Sunday, February 11, 2007

The international scene: harbingers of hope and portents of problems

Alliteration aside, there were notable developments on the foreign affairs scene this week:

---Talks with North Korea in Beijing, with the U.S., Russia, South Korea, and China are in their fourth day. There is no agreement yet and there may not be given North Korea's negotiating position. That the talks are being held in and hosted by China is positive. While North Korea's demands will perhaps be unacceptable at this point, the fact that they have put a nuclear freeze on the table is progress. The Bush administration seems to be letting South Korea and China take the lead, and that's good news.
---The rival Fatah and Hamas political factions in Palestine signed an agreement to form a government of national unity. The accord for a coalition government was signed in Mecca, Islam's holiest shrine, and was facilitated by Saudi Arabia. This agreement provides the slightest glimmer of hope that there can be a basis for an eventual accord with Israel that will calm that region. While it is absolutely certain that the Bush administration was aware of this at every step of the way, they let events play out without seeking any participation, credit or knowledge. This is good news. The troubling aspect is the choice of Mecca as the geographic source. On the surface it sounds like an idea that would insure a real commitment to the agreement. Given the way things go in the Middle East, however, if the agreement falls apart in some way the Islamist fundamentalist Hamas could declare a Holy War on Fatah for violating their "sacred" word.
---The NYT reports on page one that the most lethal weapon directed against U.S. troops is made in Iran and supplied to Shiite militia. The device, "explosively formed penetrator" possibly becoming the acronym EFP, produces more casualties than previous roadside bombs. This information comes to the NYT from administration officials who noted that their track record of reliable intelligence may be spotty but this is real. Is it really real, with a trail back to Iran, or is it like the sociopathic brother-in-law who uses past indiscretions as a lever to support current ones. This is not good news.
---"Putin Says U.S. is Undermining Global Stability" reads the NYT headline. What was said was far worse than that. Putin has in progress a de facto nationalization of Russia's vast natural resource reserves, he has eliminated regional autonomy to the point of removing electoral choice of leaders, he has made the judicial system a proxy for his agenda, and he attacks dissenting citizens across national borders. It would be ironic to some extent if the issues with Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and even Al Qaeda were overshadowed by the emergence of a new Russian totalitarian state. This is not good news.


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