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World roundup: May 4 2023
Stories from Syria, China, Sudan, and elsewhere
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Today’s roundup is coming out early due to a commitment this evening. If we miss anything we’ll catch up tomorrow. Thanks for reading!
TODAY IN HISTORY
May 4, 1799: The British East India Company and its allies capture the fortress of Seringapatam in the southern Indian sultanate of Mysore, ending a one month siege and along with it the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War and, indeed, the Anglo-Mysore Wars as a whole. The ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, had been a perpetual thorn in the EIC’s side, having risen to the throne during the Second Anglo-Mysore War and having led the kingdom into the Third Anglo-Mysore War. He was killed at Seringapatam and his kingdom was mostly absorbed by the EIC and its allies, the Maratha Empire and Hyderabad.
May 4, 1904: The United States assumes ownership of a nearly defunct French project to build a canal across Panama connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This was just a few months after Panama’s US-backed declaration of independence from Colombia, which the Roosevelt administration encouraged because the Colombian Congress wouldn’t ratify the treaty leasing the canal zone to the US. The project was completed in 1914 and it’s fair to say it was kind of a big deal.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi spent his second day in Damascus visiting with Palestinian leaders, including Palestinian Popular Struggle Front leader Khalid Abd al-Majid and officials from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. As with his Syria trip in general, I suspect Raisi’s purpose was to emphasize Iran’s continued support for these Palestinian factions at a time when even Hamas is exploring closer ties with Saudi Arabia. Such recent moves toward increasing regional goodwill have been made possible by the rapprochement between Iran and the Saudis, but I’m sure the Iranians want to make sure they don’t get lost in the diplomatic shuffle.
According to Al-Monitor’s Amberin Zaman, Syrian Democratic Forces leader Mazloum Abdi (AKA Mazlum Kobane) took a trip to the UAE about a month ago to enlist Emirati help in trying to reach an accord with the Syrian government. The trip came before the Turkish military conducted a drone strike on Abdi’s motorcade in northern Iraq in early April. That strike, again according to Zaman, missed intentionally and was meant to send a message of disapproval to the UAE. Emirati officials are denying that Abdi visited but given the diplomatic inroads they’ve made with the Syrian government it makes sense that the SDF might seek them out as a potential conduit.
Israeli forces killed three Palestinians in a gun battle in the West Bank city of Nablus on Thursday. Two of them are alleged to have been responsible for the killing of three British-Israeli women last month and the third was accused of helping them flee the scene of that attack. All three were apparently affiliated with Hamas. Another 14 people were wounded in Thursday’s incident, four seriously enough to require trips to the hospital. Elsewhere, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian woman in the town of Huwara after she allegedly stabbed a soldier.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised the “tangible progress on a durable peace agreement” his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts made this week, as they wrapped up their multi-day confab in Washington. He didn’t offer any indication as to what that alleged progress was and it’s possible he may have been exaggerating just a bit for effect.
A skirmish between Pakistani soldiers and Pakistani Taliban fighters in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Thursday left at least six of the former and three of the latter dead. Pakistani officials do not seem to have offered many details as to what happened beyond that. Also in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, at least seven people were killed on Thursday in two school shootings that may have been sectarian in nature. The victim in the first attack was a Sunni teacher while the victims in the second incident were Shiʿa (four teachers and two school staffers). Authorities seem certain that the second shooting was a retaliation for the first but they’re not sure whether sectarian hostility was the cause.
The Indian army intervened on Thursday to put a halt to several days of inter-communal clashes in Manipur state. There’s no word on casualties. The cause seems to have been resistance from local tribal entities toward an effort by a non-tribal group to obtain legal tribal status. Soldiers and paramilitaries evacuated some 7500 people out of the conflict zone and have throttled internet service and imposed a curfew in an attempt to get a handle on the violence.
According to the Biden administration, the Chinese government has been rebuffing its diplomatic outreach for months now. Responsible Statecraft’s Ethan Paul says there’s one simple explanation for that:
“Overtures have been made by us to have engagements with them, they have not taken up on those overtures,” State Department Counselor Derek Chollet told Singapore’s Straits Times in mid-April. The United States remains committed to frank and open dialogue, he continued, but “it is not happening, and I think it is a question better placed to them on why not.” Speaking on Tuesday, U.S. ambassador to China Nicholas Burns reiterated that “our view is we need better channels between the two governments and deeper channels, and we are ready to talk… and hope the Chinese will meet us halfway on this.”
But Beijing has consistently and clearly explained its actions, alleging that the administration has gone against the spirit of what Biden told Xi in their first face-to-face meeting as heads of state in Bali this past November, specifically by not upholding its “one China policy” towards Taiwan.
Though the downing of the spy balloon was the most immediate cause of Beijing’s diplomatic freeze, its frustration had been brewing for months; Washington, it seems, is just choosing to ignore it. As Xu Bu, a former diplomat and president of the state-affiliated China Institute of International Studies, told the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, “If the One China policy is not being abided by, if the One China principle is no longer the policy of Washington, D.C., then any guardrail or any kind of floor won’t be possible.”
