World roundup: November 16 2021
Stories from Yemen, Armenia, Nicaragua, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
November 15, 1884: The Berlin Conference begins, with the goal of regulating European colonization of Africa. Its declaration obliged European powers to establish political control over their spheres of influence in Africa in order to claim possession of them. Sometimes identified as the beginning of the “Scramble for Africa,” though in actuality African colonization was already well underway and only sped up in the wake of the conference.
November 15, 1889: A republican military coup ousts Brazilian Emperor Pedro II, ending the Brazilian monarchy.
November 15, 1983: The “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” declares its independence, some eight years after the “Turkish Federated State of Cyprus” broke away from the Cypriot government after a pro-Greek military coup and the invasion of northern Cyprus by Turkish forces. Turkey is the only country that has diplomatically recognized the separatist state.
November 16, 1532: Spanish forces under Francisco Pizarro ambush and capture the Incan emperor Atahualpa at the Battle of Cajamarca. Atahualpa’s captivity and eventual execution (the following August) were the first steps in the Spaniards’ conquest of the Incan Empire.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Syrian media reported another Israeli missile attack early Wednesday, this time in an area south of Damascus. Initial reports are claiming no casualties but it’s really still too soon to assess either the target or the effect of the strike. More tomorrow, perhaps.
The new weapons sale is consistent with a broader pattern over the past year in the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Biden’s envoy for “ending” the Yemen war, Tim Lenderking, conducts diplomacy that conspicuously aligns with the Saudi position far more than it diverges. You can read this reported piece of mine from April going into that in detail, but the U.S. position, consistent from Obama to Trump to Biden, is that the Houthis—the Iranian client movement whose overthrow of a Saudi/U.S. client prompted an horrific Saudi reprisal that has lasted six years—are the obstacle to peace.
The longer the administration operates along that position, the more it removes the distinction between peace and Saudi victory. And one thing that is most conspicuous about MBS’s pitiless war in Yemen is that Saudi victory is unobtainable, no matter how much he—backed by Washington—wages it against the Yemeni people through measures like his blockade. In October, Reuters reported that the Saudis were even arguing that the price of lifting the blockade would be… arms sales.
Israeli occupation forces killed one Palestinian man in a town outside the West Bank city of Nablus on Tuesday. Israeli personnel conducting a raid in that town apparently came under fire overnight and later fired on a car after someone inside allegedly threw an explosive device at them. I assume the shooting victim was in that car though the reporting doesn’t make that entirely clear.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which manages Palestinian refugee issues, says it is still facing an “existential” funding threat after a new push for support netted it only $38 million in donor pledges on Tuesday. The agency was trying to fill a 2021 budget deficit of $100 million and is trying to secure more stable long-term funding for its “minimum” $800 million/year budget. This is a shame, and I wish I had some advice for them but the sad fact is there’s just no extra money to be found anywhere. None at all. Bummer.
The US military is claiming that an Iranian helicopter buzzed the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship, in the Strait of Hormuz on Monday. According to Pentagon officials the helicopter made three passes by the Essex, coming within 25 yards of it at its closest approach.
The ongoing border dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan escalated into serious conflict on Tuesday as units of border guards from both countries battled one another in southern Armenia’s Syunik region. Azerbaijani forces have been parked on the Armenian side of the border (to the extent the somewhat-undetermined border can be fixed) for several months. It’s unclear why heavy fighting erupted on Tuesday but presumably it comes as no surprise that each side is accusing the other of starting it. Casualty figures are sketchy but at least one report has 15 Armenian soldiers killed and 12 captured. The Azerbaijanis are only acknowledging two soldiers wounded, but Baku tends to be shady about releasing casualty figures so that should be taken with a grain of salt.
By the end of the day a Russian-brokered ceasefire had reportedly come into effect, after the Armenian government had reportedly appealed to Moscow to fulfill its treaty obligation to come to Armenia’s defense. The ceasefire may be holding but the underlying tension is still there and things could flare up again pretty quickly. Yerevan and Baku have been in talks on a host of issues stemming from the agreement that ended last fall’s Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, including establishing an official border demarcation and setting up regional transportation corridors. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has reportedly been hedging a bit in these talks in recent days and it’s likely the Azerbaijanis are provoking conflict to try to pressure him into reengaging with the negotiations. But after Tuesday’s events they may have pushed him beyond the point where he’s politically able to continue talking with Baku at all.
A police raid targeting suspected Kashmiri militants in Srinagar left at least four people dead late Monday, two of them civilians. Authorities are blaming the militants for shooting “indiscriminately” and thereby killing the two civilians, one of whom they’ve accused of aiding and abetting the rebels. But the victims’ families seem to think police may have used them as “human shields” during the raid, and there’s a chance that at least one of them (not the alleged rebel ally) may have been shot by police rather than the militants. Police say they’re investigating the incident but precedent suggests they won’t find anything of note.
The big Joe Biden-Xi Jinping virtual summit on Monday evening was a smash success, in that they didn’t start World War III via Zoom or whatever they used. If you set the bar any higher than that, there’s not really much to say. There’s no indication that they made any substantive headway on any of the issues that we’re told are creating tension in the US-China relationship—Taiwan, the Uyghurs, Hong Kong, human rights in general, complaints about unfair trade practices, etc.—but there was never any serious expectation of a breakthrough in that sense. Instead the point was to bring down the overall temperature of bilateral relations by getting Biden and Xi—who apparently had a good relationship back when Biden was vice president—into a room (well, “room,” anyway) together. It appears to have worked, though I would expect whatever easing really happened to be fleeting.
