Top ten missed foreign policy stories of 2006
January 7, 2007 5:08 PM   Subscribe

The top ten stories you missed in 2006, according to Foreign Policy magazine. Items to concern the reflexive partisan from all parts of the spectrum. Cut 'n paste inside.
posted by wilful (34 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
10 . Hackable Passports

In October, the U.S. State Department began issuing biometric “ePassports” that contain a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag under the back cover. The tiny chip holds the usual passport data, including a digital photo. The motive behind adding the chips is ostensibly good: to combat counterfeiting and illegal immigration.
But a German hacker quickly found a vulnerability. With a laptop and a chip reader he bought for $200, he was able to steal data from an encrypted RFID tag, potentially allowing him to clone an ePassport. And it’s not just Americans who are at risk. Twenty-seven countries (mostly in Europe) that participate in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program are required by U.S. law to issue the new electronic passports to their citizens. The Dutch and British media have already reported major security flaws in the new IDs.
So, what’s a security conscious citizen to do? Again, the answer may come out of Germany. A group of hackers there recommends that people microwave the new passports to destroy the chips. The State Department may want to go back to relying on a paper trail.

9. What’s Worse Than Bird Flu? The Cure.

In 2006, bird flu didn’t become the killer pandemic everyone feared. In fact, there were no confirmed deaths in developed countries from bird flu. But the alarm, stoked by Western media reports, led to an unexpected—and unfortunate—outcome: A rash of abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and even deaths attributed to Tamiflu, the medicine marketed as a key drug capable of fighting the disease. In November, the Canadian health ministry issued a warning on Tamiflu after 10 Canadians taking the drug had died suspiciously. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration received more than 100 reports of injury and delirium among Tamiflu takers for a 10-month period in 2005 and 2006. That’s nearly as many cases as were logged over the drug’s five-year trial period. For now, the cure seems worse than the disease.

8 Petro Powers Drop the Dollar

If you thought record oil prices this year were a pain in your wallet, there’s more bad news on the horizon. The latest Bank for International Settlements quarterly report, which tracks the investment trends of oil-producing countries, indicates that Russia and OPEC countries are moving their holdings out of dollars and into euros and yen. OPEC cut its holdings in the dollar by more than $5 billion during the first and second quarter of 2006. And Russia now keeps most of its new deposits in euros instead of dollars.
That decrease is swift and significant—and helps to explain why the dollar recently fell to a 20-month low against the euro and a 14-year low against the British pound. Holding dollars while other currencies gain strength means less profit for oil producers. But if they rapidly divest themselves of dollars, it may weaken the currency and push up inflation in the United States. “This new trend may be bigger trouble for the United States than high oil prices and surging Chinese exports,” says Nouriel Roubini, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. If this year’s move away from the dollar is a sign of future thinking by oil producers, the pain felt at the pump may soon be the least of our worries.

7. The Gender Gap Gets Smaller

It was a good year for women in politics. Female heads of state took office in Chile and Liberia, and Hillary Clinton and Ségolène Royal set tongues wagging in Washington and Paris over their own presidential prospects. But it was also a great year for future female leaders, especially those in poor countries.
A report released in February by the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau found that the gender gap in secondary education is closing or has closed in most developing countries. Particularly in Latin America and Asia, girls are attending school at the same rate—or higher—than boys. In 1990 in China, for example, 75 girls attended secondary school for every 100 boys. Today, that figure is 97. In India, girls’ enrollment shot up from 60 percent to 81 percent. Though sub-Saharan Africa lagged behind the rest of the world, it too saw more girls in the classroom.
The shift isn’t due to an unexpected worldwide surge in favor of gender equality. The more likely explanation is that urbanization and economic development has boosted girls’ likelihood of attending school, as has a number of innovative government and private-sector programs. In India, for example, UNICEF credits basic sanitation and hygiene education programs in Alwar with increasing girls’ enrollment by 78 percent over a five-year period. Given the clear link between girls’ education and a society’s economic success, it’s good news everyone can celebrate.

6 Iran and Israel Hold Secret Talks

While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spent the better part of 2006 denying the Holocaust and threatening to destroy Israel, his country was sitting down with Israeli representatives to settle old debts. The clandestine talks, first reported by Israeli daily Haaretz this month, concern hundreds of millions of dollars allegedly owed to Iran for oil it supplied to Israel before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when Iran severed the two countries’ economic ties dating back to the 1950s. According to the report, negotiations over the debt have been on-again and off-again for nearly two decades, and the two sides met recently in Geneva in an attempt to reach an agreement.
It’s unclear why Israeli and Swiss officials are now willing to confirm that the talks are taking place. However, there is one leading theory: The leak was timed to embarrass Iran by publicizing its cooperation with a country it refuses to recognize. And the strategy may have worked. Iran swiftly and vehemently denied it’s secretly talking to the Jewish state. It just goes to show, money talks.

