Tag Archives: status of forces agreement

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

President-elect Barack Obama is moving forward with his transition.  According to most observers, he’s been meticulous in his vetting but has taken a pragmatic rather than partisan approach in selecting his cabinet.  Many of the most important positions have not yet been filled, but speculation is that Tim Geithner will be named Treasury Secretary and Hillary Clinton will be named to State.  A number of names have also been floated for other key positions in the administration.

Here’s five stories you might have missed during the extensive speculation about Obama’s presidency:

1.  The French left appears to be in disarray after Saturday’s leadership contestMartine Aubry narrowly won the contest fort the position, but Segolene Royal, the party’s candidate in the last presidential election, refused to concede defeat and demanded an immediate revote.  Observers fear that the leadership contest could result in the collapse of the French Socialist party.

2.  The increase in piracy off the coast of Somalia is having a dramatic impact on global trade.  Last week, pirates seized a Saudi oil supertanker carrying an estimated $100 million worth of crude oil.  The attack was a high-profile illustration of the dangers associated with shipping near Somali waters.  But Somalia is located along the Suez-canal transit path, one of the world’s busiest canals and part of a key shipping route between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.  Shipping companies are now re-routing traffic around the Cape of Good Hope in Southern Africa to avoid the pirate infested water, adding to the cost of shipping.

3.  President Bush and President-elect Obama advanced competing economic plans this week.  President Bush appealed to the global community to embrace free trade, expressing his disappointment in Congress its refusal to approve new free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea before adjourning.  President-elect Obama announced his intention to develop a new public works program, echoing Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program which helped to bring the United States out of the Great Depression.  The program would focus on job creation, particularly in the areas of construction and the green economy.

4.  The status of forces agreement between the United States and Iraqi signed last week faced its first real challenges, as thousands of protestors backed by Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr took to the streets on Friday in protest.  The rally of at least 10,000 peple demanded the immediate withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.  However, al-Sadr’s group does not appear to have the ability to defeat the agreement. 

5.  Local elections on Sunday in Venezuela are projected to presenet a challenge to incumbent president Hugo Chavez.  The president’s party rode a tidal wave of support in 2004, when it won all but two governorships in the country.  But opinion polls suggest he could lose between six and nine seats, undermining the president’s ability to deepen his revolutionary transformation of Venezuela.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The global economic summit of the G20 countries concluded yesterday.  The meeting, intended to address the global financial crisis, concluded with a promise to take “whatever further actions are necessary” to address the crisis, but offered few concrete steps forward.  The summit was an opportunity to reconsider the international financial architecture, often referred to as the Bretton Woods system.  I’ll have a more detailed assessment of the summit tomorrow.  In the meantime, here are five other studies you might have missed:

1. Remember the timeline for withdrawal from Iraq that would have handed a victory to the terrorists?  Well, now we have one.  The Bush administration concluded a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government that requires the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces by 2011.  The UN Security Council resolution which authorized the U.S. military presence in Iraq is due to expire in December, and without either a new Security Council authorization or an agreement with the Iraqi government, the status of American troops in Iraq would have been uncertain at best (and illegal at worst).  The timeline for withdrawal was a sticking point for approval of the Iraqi legislature. 

2.  The ceasefire between Israel and Gaza militants continued to come under strain last week.  An Israeli attack early last week resulted in the death of six Hamas militants.  Palestinian militants responded by increasing rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip.  The Israeli government then closed Gaza’s borders, shutting down the flow of supplies.  The European Union on Friday called on Israel to permit the importation of food, fuel, and basic humanitarian supplies, but so far, the Israeli government has declined.

3.  The Eurozone has officially entered its first recession ever.  Established in 1999 and comprised of all European Union members which have adopted the Euro as their official currency, the 15-member Eurozone has now experienced two consecutive quarters of declining gross domestic product.  According to an FT editorial, the recession represents the first real challenge for European economic unity.  Already the European Central Bank has taken steps to address the economic downturn, cutting interest rates and increasing liquidity.  The effectiveness of these policies—and the difficulty of managing fifteen national economies through a single monetary policy—remains to be seen.

4.  Faced with oil prices declining below $55 per barrel and the lowest level of growth in demand for oil since 1985, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) scheduled an emergency meeting for the end of the month.  Most forecasters believe OPEC will try to trim global output in an attempt to increase world oil prices.

