As America leaves …
The U.S. has officially ended combat operations in Iraq. Meanwhile, violence is rising and Iran stands ready.
In August, a prominent Shiite militant leader returned to Iraq from Iran under Iranian protection. Ismail al-Lami, who uses the name Abu Deraa, has been wanted by the U.S. since 2004 for his Iranian-sponsored attacks against Iraqi Sunnis as a leader in Muqtada al Sadr’s Shiite Mahdi Army. He escaped to Iran in 2008. Abu Deraa’s return to Iraq just as the U.S. cut its troops in Iraq down to 50,000 as its operations moved from combat to assist was likely carefully deliberated by Iran. It is a reminder to the U.S. that Iran still has powerful levers to influence events in Iraq. If Tehran perceives politics in Iraq are not going its way enough, it could ratchet up the violence in the country.
Iraq received a taste of such violence on August 25, the day after the U.S. announced it had shrunk its troop level. Thirty-four terrorist attacks took place in 16 cities across the country, killing more than 60 and wounding about 400. Most of the bombings targeted police and security forces, with markets and neighborhoods also being hit. These coordinated attacks hit more cities simultaneously than any previous round of attacks.
Clearly, U.S. troops are leaving a country that is far from stable. In addition to rising violence, political parties have yet to form a government months after elections were held in March.
Iran is well placed to intervene in Iraq. “With the absence of an agreed-upon government and with political rivals threatening that the situation could deteriorate into renewed civil war, the political vacuum gives Iran space to interfere in Iraq’s affairs,” wrote Zvi Bar’el in Israel’s Haaretz (August 3).
Iran has a lot of levers it can pull in Iraq, but it doesn’t yet have full control of the country. But with the U.S. leaving the country, it is only a matter of time.
A match made in Rome
Germany has launched a new diplomatic initiative to improve relations with Latin America.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle presented a 60-page strategy paper to an audience at the Foreign Ministry, including ambassadors from Latin America, on August 4. “The whole South American continent is taking off,” it read. “Despite many setbacks and difficulties, it is a singular success story, and we should be smart enough to take part.”
Germany’s last formal strategy for Latin America was formed in 1995. Westerwelle said the region now deserves more focused attention. He said he wants to bring a “new quality” to the German-Latin American relationship. He outlined a three-pronged approach: increase trade, harness the diplomatic influence of key nations like Brazil, and take more collective responsibility on transnational issues.
Germany conducted €36.5 billion (us$48.2 billion) worth of trade with Latin America in 2009, an increase of 16.3 percent since 2005.
Latin American diplomats welcomed the news. “We now have the opportunity to reestablish a historic bond,” Argentina’s Ambassador Guillermo Nielsen said. “At the start of the last century, our most important market for exports was Germany, but in the postwar era, this relationship was lost. Now it’s coming back.”
Europe and Latin America have a shared Catholic heritage. Expect this to be exploited as the two continents draw closer together.
As the Church of England becomes embroiled in controversy over female bishops, 15 Anglo-Catholic bishops have said that some in their ranks would try to join the Catholic Church. Expect the Vatican to use Anglican liberalism to gather more members under the banner of Rome.
Another reason to love the EU
The European Union is considering a new EU-wide tax, imposed on member states by Brussels. On August 9, EU Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski said he would unveil plans for the tax in September.
The idea has been smacked down by most of the important countries in Europe. However, according to Mary Ellen Synon of the Mail Online, these nations already gave Brussels the power to impose new taxes when they signed the Lisbon Treaty, which states, “The Union shall provide itself with the means necessary to attain its objectives and carry through its policies.”
This, according to Synon, means it can raise its own taxes. “The British will have to pay the tax these people demand, but can never vote them out,” she wrote. “The Commission wants to start with a tax on all bank transactions, or perhaps air travel. It doesn’t really matter which. Their point now is to establish the power of Brussels to tax the populations of the countries of the EU without any control by national parliaments. Once that power is in place, the taxes can be ratcheted up” (August 9).
Though these taxes may not come into force this time around, they are certain to at some point. The proposed European-wide taxes will be just one more step toward the EU becoming a superstate.
Swallowing the Pacific
China’s soft-power buildup is paying dividends in the Pacific.
In recent months, China has become more aggressive in its claim on the entire South China Sea, which competes with claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
In July, the U.S. rejected China’s claims and declared that Washington would get more involved in the disputes to guarantee free trade and open navigation throughout the region. Several Southeast Asian nations, led by Vietnam, made clear they would welcome such a U.S. role to counter China’s muscle.
But others did not support Washington’s stance. In a stark deviation from historic allegiance, and in a sign of Asia’s shifting tides, Manila said Washington should have no part in the territorial row. On August 9, Filipino Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said the U.S. should stay out of disputes between China and Southeast Asian nations over territories in the South China Sea.