5. United States Funds the Taliban

The Taliban’s resurgence brought the ongoing war in Afghanistan back onto the front pages in 2006. From record opium production to suicide bombings, the outlook has only grown dimmer in the past 12 months. What you probably didn’t hear is that some of the money the United States is spending to combat the resurgence of the Taliban is winding up in the hands of . . . the Taliban.
As recently as November, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting revealed that villagers in Afghanistan’s war-torn south were handing over U.S. cash meant for reconstruction projects to Taliban fighters, who then use the money to purchase weapons, cell phones, and explosives. As part of an effort to stimulate economic development in the country, the United States had committed $43.5 million for reconstruction as of September. One Canadian officer charged with helping to distribute cash said that “millions” has already gone missing in the five years since coalition troops arrived. Why? According to the report, local mullahs have urged residents to fight the foreign occupation and hand over the money in the hopes of gaining back the security they’ve lost. Others say it’s simple extortion from Taliban thugs. Either way, the United States may inadvertently be aiding the enemy in a fight that will almost certainly become more costly in the year ahead.

4. Russia Fuels Latin American Arms Race

When Costa Rican President Oscar Arias spoke at a September conference sponsored by the Miami Herald, one sentence stood out: “Latin America has begun a new arms race.” He was referring to the sudden uptick in major arms deals in the region, largely between Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and their newest patron, Russia. The deals have left the region flush with shiny new tanks, fighter jets, and custom-built presidential helicopters.
The Latin arms trade is as much about politics as it is weapons. Not long after Brazil announced a deal to purchase roughly $300 million in Russian military equipment, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would back Brazil’s bid for a seat in the U.N. Security Council. It’s not just Brazil’s military that has a hard time saying nyet to Russian firms. Venezuela inked a more than $1 billion deal in July for Russian jets and helicopters. There’s even talk of Moscow relocating Kalashnikov gun and ammo factories to Venezuela, next door to Colombia’s ammunition-strapped FARC rebels. With Venezuela’s populist anti-American president Hugo Chávez seeking to dominate Latin American politics, U.S. officials are concerned, especially given the United States’ sliding popularity in the region. More dangerous, though, is Latin America’s militarization. More guns and less butter is the last thing the troubled region needs.

3. Bush’s Post-Katrina Power Grab

When U.S. President George W. Bush signed the $532 billion federal defense spending bill in October, there were the usual budgetary turf battles on Capitol Hill. But largely overlooked was a revision of a nearly 200-year-old law to restrict the president’s power during major crises. In December, Congressional Quarterly examined the changes, saying that the new law “takes the cuffs off” federal restraint during emergencies. Rather than limiting the circumstances under which a president may deploy troops to “any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy,” the 2006 revision expands them to include “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident.” In other words, it’s now easier for the federal government to send in troops without a governor’s invitation.
Ostensibly, the move aims to streamline bureaucratic inefficiencies that left thousands of New Orleanians stranded last summer. Yet the Insurrection Act that existed when Katrina struck didn’t actually hinder the president’s ability to send federal troops. He simply chose not to.
Critics have called the changes an opening for martial law. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, one of the few to raise the issue in congress, says that “Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy.” Is martial law more likely than before? Perhaps not. But the fact that the revisions were slipped into a defense bill without a national debate gives ammunition to those who argue the administration is still trampling on civil liberties five years after 9/11.

2. China Runs up African Debt

The debt-relief deal struck at last year’s Group of Eight (G8) summit, where rich countries promised to forgive about $40 billion in debts owed by poor countries, was supposed to be a turning point in Africa’s development, a chance to wipe its economic slate clean. Then came China. The rapidly industrializing country has emerged as a top lender to poor African countries, and that has many international development organizations worried that years of campaigning for debt relief will be set back by a new wave of bad loans.
The World Bank estimates that Chinese loans for African infrastructure already total more than $12.5 billion. In November, Chinese President Hu Jintao promised to provide another $5 billion in loans to Africa by 2009. Many of these deals are believed to be similar to commercial loans rather than the low-interest, long-term credits extended by multilateral development banks. It’s hard to know the full extent of the risk because China usually refuses to divulge the terms of the deals. Development experts now fear that aggressive lending by Chinese banks will land Africa back where it started—in the red.

