The Week in Review
Iran has backpedaled over the multinational nuclear deal made October 1 whereby its stockpile of enriched uranium would be sent out of the country temporarily. Although Tehran has not rejected the deal outright, it appears to be buying time yet again through its ambiguous official reaction. At the same time, news has emerged that Iran has experimented with a more advanced warhead than previously known. The two-point implosion device is several steps beyond first-generation nuclear devices. “If true, it would mean that Iran might be closer to a weapon than previously thought,” says Stratfor. “The Iranians obviously see room for maneuvering. They have rejected the nuclear agreement, but have not ruled out the possibility of a change in policy. They have signaled an increased threat of weaponization, but with sufficient ambiguity to back away from it” (November 9). Iran continues to play its same game of deceit as the impotent West looks on.
Part of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan would be prepared to negotiate with the United States if the U.S. withdrew its troops from the country, former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil told cnn on November 11. Muttawakil also said there was a huge difference between al Qaeda and the Taliban. The previous day, top Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Toor Jan made much the same point, saying that the Afghan Taliban had no connection with Pakistan’s main Taliban group, and that al Qaeda has no influence over the Afghan Taliban. Such statements indicate that the mainstream Taliban in Afghanistan may want to enter negotiations with the U.S. Be assured, though, that any such negotiations will come at a steep price for America. Dealing politically with the Taliban would be admitting defeat in the war against the Taliban, and legitimizing the very terrorist enemy the U.S. and its allies have been fighting for eight years.
Lebanon’s unity government convened for the first time Tuesday, one day after the majority U.S.-backed political bloc and its rivals in the Syria- and Iran-backed minority coalition finally agreed on a new power-sharing cabinet. Lebanon had been without a government since the June parliamentary elections. Hezbollah was given key positions in the new government, voa News reports, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Time reports: “Although it accepted defeat in its effort to win control of the government at the ballot box, Hezbollah has since maneuvered behind the scenes to rig the composition of the cabinet in its favor. First it demanded veto power over all decisions, but eventually it accepted a compromise formula that left the ruling coalition without a large enough majority to make big decisions on its own. Still not content with that, the opposition pushed for control of Lebanon’s telecommunications system …. Saad Hariri, son of the murdered former prime minister and leader of the ruling coalition, initially balked at Hezbollah’s terms, but eventually had no choice but to give in” (November 11).
Germany appears to be taking the lead in Europe’s economic recovery, according to recently released data. Germany’s industrial output rose 3.5 percent in the third quarter—the biggest quarterly jump since reunification 20 years ago—according to data published Monday. In September, exports jumped 3.8 percent. Seasonally adjusted unemployment data published last week shows that unemployment fell by 26,000 last month. Experts had been expecting the number of unemployed to rise by 15,000. “We see Germany leading the recovery in the eurozone, with annual gains of around 2 percent over the next two years,” said European economist Jennifer McKeown from the research group Capital Economics. But Germany is not quite out of the woods yet. “The full force of the economic crisis will hit us next year,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel Tuesday in her first address to parliament in her new term. “The problems will become bigger before things can get better.” Though the economic crisis may not yet be over, watch for Germany to take the lead in Europe’s, and even the world’s, economy.
Sweden and Finland agreed November 5 to allow a pipeline to be constructed under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. Denmark agreed almost three weeks before. The long-awaited project should finally get off the ground early next year. This is an important project for Germany—and bad news for Eastern Europe. Russia has already used gas as a weapon against Eastern Europe. Once the Baltic pipeline is complete, Russia will be able to stop gas deliveries to individual Eastern European countries and only minimally affect Germany, France and the other downstream Western European states. The Nord Stream pipeline will give Germany the same kind of energy leverage over much of Western Europe. It is German, not Russian, ambitions that Western European nations should fear most. For more information on Germany and Russia’s pipeline politics, see our May 1, 2007, article “German-Russian Energy—a Dangerous Partnership.”
