Conflict update: March 15 2017

SECOND VERSE, SAME AS THE FIRST

Well, that was fast. Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0, which is totally not about religion, you guys, just got blocked by a federal judge in Hawaii for being, you know, pretty much about religion. In his ruling, District Judge Derek Watson in particular rejected one of the administration’s favorite arguments as to why their Muslim ban couldn’t possibly be a Muslim ban:

While the administration maintains the latest order is not a ban on Muslims, since it removes reference to religion and targets only a fraction of the world’s Muslim population, Watson questioned that argument, potentially setting the stage for other ongoing legal challenges even as he puts a nationwide halt on the implementation. It is undisputed, the judge said, that the six countries are overwhelmingly Muslim by population.

“The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable,” he wrote. “The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed.”

Well sure, when you put it that way, but have you considered that SCARY TERRORISTS BAD BOGEYMAN EVIL ATTACK DANGER AFRAID?

I thought not.

Watson cited Trump’s own statements about the ban, and those of his closest advisers, as proof that it was intended to target Muslims, which adds a hilarious cherry on top of this very nice sundae. There’s obviously much more to come on this, and the fact that it happened just a short time ago, plus my obvious lack of being anything resembling a lawyer, are working against me right now. Stay tuned, is what I’m saying.

NETHERLANDS

I was going to lead with this until the ban ban–er, the banning of the ban, uh, the ban banning, whatever you get the point–happened. As it turns out, the Dutch people are not as susceptible to xenophobic white populism as voters in a certain global superpower I could name:

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal party is set to win the most seats in the Netherlands’ elections, maintaining its status as the country’s largest political party for the third consecutive election, according to exit polls published by Dutch broadcaster NOS.

Dutch voters took to the polls on Wednesday in overwhelming numbers — the turnout was projected to be above 80%, the highest in 30 years — to back a mix of pro-EU, liberal and progressive parties over the far-right, anti-EU and anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders — known as the “Dutch Trump”.

Wilders, who had become the subject of intense international media attention in the weeks running up to the election, appeared to win a humbling 13% of the vote and 19 seats, an increase on the previous election but below the party’s 2010 tally.

This is quite a result, because it suggests that Geert Wilders brought a whole bunch of new voters to the polls–to vote against him. I guess you could call it reverse populism.

So instead of Wilders’ reactionary far-right Party for Freedom governing the Netherlands, the regular far-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, led by current Prime Minister Mark Rutte, will continue governing it. As always though it will have to do so in coalition, and the secondary result of this vote, apart from Wilders’ surprising and frankly a little embarrassing performance, is that it’s going to be quite a task just forming a new coalition. Rutte’s party appears to have lost about ten seats in the next parliament, but more to the point his previous coalition partner, the center-left Labor Party, paid for its collaborative good nature by losing somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 seats. So instead of two parties, the next coalition will be a multi-party affair, with Rutte having to accommodate the right-wing Christian Democrats, the liberal D66 party, probably Labor again, and maybe the day’s apparent big winner…the Greens. Led by the Dutch Justin Trudeau, Jesse Klaver, GreenLeft appears to have quadrupled its seats in the next parliament, from four to 16. Now that’s populism.

IRAQ

Continue reading

Conflict update: February 13 2017

Michael Flynn

I had more to say about this story, but it all just got rendered obsolete:

Earlier this evening Flynn pulled out of a scheduled speech at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual meeting at the last minute, and that was after Politico reported this morning that Donald Trump’s son in-law, the constantly-failing-upward Jared Kushner, was vetting possible successors, so there was some writing on the wall here. General Keith Kellogg, the NSC Chief of Staff, assumes Flynn’s role as National Security Advisor on an interim basis, but it’s likely Trump will look elsewhere for a permanent successor. This brings a lot of potentially off-the-wall names into the mix, from Rudy Giuliani to David Petraeus to John Bolton–basically anybody who was on Trump’s State shortlist but wound up being discarded could be recycled as a potential replacement for Flynn. Petraeus in particular seems to be in the mix, though reportedly the lead candidate is former CENTCOM Deputy Commander Vice Admiral Robert Harward. But at least we can rest assured that none of them, even Bolton, could be more unhinged than Flynn was. As unhinged? Sure. But more? Unlikely.

