Burma, Cuba, and Iran: the pros and cons of Obama’s rapprochement

deal with it

 

 

2015 has been a big year in Obama’s administration, one that ultimately will shape his presidential legacy. While he did not do so well on the first term, and even on the first half of his second term (thanks to the government shutdown in 2013 and intense bipartisan politics being played in the Congress), his performance became hugely bolstered through the passage of fast-track authority, which enables the administration to finish Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) before 2017 and other proposed mega-regional free trade agreements in the future, as well as the improvement in relations with countries formerly dubbed as ‘sponsors of terrorism’ – while not being hypocritical that US does have its own particular record – and in this specific case, Burma (or Myanmar, you name it), Cuba, and Iran. I will not talk so much about other foreign policy accomplishments that he had done in his presidential period, but these three countries, oftentimes tied together in almost any media report as ‘centerpieces’ in his foreign-policy rapprochement, deserve some particular attention. While Obama’s efforts, which emphasize diplomacy and compromise rather than the overt use of military force, have won plaudits, there are always concerns about what these countries, upon the re-engagement, are doing, and will possibly do, in the present and in the future. In all Polyannaist terms, nonetheless, we do really expect – while keeping our realist mindset on track – that the ‘opening’ of these countries will also lead to the betterment in the surrounding regions, and the world.

 

BURMA

myanmar

Source (for all map images): Lonely Planet

Population: 60 million (almost), GDP (nominal): 60-65 billion US$ (2014)

Pros: since the limited reforms introduced in 2011 by the quasi-civilian president Thein Sein, sanctions have been gradually lifted the country has managed to attract more foreign direct investment from numerous Asian countries (other than the long-standing investor China), such as India, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, European Union, and obviously, from United States. Tens of billions of dollars have been poured in various industrial projects, while construction boom, mostly focused on high-rise buildings, is currently taking place in major cities, particularly in Yangon. For all the doubts among much of the international communities, World Economic Forum did even organize an investment summit in early 2013. Middle class is emerging in major cities, an important component in the country’s path towards eventual democratization. Hundreds of political prisoners are also since then released from prisons, and political participation is also turning into a more competitive arena as well, with numerous parties now participating in the country’s parliament based in Naypyidaw.

Cons: human rights abuses continue to take place, and the notoriety surrounding the country’s treatment of ethnic Rohingyas, as evident in the massive refugee crisis occurring in the seas between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. The government continues to deny the citizenship status of the whole ethnic group, numbered at over 1.7 million strong. Other than Rohingyas, the government remains in belligerence with several ethnic-based insurgency groups in the border, particularly those near India and China (some of the peace accords struck with them in 2012 and 2013 failed). There are also concerns that the political reforms seemingly stall, with the latest regulation reserving 25% of the parliament seats to the armed forces, while a presidential candidate has to secure more than 75% of parliamentary support, an obstruction to the country’s most leading politician, Aung San Suu Kyi, to contest the electoral race scheduled to take place in October this year. It is obviously undeniable, in fact, that she can not become a candidate, but whether the next president will proceed with the ongoing reforms remains a big question that has to be solved.

Obama’s visits to the country: 2012 and 2014

 

CUBA

cuba

Population: over 10 million, GDP (nominal): 80 billion US$ (2014)

Pros: relations between United States and Cuba in 20th century were mostly characterized by Cold War conflicts, and CIA’s numberless covert plans to assassinate Fidel Castro, the country’s leading political figure, until his replacement by his brother, Raul, in 2008. Limited reforms have been introduced since then, most astonishingly, the layoff of over 500,000 public employees in 2010 (which indirectly also led to the growth of entrepreneurs). The rapprochement, initiated in May 2012 as part of a ‘spy swap’ program, had since become a wide-ranging thaw among the two countries, culminating with the December 2014 meetings between Raul and Obama, assisted by Pope Francis. Bilateral meetings between Raul and Obama continued further with Organization of the American States (OAS) Summit in Panama City in April 2015, which, for the first time, oversaw the handshaking between the two leaders.

