Much happened outside the borders of the US this year, most of it influenced by US foreign policy. The US launched a war against the Islamic State in Northern Iraq and Syria as the civil war in Syria raged on. A brutal Israeli war on Gaza crippled an already devastated occupied territory. The Afghanistan war, which was supposed to officially end, got extended. Guantanamo inmates were slowly released and the Senate committee’s CIA torture report revealed the ugliness of what the US had done to them and others. Malala Yousafzai became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, and in her native Pakistan, an armed attack on a school left over a hundred children dead. The missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 gripped the world, followed by another air calamity striking the same airline: Flight MH 17 was shot down at the peak of the Ukraine-Russia crisis. Iran’s nuclear talks started and then stopped, and Egypt’s counterrevolution was marked by Hosni Mubarak’s acquittal. Ebola devastated parts of West Africa, and Nigeria’s conflict gained global attention with the mass kidnapping of young women and girls. Hong Kong’s Arab Spring moment demanded greater democracy in Occupy-style protests, and North Korea was accused of “cyber-vandalizing” Sony. In this hemisphere, Mexico exploded over the missing 43 students who symbolized all the deaths, disappearances, and violence from the “war on drugs,” while the US shocked the world by warming relations with Cuba.
War on ISIS in Northern Iraq and Syria, Syria Civil War
The shocking beheadings of US journalists and western aid workers by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS placed the US back in military action this year. Although the group had been fermenting in Iraq since after the US’ 2003 occupation, suicide bombings and attacks escalated following the US’ departure from Iraq in 2011. Now the US is carrying out regular air strikes and has spent over $1 billion fighting the group which may now have up to 80,000 members and accumulated billions in oil sales and ransoms. While al-Qaeda’s central chief al-Zawahiri has removed itself from any affiliation to the group, Syria’s al-Nusra front has formed an allegiance with ISIS following US led airstrikes. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS has vowed to form a caliphate spanning from Syria to Iraq with an extremely conservative interpretation of Islam.
Afghanistan War End/Extension/Elections
This year marked the end of the conflict in Afghanistan, the longest war in US history. But over 10,000 US troops will remain stationed in the country and President Obama has authorized those troops to use force if they find themselves threatened by al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The people of Afghanistan held their first democratic elections this year and elected Ashraf Ghani.
In Peshawar Pakistan Taliban ambushed a school for children from military families and killed 145 people most of them children between the ages of 12 and 16. The TTP group which is affiliated with the Taliban said that it was in retaliation for the killing of hundreds of innocent tribespeople who were killed by Pakistani military in Waziristan and other areas.
Iran Nuclear Talks
Thirty five years of US sanctions on Iran were close to being lifted this year with the start of talks in November surrounding Iran’s nuclear weapons. But rather than agree upon a deal the talks have been extended and a final deal is expected to be reached by July of 2015. While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is eager to lift US sanctions, many pro-Israeli members of Congress are intent on keeping the sanctions in place.
Five decades of American isolationism with Cuba came to an end this December when President Obama announced that there would be a normalization of relations with the country. Secret talks involving the Vatican and Canada starting back in 2013 helped pave the way for the US to end its Cuban embargo. Cuba has agreed to release 53 political prisoners in the deal and will allow American companies to improve internet access and US banks to have access to Cuba’s financial system.
This year marked one of the most brutal assaults on the people of Gaza. A 50 day war which was started after the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers by Hamas this summer escalated into a conflict which left over 2,000 Palestinians, over 2/3rds of whom were civilians, dead. On the Israeli side the conflict took the lives of 6 civilians and 67 soldiers. With 108,000 Gazans left homeless, Israel still made its largest land grab in 30 years and seized close to 1,000 acres of West Bank land following the ceasefire on August 26th. But just yesterday the UN Security Council rejected a Palestinian resolution which called for Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories by 2017.
