Discover more from Foreign Exchanges
World roundup: June 16 2022
Stories from Yemen, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, 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
June 15, 1215: King John of England signs Magna Carta at Runnymede, under pressure from a group of rebellious barons. The document included provisions protecting church prerogatives and establishing protection from illegal imprisonment, a right to a speedy trial, and limitations on taxation (for the barons, not in general, though it’s since been interpreted more broadly). Instead of ending the rebellion the charter inflamed it, as John and a council of barons created to oversee its implementation quickly fell out and John had the document declared null by Pope Innocent III. This led to the First Barons’ War, in which the rebels and their French ally were defeated but young King Henry III (John had died during the war) and his regent, William Marshal, issued a revised Magna Carta as a concession to help end the unrest.
June 15, 1389: The Battle of Kosovo
June 16, 632: Yazdegerd III is crowned ruler of the Sasanian Empire. He ruled for 19 years, much of it in a fairly nominal sense, and was the last Sasanian emperor. He fled his capital, Ctesiphon, after the Persians’ catastrophic defeat to the invading Arabs at Qadisiyah in 636 and spent the rest of his life alternately running for his life and raising armies in a futile attempt to stop the oncoming Arabs. A miller assassinated Yazdegerd at Merv (near modern Mary, Turkmenistan) in 651, though it’s unclear whether he did so in an act of simple robbery or at the orders of the regional governor.
June 16, 1407: Ming Chinese forces capture the emperor of Đại Ngu (northern Vietnam today), Hồ Hán Thương, as well as his father and predecessor, “Retired Emperor” Hồ Quý Ly, thus bringing the 1406-1407 Ming-Hồ war close to its end. The conflict’s roots lay in the Hồ dynasty’s overthrow of the Trần dynasty, a Ming vassal, and the breakup of Đại Việt (Vietnam) in 1400. Hồ Quý Ly resisted a Ming demand for the reinstatement of the Trần and the rest, as they say, is history. The Ming annexed northern Vietnam, calling it Jiaozhi province, but that only lasted until 1427, when a rebellion led by Lê Lợi drove the Ming out and reestablished an independent Vietnam.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Unspecified gunmen attacked a military checkpoint near Damascus on Wednesday, killing a Syrian Army officer. There’s no indication as to responsibility but Syrian authorities have apparently made arrests in connection with the incident. Also on Wednesday, two people were killed in apparently targeted attacks in southern Syria’s Daraa province, one the leader of a pro-government security force and the other a former rebel who was wanted by Syrian authorities.
Elsewhere, a facility used by the Maghaweir al-Thowra rebel faction in the Tanf region came under an overnight drone attack that caused damage but no casualties. Tanf, which is controlled by a joint rebel-US presence, has come under drone attack before, presumably from Iranian-supported militias and/or the Syrian military. And a raid by commandos with the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition are claiming to have captured a senior IS figure, whom anonymous reports have identified as Hani Ahmed al-Kurdi, in a raid early Thursday on a village in northern Aleppo province.
A Yemeni journalist named Saber al-Haidari was reportedly killed in a car bombing in Aden late Wednesday. As far as I can tell there’s no indication as to who was responsible or why they targeted this reporter, assuming he was the intended target.
The Associated Press reports that Yemen’s Houthi/Ansar Allah rebels are still recruiting child soldiers even after signing on to a United Nations ‘action plan’ to stop that practice back in mid-April. It seems ideologically that at least some hardliners within the Houthi movement regard ten year old males as “men” for the purposes of using them as cannon fodder. Not fighting is of course no guarantee of safety, given the prevalence of Saudi airstrikes that sometimes hit things like school buses and bakeries (“oopsies” is I believe the technical term for these sorts of incidents) and given the starvation conditions that the US-supported Saudi blockade has created across northern Yemen. But there are unconfirmed accounts of Houthi officials using the distribution of food aid as a means to force families to hand over their male children for enlistment, which are troubling if true.
Thousands of children have died in combat and thousands more indirectly because of this war, and the only way to end that is by ending the conflict. On that note, it’s going to be harder to negotiate an end the war if the Houthis develop a reputation for signing pledges they have no intention of fulfilling.
The Biden administration on Thursday blacklisted a number of Iranian as well as Chinese and Emirati firms for allegedly facilitating the export of Iranian petrochemical products in violation of US sanctions. That the Biden administration, which still claims to want to revive the 2015 nuclear deal despite mounting evidence to the contrary, is enforcing and in some cases enhancing the sanctions the Trump administration reimposed when it crashed out of the deal in 2018 is I guess ironic, or would be if incoherence weren’t the normal way US foreign policy operates.
The World Trade Organization has been holding its first ministerial conference since 2017 in Geneva this week, and it sounds like things are going great:
Talks went down to the wire Thursday as the World Trade Organization was set to wrap up its first ministerial-level meeting in more than four years, with no firm deal so far on issues like food security, the fight against overfishing in the seas, and efforts to broaden access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Western diplomats were pointing fingers at India’s delegation in particular, accusing it of blocking agreement on issues like a waiver of WTO rules that protect patents behind COVID-19 vaccines and a bid to reduce government subsidies that help industrial-sized fishing operations that scoop up huge catches, while protecting the livelihoods of small-scale fishermen.
India was holding its ground, positioning itself as a leading voice for developing countries that have resisted what they perceive as high-handed demands by Western powers trying to protect the diversity of ocean wildlife and the innovations of their lucrative pharmaceutical industries.