To me, easily the most troubling news to come out of the Flynn saga came courtesy of the Washington Post earlier today:

The acting attorney general informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail, current and former U.S. officials said.

The message, delivered by Sally Q. Yates and a senior career national security official to the White House counsel, was prompted by concerns that ­Flynn, when asked about his calls and texts with the Russian diplomat, had told Vice ­President-elect Mike Pence and others that he had not discussed the Obama administration sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, the officials said. It is unclear what the White House counsel, Donald McGahn, did with the information.

Trump fired Yates on January 30. That’s a very problematic coincidence.

Syria

Continue reading

Conflict update: February 6, 2017

Hey, so I’m not all the way back into blogging, but I’m back enough to post this very partial roundup of world news, with more to come tomorrow. There’s no particular rhyme or reason to what I’ve summarized here, it’s just whatever I had done when the clock hit 11:56 or whatever time it is when I actually hit “publish.”

Poland-Belarus War

While the failing, biased media wants to pretend it’s not happening, true American patriots know that, since the Bowling Green Massacre, the deadliest conflict in the world has been the ongoing border war between Poland and Belarus:

According to one U.S. official, national security aides have sought information about Polish incursions in Belarus, an eyebrow-raising request because little evidence of such activities appears to exist. Poland is among the Eastern European nations worried about Trump’s friendlier tone on Russia.

Well of course they’re worried, because they know that the only thing that can stop Polish aggression in Belarus is a united American-Russian resistance.

It’s not clear how the Trump administration has come to the conclusion that Poland is currently invading Belarus, but I suppose it’s worth noting that the Russian state-funded news outlet Sputnik reported back in 2015 that Belarus was seeking military aid from Moscow to defend itself from Polish aggression. There wasn’t any real evidence of Polish aggression back then, either, but it’s also important to note that even Sputnik, in November, reported that Belarus and Poland had signed a “military cooperation pact” for 2017. So either the Trump folks have some new intel that nobody else has seen, or they’re not only operating on the assumption that fake news is real, but they’re two years behind on their fake news consumption.

Syria

Representatives from Russia, Turkey, and Iran met in Astana on Monday to discuss ways to better implement the Syrian ceasefire. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated that the going-nowhere Astana talks are not meant to supplant the going-nowhere UN-led peace talks in Geneva, and that there is plenty of room for two negotiating tracks that don’t accomplish anything.

The Syrian army and the Turkish/FSA force currently invading northern Syria are probably headed for a confrontation over al-Bab, but for now their simultaneous offensives on that city have had the effect of surrounding it and besieging the ISIS fighters inside.

The Syrian Democratic Forces say they began a “new phase” of the Raqqa operation over the weekend, operating east of the city to cut the main road between Raqqa and Deir Ezzor and extend its encirclement of Raqqa. In kind-of related news, on Sunday the US-led coalition bombed Tabqa, an ISIS-held town west of Raqqa, near Syria’s Euphrates Dam.

Turkey

Continue reading

Conflict update: December 26 2016

Israel

The fallout from Friday’s UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s illegal annexation of occupied Palestinian territory continued all weekend. Benjamin Netanyahu’s government began by summoning the ambassadors of the 12 security council members who voted in favor of the resolution and with which Israel has relations (Venezuela and Malaysia also voted yes but don’t have relations with Israel), plus the US, which abstained but didn’t exercise its veto. It recalled its ambassadors from Senegal and New Zealand, cancelled planned state visits from the Senegalese foreign minister and the Ukrainian prime minister, and announced that it was ceasing foreign aid to Senegal. You may note here that Israel seems to be heaping a lot of abuse on Senegal, but not so much on more powerful members of the council. Funny how that works. Today the Israelis announced that they were going to “suspend all working ties” with the 12 countries that voted “yes” and have diplomatic ties with Israel. What are “working ties,” you ask? Beats me. I’m not even sure Netanyahu knows. It sounds like a response and it’s ambiguous enough to mean anything, so there you have it. All in all, you might say we’ve seen a three-plus day-long Israeli tantrum.

