FPI Overnight Brief: July 14, 2009

Iraq

Reuters reports that “The top U.S. military commander urged rival factions in Iraq's disputed city of Kirkuk, the heart of a bitter feud over land and oil, to reconcile ahead of the coming U.S. military withdrawal. Sandstorms grounded Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, after he touched down on Monday in Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, and delayed his plans to travel to other parts of Iraq. Mullen met with political leaders from Kirkuk, the oil-producing region at the centre of a conflict that is seen as the biggest threat to Iraqi stability just as the sectarian bloodshed unleashed by the 2003 invasion subsides.”

The New York Times reports that “The Euphrates is drying up. Strangled by the water policies of Iraq’s neighbors, Turkey and Syria; a two-year drought; and years of misuse by Iraq and its farmers, the river is significantly smaller than it was just a few years ago. Some officials worry that it could soon be half of what it is now."

The New York Times reports that “The score did not matter so much — well, it mattered some. More important was that Iraq’s itinerant national soccer team, displaced for years by war, finally returned to Baghdad on Monday night to play a home match at home. In a dusty summer swelter, tens of thousands of Iraqis poured into Baghdad’s shabby Shaab Stadium and for the first time since 2002 filled it with a cacophony of clapping, clanging, chanting and cheering for the one thing that unifies Iraq more than any other.”

Pakistan

The Wall Street Journal reports that “Thousands of people began returning to Pakistan's Swat Valley after nearly three months of fighting that drove the Taliban from the region and created the country's worst refugee crisis in six decades. Pakistan earned praise at home and abroad for its offensive in Swat, which began in late April after the collapse of a peace deal that had handed the valley just 100 miles north of Islamabad, the capital, to militants.”

Afghanistan

Bloomberg reports that “Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government pledged more helicopters and greater resources to help British troops serving in Afghanistan, seeking to deflect criticism that the country’s armed forces are under-equipped. ‘In the last two years we’ve increased helicopter numbers by 60 percent, and since we’ve provided more crews and equipment we’ve increased their capability by 84 percent,’ Brown told lawmakers in Parliament in London today. The comments came three days after the Ministry of Defense announced the deaths of eight British soldiers in Afghanistan, bringing the total number of U.K. soldiers to have died since the beginning of July to 15 and surpassing the number of U.K. troops to have been killed in Iraq since 2001.”

Niger

The New York Times reports that “Stubbornness crops up in harsh environments like that of this desert’s-edge capital, in the stoicism of grilled meat vendors in 110-degree heat or the patience of camels bearing heavy reed mats through the dusty streets. So, too, in the dogged refusal, for more than two months now, of the impoverished citizens to part with a commodity as seemingly fragile as the tenuous greenery here: democracy."

Obama Administration

The Washington Times reports that “President Obama's weeklong trip overseas yielded modest accomplishments but left a host of unanswered questions and self-imposed deadlines that will test whether his power of personal persuasion will work in international diplomacy. Mr. Obama left Russia with a December deadline for finishing a nuclear arms reduction treaty. He left a summit of nations in Italy with a deadline, also in December, for completing an agreement to address climate change. He also has a deadline in September for checking Iran's nuclear ambitions, perhaps with sanctions.”

The AP reports that “Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is blaming an exhaustive White House vetting process for the fact that the Obama administration has not yet named a person to run the U.S. Agency for International Development. Six months into the administration's tenure without having appointed someone to the agency's top spot, Clinton told USAID employees on Monday that several people had turned down the job due to overly burdensome financial and personal disclosure requirements that she called a ‘nightmare,’ ‘frustrating beyond words’ and ‘ridiculous.’ She also said the White House had turned down her request to announce on Monday that someone — expected by officials to be physician and Harvard University professor Paul Farmer who is well known for his work in Haiti — would be named to the post soon.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that “A secret Central Intelligence Agency initiative axed by Director Leon Panetta examined how to assassinate members of al Qaeda with hit teams on the ground, according to current and former national-security officials familiar with the matter. The goal was to assemble teams of CIA and special-operations forces ‘and put bullets in [the al Qaeda leaders'] heads,’ one former intelligence official said. The plan was never carried out, and Mr. Panetta canceled the effort on the day he learned of it, June 23. The next day, he alerted Congress, which didn't know about the plan.”