Cooperation among the two countries extends not only among the leaders, but also in people-to-people level. Cuban medical researchers, which ‘doctor diplomacy’ is widely utilized in Cuban foreign policy, have pioneered a medical breakthrough in cure of cancer, and the cooperation has recently begun between the countries’ scientists. The re-opening of US embassy in Havana last week, as one expects, will push American businesses and tourists, gradually, to invest and interact with the locals living in the country in the future. Furthermore, the country can advance even further in its ‘doctor diplomacy’ strategy, now already dispatching more than 40,000 medical experts across the developing world.

Cons: two major takes. Firstly, US has continued to retain the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison, where the infamous CIA rendition program is still taking place there. Further negotiations between Washington and Havana have to be conducted in order to solve this decades-old, lingering problem. Another concern is the extent to which Cuba, still ruled by one-party regime, will introduce its political reforms, and also allowing more competitive political atmosphere. Such political opening will take years, if not decades; if reforms go too fast, a political crisis will be a real, legitimate threat. Gradual phases of tutelage will be a more recommended pattern to guide the country’s path towards political openness, and that will be left to his successors in 2018 (the time Raul resigns, as he will be 87 years old afterwards).

Obama’s visits to the country: zero

 

 

IRAN

iran

Population: 80 million, GDP (nominal): 400-500 billion US$ (2014)

Pros: the nuclear deal, eventually achieved two weeks ago, was another highlighted achievement that Obama had achieved in his administration after over 6 years of uneasy numerous processes of negotiation, together with European Union, IAEA, China, and Russia. The deal itself will require Iran to highly limit (but not completely freeze) the nuclear program, obligate the country to open up for inspections by IAEA, as well as provide progress reports, up for international joint reviews, for a period of 10 years. While the accord was achieved ‘not with trust, but through verification’, the deal will enable the gradual lifting of economic sanctions that have crippled the country for almost one decade, potentially adding an annual oil revenue of more than 100 billion US$ that Tehran critically needs to support the long-term development. Still, a complete normalization of US-Iran relations will not be expected in a short term period, somehow.

Cons: There remains this question of regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two long-time arch-enemies, in Middle East. The two countries have played proxy wars and conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, and in numerous other Shia-Sunni conflicts across the region. Unlike the two countries above, Tehran plays a powerful influence in Middle East. It continues to retain support to Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus (and most recently, a new law has been signed in Tehran to authorize 1 billion US$ of financial support to the beleaguered country annually), while the civil war in Yemen, despite the truce, has not led to a full pause. There remains doubt, also, of what will happen once the deal expires in 2025; such uncertainty will have a major implication on global geopolitics in the decades to come, especially when one expects Iran to be economically and politically in even stronger position than now. An Iran-Saudi rapprochement, possibly brokered by Washington, will have to be attempted in a few years to come to prevent a larger regional conflict to take place.

Obama’s visits to the country: zero

 

As much as these efforts have resulted in significantly positive impacts on US relations with the world in the second decade of 21st century, these deals also carry Obama’s name in a huge stake in the long-term future. What if the direction becomes worse rather than better? There is too much one can hardly speculate, even in the 10 years of time; this also carries an important question, furthermore, of what the future US presidents will relate to these countries in a post-Obama setting. Will the presidents maintain the ‘diplomacy-first’ strategy, or will the stance become much harder and more hawkish? In such situations of fixed uncertainties, wisdom will be the sole guidance one has to employ to understand the problems, and proactively solve them. For all the flaws that have occurred, at least, engagement is the continuous form of remedy in international relations that Obama has exercised (so far).

 

 

 

 

Building Palestinian Democracy, One Brick At A Time

rawabi

 

The story of Rawabi, the first eco-friendly planned city in Palestine, and how Bashar al-Masri, the mastermind behind the project, is – at his own unease – struggling to promote democracy and civic participation in a country already torn by Israel’s continued repression and a fragile, unstable authority.