Then, on August 24, Beijing signed a contract with East Timor detailing plans for China to build a new military headquarters for Dili’s army. The deal was the latest of many signals that East Timor is shifting away from its traditional patron, Australia, and toward China.
In May 1968—seven years before the unconditional surrender of South Vietnam to communism—the Trumpet’s forerunner, the Plain Truth, stated, “Bible prophecy reveals that not even America, with all of her nuclear muscle, can prevent Southeast Asia from eventually being overrun by communism”—or, more accurately, from being drawn into a Chinese-Russian-dominated geopolitical bloc.
We can expect Southeast Asian nations to increasingly fall under China’s sway. As China’s soft-power diplomacy and hard-power buildup continue to unify Asian nations, the influence of Australia and America in the region will wane all the more.
The annual report to Congress on China’s military power was released on August 15, and describes a massive Chinese military buildup designed with the purpose of pushing America out of the Western Pacific. The report says China is developing technology designed specifically to destroy U.S. carrier battle groups. Beijing officials called the report exaggerated, but Washington is right to be concerned over China’s military buildup. Concern alone, however, will not neutralize the threat.
The incredible shrinking military
Britain’s armed forces are making drastic cuts to their operations, even sacrificing core capabilities, to fight government debt. In cutting up to 16,000 personnel and thousands of weapons, it appears the government has resigned itself to downgrading the nation from a “major military power” to a “medium-scale player.”
The Royal Air Force may shrink to its smallest size since World War i under proposed cuts, losing 7,000 airmen (one in six) and 295 aircraft, leaving the branch with fewer than 200 fighter planes. The army could lose 40 percent of its 9,700 armored vehicles and an entire brigade of 5,000 troops.
Moreover, the Telegraph reported August 25 that the Royal Navy may be forced to borrow American warplanes for its two planned new aircraft carriers. The Treasury reportedly has not budgeted any money for actual planes to be carried by the two ships. To make ends meet, the second carrier may not even make it to completion, may have to carry helicopters instead of jets, or might even have to be shared with France.
Finances are also dictating that in order to keep even these naval capabilities, Britain will likely have to give up its amphibious landing capability altogether, the heart of Britain’s operations in the Falklands in 1982. Meanwhile, the Royal Navy is likely to lose two submarines, three amphibious ships, more than 100 senior officers and 2,000 sailors and marines.
The Ministry of Defense is also trying to fathom the “black hole” in its finances: £72 billion worth of orders that cannot be paid for.
Britain is but a shell of its former powerful self. For a comprehensive view on why this greatest empire in history has so quickly fallen, request a free copy of Herbert W. Armstrong’s book The United States and Britain in Prophecy.
While many countries are facing financial ruin, Germany has experienced its best quarter of growth since reunification. During the second quarter of this year, the German economy grew by 2.2 percent, according to data released by Germany’s statistics office August 13. These strong results will probably cement Germany’s role as Europe’s, and even the world’s, economic leader. Germany wanted to deal with the financial crisis in a much more cautious and prudent way than the rest of the world. Now, the numbers seem to show that Germany got it right. Germany’s economy is stronger, while most of the world is economically weak. More significantly, the Germans are growing more self-confident and assertive. Expect this attitude to spread beyond just economic policy.
France wants to make its taxation and spending policies more similar to Germany’s, French Budget Minister Francois Baroin said on August 25 after visiting his German counterpart Wolfgang Schäuble. “Germany is a model which should be a source of inspiration for us,” he said. In July, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that he wanted to coordinate France’s tax system with Germany’s. Already other nations are seeing Germany’s success and following its lead.
Geert Wilders’s anti-Islamic Freedom Party will play a key role in the new Dutch government as part of a coalition arrangement agreed upon on August 1. The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy and the Christian Democrats announced they would form a minority coalition. Wilders’s party will back these two parties on a case-by-case basis. This allows Wilders to play a role in government without having to stop speaking out about Islam in order to toe the government line. Wilders’s powerful role in Dutch politics shows how concerned the people of Europe are becoming with Islamic immigration. For more, see “How to Be Popular in Europe” in our August edition.
Russia began loading uranium into Iran’s first nuclear power plant on August 21. If all goes well, Iran will be producing fissile material by October. The activation is a milestone for Iran. On the global playing field, Bushehr’s activation is a symbolic victory for Iran in its confrontation with the West over its quest for nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, Iran has stockpiled three tons of low-enriched uranium—enough for one or two nuclear weapons—according to former top UN nuclear official Olli Heinonen.
Israel and the Palestinian National Authority, under pressure from the U.S., agreed to begin direct peace talks September 2 in Washington. In practice, both sides are just going through the motions once again, with neither side hopeful of actual progress. The most significant outcome is likely to be internal political weakening of Israel and further hurtful concessions by Israel. The Trumpet has long pointed out how the peace process is in fact a deadly “wound” for the Jewish state.
