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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 23, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: U.S. Soldier to Be Charged Over Afghan Killings

U.S. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales will be charged with seventeen counts of murder (NYT) today over an attack on Afghan civilians in southern Kandahar province on March 11, U.S. officials said. The attack came on the heels of public protests and killings over the burning of Qurans at a U.S.-run NATO air base, further compounding a troubled U.S-Afghan partnership and U.S. efforts to negotiate an exit from the decade-old war. Bales's attorney has claimed his client suffers from "mental problems" and does not remember many of the details of the March 11 incident.


"The rapid exclusion of Afghans from the process of trying the accused shooter has, predictably and understandably, exacerbated the growing anti-American anger in that country. It is hard to imagine any nation on the planet reacting any other way to being denied the ability to try suspects over crimes that take place on its soil," writes Glenn Greenwald for the Guardian.

"In a sense, none of these facts matter. It shouldn't be hard to see the bright line between war fatigue, or P.T.S.D., or whatever name you give it, and hunting down, shooting, and stabbing little children in their homes, and women and men, burning their bodies, and then returning to base and demanding a lawyer," writes the New Yorker's George Packer.

"Forget about President Obama expediting U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan this year. It matters not that some American soldiers are coming apart at the seams, killing innocent Afghans, and burning Qurans, or that President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan screams to restrict U.S. operations," writes CFR's Leslie H. Gelb for the Daily Beast.


The World Next Week Podcast

Listen to CFR's James Lindsay and Robert McMahon discuss the Arab League summit in Baghdad, President Obama's visit to the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, and the presidential runoff election in Senegal.



Japan Prepares Missile Defense Systems

Japan is readying its missile defense systems to be deployed near the island of Okinawa in response to a North Korean rocket launch (BBC) planned for next month, Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka confirmed.

CHINA: HSBC's Purchasing Managers Index, a gauge of manufacturing activity, contracted for the fifth straight month in February, fueling fears over a deep Chinese economic slowdown (WSJ).



Pakistan's Gilani to Meet With Obama

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of an international nuclear summit in Seoul next week, a Pakistani official said. The meeting, which has not been confirmed by the United States, would constitute the highest-level U.S.-Pakistani talks (AFP) since U.S. troops killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year.

Pakistan's stability is of great consequence to regional and international security. Examine the roots of its challenges, what it means for the region and the world, and explore some plausible futures for the country with this CFR Crisis Guide.



EU to Sanction Assad's Wife

The EU is set to sanction the British-born wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Asma, by imposing a travel ban and freezing her European assets (Telegraph). The sanctions are also expected to target Assad's mother, sister, and sister-in-law in an effort to further pressure the regime over its deadly year-long crackdown on opposition forces.

As the government of the brittle, one-party Syrian state remains dug in against a determined but fractured opposition, expert Joshua Landis discusses the fault lines in the Syria uprising in this CFR Interview.

EGYPT: The United States is set to resume $1.3 billion in annual military aid (al-Jazeera) to Egypt, despite ongoing U.S. concerns over Egypt's transition to democracy and a crackdown on U.S.-backed NGOs and pro-democracy groups.



Rebels Advance After Mali Coup

Tuareg rebels in northern Mali advanced south, exploiting uncertainty within the government armed forces (Reuters) following a military coup that deposed President Amadou Toumani Toure. In the capital of Bamako, the mutinous soldiers moved to arrest the president, whose whereabouts are unknown.

NIGERIA: South Africa, Angola, and Nigeria jointly endorsed Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be the next president of the World Bank (BBC), a post that has traditionally been held by an American. The deadline for nominations is today, and the United States has yet to put forward a candidate.



EU Proposes Expanded Bailout Fund

The European Commission urged EU member states to expand the eurozone firewall by combining the continent's temporary and permanent bailout funds to create a permanent $1.24 trillion rescue mechanism (WSJ), a move expected to face resistance from Germany.

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, explains this CFR Backgrounder.

FRANCE: Prime Minister Francois Fillon insisted French police did not have justifiable cause to arrest Mohammed Merah (CNN) before he killed seven people, including three Jewish children. Merah, a self-proclaimed member of al-Qaeda, died yesterday following a siege by police on his Toulouse apartment.



Pope Departs for Mexico

Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in Mexico today for a weekend visit, during which he will meet with President Felipe Calderon and directly address the ongoing drug violence (NPR) plaguing the country. Benedict is set to visit Cuba early next week.

Since 2006, the Mexican government has been in embroiled in a bloody drug war, which has failed to significantly curb trafficking, explains this CFR Backgrounder.

ECUADOR: Ecuadorian natives protested in the capital of Quito (al-Jazeera) against President Rafael Correa's recent agreement with China allowing for industrial copper mining in the Amazon's Zamora-Chinchipe region.


Campaign 2012

Voters Consider Energy Issue 'Very Serious,' Poll Says

A new Gallup poll says 42 percent of voters describe the energy situation as "very serious," but gas prices still rate behind other issues, such as the economy, as the most important problem.

Campaigning ahead of Saturday's primary, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich stuck with their energy mantras (TimesPicayune) as they crisscrossed Louisiana--with "drill, baby drill" from Santorum, and promises of $2.50 gas from Gingrich.

Editor's Note: For more information on the presidential election and foreign policy, check out CFR's campaign blog, The Candidates and the World.



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