Greg Myre

What's Next For Greece?

Jul 6, 2015

Greeks waved flags and danced in the streets after they overwhelmingly voted to reject further austerity measures from their international creditors. But now comes the reckoning, as Greece faces the realities of an economy out of money and creditors out of patience.

Here are some of the fundamental questions:

When will the banks reopen?

In Afghanistan's rough and ragged reconstruction, one of the most frequently cited bright spots has been the surge in Afghan kids going to school.

When the Taliban were ousted in 2001, fewer than 1 million Afghans were in the classroom, and a minuscule number were girls. In recent years, the figure topped 8 million, with both sexes well represented, according to the Afghan government.

Now the extent of that success story is being thrown into doubt.

The past year has been a bleak one in global affairs: The relentless carnage in Syria. Russia's annexation of Crimea. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Is there anything to applaud?

With a deadline looming Wednesday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cobbled together a new coalition government that gives him the bare minimum of parliamentary seats needed to govern, according to news reports.

The deal assures Netanyahu of a fourth term as prime minister, but it is not the outcome he envisioned when he dissolved his fractious coalition last December and called for early elections in March.

When a major earthquake pummeled Kobe, Japan, in 1995, more than 6,000 people were killed, many buried as their traditional wooden homes collapsed under the weight of heavy, unstable tile roofs.

The quake's power was extraordinary and demonstrated Japan wasn't as prepared as it thought it was. Still, it was no match for Japanese resilience.

When Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi weighs the pros and cons of running such a fractured country, here's the upside: He can count on five separate military groups supporting his battle against the self-declared Islamic State.

The downside is that he has limited control of these groups, and of much of his country.

A former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, who had joined al-Qaida after his release, was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, the group said in a statement Tuesday.

Ibrahim al-Rubaish had fought in Afghanistan before being arrested and held in Guantanamo. He would go on to be one of the top leaders in al-Qaida in Yemen.

The drone attack is a sign that the United States has not abandoned its military campaign against al-Qaida despite the chaos in Yemen. U.S. and Yemeni officials did not immediately comment.

President Obama is lobbying hard for a full-fledged nuclear deal with Iran. He hopes to raise the U.S. flag at an embassy in Cuba before he leaves office. He traveled to Myanmar last fall as he moves to normalize relations.

The Iranian nuclear negotiations have focused on one very big and specific question: Will a deal make it harder for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon?

But the talks are also part of President Obama's much broader quest to repair the fractured relations between the U.S. and Iran, one defined by bitter recriminations in the 36 years since Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979.

During a tough Israeli election campaign, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to antagonize, among others, the White House, Israel's Arab citizens and the Palestinians.

Now that Netanyahu's Likud Party has come out on top, the prime minister has sought to ease tensions with a series of gestures.

Yemen's downward spiral toward civil war is a disaster for the poorest country in the Arab world and adds one more member to the growing list of Middle East states that have imploded in the past several years.

But how important is Yemen to the wider world?

One argument holds that Yemen is, and always has been, an isolated backwater. The chaos is tragic for Yemenis, but remains largely an internal feud between rival groups and will have limited spillover beyond its borders.

During his campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu aggressively opposed the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, ruled out a Palestinian state on his watch, and argued that Israel would be best served by a government of the right.

If Netanyahu now cobbles together the coalition government he wants, his fourth term as Israel's prime minister could put him on an increasingly confrontational path with the Palestinians, the Obama administration and the international community.

In the spring of 1948, Arthur Vandenberg was a powerful Republican senator from Michigan with ambitions of unseating a vulnerable Democratic president, Harry Truman, in November of that year.

Vandenberg had considerable influence as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a moment when the U.S. was reordering a beleaguered world still emerging from the ashes of World War II.

Since first becoming prime minister in 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu has hammered away at Iran's nuclear program, calling it the greatest threat to Israel. Yet Tuesday's speech to Congress, like many before it, sharply criticized the international response to Iran while offering relatively little as an alternative.

