Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Week in Review

Bombs in Rome, an odd way to celebrate breaking away from the Vatican, Britain complies with European law, and a busy month for the 111th U.S. Congress—for better or worse.

Middle East
Iraq’s parliament approved the reappointment of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his new government on Tuesday, nine months after inconclusive elections left the country with no functioning government. While this is an achievement, some of the key ministries have yet to be filled, and the role of the newly formed National Council for Strategic Policies—which is intended to give Sunnis a greater voice—is yet to be agreed upon. After having fought hard himself to become the new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, leader of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, which won the most seats in the March election, told the assembly that his coalition would participate fully in the government. The most important ministries, including the Oil Ministry, which the Shia have retained, have been promised to Shiite and Kurdish parties—except the Finance Ministry, which has been given to Iraqiya. While U.S. President Barack Obama praised the formation of the cabinet, the new government actually represents a failure of U.S. policy in Iraq as the Iranian-supported Shiites maintain power.
Iran displayed an increased assertiveness when on Monday it demanded that Pakistan hand over members of the Sunni Baluchi Islamist militant group Jundallah, which staged a deadly suicide attack against Shiites in Iran last week. The chief of the Joint Staff Command of Iran’s Armed Forces, the most senior military leader in Iran, threatened that Tehran would take unilateral action if Islamabad failed to prevent terrorist action against Iranian targets originating in Pakistan. The Iranian president also phoned his Pakistani counterpart, demanding that Islamabad take action against “known terrorists.” Stratfor reports that this is not the first time Jundallah has been a source of tension between the two countries. “However,” the intelligence organization writes, “this time, the Iranian response was different: The apex leadership of Iran threatened to take matters into its own hands” (December 21). This is particularly noteworthy, Stratfor reports, because the recent Jundallah attack was not especially significant compared to previous such attacks, and Islamabad has been cooperating with Tehran on this issue for several years. This indicates that the Iranian government is likely escalating matters with Pakistan at this time because it is feeling “confident in other foreign-policy areas,” writes Stratfor. “It has been successful in having a Shiite-dominated government of its preference installed in Iraq. Also, for the first time, it appears to be negotiating from a position of relative strength on the nuclear issue. … It is therefore likely that Iran is now flexing its muscles on its eastern flank to showcase its regional rise” (ibid.). This analysis would certainly fit with the prophesied rise of a “king of the south,” an Islamic power in the end time prophesied in Daniel 11.
The White House on Thursday released an overview of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review requested by President Obama. Stratfor reports that the most significant aspect of the assessment of the Afghanistan war effort is the degree to which the American strategy is reliant on Pakistan: “[T]he United States—now more than ever before—needs Pakistan to offer its best, given that Washington has deployed the maximum amount of human and material resources to the war effort that it can feasibly allocate” (December 17). The war has been disastrous from the Pakistani point of view, with the Taliban problem spilling over into Pakistan and leading to the “Talibanization” of the country. “What makes this situation even more problematic for the Pakistanis is that they feel that they are not the only ones who are without options. Their benefactor, the United States, is in the same boat” (ibid.).
Violence continued in Rome this week with several explosive incidents. On December 21, a train conductor found a defective bomb under a seat on an underground train. The bomb, however was “too rudimentary,” according to Mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno. On December 22, students took to the streets to protest education reform. Then on December 23, parcel bombs exploded at the Swiss and Chilean embassies. “It’s a wave of terrorism against embassies, something much more worrisome than a single attack,” said Alemanno. It is not at this time clear who is behind the attacks.
German Minister of State in the Foreign Ministry Werner Hoyer visited Moldova and met with Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration Iurie Leanca on December 21. Moldova is currently undergoing some tricky coalition negotiations that will determine whether the country has a pro-Western or pro-Russian government. Earlier in the month, foreign ministers from Poland and Sweden visited Moldova to try to sway the nation toward Europe. With Hoyer’s visit, Germany is also getting involved, trying to persuade this strategic territory to cast its lot in with Europe and not Russia.
The Catholic Church changed its mind about involving itself with the International Task Force on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (itf), probably because of pressure to release records from World War ii-era Pope Pius xii, according to a diplomatic cable released on December 21. The cable, dated Oct. 16, 2009, states that plans for the Vatican to become an observer in the itf “had fallen apart completely … due to Vatican back-pedaling.” The Vatican continues to cover up the actions of the man whom some have labeled “Hitler’s pope.” See our March Trumpet article, “Was Pope Pius xii Pious?” for more.
