Israel’s Gaza war revealed a lot about Europe. First it showed a lack of unity in the European Union. Karel Schwarzenberg, foreign minister of the Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU presidency, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy led two competing delegations to the Middle East to try to solve the crisis. The result was that two different leaders were talking to the same people in the Middle East, both claiming to represent Europe. This situation exposed the need for a single, powerful head of the EU. Such a leader will appear soon.
The Gaza war also revealed how anti-Israel and anti-Semitic many in Europe are. Firebombings, anti-Semitic rallies and attacks broke out on the Continent. A wave of anti-Israel demonstrations hit Germany, with roughly 10,000 protestors marching in Frankfurt on January 3 carrying banners equating the Israeli offensive with a second Holocaust. The crowds chanted “Gas the Jews!” and “Merkel out!” In a poll commissioned by the German magazine Stern in light of the Gaza conflict, 49 percent of Germans said that Israel is an “aggressive” country. Fifty-nine percent said it was ruthless in its pursuit of its interests. Thirteen percent rejected Israel’s right to exist and 60 percent rejected Germany’s “special relationship” with Israel because of the Holocaust. So, while Chancellor Angela Merkel may believe the two nations have a “special relationship” and support Israel, most of the German people do not.
The Vatican has suffered several setbacks in Europe. The European Parliament passed a resolution January 14 that promotes abortion and gives same-sex couples more rights. The resolution calls for all governments to ensure women have the “right to reproductive and sexual health.” According to the Daily Mail, “Opponents claim the wording is a euphemism which is often used to include abortion on demand.” The resolution also calls for member states that allow same-sex unions to recognize similar unions made in other EU nations. Watch for this move to elicit a response from the Vatican.
In traditionally Catholic Spain, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been a thorn in the Vatican’s side for years. He opposes the Catholic Church on almost every issue. He has pushed for more liberal abortion laws, legalized homosexual “marriage” and easier divorce, and demanded that the Vatican cease meddling in state affairs. Recently, Zapatero’s secularist government upheld a court ruling ordering the Spanish city of Valladolid to remove all crucifixes from a local school. Watch for the Vatican’s backlash against such policies to increase. Already it is rousing popular support in Spain. Hundreds of thousands attended a Catholic mass in Madrid in December designed to promote traditional family values. In early January, the spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference of Spain, Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, declared that the bishops would support public protests to oppose the government if it continued to support liberal abortion laws.
Europe’s economy continues to suffer. Rating’s agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded Greece’s credit rating from an A to an A- on January 14. The agency also warned Spain, Portugal and Ireland that it might lower their credit ratings. Germany’s export-led economy is suffering as well. Inflation reached 2.6 percent last year, the highest for 14 years. To help combat the situation, Germany agreed on a €50 billion stimulus package January 12. The European Central Bank (ecb) lowered the eurozone interest rate to 2 percent, its lowest level ever, on January 15. The cut was designed to stimulate Europe’s economies in the face of “worse than expected” economic indicators, according to senior economist at ing Peter Vanden Houte.
The ecb wants supervisory power over international banks. On January 9, ecb President Jean-Claude Trichet said the bank is considering taking on a bigger regulatory role. In the last edition of the Trumpet, editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote about how the ecb and Germany would use this financial crisis to gain more power. This is beginning to happen.
The Taliban and al Qaeda insurgency in Afghanistan is intensifying, with 2008 being the worst year for coalition troops in Afghanistan since the war started in 2001. The security situation in northwest Pakistan is also fast deteriorating, with terrorist activity increasing. As a result, the reliability of America’s supply route through Pakistan to Afghanistan is declining—as is Pakistan as an ally. This is prompting the U.S. to consider changing tactics. As part of a new strategy, the U.S. is looking to establish alternative supply routes to decrease its reliance on Pakistan. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus traveled to Central Asia in January for talks with regional leaders on matters relating to the war in Afghanistan—presumably about alternative logistical arrangements that would require these countries’ cooperation. The problem is, any feasible alternative supply routes would also require a green light from Russia. “[T]he linchpin,” says Stratfor, “is working out an agreement to use Russian territory. This presents an even more profound challenge than Russia’s real (but not unlimited) capacity to meddle in its periphery” (January 14). Such a scenario would give Russia a huge amount of leverage to use against an American superpower that is rapidly losing power and influence in the world.
