World update: July 13 2018



In what was incredibly only the second most heinous atrocity story of the day (see Pakistan, below) a Thursday airstrike on the Syrian village of al-Soussa, near al-Bukamel, reportedly killed at least 54 people, at least 28 of them civilians. This was likely a US airstrike–the anti-ISIS coalition has admitted that it “may have conducted strikes in the vicinity of al-Soussa” on Thursday, which is as close as it will get to taking responsibility.

Israeli authorities say they “most likely” shot down another drone entering Israeli airspace from Syria on Friday. That’s the second such incident this week.

Meanwhile, with most of the attention on southwestern Syria of late little has been paid to the north. That will change if Bashar al-Assad makes, say, Idlib his next target. But if he doesn’t, Turkey may find itself wondering how to get out of its emerging quagmire there:

“When the Turks invaded, they basically signed up to govern the place,” said Aaron Stein, a Turkey and Syria specialist at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. “They are now on the hook for everything from delivering water, picking up trash, administering health and education. Security is not very good. There are clearly the indications of an insurgency. For now, it’s manageable. But talk to me in five years.”


For the fifth day in a row large protests broke out in southern Iraq over government corruption and the failure to provide basic services. Protesters in Basra on Friday closed off access to Umm Qasr, which is the primary deep water port serving Basra. And the demonstrations spread out of the Basra area for the first time, with hundreds of protesters hitting the streets in Najaf as well. They stormed that city’s airport and halted air traffic.


Israeli soldiers shot and killed one Palestinian teenager during protests near the Gaza fence line on Friday. Thousands of people demonstrated to mark the 100th day since the protests began in late March.


The US has refused to grant waivers sought by the French government to protect its companies doing business in Iran. Just in case you thought the reimposition of sanctions was going to be handled amicably.

It seems quite possible that Donald Trump is going to head into his meeting with Vladimir Putin in Finland next week offering some kind of US withdrawal from Syria in return for Russia forcing an Iranian withdrawal from Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sweetened that pot earlier this week when he promised Moscow that Israel will not pursue any beef with Bashar al-Assad–provided Russia gets Iran out of Syria. It is anybody’s guess whether Russia really can get Iran out of Syria, but Iranian national security adviser Ali Akbar Velayati’s visit to Moscow on Thursday represented Iran’s pitch to Vladimir Putin that he shouldn’t even want Iran out of Syria to begin with.



Afghan security forces are believed to have killed at least six civilians in a combined air and ground operation in Nangarhar province on Thursday. Nangarhar has seen increased militant activity in the past couple of weeks, particularly from ISIS. Meanwhile, video has surfaced of Afghan security forces badly mistreating the bodyguards of popular Faryab Province militia commander Nizamuddin Qaisari. Afghan security arrested Qaisari earlier this month, spurring what has been 11 days of protests and that’s without any evidence of police brutality.


At least 132 people were killed on Friday in two election-related terrorist attacks across Pakistan. A bomb struck a campaign convoy in northern Afghanistan, killing four people, and then later in the day a suicide attacker claimed by ISIS killed at least 128 people in the town of Mastung in Baluchistan province. That figure rose steadily through the day so it may tick up further.


Donald Trump’s brilliant wheeling and dealing is already paying dividends. The tariff threats he’s made in order to reverse the US trade deficit with China have led to the highest monthly trade deficit in US-China history at $29 billion in June. So. Much. Winning.


The Diplomat, along with researchers at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, has uncovered North Korea’s oldest covert uranium enrichment site, Kangson. Their report is worth your time and will have major implications for ongoing denuclearization talks with Pyongyang.



The United Nations is halving its UN-African Union peacekeeping force to around 4000 personnel in Darfur because tensions have lowered there considerably. The mission has been in place since 2007 and was already reduced once from the nearly 16,000 who were in place in 2016.


