Immediately after U.S. troops departed, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki moved against Sunni officials in his coalition government in a naked sectarian power play. Definitely emboldened by our departure, and perhaps by President Obama’s otherworldly happy talk about political conditions in Iraq during their recent meeting in Washington, Maliki could be creating the conditions for a return to civil war. The targeted officials are from Iraqiya, the heavily Sunni party of secular nationalists. Its leaders accused Maliki in the New York Times of “attempting to drive us out of Iraqi political life and create an authoritarian one-party state.” The Obama administration needs to use every remaining lever of our influence to pull Maliki back — if, that is, it cares at all about the fate of Iraq.
The North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il died at age 69. He has been succeeded by his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, aged either 27 or 28. It is not likely that young Kim is capable of wielding much real power. The nation’s affairs have probably passed into some kind of regency under Kim’s uncle, Jang Sung Taek, and his clique of military leaders. For U.S. policymakers, the transition offers opportunities. North Korea is an international pest, trading in narcotics, counterfeit currency, and WMD expertise. The nation is also a totalitarian horror show blighted with vast labor camps and periodic famines. Regime collapse would be a blessing for international order and for civilized values. That outcome is, however, undesirable to China and South Korea, which will therefore strive to keep the odious Kim despotism in business. While they are maneuvering to do so, the U.S. should make it plain that ours is the opposite aim. We should step up surveillance, respond forcefully to provocations, and set our face firmly against any deals that benefit the regime. If we cannot bring down the appalling Kimocracy, we should at least impose some price on its future misbehavior.
The United States, the European Union, and even the United Nations finally look set to apply real sanctions to prohibit the purchase of Iranian oil. So the ayatollahs of Iran are suddenly dropping their habitual air of injured innocence and instead baring their teeth. Any such sanctions, several military and civilian spokesmen in Tehran have declared, will be countered by closing the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial passageway for oil tankers for all Gulf producers, including Iran. Over a ten-day period, the Iranian navy has been conducting exercises, and test-firing what are said to be new types of missiles and torpedoes. At the same moment, according to the Associated Press, Iranian scientists have announced that they have overcome international sanctions and made the rods that fuel nuclear reactors. Iran depends wholly on oil for its income, so closure of the strait would be economic suicide on its part. The regime is thought quite widely to be bluffing, but if not, the U.S. Fifth Fleet, with its 20 or more ships and its combat aircraft, is in those waters.
Five separate attacks on Christian churches in Nigeria on Christmas Day left at least 50 dead. The worst attack, on St. Theresa Catholic Church in Abuja, the nation’s capital, killed 37. An Islamist sect named Boko Haram (“Western things forbidden”) claimed responsibility. The group has killed more than 500 people in terrorist acts these past two years, with the pace increasing in recent months. Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency and promised “decisive measures.” His task is daunting, however. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, the eighth most populous in the world. It is also an oil exporter, ranked seventh in the world. For all that, the nation is miserably poor and sensationally corrupt. The security services are venal and shambolic. Half the population — living mainly in the north — is Muslim. Religious divisions in a nation are challenging enough; when one of the religions is Islam, they are doubly so; add in widespread dire poverty and rampant corruption, and the prognosis for Nigeria cannot be good.