Afghanistan's April 5 presidential election provides limited but promising evidence of political progress, as United States military combat forces prepare to depart later this year. Turnout of approximately 60 percent of eligible voters was high, despite Taliban intimidation and violence. The national election commission has testified that corruption has been much reduced from the 2009 presidential election
The Obama administration has proposed major changes in defense policy. In an earlier era these sweeping proposals would have sparked intense and highly visible discussion and debate. Unfortunately, this has not yet happened.
The U.S. government is working to restrain intelligence agencies, and Americans should applaud. On March 25, major proposals were announced. The Obama administration seeks to end government bulk collection of phone records by the super-secret National Security Agency (NSA) and require court approval to monitor individual phone numbers.
Student and activist demonstrators opposed to cooperation with China have occupied the parliament building in Taiwan, an unprecedented event. Angry occupiers fear Beijing. The Cold War is over, but the legacy lingers along with the practical problems of getting a job even in today's rich economy.
South Korea is dealing with growing controversy concerning efforts by intelligence operatives to influence domestic politics. Agents of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) have admitted to secret work to elect President Park Geun-hye. The Cyberwarfare Command of the South Korea Army has been accused of similar illegal interference.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has a positive relationship with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and the Ukraine crisis makes that more important. Merkel, who speaks Russian, has telephoned Putin at least three times in recent days. Putin is not Adolf Hitler, but in other dimensions Germany's history regarding Russia is important.
The phrase “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind when reviewing the waves of public protest and revolt in Ukraine. The competing interests and perspectives of Vladimir Putin's Russia and the European Union (EU) hold the potential for armed confrontation if instability continues. EU nations are also members of NATO.
Violence in Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine, has so far taken dozens of lives as desperate authorities have tried to suppress growing protest demonstrations. The European Union (EU) has mediated a truce among the factions, announced on Feb. 21, which has brought temporary calm and should facilitate early presidential elections.
On Feb. 11, history was made as representatives of China and Taiwan agreed to exchange representative offices. Face-to-face negotiations are led by Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun of China, who heads that government's Taiwan Affairs Office, and Taiwan Mainland Affairs Minister Wang Yu-chi, both notably senior officials.
Current Afghanistan news emphasizes disagreement between Kabul and Washington, but that is only part of a complex picture. In a surprising move, outgoing President Hamid Karzai is refusing to authorize U.S. military involvement beyond December, and negotiating with the Taliban. While U.S. forces will withdraw, there has been an assumption of a small residual presence.