World roundup: September 29 2022
Stories from Lebanon, the Horn of Africa, Ukraine, and elsewhere
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
September 28, 1538: The Battle of Preveza
September 28, 1961: A group of Syrian military officers carries out a coup that pulls Syria out of the United Arab Republic, the political union that Syria and Egypt had formed in 1958. In addition to ending the UAR, the coup kicked off about 18 months of political chaos in Syria that finally ended (well, sort of ended) with the March 1963 coup that brought the Baath Party to power.
September 29, 1227: Pope Gregory IX excommunicates Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II for repeatedly breaking promises to go on Crusade. Frederick, who had already engineered his own succession as “King of Jerusalem,” subsequently did go on Crusade, for which Gregory excommunicated him again since he was now acting without permission. Frederick nevertheless led the Sixth Crusade, with the Church advising people not to join him because he was an excommunicate, and wound up negotiating a very tenuous handover of the city of Jerusalem.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Four more rockets landed in Baghdad’s Green Zone on Thursday, one day after a three rocket barrage wounded at least seven people there. This time there’s been no indication of casualties. There’s also no indication as to responsibility, but the intent seems to be disrupting the Iraqi parliament, which is making some progress toward forming a new government that could exclude political agitator Muqtada al-Sadr and his supporters.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry on Thursday summoned Iran’s ambassador in Baghdad to lodge a complaint over the Iranian drone and missile attack in Iraqi Kurdistan on Wednesday, which left at least nine people dead (including one US national). The Iraqi Foreign Ministry characterized the attack as “the continuation of Iranian forces’ encroachment on Iraq’s sovereignty.” Joining Baghdad in condemning this attack were the US, German, and UK governments. Also on Thursday, the Turkish military announced new a new air campaign targeting Kurdistan Workers’ Party elements in northern Iraq. That announcement drew no international condemnation as far as I can tell.
The Lebanese parliament met on Thursday to choose a new president, but later adjourned without having reached an agreement. Michel Moawad, the son of former Lebanese President René Moawad, had the support of 36 of the 122 MPs in attendance, but that put him well behind “nobody,” the choice of the 66 MPs who submitted blank ballots in protest. A group of legislators walked out after the initial vote, which prevented a second attempt. Parliament speaker Nabih Berri promised to call a new session of parliament once MPs had agreed on a new president, but that could well be months from now.
Kuwaiti voters went to the polls on Thursday to elect themselves new parliamentary representation. There are a couple of things to watch. For one thing, the one woman serving as a Kuwaiti MP lost her reelection bid in 2020 and there will be some attention paid to whether any women are elected this time around. Second, Kuwaiti leaders are hoping that this election will result in a parliament that can get along with the ruling family better than the previous one. Kuwait’s parliament is unique in the Gulf context in that it has real authority, and a running dispute between the legislature and the royals has put Kuwaiti politics in gridlock for the past couple of years. That’s why Crown Prince Mishal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah dissolved the body earlier this year and scheduled this snap election. If the impasse continues beyond this election Mishal has threatened to take unspecified “forceful measures” that could spark a more serious crisis.
The Biden administration imposed new sanctions targeting Iran’s trade in oil and oil products on Thursday. Two firms based in mainland China were among the newly blacklisted, along with firms in Hong Kong, India, and the UAE as well as related individuals.
Former Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced by one of the ruling junta’s courts to three years in prison on Thursday for alleged violations of state secrets laws. Her former economic adviser, Australian national Sean Turnell, was sentenced to three years on the same charge as well as a concurrent three years for allegedly violating immigration laws. Suu Kyi’s sentence can be added to the 23 years she’s already serving for various alleged crimes.
The North Korean military marked the end of US Vice President Kamala Harris’s visit to Seoul on Thursday by firing two more projectiles off of North Korea’s east coast. These appear to have been short-range ballistic missiles and apparently traveled in the general direction of Harris’s departing flight though whether that was intention is anybody’s guess. This was North Korea’s third weapons launch in the past five days and came after Harris spent her time in South Korea looking resolutely at the Demilitarized Zona and referring to the North Korean government as “a brutal dictatorship” that features “rampant human rights violations and an unlawful weapons program that threatens peace and stability.”
PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM
The “big dollar number” that the Biden administration wound up putting forward in terms of new aid to Pacific Islands nations at this week’s summit in Washington turns out to be $810 million. While certainly a big number in abstract terms I think it may be helpful here to once again point out that the US Congress has been kicking around a 2023 National Defense Authorization Act in the neighborhood of $840 billion. Most of that money seems earmarked for a ten year effort to support the region’s tuna fishing industry so it’s not even like this money will be forthcoming all at once. Joe Biden characterized this aid offer as part of an “enduring commitment” to the region by the United States, but one assumes if the intent was to sway regional hearts and minds away from China that the US could have forked over more than 0.09 percent of next year’s military budget.
Unspecified attackers killed five soldiers and one civilian in an incident on Wednesday in southeastern Nigeria’s Anambra state. Details are sparse but witnesses are claiming that a vehicle carrying the soldiers was ambushed in the Umunze region, with the civilian getting caught in the crossfire. There was no claim of responsibility, but southeastern Nigeria often sees violence from Biafran separatists. Nigerian authorities routinely blame the Indigenous People of Biafra organization for these types of incidents but IPOB routinely denies involvement.
HORN OF AFRICA
The Horn of Africa’s years long drought has left people in northern Kenya facing a massive hunger crisis, according to UNICEF. Almost two million children are struggling with acute malnutrition. The AP reports on how this crisis is affecting neighboring Somalia:
Somalia has long known droughts, but the climate shocks are now coming more frequently, leaving less room to recover and prepare for the next. Pastoralists and farmers who have known for generations where to take cattle, goats and camels when the usual water sources run dry have been horrified by this drought that has seen four straight rainy seasons fail.
“Droughts before were not like this. We were able to withstand them,” Issack said.
When rain does fall, more unpredictably now, hotter temperatures mean it evaporates faster, leaving meager amounts for farming or drinking. East Africa is the world’s hardest-hit drought region, according to the U.N.’s desertification agency.
Experts say forecasts indicate that the fifth rainy season now underway will fail, too, and even the sixth one set for early next year. With that, Somalia will be in uncharted lands beyond the memories of even Issack, Hassan and their age-mates.
The struggle to find food has been driving rural Somalis toward towns and cities, where humanitarian aid is more readily available. But those towns and cities aren’t equipped to manage the influx. The displacement in Somalia is also driven by al-Shabab’s occupation of large segments of the country, which compounds the effects of the famine.
Vladimir Putin called on Thursday for Russian officials to fix the “mistakes” they’ve supposedly made in implementing his recent partial mobilization order. Some of the public outcry around the mobilization order has come from the fact that a number of people who shouldn’t be eligible (for age or health reasons, for example) have nevertheless received call-up papers. Putin would like Russians who are upset about the mobilization to point their fingers at his bumbling staff and ignore the fact that he’s the one who ordered the mobilization and is ultimately responsible for having hired the bumblers in the first place.
Meanwhile, countries that have been on the receiving end of a mass outflow of Russians since Putin ordered the mobilization are starting to react negatively. The Finnish government announced on Thursday that it’s largely closing its border to Russians, though it referred to “tourists” so there’s still a chance that people fleeing the mobilization will be allowed to cross. Georgian citizens are agitating for their government to close the border to Russian travelers. Kazakhstan has not taken any steps toward border closure and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev seems to feel that keeping the border open is a “humanitarian” issue, but officials there are scrambling amid the influx of almost 100,000 Russians over the past week.
There are apparently four leaks in the two Nord Stream gas pipelines, not three as initially believed. There’s really nothing else to report on this story, and there’s certainly nothing new to say about the big lingering question, who was responsible for causing those leaks.
Latvian voters are no doubt looking forward to their parliamentary election on Saturday. Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš’s New Unity alliance has been polling at around 20-21 percent, which puts it comfortably in the lead in a heavily fragmented field and likely means Kariņš will continue on as PM assuming the polling is accurate. By contrast, the Harmony party, which is currently the largest party in the legislature and has historically been supported by Latvia’s large Russian minority, is likely to see that support crater after coming out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s polling near Latvia’s 5 percent minimum threshold, below which a party is excluded from the legislature altogether.
