December 24th, 2007 06:39 EST
Reflections During the Holidays
Christmas is a visible sign that another year is drawing to a close. One week before the New Year begins its reign is a good time to ask ourselves and our leaders what the past 12 months changed in our lives.
Politically, most of the world remains at the same point as in December, 2006. American forces with their ever-weakening coalition partners still patrol Iraqi cities– this time, however, with a considerable improvement in the country's security.
Neighboring Iran seems to finally be placated by the International community. According to the recently published National Intelligence Estimation, Tehran gave up its military nuclear program more than 3 years ago– but its mercurial president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, has not retreated from his anti-Semitic and anti-American slurs.
In his criticism of Washington, Ahmedinejad has a staunch supporter in Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez. The self-proclaimed best friend of Fidel Castro busily spent the last 12 months denouncing the Bush Administration. Earlier this year, Chavez announced his plans to introduce “socialism of the 21st century,” a sugar-coated name for nationalizing oil companies and holding the media in tight reigns. Although he lost an important referendum, which he had hoped would allow him to rule Venezuela indefinitely, Chavez continues to be Latin America's leading figure and Washington's top nightmare.
Europe, as always, remains stoical, but not boring. On the first day of 2007, the European Union admitted two new countries– Bulgaria and Romania– marking its willingness to bury Cold War divisions. Now, as an organization of 27 countries, the 50-year-old European Union emerges as a potential political and economic power, strengthened by the Lisbon Treaty that creates the post of president and foreign minister. The United States should watch Europe carefully and cultivate friendly relations.
This New Year's Eve will be celebrated in an atmosphere of uncertainty in the Serbian province of Kosovo. Numerous talks under the auspices of the United States and its European partners failed to resolve the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, which is dominated by Albanian nationals. While the U.S. and the European Union give their tacit support to Kosovo's independence, Russia fears the Balkan precedence would incite its own rebellious regions (such as Chechnya) to secession.
Russia spent the past year refreshing its imperial status. Not only did Moscow manage to regain its influence in Europe– due to high prices of natural oil and gas in which Russia is abundant– but also renewed its traditionally close ties with Muslim countries by offering Iran help in building a nuclear plant and receiving Hamas leaders.
President Vladimir Putin, who is responsible for Russia's renaissance, slowly prepares his office for his successor; but, he is far from retiring. If we are to believe the latest gossip, Putin will lead the country as the prime minister and as president of one of the world's biggest gas companies, Gazprom.
As America's position in Europe and elsewhere wanes, Russia becomes increasingly audacious in pursuing its foreign policy. Very little has changed at home. The Bush Administration is desperately looking for a way to cast its legacy in a better light. Thus, there are U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's desperate attempts to orchestrate a peace process in the Middle East or make North Korea eschew its nuclear ambitions in favor of multimillion-dollar American aid.
If the communist regime in Pyongyang is ready to accept the deal, then Israel and the Palestinian Authority are as far from reaching a working agreement as always.
As far as the 2008 presidential campaign is concerned, the passing year has not brought any major change. In the Republican camp, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, are the brightest stars. Whereas, the latter is bound to win the early caucuses in New Hampshire and Iowa, the former leads in national polls.
Democrats, on the other hand, will surely nominate either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. With Americans disappointed with the Bush Administration's foreign policy and the economic shakeup, Clinton may win as the candidate epitomizing the years of stability during Bill Clinton's presidency.
That the world of politics has ceased to be a man's domain is illustrated in Latin America. Michelle Bachelet, who was elected Chile's first female president in 2006, was joined this year by Cristina Fernandez– Argentina's new head of state. Fernandez is the wife of the previous president and many perceive her as Argentina's version of Hillary Clinton.
Throughout 2007, Asia has improved its position on the world stage. Chinese exports have broken another record, leaving rival economies far behind. By doubling its investment in Africa and other underdeveloped regions, Beijing becomes a major player in the Third World. China's realpolitik, which does not question human rights and democracy standards, has a significant advantage over American and European approaches.
Pakistan gave its American ally a serious headache in the last months of 2007. First, President Musharraf introduced a state of emergency and ordered the arrests of hundreds of opposition leaders. Then, untroubled by constitutional bans, he ran for a second term while remaining an active member of the army. With parliamentary elections scheduled for February 2008, Washington will be closely watching its crucial supporter in the volatile region.
The year 2007 was another year of violent civil war in the Sudanese province of Darfur. Some organizations say that as many as one million people are scattered in refugee camps across the region. Not so far away from Sudan, in Somalia, at least 800,000 Mogadishu residents had to flee their homes when armed clashes between Ethiopia-backed governmental forces and Islamic rebels erupted in the first months of the passing year.
As the United Nations and African Union remain impotent, the world opinion looks at Europe as the only hope to resolve the conflicts. But so far, neither Great Britain– the former colonial empire which controlled Sudan– nor the European Union as a whole appears eager to meddle in a sure-to-lose operation. Fairly or not, Africa is still pictured as the continent of ethnic cleansing and civil wars and the past 12 months have done very little to change this unfavorable perspective.
Finally, how have we changed in 2007? We all need to answer this question for ourselves. Most of us have met new friends and waved old ones goodbye; our families have either grown or become poorer with the loss of some beloved relatives.
There were moments of joy: for Bulgarians and Romanians it was when their countries joined the European Union on January 1.
Nevertheless, there were also hours of despair. In April, for example, when millions of Americans cried in front of TV sets witnessing the massacre on the college campus of Virginia Tech. Whether or not we knew the victims, when 32 students and teachers were executed by a fellow student, a part of each of us died.
Remembering this, it is worth realizing how lucky we are to be sitting at the Christmas table, engulfed by the warmth of the fireplace and surrounded by our loved ones.
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