Pakistan has suffered its worst floods in 80 years, beginning in July and continuing through August. At least 17.2 million people have lost their homes and livelihoods, and more than 1,500 people have been killed, according to the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The disaster is helping the Taliban make a comeback. Before the floods hit, the Pakistani government seemed to be finally making progress in the Swat Valley, one of the areas most affected by the flooding, with every bridge there being destroyed. The Taliban is taking full advantage of the opportunity, aiming for the hearts and minds of the people. Islamist groups were quick to respond, with a network of volunteers and donations from urban middle-class Pakistanis. “Given the circumstances, for [the government] to now act against groups who are seen to be doing a sterling job in terms of helping people will be absolutely suicidal,” said Pakistan expert at London’s Royal Institute of International Affairs, Farzana Shaikh. The government, on the other hand, is rapidly losing popularity.
Russia, China, India and Turkey have entered into trade deals that violate U.S.-led sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas sector. Washington and the EU hoped to intensify existing UN sanctions against Tehran by adding restrictions on companies that supply fuel to Iran, but their efforts are proving ineffective. Russia, China, India and Turkey are all rushing into the lucrative void left by Western nations that won’t sell to Iran, and all four have opened talks regarding investments worth billions of dollars in Iran’s energy resources. As Eastern powers become more defiant, the rift between East and West will broaden.
Russia announced on August 11 that it had deployed an S-300 advanced missile defense system in Georgia’s Moscow-backed rebel region of Abkhazia, saying it would provide anti-aircraft defense for Abkhazia and Georgia’s other Russia-supported breakaway enclave, South Ossetia. The move signals that Russian forces are bolstering involvement in the disputed area which was at the heart of the brief 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Stratfor noted that Russia’s defense buildup in Georgia’s rebel regions “is one component of a multi-pronged Russian effort to consolidate its military control over the Caucasus” (August 11).
Kremlin experts say that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s high-profile response to wildfires and ownership of a recent spy scandal are designed to demonstrate to the Russian people that he, not President Dmitry Medvedev, is leading the country. More than two years ago, term limits forced Putin to surrender the presidential office and instead take the prime minister’s title. With the presidential election only 18 months away, Putin is gearing up to make his leadership of Russia official once again.
Mexico’s drug war continues to escalate. On August 5, an improvised explosive device exploded inside a car near a police facility. On August 14 and 15, Los Zetas attacked the local affiliates of Televisa, a large media company. On August 24, Mexican marines found the bodies of 72 recently murdered people on a ranch a few miles south of the U.S. border; it was learned that the Zetas committed the deed. August 16, Edelmiro Cavazos, the mayor of Santiago, was kidnapped in a reasonably safe part of Mexico. Two days later, his dead body was discovered on a nearby road. Six of the mayor’s own police confessed to helping in the murder. These are just some of many ongoing incidents in Mexico’s drug war, which has killed 28,000 over the past four years.
Even worse than Mexico is Venezuela, where over 16,000 people were murdered in 2009 alone. By comparison, in Iraq, which has a similar population to Venezuela, 4,644 civilians died violently in the same year. Since 1999, there have been more than 118,000 homicides. Since 2007, there have been over 43,000. Morgues receive more bodies from homicides than from car accidents. The government’s response has been to crack down not on crime, but on a free press.
South Africa and China signed a “comprehensive strategic partnership” on August 24, as South African President Jacob Zuma visited Beijing. China has technical expertise and money that South Africa wants access to. The two nations signed commercial agreements relating to finance, mining, nuclear energy and many other sectors. South Africa already has a large trade deficit with China, its top trading partner, so these deals aim to give China access to South Africa’s resources. Expect China to continue to make inroads into Africa to get hold of them.
The Pentagon is cutting spending on “big war” weapons, the Washington Times reported on August 3. Military planners are trying to save $100 billion over five years. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is looking to axe systems made for fighting large-scale international conflicts, such as next-generation ballistic-missile submarines and perhaps even one or two carrier strike groups. The Pentagon is looking to develop less-expensive systems for smaller conflicts comparable to Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates has already halted production of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter and scaled back or shelved missile defense systems, long-range nuclear bombers and other warplanes. While these attempts to trim budgets may seem prudent to some, the Trumpet projects that the Pentagon will soon miss those “big war” weapons.
On July 27, Britain opted in to the EU’s European Investigation Order. The decision means that Brussels can force British police to place British citizens under surveillance or hand over dna records. Police from European nations can even request information about activities that aren’t crimes in the United Kingdom.
The Daily Mail reported on August 3 that the number of pre-teenage girls on “the pill” has quintupled over the last decade. In 2009, doctors prescribed the contraceptive to more than 1,000 girls who were 11 or 12, usually without their parents’ knowledge. According to the National Health Service, another 200 children ages 11 to 13 received long-term implanted or injectable contraceptives. At least 58,000 15-year-old children were on the pill, compared to 23,000 in 1999.
In August, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that Australia should reject the Commonwealth and become a republic when Queen Elizabeth ii dies or abdicates.