombia. Over the past couple of months, Venezuela has been closing down camps belonging to these two groups. They have started paying back the hundreds of millions they owe to Colombian firms. However, Venezuela will not get its hands on Makled quite yet. Colombia said the extradition would need approval from its Supreme Court, and that the process could take 6 to 18 months. In the meantime, the U.S. may be able to get plenty of information from Makled. Venezuela’s desperation may, at least in the short term, make a U.S. enemy a bit less belligerent to its neighbor. The Trumpet has long watched for Latin American nations to draw closer together as part of a trade bloc that will eventually align with Europe. A quieter Chávez (for now at least) may help the U.S., but it also could allow the whole continent to draw closer together. For more on this trend, see the chapter “Europe’s Latin Assault” in our He Was Right booklet.
In Madagascar, group of army officers announced that they had launched a coup after a referendum on November 17. The group of 21 officers claims that all state institutions have been suspended. However, signs from the country indicate that a successful coup has not taken place, and that the old regime remains in power.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a strong stand for the State of Israel on November 8. Speaking at a conference on anti-Semitism, Harper warned that persecuting Jews was being dressed up as a “human rights” agenda, and that a new holocaust is not impossible. “I know, by the way, because I have the bruises to show for it, that whether it is at the United Nations, or any other international forum, the easiest thing to do is simply to just get along and go along with this anti-Israeli rhetoric, to pretend it is just about being even-handed, and to excuse oneself with the label of ‘honest broker,’” Harper said on Parliament Hill, referencing Canada’s lost bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. “There are, after all, a lot more votes—a lot more—in being anti-Israel than in taking a stand.” The prime minister went on to say that taking a stand for the Jews was more than just the right thing. Citing history, Harper said, “[T]hose who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are a threat to all of us.”
A Pew Research poll released Thursday found that approximately 40 percent of Americans think marriage is becoming obsolete. Marriage is declining among all groups, especially the less-advantaged, the study found. In 1960, more than two thirds of American 20-somethings were married, compared to about one in four in 2008. The survey also found that the meaning of the word “family” is becoming increasingly “expansive.”
On Tuesday, an F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, the U.S. Air Force’s most advanced plane, crashed in Alaska. Air Force statistics reveal that in its short history, the Raptor has had seven Class-A accidents, each of which caused more than $1 million in damage.
In other military news, the military is warning pilots and soldiers not to use certain smartphone applications when they are in the field. The Air Force stated that “careless use of these services by airmen can have devastating … security and privacy implications.” If just one soldier accidentally accesses a popular application such as Foursquare of Facebook Places, terrorists or other enemies would simply have to log on to the service to know where he is located, which could lead to security breaches.
Idaho State University geologists have found a new 40-mile fault line in the Rocky Mountains. The fault line is capable of unleashing earthquakes of up to 7.5 magnitude. “There’s a chance in the next few decades that there will be an earthquake on this fault, and if it does happen, it will be a rather large earthquake,” Glenn Thackray, chairman of the university’s geosciences department, said.