The president of the Lutheran World Federation wants to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by forging an agreement with the Vatican allowing Lutherans to receive Communion at Roman Catholic Mass. On December 16, the recently elected president of the Lutheran World Federation met with Pope Benedict xvi in private audience at the Vatican to discuss the prospects of such an agreement in the run-up to the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s historic break with the Catholic Church, set to be held in 2017. “Our intention is to arrive at 2017 with a common Roman Catholic-Lutheran declaration on Eucharistic hospitality,” Bishop Munib Younan told Italian Protestant news agency nev before his meeting with the pope. Under the concept of Eucharistic hospitality, Catholics and Lutherans would be able to receive Communion at either type of religious service, Catholic or Lutheran. Benedict has clearly made the re-evangelization of Europe the cornerstone of his papacy. He has already offered a free ticket to Rome for all Anglicans who choose to reject the policies of their liberalized hierarchy. Now he is in discussions with the Lutheran World Federation that may result in a similar offer to the Lutheran Church.
The Vatican announced that Archbishop Antonio Mennini will become the new apostolic nuncio to Britain. Nuncios are the Vatican’s ambassadors to other nations. They also have the responsibility of recommending candidates for the office of a bishop to the Vatican. Mennini has been working as apostolic nuncio to Russia and Uzbekistan. Conservative Catholics hope that Mennini will promote more orthodox priests to bishops. This would completely change the face of the Catholic Church in Britain.
Julian Assange’s extradition under the European Arrest Warrant (eaw) from Britain to Europe has illustrated something much larger than a single criminal case. Whether or not Mr. Assange is guilty of the accusations brought against him in Sweden, this case clearly demonstrates that, under the eaw, the British courts have no right to take into account the evidence against an accused Briton or foreign guest in Britain. It is a clear case of the once-sovereign British law being trumped by EU imperial law.
The relationship between India and China, long marked by suspicion and rivalry, veered into new harmonious territory last week when the two sides moved toward an over-arching bilateral trade deal. These two Asian giants, which together are home to two fifths of the world’s population, are taking steps to work together in an alliance that could deeply impact the global economy. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao took a rare visit to New Delhi December 15 to 17 to promote bilateral trade between these two Eastern powerhouses. Wen had set the goal during his last trip to India, in 2005, of boosting combined Sino-Indian trade from $18 billion to $30 billion by 2010. His goal has been far exceeded, with 2010 bilateral commerce totaling around $60 billion. In the last 10 years, trade between these two economic behemoths has increased a staggering 30-fold, and they have now set the goal of boosting trade to $100 billion annually. China already ranks as India’s largest trading partner, and the relationship is gearing up to get much deeper. The favor India is showing to China has deep implications, particularly in light of the less fruitful trip President Obama recently made to India. While Obama left Delhi with $14 billion in investment project contracts, Wen obtained $23 billion from the U.S. We can expect their interlocking trade relationships to knit India and China closer together and for Delhi’s steps toward Beijing to edge it away from Washington.
On Tuesday, North Korea threatened to wage a “holy war” against South Korea, including the use of nuclear weapons, if the South encroached on its turf. Earlier this month Pyongyang had said it would strike the South if Seoul conducted live-fire artillery exercises, but, on Monday, South Korea went ahead with the exercise—its largest of the year—in spite of North Korea’s threat. Although the North has taken no action against the South, pundits are worried about the escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula. In typical times, Pyongyang’s bluster would not be taken seriously, but these times are far from typical. Victor Cha, the U.S.’s former top adviser on North Korean affairs, said in a recent interview: “I’m worried this is not just another cycle of provocation and that the cycle is getting much worse. We haven’t seen this sort of premeditated conventional attack really since 1968. They may really believe … that they are a nuclear weapons state and therefore they can act with impunity and I think that’s an incorrect perception.” In March of this year, Pyongyang sunk one of South Korea’s warships resulting in the death of 46 sailors. Then, on November 23, North Korea attacked Yeonpyeong Island killing four South Koreans and injuring several others. In light of this recent belligerence, North Korea’s threats should not be viewed as the usual empty bluster. We can expect tensions on the Korean peninsula to continue to escalate.
