IRAQ Though I am reticent about these kinds of claims, I think it’s safe to say at this point that … Continue reading Middle East update: July 10 2017
Hi, long time no see I guess. Everybody OK? No? Right, of course not. Because this update is going to … Continue reading Middle East update: May 8-11 2017
France’s runoff election is this Sunday, and active campaigning ended today, so there shouldn’t be any more major developme–
With mere minutes to go before the end of active campaigning in France’s presidential election on Friday evening, front-runner Emmanuel Macron’s campaign released a statement saying it had been the victim of a “massive” computer hack intended to sow doubt among the French electorate ahead of Sunday’s vote.
Approximately nine gigabytes of data including emails, contracts, and accounting documents were posted onto the document sharing site Pastebin late Friday. The Macron campaign statement confirmed that some of the documents were authentic, but said that fake campaign documents had been included in the dump as well to “sow doubt and disinformation.” The operation was “obviously a democratic destabilization,” the statement said.
Ha! Well, hey, um…this sure looks familiar! Gosh, how interesting! Suspicion obviously falls on–all together now–Russia, and there’s certainly been plenty of circumstantial evidence and speculation about Marine Le Pen’s ties to Moscow that you can’t discount that suspicion. The similarities to the Clinton/Podesta leak in last year’s US presidential campaign are also too glaring to overlook. The beauty of this leak is that, with campaigning closed as of the end of the day on Friday, anything that gets discovered in this dump (people are just starting to sift through it) can be made public while Macron and his campaign are legally prevented from responding to it. In that light, French authorities are cautioning media outlets not to publish anything they find before Sunday (particularly in the event that whatever it is turns out to be forged), but legally (and practically) there’s really nothing they can do to prevent it.
The stakes in this race haven’t really been given that much attention because Macron’s polling lead has remained so large, but they couldn’t be higher. If Le Pen wins, as the Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor writes, that’s probably the end of the European Union. She will do whatever she can as president to get France out of the EU, and it’s highly unlikely the EU could survive that. Before this leak, her chances of winning were pretty low, both because of the polling lead and because of her unimpressive performance in Wednesday’s debate (Macron didn’t set anybody’s hair on fire either, but he probably didn’t have to), but now, who knows?
Looking longer term, is this what every election in a Western democracy is going to be like from now on? Is the threat of some massive dump of embarrassing private documents going to be hanging over every one of these things? Because I have to say, once was too much.
Yesterday, the same day that his party’s House caucus fulfilled his campaign promise to demonstrably worsen the state of health care in the United States, Donald Trump went out of his way, during a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, to praise Australia for its “better healthcare.” Australia, as you likely know, uses a variation of a single-payer system, similar to Canada and France, two other countries that spend vastly less on healthcare than America does while obtaining vastly better outcomes. Single payer is doctrinally anathema to the Republican Party because it benefits somebody other than the plutocrat class, and so Trump’s comment was greeted with some shock by everyone who heard it. Again, keep in mind that House Republicans had literally the same day voted on a healthcare bill that would take the US further from single-payer and closer to a pre-Obamacare (or in some respects further back than that) dystopia.
In an effort to once again cover for the president’s stream-of-consciousness manner of public speaking and maintain the pretense that House Republicans had done something Nice for the American people by voting to gut their healthcare, Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders earlier today said that, in praising Australia’s healthcare system, “the president was complimenting a foreign leader on the operations of their healthcare system and…it didn’t mean anything more than that.” Which is lame, but kind of works…except that the president then tweeted this:
Trump is right in that pretty much everybody in the industrialized world has a better health care system than the United States (American Exceptionalism FTW), but he clearly doesn’t get that they’re better because they’re more, not less, intrusive, and that what happened yesterday is going to worsen the US healthcare system, not improve it. For Congressional Republicans, that’s fine–their health care “reform” is just a smokescreen for a massive upper class tax cut, so the actual health outcomes don’t matter. But they might want to take the president’s phone away from him for a few days. And while healthcare is not really this blog’s beat, it is always exciting to see new evidence to support the theory that this president is completely ignorant when it comes to pretty much every aspect of public policy.
That big emergency meeting that the Queen made her staff attend at Buckingham Palace this morning, the one that sent your social media feeds into a tizzy? It was to announce that Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, her husband of almost 70 (!) years…is retiring from public life this fall. Which, I mean, the guy is 95, so, yeah. Frankly if I were him I would’ve told everybody to leave me the hell alone at least ten years ago.
THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD(S)
The White House announced the itinerary for Donald Trump’s first presidential trip to someplace that isn’t either a golf course or Mar-a-Lago (which is itself a golf course, fair enough). Toward the end of this month, Trump will head to Brussels to attend a NATO meeting, to Sicily for a G7 summit, and to the Vatican, Israel, and Saudi Arabia for shits and (sanctified) giggles. In Saudi Arabia, his first stop, he plans to “convene leaders from the Islamic world” to talk about matters of great regional import–or, in other words, Iran. Whatever, presidents do this kind of thing, it’s fine. What I actually want to note here is how blatantly obvious it is that the “senior White House official, who did not wish to be named” quoted in this Guardian story is actually Trump himself:
Saudi Arabia was chosen because its status as the custodian of the two holy mosques – in Mecca and Medina – makes it fitting to convene leaders from the Islamic world, the official said. “Over the last 10 years I would not say we’ve made our relations as a country with the Islamic world better. On the contrary, the amazing enthusiasm I see from all the conversations with leaders of the Islamic world about the potential to work with President Trump: they all use words like ‘historic opportunity’, ‘reset’, ‘we felt abandoned’.