The new German defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Thursday. He met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and nato commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal as well as other officials. Guttenberg is the first German defense minister to explicitly state that Germany is fighting a war in Afghanistan; his predecessor was careful to avoid the word. “His comments were welcomed by troops, with one of them saying that they ‘were exposed to danger every day and therefore it is appreciated when things are called by name,’” wrote Deutsche Welle. Watch to see whether zu Guttenberg continues to rise in popularity in the military.
China has sent the clearest signal yet that it might scale back lending to the United States. On Wednesday, the Chinese Central Bank indicated that it would consider allowing the dollar to fall against the yuan. The change in policy—at a time when America is running the largest deficits in world history—could have major ramifications for the U.S. One of the ways China intervenes to keep the yuan pegged to the U.S. dollar is by purchasing dollar assets—like U.S. treasuries—in international currency markets. This increased demand for dollar assets, along with the subsequent increased supply of yuan, helps prop up the value of the dollar against the Chinese currency. However, if this relationship is about to change, and China is going to allow the dollar to fall in relation to the yuan, it means that China’s central bank will probably reduce its purchases of dollar assets. For the U.S. government, it means that it may need to find an additional source of foreign lenders—not an easy task when you are already the world’s largest borrower and you are running world-record deficits. If a U.S. treasury debt auction fails, interest rates could soar. For an economy addicted to debt at all levels—federal, state, municipal, corporate, personal—higher interest rates could be a killer.
Venezuela announced November 5 that it will send 15,000 troops to the Colombian border, escalating President Hugo Chavéz’s feud with his neighbor. While it is likely that this move is being made to distract the people at home from water rationing, electricity shortages and an unstable economy, it is nevertheless true that Colombia’s close ties to the U.S. are straining relations with some of its leftist neighbors. Fidel Castro said Washington’s plan to establish military bases in Colombia amounts to the annexation of Colombia and that the people would oppose it.
On Thursday, army officials said that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had been officially charged with the 13 murders he committed last week. It had not been decided whether to charge him with a 14th murder, the death of an unborn child of a pregnant victim. Hasan, a devout Muslim and the U.S.-born son of Palestinian immigrants, has relatives still in the West Bank and might have been sending money to someone in Pakistan. He shot more than 43 people last Thursday after shouting “Allahu Akbar!”
The military justice system has not executed anyone in almost 50 years, but a significant execution took place in Virginia on Tuesday. Seven years after his arrest, John Allen Muhammad, the “d.c. sniper” who murdered 10 people as they shopped, mowed the lawn, pumped gas, and went about their daily lives, was put to death in Jarratt.
Federal prosecutors are attempting to seize four American mosques and an entire skyscraper in New York City owned by a nonprofit Muslim organization that has been suspected of being under the control of the Iranian government, funneling money back to Tehran. Viewed in conjunction with recent weapons seizures from Iran, this disclosure highlights the impressive extent of Tehran’s clandestine operations—and provides yet more evidence of the folly in trying to treat it as a trustworthy peace partner. Nevertheless, don’t expect it to strengthen America’s resolve to stop the charade of negotiations with the Islamic Republic.
The official national unemployment rate in the U.S. hovered above 10 percent this week, a 26-year high. Since millions of Americans have gone 26 weeks without a job, Congress has extended unemployment benefits for jobless Americans four times since the recession began, recently up to 73 additional weeks of benefits. Meanwhile, the U.S. chalked up a $176 billion budget deficit to start its 2010 fiscal year in October.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown writes handwritten letters of condolence to the parents of soldiers who are killed defending their country. Jacqui Janes, the mother of a soldier who died in Afghanistan, caused an uproar in Britain by angrily responding to Brown because the prime minister, who has poor eyesight, misspelled the name. Brown personally called her, and Janes secretly recorded the call and released it to a tabloid-style British newspaper. The resultant row has highlighted the division in Britain over the Afghanistan war.
England’s Times Online reported that doctors have prescribed the wrong medicine for up to 150,000 people diagnosed with dementia. Only 36,000 are determined to have benefited from the drugs, while approximately 1,500 have actually been killed by their prescriptions.