Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Perilous predictions for 2011

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Afghan Boy

It’s the season to be merry – and to make forecasts about next year. Across the finance industry fine minds spend December crafting outlooks and extrapolations about how the world will fare, in the hope of a decent return over the next 12 months and avoiding the bear traps that will swallow an investment. The banks, strategic advisories and political risk consultants trumpet their analytical prowess, of course, but are also meeting a natural human need to peer into the future. We all want guidance to take the sting out of living in an uncertain world.

Nowhere is prediction more fraught with peril than in politics and world affairs. The success rate is in inverse proportion to the costs that unexpected acts in the real world can impose on the investor. So despite the difficulty of providing a reliable guide to the future there are huge incentives to try to chart the way ahead. Here’s  Control Risks, a risk consultancy firm, on its view of 2011, while competitor Eurasia reveals in early January, as does the World Economic Forum. Nomura has a list of 10 political challenges to prosperity that range from the prospect of gridlock in US domestic politics to brinksmanship on the Korean peninsula.

So which voices warning of political perils should one heed? There’s a crowded field of commentators, perhaps because political outcomes are not as reducible to numbers as economic indicators, where the industry of forecasting has statistical validity. If you work for a well-known investment bank or strategic studies institute your thoughts carry  institutional gravitas. However, and this is somewhat a statement of the obvious, only a track record of smart forecasting earns you an audience. That, and saying something worthwhile. Worse than getting a prediction wrong is being so blandly vacuous and broad in scope that your forecasts are both right and uninformative.

Respected voices suggest that beyond pointing to areas of dispute and potential tension, political forecasters are attempting the impossible. “The science of prediction is a contradiction in terms,” says Nigel Inkster, a former British intelligence officer who analyses international political risk at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “There are so  many potential variables that could come together in so many potential configurations that it is really difficult to identify anything about which you can be really confident,” says Inkster.

from Afghan Journal:

India, U.S. build ties, with an eye on China

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In the end, Pakistan wasn't the unspoken elephant in the room when U.S. President Barack Obama sat down for talks with Indian leaders. Far from tip-toeing around India's Pakistan problem which complicates America's own troubled war there and in Afghanistan, Obama spoke clearly and squarely.

Safe havens for militants in Pakistan wouldn't be tolerated, he said, in what was music to Indian ears. But he also left nobody in doubt Washington wanted India to improve ties with Pakistan, saying New Delhi had the greatest stake in the troubled neighbour's stability.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Will Obama refer to Kashmir in public in India?

fayazaward2Will President Barack Obama make some public remarks on Kashmir during his trip to India next month?

At a White House press briefing, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes refused to be pinned down on specifics,  beyond saying that the United States would continue to express support for India and Pakistan to pursue talks.

from Reuters Investigates:

In case you missed them

Just because it was summer, doesn't mean we weren't busy here at Reuters. Here are a few of our recent special reports that you might have missed.

IRAN-OBAMA/ECOMOMYTracking Iran's nuclear money trail to Turkey. U.N. correspondent Lou Charbonneau -- who used to cover the IAEA for Reuters --  followed the money to Turkey where an Iranian bank under U.S. and EU sanctions is operating freely. Nice to see the New York Times follow up on this today, and the Washington Post also quizzed Turkey's president about it.

UN General Assembly: NYC’s annual headache

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UN-ASSEMBLY/For world leaders, foreign ministers and diplomats from the 192 members of the United Nations, the annual gathering of the U.N. General Assembly is a chance to stand at the iconic dark green marble podium and trumpet their countries’ successes, voice their concerns — or occasionally to attack their enemies. (Such as when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called former U.S. President George W. Bush “the devil” during his address to the assembly.)

But for people who live or work in, or travel through, the east side of midtown Manhattan, the General Assembly is a headache that runs for three or four days every September. It causes regular traffic jams as official motorcades speed through the city. It’s difficult to book a hotel as prices soar and availability plummets. Scores of heavily armed NYPD officers line the streets. The city’s trademark incessant honking of car horns is punctuated with the roar of helicopters overhead scanning for suspicious activity on the streets below. NYPD checkpoints are set up to screen everyone trying to get within a few hundred yards of U.N. headquarters and those without proof that they live or work in the area are told to get lost.

EU delivers its own “State of the Union” address

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The European Union talks frequently about wanting to be a bigger player in the world, about making its political influence match its economic weight and the need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States.

And at least in one respect it can now say it’s America’s equal – both have a State of the Union address.

from Afghan Journal:

WikiLeaks: shaking the foundations of U.S. policy toward Pakistan

A Pakistani security official stands near a burning vehicle after it was attacked in Chaman in Pakistan's Balochistan province, along the Afghan border on May 19, 2010.

A Pakistani security official stands near a burning vehicle after it was attacked in Chaman in Pakistan's Balochistan province, along the Afghan border on May 19, 2010.

On the face of it, you could ask what's new about the latest disclosures of Pakistani involvement in the Taliban insurgency while accepting massive U.S. aid to fight Islamic militancy of all hues. Hasn't this been known all along -- something that a succession of top U.S. officials and military leaders have often said, sometimes  couched in diplomatic speech and sometimes rather clearly?

Who do you call to speak to Europe?

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Obama on the phone

Who do you call when you want to speak to Europe? The question, long attributed to Henry Kissinger, has yet to be answered convincingly by the 27-country European Union.

Six months ago, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a news conference the person to call on foreign policy issues was Catherine Ashton, who had just been chosen as the European Union’s foreign affairs chief.  The “so-called Kissinger issue is now solved”, he said.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

With Karzai off to Washington, Taliban talks back in focus

marjah"The effort required to bring about a compromise was indistinguishable from the requirements of victory—as the administration in which I served had to learn from bitter experience."

The quote is from Henry Kissinger on Vietnam but you could just as easily apply it to the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan of aiming to weaken the Taliban enough to bring them to the negotiating table. And unfashionable as it is to compare Vietnam to Afghanistan (it was hopelessly overdone last year), it does encapsulate one of the many paradoxes of the American approach to the Taliban.

from Afghan Journal:

Karzai, the West and the diplomatic marriage from hell

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One of my Kabul press corps colleagues once described covering President Hamid Karzai’s government and the Western diplomats who are supposed to be supporting it as a lot like being friends with a couple while they go through a savage divorce. We reporters hop back and forth, from cocktail party to quiet lunch to private briefing, listening to charming Afghans and Westerners -– many of whom we personally like very much -- say outrageously nasty things about each other. Usually, the invective is whispered “off the record” by both sides, so you, dear reader, miss out on the opportunity to learn just how dysfunctional one of the world’s most important diplomatic relationships has become.

Over the past few weeks, the secret got out. Karzai -- in a speech that was described as an outburst but which palace insiders say was carefully planned -- said in public what his allies have been muttering in private for months: that Western diplomats orchestrated the notorious election debacle last year that saw a third of his votes thrown out for fraud. The White House and State Department were apoplectic: “disturbing”, “untrue”, “preposterous” they called it. Peter Galbraith, the U.S. diplomat who was the number two U.N. official in Kabul during last year’s election, went on TV and said he thought Karzai might be crazy or on drugs. Karzai’s camp’s response: Who’s being preposterous now?

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