Meanwhile, the U.S. announced December 20 that it would send an additional 20,000 to 30,000 troops to Afghanistan within six months, almost doubling the number of U.S. troops there. Even so, it is unlikely to make a real difference on the ground in a country where 130,000 Soviet troops once failed. Rather than seeking to achieve a decisive victory, Washington more likely hopes to make a psychological difference as per the surge strategy in Iraq, where the U.S. then negotiated with the Sunni insurgents and brought them into the political process.
In fact, U.S. envoy William Wood said at the end of December that the United States backs an Afghan government plan to draft Afghan militias to help in the fight against the Taliban. Wood said that even with the additional 30,000 U.S. troops, the coalition force would be insufficient to protect Afghan villages. Under the proposed program, volunteers chosen by community councils would be trained and armed to fight the Taliban. It is far from certain that such a strategy would work. The Taliban holds the high ground in Afghanistan—and whatever course the war in that country takes, the Islamist group is likely to stay. Shortly after World War II, Herbert W. Armstrong predicted, based on Bible prophecy, that America had won its last war. America’s foray in Afghanistan is just the latest example of a still-powerful, yet weak-willed, nation being unable to achieve a decisive victory.
The Kremlin is using commercial considerations to cloak the political ambitions it has on its western border. On the first day of the new year, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced on Russian state television a complete cut of all natural gas supplies to Ukraine. This cut was allegedly the result of a pricing dispute between Russia and its former Soviet satellite. The truth is, however, that Moscow has had three years to come up with an arrangement with Ukraine and could have chosen to cut gas supplies at any time in the summer. That Putin chose to make the cut in the dead of winter shows he is wielding natural gas as a weapon in an attempt to pull Ukraine back into his sphere of control. As one senior Lithuanian official put it, “You have to become a vassal state; then you get what you want” (see story, page 2).
Ukraine is the last great piece of unclaimed real estate between two rising empires, Russia and the European Union. By cutting gas, however, the Russians are trying to undermine the credibility of Ukraine’s pro-Western leadership. The strategy seems to be working. By the 13th day of gas cuts, Ukrainian opposition parties were already calling for impeachment proceedings against President Viktor Yushchenko. An increasing number of Ukrainians are blaming Yushchenko and his pro-Western allies for antagonizing Russia, and are starting to look to pro-Russian politicians like opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich for solutions. This is exactly the reaction Vladimir Putin wanted when he ordered the gas taps to be turned off.
Tension remains high between India and Pakistan in the wake of the November 26 Mumbai terrorist attacks. India deployed troops along the Pakistani border in December, and Pakistan responded in kind, withdrawing 20,000 troops from its Afghan border and redeploying them along its border with India. This troop movement represents one fifth of all the forces Islamabad had dedicated to fighting the Taliban in the northwest of Pakistan. “This is a serious blow to the war on terror in the sense that the whole focus is now shifting toward the eastern border,” said former Pakistani general and military analyst Talat Masood. “It will give more leeway to the militants and increased space to operate” (Associated Press, Dec. 26, 2008).
Then, on January 14, the Indian Congress threatened to cut ties with Pakistan if it does not increase its investigative cooperation regarding the attacks. Indian Army chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor went so far as to threaten military invasion if diplomatic and economic initiatives fail to result in action against those responsible for the attacks.
The Japanese government is seeking to pass a bill that would allow its naval forces to take on a more aggressive role in world affairs. This bill would eliminate current restrictions on Tokyo’s naval forces and allow them to aggressively fight pirates anywhere in the world, whether they are attacking Japanese vessels or not. It would also give the Japanese Defense Ministry the authority to dispatch naval forces without asking permission from the Diet. Since World War II, the Japanese military has operated under a constitution that renounces war as a sovereign right and limits the use of force to a strictly defensive capacity. Japan is currently evolving away from its pacifist constitution and taking on a much more aggressive military role. As Tokyo continues to sideline its pacifist constitution, its massive defense force could quickly evolve into one of the deadliest offensive forces on Earth.
Africa, Latin America
The military ruler of Guinea, Lansana Conte, died Dec. 23, 2008. He came to power in 1984 and “stayed in power by using violence to instill terror in the citizenry and by incorporating dissidents into the government, only to discard them later after discrediting their public personas” (Stratfor, Dec. 23, 2008). That style of dictatorial rule will continue in Guinea: Capt. Moussa Camara immediately declared himself Guinea’s new leader and offered to hold presidential elections—in two years. The establishment of “big men” in Africa has consistently held the continent in the depths of misery despite its abundant natural resources.