A new pan-Arab television channel, Al-Arab, began broadcasting Sunday afternoon from the Gulf nation of Bahrain. By dawn Monday, it was off the air.

"Broadcast stopped for technical and administrative reasons. We will be back soon, inshallah [God willing]," the news channel wrote Monday on its Twitter feed.

Al-Arab's apparent offense was broadcasting an interview with Khalil al-Marzooq, a prominent critic of Bahrain's monarchy.

Plenty of world leaders have condemned the deadly attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and a fair number took part in a rally held Sunday in Paris.

But as is always the case, it's much easier to condemn actions abroad than critically examine one's record at home.

When Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa calling for the killing of British writer Salman Rushdie, many in the West could scarcely believe a literary novel would prompt an international death threat.

We've come a long way since then.

When a 2011 firebombing destroyed the office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, editor Stephane Charbonnier said the publication would not shy away from taking jabs at radical Islam.

"If we can poke fun at everything in France, if we can talk about anything in France apart from Islam or the consequences of Islamism, that is annoying," Charbonnier said at the time. "This is the first time we have been physically attacked, but we won't let it get to us."

The flood of Syrian refugees has been straining Lebanon for several years, and the Lebanese have now responded by imposing visa restrictions on Syria for the first time ever.

Residents from the neighboring Arab states have traditionally been able to travel back and forth easily despite relations that have often been tumultuous. But more than 1 million Syrian refugees have entered Lebanon since Syria's civil war began in 2011, placing a huge burden on Lebanon, a country of just 4 million people.

Wars raged in the Middle East and beyond. Economic woes stretched across continents. Crashing oil prices boosted some countries and slammed others. World leaders had a lot on their plate this past year. They were responsible for some of their trouble, and some of it just happened to them.

Whether they earned their good fortune or got hammered by bad luck, here's a look at the leaders who fared the best and the worst in 2014, plus a peek at what they can expect next year:

Vladimir Putin's Roller-Coaster Year

Editor's Note: This story was originally published in December 2014 when President Obama announced plans to improve U.S. ties with Cuba. We're republishing it with minor updates following Fidel Castro's death.

Just months after he seized power in Cuba, Fidel Castro visited Washington in April 1959 and received a warm welcome. Castro met Vice President Richard Nixon, placed a wreath at the base of both the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and was photographed looking up in seeming admiration of both U.S. presidents.

Since his return to the Russian presidency in 2012, Vladimir Putin has been on a tear: He has annexed Crimea, crushed opposition at home and challenged the West at most every turn.

With oil seemingly stable at more than $100 a barrel, the government coffers were full, and Putin received mostly cheers at home and few repercussions abroad for his consistently aggressive approach.

Nazila Fathi covered turbulent events in her native Iran for years as The New York Times correspondent. She learned to navigate the complicated system that tolerates reporting on many topics but can also toss reporters in jail if they step across a line never explicitly defined by the country's Islamic authorities.

Fathi recalls one editor telling her what journalists could do in Iran: "We have the freedom to say whatever we want to say, but we don't know what happens afterwards."

With his coalition government splintering, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sacked two senior Cabinet ministers, said Parliament should be dissolved and called for early elections.

The Israeli media reported that new elections could be held as early as March.

Netanyahu has been prime minister for the past five years — an extremely long tenure in a country marked by fractious politics and unstable coalition governments. He has more than two years left in his current term before new elections are required in 2017.

The Islamic State isn't the first Middle East extremist group to make a gruesome spectacle of kidnapping and killing Westerners. The first wave came in the 1980s, when Hezbollah in Lebanon seized dozens of Westerners amid an anarchic civil war.

As the U.S. military winds down its role in Afghanistan, the U.S. commander there, Gen. John Campbell, says Afghan forces have improved enough to handle the Taliban forces that are still waging war.

The Afghan military is "the strongest institution in Afghanistan," Campbell told NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep in an interview broadcast on Veterans Day.

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