This week Pakistan’s military began operations to retake the strategic Buner district back from the Taliban. Last week, Buner had fallen to the Taliban as the movement expanded its reach beyond the Swat Valley, where the government had recognized its more or less defacto control by agreeing to the imposition of the Taliban’s particularly conservative interpretation of Sharia law. With the Taliban less than two hundred miles from Islamabad, it seems that the Pakistani military has finally realized that it needs to confront the Taliban. We can only hope that it’s not too little, too late.
Over the past several months amnesia seems to have spread among governments and television pundits. Though everyone has undoubtedly seen Pirates of the Caribbean, no one knows what to do with real-world pirates. They chose to forget over two millennia of historical precedent. Fortunately, with the case of Maersk, the US government did not take the same confused approach – though things were made much easier by the fact that the ship is American, rather than another country’s.
For years Thailand has been held up as a beacon of stability and comparatively good governance in a region often lacking both. But recently the country has been slipping into what would appear to be a zero-sum political conflict. First came the protests and coup against then Prime Minister Thaskin. The coup was supposedly to restore order but was seen by many as an attempt to remove Thaskin permanently. Thaskin’s populist policies aimed at empowering rural and northern Thais were interpreted as interpreted as a threat by the traditional power centers, including the military.
During his campaign, President Obama took the unprecedented step of traveling to Europe and giving a speech to thousands in Berlin. Undoubtedly, the trip was motivated by domestic goals; Obama wanted to be portrayed as a leader that could restore greatness to the image of the United States abroad, a leader that we could be proud of. And in that sense, it was effective. Now as the President makes his second trip abroad (and first major one) he is bringing the stump speech from Prague to Ankara in an effort to win over foreign publics and governments.
Many commentators and even the Obama administration have built up expectations for this week’s G-20 Summit. For the record, the G-20 nations are the 20 largest economies, who together account for 85% of the global economy. Though Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, hopes the meeting will begin the restructuring of the world economic system, much like the Breton Woods agreement did after World War Two, there is reason to be skeptical.
As we wind down from Spring Break, it seems appropriate to turn a critical eye to that perennial destination for Spring Breakers, Mexico. On March 5, Cornell’s communications office sent out an email alerting us all to the State Department travel alert for Mexico and the continuing violence there. Violence in Mexico has been escalating since the government launched a crackdown on corruption and the drug cartels, even going so far as to order the military into the streets.
On Friday President Obama released a video message aimed directly at the Iranian government and people on the occasion of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. In the message, Obama offers Iran a new beginning, and a new opportunity for dialogue. Such a message puts Iran’s hardliners in an awkward position. In the past, they could blame the US and the Bush administration for preventing a rapprochement, while now they look like the obstructionists if they do not show a willingness to engage.
This past week the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for crimes committed in Darfur. Although surely motivated out of good intentions, this warrant will prove to be a test of the court’s legitimacy and strength. While looking at it that way, we are forced to ask, will the ICC be stronger for it or will it be shown to be another “paper dragon” institution of international governance?
Storm clouds are gathered over Brussels: the economic and political crisis that grips the countries of the European Union is highlighting the weaknesses of the EU. Among those weaknesses, the inability of the organization to create common political policy is especially apparent. Though European leaders are hailing a “consensus” that they reached at their emergency summit, the economies of Europe, especially those of Central and Eastern Europe, are falling closer and closer to collapse.
During the past week, Secretary of State Clinton debuted on her first trip abroad, with stops in Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and China. With this trip she brought a new emphasis and a new face to US foreign policy. Uncharacteristically blunt for a diplomat, she directly engaged issues of secession in North Korea. In China, she engaged the leadership with the skill of a global politician, rather than with the typical awkwardness that has traditionally accompanied new administrations.