“I do think there’s a big opportunity. What I do see from the leadership now is a real desire to try. I think we share a lot of the same objectives and we’ll see if we can work together to achieve them.”
I’m sure presidents have given quotes on background to reporters many, many times over the years, but either they were bright enough to at least try not to sound like themselves, or the media was more willing to massage the quotes in order to maintain the illusion. Trump, who we know used to do this kind of thing back when he was just a regular TV personality and grifter, might as well just go on the record with this stuff.
Just by way of an update, there’s a pretty good chance this place will be quiet tomorrow. I’m traveling again … Continue reading Conflict update: February 9 2017
The Ritz-Carlton Moscow
It’s possible I’ll be able to formulate some thoughts about this as soon as I’m done laughing about it, but for now let me just say one thing. While I have absolutely no problem believing that the Russian government has dirt, possibly serious dirt, on our president-elect, the story that Buzzfeed ran this evening (no link, this is a fucking family blog goddammit) is just too hysterical, and too unsubstantiated, to give much credence without a lot of supporting evidence. That said, I think the folks at Lawfare, who are not given to hair-on-fire conspiracies, have the right idea in that these allegations are not proven (and given that probably shouldn’t have been reported), but they are serious and should be taken seriously.
The UN says that more than 135,000 people have fled Mosul since the Iraqi offensive to retake the city began in October, and hundreds/thousands of others have had to be evacuated to hospitals because they’ve been wounded in the fighting. Still, Iraqi forces continue to make steady progress toward liberating the eastern side of the city.
On the downside, whatever deal the Turkish and Iraqi governments appeared to have been circling over the presence of Turkish troops in Bashiqa doesn’t seem to have taken, because there was Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi today, saying that Iraqi-Turkish relations can’t “move forward” until Turkey withdraws its soldiers from Iraqi territory, and Turkey still doesn’t seem inclined to take that step.
Iraqi counter-terrorism forces in east Mosul say they’ve reached the eastern bank of the Tigris River. Some Iraqi politicians are claiming that as much as 88 percent of the eastern half of the city has been liberated, which is probably a substantial exaggeration, but it’s impossible to dispute that the offensive has made significant progress since it restarted a couple of weeks ago.
Two suicide bombs struck Baghdad today, killing at least 16 people (I’ve seen other reports putting that number at 20 or higher) and wounding nearly 40 more. ISIS claimed responsibility for both.
Faced with the possibility that former Prime Minister and current Vice President Nouri al-Maliki may try to attempt a political comeback (this seems odd to say about a sitting VP, but Iraq’s vice presidencies are mostly powerless patronage jobs), people all over southern Iraq have been staging demonstrations urging him, more or less, to kindly crawl into a hole and stay there. Maliki, because he’s the kind of dick who draws huge crowds to protest against the very idea that he might get back into serious politics, is attributing the protests to a “rise in gang and outlaw militia activities.” Like I said, dick. Regardless, it appears his political career might–might–be over, mercifully for the Iraqi people.
Until the eventual battle for Idlib begins in earnest, the post-Aleppo center of the civil war seems to have shifted to Damascus, and particularly to the Wadi Barada, from where Damascus gets much of its water. Although on Saturday it looked like the situation in Wadi Barada might be headed toward a ceasefire and deal to repair damaged and/or sabotaged water infrastructure, today the Syrian government carried out airstrikes on the area in earnest. The continued fighting is putting the entire Russia-Turkey negotiated ceasefire in jeopardy–rebels have already suspended their participation in planned peace talks in Kazakhstan pending the government honoring the ceasefire, and now it seems they may declare the ceasefire null altogether. Additionally a car bomb, claimed by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, struck the government-held town of Saʿsaʿ, southwest of Damascus, killing five people per the latest count.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights says that of 178 documented violations of the ceasefire so far, 174 of them have been perpetrated by the government and its allies. This sounds like a pretty subjective count, and considering that most of these violations have probably taken place in Wadi Barada, with Damascus’s supply of drinking water hanging in the balance, it’s not hard to see why the government has been pushing the envelope. But it’s also not hard to see why the rebels have had enough. The government would probably argue, as it has been, that JFS has been operating in Wadi Barada and therefore the area is not covered by the ceasefire. The rebels have denied this, but whether JFS is there or not is almost irrelevant. This ceasefire, as every one before it, has the (fatal?) flaw that it tries to distinguish between rebels forces that are only distinguishable on paper. These groups are protected, those groups aren’t, but their forces are so interspersed that striking the one necessarily means striking the other, and if you want to strike a group that is protected in some particular area you only need to say that forces from an unprotected group are also in that area, because nobody can really tell whether they are or not. It’s untenable.
Al-Monitor’s Week in Review post this week has a nice summary of the back and forth between Turkey and Iran, via Russia, over their competing interests in Syria. At this point it seems like Turkey has agreed to give up its support for extremist militias like Ahrar al-Sham (and tacit support for the even more extreme JFS), while Iran has decided to table its concerns over Turkey’s activities in northern Syria, and for now they’re managing to co-exist on that basis. But the potential for an unraveling is very much there.