Just as the UK’s Royal Navy is being diminished to its smallest size in almost 500 years, China has announced that it will launch its first aircraft carrier in 2011. The launch comes a year earlier than U.S. analysts had expected, underscoring the rapidly expanding maritime power and assertiveness of China. On Thursday, Chinese military sources said the carrier, purchased 10 years ago from Moscow, would be used to help China secure oil routes and defend its claims to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. In addition to the refurbished Russian vessel, China is also in the midst of building its own aircraft carrier. Especially since the news comes just weeks after British Prime Minister David Cameron scrapped Britain’s carrier fleet and halved its overall number of warships, it reflects the rapidly changing tides of geopolitics.
Thousands of protesters assembled in Minsk on Sunday evening to contest Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s stealing of another presidential election. The demonstrations prompted a harsh police response in the capital city and detention of seven presidential hopefuls from opposition parties. Lukashenka, who has been called “the European Mugabe,” had appeared over the last several years to be mellowing, as he worked to secure EU support for funds from the imf, the World Bank and various European banks for his beleaguered nation. But now that he has secured the assistance he needed, and now that Russia is again providing Belarus with subsidized oil, Lukashenka can abandon his charade and be true to his dictatorial inclinations. Moscow has ignored Europe’s suggestions that it deal with Lukashenka’s rampant human rights violations and is even expected to allow Lukashenka to re-sell Russia’s subsidized oil to Western nations and use the profits to keep himself surrounded by bodyguards, police and soldiers. The Russian bear is waking up from its hibernation, and should be expected to work behind the scenes to prop up tyrants like Lukashenka, whose allegiance is to Moscow.
An explosion at a bus station in Nairobi killed three people and wounded 39 on December 20. It was cause by a grenade, probably detonated by a Tanzanian, according to Kenya’s police commissioner. Uganda said that Somali terrorist group al-Shabab may be linked to the attack. The attack may have been meant for Uganda, as a bus at the station was heading in that direction and Uganda is an enemy of al-Shabab.
Somali terrorist group Hizbul Islam has been absorbed by al-Shabab. Hizbul Islam announced that it would join with al-Shabab “politically and militarily,” on December 20. This gives al-Shabab greater power and fewer rivals.
The United Nations Security Council resolved to increase the size of the African Union Mission in Somalia peacekeeping force by 50 percent on December 22 as it voted to extend its mandate to Sept. 20, 2011. The 8,000-strong force will now increase to 12,000, with the extra 4,000 troops probably coming from Uganda. Ugandan troops are the only reason why the Somali Transitional Federal Government has not been defeated by al-Shabab.
The outgoing United States Congress and President Barack Obama signed into law a slew of new legislation in late December. The 111th Congress struck down the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which will soon allow homosexuals to serve openly in all branches of the armed forces all over the world. Congress also ratified Obama’s signature foreign-policy measure, a new start arms reduction pact with Russia. The New Start treaty was met with worry in some quarters of Washington, but enthusiasm in Moscow, because it will likely undercut development of U.S. missile defense capabilities. Contentious spending issues between Democrats and Republicans were temporarily resolved and an omnibus spending bill passed. The solution: Keep spending the same amount of money on all government agencies as the government already has been.
The next 40 years will be the most important in human history, Ian Morris wrote Tuesday in the Christian Science Monitor. Morris says that Asia’s rise is inevitable and that the world is living through the biggest shift in wealth, power and prestige since the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago.
American college students are becoming more hopeless, literally. That is the finding of a study by the Center for the Study of Collegiate Mental Health published in the New York Times on Sunday. The center found that the prevalence and severity of mental health concerns has increased significantly in the past decade or two. Almost half of students said in the past year that they felt things were hopeless, 58 percent felt lonely, and 31 percent felt so depressed it was difficult to function, the study found.
For 170 years, every Briton who sent, received or handled a piece of mail has seen the queen or king of England. That is because the monarch has appeared on every postage stamp in Britain since Sir Rowland Hill invented them in 1840. However, rushed-through legislation that is selling off the Royal Mail to the highest private bidder has failed to secure the guarantee that the stamps will survive. Current rules allow the future owners of the post, which might be Germany’s Deutsche Post, to use whatever design they please on British stamps.