Discover more from Foreign Exchanges
World roundup: July 12 2022
Stories from Syria, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and more
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
July 11, 1405: Chinese admiral Zheng He sets sail on the first of his “treasure voyages.” Between 1405 and 1433 Zheng led his fleets to destinations around Southeast Asia and across the Indian Ocean, visiting India, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and East Africa. There’s even some creative pseudo-history out there that argues he visited South America and Europe, though the “evidence” for these claims is either non-existent or invented. The voyages ended as suddenly as they began, for reasons that still aren’t entirely clear but probably involved the restoration of older Ming Dynasty policies that had been overridden by the Yongle Emperor (d. 1424).
July 11, 1995: The Srebrenica massacre begins. Bosnian Serb forces killed almost 8400 Bosniak men and boys in and around Srebrenica over the next couple of weeks, and carried off an estimated 25,000-30,000 women, children, and elderly.
July 12, 1191: The Siege of Acre ends
July 12, 1575: At the Battle of Rajmahal, the Mughal Empire eliminates the Karrani Dynasty, capturing and executing its final ruler Daud Khan Karrani, and annexes the Sultanate of Bengal.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
US Central Command is claiming that it killed Islamic State’s commander in Syria, Maher al-Agal, in a drone strike in northern Aleppo province on Tuesday. There are local accounts of a drone strike in that area that targeted and killed two people on a motorcycle. Central Command’s statement only says that Agal was killed but it does mention an associate of his who was reportedly wounded in the strike. That’s probably the second person on the motorcycle. One starts to wonder why so many senior IS figures seem to be living in parts of Syria that are either under direct Turkish control or at least supposed to be under Turkish oversight. Eh, I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation.
There are a few more details available regarding Monday’s six month renewal of the United Nations humanitarian relief effort from southern Turkey into northwestern Syria. The “compromise” resolution that the UN Security Council finally approved on Tuesday doesn’t seem to be a compromise so much as it’s a capitulation to Russia’s demand for a six month extension as opposed to a full year. It requires briefings every two months from UN Secretary-General António Guterres on the status of Syrian recovery and, more to the point, of efforts to expand humanitarian relief operations that originate in Syria rather than Turkey and that are delivered to rebel-held regions across the front lines of Syria’s frozen civil war. The UNSC can vote in January to extend the Turkish operation for another six months, but the Russians will presumably veto that extension unless they see sufficient progress on building up intra-Syrian relief efforts.
The Biden administration would reportedly like to establish an “international committee” to catalogue human rights violations in Yemen. This hypothetical body would apparently “partner” with Yemen’s presidential council, a body that by outward appearances is wholly owned by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In other news, the Hamburglar is setting up a new review board that will work closely with the Fry Kids to try to figure out who keeps stealing McDonalds hamburgers and french fries. I’m sure they’ll get to the bottom of it.
Incidentally, the UN Human Rights Council had an open investigation into human rights violations in Yemen until the Saudis fought tooth and nail to quash its renewal last year. You can feel free to speculate as to why they might be OK with a committee established by the United States for the same purpose—or why the US itself would be more comfortable doing things this way.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz is trying to improve his outside chance of becoming prime minister by merging his Blue and White party with the New Hope party led by Israeli Justice Minister Gideon Saar heading into Israel’s November 1 snap election. The alliance gives Gantz a better opportunity to challenge interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid and other members of the “Anybody But Benjamin Netanyahu” faction for leadership, depending on how the election shakes out.
Gantz’s PM dreams aside, this alliance may be bad news for Netanyahu from an electoral perspective. Separately, either Blue and White or (especially) New Hope might be at risk of falling short of the minimum percentage of votes (currently 3.25 percent) required for seating in the Knesset, which could weaken the anti-Netanyahu bloc. But in an alliance both parties stand a better chance of getting over the threshold.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
The UAE and Turkish governments will reportedly sign a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday pledging to collaborate on “space research and technology,” in Al-Monitor’s words. Business deals aside this is another indication that these two countries are putting what had been a pretty heated rivalry to rest and they’re doing so on a primarily economic rather than political basis.
As a followup to yesterday’s claim from US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan that Russia is attempting to source “hundreds” of drones from Iran for use in Ukraine, I would direct you to this Twitter thread from analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj. He questions whether the Iranians have the capacity to manufacture such a large number of drones, particularly on the kind of rapid timetable the Russians would no doubt be demanding. It’s certainly possible they’ve developed that sort of capacity but I also think it’s perfectly reasonable to question Sullivan’s unsourced claim. Esfandyar’s thread concludes with a denial from Tehran, via Iranian media, that there’s any sort of drone deal in the offing. Take that for whatever it’s worth.
A BBC investigation has concluded that British Special Air Service personnel carried out a potentially massive number of unlawful executions in Afghanistan. This wasn’t a systematic investigation so there’s no attempt to estimate the total number of such killings. Instead, the BBC tracked one SAS unit during a single six month tour in 2010-2011 and found that its personnel killed a whopping 54 people under suspicious circumstances, usually involving a staged “shooting” incident. It’s possible that this was simply a rogue unit, but there’s evidence suggesting they were engaged in a gruesome competition with other SAS units to see who could rack up the highest body count. Senior UK special forces officers appear to have been aware that this was going on but did not report it to military police.
