PARIS, June 20 (UPI) –– It might be game, set and match for Barack Obama, but the United States is still not out of domestic political turmoil. In international affairs the United States is worryingly out of the political loop. Halfway through 2008, here are my thoughts on some political happenings.
In the United States the primaries are over, but the selection of a vice president — both for the Republicans and Democrats — will not be an easy task. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., must deal with his own party’s religious-political right and pick someone youngish and economically oriented. Sen. Obama, D-Ill., must grapple with the Hillary factor and pick someone who exudes gravitas and brings defense and international parlance.
Only a handful of states are up for grabs in the general election. Of those five to seven states, the majority are centrist, working-class, in trouble economically and distrusting of change. The race is too close to call.
In Poland the government is not at all sure it wants to support the Missile Defense Shield. Now the United States is approaching Lithuania. In February the talented tandem of Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski and Polish Undersecretary of State Ryszard Schnepf hosted the Global Panel/Prague Society 7th North Korea Initiative. Many of the ideas now being publicly advocated by the United States were proposed then. The cornerstone of Global Panel’s strategy is the 500 billion euro North Korea/Korean Peninsula Investment Fund to be grown now but used in the future. It belongs to a series of strategies Global Panel has advocated off-the-record for years. The Poles often have played a behind-the-scenes role in negotiating these difficult issues. I think the Poles are right in questioning the shield in its current form. The fact that the United States should now approach Lithuania shows the current administration uses its allies as pawns to be used and thrown away at will. It is a disturbing trend that has gone on for eight years and it must end — no matter who takes the U.S. presidency in November.
In Germany political party Die Linke (The Left) again has backed the former premier of the state of Saarland as its leader, albeit with a severely reduced majority. Oskar Lafontaine was Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s finance minister early on, before he was dumped for being disloyal. He left the Social Democratic Party, or SPD, and formed a political party to its left with disaffected Social Democrats and former members of the East German Communist Party, or SED/PDS. Lafontaine already had danced around with the communists for years. He saw nothing wrong with publicly complimenting Erich Honecker, the last DDR leader, on official visits to the East. The vice chairs and leadership are linked to the former Stasi (East German Secret Police) — so is much of the party; the former Social Democrats in Die Linke are not too happy with this. Die Linke has made it nearly impossible to form a centrist coalition in Germany because they are siphoning off votes. Kurt Beck, the current SPD leader, has not shied away from suggesting he would be prepared to form a coalition with Die Linke; the right of the SPD desperately wants to dump Beck. Next year there are elections in Germany. Die Linke is currently at 11 percent in the polls, and the SPD is disastrously weakened at 20 percent.
In Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe is stealing the elections. In tactics right out of the fascist handbook, he is intimidating, imprisoning, torturing and murdering his opponents. All of this is happening under the watchful eye of the West, which is doing too little too late to stop the S.O.B. Meanwhile, African leaders are doing nearly nothing at all. The U.S. ambassador in Zimbabwe, James D. McGee, has been warning this would happen. He now is being threatened by the Zimbabwean government. Luckily, he is not easily intimidated. Morgan Tsvangirai and his supporters fight on under the threat of death. It is high time to get rid of Mugabe and his thugs — using any means necessary.
In Serbia the Western-oriented parties have been doing everything to give control to the nationalist and pro-Russian parties. There might now be a breakthrough brokered by Western diplomats that would enable the pro-West faction to put aside egos and govern together. Unfortunately, it is the same egos that enabled Slobodan Milosevic to govern for years before he was arrested. Prime Minister Zoran Djindic paid for his courage with his life. Serbians are a complicated and proud people. I have known many of their leaders. As a European-based U.S. citizen, I know Serbs want and deserve better. It lies within Serbia’s grasp to give success to itself. Threatening Western diplomats will do nothing but turn Serbia’s allies against it. Do not let success slip out of your grasp.
Tensions between Georgia and Russia continue because of the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. World governments would be wrong to underestimate the will of the Georgians to keep these areas, nor the will of the Russians to help them stay separate. It is one of the real powder kegs facing international politics. The United States and European Union need to develop a strategy — quickly!
In Nepal an ancient monarchy has been abolished by an elected parliament. It remains to be seen if that will bring stability. China’s tensions with Tibet continue, and it is not clear governments know how to deal with this issue either.
Having just landed in Prague, I will take 24 hours before leaving for London.
I doubt governments will solve any of their problems over the weekend.
(UPI International Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Berlin, Copenhagen and Sydney-based Global Panel Foundation. A venture capitalist who straddles the continents, he is president of the Prague Society for International Cooperation.)