World roundup: February 1 2022
Stories from Iran, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
January 31, 1865: The US Congress passes the 13th amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery. President Abraham Lincoln signed it the following day, and the amendment was then submitted to the states for ratification, reaching the required three-fourths threshold in December. Several states took longer to ratify the amendment, including Mississippi, whose leaders finally decided that slavery ought to be illegal in, ah, 1995. I guess they just really needed some time to think about it.
February 1, 1713: The Skirmish at Bendery
February 1, 1979: Ruhollah Khomeini returns to Iran after several years in exile, just in time to seize power.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The Turkish military conducted airstrikes against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) forces in northern Iraq’s Makhmur and Sinjar districts on Tuesday. According to the Turks “the bombings caused human and material losses,” though they didn’t offer any specifics about those losses.
As the grousing from Israeli leaders yesterday foreshadowed, Amnesty International issued a new report on Tuesday declaring that the Israeli state’s treatment of Palestinians, both in the Occupied Territories and in Israel proper, meets the definition of apartheid. Amnesty is now the third human rights organization to make this declaration, following the Israeli NGO B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch. Israeli officials tend to get less incensed about claims of apartheid in the territories, which they can justify as necessary for national security, than about allegations of apartheid with respect to Israel’s Arab population, since that undermines key elements of Israeli national propaganda. In releasing the report, Amnesty Secretary-General Agnès Callamard argued that no matter where they’re located, Palestinians living under Israeli governance “are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights.”
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
It turns out that the US military was involved in Monday’s interception of another Yemeni rebel missile/drone barrage directed toward the UAE. US Patriot batteries responded to the attack, though according to the Pentagon “it was the Emirati surface-to-air missiles that actually engaged the targets.” Monday’s incident thus marked the second time last month that US air defenses responded to a Yemeni rebel attack on the UAE.
The National Iranian-American Council’s Assal Rad has written a new report on the ways in which US political and media discourse dehumanizes Iranians and the effects that dehumanization has on policy-making as well as on the lives of Iranian-Americans:
Though it is Iranians living in Iran who have borne the brunt of Washington’s unjust policies, Iranian Americans have also experienced discriminatory policies, an atmosphere of hostility at home, and the helplessness of watching their loved ones in Iran suffer under the collective punishment of sanctions and fears of war.
In addition to experiences that Iranian Americans describe with prejudice in the workplace, school, airports, and more, there are real-life consequences of U.S. policies that impact their lives. Iranian Americans have had their bank accounts closed without cause or explanation, and their transactions and accounts frozen on payment apps simply for using words like “Iran” or “Persian.”
A labyrinth of sanctions and regulations make it prohibitive for them to do simple tasks that Americans of other backgrounds take for granted, such as mailing something to their family abroad or sending money to assist them. The community has faced accusations of dual loyalty simply for being of Iranian heritage, endured discriminatory questions when entering the United States as a U.S. citizen, and suffered from immigration policies that have separated families and prevented family members from Iran from visiting them. All of these experiences have contributed to an overall sense of hostility in the country they call home.
According to Axios, Afghanistan’s Taliban-led government has agreed to allow Qatar to resume chartered evacuation flights out of Kabul at a frequency of two per week. Those flights were suspended in December after the Taliban demanded that its own personnel be permitted to travel on them in order to go abroad for fundraising purposes. The agreement could be a lifeline for thousands of foreign nationals as well as Afghans with travel papers, whose freedom to leave the country the Taliban has promised to observe. The agreement apparently also includes planning for a third weekly flight, this one operated by Ariana Afghan Airlines, but the Qataris and Taliban officials need to work out unspecified “security requirements” first.
At least two people were killed and 38 more wounded on Tuesday when some unspecified attacker lobbed a grenade into a crowd of pro-junta folks who were marching to celebrate the one year anniversary of Myanmar’s military coup. The attack took place in the town of Tachileik, in eastern Myanmar’s Shan state.