Read the full article – released in May 2014 – in Foreign Policy.

 

Excerpt:

 

Masri and his associates are working feverishly to attract the likes of Microsoft, Apple, Google, and other major technology companies. “We really want many of the same high-tech firms that are in Israel and Egypt and Jordan to come,” he says, his voice tinged with desperation. But convincing the tech giants that this is the right time to invest is easier said than done.

Their caution is understandable. The impasse between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority is just one of the many complications that make Masri’s project seem utopian. Just take the problem of water. Israel controls the supply of water to the West Bank, and the Israelis have repeatedly delayed conclusion of an agreement that would enable the construction of a pipeline to supply Rawabi. That, in turn, has resulted in the repeated postponement of move-in dates for the city’s would-be residents.

The Social Laboratory

singapore surveillance state

 

Almost the whole world erupted into anger when Edward Snowden leaked NSA’s super-secret surveillance program in 2013, which gathers sensitive data of not only nearly the whole Americans’ daily communications, but also wiretaps upon numerous world leaders’ private conversations. Nonetheless, this ambitious, and pretty much dangerous, idea of supervising the entire world’s communication systems can be traced back a decade earlier, as one of many strategies devised to anticipate any possible terrorism attacks.

And it turns out that there’s already one country which extensively uses this system in all aspects of the society’s life: Singapore.

The city-state, populated by 5.4 million people, continuously keeps itself at a ‘siege mentality’, given its geographically infinitesimal size compared to the rest of the others. Given such existential perils, where everything, if unanticipated, may bring turmoil to this tiny nation, Singaporean government realizes it necessary to impose very strict controls on the whole populace. And so appears the idea of Total Information Awareness (TIA), an all-out cyber-security big-data mining campaign by which government agencies extensively monitor data flows in social media, and even use all their keywords and tags to produce sophisticated algorithm which can predict ‘all kinds of possible perilous scenarios threatening the country’s existence in near future’. Hundreds of people have been arrested arbitrarily for posting ‘sensitive’ information on the public, thanks to the campaign, imposed in all aspects of societal life.

When Americans feel they are increasingly ‘intimidated’ by their own government, Singaporeans instead, willingly or reluctantly, ‘welcome’ it (realizing their ‘tiny-red-dot’ position in this planet). Read the full article in Foreign Policy.

 

Excerpt:

 

Because of such uproars, many current and former U.S. officials have come to see Singapore as a model for how they’d build an intelligence apparatus if privacy laws and a long tradition of civil liberties weren’t standing in the way. After Poindexter left DARPA in 2003, he became a consultant to RAHS, and many American spooks have traveled to Singapore to study the program firsthand. They are drawn not just to Singapore’s embrace of mass surveillance but also to the country’s curious mix of democracy and authoritarianism, in which a paternalistic government ensures people’s basic needs — housing, education, security — in return for almost reverential deference. It is a law-and-order society, and the definition of “order” is all-encompassing.

Ten years after its founding, the RAHS program has evolved beyond anything Poindexter could have imagined. Across Singapore’s national ministries and departments today, armies of civil servants use scenario-based planning and big-data analysis from RAHS for a host of applications beyond fending off bombs and bugs. They use it to plan procurement cycles and budgets, make economic forecasts, inform immigration policy, study housing markets, and develop education plans for Singaporean schoolchildren — and they are looking to analyze Facebook posts, Twitter messages, and other social media in an attempt to “gauge the nation’s mood” about everything from government social programs to the potential for civil unrest.

In other words, Singapore has become a laboratory not only for testing how mass surveillance and big-data analysis might prevent terrorism, but for determining whether technology can be used to engineer a more harmonious society.