If you’re desperate for some substance, the two men did apparently agree in principle to hold arms control talks at some indeterminate point. The incorporation of China into international arms control talks, which currently are basically a US-Russia affair, would be a significant development. Assuming it actually happens. They also agreed to ease the visa restrictions each government has been imposing on journalists from the other country.
To the surprise of I assume no one, warlord, CIA asset, and (temporarily, at least) retired “Libyan National Army” commander Khalifa Haftar announced Tuesday that he will run in Libya’s presidential election next month. He joins Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of former Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi, in a field that is at least notable for the number of accused war criminals who have now entered it. Of the two of them the more worrisome candidate is presumably Haftar, who unlike Gaddafi has a very large military at his service and could use it to influence the vote or, maybe worse, to express his displeasure should the election not turn out the way he’d like. The rest of the field has yet to take shape but it may include Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the eastern Libyan parliament at Tobruk, and interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, even though he promised not to run when he assumed the interim PM job.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
At least 11 civilians were killed on Sunday in the crossfire of a battle between rebels and Central African security forces in the country’s Ouham-Pendé prefecture. There’s no indication of casualties among the combatants in the reporting, though presumably there were some. Authorities are blaming the main Central African rebel group, Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R), for the attack. If true that would mark the second time that 3R fighters have violated a ceasefire that went into effect last month. Earlier this month they attacked a village also in northwestern CAR, killing two soldiers and a civilian.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says it has information that the Ethiopian government has rounded up some 1000 people accused of having some affiliation with the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Most of those have been Tigrayan, fueling concerns that the government is targeting people by ethnicity.
At least six people were killed in a pair of suicide bombings in Kampala on Tuesday, three of them the bombers themselves. Police reportedly thwarted a third attempted bombing. At least 33 people are being treated for injuries related to the blasts. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombings via its online outlets. The attackers were probably members of the Allied Democratic Forces militia, which was originally a Ugandan Islamist group but has in recent years been more active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. ADF has carried out a couple of recent attacks in Uganda, suggesting it may be attempting to return to its roots. The group has a not-very-well-defined relationship with IS’s “Central Africa” affiliate.
According to Reuters, the EU has developed a plan for a “Rapid Deployment Capacity” force consisting of around 5000 personnel that could be deployed to conflicts around the world and would in theory alleviate the near-total dependence European nations have on the United States when it comes to military affairs. France and Italy are reportedly pushing the proposal, which is in limbo now until a new government takes power in Germany and can weigh in on the idea. It remains to be seen whether European governments are going to be willing to foot the bill for this force. Past initiatives to develop an independent pan-European military capacity have faltered on that point.
Russia’s anti-satellite weapons test on Monday reportedly involved an Earth-based missile system, which marks a first for the Russian military. So that’s nice for them. China, India, and the US have all tested similar systems. In case you’re wondering, Russian officials are dismissing US accusations that the test created a cloud of debris that now threatens the International Space Station.
Opponents of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera were unable to muster the 29 Senate votes required to oust him on Tuesday. The Chilean Chamber of Deputies impeached Piñera last week over corruption allegations related to the “Pandora Papers” leak, but a Senate conviction was expected to be a very long shot. Barring something unforeseen he’ll serve out the rest of his term, which ends in March.
The Biden administration on Tuesday announced that it is banning Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, his wife/Vice President Rosario Murillo, and members of his government from traveling to the United States. This comes a day after the administration imposed sanctions on several Nicaraguan officials. Ortega is taking a turn as designated Communist Evildoer after winning reelection last week in a vote the US, European Union, and Organization of American States have all deemed illegitimate.
As you may know—or may not know, which is sort of the point—a highly anticipated anti-government protest that was supposed to take place in Cuba on Monday basically fizzled out. Organizers, who hoped to repeat or even exceed the demonstrations they held in July, are claiming that government intimidation and a heavy police presence thwarted their efforts. So, in case you were curious, is the Biden administration.
Finally, and with apologies for the self-promotion, I opened this week’s Discontents newsletter with some thoughts on war crimes and imperial impunity:
It has long been standard DC operating procedure that, when asked why the chief paragon of the international Rules Based Order refuses to subject itself to the international rule-adjudicating ICC, officials are to respond that it would be superfluous for the United States to accept ICC jurisdiction because the US legal system is more than capable of investigating the crimes of the US military and of enforcing punishment for those crimes when necessary. In an era of deep partisan division, this is at least one point on which both Democrats (Blinken) and Republicans (former National Security Adviser John Bolton) can agree.
For daring to ask this question, Omar was of course publicly lambasted. Her critics, who by now should be pretty well-established, were furious that she’d insidiously compared the United States and Israel to the Taliban and Hamas. She had, of course, not done this, except to make the completely factual observation that they’d all been accused of committing war crimes, but that didn’t matter. Omar just didn’t seem to get that Israel and the United States are The Good Guys, whose commitment to justice can be assumed because they are Good, while Hamas and the Taliban are The Bad Guys, who ipso facto have no commitment to justice because they are Bad.
I dredge this exchange back up because so far this month we’ve seen two fairly explicit cases that undermine Secretary Blinken’s assertion that the United States has the “demonstrated” “capacity” “to make sure that there is accountability in any situations where there are concerns about the use of force and human rights.” Let’s consider them briefly.
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