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World roundup: October 14 2021
Stories from Lebanon, Japan, Nigeria, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
October 13, 1307: The Knights Templar order is purged
October 13, 1943: Italy declares war on Germany. This abrupt shift of alliances was a symbolic culmination of Italy’s very chaotic late-World War II upheaval. In late July 1943, after the Allies had successfully invaded Sicily, Italy’s Grand Council of Fascism voted to oust Benito Mussolini as prime minister. Italian King Victor Emmanuel III appointed Marshal Pietro Badoglio as his new PM, and Badoglio entered into talks with the Allies on what would eventually be the Armistice of Cassibile, AKA Italy’s surrender, signed on September 3 and made public five days later. Germany responded by undertaking the Gran Sasso raid on September 12, which sprung Mussolini from prison, and establishing on September 23 the puppet Italian Social Republic (RSI), AKA the Republic of Salò, under his nominal leadership. This Italian declaration of war came as the Allies were moving on German-occupied/RSI-ruled Rome.
October 14, 1066: Duke William of Normandy’s army defeats the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson and his army at the Battle of Hastings. William claimed that he’d been promised the kingdom by Edward the Confessor (who’d died in January), but Godwinson was elected king by the Anglo-Saxon nobility. The Normans invaded and the two armies met outside of the town of Hastings. Accounts of the battle vary, but the general story seems to be that after repelling initial Norman attacks, the Saxons made the mistake of pursuing their retreating foe. At that point William rallied his men and turned the tide of the battle. Their victory, along with Godwinson’s death toward the end of the battle, ensured the Norman takeover of England and made Duke William of Normandy into King William I, the Conqueror.
October 14, 1322: A Scottish army under Robert the Bruce defeats the English army of King Edward II at the Battle of Old Byland. This was the largest Scottish victory in battle with English forces since Bannockburn in 1314 and helped secure Scottish independence.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
There are wildly conflicting claims in terms of the recent body count in the battle for Yemen’s Maʾrib city. The Associated Press, citing “tribal leaders and security officials,” is reporting that at least 140 combatants have been killed in the fighting this week. Agence France-Presse, citing “the Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s government,” is reporting that at least 150 Houthi fighters have been killed in airstrikes south of Maʾrib in just the past 24 hours. Those claims are not exactly contradictory but they’re not really in much agreement either. What both reports seem to make clear is that the coalition has undertaken a counteroffensive to push the Houthis away from the city, and at least according to AFP it may be working.
Civilian casualties are rarely mentioned in these reports and may in fairness be impossible to collect under the circumstances, but the United Nations is estimating that some 10,000 people have been displaced by the fighting around Maʾrib and in neighboring Shabwah province over the past couple of months, and at least 15 civilians have been killed though the true figure is likely much higher.
Final results from Iraq’s parliamentary election are likely going to be delayed, as officials are undertaking hand recounts of the ballots from 8000 polling sites. Parties are already starting to discuss alliances, however, as Musings on Iraq’s Joel Wing outlines. The much-diminished (though how diminished is not yet clear) Fatah party is in talks with former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki about working with his State of Law party, a combination that would come close to rivaling Muqtada al-Sadr’s list for the largest bloc in the new parliament. They could conceivably add other parties to the mix as well. As Wing notes, State of Law did fairly well, which suggests that Fatah’s problems were less about any popular animosity toward Iran (Maliki is also viewed as pro-Iranian) than about animosity toward Iraqi militias specifically and/or the party’s tactical campaign failures.
The election also seems to have solidified parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi’s status as the preeminent Sunni Arab politician in Iraq. His Taqadum party looks like it will emerge as the largest Sunni Arab party in the new parliament.
In an incident that has some troubling echoes of the start of Lebanon’s civil war, an attack on a group of protesters in Beirut’s Tayouneh neighborhood on Thursday left at least six people dead and powerful political factions pointing fingers at one another. The demonstration was organized by Shiʿa parties Amal and Hezbollah to call for the removal of the lead investigator into last year’s massive explosion at Beirut’s seaport, Judge Tarek Bitar. Somebody opened fire on a group of participants, and when I say “somebody” I mean it seems sort of clear who was responsible but there’s no way to confirm it. Both Amal and Hezbollah are blaming the Lebanese Forces faction, one of many Lebanese Christian parties, which like most Lebanese political parties has its own in-house militia. LF leader Samir Geagea, who supports Bitar, is blaming (according to Reuters) “uncontrolled weapons in society,” which is a bit like blaming “all the friends we made along the way” and is not a terribly convincing denial. At this point there’s been no further violence so maybe things will not spiral out of control as they did in 1975, but only time will tell.