Standalone mogul

apple daily

 

Profiling Apple Daily, one of Hong Kong’s most sensational and outspokenly anti-Communist news outlets established by Jimmy Lai, founder of fashion giant Giordano, as it undergoes a series of shadowy threats from numerous underground organizations, one alerting concern also currently being faced by numerous independent journalists living in the semi-independent city-state of what they perceive as ‘Beijing’s increasingly tightening grip on the city’s media industry and freedom of expression’.

Read the full article in Foreign Policy.

 

Excerpt:

 

Lai is the most powerful critic of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong, if not the world. Next Media now employs more than 4,000 people, according to company executives, and also owns popular entertainment magazines and web portals. His flagship tabloid, Apple Daily, founded in 1995, introduced Hong Kong to an irreverent mix of salacious Fleet Street-style journalism and political activism. Lai brought large-character tabloid headlines, web-cam “scoops” of celebrities backstage, irrelevant animations of breaking domestic and international news stories, and front-page calls for protests. But his biggest cause is what in Hong Kong is called “universal suffrage” — the right of citizens, not a council, to choose their chief executive.

Whoever wanted to silence Lai and his activism has instead increased public support for his cause and driven traffic to his websites. Just hours after the fourth triad-style attack, on July 1, tens of thousands of peopletook to the streets calling for genuine democratic elections in 2017.According to internal figures shown to Foreign Policy, traffic to the Hong Kong website has surged to about 20 million page views each day, and that’s not including a staggering 10 million daily views of the news and animation videos.

But Lai’s dream of universal suffrage for Hong Kong is looking less and less likely — and the city’s famously open and cacophonous media landscape is under threat. Hong Kong’s independent-minded journalists are complaining that opinion columns are being tampered with, popular columnists sacked, and news self-censored by tremulous editors. This media crackdown reflects a trend of Beijing tightening its control on Hong Kong. “The Chinese Communist Party’s growing subjugation of the Hong Kong executive and its pressure on the Hong Kong media through its ‘Liaison Office’ is increasingly compromising media pluralism there,” Reporters Without Borders said in a February report. Hong Kong has slid to 61 out of 180 countries and territories on the organization’s World Press Freedom Index, down from 18 in 2002.

And the challenges keep coming. This year, as the July 1 anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover from Britain to Beijing again approaches, the 66-year-old Lai faces a different kind of threat. Now, two Western financial institutions — banks nurtured in the laws and freedoms of the British Empire — appear to be boycotting Lai’s Hong Kong media business in service of Beijing.

Our Man in Africa

hissene habre

JOEL ROBINE/AFP/Getty Images

 

A 12,000-word article from Foreign Policy which details about United States government’s involvement in supporting a bloodthirsty authoritarian regime in Chad, and how, in the eventual face of international scrutiny, supported the trial of the ex-leader, Hissene Habre, for the war crimes US government had actually indirectly assisted.

Click the link here to read the full story.

 

Excerpt:

 

The first step was to put Habré in the presidential palace.

The CIA’s station chief in Khartoum, a French speaker, made the initial approach, meeting Habré and his advisors in Sudan. Soon, weapons and cash were wending their way to Habré’s rebel camp on the Chad-Sudan border. The CIA would send supplies through regional allies to Khartoum; then Sudanese intelligence, which was closely allied with the CIA, would move them by train to Nyala, the former British Administration Headquarters in Darfur, where Habré would pick them up and drive them across the border.

The possibility that the assistance would help Habré terrorize his own people was hardly considered. “Little to no attention was paid to the human rights issues at the time for three reasons,” a former U.S. intelligence official who worked with Habré explained in an email. “(1) We wanted the Libyans out and Habré was the only reliable instrument at our disposal, (2) Habré’s record suffered only from the kidnapping (the Claustre Affair), which we were content to overlook, and (3) Habré was a good fighter, needed no training, and all we had to do was supply him with matériel.”

