Been a while since I got into this.
• Iraq: The speaker of the Parliament has been officially ousted
in a move that doesn't seem to bother anyone, not even the speaker, who was kind of a loose cannon. But if anything, it's a symbol of the political power plays
that have gripped the country for the past six months, leading into provincial elections. The Prime Minister is surely consolidating power, using a narrow amount of goodwill engendered by security gains to muscle his competition for power. Maliki wants a strong central government because he's at the head of it, while the Sunni and Kurdish factions want their own authority and independence.
“Maliki is monopolizing all the political, security and economic decisions,” said Omar Abdul Sattar, a Sunni member of Parliament. He listed political parties that he said were turning against the prime minister, including a powerful Shiite party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which is fighting Mr. Maliki’s drive to centralize power in Baghdad and pushing to give more to the provinces — where the party has important power bases, particularly in the south. “It’s simply the story of the transformation from a democratic prime minister into a dictator,” he said.
Given Iraq's history with dictatorships, and the fractious nature of ethnic and sectarian divides in the country, this is a natural state of affairs
, which is why the hopeful talk of democratic transformation in the heart of the Middle East was always such rubbish. We invaded Iraq to remove a dictator so they could eventually install another one, this time with a more overtly religious cast. Not that Iraq was a threat to the United States beforehand, but it's hard to see how this made our country any safer, especially when factoring in the human and financial costs.
• Israel: I'm very worried that full-scale fighting
is about to break out between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Hamas ended its cease-fire last week, and has been lobbing dozens of rockets into Israeli territory. Since Hamas' electoral victory, Israel has sealed off the Gaza strip, turning it into essentially a large prison. Egypt, which has been offering aid and assistance to the Palestinians in Gaza, wants to mediate a truce, but I don't think it's likely. There is a faction in Israel that sees crushing Hamas as part of the road to peace - and that's the LESS hawkish faction! This is going to explode in the next several days. Very worrying.
• Japan: The Pacific Rim nation is mired in another deep recession
, as industrial output cratered and deflation appeared imminent. Japan was growing largely on the back of American consumption of their goods the past few years, and so this was inevitable. As America's rise back to prominence is tied to stimulating a home-grown industrial base, it's hard to see how Asian nations like this improve unless we give up and try to return to an unsustainable consumption model again.
• Somalia: The President of the transitional (read: powerless) government is resigning
. By next year, I gather that you will see the Islamic Courts Union back in power here. Ethiopia will pull all their forces out in the next few weeks, and there is little to stop the ICU. And so a US-sponsored war will have produced nothing but more bloodshed and the rise of a powerful cadre of pirates, who reduced global economic trade through thievery. It was a shortsighted solution lacking a regional context, and it failed totally.
• Guinea: I'm not going to lie and say that I am perfectly well-versed about Guinea (not to be confused with Guinea-Bissau or Papua New Guinea), but they've had a coup
by a military junta, which is the 10,834th of the military-led coups in Africa since, oh, last week. The latest in Guinea followed the death of a longtime dictator, Lansana Conte. The cycle of coups and state-sponsored repression is so commonplace on the continent, that it's hard to find a glimmer of hope. The African Union is simply not a strong enough institution to deter the practice.
• Europe: European leaders are talking about accepting some Guantanamo detainees
as a gesture of goodwill toward the new President. Obama is going to have a global honeymoon period where he can really get a lot accomplished, and closing Gitmo should be at the top of that list as pertaining to foreign policy. One possible red flag is the persistence of Robert Gates at the helm of the Defense Department. He is being sued
by Guantanamo detainee lawyers for signing a false affidavit that allowed him to sidestep disclosure of torture. That will not help any charm offensive. Pro Publica has a good roundup of the year in Gitmo here
Labels: Barack Obama, consumer spending, democracy promotion, dictatorships, Europe, Gaza, Guantanamo, Guinea, Hamas, Iraq, Islamists, Israel, Japan, Nouri al-Maliki, recession, Somalia