CIA Torture Report
The Senate Intelligence Committee finally released their report on CIA torture after five years of reading and analyzing over 6 million CIA documents. The report revealed the shocking extent of the CIA’s torture techniques which included rectal feedings, ice water baths, extreme sleep deprivation and waterboarding. Then President George W. Bush was apparently unaware of the program until four years after it had started.
Nigeria’s Kidnapped Girls
2014 proved to be a perilous year for children around the world. In April, the Islamic jihadist group called Boko Haram abducted 300 Nigerian teenage schoolgirls from a remote village. With the Nigerian government doing little to investigate the matter, local activists created an online hashtag called BringBackOurGirls to help find the missing girls. International support finally spurred the Nigerian government to try and track down the girls. While almost 60 of them escaped the rest remain missing. It’s estimated that Boko Haram has killed over 9,000 people this year and has displaced close to a million.
This past June Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, former head of Egyptian Armed Forces took over as President of Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood which had previously supported ousted President Muhammad Morsi was heavily targeted by the current regime with hundreds of its supporters being sentenced to death. Hosni Mubarak who was toppled back in 2011 during the revolution which brought tens of thousands of Egyptians to the streets was cleared of all charges.
Ukraine/Russia Conflict and Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
After Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev on February 21st, the Ukrainian Parliament installed an interim president. Despite the US and the EU’s approval of the new government Russia claimed that a coup d’etat had taken place and by February 26th began occupying key positions in the Crimean Peninsula. Although the US rejected the results, a referendum in March of the people in the Crimean region found widespread approval of Russia’s intent to annex the area. Fighting in the region resulted in the downing in July of a Malaysian airliner carrying 298 people.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The year ended with another tragedy for a Malaysian airliner. Debris from AsiaAir Flight 8501 which was carrying 162 people was recently found floating in the Java Sea. Malaysia Air Flight 777 was shot down in July over Ukrainian rebel held territory killing 298 people on board. And, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370’s disappearance still remains a mystery when it disappeared off the radar screens on March 8th somewhere over the Indian Ocean. The plane was carrying 239 people.
Hong Kong Protests
A call for a more democratic process seized Hong Kong this year. More than 100,000 people marched in the streets demanding that the Chinese government allow their elections to take place without pre-approved government candidates. The Protests which have been called the Umbrella Movement began back in September. Although the government called for an end to the uprising in October, activists continue to blockade streets and police continue to arrest protesters.
Ebola, one of the world’s worst health epidemics ravaged nations in West Africa this year. In Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia which are among the poorest countries in the world, the virus has claimed close to 8,000 people and over 20,000 are currently infected. Despite the devastating effects of a highly contagious virus which can quickly destroy a person’s immune system, the world stood by and watched until 6 months into the epidemic. President Obama eventually sent in 3,000 military personnel to help build clinics. The NGO group Doctors Without Borders widely criticized the initial lack of response from the World Health Organization. Public hysteria here in the US over the spread of the virus led to many discriminatory policies.
Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was jointly awarded to Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi. Yousafzai, the youngest person to ever receive the prize at the age of 17 came to prominence after a Taliban gunman targeted her for attending school in Pakistan. Yousafzai’s advocacy led to a UN petition to grant all children an education. Kailash Satyarthi and Indian activist shared the $1.1 million prize with Yousafzai for his work on ending child labor. In 1980 he founded the Bachpan Bachao Andolan in India which has gone on to help children in 144 countries.
Mexico Missing Students
Massive protests swept Mexico this year after 43 students from Ayotzinapa went missing in September. The students had traveled to Iguala Mexico to protest at a speech. The police rounded up the students at the direction of the town’s Mayor and handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos gang. Reports have emerged that the Federal government may have been in collusion with the local police to target the students. The case was emblematic of the tens of thousands who go missing each year in Mexico at the hands of the drug cartels with little intervention from federal authorities. A deep dissatisfaction with the Mexican government and especially Mexican President Pena Nieto has spread throughout the country.
GUEST: John Feffer is co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.