On June 7, 1982, Habré and 2,000 of his fighters fought their way into N’Djamena and declared the founding of Chad’s “Third Republic.” He consolidated power with brute force from the beginning: POWs from rival militant groups were executed, political opponents were captured and shot, and civilians thought to be sympathetic toward his opponents were targeted in reprisal operations. Oueddei fled to Libya, where Qaddafi would retrain and rearm his forces. And soon the United States was ferrying C-141 StarLifters loaded with weapons to Chad to arm Habré for the next step in its proxy war with Libya.

 

 

The notoriety of ‘topeng monyet’

Topeng_monyet

 

 

Once again, Indonesia grabs another international spotlight for this notorious street circus.

View the full slide show in Foreign Policy.

And here’s what the website says:

Now, Indonesian authorities are cracking down on masked monkey performances like these, denoucing them as a form of animal cruelty and an international embarrassment. “Have pity on the monkeys,” Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo said recently, “they are being exploited by their owners.” 

Widodo plans to unveil an anti-topeng monyet campaign next year, while authorities are working with animal rights groups to treat and relocate confiscated monkeys to a special enclosure at the local zoo. In the future, topeng monyet handlers could face up to seven years in prison for violating the animal abuse law.

Well, matter-of-factly speaking, there is ‘only’ one Joko Widodo who stands up to this issue.

7 things that Putin really loves… (17+)

Aktivistin der Frauengruppe "Femen" demonstriert auf der Hannover Messe vor Putin und Merkel

 

Putin, I don’t put any silicone here! It’s real boobs!

 

Foreign Policy’s Passport blog – which oftentimes bears resemblance with your typical celebrity tabloids – has compiled some of the weird passions that Mother Russia’s most ‘beloved’ president has zeal in (and many, in fact, are proofs of American exceptionalism):

1. He loves Steven Seagal, and wants him to represent Russia’s weaponry industries.

2. He can be as stiff as a statue when dealing with a nude protester people thought could have instead been a PETA poster child.

3. He ‘probably’ gets inspired from Yellow Submarine – and he really boarded it.

4. He plays solo piano and sings Blueberry Hill!! (and Russia Today had even its full coverage).

5. He has a penchant for biker gangs. (and he only wants those in love with Mother Russia.)

6. He has an obsession in Super Bowl rings that he even collected one.

7. He loves puppies. Huge puppies, indeed.

 

Aktivistin der Frauengruppe "Femen" demonstriert auf der Hannover Messe vor Putin und Merkel

 

In an instance, people mistake Putin for being ‘another statue you see in Madame Tussaud museums’.

 

Read the full article in Foreign Policy. Access more of these pictures in Der Spiegel. And watch precisely how Putin sings an American blues.

 

 

 

How Taleb defines ‘stable’

taleb

 

 

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a financial analyst-turned-philosopher shares his ubiquitously ‘anti-mainstream’ thoughts about what it means to be ‘stable’. Having experienced life in tumultuous and tranquil places (he spent his childhood in war-ravaged Lebanon, and adulthood in Wall Street), he expresses his viewpoints in Epiphanies, a sub-section about idea-shower from the world’s leading thinkers, by Foreign Policy magazine.

 

Excerpt:

 

The most stable country in the history of mankind, and probably the most boring, by the way, is Switzerland. It’s not even a city-state environment; it’s a municipal state. Most decisions are made at the local level, which allows for distributed errors that don’t adversely affect the wider system. Meanwhile, people want a united Europe, more alignment, and look at the problems. The solution is right in the middle of Europe — Switzerland. It’s not united! It doesn’t have a Brussels! It doesn’t need one.

I just came back from Lebanon, which I feel is the most stable place in the whole area. Every risk is visible to the naked eye there; you can’t be harmed by something like that. The homicide rate is much lower than that in the United States. The media says it’s chaos — but it’s not. In the end, it’s stable because Hezbollah and the Shiites know that they have to live with the Sunnis and the Christians. It can’t fall apart because it’s a perfectly controlled mess.

