Weekly Foreign Affairs Roundup

This Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:

Like Him or Not, Karzai's the Man in Afghanistan
SI Analysis: After opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the election in protest that voting officials suspected of fraud during the first round would not be replaced, Hamid Karzai was officially attributed another term as President of Afghanistan. The decision to give the victory to Karzai without a runoff election was fraught with debate where some said that his tenure would be legally and effectively illegitimate to those that his victory was certain either way and it was better to get faster to the heart of the matter (e.g. running the country). The many challenges to improving conditions in Afghanistan remain the same and now unambiguously Karzai is the president and the world must now look to working with him to improve the governance, economy and security of Afghanistan. Sadly, Abdullah will not be part of the Karzai government, many analysts hoped he would serve as an effective opposition force. With election and its drama now over, all eyes are now on Obama to articulate what his strategy will be for Afghanistan. Some of the key questions, outside of the amount of troop increases and nature of the counter-insurgency strategy, are: How to reinforce the Afghan National Security Force by building up a central command or building on tribal and militia strengths? How to improve governance and reduce corruption? How to build up Afghanistan's economy and eliminate the opium trade? How to get Pakistan to crack down on militants taking refuge inside its borders? How to bolster the international political will -- especially of Muslim countries -- to continue supporting the Afghan effort?

Saudi Sorrows Over Yemen
SI Analysis: Worries -- that strife in Yemen will develop into a complex regional conflict -- grow as there are reports of cross-border skirmishes between government and two different hostile non-state actors. First, it is believed that Shia al-Houthis rebels launched an attack against Saudi and Yemeni border security forces in the Saada province and then claimed to have captured a mountaintop well within the Kingdom. Some believe this act was in retaliation of the Saudi governments support to Yemen against the Shia Zaydis, who make up the al-Houthis. Saudi Arabia and Yemen contend that Iran is supporting the rebels. Saudi Arabia reportedly retaliated with aerial bombing of rebel positions. Second, a government convoy was attacked by Sunni foreign militants -- likely Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- near the Saudi border in the Hadramawt region. This may be the unforseen consequences of Yemini President Ali Abdullah Saleh's laxist policy allowing foreign Sunni militants haven in Yemen (reportedly in exchange for their help in fighting the Shia Houthis). Tacit agreements have broken down as the Sunni-led independence movement in the south has grown and won support from some of the foreign militants, whose main target remains the government of Saudi Arabia. The massive influx of refugees and foreign militants from the Horn of Africa does nothing to help Yemen's fragile hold on security of its country. With a rebellion in the north, another in the south and a brewing terrorist threat growing throughout Yemen, it is likely that Saudi Arabia will take greater action within Yemen in an attempt to mitigate the security risk to the Kingdom.

War Reports:

SI Analysis: Pakistan claims that its "Operation Rah-i-Nijat" (path to deliverance) in South Waziristan is going better than expected. Skeptics say that the Taliban will just return as soon as the government withdraws. Others say the government is not doing enough to thwart the positioning of foreign militants and certain Taliban. Meanwhile, the assymetrical terror response of the Taliban countinues: Two would-be suicide bombers accidentally detonated themselves outside of Kohat City in North-West Frontier Province; a massive car bomb explosion in Peshawar killed over 100 people; and a suicide bomber in Rawalpindi killed at least 30 people.

SI Analysis: Some say that al-Malikis political manouvering is undermining security in Iraq. Efforts to remove potential rivals -- both Shia and Sunni -- from key areas have actually weakened the strength and comptencies of the overall force. Some point to the October 25 deadly blasts in Baghdad as proof that Maliki may have gone too far in his purges of over 12,000 officials in the Interior, Finance and Foreign Affairs Ministries as well as in the National Intelligence Service. Offical US and Iraqi officials contend that recent violence is due to the last vestiges of foreign militants and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia; they cite a recent arrests in Kirkuk and Abu Ghraib of a key Al Qaeda operative as evidence that the risk is being addressed.

Under the Radar:

What Response to Iran?
SI Analysis: Western governments extend Iran a last bit of lenience -- to accept a recent deal to send its enriched uranium to Russia for its conversion to nuclear fuel. With the likelihood of an agreement being reached dwindling, severe energy sanctions are the next step provided that Russia will go along. The possibility of a unilateral Israeli action increases with diminishing hopes of an agreement. Meanwhile, Israel's Navy says it stopped a ship with significant amounts of Iranian weapons cargo bound for Syria and eventually Hezbollah militants.

Low-Level Tensions in Lebanon Persists
SI Analysis: Political, internal security and border tensions make Lebanon a tinder-box for conflict. Politically, Michel Aoun, leader of the opposition Free Patriotic Movement, dashed hopes that Saad Hariri, Lebanon's PM-elect, would be able to form a Cabinet by week's end. Aoun says Hariri's proposals of ministerial appointments were inadequate. Meanwhile, there are distrubing reports that Sunni extremists are infiltrating Lebanon in an effort to undermine peace with Israel and to counter the Shia and moderate Sunni presence in the country: an obscure group called the Battalions of Ziad Jarrah claim responsability for the 11 September rocket attack on Israel; meanwhile, Lebanese Security Services made a key arrest of Sunni foreign militant connected with Fatah al-Islam, the Sunni extremist group; and the security services also reportedly thwarted an assassination attempt on a key Sunni cleric. All of this adds to recent speculation of increased posturing and counter-espionage ongoings between Israel and Hezbollah (along with the Lebanese intelligence services) involving the destruction of telecommunications towers in Southern Lebanon and the break-up of an Isreali spy ring earlier this year.

Tempered Expectations for Myanmar
SI Analysis: US Assistant Secretary of State Scot Marciel visits Myanmar (Burma) and meets with the ruling military Junta as well as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Marciel says that hopes for any major democratic reform or advancement on the protection of human rights should be relatively low. Any progress will take place in small steps and on the junta's terms. However, analysts suggest that Burma's desire to lift banking and travel sanctions and to counter growing Chinese influence in the country could be motivation to allow some reform and perhaps allow Aung San Suu Kyi to participate in 2010 elections.

Analysis in Brief:

The Absence of a Middle East Peace Process:
Peace seemed ever-more elusive after US Secretary of State Clinton appeared to concede to Israeli pressure to restrain rather than freeze settlement building. The Palestinian and Muslim world's response in general was very hostile. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he will not run for re-election in January elections citing Israeli settlements, dwindling American support and domestic division.

North Korea's Wager: In what is seen as a misguided effort to secure bi-lateral talks with the US, North Korea says that it had resumed its plutonium extraction activities.

Merkel's Charm Offensive: German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke before US Congress urging cooperation on Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear program and the international fight against Climate Change ahead of the December UN Conference Copenhagen.

This Roundup can be read on the Simple Intelligence Site and on the Huffington Post World Page.