Violence in Syria
Some 32,000 people have been killed since March 2011 in Syria's escalating civil war. A U.N.-supported ceasefire broke down before it even began in late October, and government forces have continued shelling rebel-held areas while opposition forces continue to make incremental gains. Amid concerns that Islamist militants are hijacking the opposition movement, the United States is now pushing for a new umbrella opposition group to replace the fractious Syrian National Council. The council complains that it is losing ground to Islamist groups because of Western governments' continued refusal to supply more moderate factions with weapons.
Transition in China
The U.S. isn't the only superpower choosing it's next leader this month -- though there's a bit less suspense in China. The 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party will convene on Nov. 8 -- amid unprecedented levels of security (no pigeons or ping-pong balls allowed) -- to begin the process of handing over power to the heir apparent, Xi Jinping. As with many senior Chinese leaders, Xi's background and political outlook are something of a cipher, but he will have his hands busy from day one, coping with an uncertain economic future, the aftermath of high-profile corruption scandals, and rising tensions with Japan.
The much feared break-up of the eurozone seems unlikely for the moment, thanks to signs that European leaders and the German government are willing to engage in the bond-buying measures necessary to preserve the currency union. But all is still not well in Euroland. Eurozone unemployment has hit 11.6 percent -- 25.8 percent in Spain -- and Greek workers, increasingly fed up with government austerity measures, are taking to the streets. Add to that a new wave of separatism from Catalonia to Scotland, to Flanders and fears of a looming "Brixit" from the European Union, and the drama appears unlikely to end any time soon.
Intervention in Mali
Since a March 22 military coup allowed armed groups to seized control of a territory the size of France, northern Mali has been in a state of chaos. More than 300,000 people have fled the region as Islamist militias have imposed a harsh brand of sharia law. With fears growing that the region could become a new breeding ground for international terrorism and threaten the stability of neighboring countries, calls are growing for international intervention. Representatives of the United Nations, African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and European Union are currently finalizing plans for an international peacekeeping force to be sent to the region, and the United States has been pressing regional governments to support the mission.
The Drone War in Yemen
U.S. counterterrorism operations in Pakistan may have gotten attention on the campaign trail -- particularly the killing of a certain terrorist mastermind -- but the covert air war in Yemen has been steadily escalating with little public notice. There have been more than 35 suspected U.S. drone strikes in Yemen this year, at one point killing 29 people in just a week. White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan has described the Yemen operations as a "model of what I think the U.S. counterterrorism community should be doing" and Yemen's new president has endorsed the program, meaning that U.S. drones are likely to continue filling Yemeni skies for the foreseeable future.
Israel is holding national elections on Jan. 22, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already upended the country's political establishment by announcing the merger of his Likud Party with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu. Formalizing the alliance with the pro-settlement party means that Netanyahu's government seems unlikely to prioritize peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, is facing condemnation from his more hard-line rivals for recent comments suggesting he might be willing to give up on the Palestinian right of return.
The latest report from the North Korea rumor mill is that Kim Jong Un is having senior generals executed by mortar fire. Whether or not that's completely true, it's clear that the young leader is working to consolidate his power and eliminate potential rivals from within the country's powerful military establishment. Early hopes that Kim might put his isolated country on the path to economic reform appear to have been premature. The frontrunner in South Korea's presidential election, conservative Park Geun-Hye, has promised to restart talks with Pyongyang if elected. South Korean police recently blocked activists from sending balloons carrying anti-communist leaflets across the border after the North had threatened military retaliation.
Disappointing those who hoped the tiny Persian Gulf monarchy and key U.S. ally might liberalize its political culture in the wake of last year's Arab Spring protests, Bahrain announced on Oct. 30 that it was banning all public protest. The government says the ban is temporary and is meant to "calm things down" after recent protests resulted in the deaths of protesters and police officers. On Nov. 5, five bombs exploded in the capital, Manama, killing two people.
While rumors swirl over President Vladimir Putin's whereabouts and health, the political situation continues to grow tense. Prominent opposition activists have been arrested and fined under new laws giving the government sweeping powers to punish disturbances of public order. A new Internet law, which is ostensibly aimed at protecting children from pornography but which activists fear could be use to smother political speech, went into effect at the end of October. On Nov. 4, Russian ultranationalists took to the streets of Moscow to protest what they see as Putin's accommodating policies toward immigrants. Meanwhile, the jailed members of the now world-famous political punk band Pussy Riot have been moved to remote prison camps.
The country is still recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, but recent political reforms are making waves as well. Raúl Castro's government recently announced that it would welcome back those who fled the country after 1994. It has also announced a new plan to make it easier for Cubans to leave and return to the country. The reform comes at a time when the number of Cubans seeking to reach the United States has sharply increased. As for former leader Fidel Castro, he's apparently still around, having recently published a newspaper op-ed scoffing at reports that he is near death.