The Tachileik event was one of many pro-junta gatherings that took place across the country and that I’m going to assume were organized by the junta. Among those who didn’t feel like celebrating the coup’s birthday, activists organized silent strikes that left several of the country’s largest cities feeling almost deserted on Tuesday. Junta boss Min Aung Hlaing marked the occasion by extending for at least another six months the state of emergency he imposed in the wake of the coup.
The United States is trying to organize an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting on Thursday to discuss North Korea. As you may know, Pyongyang has conducted several weapons tests over the past month, including one over the weekend that apparently involved an intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missile. That test in particular represents a serious violation of UN restrictions on North Korean weapons testing, and it earned a rebuke from UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Thursday.
The rebel Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance group is holding seven Senegalese soldiers hostage following a skirmish in The Gambia that took place last week. At the time Senegalese authorities said that two soldiers were killed and nine missing and presumed captured, but they now say that the rebels killed three soldiers in the battle while a fourth died later of his wounds. The Senegalese unit was in The Gambia on a regional peacekeeping mission. Casamance is geographically and somewhat culturally distinct from the rest of Senegal, separated from the rest of the country by The Gambia and having been a Portuguese colonial possession whereas the rest of Senegal was a French colony. The MFDC has been battling for the region’s independence since 1982.
As of this writing, neighboring Guinea-Bissau has not become the fourth West African country (the others being Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali) to suffer a military coup in the past two years. That may have changed by the time you read this. What is known at this point is that Guinean soldiers approached the government palace in Bissau on Tuesday afternoon and opened fire, while President Umaro Cissoco Embaló was inside the building holding a cabinet meeting. There are reports that they detained a number of officials in Embaló’s government, though I haven’t seen any specifics details in terms of how many officials or who they were. Things get particularly sketchy after the reports of gunfire, but by Tuesday evening Embaló was reportedly posting upbeat messages to social media and he delivered a televised address in which he said that state security forces had thwarted a “failed attack against democracy.”
As far as I can tell that’s all the information that’s available at this point. The situation may still be in flux and Embaló’s declarations of victory may be premature. There’s also the issue of casualties—Embaló alluded to a large number of them among Guinean security forces, but I haven’t seen any details on that front either. The rationale for the coup attempt is unclear, but this isn’t a particularly rare occurrence—Guinea-Bissau has suffered no fewer than nine coups and coup attempts since it gained independence in 1974.
The European Union on Tuesday imposed sanctions (asset freezes and travel bans) on five members of Mali’s ruling junta. The EU didn’t release the names of the five targeted individuals but did say that it would not sanction the junta’s foreign or defense ministers, as doing so might complicate further attempts at diplomacy. The sanctions are likely to worsen the junta’s already lousy relationship with Europe, a relationship that took a substantial downturn on Monday when the junta expelled French ambassador Joël Meyer. The Norwegian government, which was supposed to send a military detachment to Mali as part of Europe’s counter-terrorist “Task Force Takuba” mission, has suspended that deployment due to the current state of relations, and the French government now says it and other Takuba participants are “reviewing” their military deployments in Mali.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation has frozen $450 million in US aid that had been designated for Burkina Faso, following last week’s coup in that country. MCC is an independent grant administering agency established by the Bush administration in 2004, back when the “War on Terror” still had that new quagmire smell, to divert funds away from the dirty hippies at USAID and finance virtuous free market experiments in developing nations. Burkina Faso may well be better off without it.
The Associated Press reports that the drought currently assailing the Horn of Africa region may be reaching generational levels:
Somalia, Kenya, and now Ethiopia have raised the alarm about the latest climate shock to a fragile region traversed by herders and others trying to keep their animals, and themselves, alive.
In Ethiopia’s Somali region, people have seen the failures of what should have been three straight rainy seasons. Droughts come and go over the years, but resident Zaynab Wali told a visiting team with the United Nations children’s agency that she and her seven children have never seen one like this.
The government distributed food and fodder during the last drought five years ago, she said. This time, “we don’t have enough food for our family.”
More than 6 million people in Ethiopia are expected to need urgent humanitarian aid by mid-March, UNICEF said Tuesday. And in neighboring Somalia more than 7 million people need urgent help, the Somali NGO Consortium said in a separate statement, pleading with international donors to give much more.
