Conflict update: March 18-19 2017

BOILING IT DOWN

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If you’re one of those folks who are convinced that climate change is a Chinese hoax or whatever, I’ve got great news: it snowed in the US last week. Problem solved, am I right? Anyway, for the rest of us, things are not so hot. Or, rather, they’re extremely hot, and that’s the problem:

February 2017 was the planet’s second warmest February since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) on Friday; NASA also rated February 2017 as the second warmest February on record. The only warmer February was just last year, in 2016. Remarkably, February 2017 ranked as the fourth warmest month (expressed as the departure of temperature from average) of any month in the global historical record in the NASA database, and was the seventh warmest month in NOAA’s database—despite coming just one month after the end of a 5-month long La Niña event, which acted to cool the globe slightly. The extreme warmth of January 2017 (tenth warmest month of any month in NASA’s database) and February 2017 (fourth warmest) gives 2017 a shot at becoming Earth’s fourth consecutive warmest year on record, if a moderate or stronger El Niño event were to develop by summer, as some models are predicting.

Arctic sea ice extent during February 2017 was the lowest in the 39-year satellite record, beating the record set in February 2016, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The record low ice extent was due, in large part, to very warm air temperatures in the Arctic—temperatures at the 925 mb level (approximately 2,500 feet above sea level) were 2 – 5 degrees Celsius (4 – 9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average over the Arctic Ocean during February.

Sea ice has been exceptionally scant on the other end of the globe. Antarctic sea ice extent dropped below the lowest values recorded in any month in the satellite record by mid-February. They continued to sag until reaching a new record-low extent in early March.

NOAA also said a few days ago that this December-January-February period was the second hottest on record. But really, how about that snowstorm?

FRANCE

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Conflict update: February 14 2017

Why are you reading this today? Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a happy day–or a depressing day, but for reasons that have nothing to do with the shitty state of the world. Well, you’re here and my wife and I couldn’t find a sitter this evening, so I guess we might as well get into it.

Flynngate

Well, Michael Flynn is no longer protecting the nation from the grave threat posed by the terrifying Islamo-Socialist-Cuban-Iranian-North Korean-Chinese-Bolivian-Syrian-Nicaraguan-Venezuelan-Fascist-Terrorist alliance dedicated to America’s destruction, and–what? Oh for fuck’s sake, don’t tell me you still haven’t read his book! HOW DO YOU EXPECT TO PROTECT YOUR FAMILY WHEN YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW YOUR ENEMY? Get your head in the game, people.

Anyway, Flynn is out on account of he decided to do some wheeling and dealing with Moscow before his boss took office, then he lied to Donald Trump and Mike Pence about it. Except he didn’t really lie to either one of them, because they both knew what he’d done and, in Trump’s case, most likely told him to do it. Questions abound, not just about what Trump knew and when he knew it (which, let’s be honest, are open questions on pretty much any issue), but about what happens to the administration now. The first order of business is obviously finding a replacement, and the early frontrunner seems to be Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a former deputy commander of Central Command. Harward apparently lives on the West Coast, however, and his willingness to uproot his family to serve as sailing master on the USS Shipwreck is in question. David Petraeus is also clearly in the mix and would be hilarious given this administration’s love-hate relationship with state secrets.

Confusion also abounds as to the status of the rest of the National Security Council, and there have been directly contradictory reports about top figures like Deputy NatSec Advisor KT McFarland. There’s the question of whether there will be a congressional investigation into the circumstances surrounding Flynn’s removal–Republicans are pretty much all over the map on this point, and meanwhile members of the Intelligence Committees say they haven’t heard much of anything about Flynn from the White House. It’s not clear what impact this will have on Trump’s foreign policy, which has been in constant flux from the day he announced his candidacy through today. Flynn was definitely one of the loudest voices in the “make nice with Russia” camp (hence his large fan club in Moscow), but he wasn’t the only one. It’s tempting to think that the departure of the batshit nuts Flynn will stabilize Trump’s foreign policy, but this seems to ignore the fact that the most unstable part of Trump’s foreign policy is Trump himself.

Last but certainly not least there’s the question of what this means for Trump’s administration in general. We’re a week away from the one-month mark and already the most powerful national security voice in the White House has resigned in some disgrace, and it’s possible that an investigation into the reasons for his resignation will tie the administration up in knots for some time to come. I admit I’m partial to this prediction because I badly want it to come true, but with that in mind I still recommend Brian Beutler’s piece in The New Republic from earlier today.

Who Cares, We’re All Gonna Die

Ultimately, though, who gives a shit about Michael Flynn? We’ve got much bigger fish to fry: 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

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Welcome to 2017: heading to the polls

Last January I remember a bunch of troubling things happening shortly after the new year, like a new round of fighting in Kashmir, a new North Korean nuclear test, and another episode in the Iran-Saudi conflict, and, hey, I guess in hindsight we should have had some idea it was going to be a shittier-than-usual year. My point is that writing about those things became sort of a “welcome to 2016” series even though when the year began I hadn’t intended to write anything like that. But now I figure it’s a tradition, and even though we’ve managed to get through the first four days of the year without any potentially world-altering crises cropping up–and yes, I get that it’s early–I’m going to try it again this year. This time, again barring any major crises, I’ll look at a few things that I think might play out over the course of the year that maybe don’t have the potential to kill us all–unless one of them does kill us all, in which case, well, nobody will be around to remember I just wrote that. I’ll scatter these around here and there over the rest of the month.

