Discover more from Foreign Exchanges
World roundup: January 21-22 2023
Stories from Turkey, Burkina Faso, Peru, and elsewhere
This is the web version of Foreign Exchanges, but did you know you can get it delivered right to your inbox? Sign up today:
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
January 20, 1981: The Iranian government celebrates Ronald Reagan’s inauguration by ending the 444 day Iran Hostage Crisis with the release of 52 US hostages. The release was the result of months of negotiations between the Iranians and the Carter administration, which produced the Algiers Accords that among other things established an international tribunal to adjudicate claims by US citizens against the new Iranian government and by Iranian citizens against the US. The timing of the release has fed “October Surprise” conspiracy theories about secret talks between the Iranians and the Reagan campaign but may simply have been a final insult to Carter, who was mostly reviled in Iran due to his perceived support for the ousted Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.
January 21, 763: The Battle of Bakhamra
January 21, 1793: Having been found guilty of treason by the National Convention, French King Louis XVI is executed by guillotine. His death marked what at the time surely seemed like the end of the French monarchy, though Napoleon and then the restored Bourbons had something to say about that. It also shocked even some supporters of the French Revolution, and that shock may have contributed to the support for restoring the Bourbons when all was said and done.
January 21, 1968: The North Vietnamese siege of the Khe Sanh Combat Base begins. A US relief army was able to break the siege in April, but American leaders decided that the cost of continuing to defend the facility wasn’t worth it so they had it dismantled and withdrew US forces from the area in July. So ultimately both sides claimed victory. The Tet Offensive began a few days after the Khe Sanh siege and it remains an unanswered question whether the offensive was supposed to divert attention from the siege or the siege was supposed to divert attention from the offensive. The correct answer may be neither, that the North Vietnamese undertook both operations with the intention of focusing on whichever one achieved the most initial success.
January 22, 1517: The Ottomans defeat the remnants of the Mamluk army at the Battle of Ridaniyah, one of the more consequential anticlimaxes in history. The Ottomans had all but ensured their conquest of the Mamluk Sultanate at the Battle of Marj Dabiq the previous August, but Ridaniyah technically marks the end of the sultanate and the point at which Egypt (along with Syria and the Hejaz) became an Ottoman possession.
January 22, 1905: The Russian Imperial Guard’s massacre of dozens of protesters (demanding better treatment for workers) in St. Petersburg, also known as “Bloody Sunday,” marks the start of the 1905 Russian Revolution. As reports of the massacre reached other cities, mass strikes began that sparked more violent reprisals from authorities, and the situation spiraled. The revolution ended in June 1907 with the institution of limited constitutional reforms and the creation of a parliament (the Duma). It also reshaped popular feelings about the Russian monarchy and served as a sort of prelude to the 1917 Russian Revolution.
January 22, 1946: The Republic of Mahabad is born.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The Syrian Democratic Forces militia and the Turkish military reportedly traded artillery fire near the Turkish border in Syria’s Aleppo province after the SDF shelled a Turkish outpost late Friday. Turkish officials claim they “neutralized” (killed) 11 SDF fighters while suffering no casualties of their own.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan moved this year’s general election up to May 14 on Sunday. Legally the vote had been scheduled for June, but a decision to bring the date forward by a few weeks has been expected for some time now. Polling suggests that Erdoğan could be in for a real fight, particularly if the presidential election goes to a runoff where the “not-Erdoğan” vote could be united into a single bloc. This assumes that conventional considerations about voting still apply to Turkey’s political system, despite Erdoğan’s sustained efforts to…oh, let’s say “insulate” his power from the voters.
Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian man on a settlement near the West Bank city of Ramallah on Saturday. He’d allegedly entered the settlement and attempted to stab a settler.
Elsewhere, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ultimately decided to abide by the Israeli Supreme Court’s order to dismiss his minister of health and of the interior, Aryeh Deri, due to Deri’s past criminal conviction on tax evasion. Other members of Deri’s Shas party will be put in charge of those portfolios and Netanyahu’s coalition doesn’t appear to be at any risk. Some 100,000 people are believed to have turned out in Tel Aviv on Saturday night in ongoing protests against Netanyahu’s plans to weaken the court’s authority and politicize the judicial selection process. An estimated 80,000 protested over the same issue in Tel Aviv last week.