UPDATE: Gotabaya Rajapaksa reportedly fled Sri Lanka on a military aircraft early Wednesday. It’s believed he and his family were headed for the Maldives. As you’ll read below, Rajapaksa was anxious to get out of Sri Lanka before his resignation took effect and he lost his immunity from prosecution. Now here’s what I wrote before this update broke:
Sri Lankan legislators are still struggling to form that “all-party” government they pledged to form when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced their resignations over the weekend. Since Wickremesinghe is planning to remain in office until his replacement is named, this means he may get a promotion to interim president when Rajapaksa’s resignation takes effect on Wednesday. That may not go over well with the protesters who forced his resignation. Parliament Speaker Mahinda Abeywardena is next in line for the presidency should Wickremesinghe be unavailable for some reason.
Speaking of Rajapaksa, he apparently tried to flee Sri Lanka for the more hospitable environment of Dubai on Monday but was barred from doing so by staff at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport. Specifically, staffers prevented Rajapaksa from using a VIP customs lane, and he refused to use the general queue for security reasons. Rajapaksa has reportedly made several attempts to get out of Dodge, so to speak, over the past couple of days but nothing has panned out. He may try (or may be trying, or may have tried, depending on when you’re reading this) to make a break for it by sea.
Rajapaksa’s legal immunity from prosecution will expire once his resignation takes effect, hence his desire to leave the country before that happens. His brother and former finance minister, Basil Rajapaksa, reportedly tried to leave the country on Tuesday but he was also prevented from doing so by immigration officers. Basil has US citizenship, however, so he may have an easier time getting out of the country than his brother is having.
Malian authorities have arrested 49 soldiers from the Ivory Coast who deployed to Mali as part of an operation supporting the UN’s peacekeeping mission in that country. Although the UN insists that their deployment was cleared with Malian officials ahead of time, Bamako has declared those soldiers to be “mercenaries” who entered the country “illegally.” Ivorian authorities demanded the soldiers’ release on Tuesday but at this point is sounds as though the Malian government intends to charge them criminally.
The euro reached effective parity with the US dollar on Tuesday, the first time it’s dropped that low in almost 20 years. Inflation and concerns about energy supplies in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine have fueled a 12 percent decline in the relative value of the euro since the beginning of this year. The last time the currency traded this low against the US dollar was in late 2002. The euro’s decline probably means rough economic conditions in the near term, but it also will likely make things harder for US companies that export goods to Europe. On the other hand, if you’re in the US and have been thinking about taking a European vacation, this may be a good time to go given the favorable exchange rate.
Using its US-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers, the Ukrainian military bombarded what it says is (or was, anyway) a Russian arms depot in the town of Nova Kakhovka in Kherson oblast on Tuesday, killing at least 52 people and destroying Russian weapons and ammunition. By contrast, the Russian version of events is that the Ukrainians shelled a civilian area and killed at least seven people while wounding some 70 others. Ukrainian forces seem to be focusing increasingly on Kherson, which officials in Kyiv have made the target of a proposed counteroffensive.
Elsewhere, the US government and World Bank are reportedly planning to send another $1.7 billion in budgetary aid to Ukraine to support salaries for health care workers and other services. The money will flow in part through the US Agency for International Development, which has to date provided some $4 billion in budget support to Kyiv, which is in addition to the billions in military aid the US has provided.
Assuming they’re still interested despite the currency’s decline in value (see above), European Union finance ministers on Tuesday approved Croatia’s accession to the Eurozone effective January 1, 2023. Croatia will become the 20th country to adopt the currency, which will initially convert at the rate of 1 euro to 7.53450 Croatian kuna.
There are officially eight candidates to replace Boris Johnson as leader of the UK Conservative Party and, therefore, as UK prime minister. They are: Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman, Jeremy Hunt, Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak, Tom Tugendhat, Liz Truss, and Nadhim Zahawi. Voting is set to begin on Wednesday as the party seems anxious to see Johnson go as quickly as possible. It’s probably too soon to start handicapping the race, but Sunak did pick up a couple of high profile endorsements on Tuesday that could mark him as the early favorite.
Ireland’s ruling coalition won a no-confidence vote in the Dáil Éireann on Tuesday, 85-66. Leading opposition party Sinn Féin brought forward the confidence motion after the coalition lost its parliamentary majority last week, but couldn’t muster a majority in favor of dissolving the government.
This is dependent on Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva winning October’s Brazilian presidential election, but if he does then Jacobin’s Kyla Sankey argues that the current wave of leftist electoral wins across Latin America could dwarf the “Pink Tide” of the late 1990s and early 2000s:
Until recently, Latin American commentators were widely reporting on the inevitable “ebbing” of the pink tide. By the mid-2010s, the commodity boom that began in the early 2000s had rapidly gone into decline. The Right had grasped the opportunity to destabilize its opponents through campaigns of sabotage, propaganda, and scandal, and left-wing governments were facing crises on all fronts.