The Birobidzhan Paradox

Jewish Autonomous Oblast

 

 

Originally designated by Soviet authorities as a ‘safe refuge’ for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe (also as an attempt to anticipate Japanese regime’s attempt to expand  its puppet state Manchukuo’s territory and to gain endorsement from overseas Jews already influenced by NAZI’s anti-Semitic sentiments and American financial support), Jewish Autonomous Oblast – a once promised land compatible with Israel largely favored by numerous Zionists – instead suffers from more melee imposed by its own contrivers.

These Jews’ aspiration, as hardly as it seems, largely depend on the deviser’s, Joseph Stalin, mood. In the beginning of 1930s, tens of thousands of Jews were given opportunities to settle in the oblast (pictured above, in stark red), with relative freedom and slightly better economic latitude. Nevertheless, nearing 1940, Jews were again subject to suppression imposed by the authorities when their leaders were captured for ‘ideological treason’. During the peak periods of World War II, again the leader favored evacuating European Jews into this region from the perils of Holocaust, and the exodus climaxed until 1948, when Israel proclaimed its independence and fully supported United States. That was a hard blow for virtually all the Jews already living a stable life in the oblast. Since then, the Jews again fell prey into Soviet’s harsh oppression. The situation even deteriorated after Stalin’s death in 1953.

Albeit its name is, as yet, Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Jews no longer constitute a majority of the population. Once climaxing to 30,000 in 1948, the figure has fallen very steeply to no more than 2000, only one percent of the oblast’s total citizens. It is, in conclusion, a by-product of a dictator’s voluptuous mood, combined with global policies gone awry and last but not least, once-in-a-lifetime contretemps.

 

Read the full version here.

Flash point: who’s unsafe without US?

“Four more years…”

We, in the long run, have realized that even the so-called ‘police of the world’, the epitome of democracy, the embodiment of capitalism, and the epicenter of geopolitical chess games itself is now at its own vulnerability. Having been severely laden by its soaring debts, which amount to 15 trillion US$ (nearly the size of its own GDP), socially burdened by its skyrocketing number of unemployment rates showing no signs of abating, and, politically coining, ‘menaced’ by the unexpected rise of new global powers, particularly China, United States must realize that its days at the paramount seat of global superpower are being counted. The harbinger, however, in case United States did really collapse – given its seemingly incurable debt level – would not only inflict suffering to its own people, but also disproportionately threaten the existence of other nations whose companionship has so long been bonded that even a slight loose may translate as ‘imminent danger’. As in my own analysis, here are the countries whose dependence on ‘Big Brother’ has reached symbiotic level, without which, may be at stake.

South Korea

We can’t deny all the wonders the country has had – advanced economy, well-educated human resources, excellent innovation in science. South Korea also intensively allocates nearly 31 billion US$ this year (compared to its 1-trillion-dollar GDP, the spending is merely a minutiae) in military expenditure, but even such investment may do seem insignificant; its nuclear-armed hermit-minded long-separated brother, North Korea, has never shown any signs of abating in disarmaming all the missiles they have aimed to South Korea’s, Japan’s, and America’s major cities altogether. That, pretty much, could also explain why United States maintains its commitment in dispatching nearly 30,000 troops across the demilitarized zones (DMZ). Just wondering if the all-beloved Kim Jong Un may anytime prepare for nuclear apocalypse.

Japan

Two factors explain why Japan is on the list: its major cities are primary targets of North Korea’s nuclear-powered vengeance (one had even flown above the air of Tokyo, but then fell into the Pacific ocean), and, last but not least, its own most brutally treated victim of its own aggression, China. Japanese government has repeatedly voiced out their concern regarding China’s burgeoning military capability. And they are particularly worried by territorial disputes on a group of uninhabited islands known in Japan as Senkaku (and in Chinese as Diaoyutai) which have nearly escalated into open warfare when both patrol ships confronted each other vis-à-vis. The main reason behind the dispute: it’s not really the islands they are fighting claims for, but it’s the need-blind substance lying kilometers down the seas within: a huge omnipotentiality of oil and gas. Until recently, United States has preferred ‘neutrality’ upon the issue, but the military has also frequently conducted joint drilling in anticipating possible ‘invasions’, referring to Chinese military.

