WorldWatch

From the April 2008 Trumpet Print Edition

Europe

Kosovo declared independence on February 17. Countries around the world, such as the UK, U.S., France and Germany, recognized Kosovo’s independence. By doing this, they defied Russia’s wishes. Russia promised to stand by Serbia. It backed up this stance by applying intense pressure on two of the most vital buffer states at its borders, Ukraine and Georgia. Both have aspired to join nato; Ukraine has sought EU membership. By using political threats against Georgia, and playing the energy card against Ukraine through which Russian gas transits to the EU, Moscow signaled that it will play hard ball in the face of any EU takeover in Kosovo. The stage is set for a confrontation between East and West (see article, page 32).

Europe also provoked the Islamic world in February. Geert Wilders, chairman of the recently formed Netherlands’ Freedom Party, called the Koran “an inspiration for murder” and said that if the prophet Mohammed were alive today, he would have him “tarred and feathered as an extremist and deported if he were in Holland.” Then Danish newspapers republished one of the cartoons that sparked Muslim outrage in 2005, in order “to unambiguously back and support the freedom of speech that we as a newspaper will always defend,” as one newspaper wrote. Muslim rioters took to the streets; many Islam countries expressed hostility over the move.

In late January, Societe Generale, France’s second-largest bank, reported what may be the banking fraud of the century. Allegedly a rogue bank employee illegally wiped out multiple billions’ worth of bank money. The bank blamed the $7.1 billion hit on a 31-year-old trader who supposedly acted alone to speculate in the future’s markets. If nobody really noticed the massive fraud for over a year, maybe other banks have unnoticed problems too. As such, the scam carries shadowy implications for the global banking industry.

The European Union continues to demonstrate its endemic corruption and undemocratic nature. In February, members of the European Parliament from the Budgetary Control Committee voted to keep secret a report on abuse of EU funding. The report uncovered deputies misusing their staff allowances. However, as mep Chris Davies said, it wasn’t just “the scale of the abuse that is taking place” that was troublesome, but also “the fact that it has been kept secret.”

In late January, several meps attempted to use procedural requests to slow down debate in the Parliament to protest the lack of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in most EU nations. Europe’s solution: The parliamentary president was simply given illegal powers to silence the protesters.

In February, news broke of a massive tax-evasion scam in Germany—one of the largest ever in the nation’s history—involving numerous German-controlled foundations set up in Liechtenstein as tax-evasion shelters.

Yet more turmoil in Germany’s government surfaced after two of the three parties in the ruling “grand coalition” lost ground in key state elections. In one state, this resulted in one of the parties considering an alliance with an opposition party, much to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chagrin. Watch for the Merkel coalition to continue to weaken—and, simultaneously, the right wing in German politics to surge in popularity.

The pope has again demonstrated just how much political power he can wield. By influencing a well-placed Catholic politician, the Vatican brought down the government of Italian President Romano Prodi on January 24. Now it appears that the path has been cleared for a bill promoting stricter laws on abortion, a bill opposed by the Prodi administration. The Vatican’s influence is also being felt in Spain, where Catholic leaders fought hard against the socialist government in the run-up to the March 9 elections. This is about more than merely promoting a Christian agenda in Europe. The Vatican remembers the political power it wielded before the Reformation, and now it wants it back.

Mideast

Since U.S. President George Bush’s visit to Israel in January to revive the peace process, trouble in the region has only escalated. The day after he left, Palestinians in Gaza launched a barrage of rockets at Israeli targets—more than 150 in four days.

Then, on January 23, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians—and terrorists and weapons—streamed across the Egypt/Gaza border unhindered after Hamas destroyed two thirds of the border wall—a demolition for which Hamas had been preparing for months. Within two weeks, Palestinian terrorists carried out a suicide attack in southern Israel, leaving one woman dead and slightly injuring 11 other people. Hamas has used the Gaza border crisis to try to force a new arrangement for control of the border and establish itself as a player in such an agreement. Egypt has hosted Hamas representatives for discussions on the issue several times. Israel’s attempts at isolating Hamas are simply not working.

As Israel’s troubles mount, it is becoming increasingly open to a greater European role in the region. “Developing a strong relationship with Europe is becoming the third pillar [in addition to the idf and the U.S.] safeguarding Israel’s survival,” said a senior Israeli diplomatic official in February. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin in mid-February to discuss the rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and Iran’s nuclear program. Israel’s trust in foreigners has not worked before, and it is prophesied to be the country’s undoing in the future.

Also bad news for Israel, the emerging relationship between Iran and Egypt continues to progress. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak held talks with Iran’s parliament speaker on January 30, the first such high-level meeting in almost 30 years. Mubarak is probably feeling the pressure of Egypt’s Islamists. After the Gaza border breach, the Muslim Brotherhood staged about 80 anti-government demonstrations. Islamic fundamentalism is rapidly growing more popular in Egypt as it is embraced by the youth. Conditions in Egypt are building toward a radical change in the nation’s politics.