Whether through elections (Argentina), “parliamentary coup” (Brazil), “silent coup” (Ecuador), or outright military coup (Bolivia), by the second half of the last decade, the left turn seemed to be giving way to the rise of a new right in the region. For their part, social movements appeared to be in a state of fatigue or, even worse, direct confrontation with left governments, and initially lacked the energy or will to defend them against the right-wing assault.
It is no small feat, then, that today there is no better place for thinking about alternatives to neoliberalism and authoritarianism than Latin America. Gustavo Petro’s historic win in Colombia will likely be joined by Lula’s success in Brazil’s October presidential election to conclude a cycle of electoral victories for the Left. By the end of the year, for the first time in its history, Latin America’s six largest economies — Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru — should all be under left-wing rule of one kind or another.
It turns out that the Venezuelan government arrested three US nationals earlier this year—one in January and two in March—on allegations that they illegally attempted to enter the country from Colombia. Venezuelan authorities are holding all three, along with eight other US nationals they’d previously detained. The US government considers all 11 to be wrongfully imprisoned. There is some reason to believe these three newly revealed prisoners are being singled out, since their offense—entering Venezuela without a visa—usually results in deportation, not imprisonment. The Biden administration has been engaged in sporadic talks with Nicolás Maduro’s government since the Russian invasion of Ukraine increased the appeal of bringing more Venezuelan oil to market. Those talks resulted in Maduro’s decision to free two captive US nationals in March, but they seem to have stalled out over the issue of restarting negotiations between Maduro and Venezuelan opposition leaders.
Days of Panamanian protests over inflation, and particularly high fuel prices, escalated on Tuesday when thousands of people took to the streets in Panama City and across the country, blocking traffic along the Pan-American highway. In an effort to appease the demonstrators, Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo on Monday expanded a proposed fuel price freeze that had been targeted at public transit systems to the general public. Clearly that wasn’t enough to deescalate the situation. Protest organizers are calling for price decreases, not just a freeze.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador visited the White House on Tuesday for a “nothing to see here” meeting meant to ease tensions following his decision to skip last month’s Summit of the Americas.
The meeting began with an Oval Office session in which AMLO talked for over 30 minutes (compared with around 10 for Biden), covering topics ranging from the history of US-Mexican relations to high gas prices in the US. Of more substance, AMLO apparently agreed to invest some $1.5 billion over the next two years into “smart” border technologies, whatever those may be, given Biden at least the appearance of a victory on one of his key issues, stemming migration. The two men reportedly discussed jobs programs for Central American migrants as well as stopping fentanyl trafficking across the border.
Gang violence in Port-au-Prince’s Cité Soleil neighborhood has reportedly killed at least 50 people and left another 50 wounded over the past four days. The rival G9 and G-Pep gangs are at the center of the violence. The Doctors Without Borders NGO estimates that thousands of residents are trapped in Cité Soleil without access to basic needs including clean water.
A new study from Dartmouth University, published in the journal Climate Change on Tuesday, attempts to tally up just how much environmental damage the developed world has caused to the developing world through greenhouse gas emissions. You may be pleased to know that the study finds that United States has led the way in this field, causing a staggering $1.9 trillion in damage between 1990 and 2014. Should this study fuel calls for reparations to countries hardest hit by climate change? Yes. Will it? Maybe. Will that actually lead to reparations payments? Almost certainly no.
Finally, my American Prestige co-host (and Foreign Exchanges columnist), Daniel Bessner, has written the cover story for the July issue of Harper’s Magazine on the decline of American Empire and what that might entail for the rest of the world:
For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States confronts a nation whose model—a blend of state capitalism and Communist Party discipline—presents a genuine challenge to liberal democratic capitalism, which seems increasingly incapable of addressing the many crises that beset it. China’s rise, and the glimmers of the alternative world that might accompany it, make clear that Luce’s American Century is in its final days. It’s not obvious, however, what comes next. Are we doomed to witness the return of great power rivalry, in which the United States and China vie for influence? Or will the decline of U.S. power produce novel forms of international collaboration?
In these waning days of the American Century, Washington’s foreign policy establishment—the think tanks that define the limits of the possible—has splintered into two warring camps. Defending the status quo are the liberal internationalists, who insist that the United States should retain its position of global armed primacy. Against them stand the restrainers, who urge a fundamental rethinking of the U.S. approach to foreign policy, away from militarism and toward peaceful forms of international engagement. The outcome of this debate will determine whether the United States remains committed to an atavistic foreign policy ill-suited to the twenty-first century, or whether the nation will take seriously the disasters of the past decades, abandon the hubris that has caused so much suffering worldwide, and, finally, embrace a grand strategy of restraint.
Thanks for reading! Foreign Exchanges is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.