Taiwan

What makes Taiwan easily exterminable? Topography accounts. Occupying an island approximately ‘merely’ 36,000 sq km big, Taiwan is even only 1/44 big compared to the vastness of Xinjiang, China’s largest province. Its 25-million population is absolutely incomparable to China’s 1.35-billion strong as well. The danger is further extended as Chinese military still places nearly 1000 missiles in Fujian province, all of which are aimed to Taiwan’s major cities. The worries, however, are eased as Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s current president of Chinese-friendly Kuomintang party, advocates for a more ‘peaceful approach’ on the Communist leaders. Thanks to his leadership, both bilateral relationships, particularly in trading and investment, have strengthened. The current fear for Taiwanese, on the other hand, remains on how Taiwan, now in global-stage status quo, will stand a choice when Ma’s no longer permitted to participate in 2016 election. (now he’s serving his second period, the maximum extent granted by the Constitution)

Philippines

The issue regarding Scarborough Shoals (known to be oil-rich) in South China Seas has further deteriorated the country’s volatile relationship with China. It escalated as several Philippines’ patrol ships confronted vis-à-vis with Chinese marine vessels. In addition, the joint China-ASEAN diplomacy efforts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, resulted in ultimate deadlock, particularly endorsed by the fact that Cambodia, the country in charge of managing ASEAN this year, got too ‘intimate’ with Chinese sides. Albeit having signed mutual defense agreements with the United States, Philippines might also be on the harbinger, in case America’s global position wanes.

India

The country encounters perils, unfortunately, from two nuclear-armed neighbors at the same time: China and Pakistan. Regarding China (and it’s pretty much a minor issue), India has had problems yet to be solved: the ownership of several  territorial remains in northern India remain disputed, ever since the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and Dalai Lama (he and his followers gain exile in Dharamsala, a small border-town). Those of Pakistan, however, are of more sensitive ones, and any temerarious diplomatic clashes could spark a deadly war within both nations. Kashmir, ideological differences, terrorism, and water resources are four pivotal ‘thorns’ that continue to ravage both to date.

Pakistan

Pakistan, now a nation of 180 million, suffers from internal strife, tribal rivalries and Islamic extremism, particularly from Afghanistan. US military, despite frequent drone attacks on Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlines which often erroneously target civilians, most of whom women and children, has had little success in combating terrorism in a nation so badly damaged by the threats of Al-Qaeda and Taliban posed in to the daily life. This further worsens as US-Pakistan relationship is at its lowest within decades, ever since Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted fugitive, was killed in Abbottabad, unknowingly, by Navy SEAL troops. Last but not least, the doctrines of Islamic extremism have gradually got their entries into Pakistani military, as well.

Afghanistan

The future of this country remains bleak, even as US-led NATO troops are scheduled for complete withdrawal as of 2014. After a little more than a decade of military operations, US military has not consequently succeeded in eliminating, or, if anything, minimized, terrorism in the country. Instead, numerous civilians fall prey to the US military’s much-denounced ‘search-and-destroy’ war strategy. No matter how disliked the army is, they are fully responsible for maintaining the uneasy equilibrium in the country as they are the ones firstly involved in the ‘game’.

