World roundup: July 16-17 2022
Stories from Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Ukraine, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
July 15, 1099: The Siege of Jerusalem ends with the Crusaders capturing the city
.July 15, 1799: An officer on Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, Captain Pierre-François Bouchard, discovers an artifact later dubbed “the Rosetta Stone.” The stone, containing three versions of the same decree—in hieroglyphs, demotic Egyptian, and Ancient Greek—enabled scholars to finally translate hieroglyphs and was a landmark in the development of the field of Egyptology.
July 15, 1974: Greece’s military government engineers a coup in Cyprus in order to install a government favorable to union with Greece. The coup prompted Turkey to intervene to prevent Cyprus from joining Greece, partitioning the island and leaving it in a state of frozen conflict that continues to the present day.
July 16, 1212: The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa
July 16, 1945: The United States conducts the first successful detonation of an atomic weapon at Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range in New Mexico, code named “Trinity.”
July 17, 1936: The Spanish military, led by a cadre of nationalist officers including Francisco Franco, begins a coup against Spain’s Popular Front government starting in Morocco, the Canary Islands, and the Balearic Islands. The intent was to secure those outlying areas before swiftly moving into Spain proper to oust the government the following day, but the effort quickly stalled and the result instead was the Spanish Civil War. Franco and the Nationalists ultimately won but only after hundreds of thousands were killed.
July 17, 1968: In a bloodless coup sometimes called the “17 July Revolution,” the Iraqi Baath Party ousts President Abdul Rahman Arif and takes power under its leader, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. To this day the circumstances surrounding the coup remain murky, but the result is not—the Baathists controlled Iraq until the US invasion in 2003 ousted them.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Iraqi soldiers reportedly killed a would-be suicide bomber in the town of Tarmiyah, a bit north of Baghdad, on Sunday morning. Iraqi security forces are in the midst of an effort to find and eliminate Islamic State cells in northern Iraq and this incident seems to have taken place in the context of that operation. They’ve arrested dozens of alleged IS fighters in recent days and among other goals are aiming to close the Syrian border to prevent IS infiltration.
To I’m sure nobody’s surprise, the Israeli military responded to Saturday morning’s Gaza rocket fire by bombing an alleged “military target” in the enclave. According to Israeli officials the target was a rocket manufacturing facility belonging to Hamas. There are no reports of any casualties so far as I know.
Joe Biden wrapped up his tour of the Middle East on Saturday by attending a meeting of the “GCC+3” (leaders of the six Gulf Cooperation Council members plus those of Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan) in Jeddah. There he…well, he was just kind of “there,” actually, and I think for anybody looking to understand why Biden made this trip, given its overall lack of any signature accomplishment, this is the answer. The goal was for Biden to meet with Israeli leaders, meet with Saudi leaders, meet with other Arab leaders and just let them know, through the simple act of meeting with them, that America Still Cares about the Middle East.
To borrow a phrase Biden used in a different context during the 2020 presidential campaign, the point was to let Arab leaders—even (or especially) those who don’t share Biden’s alleged commitment to human rights like Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi—that nothing, fundamentally, has changed about US Middle East policy. And although this trip involved a good deal of subtext (and some not-so-sub text) about Iran, the real issue is China. The tepid response from Our Best Friends in the region to the US economic war against Russia clearly sent a wave of panic through the Biden administration that perhaps the United States could lose these countries to Beijing, so the decision was made to send Biden to make nice, so that we can all be friends again.
There’s clearly still work to be done in that area, as the silly dispute over what exactly happened after Biden fist-bumped MBS on Friday shows. But all things considered I think this trip has to be considered within the context of the speculation that attended it before Biden left the US. And by that score it definitely wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Biden didn’t get a commitment from the Saudis to produce more oil in the near term, if you’re into that sort of thing, but he also didn’t (perhaps despite his best efforts) entangle the United States in any sort of regional military alliance. He may still do so, of course.
The Iranian government on Saturday blacklisted 61 US nationals over their ties to the creepily cult-like dissident group Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK). Some of the more recognizable folks in this group include former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, veteran coup-plotter John Bolton, and mayor-turned-rodeo-clown Rudy Giuliani.
Elsewhere, an adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Kamal Kharrazi, apparently told Al Jazeera on Sunday that Iran “has the technical means to produce a nuclear bomb but there has been no decision by Iran to build one.” Very reassuring. I’m sure his comments won’t be seized upon by the “Bomb Bomb Iran” club as evidence that the United States ought to be bombing Iran.
It perhaps comes as no surprise, given everything that’s been written about Sri Lanka’s economic and political crises, that central bank governor Nandalal Weerasinghe is predicting a 6 percent GDP contraction this year. Weerasinghe told The Wall Street Journal that he’s been in discussions with the International Monetary Fund about an economic bailout, but those discussions were at least partially derailed due to the political chaos that’s been a daily feature of life in Colombo for the past several weeks. Conversations with other countries about short-term financing for the import of basic goods have likewise been scuttled, but ideally once the Sri Lankan parliament elects a replacement for former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa next week these sorts of negotiations can resume.
A group of gunmen killed at least ten people and wounded two more in an attack on a village in Indonesia’s Papua province on Saturday. As far as I know there’s been no claim of responsibility, but authorities are assuming that the gunmen were affiliated with the separatist West Papua National Liberation Army. The ten victims were all traders from other parts of Indonesia.
