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2011: A Year in Reflection

As the semester comes to a close, we take a worthwhile look back at some of the major events that have shaped the last 12 months. This year has been an eventful one for the world – major shifts in power and influence took place on every continent.

Almost a year ago, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire outside of the provincial offices in Tunisia. He did not live to see the results of the fire he set across the Arab world.  The Arab Spring altered the face of the new Middle East and forced the Obama administration to think critically about its policies in the region. After Bouazizi’s spark, the entire region found its collective voice and began clamoring for real democracy. The protests and fighting have forced three leaders from office. The Palestinian Authority asserted its power in its bid for United Nations recognition this year, creating many stirs in Israel.

However, the Spring isn’t over yet. Egypt went to the polls yesterday amidst recent clashes with the police and military. The Saudi Arabian women continue to fight for rights through driving protests. Violence in Syria threatens to drag the country into civil war and the continued protests in Yemen and Kuawit remind us that the Arab Spring is far from over.

By the end of December 2011, the second longest war in  U.S. history will end when the final troops withdraw from Iraq. However, America’s longest war, its engagement in Afghanistan, continues but not without progress toward a conclusion. The May raid that killed Osama Bin Laden marked the beginning of the end of al-Qaeda but worsened our relationship with Pakistan, already sour following January’s Raymond Davis incident. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles continued to make strikes across Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya, killing some of the most wanted men in the world.

In Africa, countries tired of the international players’ failures in Somalia committed troops to battle the al-Shabaab militant group. Those troops have done quite well, leading some to speculate as to whether this will shift how African governments evaluate how to handle crises.  The continent’s decreasing dependency on traditional international leaders also came through when Portugal approached Angola for resources and investment to help the country stave off economic collapse.

However, a rising China showed its influence in Africa this year, revealing its extensive foreign investments and aid programs there, along with those programs’ impact on African development and politics. China’s growth and power continue to be unpredictable – and unnerving for the United States.

The Eurozone crisis has revealed the vast differences between northern and southern Europe, in addition to drawing lines in the sand on regional economic policy and commitment to the union. Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal’s economic crises are already directly affecting economies outside of the Eurozone. The continued fallout from the Eurozone crisis will affect other economies in other continents as well, like South Africa, whose government is already beginning to plan its response.

In Latin America, Brazilian influence and power continues to extend throughout the continent. Brazil published a report on foreign aid this year, detailing its foreign aid programs that reach countries across the world – even France. Dissatisfaction with leftist parties in power rumbles throughout the continent, but for now elections have shown that Latin American countries are not yet ready to return to the right, with its heavy connotations of U.S. influence and Washington Consensus economic policy. With these leftist parties at the helm, a reassertion of national ownership of natural resources and of indigenous rights continues to be a central political agenda in many countries.

For the United States, stagnation was the name of the game this year. Partisanship in Congress halted progress on the debt, among other important changes that needed to be addressed. While midterm elections show that the Tea Party is already unpalatable, even to those who voted a Tea Party candidate into office, voters are still dissatisfied with their government and with their political parties. The question still remains: Are our political parties working for us, or working for themselves?

This national dissatisfaction also manifested itself in the Occupy Wall Street movement, starting in New York City but spreading to 600 locations around the United States and 82 countries around the world. Rising economic inequality is, astonishingly, still not acceptable to many people.

Immigration continues to be a contentious issue in the United States. Despite decreasing immigration rates due to the economic downturn, voters’ attention and time is still consumed with immigration questions. Should we try to keep immigrants out? If so, how? If not, who gets to come in? What do we do with illegal immigrants that are already living in the United States?

These issues are strongly divisive. Anti-immigration sentiment coalesces around notions of cost of providing public services to illegal immigrants and violence brought by these communities, while those in favor of more progressive immigration and services for those in the United States focus on their ideas of the economic benefit of immigration and its social necessity for those who seek to come here.

As for the Baines Report, 2011 has been a great year. We published 67 op-eds over eight months.  The publication was featured on the University of Texas and the LBJ School Web sites, and produced two focus series on 9/11 and the Texas DREAM Act. 2012, we expect, will be no less exciting, both for the publication and for the LBJ School at large.

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