A Palestinian driver struck a member of Israel’s Border Police occupation force near a checkpoint on the road between Ramallah and Jerusalem overnight. The Israelis opened fire on the car and then arrested the driver when he subsequently crashed. They claim this was an intentional ramming attack though it seems possible that the Border Police shooting at the car caused the driver to react erratically rather than the other way around. Who’s to say? Also overnight, a Jewish settler in the West Bank attacked two Israeli security personnel with pepper spray, and while Israeli officials are being coy about it that attacker does not appear to have been arrested. I leave you to consider these two cases side by side and the implication one might draw from them. On Thursday, Israeli occupation forces shot and killed a Palestinian who was allegedly throwing “fire bombs” at cars on a road leading to an Israeli settlement near the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
Apropos of nothing, Israeli authorities have also just green-lit an expansion of the Givat HaMatos settlement in eastern Jerusalem on land confiscated from the Palestinians. The land has been in Israeli possession for some time but has yet to see new permanent settlement construction. The expansion will isolate two Palestinian towns, Beit Safafa and Beit Jala, from surrounding Palestinian communities, which is not the main goal of the construction but is from the Israeli perspective a very agreeable side effect.
An estimated 50,000+ people marched in Tbilisi on Thursday to demand the release of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from jail. Georgian authorities arrested Saakashvili earlier this month after he returned from self-imposed exile ahead of local elections. He’s been wanted on abuse of power-related charges since the end of his presidency in 2013, charges he and his supporters insist are baseless. It’s unclear whether authorities intend to actually put Saakashvili on trial but Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has said that his government will not re-exile him to Ukraine, which seems like it would be the path of least resistance.
A bombing in the city of Asadabad killed a Taliban police chief on Thursday and wounded 11 other people. There’s been no claim of responsibility but it’s almost certain that the Islamic State was responsible.
Elsewhere, Pakistan International Airlines has suspended its flights between Islamabad and Kabul over what it termed “the heavy-handedness of the authorities.” It seems that PIA had jacked up its ticket prices for those flights, either because its insurance rates were sky high (the airline’s explanation) or because it was price gouging (the Taliban’s claim). Taliban insistence that the price come down, combined with some general dysfunction in the operation of Kabul airport, seems to have been behind the suspension.
At World Politics Review, Anatol Lieven pushes back against the notion that it’s Pakistan’s fault the US lost the war in Afghanistan and outlines what should be one of the many lessons of the defeat:
Both a practical and an ethical issue are involved here. In the end, because of its geographic location, the U.S. faces no real existential, territorial threats. All of its foreign military operations are therefore to a greater or lesser degree a matter of choice. The countries located in regions where the U.S. conducts military operations have no such choice. They cannot pack up and go home.
Every U.S. intervention must therefore be shaped with the wishes of regional countries firmly in mind, while recognizing that, from a practical point of view, the hostility of regional powers to Washington’s objectives will almost certainly doom any counterinsurgency effort to defeat. By the end of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan, its wider policies had meant that this presence was opposed by all Afghanistan’s most important neighbors. Pakistan was infuriated by U.S. drone strikes and what it regarded as bullying, and it feared possible U.S. support for an increased Indian presence in Afghanistan. Iran feared that Washington would use Afghanistan to attack Iran, and Tehran supported the Taliban in order to give itself the ability to strike back in the event such an attack took place. Growing hostility between the U.S. on one hand and Russia and China on the other meant that these countries opposed the presence of U.S. bases in their vicinity.
No counterinsurgency can succeed where the entire region is hostile to it. This is particularly true when neighboring countries provide safe haven to the insurgents. In such cases, great powers fighting counterinsurgencies often consider invading the neighboring countries to eliminate these safe havens. But they almost always reject the option—rightly—on the grounds that far from winning the war, doing so would only vastly expand it.
The United States has surpassed China as the world’s leader in bitcoin mining. So…we did it? US…A? USA? Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing or a “what’s bitcoin” thing, America’s newfound global leadership has less to do with anything happening in the US than with policy changes in China, which effectively outlawed crypto mining last month citing both national security and the practice’s dismal environmental impact.
North Korea and South Korea are holding dueling arms expos this month, with Pyongyang having organized its Defense Development Exhibition this week and South Korean gearing up for the Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition next week. The Seoul event is an annual shindig while the North Korean event is brand new and seems pretty conclusively to have been organized to upstage South Korea’s expo. It may also be intended to show off North Korea’s military hardware in a way that is less provocative than weapons testing, which could in theory be a signal from Kim Jong-un that he’s trying to deescalate tensions with Washington (or at least to avoid escalating them).
New Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio formally dissolved Japan’s House of Representatives on Thursday, marking the unofficial start of campaign season (the official start is Tuesday) ahead of the October 31 election. Clearly Japan has much to learn from the United States, where our leaders campaign perpetually rather than limiting themselves to a brief pre-election window of only a few days. It’s called democracy, folks. Polling indicates that Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party is nearly a lock to win the election, though its margin of victory remains to be seen.
One Algerian border guard was killed late Wednesday evening by a homemade bomb in an area of Tlemcen province near the Algerian-Moroccan border. There’s no indication who was responsible for the explosive.
France’s West African “Operation Barkhane” deployment began winding down on Thursday as French forces started their withdrawal from several bases across northern Mali. Those facilities will be turned over to the Malian military by the end of the year as France trasitions from a 5100 person West African deployment to a 3000 person deployment that will be supplemented by additional international forces. Though France isn’t leaving the region entirely there are some parallels between this withdrawal and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, particularly inasmuch as after a nearly continuous nine year French military presence in West Africa it’s unclear what, if any, actual headway has been made in terms of defeating the Islamist insurgency they were supposed to be fighting.
