The List: Time Bombs
Peering into the future is a tricky business. Soothsayers and prophets risk being proven embarrassingly wrong, or going uncredited if their predictions avert catastrophe. With that caveat aside, this week’s FP List takes a look at five dates that just might change the world.
ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images
ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images
April 11, 2008
What happens: Moratorium on creating federal regions in Iraq expires
Why it matters: It could herald the violent breakup of Iraq. Before Iraqs Shiite-dominated legislature pushed through a measure allowing the formation of federal regions in October 2006, Sunni Arabs were granted one concession: The law would only take effect 18 months after its enactment. When that moratorium expires on April 11, 2008, the simmering issue of Iraqi federalism could become explosive. Under Iraqs 2005 Constitution, any number of the countrys 18 governorates can join a pre-existing region or form their own. So far, Iraqi Kurdistan is the only region to do so, but some Shiite parties are eager to merge nine governorates into a single region in southern Iraq. This Iraqi Shiastan would control Iraqs ports and about 80 percent of the countrys oil reserves. The Iraq Study Group report warns of mass population movements, collapse of the Iraqi security forces, strengthening of militias, ethnic cleansing, destabilization of neighboring states, or attempts by neighboring states to dominate Iraqi regions as the result of too much federalism, too fast.
Why it doesnt: Theres plenty of time to avert a crisis. The passing of the 18-month deadline will set off maneuvering, says Nathan Brown, a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peaces Middle East program. Any move toward a Shiite southern region would meet with an angry reaction from Sunni Arabs. The bloc that represents most of them in Parliament will likely try to negotiate limits on regional autonomy, and it may have help from nationalist Shiites who oppose federalism. And finally, the United States is urging Iraqi lawmakers to distribute oil revenues equally on the basis of population, thus taking the sting out of federalism for the oil-poor Sunnis.
PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images
August 8, 2008
What happens: Beijing Olympics begin
Why it matters: Its Chinas chance to shine. Its easy to forget that China refused to even participate in the Olympics before 1984. Since 1978, Chinas economy has grown tenfold, while its trade with the United States has increased by a factor of 160. But authoritarian China still has a lot to prove to Western publics, according to the latest BBC World Service poll. And although Chinas economy gets high marks, 59 percent of those polled in 33 countries view the countrys rising military strength as negative. Thats a problem for a nation on the make. Chinas greatest strategic threat today is its national image, argues Joshua Cooper Ramo in a recent report for Londons Foreign Policy Centre. The timing of the Olympics, in which Beijing is investing some $23 billion, could therefore hardly be better. It will get many more tourists and foreigners to China to have a look for themselves at the countrys level of development and the progress its making, says Albert Keidel, a China expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Why it doesnt: The Olympics could go badly. If there are demonstrations and the Chinese have to put them down and people are there to witness it, that could be hurtful in terms of the countrys human rights image, says Keidel. Or they could simply suffer the fate of the 2006 winter games in Turin, Italy, which drew the lowest ratings of any Olympics since 1992.
January 20, 2014
What happens: Bushs records go public
Why it matters: Who knows what well find? Exactly five years after his successor takes office, U.S. President George W. Bushs White House records become subject to requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Historians, journalists, activists, conspiracy theorists, and other curious members of the U.S. public will jump at the opportunity. Scott Nelson, an attorney for the Public Citizen Litigation Group in Washington, D.C., is excited: After the five-year date, literally hundreds of thousands of documents start becoming available.
Why it doesnt: Old habits die hard. In 2001 and 2003, the administration sought to classify documents on national security grounds 50 percent more times than had been done in the previous five years. Soon after taking office, Bush also signed an executive order requiring explicit approval of FOIA requests by the administrations heirs. Previously, requested documents were automatically released if the White House didnt object within 30 days. Given what weve seen with this administrations penchant for secrecy, we can expect this president to do everything he can to try to bring documents that are requested within the category of exemption, Nelson says.
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