Israel and Palestine

Israel, America’s closest ally, faces dangers not because of the external threats they possess, but rather its own mischiefs. Israel becomes increasingly internationally isolated, thanks to its ruthless occupation of both West Bank and Gaza Strip (nearly half of the children in Palestine even suffer from malnutrition, resulting from a very strict food-and-water-rationing policy imposed by Israeli government). Israel even pulls the gauntlet against a much larger Iran, a nation whom the government ‘rationally’ believes is building atomic bombs, and can be exterminated within no time. Israel is also becoming increasingly unsafe, as US-Israel relationship has reached its lowest point in history regarding Jerusalem’s division and Israel’s plan to invade Iran (and Obama has even never visited Israel once in his presidential period). The test does not cease here; Benjamin Netanyahu, a hard-line Zionist, is ordering approximately 75 thousand troops to ‘surround’ the entire Gaza Strip (also a political stratagem to regain confidence among Israeli public before the upcoming election), adjacent to a repetition of 2006 and 2008 large-scale offensives which killed approximately 1000 lives.

But putting the blame entirely on Israel may be a biased option. Palestine, on the other hand, is ruled by two factions frequently involved in clashes within: the hard-line, jihadist Hamas, and the slightly-moderate-yet-corrupt Fatah. Hamas occupies Gaza Strip, and often provokes military attacks by continuously launching rockets at Israeli main cities. Fatah, meanwhile, only holds account for West Bank, an area increasingly occupied by Israeli authorities aspiring for more housing construction for the Jews. Hamas, notoriously reported, has had intense cooperation with Lebanon’s Hizbullah, and Iran altogether. No doubt, brainwashed by ultra-radical doctrines and rhetoric, many of the Hamas fighters frequently conduct what they call ‘an eye for an eye’ for Israelis having taken away their millennium-old homeland.

In the short term, and even in the long term, the two-state solution proposed by United Nations would seem beyond rocket science. Unless moderate governments (one that neutralizes its pro-Zionist agenda, and one that reduces its hardcore-Islamist aims) are installed in both countries, peace won’t prevail, even for the upcoming decades.

Poland

Poland is a staunch ally of United States (it is even now a NATO member) having bittersweet relationship (most of which is bitter) with Russia, spurning deep into historical contexts. Poland was the first casualty of Second World War, having witnessed savage battles between NAZI and Soviet troops, killing more than 3 million Poles. Poland was also forcefully ‘integrated’ into Soviet Union, and faced severe restriction on freedom until 1991. Until now, such sentiment is still instilled by majority of the citizens in sense of anger, wrath, mismashed with a slight mixture of bigot. They widely believed that the 2010 airplane, which killed all the cabinet members of the government (including President and Prime Minister), had been perfectly ‘orchestrated’ by Kremlin. Excluding NATO’s failed plan to install a missile shield, which highlighted Poland’s full suspicion on its own ‘ex-stepmother’.

Liberia

The ongoing relationship it has with United States surpasses political context; it has been more of a historical one, given that the dominant minority ruling the state is African-Americans (whose ancestors were the liberated slaves who returned to the country by 1830). Ever since the end of Liberian Civil War, which severely ravaged the country in all aspects (the GDP-to-debt ratio had soared to 800%) and also by the time Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf swept in the presidency by 2003, both countries’ relation had been more imminently close than ever. Since 2006, foreign direct investment has peaked to a staggering rate of 16 billion US$, most of which is conducted by American businesses involved in iron ore, palm oil, and oil & gas sectors. The threat of US’ collapse, though sounds more phantasmagorical than it does to reality, may menace the existence of Liberia as a nation, given its already dependence on American support to help sustain the country.

Most likely and most unlikely: China.

Neither friends nor foes, neither close partners nor bitter rivals, both countries have struggled to maintain a fragile relationship they have had spanning four decades. China slams the United States for issues concerning Japan, Taiwan, Tibet, and South China Seas, while the latter lambasts the former for its poor human-rights track record, unfair and illicit economic and trading practices, copyright, currency manipulation, and virtually nonexistent protection of labors. But as the brawl goes by, so does the interdependence: until now, China entrusts over 1 trillion US$ (almost 30% of its foreign exchange reserves) on US Treasury Bond, while United States outsources most of its workforces there under the grounds of ‘cheap wages’.

Only in the context of ‘foreign policies’, this may have been largely a headache for Obama, four more years.