Year In Review

Posted: Dec 30, 2014 12:01 AM
Year In Review

So it’s that time again. As we look back at the major new stories of the year, a couple of themes emerge. One is a shift in global politics as represented by the struggle to establish democracy in the Ukraine, and the rise of the Islamic extremist group ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The overarching domestic themes were the midterm elections and the child immigration crisis on the American border. It is also a year of discovery marked by the rousing success of the ambitious European Rosetta space project, which for first time in history achieved an orbital probe and landing on a comet in the earth’s solar system. These major themes were highlighted by several flashpoints, namely a renewed focus on race, crime and police conduct as represented by the tragedies in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City involving the deaths at police hands of unarmed black males.

The current situation in the Ukraine has largely been framed in the liberal media as a test of Obama’s foreign policy strengths in the face of the consolidation and expansion of Russian power under President Vladimir Putin. What emerged over the past year is a behind the scenes effort by the Obama administration to cement a legacy as a defender of the NATO alliance by hastening the deeply-divided Ukraine’s entrance to the EU. However, actual politics on the ground made the aggressive pace of change less palatable to the EU, which not only has to live with the Russian military presence in its own backyard, but also has come to rely heavily upon Russian-controlled energy resources as it attempts to rebuild after a crippling economic recession. The events in the Ukraine spun quickly out of control as a Western-backed coup overthrew a democratically elected Ukrainian government, provoking Russian intervention in Crimea, and ultimately leading to chaos that resulted in the missile-downing of Malaysia Airlines passenger flight MH17, killing all 298 passengers on board. The West and Russia have each traded accusations about who was responsible for the tragedy, the likely scenario being that it was an accident committed by poorly trained and overly armed militants on either side.

The meddlesome naiveté of the Obama administration over the European balance of power was unmasked in a leaked phone conversation involving assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland. In that conversation Nuland seemed to be trying do an end run around the European Union and negotiate directly with Ukrainian opposition leaders. Some saw this less as a defense of Europe and more an effort bolster Obama’s foreign policy credentials after the debacles last year involving Syria, and in particular Putin’s intervention after Syrian President Assad allegedly used chemical weapons against civilians. Of course it was Obama’s own policy missteps that led to the face-saving maneuver by Putin that drew the Obama administrations’ enduring resentment in the first place. Obama drew a red line in the sand against Assad’s use of chemical weapons but failed follow through with any practical steps to enforce his threat. Much to the consternation of anti-Assad Syrian forces and America’s Saudi allies, the Obama administration stubbornly refused to put its might where its mouth was. The resulting power vacuum left a fertile breeding ground for the emergence a Sunni-dominated extremist group, ISIS, which has risen in the war-torn and lawless regions of Iraq and Syria and now threatens the legitimate state authority of both nations. The gaudy, publicized executions of western journalists and human rights workers notwithstanding, ISIS has captured and terrorized large swaths of Western Iraq and threatened major energy and infrastructure resources in the region. ISIS has also essentially outflanked Anti-Assad forces in Syria, with the consequence of further entrenching the Assad regime.

In May the press picked up the story of thousands of unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S. border from Central America seeking asylum in the United States. The notable difference between these illegal immigrants and previous waves was not just that they were mostly children, but that unlike other immigrants these children crossed the border and promptly handed themselves over to the U.S. authorities. Apparently the memo had gone out to Central America that U.S. immigration rules forbid the swift deportation of children, and that they could possibly be placed with sponsors pending a lengthy administrative review of their status, which is what ultimately occurred. Although the press picked up images of citizens protesting lax immigration policies, in an effort to brand them as racist or xenophobic brutes, the media coverage failed to address the root causes of this mass exodus. Almost 80 percent of the kids fled on foot from three countries – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Not only were they fleeing abject poverty in those countries, but also the violent gangs of that have sprung up amidst the massive drug trade in Central America that feeds the voracious American demand for cocaine, heroin and other illicit narcotics. Ironically many of these gangs, or “maras” as they are known locally, are actually offshoots of violent Latino gangs in the U.S. whose members were either deported or returned voluntarily. The globalist interconnection between immigration and the drug trade has yet to fully permeate the national media.

The mid-term elections came and went with the predictability of the morning sun. Given the Presidents low approval ratings, it came as no surprise that Republicans finally took over the Senate. While some estimated that infighting within the Republican Party (which had been the theme of the previous mid-term) might impede the GOP’s rise, the Republican establishment was effectively able to corral the energy of the Tea Party by playing off the weakness of the President. Republican leaders portrayed the outcome of the elections as a referendum over the popular distrust of Washington, but it seems somewhat clear from early indications that public weariness over gridlock and a do-nothing government was at least as much to blame for the shift in party majority. Republicans also retained and picked up wins in state Governor’s races in key states, thus paving the way for an interesting ground battle for the upcoming Presidential election.

In a large step for mankind, the European Rosetta space project successfully landed an unmanned probe on a comet deep in the solar system, after launching ten years ago and travelling over six billion miles over that time. The probe took breathtaking photographs of the icy and craggy surface of the comet located 317 million miles away from the earth. Scientists have also tested water samples from the comet, which differ from the chemical composition of water in the earth’s oceans and challenge reigning theories about the origins of water on the earth’s surface. Further exploration and experimentation with these ancient blocks of ice and dust promise to reveal more clues about the origins of life on earth. Make no mistake, the Rosetta project is a monumental feat of human endeavor, not the least because of the science and engineering complexity, but the degree of economic and political coordination that went into making it a success.

Finally, the events on Ferguson, Missouri and in New York City after the deaths of unarmed black males at the hands of white police officers harken back to old wounds that many thought were on the way to healing in this country. In both cases, grand juries declined to indict the officers involved, sparking civil unrest and protests that have spread across the country and the world. These events have filled the news cycle in recent weeks, serving as a flashpoint in an ongoing debate in this country about policing, crime and race that will not be resolved in the foreseeable future.