For today I’d like to talk about something fairly mundane–politics, and primarily elections. Elections happen all the time, even in countries where they don’t mean much (by which I mean places like, say, Syria or Uzbekistan, but feel free to insert your American election joke here), and only very rarely do the results of any particular election wind up truly threatening mankind (feel free to insert your 2016 joke here). But there are a few elections coming up this year that may be of some importance, and there’s also a developing non-electoral political story that bears watching. To wit: Continue reading

Say hello to President Aoun

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Hello, President Aoun!

As…expected, I guess, though it wouldn’t have been a total shock had something gone awry, Michel Aoun was elected the new President of Lebanon today, ending a more than 2 year vacancy in that position. Aoun is a former army chief of staff who, despite having fought against Syria and its allies during the Lebanese civil war, later made common cause with Hezbollah and other pro-Syrian factions in Lebanese politics, and his election was made possible through Hezbollah’s support and that of Saad al-Hariri, the Sunni politician who is aligned with anti-Syrian parties but will nevertheless now serve as Lebanon’s new Prime Minister. In the Lebanese system, the PM (who by law must be a Sunni) is actually the more powerful figure, but the president (who by law must be a Maronite Christian) appoints the PM in consultation with parliament. Still, it will be interesting to see how these two manage to work together, and how Hariri manages to work with a parliament that is still almost evenly split between pro- and anti-Syrian coalitions (the pros have a slight plurality).

There is an opportunity for a Hariri-Aoun partnership to take advantage of the attention Syria is getting (and of the effect that cheap oil is having on the Saudi and Iranian foreign aid budgets) to put Lebanese politics, which historically have been dominated by outside powers, on a more independent footing, which would be good for Lebanon. But that effort would face a lot of resistance from Lebanese factions that are themselves very involved in what’s happening in Syria. At any rate, the first order of business in this new, and maybe very brief, era of good feelings has to be finding a permanent solution to Lebanon’s recurring trash crisis, right?

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RIGHT?

TIP JAR

“President Aoun” is looking more likely

Lebanon took another step toward getting a new president over the weekend. After initially appearing oddly non-committal about his candidacy, Hezbollah–via its leader, Hassan Nasrallah–announced on Sunday that its members of parliament would vote for Michel Aoun in a presidential election that is likely to take place next Monday. Hezbollah and Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement are allies in the March 8 parliamentary coalition, and there was never any real question that Hezbollah would support him. Nasrallah’s endorsement should carry considerable sway among the other parties in the bloc, which is good news for Aoun because at last glance he was still trying to shore up his support with those guys. Now, with Aoun already having banked the endorsement of Saad al-Hariri, of the rival March 14 coalition, it seems clear that, while he may not be a lock to become Lebanon’s next president, Aoun is the likeliest candidate the country has had since Michel Suleiman’s term ended two years ago.

As expected, the deal Hariri cut to endorse Aoun includes the condition that Aoun appoint Hariri as Lebanon’s new Prime Minister, a condition that Hezbollah is also going along with despite the fact that they and the Hariris don’t exactly get along. Hariri, who has seen his own political fortunes declining as his Saudi patrons have pulled away from both him and Lebanon more broadly, clearly saw this move as a way to thrust himself back into the political spotlight and hopefully give himself time to reestablish his power within the March 14 coalition. Aoun, being Hezbollah’s guy, is also Iran’s guy–Iranian officials have expressed their preference for Aoun’s election–and it appears that’s the basis on which the opposition to Aoun’s candidacy will attack him.

That opposition has two ways to prevent Aoun from becoming the next president. One, obviously, involves getting more votes against him than for him, but that seems unlikely. The other is to convince enough legislators to stay home to ensure that there is no 2/3 parliamentary quorum, thereby invalidating any vote. That possibility is more likely–it’s the tool by which every other attempt to elect a new president over the past two years has been defeated. But with gridlock fatigue surely running high, and with Aoun having bagged these two major endorsements, the odds are probably in favor of him being elected next week. Stay tuned.

TIP JAR

Is Michel Aoun your next President of Lebanon?

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Michel Aoun (Wikimedia | Imadmhj)

As you may know, Lebanon has been functioning without a president for over two years now. If this seems odd, well, it is, but more in a “why” sense than a “how” sense. The “how” is actually fairly simple; the Lebanese president is elected by parliament, and the Lebanese parliament requires a 2/3 quorum in order to do that. In the parliament’s 46 (yes, that’s right) attempts to elect a new president since former president Michel Suleiman’s term ended in May 2014, it has failed to achieve a 2/3 quorum each time. This is not, as you’re maybe thinking now, because Lebanese legislators forgot how to get to the capital–although it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if they sometimes got lost amid Beirut’s occasionally large piles of uncollected trash–but rather because Lebanese politics is especially fractured these days.

The fault lines aren’t very surprising–there’s some Saudi and Iranian-fueled Sunni/Shiʿa stuff happening here, but the real exacerbating factor is the war in Syria. Under the terms of the 1989 Taif Agreement, which formed part of the basis for the final settlement of the Lebanese Civil War, Lebanon’s president must be a Maronite Christian, and the Maronite community has been caught up in the same divisiveness that has seized the rest of Lebanese society and has had a hard time even coalescing internally around a single candidate for the office. Consequently, there’s been no consensus on a new president, and each time a parliament session is called to consider a candidate, enough legislators simply opt to stay home to invalidate the proceedings.

However–and I know we’ve all had our hopes raised on this before–there’s a real chance that the vacant presidency is about to be filled. Continue reading