President-elect Barack Obama's Thanksgiving video address. His message of hope on the economic front is being overshadowed by chaotic events halfway round the world.
While Barack Obama promised "a new and brighter day yet to come" in his Thanksgiving address, seen in the video above, an old and darker day yet to leave reminds that events -- and perhaps political fate itself -- can turn on a dime in presidential politics.
As Obama focuses this week on our grave financial and economic crises, one simmering geopolitical crisis -- that between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, both with shaky governments -- is on the edge of flaring into chaos. And another, the question of how to deal with resurgent Russia, has taken on an added dimension with Russian moves this week into Latin America.
For a political operation that prefers to focus on its preferences, it's a sharp reminder to Team Obama that the presidency can be every bit as reactive as it is proactive.
Indian commandos stormed luxury hotels in Mumbai, formerly Bombay, to root out teams of terrorist gunmen.
Here's what's emerging about Mumbai. Several teams of terrorists, perhaps fewer than 30 in number, stormed luxury hotels, a Chabad house, a famous restaurant, and one of the biggest train stations in the world, shooting tourists, business executives, and locals and taking Israeli, American, and British hostages in an operation that is still being mopped up by security forces.
The action took place in the center of Indian commerce, finance, and entertainment (home to Bollywood). Mumbai was previously known, from the British colonial days, as Bombay, one of the world's most storied cities.
More than 125 have been killed, with more than 300 wounded in the attacks, which were carried out simultaneously at as many as 10 sites.
Who's behind it? The emerging scenario is that it is an Islamic jihadist group tied to Pakistan. The ship which brought the attackers has been sourced to Karachi, Pakistan. The e-mail which initially claimed credit for an unknown group has been sourced to Russia, where servers are frequently used for all manner of nefarious activity. Several of the terrorists have been captured, and at least one is reported to be providing information.
Of course, this scenario was almost foreordained, no matter the facts. India's government is shaky. If it is simply a homegrown operation, the government would almost certainly fall. Placing responsibility on its longtime rival Pakistan rallies the country to the government's side.
India and Pakistan have been at very sharp odds since the two were partitioned by the British in the decolonization period following World War II. The disputed region of Kashmir has been a constant flashpoint. The two countries had a near nuclear confrontation in 2001 after Islamic terrorists attacked Indian parliamentarians.
This means that we are on the verge of another major geopolitical crisis, with enormous implications for our already deeply troubled programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Happy Thanksgiving, Mr. President-elect.
India's financial sector was sent reeling by the terrorist siege of Mumbai.
The assaults have shocked Indian and global elites. Mumbai, the world's fifth largest metropolitan area, is the financial, commercial, and entertainment capital of India, one of the world's biggest emerging economies. The Taj Mahal Hotel, site of some of the bloodiest fighting, is a central symbol of Mumbai's, and India's, ascendance, the place to go for global elites when visiting India. India's stock exchange, located in Mumbai, was shut down the past two days, but reopened today. Trading volumes are thin, and activity is volatile. Mumbai is a very popular tourist destination, but cruise lines are avoiding it, at least for now.
Virtually all signs are pointing to a major Pakistani connection in the attacks. The new head of Pakistan's dread ISI intelligence service will meet with Indian officials in a show of cooperation designed to fend off a major geopolitical crisis between India and Pakistan.
FBI counterterroism and forensic experts are en route to Mumbai now. They can't operate there without the request of the Indian government.
Meanwhile, other major moves, problematic for the US, have been afoot this week on the geopolitical front, with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev touring Latin American capitals as a squadron of the Russian Navy arrives for its first Caribbean maneuvers since the Soviet days nearly 20 years ago.
Russia, angered by US and NATO moves in its historic sphere of influence, dispatched a naval squadron to the Caribbean and held summits with Latin American nations.
Medvedev met with a variety of presidents in the region, including the heads of Brazil, Venezuela, and Cuba. Oil powers Russia and Venezuela announced a new energy compact. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez's party just swept 17 of 20 state elections over the weekend.
Russia is clearly making the none too subtle point that it doesn't like the US meddling in its backyard. It's been US policy since the Clinton Administration to encircle Russia, with the Bush Administration working on extending NATO membership up to its borders. That's what gave rise to the Russia-Georgia War a few months ago.
One burden was lessened, at least in the short run, for Obama, when Iraq this week approved the US troop withdrawal plan negotiated by the Bush/Cheney Administration. It's a plan which vastly accelerates the pullback of US forces beyond the wishes of this White House and its neoconservative imagineers.
Had Obama negotiated the Iraq pullback deal, the far right would call it a Munich. Since it's the work of Bush and Cheney, they're calling it victory.
The plan is looked upon favorably by senior figures in Iran, which should tell any neocons seeking to declare victory, not to mention the press covering it, quite a lot. On the other hand, without a status of forces agreement, US forces would be legally obligated to withdraw immediately, as the UN mandate runs out at the end of the year.
So the outgoing White House, once so relentlessly triumphalist, was between a rock and a hard place.
Not a place where the White House to be wants to be.
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