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World roundup: May 6 2021
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan, Germany, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
May 5, 1260: Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, is crowned as the fifth Great Khan (khagan) of the Mongol Empire, a position he held until his death in 1294. Kublai’s accession contributed significantly to the ongoing disintegration of the empire, as it immediately touched off a four year civil war between the new khagan and his brother, Ariq Böke, which helped spark a war between the Ilkhanate in the Middle East and the Golden Horde Khanate in the Eurasian Steppe. That was followed by another civil war between Kublai and one of his cousins, Kaidu, that didn’t end until after Kaidu’s death in 1301. These events weakened the cohesion of the empire and contributed to the eventual irrelevance of the “Great Khan” label. Kublai ruled directly only over the empire’s Mongolian and Chinese regions. In that role, he shifted the imperial court from the Mongolian heartland to the Chinese city of Khanbaliq (modern Beijing) and is considered the founder of China’s Yuan Dynasty.
May 5, 1862: A Mexican republican army commanded by Ignacio Zaragoza defeats a larger French force under Charles de Lorencez at the Battle of Puebla. The unexpected Mexican victory delayed a French march on Mexico City, though with reinforcements the French army eventually did take the capital and installed a Habsburg noble as the short-lived Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. The republican side ultimately defeated the French and overthrew Maximilian in 1867, and this early, morale-boosting victory was made a Mexican national holiday, Cinco de Mayo.
May 6, 1527: A group of around 20,000 Habsburg soldiers and mercenaries, who were mutinying over not being paid, sack the city of Rome and besiege Pope Clement VII in the Castel Sant’Angelo. The city was heavily looted, and Clement was only released after agreeing to pay a ransom. Some art historians consider the sack and the devastation it entailed to mark the end of the Italian High Renaissance. It definitely marked a shift in the Catholic world. Clement and the papacy were badly weakened, and although Habsburg Emperor Charles V may have been a little embarrassed about how it happened, he was happy to take advantage, and so power shifted away from the popes and toward the emperors. Among other things this meant that the Church did not pursue the Crusade against Protestantism that Clement had favored, which helped solidify the Reformation.
May 6, 1954: British runner Roger Bannister becomes the first person to verifiably run a mile in under four minutes. That’s cool. I run a three minute mile myself, but four is really nice. Bannister’s time of 3:59.4 obviously stood as the world record, but only for about six weeks before it was broken on June 21 by Australian runner John Landy’s 3:58 mile.
Worldometer’s coronavirus figures for May 6:
156,674,231 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide (+844,974 since yesterday)
3,269,045 reported fatalities (+13,745 since yesterday)
For vaccine data the New York Times has created a tracker here
23,191 confirmed coronavirus cases (+70)
1631 reported fatalities (+6)
There’s a little more information, though not much more, available on that Israeli attack in Syria we mentioned in last night’s roundup. Syrian media is still reporting that the airstrike was carried out by helicopter on a region in southern Syria’s Quneitra province. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is claiming that the strike targeted Syrian army units stationed near the occupied Golan. Neither source is reporting any casualties from the attack.
838,828 confirmed cases (+61) in Israel, 300,387 confirmed cases (+651) in Palestine
6374 reported fatalities (+4) in Israel, 3326 reported fatalities (+9) in Palestine
Israeli politician Yair Lapid has officially opened his 28 day window to form a governing coalition and oust Benjamin Netanyahu from the premiership after more than 12 years in that office. Lapid supporters—really they’re more “Netanyahu opponents” than “Lapid supporters” but let’s roll with it—seem to think he can get the job done even though to outside observers his path to a majority looks even more difficult than Netanyahu’s was. As Al-Monitor’s Mazel Mualem writes, though, Lapid isn’t starting from scratch. He’s been working behind the scenes to try to assemble a coalition since March’s election, preparing for the possibility that Netanyahu might fail. So maybe those efforts have been successful. If Lapid does manage to cobble together a coalition it’s likely to be one united only by a shared disdain for Netanyahu. It would be a long shot to hold together for any significant length of time.
Israeli authorities say they’ve arrested a Palestinian suspect in Sunday’s drive by shooting near the Tapuach settlement in the West Bank that killed one settler and wounded two others. The manhunt for the shooter has heightened tensions in the West Bank, tensions that were already running higher than usual over the now-canceled Palestinian election and the Israeli attempt to annex east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Speaking of Sheikh Jarrah, at least 22 Palestinians were wounded overnight after clashing with police in east Jerusalem over ongoing efforts to evict Palestinians from their homes.
2,610,018 confirmed cases (+18,409)
73,906 reported fatalities (+338)
The fourth round of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is slated to kick off in Vienna on Friday, with negotiators staring at a May 21 deadline they’re likely to miss. You may recall that back in February, Iran withdrew from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s “Additional Protocol,” which had put its nuclear program under heightened inspections. This was arguably Tehran’s most serious breach with the agreement, and in an effort to forestall a crisis the IAEA and Iranian officials agreed to an interim solution whereby Iran would continue to operate as if it were in the AP for another three months, but would only share the data with the IAEA once the nuclear deal had been restored. That three month period ends on May 21, and if there’s no agreement in place on reviving the nuclear accord then Iran may, as it has threatened to do, destroy the data it’s collected.
