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Stratfor

By George Friedman

During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, now-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that like all U.S. presidents, Barack Obama would face a foreign policy test early in his presidency if elected. That test is now here.

His test comprises two apparently distinct challenges, one in Afghanistan and one in Iran. While different problems, they have three elements in common. First, they involve the question of his administration's overarching strategy in the Islamic world. Second, the problems are approaching decision points (and making no decision represents a decision here). And third, they are playing out very differently than Obama expected during the 2008 campaign.

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By Scott Stewart

On Sept. 13, As-Sahab media released an audio statement purportedly made by Osama bin Laden that was intended to address the American people on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In the message, the voice alleged to be that of bin Laden said the reason for the 9/11 attacks was U.S. support for Israel. He also said that if the American people wanted to free themselves from "fear and intellectual terrorism," the United States must cut its support for Israel. If the United States continues to support Israel, the voice warned, al Qaeda would continue its war against the United States "on all possible fronts" a not so subtle threat of additional terrorist attacks.

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By George Friedman

The Iranians have now agreed to talks with the P-5+1, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China) plus Germany. These six countries decided in late April to enter into negotiations with Iran over the suspected Iranian nuclear weapons program by Sept. 24, the date of the next U.N. General Assembly meeting. If Iran refused to engage in negotiations by that date, the Western powers in the P-5+1 made clear that they would seriously consider imposing much tougher sanctions on Iran than those that were currently in place. The term "crippling" was mentioned several times.

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By George Friedman

A months-long White House review of a pair of U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) installations slated for Poland and the Czech Republic is nearing completion. The review is expected to present a number of options ranging from pushing forward with the installations as planned to canceling them outright. The Obama administration has yet to decide what course to follow. Rumors are running wild in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States has reconsidered its plan to place ballistic defense systems in their countries. The rumors stem from a top U.S. BMD lobbying group that said this past week that the U.S. plan was all but dead.

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By George Friedman

As August draws to a close, so does the first phase of the Obama presidency. The first months of any U.S. presidency are spent filling key positions and learning the levers of foreign and national security policy. There are also the first rounds of visits with foreign leaders and the first tentative forays into foreign policy. The first summer sees the leaders of the Northern Hemisphere take their annual vacations, and barring a crisis or war, little happens in the foreign policy arena. Then September comes and the world gets back in motion, and the first phase of the president's foreign policy ends. The president is no longer thinking about what sort of foreign policy he will have; he now has a foreign policy that he is carrying out.

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By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

Police in El Paso, Texas, announced on August 11th that they had arrested three suspects in the May 15 shooting death of Jose Daniel Gonzalez Galeana, a Juarez cartel lieutenant who had been acting as a confidential informant (CI) for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. It was an activity that prompted the Juarez cartel to put out a hit on him, and Gonzalez was shot multiple times outside his home in an upscale El Paso neighborhood. A fourth suspect was arrested shortly after the Aug. 11 announcement. Among the suspects is an 18-year-old U.S. Army soldier stationed at nearby Fort Bliss who the other suspects said had been hired by one of the leaders of the Juarez cartel to pull the trigger on Gonzalez. The suspects also include two other teenagers, a 17-year-old and a 16-year-old.

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By George Friedman

Though the Iraq war is certainly not over, it has reached a crossroads. During the course of the war, about 40 countries sent troops to fight in what was called "Multi-National Force-Iraq." As of this summer, only one foreign country's fighting forces remain in Iraq the United States. A name change in January 2010 will reflect the new reality, when the term "Multi-National Force-Iraq" will be changed to "United States Forces-Iraq." If there is an endgame in Iraq, we are now in it.

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By Kamran Bokhari and Fred Burton

Since the start of the U.S.-jihadist war in late 2001, and particularly since the rise of the Taliban rebellion within its own borders in recent years, Pakistan has been seen as a state embroiled in a jihadist insurgency threatening its very survival. Indeed, until late April, it appeared that Pakistan was buckling under the onslaught of a Taliban rebellion that had consumed large chunks of territory in the northwest and was striking at the country's core. A Shariah-for-peace deal with the Taliban in the Swat region, approved with near unanimity by the parliament, reinforced the view that Pakistan lacked the willingness or capability to fight Islamist non-state actors chipping away at its security and stability.

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By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

Seven men accused by U.S. authorities of belonging to a militant cell appeared in U.S. District Court in Raleigh, N.C., for a detention hearing Aug. 4. The hearing turned out to be very lengthy and had to be continued Aug. 5, when the judge ordered the men to remain in government custody until their trial. The seven men, along with an eighth who is not currently in U.S. custody, have been charged with, among other things, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to murder, kidnap, maim and injure persons in a foreign country.