A new executive order issued by US President Joe Biden on Thursday has opened the legal door to sanctions targeting the ringleaders of Sudan’s ongoing factional fighting. According to White House spokesperson John Kirby there’s been no decision taken to impose sanctions yet, so there’s no indication whether the Biden administration is planning to blacklist the leaders of the feuding parties, Sudanese military commander Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and “Rapid Support Forces” boss Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. Their conflict is, and I promise I’m not cutting and pasting text from previous newsletters, still raging despite the notional existence of a ceasefire that’s now been extended through at least March 11.
The US intelligence community seems to think both sides are digging in for an extended war and that neither has any near-term intention of engaging in peace talks. At the very least, they’re both trying to gain the upper hand in their conflict in expectation of eventual peace talks that may be forced upon them by international pressure. In the meantime, the United Nations and relief organizations are anticipating hundreds of thousands of refugees as a result of the fighting, which is preventing critical aid from getting to the areas of heaviest conflict and is leaving what aid does enter the country vulnerable to theft.
At least 15 people were killed in an attack on a farm near the town of Kérou in northern Benin’s Atakora department late Monday night. The identity of the attackers is unknown but given the location there’s some likelihood that they were jihadist militants from neighboring Burkina Faso and/or Niger. Several people are still missing and may have been abducted by the attackers.
Seven members of a peace delegation were killed in some sort of attack in South Sudan’s Eastern Equatoria state on Saturday, according to the Norwegian Church Aid organization. NCA had apparently organized a conference to settle an ongoing conflict between two Eastern Equatorian communities, and the delegates were killed while returning from that event in NCA vehicles. Authorities are still investigating the incident so details are sparse.
The Russian government made a point of noting that Vladimir Putin was working in the Kremlin on Thursday, presumably as some sort of statement of…resolve, maybe? in the wake of Wednesday’s drone incident. Good for him? Anyway, Moscow is now accusing the US of culpability in that incident, which Russian officials are characterizing as a “terrorist attack,” a charge the Biden administration called “ludicrous” on Thursday. Anything is possible, though the US has seemed lukewarm at best about the prospect of Ukraine carrying out attacks well inside Russia and it’s unclear why it would have changed that stance at this juncture. The common refrain among Ukrainian and US officials seems to be that the Russians themselves carried out the “attack” as a “false flag” operation, though there too the rationale still seems murky to say the least.
Elsewhere, the Turkish government has reportedly put forward Ziraat Bank as a potential payment processor for Russian food exports on behalf of the sanctioned Russian Agricultural Bank. The Biden administration has given the US-based JPMorgan Chase a sanctions exemption in order to serve that function, in an effort to assuage Russian grievances and salvage the foundering Black Sea Grain Initiative. What Moscow wants is for the Russian Agricultural Bank to be allowed to rejoin the global SWIFT financial network, which would greatly streamline the payments process, but the administration clearly isn’t prepared to go that far. Adding a second payment processor could speed up exports but whether that would be enough to get Russia on board with renewing the Initiative is unclear. Russian, Turkish, Ukrainian and UN officials are scheduled to meet on Friday to discuss the Initiative, and the parties are set to hold higher level talks next week that may represent the last chance to secure another extension of the program’s mandate.
The Russian military carried out another round of drone and missile strikes across Ukraine overnight, particularly against the cities of Kyiv and Odessa. It’s tempting to say this was a retaliation for the drone incident in Moscow except that it doesn’t seem to have been any more severe than the other strikes the Russians have carried out this week or over the course of the war. One particularly significant explosion over Kyiv turned out to have been caused by the Ukrainians themselves shooting down one of their own drones that was apparently malfunctioning.
Finally, at TomDispatch Ben Freeman and William Hartung unpack the vast array of mechanisms the Military-Industrial Complex uses to ensure that the US military budget keeps growing:
Despite a seemingly never–ending list of overpriced, underperforming weapons systems developed for a Pentagon that’s the only federal agency never to pass an audit, the MIC has an arsenal of influence propelling it ever closer to a trillion-dollar annual budget. In short, it’s bilking more money from taxpayers than ever before and just about everyone — from lobbyists galore to countless political campaigns, think tanks beyond number to Hollywood — is in on it.
And keep in mind that the dominance of a handful of mega-firms in weapons production means that each of the top players has more money to spread around in lobbying and campaign contributions. They also have more facilities and employees to point to, often in politically key states, when persuading members of Congress to vote for — Yes!– even more money for their weaponry of choice.
The arms industry as a whole has donated more than $83 million to political candidates in the past two election cycles, with Lockheed Martin leading the pack with $9.1 million in contributions, followed by Raytheon at $8 million, and Northrop Grumman at $7.7 million. Those funds, you won’t be surprised to learn, are heavily concentrated among members of the House and Senate armed services committees and defense appropriations subcommittees. For example, as Taylor Giorno of OpenSecrets, a group that tracks campaign and lobbying expenditures, has found, “The 58 members of the House Armed Services Committee reported receiving an average of $79,588 from the defense sector during the 2022 election cycle, three times the average $26,213 other representatives reported through the same period.”
Direct donations are, suffice to say, just the tip of a massive iceberg. Read the whole piece!
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