President Pervez Musharraf’s allies suffered defeat in Pakistan’s parliamentary elections on February 18. Musharraf has now become a lame-duck president and could be forced from power. If Pakistani society continues to fragment, and there is a period of weak civilian government, Islamic extremists will inevitably grow stronger. You can be sure Iran would look to exploit such a situation. Already, Tehran is making inroads into Pakistan economically. On February 9, Iranian Consul General Saeed Kharazi called for stronger bilateral links with Pakistan, calling the nation Iran’s top foreign-policy priority.

Iran launched a research rocket and inaugurated its first major space center on February 4 and hopes to conduct its first satellite launch later this year. The kinds of technologies needed to launch a satellite are the same as what are needed to launch a long-range ballistic missile—with or without a nuclear payload.

Further evidence has emerged of Iranian interference in Afghanistan, with 60 Iranian-made mines being discovered in a Taliban compound in western Afghanistan in late January. Tehran is manipulating both sides of the Afghan conflict in order to keep the U.S. bogged down and to enhance its own influence in the country. The strategy is working: An independent assessment by nato’s former commander says nato’s forces in Afghanistan are in a “strategic stalemate” as the Taliban’s control grows.

The West’s efforts in Iraq are also being complicated: On February 21, Turkish troops launched a ground incursion to root out Kurdistan Workers’ Party (pkk) guerrillas hiding in northern Iraq. The U.S. finds itself in a difficult position: It can’t back the Kurds for fear of alienating the Turks, who have been among its few friends in the Middle East. Yet it must be cautious in backing the Turks for fear of further escalating Iraqi tensions.

During a January tour of Persian Gulf states, French President Nicolas Sarkozy signed a deal with the United Arab Emirates president to open a permanent military base in his country in 2009. Then France held a 10-day joint military exercise with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, the first such war games ever. With Gulf nations seeking to contain Iran, we can expect them to look increasingly to Europe. Bible prophecy indicates a split between Muslim nations in the end time—those that will ally with Europe, and those that will ally with Iran.

On February 12, Imad Mughinyah, a Hezbollah leader who planned attacks that killed hundreds, was killed by a car bomb in Damascus, Syria. Blaming Israel, Hezbollah threatened the Jewish state with “open war” in response.

Asia

The Kremlin is becoming increasingly concerned over the EU’s eastward expansion. The Union has gobbled up most of Eastern Europe’s former Soviet states, fragmented the regional dominance that Russian ally Serbia one had in the Balkans, and is now working to isolate Serbia and eastern Ukraine from EU influence.

After Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, the Kremlin sent two representatives to Serbia, including First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev said Moscow would recognize Serbia as a single state with jurisdiction stretching over its entire territory. Medvedev also met with the prime minister of the Serb-dominated Srpska region of Bosnia-Herzegovina to work out a natural gas deal—a move that portends more tension with the EU (see article, page 32).

The EU and nato seek to expand into Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on February 12 that Russia would aim nuclear warheads at Ukraine if it joined nato. Russia truly poses a threat to the EU—a threat the EU must address if it ever hopes to annex Ukraine. Russia and Europe will likely negotiate a deal that temporarily shelves their differences and allows each to go about the business of increasing its own power.

Despite strained relations with Europe, Moscow still has friends in Asia. February 8, Putin hailed China as a “strategic partner” that would reach “new horizons” of cooperation with Russia in the future. China and India are standing with Russia against Europe and America by opposing Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia.

Former Soviet states Belarus and Kazakhstan entered a customs union with Russia on January 25; five days later, Belarus inked a foreign-policy plan of action with Russia. This plan lays a basis for Russo-Belarusian cooperation and prevents attempts by Western nations to isolate Belarus. China, India, Belarus, and the former Soviet states of Asia are all starting to work together as a counterweight to European imperialism.

Japan is now forming a growing friendship with Russia’s ally China. On February 27, Japan’s defense force chief of staff met with China’s defense minister to discuss military cooperation between the two countries. Japan reiterated its support of keeping Taiwan as part of one China.

Many of the American troops stationed in Japan were originally put there as a quick reaction force against any Chinese move to dominate Taiwan. This alliance is jeopardized by Japan aligning itself with China on the Taiwan issue. Soon Japan will have to choose between America and China—and we expect it to take the latter option.

Latin America

The moment the U.S. awaited for 50 years finally arrived: On February 19, Cuban despot Fidel Castro announced his resignation. Ever since Castro brought the world to the brink of war by allowing the ussr to install nuclear missiles in his island nation, he has been the poster boy for anti-Americanism. He has also inspired a host of imitators in Latin America, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales. The Cuban National Assembly gave the reins of power to Fidel’s 76-year-old brother Raul, guaranteeing no substantial change in the direction of the country for the present.