The European Parliament voted on Thursday to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its subsidiary units as a terrorist organization. As with most things the EP does this vote was not binding but was rather a suggestion that the European Union adopt such a designation, which at this point does not appear to be in the offing. Nevertheless Iranian officials have reacted angrily, with IRGC commander Hossein Salami (for example) complaining about Europe’s ingratitude for what the IRGC has done to contain “the terrorism volcano created by the Americans.” I’m afraid I have no idea what he’s-oh, wait, I see it now, that’s fair. The Iranian government may try to respond somehow though its capacity to retaliate is fairly limited.
Unspecified gunmen attacked a police outpost in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Saturday, killing two police officers and wounding a third. Given the location it would be very surprising if this were not the work of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), though as yet I’ve seen no indication that any group has claimed responsibility.
Two explosions in an industrial area of the city of Jammu on Saturday left at least six people injured. Both blasts appear to have involved vehicles and from what I can tell authorities seem to have determined that they were caused by explosive devices. There’s no indication as to responsibility. Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Indian National Congress party, is scheduled to visit Jammu on Monday as part of his march across India, so the climate in the city is perhaps a little more tense than usual.
Burkina Faso’s ruling junta has reportedly given French military personnel stationed in that country one month to make themselves scarce. The junta stressed that it’s only dissolving its military cooperation arrangements with France, not the entire Burkinabé-French relationship, though frankly that might not be far off either. The junta has moved closer to Russia since seizing power last year, and public sentiment in Burkina Faso seems pretty squarely on the anti-French side these days. Neighboring Mali’s ruling junta similarly gravitated toward Russia and it’s virtually severed all ties with France, so it would appear that the Burkinabé junta is simply following in their footsteps.
Al-Shabab fighters killed at least five people and wounded at least 16 more in an attack on a regional government office in Mogadishu on Sunday. Somali security forces were eventually able to drive the attackers off. Meanwhile, US Africa Command claimed on Saturday that it had killed some 30 al-Shabab fighters in an airstrike the previous day near the town of Galcad. Militants and Somali forces battled over control of a military base in that area on Friday and this airstrike was apparently carried out in support of Somali forces.
One of Eswatini’s highest profile opposition politicians, Thulani Maseko, was murdered at his home on Saturday evening, a short time after Swazi King Mswati III appeared to brag publicly about hiring hit-men to kill his opponents. Mswati is reported to have said that “people should not shed tears and complain about mercenaries killing” activists, and that “these people started the violence first but when the state institutes a crackdown on them for their actions, they make a lot of noise blaming King Mswati for bringing in mercenaries.” It’s probably just an awkward coincidence. An activist group called the Swaziland Solidarity Network alleged last week that Mswati had hired mercenaries to deal with his political opponents, a charge that the Swazi government denied then but that the king may have confirmed on Saturday.
Russian forces appear to have made advances toward two towns in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia oblast over the weekend, Orikhiv and Hulyaipole. The regular Russian military appears to be focusing on Zaporizhzhia as the Wagner Group and its mercenaries continue pushing toward Bakhmut in Donetsk oblast. It seems doubtful that the Ukrainians will be able to mount a defense on both fronts, which may be part of the reason the Biden administration has reportedly been encouraging them to write Bakhmut off.
There’s still no indication that the German government is prepared to budge on the issue of exporting its Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, but perhaps in an effort to ramp up the pressure on Berlin the Ukrainian government is going to start training its soldiers on the vehicle anyway. Ukrainian tank crews will apparently start shipping out to Poland for this training, while Poland and several other European countries continue to criticize German indecision on this issue. If the Germans continue deliberating it’s possible that some number of current Leopard 2 users, including the Poles, will decide to send their tanks to Ukraine without German approval. In that case the Germans can either give them their blessing or somehow sanction those countries. The latter could result in a number of German defense clients taking their business elsewhere.
(If it sounds like I think the Germans are eventually going to allow countries to send their Leopards to Ukraine that’s because I do. Legally they have some leverage to stop those exports but they can’t physically stop Poland, et al, from sending their tanks to Ukraine and on both public relations and business grounds they’re under a significant amount of pressure. Public opinion in German seems pretty evenly split on the question of providing Ukraine with Leopard 2s which means there’s no compelling reason to provide them but also no compelling reason to stand in the way.)