Similarly, the power-sharing deal that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe made with the Movement for Democratic Change has not been implemented as Mugabe maintains his hold on the government. Zimbabwe’s downward spiral continues. According to Human Rights Watch, dozens of activists have been abducted in recent months. The cholera epidemic in that country has infected more than 30,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. The plague is also affecting South Africa, where over 1,300 people are suspected of having cholera. The United Nations estimates that 60,000 Zimbabweans will contract the disease, and the Red Cross has deployed seven emergency teams normally reserved for major global disasters.
Brazil signed a $12 billion defense deal with France on December 23. The deal includes 50 ec725 helicopters from Eurocopter subsidiary Helibras and four Scorpene-class submarines. According to Stratfor, this is leading to the construction of a Scorpene-class nuclear submarine. All this equipment will be manufactured in Brazil. This deal adds to the helicopters and aircraft carrier Brazil purchased from France last year.
Ecuador’s government has decided to default on its $3.9 billion of foreign debt. This will greatly restrict the country’s access to capital, especially with international credit markets already seizing up. There is speculation that it may abandon the dollar as its currency.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez expelled the Israeli ambassador from his country in early January. On January 15, both he and Bolivian President Evo Morales broke diplomatic ties with Israel altogether as a protest against its military action in Gaza. Bolivia and Venezuela are both developing relationships with Iran.
In addition, Chavez is not convinced his country’s relations with the U.S. will improve under President Barack Obama. If Obama disrespects Venezuela, Chavez warned, Caracas will “continue our fight against imperialism.” He also claimed that the U.S. is plotting against him from Puerto Rico and threatened to expel a U.S. Embassy official. Chavez already expelled the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela in September. Anyone who thinks the anti-U.S. climate in Latin America is simply opposition to President Bush had better think again.
The kidnapping crisis within Mexico was graphically highlighted on December 10 when Felix Batista, a U.S. consultant invited by law enforcement to deliver presentations to police and businesses on anti-kidnapping strategies, was himself kidnapped. Stratfor speculated that the kidnapping “could have been intended as a message from organized crime groups that no one is safe” (Dec. 16, 2008). The U.S. Department of Justice stated in its “2009 National Drug Threat Assessment,” released on December 15, that Mexican drug traffickers “represent the greatest organized crime threat to the United States” and that drug trafficking in most U.S. cities is controlled by Mexican drug cartels. The U.S. consumes 44 percent of the world’s narcotics, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. It is easy to look at the problem and simply blame the drug traffickers, but as the late Herbert W. Armstrong would often say, there is a cause for every effect. The causes of the huge U.S. drug problem are deeply connected to moral decline. America’s craving for drugs is what causes demand. Eliminate demand and the market would die.
President Obama chose California megachurch evangelist Rick Warren to deliver his inauguration invocation, but found himself absorbing wrath from angry homosexuals miffed at Warren’s opposition to homosexual “marriage.” Obama responded by choosing Bishop Gene Robinson to deliver the prayer on the first day of the inauguration festivities at the Lincoln Memorial. An openly practicing homosexual activist, who recently got “married,” Robinson has caused great division inside the Anglican Communion. His inaugural invitation—and that of a homosexual marching band—along with Warren’s, was intended to celebrate America’s “diversity of faith,” according to the Inaugural Committee.
Also in January, a federal court forced the state of Louisiana to recognize a homosexual adoption. Two California homosexuals sued to have both their names on their adopted boy’s Louisiana birth certificate. Louisiana refused, since both same-sex adoption and same-sex “marriage” are illegal in that state. The federal government decided otherwise. The case brings the homosexual agenda into Louisiana through the back door, and experts say it provides legal grounds for future lawsuits to mandate recognition of homosexual “marriage” in other states.
Experts are predicting the most American retail store closings in 35 years for 2009, about 160,000 by the end of the year, and 200,000 more next year as the Great Recession grinds on. This in spite of the fact that the Federal Reserve cut interest rates from 1 percent down to an unprecedented 0.25 or lower—even zero. Banks have still been reluctant to lend money, sensing that the smartest thing to do in today’s economy is to hold onto your cash.
In mid-January, the Senate voted to release the second half of the Treasury’s bailout plan—$350 billion—with few strings attached. The Treasury then announced it would spend those funds on a bailout of Bank of America. This came on the heels of the House unwrapping an $825 billion package including tax cuts and boosted government spending.
Britain was deemed unworthy of the euro in January. The European Central Bank said that because of its public deficit and unstable currency, the United Kingdom could not join the euro yet even if it wanted to. Fitch ratings agency predicts that Britain’s debt will jump from 44 percent of gross domestic product in 2007 to 68 percent by late 2010. Writing for the Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Prichard said, “It usually takes a war to do such damage.”