From what I can tell those “Western diplomats” are more concerned with protecting corporate intellectual property rights than they are in ensuring enough global vaccine manufacturing capacity to deal with COVID or, more importantly, the next major pandemic. Overfishing, meanwhile, is a lot like climate change in that the debate involves Western governments demanding that the Global South accept restrictions on their behavior in order to mitigate damage those same Western governments have done. The WTO has been working on this issue for upwards of 20 years without making much headway. But sure, it’s all India’s fault.
According to Sri Lankan Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera, Sri Lanka may have about five days worth of fuel left—and that’s assuming that government conservation efforts pay off. Sri Lanka is, as we’ve covered, mired in an economic collapse that’s forced the country into default and has made imports of even basic goods like food and fuel a dicey prospect. Colombo is apparently expecting at least three shipments of gasoline in the coming days and is close to securing $500 million in credit from the Indian government to cover new fuel imports, but long term the outlook is still uncertain.
Sudanese security forces killed yet another anti-junta protester on Thursday, this time in Omdurman according to the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors. They’ve now killed at least 102 people in similar circumstances since October’s coup.
The Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), Tunisia’s largest union confederation, followed through on its planned public sector strike on Thursday, bringing basic operations including postal services, public utilities, and air traffic control grinding to a halt. UGTT is after a raise for public workers that corresponds with Tunisia’s high inflation rate, but the Tunisian government is working on a bailout plan with the International Monetary Fund that proposes freezing public wages to help meet the IMF’s usual demand for austerity. The IMF wants union support for the package, which gives UGTT some leverage. The union is also trying to capitalize on disenchantment with President Kais Saied’s power grab, which may be growing as Saied continues to amass more authority.
The French military says it killed “nearly 40” jihadist militants via drone strikes earlier this week. The militants were reportedly “moving between Burkina Faso and Niger” when their column was detected and Nigerien security forces confirmed that they were indeed militants.
Militants reportedly killed at least six people during an overnight attack on a group of fishermen in Cameroon’s Far North region. Given the location (near Lake Chad), the attackers were presumably Islamic State West Africa Province or Boko Haram. Cameroonian authorities tend not to distinguish between the two so they’re referring to the attackers simply as “three armed men from Boko Haram.”
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
At least seven people were killed late Wednesday when rebel fighters from the Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R) group attacked a village in western CAR’s Ouham-Pendé prefecture. Another six people were wounded in the attack and at least one person was apparently taken as a hostage.
The UK government announced several new additions to its Russian blacklist on Thursday, mostly in connection with claims that Russian forces have been abducting Ukrainian children and taking them back to Russia. A Russian children’s rights commissioner named Maria Lvova-Belova, alleged to be the architect of this policy, topped the list, but the most prominent addition has to be Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The European Union nearly blacklisted Kirill last month, but that plan was ultimately vetoed by Hungary. Moscow, meanwhile, added 121 Australian individuals to its own blacklist, primarily journalists and people associated with Australia’s defense industry. They’ll be barred from traveling to Russia and, in the unlikely event they have any assets in Russia, those will be frozen.
Elsewhere, the General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands declared on Thursday that it had prevented a Russian spy from infiltrating the International Criminal Court back in April. The alleged spy had, according to Dutch authorities, used phony Brazilian papers to apply for an ICC internship. The would-be intern/spy was barred from entering the country and deported back to Brazil.
From the “My God, haven’t they suffered enough?” file, the Ukrainian people welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Schulz, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to Kyiv on Thursday. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis was also there but he didn’t really rate much of a mention in Western media. All three were there to pump up their anti-Russia bona fides after each taking criticism from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in recent weeks—Scholz for failing to provide weapons in a timely fashion and the other two for suggesting that Ukraine might need to sacrifice territory in a peace deal and (in Macron’s case) for continuing to engage diplomatically with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
All three expressed rhetorical support for Ukraine’s war effort and for its eventual admission into the European Union, though one assumes the EU won’t be taking Ukraine on as a member until the current conflict at least is settled. But their trip highlighted what may be an emerging problem for Zelensky, which is that polling in Western countries appears to be shifting away from “support Ukraine at all costs,” which was the dominant sentiment in the early weeks of the war, in the direction of “push the Ukrainians to make peace.” It still won’t do for Western political leaders to run afoul of Zelensky, who remains a heroic figure to Western audiences, but this polling suggests that it’s not necessarily in their favor to give Zelensky carte blanche to continue fighting either.
Finally, if you’re like me, you can’t get enough US military spending. Luckily for us, apparently neither can Congress. The Senate Armed Services Committee has reportedly added a cool $45 billion to the budget the Biden administration proposed in its 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which would take the NDAA’s topline figure to $847 billion (around $10 billion of which falls outside the Pentagon’s direct purview). Inflation is running amuck, or whatever, and we can’t continue to starve the Pentagon with a mere $770 billion per year. Obviously this is a far more critical need than improving our chronically underfunded safety net or devoting resources toward solving (or at least mitigating) problems that can’t be bombed away.
The committee’s vote isn’t the last word on the NDAA but it’s hard to imagine either the House or the White House objecting to more defense spending. Frankly I’m hoping they keep going. I had thought we were at least 3-4 years away from a $1 trillion defense budget, but this pushes that timetable up by at least a year and I think we can go even further. What’s stopping the cowards in Congress from taking us up to $900 billion for 2023, or higher? There are Dangers lurking around every corner, and specifically the Danger of short-changing our nation’s wonderful defense contractors. Let’s make the pie higher.
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.