5.  The fighting in eastern portions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has resulted in the displacement of as many as 250,000 people, continued last week despite UN pressure to establish a ceasefire.  The United Nations is attempting to address the humanitarian crisis, but has so far been unsuccessful. But according to sources within the UN mission in the Congo, known as MONUC, rebel forces are attempting to force the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from the region.

And a bonus story for this week:

6.  The Mexican Congress passed its annual budget for 2009.  In an environment characterized by the global economic downturn and tight finances, the Mexican government will increase spending by 13.1 percent in real terms in 2009.  The budget—the first in six years in which the government will run a deficit—increases spending on infrastructure, security, and social development. The new budget represents a return to Keynesian-style counter-cyclical spending which the Mexican government hopes will permit the country to avoid the worst of the global economic crisis.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Not surprisingly, coverage of the campaign for the U.S. Presidency continued to dominate the headlines this week.  Obama has taken a commanding lead in many polls, and McCain is embracing his role as underdog.  This morning, Colin Powell endorsed Obama suggesting that the race may quickly be spiraling out of McCain’s reach.

In other news:

1. President Bush on Sunday announced his intention to call a global financial summit.   The move appears to be an attempt to undermine efforts by the European Union, led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, to reconsider the foundation of the global economic order.  Meanwhile, Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organization was warned against a rise in protectionism by governments who seek to blame other countries for their financial crises.  “This is exactly what happened in the 1930s when [protectionism] was the virus that spread the crisis all over the place…This is a risk,” he cautioned.

2. New economic figures out of China this week illustrate that no country is immune from the current global crisis.  Figures due out on Monday will provide some insight in to current developments in the Chinese economy.  But economists are bracing for a continued economic slowdown in China.  Already, the Chinese government has introduced an economic stimulus package intended to boost the economy. 

3. A status of forces agreement between the United States and Iraq has been negotiated, but the agreement now faces the difficult task of garnering support from the Iraqi parliament.  The draft agreement, which was circulated on Friday, would extend the U.S. commitment to Iraq to 2012.  The agreement faces numerous obstacles, including the question of jurisdiction over American soldiers who commit crimes while in Iraq.  The agreement, which faces stiff opposition in the Iraqi Parliament, must be passed by the Iraqi parliament by the end of the year, when the United Nations mandate for the U.S. operation ends.

4. The South African political fissure continues to grow.  The ruling African National Congress ousted its sitting president, Thabo Mbeki, several weeks ago.  In more recent developments, Mbhazima Shilowa, an influential figure within the party and close ally of Mbeki, quit the party and has hinted that he will found a new party to challenge the ANC in upcoming elections.  The fissure threats to deprive the African National Congress of the two-thirds majority it has held in the parliament since the establishment of multiracial democracy in 1994.  If that happens, it would force the ANC to compromise with rival parties to effect constitutional change in the country.

5. The sharp decline in global oil prices over the last two months has led to economic problems for countries once flush with cash.  Oil has slipped under $80 per barrel on global markets.  Over the summer, oil was trading near $150 per barrel.  The decline has created problems–such as declines in government revenue and export earnings–for major oil exporters, including Russia, Mexico, and Nigeria, and the oil exporting Gulf States.

When is a “Timetable” Not a “Timetable”?

On Friday, the Bush Administration and the government of Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq signed a Memorandum of Understanding that would set a “time horizon” for “operational goals” of withdrawing US forces from Iraq.  If this sounds a lot like a “timetable for withdrawal,” that’s because it is.  In the second major policy reversal in a week, the Bush administration moved away from pressuring the al-Malaki government from signing a status of forces agreement that would have seen the establishment of a large, permanent US military presence in Iraq.

In an interview with the German daily Der Spiegel, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki argued on Saturday that “the tenure of coalition troops in Iraq should be limited” because “artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems.”  With timeframe does al-Maliki favor?  According to him, 16 months should be about right, with the “possibility of slight changes” depending on conditions on the ground.  Others in the Iraqi government say that five years is more realistic.  The agreement itself contains no specific dates.

The US currently has 15 brigades comprised of approximately 145,000 soldiers on the ground in Iraq.  The Iraqi government would like to see a shift in forces from combat operations to support operations, and a gradual drawdown of forces.  Immunity provisions, which prohibit prosecution of US troops by the Iraqi government for anything they might do while stationed there, have also been a source of controversy. 

The Memorandum of Understanding does not have to be forwarded either to the Iraqi Parliament nor the US Congress for ratification.  For its crafters, this is a good thing.  Given the unpopularity of the agreement in both countries, approval would be difficult.