The death toll after days of inter-communal fighting in southern Sudan’s Blue Nile state now stands at 65 or more with over 150 injured, according to provincial officials. The Hausa and Berti communities have been battling over a land dispute, possibly over a Hausa proposal to create a new civil authority “to supervise access to land.” Sudan’s ruling junta has imposed a curfew in part of Blue Nile and deployed the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces to ratchet down the violence, though given the RSF’s reputation I’m not sure it’s the best unit for a job like this. The violence fueled anti-junta protests in Khartoum on Sunday to which security forces responded with tear gas.
Chadian rebels announced on Saturday that they’re breaking off peace talks with the country’s ruling junta. On Thursday the junta announced August 20 as the start date for a planned “national dialogue” that is supposed to put Chad on the road back to democracy (or to what has passed for democracy in Chad for the past 30 years or so). Apparently this was done without consulting the rebels and they’re not terribly thrilled about that. Their participation in the national dialogue is now of course in doubt, as is any expectation that the dialogue will actually achieve anything of note.
A car bombing killed at least five people in the central Somali city of Jowhar on Sunday. At least 14 people were wounded in the blast, which targeted a major hotel in the city. Al-Shabab later claimed responsibility for the attack.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Congolese security forces are saying that they repelled an Allied Democratic Forces attack on a prison in the city of Beni in North Kivu province on Friday night. The facility apparently houses a number of ADF fighters so the goal was to spring them. There’s no word on casualties.
It sounds like the Russian military is moving into a new phase in its offensive in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk oblast. Ukrainian officials are reporting increased shelling across the Donetsk front line, a clear shift from the more selective bombardments the Russians have been doing for the past couple of weeks. This change in posture comes as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered an intensification of Russian attacks in the Donbas over the weekend. The next Russian target would appear to be the city of Sloviansk, given the level of bombardment it’s been receiving. There are also indications that the Russians are bolstering their defenses in Kherson oblast, which has been a Ukrainian target of late, and Russian forces are continuing periodic attacks on the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday sacked the head of Ukraine’s state security service (SBU) Ivan Bakanov and Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova. According to Zelensky people working in their departments have been found to be collaborating with Russia in some unspecified way. Many of them appear to be officials in parts of Ukraine that are now under Russian control. According to Zelensky there are now hundreds of open investigations on charges that Ukrainian officials have committed treason or collaborated with the Russians.
Bulgarian and North Macedonian officials signed an agreement in Sofia on Sunday wherein Bulgaria agreed to drop its hold on North Macedonia’s bid to join the European Union. That’s because the previous day, North Macedonia’s parliament approved a deal, brokered by the French government, to address Bulgarian demands by agreeing to amend the North Macedonian constitution to enshrine the rights of the country’s Bulgarian minority. This doesn’t end the dispute, as the North Macedonian government will still have to win a vote to formally amend the constitution and Bulgaria can still block North Macedonia’s final EU accession.
It should be noted that this compromise has proven to be a politically contentious issue in both countries. Opposition parties have organized protests against it in North Macedonia, while in Bulgaria it became part of the case against Kiril Petkov’s government, which lost a no confidence vote last month and is now operating in a caretaker capacity.
The Peruvian Congress voted on Friday to host the October meeting of the Organization of American States’ General Assembly. This is noteworthy because that same body had rejected the assembly the previous day because of the OAS’s requirement for gender neutral restrooms. Peru’s conservative legislative majority objected to those arrangements, but apparently the government was able to convince some legislators to change their votes on the grounds that rejecting the assembly was a black mark for Peruvian foreign relations.
The United Nations says that at least 234 people were killed or wounded in fighting between the rival G9 and G-Pep gangs in Port-au-Prince’s Cité Soleil between July 8 and July 12. The violence seems to have tapered off in recent days but residents in that neighborhood may still be struggling to access food, water, and medical care.
“Empire Burlesque,” Daniel Bessner’s Harper’s cover story, provides a useful, if preliminary, answer to a question most members of our political class, preoccupied with other matters, would prefer to ignore. Yet the title of the essay contains a touch of genius, capturing as it does in a single concise phrase the essence of the American Century in its waning days.
On the one hand, given Washington’s freewheeling penchant for using force to impose its claimed prerogatives abroad, the imperial nature of the American project has become self-evident. When the U.S. invades and occupies distant lands or subjects them to punishment, concepts like freedom, democracy, and human rights rarely figure as more than afterthoughts. Submission, not liberation, defines the underlying, if rarely acknowledged, motivation behind Washington’s military actions, actual or threatened, direct or through proxies.
On the other hand, the reckless squandering of American power in recent decades suggests that those who preside over the American imperium are either stunningly incompetent or simply mad as hatters. Intent on perpetuating some form of global hegemony, they have accelerated trends toward national decline, while seemingly oblivious to the actual results of their handiwork.
Consider the January 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol. It has rightly prompted a thorough congressional investigation aimed at establishing accountability. All of us should be grateful for the conscientious efforts of the House Select Committee to expose the criminality of the Trump presidency. Meanwhile, however, the trillions of dollars wasted and the hundreds of thousands of lives lost during our post-9/11 wars have been essentially written off as the cost of doing business. Here we glimpse the essence of twenty-first-century bipartisanship, both parties colluding to ignore disasters for which they share joint responsibility, while effectively consigning the vast majority of ordinary citizens to the status of passive accomplices.
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