True to form, rather than engage the substance of the resolution–it’s not even clear how he could engage with the substance without demonstrating that he’s been lying about his commitment to a two-state solution all the time–Netanyahu has tried to cast Friday’s vote as an international conspiracy against Israel (and, really, all Jews), masterminded by the Obama administration. And there’s something deeply revealing in that framing.

The resolution was about Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, period. It certainly wasn’t about Jews, and it wasn’t about Israel…unless, of course, you believe that the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are both part of Israel. But international consensus, US policy, and stated Israeli policy since 1967 has been that these territories are not part of Israel–the entire concept of a “two-state solution” relies on the idea that the occupied territories are not part of Israel. Successive Israeli governments have pretended, with deceasing credibility, that they are firmly committed to a two-state peace. Netanyahu keeps insisting on it. But you can’t reconcile the settlements with a two-state peace, which is why any criticism of settlements is immediately conflated with an attack on Israel itself.

What’s happening now, amid Israel’s collective rage over a UN resolution that, at the risk of beating a dead horse, had no practical effect on anything, is that the curtain is being pulled back, the lie is being exposed. Anybody who believed, or pretended to believe for political reasons, that the Israeli government ever had any intention of giving up occupied territory in exchange for peace with the Palestinians must now reckon with proof that the Israeli government’s actual position is that the occupied territories are, were, and will remain part of Israel. Anybody who’s actually watched the settlement process and its slow-moving ethnic cleansing of the West Bank since the 1970s could have told you this, but it was easier for most people, and certainly most governments, to believe the pleasant lie that a negotiated two-state peace was possible. It’s suddenly become much harder to pretend that Israeli lip-service about trading land for peace has been anything more than a stalling tactic, a way to buy more time to build more settlements (with many more on the way) and drive more Palestinians off of more West Bank land.

And now that those cards are finally out on the table for everybody to see, it’s time for the rest of the world to decide how to deal with them. No more pleasant lies.

Iraq

Continue reading

Conflict update: December 9

Tonight’s roundup is going to be short and to the point (and a little earlier than usual), my apologies.

Iraq

The Iraqi military says that it captured another neighborhood in eastern Mosul today, in the process destroying (via airstrike) three facilities where ISIS has been manufacturing car bombs.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, multiple bombing attacks today killed at least ten people and injured another 22.

Syria

Remember all that talk yesterday about how the Syrian army had called a halt to offensive operations in Aleppo in order to evacuate civilians? Funny you should mention that:

The Syrian army pressed an offensive in Aleppo on Friday with ground fighting and air strikes in an operation to retake all of the city’s rebel-held east that would bring victory in the civil war closer for President Bashar al-Assad.

“The advance is going according to plan and is sometimes faster than expected,” a Syrian military source told Reuters.

The Syrian army and its allies had recaptured 32 of east Aleppo’s 40 neighborhoods, about 85 percent of the area, he said.

Reuters journalists, rebels and a monitor on Friday confirmed the military thrust. There were no reports the Syrian army had made significant gains.

Weird. I wonder what they’d be doing if they hadn’t stopped fighting. On the plus side, American and Russian officials are going to meet again this weekend to talk about stopping the violence. They won’t actually stop it, but I’m sure they’ll have a nice talk.

Reports are coming out of Aleppo suggesting that hundreds of men who have gotten out of the city have suddenly vanished. Were they insurgents pretending to be civilian evacuees? Were they snatched up by remaining rebel forces? Were they disappeared by their government? There’s really no way to know at this point. Russia claims that over 8000 people have fled Aleppo in just the past 24 hours, so the possibility that they’ve just gotten lost in the shuffle isn’t all that outrageous either.

Syrian fighters backed by Turkish armor and air power have captured two villages west of al-Bab and are closing in on the ISIS-held city, according to Ankara. The Turkish government has apparently decided to send 300 special forces soldiers to reinforce Operation Euphrates Shield, and they seem to already be paying dividends.

The largest American airstrike yet in the anti-ISIS operation destroyed 168 oil tankers near Palmyra today, along with an estimated $2 million worth of oil. Speaking of airstrikes, the US announced today that a drone strike in Raqqa last month killed Boubaker el-Hakim, who helped plan the 2015 attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris.