Putin also on Thursday signed decrees “recognizing” the “independence” of Ukraine’s Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, two of the four regions whose populations ostensibly voted to become part of Russia earlier this week (Russia already “recognizes” the “independence” of the other two regions, Donetsk and Luhansk). This is just a preliminary step before Putin declares, probably on Friday, that all four regions are now part of Russia and therefore, among other things, under Russia’s nuclear umbrella. For those interested in “turning points,” the annexation will likely eliminate even the slim remaining chance of a negotiated settlement to this war being reached anytime soon. Putin may claim annexation of all four Ukrainian provinces in their entirety, though Ukraine still controls large chunks of Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia and is contesting territory in Kherson and Luhansk. Putin will probably at that point accuse the Ukrainian military of having retroactively invaded Russia.
Bulgaria will be holding its fourth parliamentary election since April 2021 on Sunday, with little indication that this one will be any more decisive than the past three have been. Polling indicates that the right-wing GERB party led by former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov will finish comfortably in first place with around 25 percent of the vote, but that won’t be enough to form a government and it’s unclear whether there will be much appetite among Bulgaria’s other parties to enter a GERB-led coalition. The far-right Revival party is polling reasonably well and that could prove to be a wildcard in terms of the outcome.
The Montenegrin government announced on Thursday that it’s expelling six Russian diplomatic staffers and opening an investigation into a possible espionage operation. Montenegrin media reported that some 30 Russian nationals and two Montenegrin citizens have been arrested in connection with the spying charges.
The highest profile of this weekend’s multiple elections is likely the first round presidential vote in Brazil, where a new poll from Datafolha shows challenger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva maintaining his lead over incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. The poll shows Lula leading Bolsonaro 48 percent to 34 percent in first round intentions (last week’s Datafolha poll had Lula ahead 47-33) and right on the verge of winning over 50 percent of valid first round votes, which would mean an outright win and avoid a runoff. The survey has Lula winning said runoff, if necessary, 54-39.
This race appeared to be tightening a few weeks ago, as Bolsonaro’s new welfare spending seemed to be boosting his standing among lower class Brazilians. But it’s likely that whatever improvements the increased spending offered have been washed out by high inflation, causing dissatisfaction with Bolsonaro to rise again. Meanwhile, the biggest thing Bolsonaro had going for him in 2018, his outsider cred, is no longer relevant seeing as how you can’t be the incumbent president and still pretend to be an outsider. Bolsonaro’s badly mangled management of Brazil’s COVID outbreak sent his popularity plummeting and he’s never been able to recover.
Finally, TomDispatch’s Stan Cox questions the logic of spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the US military while the world burns:
On October 1st, the U.S. military will start spending the more than $800 billion Congress is going to provide it with in fiscal year 2023. And that whopping sum will just be the beginning. According to the calculations of Pentagon expert William Hartung, funding for various intelligence agencies, the Department of Homeland Security, and work on nuclear weaponry at the Energy Department will add another $600 billion to what you, the American taxpayer, will be spending on national security.
That $1.4 trillion for a single year dwarfs Congress’s one-time provision of approximately $300 billion under the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) for what’s called “climate mitigation and adaptation.” And mind you, that sum is to be spent over a number of years. In contrast to the IRA, which was largely a climate bill (even if hardly the best version of one), this country’s military spending bills are distinctly anti-human, anti-climate, and anti-Earth. And count on this: Congress’s military appropriations will, in all too many ways, cancel out the benefits of its new climate spending.
Here are just the three most obvious ways our military is an enemy of climate mitigation. First, it produces huge quantities of greenhouse gases, while wreaking other kinds of ecological havoc. Second, when the Pentagon does take climate change seriously, its attention is almost never focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions but on preparing militarily for a climate-changed world, including the coming crisis of migration and future climate-induced armed conflicts globally. And third, our war machine wastes hundreds of billions of dollars annually that should instead be spent on climate mitigation, along with other urgent climate-related needs.
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