The Nigerian military claimed on Thursday that Islamic State West Africa Province leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi is dead. Nigerian authorities offered no details as to when, where, or how this allegedly happened and short of an announcement from ISWAP there’s no way to confirm (or deny, for that matter) the claim. But a Nigerian media outlet called Daily Trust is reporting that he was killed in August either by the Nigerian military or in some sort of intra-ISWAP conflict.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
Milorad Dodik, the Serbian member of Bosnia’s three person presidential council, declared “the end” of the Bosnian state on Thursday, expanding on his previously announced plans to pull the Republika Srpska out of national institutions like the Bosnian militiary and the country’s judicial and tax administration institutions. Dodik added more state institutions to that list on Thursday while insisting that he was not pursuing outright secession from Bosnia, just a defacto secession—or “full autonomy” as Reuters put it. Dodik’s plans have received a chilly reception in the West, though there’s been no substantive response as yet.
Norway’s new minority coalition officially took power on Thursday. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre’s next order of business will be implementing a “fair climate policy that cuts emissions” but still permits continued unfettered offshore oil drilling, so…good luck with that.
Støre’s cabinet took office in the wake of Wednesday’s bow-and-arrow attack in the town of Kongsberg that left five people dead. Norwegian police have characterized that attack as an incident of lone wolf terrorism, though apart from the fact that the attacker had converted to Islam I’m not sure what other evidence they have to support that conclusion.
For some reason there’s concern among Austria’s opposition parties that new Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg is essentially an empty suit, serving only as a cutout for his predecessor, Sebastian Kurz. I can’t imagine why that would be-
So that’s Kurz’s Twitter account on the left, having tweeted something that was clearly supposed to come from Schallenberg’s account about “his” first trip abroad as chancellor. The tweet was deleted from Kurz’s account and then tweeted from Schallenberg’s account, but Online Is Forever and that up there is kind of weird. Is Kurz doing Schallenberg’s social media now in his free time? Or is he still governing Austria behind the scenes, up to and including the chancellor’s tweets? Is “Alexander Schallenberg” even a real person or just a couple of kids in an overcoat or something? For his part, “Schallenberg” told reporters on Thursday that he’s “emancipated enough” from Kurz…which I have to say seems like kind of a weird thing to say? But maybe that’s just me.
The leader of Peruvian President Pedro Castillo’s Free Peru party, Vladimir Cerrón, said via Twitter on Thursday that the party will not support Castillo’s new prime minister-designate, Mirtha Vásquez, and her cabinet in a congressional confidence vote. Vásquez is set to replace former PM Guido Bellido, who is a Free Peru member. Cerrón believes that Vásquez’s appointment represents a shift to the right for Castillo’s government and, well, he’s not wrong. He also asserted that Castillo has been “captured” by “US NGOs,” without going into further detail. That claim is harder to assess.
The United States became a full voting member of the UN Human Rights Council again on Thursday, winning an uncontested election to the body alongside such human rights luminaries as Cameroon, Eritrea, and the United Arab Emirates. Appropriate company to be sure. The Trump administration quit the council in 2018, citing the typical US Republican Party complaint about the body—that it focuses too much attention on Israeli human rights abuses. In rejoining the council, the Biden administration cited the typical US Democratic Party justification for being there—to use US influence to stop the council from focusing so much attention on Israeli human rights abuses. You’ll note that it never dawns on either party to tell the Israeli government to stop committing so many human rights abuses.
Finally, with the COP26 climate summit just a couple of weeks away and the prospects for meaningful progress not looking so hot, TomDispatch’s Michael Klare reminds us of the single biggest impediment to a truly global climate change effort—the DC establishment’s New Cold War:
This summer we witnessed, with brutal clarity, the Beginning of the End: the end of Earth as we know it — a world of lush forests, bountiful croplands, livable cities, and survivable coastlines. In its place, we saw the early manifestations of a climate-damaged planet, with scorched forests, parched fields, scalding cities, and storm-wracked coastlines. In a desperate bid to prevent far worse, leaders from around the world will soon gather in Glasgow, Scotland, for a U.N. Climate Summit. You can count on one thing, though: all their plans will fall far short of what’s needed unless backed by the only strategy that can save the planet: a U.S.-China Climate Survival Alliance.
Of course, politicians, scientific groups, and environmental organizations will offer plans of every sort in Glasgow to reduce global carbon emissions and slow the process of planetary incineration. President Biden’s representatives will tout his promise to promote renewable energy and install electric-car-charging stations nationwide, while President Macron of France will offer his own ambitious proposals, as will many other leaders. However, no combination of these, even if carried out, would prove sufficient to prevent global disaster — not as long as China and the U.S. continue to prioritize trade competition and war preparations over planetary survival.
In the end, it’s not complicated. If the planet’s two “great” powers refuse to cooperate in a meaningful way in tackling the climate threat, we’re done for.