John McCain decided to participate in Friday’s presidential debate, which was predictably dominated by questions on the economy. The status of the U.S. economy continues to garner significant international attention, but other stories also developed this week.
1. In perhaps the most important development last week, Congress reached a deal on a $700 billion bailout package for the financial sector. Progress towards an agreement had collapsed last week after House Republicans withdrew their support for President Bush’s initial proposal and Democrats refused to move forward without their support. The impact of the financial collapse (and bailout) in the United States has yet to be felt, but already some—including Germany’s finance minister, Peer Steinbrück—are arguing that the crisis means the U.S. has lost its “financial superpower status.”
2. In the most recent development in souring Russian-American relations, Russia and Venezuela moved to cooperate more closely in areas of energy policy. This follows on the announcement that Russian naval vessels and aircraft would participate in Venezuelan war games in the southern Caribbean. Since 2005, Venezuela has used a portion of its oil wealth to purchase more than $4 billion worth of weapons systems, including fighter aircraft, helicopters, anti-aircraft systems, and armored personnel carriers, from Russia.
3. The vast expanses of space are becoming a bit more crowded, as China and India expand their own space programs. China launched the country’s third manned space mission on Friday. The mission culminated with a successful space walk over the weekend. Meanwhile, India is planning its own launch intended to map the surface of the moon. According to some observers, the Chinese and Indian governments are engaged in a new space race, echoing the U.S.-Soviet rivalry of the 1960s.
4. On Saturday, the Syrian capital Damascus was rocked by a car bomb which killed 17 and injured 44 people. Although no group has yet claimed responsibility, suspicions have fallen on resurgent Sunni fundamentalist groups.
5. South Africa’s president Thabo Mbeki abruptly resigned last week. Although the African National Congress’ leader Jacob Zuma is likely to be elected president in the upcoming election, Kgalema Motlanthe, former guerrilla and union leader, was selected as the interim president on Thursday. Motlanthe says his agenda will focus on maintaining economic and political stability.