Progress at the talks has slowed considerably, and any chance that a deal would be in place in time to avoid triggering the deadline has probably been lost. The talks are still making progress, though, and if Iran were to destroy the inspections data it might bring that progress to a halt or even set things back considerably. Ideally Iranian authorities and the IAEA would be able to arrange some kind of extension to their interim deal, so as not to undermine the Vienna negotiations, but we’ll see.
61,455 confirmed cases (+293)
2673 reported fatalities (+9)
The Taliban has reportedly captured Afghanistan’s second-largest dam, Dahla Dam in Kandahar province. That facility provides irrigation to a large portion of the province and, perhaps more importantly, supplies water to Kandahar city. In Kandahar city, meanwhile, unidentified gunmen shot and killed a former journalist working for Afghanistan’s finance ministry. There’s been no claim of responsibility but Kandahar is the closest thing the Taliban has to a home turf so there’s a pretty strong chance its fighters were involved.
With the US withdrawal pretty well underway at this point and the Taliban ascendant, TomDispatch’s Alfred McCoy tackles the question of how the United States lost its longest war:
The answer to that critical question lies instead at the juncture of global strategy and gritty local realities on the ground in the opium fields of Afghanistan. During the first two decades of what would actually be a 40-year involvement with that country, a precise alignment of the global and the local gave the U.S. two great victories — first, over the Soviet Union in 1989; then, over the Taliban, which governed much of the country in 2001.
During the nearly 20 years of U.S. occupation that followed, however, Washington mismanaged global, regional, and local politics in ways that doomed its pacification effort to certain defeat. As the countryside slipped out of its control and Taliban guerrillas multiplied after 2004, Washington tried everything — a trillion-dollar aid program, a 100,000 troop “surge,” a multi-billion-dollar drug war — but none of it worked. Even now, in the midst of a retreat in defeat, official Washington has no clear idea why it ultimately lost this 40-year conflict.
33,368 confirmed cases (+703)
77 reported fatalities (+3)
Former Maldivian President (and current parliament speaker) Mohamed Nasheed was wounded on Thursday in a bombing outside his home in Malé. One other person was wounded in the blast, which presumably targeted Nasheed for assassination though it’s probably too soon to conclude that. There’s been no claim of responsibility.
1,697,305 confirmed cases (+5647)
46,496 reported fatalities (+147)
Indonesian authorities have deployed 400 additional soldiers to the Papua region, a sign that they may be planning to escalate their campaign against separatist militants there. Last week the Indonesian government slapped the “terrorist” label on the Free Papua Movement, specifically its West Papua National Liberation Army wing, which clears the way for a more muscular response to their activities. Reporting out of Papua is sporadic at best but there have been claims of communications blackouts and large numbers of displaced persons as the government tries to tighten its grip.
90,726 confirmed cases (+5) on the mainland, 11,799 confirmed cases (+2) in Hong Kong
4636 reported fatalities (+0) on the mainland, 210 reported fatalities (+0) in Hong Kong
The Chinese government announced on Thursday that it’s suspending the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue in retaliation for the Australian government’s decision last month to cancel two Australia-based Belt and Road Initiative projects. The Dialogue hasn’t met since 2017, so this is pretty much the definition of a symbolic retort.
Meanwhile, the US military is apparently not planning to shoot down the remains of the Chinese Long March 5B rocket that just carried the first segment of China’s new space station into orbit. So that’s…good, I guess? US officials have been warning that the rocket, likely to return to Earth over the weekend, is in an uncontrolled descent and could crash on land, potentially causing damage. Chinese officials have said those warnings are just propaganda. Whether the warnings are legitimate or not, there’s a much greater likelihood of an ocean splashdown.
Speaking of warnings the US government is fond of making about China, Financial Times reporter Kathrin Hille writes that, despite what you may have heard, Beijing is not planning an imminent invasion of Taiwan. It may surprise you to learn that there are some folks in the US defense establishment who may view overhyping threats from China as a way to justify the US military’s ever-increasing budget.
513,016 confirmed cases (+360) in Morocco, 10 confirmed cases (+0) in Western Sahara
9049 reported fatalities (+6) in Morocco, 1 reported fatality (+0) in Western Sahara
The Moroccan government recalled its ambassador to Germany on Thursday over what it says is the German government’s “antagonistic activism” with respect to Western Sahara. Morocco downgraded its diplomatic contacts with Germany back in March, mostly due to Berlin’s chilly reception to Donald Trump’s decision back in December to recognize the disputed Western Sahara as Moroccan territory, along with a handful of other, less significant complaints. The Biden administration has already said it will not reconsider that recognition.