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By George Friedman

For the past several weeks, STRATFOR has focused on the relationship between Russia and Iran. As our readers will recall, a pro-Rafsanjani demonstration that saw chants of "Death to Russia," uncommon in Iran since the 1979 revolution, triggered our discussion. It caused us to rethink Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Russia just four days after Iran's disputed June 12 presidential election, with large-scale demonstrations occurring in Tehran. At the time, we ascribed Ahmadinejad's trip as an attempt to signal his lack of concern at the postelection unrest. But why did a pro-Rafsanjani crowd chant "Death to Russia?" What had the Russians done to trigger the bitter reaction from the anti-Ahmadinejad faction? Was the Iranian president's trip as innocent as it first looked?

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By Peter Zeihan

This coming weekend marks the 10th anniversary of Vladimir Putin's assumption of a leadership position at the Kremlin. Much has happened since Putin's appointment as first vice prime minister in August 1999, but Russia's most definitive evolution was from the unstable but semidemocratic days of the 1990s to the statist, authoritarian structure of today.

While it has hardly been clear to STRATFOR that Putin would survive Russia's transition from tentative democracy to near-police state, the transformation of Russia itself has always fit with our predictions. Authoritarian government is a geographically hardwired feature of Russia.

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By Stephen Meiners and Fred Burton

U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske pai a four-day visit reecntly to Mexico, meeting with Mexican government officials to discuss the two countries' joint approach to Mexico's ongoing cartel war. In prepared remarks at a July 27 press conference with Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora, Kerlikowske said Washington is focused on reducing drug use in the United States, supporting domestic law enforcement efforts against drug traffickers and working with other countries that serve as production areas or transshipment points for U.S.-bound drugs.

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By George Friedman

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Georgia and Ukraine partly answered questions over how U.S.-Russian talks went during U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Russia in early July. That Biden's visit took place at all reaffirms the U.S. commitment to the principle that Russia does not have the right to a sphere of influence in these countries or anywhere in the former Soviet Union.

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By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

On the morning of July 17, a guest at the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta came down to the lobby and began walking toward the lounge with his roll-aboard suitcase in tow and a backpack slung across his chest. Sensing something odd about the fellow, alert security officers approached him and asked him if he required assistance. The guest responded that he needed to deliver the backpack to his boss and proceeded to the lounge, accompanied by one of the security guards. Shortly after entering the lounge, the guest activated the improvised explosive device (IED) contained in the backpack, killing himself and five others. Minutes later, an accomplice detonated a second IED in a restaurant at the adjacent Ritz-Carlton hotel, killing himself and two other victims, bringing the death toll from the operation to nine including six foreigners.

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By George Friedman

At Friday prayers July 17 at Tehran University, the influential cleric and former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani gave his first sermon since Iran's disputed presidential election and the subsequent demonstrations. The crowd listening to Rafsanjani inside the mosque was filled with Ahmadinejad supporters who chanted, among other things, "Death to America" and "Death to China." Outside the university common grounds, anti-Ahmadinejad elements many of whom were blocked by Basij militiamen and police from entering the mosque persistently chanted "Death to Russia."

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By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

On June 23, 2009, Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta learned of a highly compartmentalized program to assassinate al Qaeda operatives that was launched by the CIA in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. When Panetta found out that the covert program had not been disclosed to Congress, he canceled it and then called an emergency meeting June 24 to brief congressional oversight committees on the program. Over the past week, many details of the program have been leaked to the press and the issue has received extensive media coverage.

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By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

On June 26, the small Mexican town of Apaseo el Alto, in Guanajuato state, was the scene of a deadly firefight between members of Los Zetas and federal and local security forces. The engagement began when a joint patrol of Mexican soldiers and police officers responded to a report of heavily armed men at a suspected drug safe house. When the patrol arrived, a 20-minute firefight erupted between the security forces and gunmen in the house as well as several suspects in two vehicles who threw fragmentation grenades as they tried to escape.

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By George Friedman

U.S. and allied forces began their first major offensive in Afghanistan under the command of U.S. Gen David Petraeus and Gen. Stanley McChrystal this July. Inevitably, coalition casualties have begun to mount. Fifteen British soldiers have died within the past 10 days eight of whom were killed within a 24-hour period in Helmand province, where the operation is taking place. On July 6, seven U.S. soldiers were killed in separate attacks across Afghanistan within a single day, and on July 12 another four U.S. soldiers were reported killed in Helmand.

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By George Friedman

The Moscow summit between U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ended. As is almost always the case, the atmospherics were good, with the proper things said on all sides and statements and gestures of deep sincerity made. And as with all summits, those atmospherics are like the air: insubstantial and ultimately invisible. While there were indications of substantial movement, you would have needed a microscope to see them.

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By George Friedman

Speaking of the situation in Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama said June 26, "We don't yet know how any potential dialogue will have been affected until we see what has happened inside of Iran." On the surface that is a strange statement, since we know that with minor exceptions, the demonstrations in Tehran lost steam after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for them to end and security forces asserted themselves. By the conventional wisdom, events in Iran represent an oppressive regime crushing a popular rising. If so, it is odd that the U.S. president would raise the question of what has happened in Iran.

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