Slovak voters—well, a few of them, anyway—went to the polls on Saturday to vote on a referendum to decide whether or not to hold a snap election to replace their current government, which collapsed last month and is currently functioning in a caretaker capacity only. By law, moving up an election in Slovakia requires either a three-fifths vote in parliament or approval in a referendum. Turnout was only 27.3 percent, well shy of the majority of voters needed for a legal referendum, but after that effort went bust party leaders met and apparently came to an agreement that should get them to the required threshold for a parliamentary vote. As it stands now the election is scheduled for February 2024. It’s unclear when the parties plan to hold the snap election but that will presumably be made apparent in the next few days.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva intimated on Sunday that he could open an investigation into his predecessor’s treatment of Indigenous Brazilians:
Brazil’s new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has accused Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right administration of committing genocide against the Yanomami people of the Amazon, amid public outrage over a humanitarian catastrophe in the country’s largest Indigenous territory.
Lula visited the Amazon state of Roraima on Saturday to denounce the plight of the Yanomami, whose supposedly protected lands have been plunged into crisis by government neglect and the explosion of illegal mining.
“More than a humanitarian crisis, what I saw in Roraima was a genocide. A premeditated crime against the Yanomami, committed by a government impervious to the suffering of the Brazilian people,” Lula tweeted on Sunday, one day after visiting an overcrowded clinic for Yanomami patients in Roraima’s capital, Boa Vista.
Lula’s justice minister, Flávio Dino, said he would order a federal police investigation into “strong indications” the Yanomami had suffered crimes including genocide – meaning the deliberate attempt to partially or completely destroy an ethnic, national, racial or religious group.
Peruvian police violently attacked the campus of San Marcos University in Lima on Saturday, firing tear gas along the way and arresting some 200 people. They were apparently looking for individuals who had come to the Peruvian capital to participate in demonstrations over the ouster and arrest of former President Pedro Castillo last month. Those protests turned violent over Thursday night and into Friday amid continued criticism of Peruvian security forces for brutalizing the demonstrators. Authorities have also indefinitely closed Peru’s most famous tourist site, Machu Picchu, after hundreds of tourists briefly became trapped there (they were rescued on Saturday) due to ongoing unrest in southern Peru.
Finally, TomDispatch’s William Astore suggests the US military is not learning the lessons of history:
Imperial military ambitions contributed disastrously to Athens’s exhaustion and ultimate collapse, a lesson completely foreign to U.S. strategists. Not surprisingly, then, you’ll find no such Thucydidean clarity in the latest NDS approved by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. In place of that Greek historian’s probity and timeless lessons, the NDS represents an assault not just on the English language but on our very future. In it, a policy of failing imperial dominance is eternally disguised as democratic deterrence, while the greatest “strategic” effort of all goes (remarkably successfully) into justifying massive Pentagon budget increases. Given the sustained record of failures in this century for what still passes as the greatest military power on the planet — Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, of course, but don’t forget Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and indeed the entire $8 trillion Global War on Terror in all its brutality — consider the NDS a rare recent “mission accomplished” moment. The 2023 baseline “defense” budget now sits at $858 billion, $45 billion more than even the Biden administration requested.
With that yearly budget climbing toward a trillion dollars (or more) annually, it’s easy to conclude that, at least when it comes to our military, nothing succeeds like failure. And, by the way, that not only applies to wars lost at a staggering cost but also financial audits blown without penalty. After all, the Pentagon only recently failed its fifth audit in a row. With money always overflowing, no matter how it may be spent, one thing seems guaranteed: some future American Thucydides will have the material to produce a volume or volumes beyond compare. Of course, whether this country goes the way of Athens — defeat driven by military exhaustion exacerbated by the betrayal of its supposedly deepest ideals leading to an ultimate collapse — remains to be seen. Still, given that America’s war colleges continue to assign Thucydides, no one can say that our military and future NDS writers didn’t get fair warning when it comes to what likely awaits them.
Thanks for reading! Foreign Exchanges is entirely a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.