Bloomberg reports that “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s planned trip later this week is the Obama administration’s first high-profile effort to resolve differences with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s new government. Obama wants to preserve momentum built up during George W. Bush’s presidency, when the two countries agreed to cooperate on nuclear energy for the first time since India’s 1974 nuclear test. U.S. companies including Fairfield, Connecticut-based General Electric Co. don’t want to lose business in an economy that India projects will expand about 7 percent this year during a global recession.”

Iran

The Financial Times reports that “Iran on Tuesday hanged 13 members of a Sunni Muslim rebel group blamed for bombings and killings in southeastern Iran in a move that risks raising ethnic tensions and provoking a violent backlash just weeks after post-election protests rocked the country. In an indication of the sensitivity of the move, the authorities changed their initial plan to hang the rebels in public and carried out the executions instead inside the prison in Zahedan, in the restive south-eastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan.”

Americas

The Miami Herald reports that “Long-suspended talks between the U.S. and Cuba will resume Tuesday, the latest signal of the Obama administration's efforts to revive ties between the two nations. The State Department wouldn't confirm the resumption of the talks, but several members of Congress said they were scheduled to be held in New York, for one day. The U.S. delegation will be headed by Craig Kelly, the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Dagoberto Rodriguez, a Cuban Foreign Ministry official and the former head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, will lead the Cuban delegation… Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said the agenda for the meeting is solely migration issues, including the ability of U.S. diplomats to follow up on the status of Cubans returned to the island; U.S. access to deepwater ports for repatriation purposes; and Cuba's willingness to take back criminals and others expelled from the U.S.”

The AP reports that “Venezuelan opposition leaders say they will meet with the secretary-general of the Organization of American States this week to discuss their concerns about growing authoritarianism under President Hugo Chavez. Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma says he and others want to talk with OAS chief Jose Miguel Insulza about actions taken by Chavez that have eroded the authority and funding of elected officials.”

North Korea

Bloomberg reports that “China has agreed for the first time to punish senior North Korean government officials for the nation’s defiance of United Nations resolutions barring nuclear and missile tests, China’s deputy ambassador said. Ambassador Liu Zhenmin said his government would support imposing a travel ban and asset freeze on a “large percentage” of 15 North Korean officials proposed by the U.S. and other western nations as targets for UN sanctions. No government officials have been subject to the sanctions the Security Council adopted after North Korea’s nuclear test in 2006.”

Defense

The AP reports that “Sen. John McCain wants to remove the $1.75 billion recently inserted into the proposed 2010 defense budget for more fighter jets from Lockheed Martin. The Arizona Republican's spokeswoman says he plans to file an amendment to cut the extra money for seven more F-22's. The Senate Armed Services Committee last month narrowly approved the additional funding requested by Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss. McCain and Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, the committee's chairman, voted against the additional finds. The full Senate may vote on the defense spending bill this week.”

Ideas

Anne Bayefsky asks in the Australian, “Why couldn't the U.S. President talk tough in Cairo like he did to the Africans. Speaking in Ghana on Saturday, Barack Obama lectured Africans on local repression, corruption, brutality, good governance and accountability. The startling contrast to his June speech in Cairo was revealing. Stroking Muslim and Arab nations has become the hallmark of the U.S. President's foreign policy. In Egypt, he chose not to utter the words terrorism or genocide. In Egypt, there was nothing ‘brutal’ he could conjure up, no ‘corruption’ and no ‘repression’. In Ghana, with a 70 per cent Christian population, he mentioned ‘good governance’ seven times and added direct calls to ‘make change from the bottom up’. He praised ‘people taking control of their destiny’ and pressed ‘young people’ to ‘hold your leaders accountable’. He made no such calls for action by the people of Arab states, despite the fact not a single Arab country is free, according to the latest Freedom House global survey.”

