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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
January 25, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Obama's Address Focuses on the Economy

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama focused on what he called "a blueprint for the economy built to last," and took on the issue of economic inequality (WashPost). Obama pledged to create new initiatives, such as a new Trade Enforcement Unit, to investigate unfair trade practices by countries like China, and a new Financial Crime Unit to tackle large-scale fraud. Obama also touted his foreign policy successes, especially ending the war in Iraq and killing Osama bin Laden. The speech will likely become a blueprint for his presidential reelection campaign (CBS)in the coming months as it largely highlighted the philosophical differences over the economy between the country's two major parties.


"In our economic stagnation and indebtedness, we are only a short distance behind Greece, Spain, and other European countries now facing economic catastrophe. But ours is a fortunate land. Because the world uses our dollar for trade, we have a short grace period to deal with our dangers. But time is running out, if we are to avoid the fate of Europe," said Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana in the official Republican response.

"This State of the Union address was never intended to be a policy speech. It was instead the opening salvo in his 2012 presidential campaign. And Obama's message to his Republican opponents was that he has no intention of running away from his foreign policy record. He is instead going to run on it,'" says CFR's James M. Lindsay.

"Dealing with the big challenges would require both parties to stop fighting long enough to provide each other cover as they make difficult decisions to cut popular spending programs, overhaul the tax code, and channel more of the money that the government does spend into long-term investments, as opposed to living subsidies. That's a sure path to improving the state of the union, but not one the nation's political culture is yet willing to accept," notes a USA Today editorial.



Japan Posts Rare Trade Deficit

Japan announced a $32 billion trade deficit (Japan Times) for last year, its first annual shortfall since 1980, a setback for a country known for its exports including cars and electronics. The deficit was attributed to a surge in fuel imports in the wake of last year's nuclear crisis, a historic rise in the yen, and a decline in global demand stemming from the eurozone financial crisis.

CHINA: Deadly clashes between Chinese security forces and Tibetans (Telegraph) in the western Sichuan province spread to a second town on Tuesday, killing at least two people and injuring many more, outside advocacy groups reported.

Tensions have been building across Tibetan regions since March 2011 as at least sixteen self-immolations by Tibetans have cast a grim spotlight on their continued oppression by the Chinese government, writes Hannah Beech on



Pakistan's PM Reverses Earlier Criticism of Military

In a bid to defuse tensions between the country's civilian leaders and the powerful military, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Wednesday moved away from remarks (Dawn) made earlier that the military had acted unconstitutionally in supporting a court investigation of a controversial memo.

This CFR Crisis Guide looks at Pakistan's history and explores the contentious civil-military relations in Pakistan.

INDIA: The Supreme Court on Monday criticized India's army (Hindu) for failing to investigate soldiers who allegedly killed five innocent men in the Pathribal district of Kashmir in 2000. The court is hearing a case over whether to allow Indian authorities to press ahead with an investigation against five army officers indicted by the country's federal investigation body in 2006.



Egyptians Rally to Mark Uprising Anniversary

Thousands of Egyptians are rallying in Cairo's Tahrir Square to commemorate one year since the beginning of the uprising that brought down long-time president Hosni Mubarak (BBC). The military has partially suspended emergency law in observance of the event.

SYRIA: The Syrian government agreed to extend the Arab League observer mission (al-Jazeera) for a second month. The move came just hours after Damascus criticized the League's call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down and make way for a unity government within two months.



U.S. Raid Frees Hostages in Somalia

A night raid by U.S. Navy SEALs rescued two aid workers in Somalia (CBS), an American and a Dane, while killing nine pirates at their compound. The pair had been clearing mines with a unit of the Danish Refugee Council when they were kidnapped last October.

SUDAN: South Sudan and Kenya have agreed to build a new oil pipeline to the Kenyan port of Lamu. Following independence in July 2011, South Sudan took control of about three-quarters of Sudan's oil, and has since claimed that Khartoum has "looted" $815 million worth of oil (BusinessWeek).



Eurozone Debt Looms Over Davos

The eurozone's sovereign debt crisis hangs over world financial leaders as they convene for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (WSJ). The annual convention kicks off as the IMF and World Bank have sharply reduced their global growth forecasts for 2012 and 2013 because of the European crisis.

The eurozone, once seen as a crowning achievement in the decades-long path of European integration, is buffeted by a sovereign debt crisis of nations whose membership in the currency union has been poorly policed.

GREECE: IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde says the ECB and eurozone central banks should take a haircut on their Greek bond holdings (FT) if a deal to restructure with private investors in Greece's debt is "not sufficiently renegotiated."

Policymakers and market actors are increasingly concerned about a disorderly Greek default, while many analysts question the wisdom of Germany's strict austerity approach to the escalating eurozone sovereign debt crisis.



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