1. India Helps Iran Build the Bomb, While the White House Looks the Other Way

The U.S. government usually takes a hard line against countries that assist Iran with its nuclear program. In 2006 alone, Washington sanctioned firms in Cuba, North Korea, and Russia for making it a little easier for Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction. But, when the proliferator is a close American ally, the United States seems to take a different approach.
Just after the U.S. House of Representatives voted in July to support a plan to provide India with nuclear technology, the Bush administration quietly imposed sanctions on two Indian firms for supplying Tehran with missile parts. Nor was the White House forthcoming with congress about other blots on India’s proliferation record: In the past two years, two other Indian companies have been penalized for allegedly passing chemical weapons information to Iran, and two Indian scientists who ran the state-run nuclear utility were barred from doing business with the U.S. government after they allegedly passed heavy-water nuclear technology to Tehran. Far from scuttling India’s nuclear deal, the United States seems to have rewarded the country by overturning 30 years of nonproliferation policy in its favour.
posted by wilful at 5:10 PM on January 7, 2007

All of this is very interesting (I mean that... it really is... thanks for the post wilful) but it can all be summed up in five words.

This planet's going to shit.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:22 PM on January 7, 2007

Well, I think I have seen at least 5 of these on the blue, so they weren't kept too secret.
posted by scodger at 5:27 PM on January 7, 2007

Surely posting the whole article here is a copyright violation?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:29 PM on January 7, 2007

wtf with the cut-and-paste?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 5:33 PM on January 7, 2007

Who's Surely?
posted by stbalbach at 5:36 PM on January 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Makes sense to me. From many threads it is clear that people comment without bothering to open the posts.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:36 PM on January 7, 2007

Others say it’s simple extortion from Taliban thugs. Either way, the United States may inadvertently be aiding the enemy in a fight that will almost certainly become more costly in the year ahead.

I think it's deliberate: the war profiteers understand that American taxpayer dollars can be used to fund the enemy, so that the war profiteers can receive yet more endless taxpayer dollars to fight the enemy.

Halliburton has picked near $2K from your pockets, whether or not you support their privatized war.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:46 PM on January 7, 2007

Don't call me Shirley.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:52 PM on January 7, 2007

I don't think it's a business-driven decision; I think it's another of a million cases where some plan about helping win hearts and minds looks good on paper, but turns into outright theft on the ground. If we were smarter, we'd have all conjured up fictitious think-tanks and the like and cashed in.
posted by atchafalaya at 6:05 PM on January 7, 2007

It's nice to see at least one positive story in the bunch. You go girls!
posted by furtive at 6:06 PM on January 7, 2007

... that's terrifying, thanks.
posted by EatTheWeek at 6:09 PM on January 7, 2007

Knew about 10,8,3

Didn't care about 9,7,2

Surprised by 6,5,4 and 1.

Also, why post the entire article as a comment? Wtf?
posted by delmoi at 6:52 PM on January 7, 2007

We didn't miss them, they just aren't that important.
posted by caddis at 6:56 PM on January 7, 2007

The spin on #2 makes absolutely no sense to me. Why would China want to bankrupt the only countries outside of Asia where they've been able to extend their sphere of influence?

Africa has been largely forgotten since the turf wars of the Cold War, and China knows that. I would guess that the secret terms of the lending deals have not been kept secret because they are unfavorable, but because they are extremely favorable.
posted by matkline at 7:06 PM on January 7, 2007

I don't think it's a business-driven decision

You do realize the Vice-President of the USA was the Vice-President of the Halliburton War Machine, don't you?

You see no potential there for this war to have been deliberately selected as a means of further enriching a few wealthy and powerful men?

Where did all the money for the Iraq go? The results indicate that it was not spent on the war. It appears to have been mislaid... or waylaid, to an offshore account.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:14 PM on January 7, 2007

Delmoi,Also, why post the entire article as a comment? Wtf?

Echo IndigoJones, From many threads it is clear that people comment without bothering to open the posts.
posted by wilful at 7:20 PM on January 7, 2007

In a similar vein, Project Censored has it's Top 25 Censored Stories of 2007 up. I don't know why it wouldn't be 2006, but it's an interesting read, as usual.
posted by Zack_Replica at 7:22 PM on January 7, 2007

In October, the U.S. State Department began issuing biometric “ePassports” that contain a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag under the back cover

Ummm, how do RFID tags make something biometric? I mean, unless it contains a fingerprint or retinal scan or something.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:32 PM on January 7, 2007

Speaking of Halliburton: New Bills Target Profiteering, Public Corruption
posted by homunculus at 7:33 PM on January 7, 2007

Yeah, I know about Cheney and Halliburton, I'm just not ready to believe it's a conspiracy. These guys have all gotten big-time rich already on just the usual fraud and corruption; they didn't need to have a war.