At the end of January, Hugo Chavez encouraged fellow Latin American governments to pull billions of dollars in reserves from U.S. banks. He and other leaders have formed a new Latin American bank, Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, as an alternative. On February 21, he announced that China will loan Venezuela $4 billion—all of which will be repaid in refined fuel. This deal follows close on the heels of President Chavez’s February 10 threats to cut off oil to the U.S. if Exxon Mobil wins a court judgment to seize billions of dollars in assets from the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela. Chavez is still in no position to carry out this threat—he is reliant on U.S. oil dollars—but the more foreign deals he can establish, the more his bluster becomes a legitimate concern for the U.S., which receives 12 percent of its oil from Venezuela.

Africa

Members of the Movement for Democratic Change staged demonstrations in Zimbabwe on January 23 to test the effect of new laws guaranteeing political freedoms—and were promptly tear-gassed; dozens were arrested. “This was a severe test for Robert Mugabe,” said Tendai Biti, secretary general of the mdc, “and he has failed.”

On February 12, Mugabe expelled former Finance Minister Simba Makoni from the ruling zanu-pf party, as Makoni declared he was running against Mugabe for president. Clashes between the two factions could heap more violence on this starving country.

South Africa’s power problems blacked out the country’s gold, platinum, coal and diamond production from January 25 to 29. Production resumed at a rationed 90 percent, but the country as a whole continues to suffer from the blackouts. Insufficient government planning means the blackouts will continue for at least five years, according to the Economist.

On February 2, rebel forces seized the capital in Chad. Within two days, government forces defeated the rebels. The government has accused the Sudanese government of supporting the rebels and has threatened retaliation. The EU began deploying 3,700 troops to Chad on February 12. The role that French forces, separate from EU troops (eufor), played in defending the capital means that the Chadian rebels no longer see any EU troops as neutral. As a result, eufor now faces more hostile conditions than originally planned.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika visited Vladimir Putin in February. In the midst of heightened cooperation, Russia has agreed to build railroads in Algeria, to start extracting oil in Algeria by 2011, and to increase the number of flights between the capitals. As the race for African resources grows between Europe, the U.S. and China, Russia is strengthening its presence in Africa too.

Violence in Kenya continued through February 28, when ex-UN head Kofi Annan brokered a power-sharing agreement between President Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga. In the two months it took them to reach common ground, 1,500 people died and 600,000 were displaced from their homes (see article, page 22).

Anglo-America

In February, the British government produced a shocking 138-page report pressuring schools to promote a pro-homosexual agenda, branding those opposed to that agenda as “homophobic bullies.” The report forbids schools to reinforce traditional gender roles, and instructs them to encourage homosexual role models and to positively portray same-sex “parents” in discussions about family.

Meanwhile, many British students have forgotten the reality of their greatest prime minister. A February poll found that one in five British teens believe Winston Churchill was a myth, while more than half believed King Arthur, Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes were real.

British families are facing a rising tax burden. Due to rising mortgage costs, stagnating earnings and excessive debt, the average annual income for British families has dropped $2,500, while the government faces a mushrooming budget deficit and is sinking further into debt as recession looms. The Telegraph reports that 10 million Britons may default on repayments for mortgages, credit cards or personal loans by the end of the year.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said in mid-February that implementation of elements of Islamic sharia law was “unavoidable” if social cohesion was to be fostered in Britain. Coming under heavy fire for the remarks, Williams stood by them.

In the United States, the Pentagon declared success when a U.S. Navy operation scored a direct hit on a deteriorating reconnaissance satellite February 20. Although Washington insisted the operation was necessary to prevent debris and dangerous hydrazine fuel from hitting the Earth’s surface, Beijing complained loudly that it was a satellite-destroying show of force that raises tensions between the two countries.

Early February found National Intelligence Director John Michael McConnell admitting to the Senate that Iran “would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon” by the end of 2009. “If I had ’til now to think about it, I probably would change a few things,” McConnell admitted, referring to the department’s assessment that Iran had halted its nuclear program in 2003.

A federal appeals court rejected Massachusetts parents seeking to prevent their elementary school-aged children from being exposed to discussion of homosexual “families” in the classroom. The dispute involved a 5-year-old boy bringing home a book titled Who’s in a Family? that portrayed households being led by homosexuals. In 2006, a U.S. district judge declared that public schools are under an obligation to teach young children about homosexuality. The appeals court upheld the opinion.

Meanwhile, economic woes continue. The world’s largest automaker, General Motors, announced in February that it planned to offer voluntary buyouts to its 74,000 union workers after posting its biggest annual loss ever—$38.7 billion in 2007.

In Australia, the new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, is wasting no time jerking the nation’s helm hard left. At the opening of a session of Parliament, Rudd welcomed Aborigines to the floor who danced and sang tribal songs based on pagan tribal rites attached to snake worship and other traditions. Rudd followed the spectacle with an apology on Australia’s behalf to the mythical “stolen generations” of Aboriginals. One problem with the apology is that there is simply no evidence that any Australian government ever had a policy to “steal” children on the basis of them being Aboriginal.