14,368 confirmed cases (+247)
745 reported fatalities (+24)
The Somali government on Thursday announced that it’s restoring diplomatic ties with Kenya. Mogadishu had severed those links in December, after the Kenyan government hosted the “government” of the unrecognized breakaway Somaliland region in Nairobi. The real flashpoint between the two states has been Somali allegations that the Kenyan government supports the separatist or borderline separatist regional government in Jubaland. There are other issues that have impacted the bilateral relationship beyond that, like the spillover of al-Shabab’s terrorist campaign into Kenya and ownership of possible offshore oil and gas deposits in coastal waters claimed by both countries.
None of these disputes has been settled, but the Somali government said it’s restoring relations “on the basis of principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality, mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence.” Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani apparently brokered this reconciliation, as statements from both governments thanked him for his involvement.
4,855,128 confirmed cases (+7639)
112,246 reported fatalities (+351)
Amnesty International reportedly plans to restore Alexei Navalny’s “prisoner of conscience” designation. It stripped that classification from Navalny in February when some of his not so conscientious past statements about immigrants reemerged. Restoring the designation should have about as much practical significance as stripping it did.
3,486,462 confirmed cases (+17,014)
84,811 reported fatalities (+218)
The Biden administration may have finally come around to the moral position with respect to waiving intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines, but thankfully the German government has stepped in to defend our poor, benighted drug companies and their immutable right to maximize profits even if it means a few more people have to die along the way. This could set up a heated discussion within the World Trade Organization, which has to agree by consensus to waive those IP rights. Berlin could thus block a waiver, but whether German leaders want to be seen as the biggest potential obstacle to vaccine equity is unclear.
4,428,553 confirmed cases (+2613)
127,583 reported fatalities (+13)
Well, France and the UK managed not to restart the Hundred Years’ War or whatever on Thursday, as the French flotilla that was amassing near Jersey yesterday simply made a demonstration of frustration over British fishing regulations and did not attempt to blockade the island. In response, the Royal Navy withdrew the two patrol vessels it had deployed to monitor the situation around Jersey and the French Navy withdrew two patrol vessels it had deployed to monitor the British patrol vessels. A French threat to cut off electricity to Jersey unless its fishing demands are met is still out there, but for the time being at least the situation appears to have calmed down.
2,951,101 confirmed cases (+16,490)
76,414 reported fatalities (+399)
The ninth straight day of nationwide protests in Colombia on Thursday seems to have been a bit more subdued than previous days have been, which offers a chance to take stock of the violence so far. Officially 24 people are confirmed to have been killed since these demonstrations began late last month, at least 11 believed to have been killed by police with the others undetermined. Other estimates put the death toll higher—the highest thus far, by a Colombian NGO called Temblores that monitors police violence, stands at 37, though the group is tracking some 89 people who have gone missing over the course of the protests and some or all of them may also have been killed.
33,369,192 confirmed cases (+47,819)
594,006 reported fatalities (+860)
A new global survey from the Alliance of Democracies Foundation, which polled some 50,000 people across 53 countries, finds that substantially more people view the United States (44 percent) as the biggest threat to democracy in their countries than would make the same claim about China (38 percent) and Russia (28 percent). Go figure. It’s unclear how much of this result reflects a hangover from the Trump presidency and how much is based on US foreign policy under, uh, all the presidents before that.
Finally, and on a related subject, TomDispatch’s Karen Greenberg explains why, even as one relic of the War on Terror seems to be approaching some sort of an end, another looks like it will keep going:
The Guantánamo conundrum never seems to end.
Twelve years ago, I had other expectations. I envisioned a writing project that I had no doubt would be part of my future: an account of Guantánamo’s last 100 days. I expected to narrate in reverse, the episodes in a book I had just published, The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo’s First 100 Days, about — well, the title makes it all too obvious — the initial days at that grim offshore prison. They began on January 11, 2002, as the first hooded prisoners of the American war on terror were ushered off a plane at that American military base on the island of Cuba.
Needless to say, I never did write that book. Sadly enough, in the intervening years, there were few signs on the horizon of an imminent closing of that U.S. military prison. Weeks before my book was published in February 2009, President Barack Obama did, in fact, promise to close Guantánamo by the end of his first year in the White House. That hope began to unravel with remarkable speed. By the end of his presidency, his administration had, in fact, managed to release 197 of the prisoners held there without charges — many, including Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the subject of the film The Mauritanian, had also been tortured — but 41 remained, including the five men accused but not yet tried for plotting the 9/11 attacks. Forty remain there to this very day.
Nearly 20 years after it began, the war in Afghanistan that launched this country’s Global War on Terror and the indefinite detention of prisoners in that facility offshore of American justice is now actually slated to end. President Biden recently insisted that it is indeed “time to end America’s longest war” and announced that all American troops would be withdrawn from that country by September 11th, the 20th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s attack on the United States.
It makes sense, of course, that the conclusion of those hostilities would indeed be tied to the closure of the now-notorious Guantánamo Bay detention facility. Unfortunately, for reasons that go back to the very origins of the war on terror, ending the Afghan part of this country’s “forever wars” may not presage the release of those “forever prisoners,” as New York Times reporter Carol Rosenberg so aptly labeled them years ago.