I think the war is symptomatic of a deeper corruption, of a bankruptcy of ideas, of an inability to deal with the problems that face us without resorting to the same old, tired methods.
posted by atchafalaya at 8:10 PM on January 7, 2007

Interesting list, thanks; Foreign Policy is a fave source for level-headed thinking, if not clear solutions (all too rare, those).

From many threads it is clear that people comment without bothering to open the posts.

I dunno, it still seems wrong to not drive traffic to a site you're linking approvingly. Defeats the purpose, really.
posted by mediareport at 8:35 PM on January 7, 2007

Am I able to comment if I didn't miss any of these stories?
posted by dangerousdan at 8:39 PM on January 7, 2007

Except for item 7 it's a damn depressing list, and even that's a mixed blessing that women misuse literacy as badly as men -- and are jerked around by what they read just as easily. (Cf. Cosmopolitan, e.g.) Having missed most of these stories the first time around means I had slightly less reason in 2006 to wish I hadn't given my SO's dad the elephant gun.

Effigy2000's right. I'll have that bourbon nightcap now. In a Hayseed Dixie shot glass.
posted by davy at 9:08 PM on January 7, 2007

Here's the actual top story you missed. The original Foreign Policy article reads thus:
... two Indian scientists who ran the state-run nuclear utility were barred from doing business with the U.S. government after they allegedly passed heavy-water nuclear technology to Tehran.
The WaPo article adds the following:
The order against one was later rescinded, but the second remains banned from travel[l]ing to the United States.
Note the complete lack of names in either story.

Additionally, this was interesting:
... two other Indian companies have been penalized for allegedly passing chemical weapons information to Iran.
I didn't quite realize that we (as in India) had a secret chemical weapons programme, or that private companies have access to the said stockpile.

In short, lots of hand-waving, but there's a lot of detail out here that's missing, or doesn't add up.
posted by the cydonian at 9:47 PM on January 7, 2007

In the wake of the recent Beijing summit, had a good round-up of African responses to China's growing involvement on the continent. Xinhua reported China will cancelled the debt owed by poor African nations.
posted by Abiezer at 3:09 AM on January 8, 2007

From many threads it is clear that people comment without bothering to open the posts.

This is true and unfortunate, but the remedy is not to paste in everything you're linking to. It defeats the purpose of linking and is an insult to those who do visit the links. Just imagine what the site would be like if everyone did that. The remedy to noisy fellow passengers in the subway is not to carry a large roll of masking tape to stop the mouths of offenders, and the remedy to people shooting off their mouths in MeFi is not to abuse the comment system. Some things just have to be tolerated.

As for the story, I could swear it had been posted before, but since nobody else is saying so, I guess I'm mistaken.
posted by languagehat at 5:11 AM on January 8, 2007

the remedy is not to paste in everything you're linking to.

Oh, agreed, definitely. Note I didn't say I approved the practice, I merely pointed out the why of it.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:24 AM on January 8, 2007

I suggest that pasting verbatim is a little silly, but summarizing the content would be a helluva Good Thing for all involved.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:01 AM on January 8, 2007

Right now, there are about 5 different stories across the country that are being touted as potentially "terrorism" related (weird smells in NY, a subway derailing in DC, a possible explosive device detected in the port of Miami, and 30 or so dead birds in Austin, TX), all coincidental with the breaking news about the Iraqi oil legislation that homunculus linked above. Will the detailed follow-ups on these stories (when each event turns out either to be nothing sinister or possibly even small-time domestic terrorist incidents like the abortion clinic bombings that were an almost weekly occurrence back when Clinton was in office) be missing too? Maybe it should be, since these stories only work to crowd out the more significant international news.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:22 PM on January 8, 2007

Afroblanco, they (dept of state) considers the biometric to be the photo in the passport.

they decided not to push for the fingerprint, but from what i remember they have enough memory in the chip in case they change their mind.

Does anyone know if the german actually proved this? The new passport was a textbook example of policy buffoonery, but what they ended up with was vetted by org. such as the ACLU, and other privacy groups.

I think what the german did was clone a european passport, which has a different setup that the US. the new us passports are an idea without reason or need, but they are much more secure than most understand.
posted by 8 Bit at 1:24 PM on January 8, 2007

Is that “you” meaning me or “you” meaning you?
(I subscribe)
That petrodollar thing mefi has been all over like a cheap suit.
(much as I dislike CheneyCo bilking us out of $, the 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude, could be a hedge...but it could be chaff)
Some others as well. Particularly #3. Main reason I upped my ammo budget.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:38 PM on January 8, 2007

Afroblanco, they (dept of state) considers the biometric to be the photo in the passport.

Really? So does that mean that a driver's license is biometric?
posted by Afroblanco at 10:09 PM on January 8, 2007

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