David Frum writes for NewMajority: “Bye-bye freedom fries. After Nicolas Sarkozy’s words on behalf of Iranian democracy (and French diplomacy’s tough line on the Iranian bomb!), it’s time to renew the venerable American love affair with France. Nuclear power, effective intelligence services, and (yes!) healthcare that offers some useful examples to the United States – there’s a lot to like. Yes there are problems too of course. High unemployment, excessive taxation, and financial crisis to match America’s own. But on this Bastille Day, let’s remember that the Franco-American relationship, though sometimes difficult, has more often been a source of mutual delight and wonderment between the two great free and democratic republics that have together defined modern industry and modern culture.”

The Washington Post reports from India that “The arrival of the world's largest retailer in one of the world's largest marketplaces has brought more praise than protest. In recent weeks, crowds have swarmed the store, located on the Grand Trunk Road, the ancient and fabled trade route that stretches across India and into Pakistan. They all want to get a glimpse of the warehouse-like store and its neatly organized bulk packages of sugary fruit juice, flat-screen televisions and tubs of Indian sweets. Although Wal-Mart has occasionally been the subject of controversy in the United States, the store here -- BestPrice Modern Wholesale, a joint venture with India's Bharti group -- has drawn excitement and wonder.”

Bret Stephens writes in the Wall Street Journal that “If trade and investment are good ideas for the U.S.-Africa relationship, why has the Obama administration dragged its feet on free-trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea? Or, if the U.S. owes Africa no apologies for its recent disasters, why has Mr. Obama gone to such lengths to apologize to Iran for the 1953 Mossadegh coup, and, in his Cairo speech, to the entire Muslim world for the politics of the Cold War? Or if Mr. Obama wants to ‘isolate’ irresponsible actors, why does he continue to promise engagement with Iran, Syria, Russia and perhaps North Korea no matter how they behave? Similarly, while U.S. government officials don't usually demand bribes (at least outside of Illinois), the U.S. corporate tax rate, at 39%, is the second highest in the industrialized world. That's about 10 percentage points higher than the OECD average, or nearly twice the 20% ‘bribe tax’ that scandalizes Mr. Obama.”

China

The New York Times reports that “Police officers shot dead two armed ethnic Uighur men and wounded a third on Monday after the three resisted the officers during a violent dispute near the heart of the Uighur quarter here, China’s official news agency said. The killings, as reported by the official news agency, Xinhua, came a week after the worst outbreak of ethnic violence here by aggrieved Uighurs against Han Chinese.”

The Washington Times reports that “The leader of an organization representing the Uighur ethnic minority called Monday for urgent U.S. action to press China to provide a full accounting of those killed, injured and missing in the ethnic strife gripping Xinjiang province. Rebiyah Kadeer, president of the Uyghur American Association, told editors and reporters of The Washington Times that as many as 1,000 people had died and thousands more were injured or missing because of violent clashes between Uighurs and ethnic Han Chinese in China's far west.”

Japan

The Wall Street Journal reports that “Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso unveiled a plan to dissolve the lower house of parliament early next week and call a general election on Aug. 30, after his Liberal Democratic Party suffered a crushing defeat in Sunday's local election in Tokyo… Polls have shown that the opposition Democratic Party of Japan will likely prevail in the general elections and end the rule of the LDP, which has lasted nearly continuously for more than five decades. Analysts say voters are frustrated with the weak leadership of the LDP, at a time when Japan faces its most serious recession in decades and grapples with the problems of a rapidly aging society… Within the ruling party, a growing number of lawmakers are seeking Mr. Aso's resignation so the party can fight for the national vote under a new leader."

The Financial Times editorializes that “Hardened observers of Japanese politics may be forgiven a wry smile when they hear that the mighty Liberal Democratic party is heading for historic defeat at the next general election. They have heard it all before, and somehow the LDP has (almost) always found a way to cling on to power. It has now been in office for all but 11 months of the past 53 years. Yet rather like an aging overweight sumo wrestler, it is hard to see how the party can avoid being tripped up when the country goes to the polls on August 30. It has run out of ideas, exhausted its leadership options, and is reduced to interminable faction-fighting. Sunday’s humiliating defeat by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan in the Tokyo municipal elections is seen as a clear portent.”

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