This could be the region’s worst drought in 40 years, the consortium said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held another confab on Tuesday, this time by phone, over the ongoing tension around a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. Like their previous chat last month, this one didn’t produce any major breakthroughs. It didn’t even end with a commitment to meet again, so in that sense it actually made less headway than their January meeting did. Meanwhile, Lavrov’s boss continued to send somewhat mixed messages about the crisis on Tuesday. While hosting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin told reporters that he felt the US and NATO were ignoring Russian security interests and even speculated that the US was trying to draw Russia into a conflict in Ukraine as a pretext for imposing sanctions. Nevertheless he seemed keen to continue diplomatic engagement and talked up a potential visit to Moscow by French President Emmanuel Macron, who has positioned himself as Putin’s main European interlocutor.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration ordered the families of its embassy personnel in Minsk to leave Belarus on Tuesday, ahead of planned joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises that could in theory serve as cover for a hostile move against Ukraine. The administration has already pulled the families of its Ukrainian diplomatic staff out of that country.
The Colombian military says its forces killed at least 15 members of the Gulf Clan (Clan de Golfo), a right-wing militant group that has emerged as the country’s largest drug trafficker, during an operation in Antioquia state on Tuesday.
At Foreign Policy, journalist Jared Olson suggests that the intra-party revolt that’s already threatening to upend new Honduran President Xiomara Castro’s legislative agenda has something to do with former President Juan Orlando Hernández and the Honduran drug trade:
On Jan. 21, a fistfight broke out in Honduras’s National Congress. The inauguration of then-incoming President Xiomara Castro was less than a week away, and the country had slipped into crisis. A faction of lawmakers from Castro’s left-wing Liberty and Refoundation (or Libre) party, whose leaders received campaign financing from—and had previously worked for—a bank notorious for its ties to drug money laundering, broke rank. They elected a head of Congress who would likely support the continued power and immunity of outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernández’s right-wing National Party, which critics have long accused of turning the country into a “narco-dictatorship.”
Legislators who remained loyal to Castro were livid, and more than two dozen of them swarmed the speaker’s stand, where things quickly came to blows. Within days, those lawmakers formed their own, separate Congress. Honduras’s Congress had split in two.
Much of the country, previously euphoric after having elected Honduras’s first progressive president, was outraged. In the days that followed, indignant crowds gathered around the country—including outside of the National Congress—to protest a move, though technically legal, that most Hondurans saw as treason.
The crisis may prove to be a canary in the coal mine for the Castro administration. Prospects for Castro’s proclaimed anti-corruption efforts now seem bleak, even as many Hondurans remain hopeful in the early days of her presidency.
Finally, Responsible Statecraft’s Ted Galen Carpenter talks about one of my favorite themes—the Blob’s complete lack of cognitive empathy—and how it’s contributing to America’s thrilling (terrifying even!) great power contests:
One striking feature of U.S. foreign policy in both Republican and Democratic administrations over the decades is how often policymakers seem oblivious to the reality that other countries might legitimately see some U.S. initiatives as menacing.
Instead, the implicit assumption is that Washington’s policies are always noble and well-meaning, intended to benefit both the United States and the world as a whole. A corollary assumption is that these virtues are so self-evident that no foreign government can in good conscience hold a different view. If a regime dares object to, criticize, or try to undermine one of those policies, such behavior is considered definitive evidence of evil intent. The mainstream news media in the United States generally reflect the same attitude, as do most operatives in the think tank community.
An utter inability to see Washington’s positions and conduct from the vantage point of other parties is a pervasive and frequently fatal flaw in America’s dealings with the rest of the world, especially countries that U.S. leaders consider adversaries. It definitely has characterized the excessively rigid policies toward both North Korea and Iran. But the defect has been most evident in Washington’s policies toward China and Russia. U.S. leaders seemingly expect the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to tamely accept the emergence of a blatant, hostile U.S. containment policy. Washington’s ham-handed management of relations with Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union is even worse. It has produced a needless new cold war with Moscow, and the egregious bungling has now culminated in the current crisis regarding Ukraine.