As expected, the United Nations Security Council imposed a US-backed arms embargo against South Sudan on Friday in a narrow vote. Despite recent moves toward a peace deal the violence in South Sudan’s civil war has been regaining intensity in recent months, and human rights groups generally seem to have welcomed the embargo. Six nations abstained from the vote, citing concerns that the embargo would make peace talks more difficult in some way that I confess isn’t immediately apparent to me.


Widespread public resentment finally seems to be moving Kenyan leaders to tackle the country’s corruption problem:

A sense that pervasive corruption is stifling young Kenyans’ futures has been building for years, like pressure in a sealed, heated chamber. And Kenya’s leaders — themselves long accused of corruption — seem finally to have recognized the potential political cost of not addressing it.

In recent weeks, Kenya’s president and deputy president have offered to be among the first subjects of a “lifestyle audit” — an anti-graft initiative that, if implemented, would require every government official to show how they earned enough to afford the mansions, ranches and luxury cars so many of them own. Only if corruption is weeded out at the top, the thinking goes, will it be possible to end the kind of petty corruption faced by the Kuyas.

For now, the audits are just a proposal. Yet as corruption continues to factor into almost all economic transactions here, the clamor for change keeps growing.


Cameroonian President Paul Biya is going to run for another term in office in October. Which is welcome news. Biya has only had seven terms to implement his agenda, which means he’s only been in office since 1982. And he’s only 85. Clearly the Cameroonian people need him to stick around and finish the job.



In addition to talking about Syria and who knows what else, when Donald Trump meets with Vladimir Putin next week he may broach the idea of “substantially” reducing the two countries’ nuclear stockpiles. Trump and Putin were already expected to discuss the idea of extending New START, as that treaty is scheduled to expire in 2021 otherwise.


Al Jazeera reports on joint German-Austrian efforts to close their borders to migrants:

Germany and Austria working together to advance racism? What could go wrong?


Speaking of joint efforts in racism, Italy and Malta have a neat new relationship these days. Every time a migrant boat shows up in the Mediterranean now, the two countries fight about whose waters its in and therefore who’s responsible for rescuing it and, you know, saving the lives of the human beings on board. Sometimes both of them take a pass and Spain steps in to do the humane thing.


On day two of Donald Trump’s visit to the UK the president backed off of his criticism of British Prime Minister Theresa May. Actually he told reporters that the interview in which he criticized May–an interview that accurately quoted him from a paper that later produced the audio to back it up–was “fake news.” Then he went off on a lovely racist rant about immigration:

President Donald Trump said Friday that European leaders “better watch themselves” because immigration is “changing the culture” of their societies.

“I think it has been very bad, for Europe. … I think what has happened is very tough. It’s a very tough situation — you see the same terror attacks that I do,” Trump said at a news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May outside of London.

“I just think it is changing the culture, I think it is a very negative thing for Europe,” Trump said.

“I know it is politically not necessarily correct to say that, but I will say it and I will say it loud,” Trump added.

Well that’s mighty white of you, Mr. President. Kudos. Later Trump met Queen Elizabeth, and that went really well too:

At LobeLog, Mitchell Plitnick has a rundown on Donald’s big European adventure so far:

Like many other US citizens, I get very nervous every time Donald Trump goes to meet with foreign leaders. Whether they are friend, foe, competitor, or ally, it seems almost inevitable that Trump will find a creative way to come up with a negative result from the meeting.

His current trip hasn’t disappointed. He started by berating NATO allies and has now moved on to stirring an already boiling pot of political turmoil in the United Kingdom. It seems a good moment to review the trip before the really scary part—the meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin—commences.



Secretary of State Mike Pompeo led a delegation to Mexico on Friday including Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Jared Kushner for some reason. They were there mostly to meet with Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador and impress upon him that Donald Trump doesn’t hate Mexico despite all the, you know, evidence to the contrary.


Special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday indicted 12 Russian operatives with the GRU for meddling in the 2016 election. It’s not clear that this gets him much closer to Trump himself, but aside from the obvious foreign policy ramifications this will probably give Trump and Putin something else to talk about in Finland.

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