Egypt

Continue reading

Boko Haram has been on quite a run lately

The World’s Deadliest Terrorist OrganizationTM continues to rack up bodies across Africa. On December 5, a suicide bombing on Koulfoua Island on Lake Chad killed 27 people, and while that attack is still unclaimed it’s likely that Boko Haram was behind it. On Friday, another Boko Haram attack, this time in Cameroon, killed 10. Meanwhile in Nigeria, last Tuesday the group reportedly burned out an entire village in the northeast, not far from Chibok, the scene of its most infamous attack. Then, yesterday, it killed eight people in separate attacks on two other northeastern Nigerian villages.

Back in August, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordered his military to end the Boko Haram uprising by the end of the year. Well, that’s around 2.5 weeks from now, and I hate to break it to everybody but it most likely ain’t happening. That’s not to say that the Nigerian military hasn’t made progress, just that Boko Haram isn’t going to blink out of existence by New Year’s morning. Taking territory away from an insurgent group, as the Nigerian military has done, is one thing, but stopping small-scale terrorist attacks is a much taller order. Even Buhari hasn’t been talking too much about his own deadline recently. Things just aren’t moving fast enough. The multi-national force that was formed to tackle the regional Boko Haram problem over the summer still hasn’t actually opened for business, for example, and nobody seems to know why (although low oil prices and their effect on West African national budgets are probably part of the reason). And there’s been even less apparent progress on non-military aspects of the fight to eradicate Boko Haram, like efforts to address the root causes–poverty, corruption, political discontent–that fuel BH’s continued insurgency.

This steady stream of low-level BH attacks like the ones I listed above doesn’t seem to be hurrying anybody along, suggesting that authorities in Nigeria and the other nations that agreed to participate in the multi-national anti-BH effort are mostly happy to do nothing drastic, in the absence of another really major attack like Chibok.

Hey, thanks for reading! If you come here often, and you like what I do, would you please consider contributing something (sorry, that page is a work in progress) to keeping this place running and me out of debtor’s prison? Also, while you’re out there on the internet tubes, please consider liking this blog’s Facebook page and following me on Twitter! Thank you!

Next stop: Cameroon

Word came this afternoon that the Obama administration has decided to send 300 US soldiers and unarmed Predator drones to the central African nation of Cameroon, to assist a multi-national effort to defeat Boko Haram, based in neighboring Nigeria. Their mission will be to provide reconnaissance and intel for the multi-national force, which consists of troops from Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Cameroon, and Chad.

Boko Haram has been pretty busy over the past month, and pretty expansive about it too. Between September 20 and 21, a series of Boko Haram suicide bombings throughout Nigeria’s Borno region, including its capital city, Maiduguri, killed at least 145 people. On October 1, a group of child suicide bombers struck Maiduguri again and killed at least fifteen people. Then Boko Haram hit Maiduguri a third time on Monday, killing at least five. Over this past weekend, the group was blamed for attacks in Cameroon and Chad that killed at least 45 people in total.

With all that said, and understanding that this is the smallest of military commitments, I still have to wonder why the Obama administration is doing this. Boko Haram is no threat to the United States, unless we make it one of course. Yeah, it’s got some kind of relationship with ISIS, but Boko Haram is a localized group with localized grievances. You can’t even blame their rise on US policy; they’re strictly homegrown out of the Nigerian government’s own failures. Maybe there’s some evidence of operational ties between ISIS and Boko Haram that hasn’t been made public, but barring that what’s the rationale here? Yes, Boko Haram is awful, but is that enough to justify this deployment, however small? Yes, America is eager for any chance to make some inroads into Africa (often seeing such moves, rightly or wrongly, as part of a competition with China), but aren’t there non-military means to achieve that kind of objective without the risk of unintended consequences? Anyway, I’m skeptical.

Hey, thanks for reading! If you come here often, and you like what I do, would you please consider contributing something (sorry, that page is a work in progress) to keeping this place running and me out of debtor’s prison? Also, while you’re out there on the internet tubes, please consider liking this blog’s Facebook page and following me on Twitter! Thank you!