I was trying to figure out why there seems to have been less news than usual over the past couple of days, and then it hit me: it’s the G20. With most of the worst human beings in the world gathered together in Buenos Aires to irritate one another, they’re forced to leave the rest of us alone for a few days. You see the same thing during NATO meetings and other major heads of state gatherings during the year, but usually not to this extent. Only the average UN General Assembly provides as much planetary respite as the G20, which helpfully ties up the world leaders who have the resources to do the most damage.
We could talk about the G20 blow by blow in detail, but why? Do we really need to keep track of every handshake and back slap at the 13th annual International Sociopaths’ Society Convention? Eh, not really, because mostly what happens at these things is a lot of empty talk and pointless soap opera-style drama. Are the US and China ever going to get back together? Probably not, but even if they do it most likely won’t happen here, not while Xi Jinping is busy dunking on Donald Trump’s protectionism. Should we be carefully keeping track of which world leaders hugged it out with Mohammad bin Salman and which ones scolded him like a misbehaving teenager? Why? Do we need to stay current on the latest developments in the insipid wrangling over whether or not Trump and Vladimir Putin will get any face time? Please, just kill me.
As far as I can tell, two things have happened at the G20 of note. One is that Trump signed the new not!NAFTA alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and lame duck Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Which is something, I guess, but the actual signing was just a formality. They’d already negotiated the agreement weeks ago. And then there was this:
That’s President Prion meandering off the stage after his photo op with Argentine President and summit host Mauricio Macri, even though the plan was clearly for him to remain on stage while the other G20 leaders filed out to participate in the usual class photo. As far as I know (or care), he never stopped walking and is now roaming the Argentine countryside, pausing every few miles to inform a cow that the Mueller investigation has totally failed to prove any collusion. attwiw has obtained enhanced footage of this incident which I can share with you now:
So anyway, in summation, maybe we should make the G20 a 365 day/year thing just to keep these people (and ourselves) out of trouble. Also we should explore holding the summit on the moon. Just spitballing ideas here.
The Syrian Democratic Forces said on Friday that they’ve captured ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s assistant, a man by the name of Osama al-Awaid, in eastern Syria. It’s unclear to me whether they mean “assistant” as in he was Baghdadi’s #2 guy or “assistant” in the sense that he kept Baghdadi’s schedule for him and the like (what a schedule that must be: “TUESDAY: hide all day, WEDNESDAY: hide in a different place all day,” etc.), but if it’s the latter in particular then his capture would seem to suggest that Baghdadi is in the vicinity.
Also in eastern Syria, both the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syrian state media are reporting that at least 45 civilians, including some ISIS prisoners, have been killed this week in US-led coalition airstrikes in Deir Ezzor province.
The Houthis reportedly fired several missiles into Saudi Arabia on Thursday, their first major missile strike against the Saudis since the rebels decided to ease off earlier this month so as to facilitate peace talks. It’s unclear whether there were any casualties and it will remain to be seen how the strike might impact the effort to organize a peace conference–which has seemed like it was collapsing anyway.
Hundreds of people protested in Amman on Friday, demanding the resignation of Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz over high taxes and a continuously weak economy. Protests over austerity this past summer brought down Razazz’s predecessor. These protests were smaller, but they could just be the beginning.
Israeli soldiers wounded 18 protesters in Gaza on Friday.
The Israeli government cut off security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority earlier this week after the PA arrested a man who had been selling West Bank land to Israeli Jews. This is pretty much the last area wherein the PA and Israeli authorities were still working together. Relatedly, the Trump administration is lobbying Congress to rewrite a law it passed earlier this year that will force the PA to either reject the remaining aid it still gets from the US or open itself up to the jurisdiction of US courts. Somehow this collection of geniuses didn’t realize this might mean eliminating US security assistance to the Palestinians.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena may be about to give up his bid to appoint his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as prime minister over parliament’s repeated objections. Reuters is reporting that Sirisena could drop the whole thing before he (probably) loses a court ruling that would force him to rescind the appointment anyway. This would end the weeks-long crisis that was precipitated by the Rajapaksa move. In the latest step in that crisis, parliament approved a measure on Friday that froze salary payments to the would-be government ministers in Rajapaksa’s would-be cabinet.
The South Korean military says that a North Korean soldier defected on Saturday, but no more details have been forthcoming yet in what is a developing story.
U.S. Africa Command said on Friday that an airstrike it carried out the day before near Libya’s border with Algeria killed at least 11 members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. During the chaos caused by the country’s civil war, Libya’s southwestern desert–which is difficult to control under the best of circumstances–has been a haven for groups like AQIM and ISIS.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said on Thursday that Islamist extremists in Nigeria (probably ISIS-West Africa though the article doesn’t specify) have begun using drones for surveillance, and this has strengthened their resistance to government forces. The World of Drones project at the New America think tank in DC says this is the first documented use of drones by militants in Africa.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
According to the World Health Organization, the ongoing ebola outbreak in the DRC is now the second-worst ebola outbreak in history, after the 2014-2016 one in West Africa. Since it was declared on August 1, 198 people have died of the disease over 426 confirmed or probable cases. It’s been greatly exacerbated by violence in the DRC’s North Kivu province, where the outbreak has been centered.
The Ukrainian government on Friday banned all Russian men aged 16-60 from entering the country out of fear that Moscow might attempt to embed a private army on Ukrainian soil. This is a decision with serious repercussions, as there are many families with members living in both countries and Christmas is just a couple of weeks away. The Russian government said it would not impose a similar measure.
Some of the talk coming out of Kiev in the wake of Sunday’s naval incident in the Sea of Azov is, frankly, bonkers. For example, there have been calls for Turkey to close down the Bosphorus, which of course it’s not going to do because it has no intention of pissing off the Russians (Turkey is in a position to try to mediate the conflict, but that kind of thing doesn’t really seem to be in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s skillset). Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wants NATO to deploy combat ships to the Sea of Azov, which seems like a little bit of overkill at this point, risking World War III because Russia seized a couple of Ukrainian ships.
Embattled Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš is dealing with another corruption allegation, this time a conflict of interest claim over European Union payments to his company, Agrofert. Babiš is already constantly in hot water over alleged past misdeeds at Agrofert, prior to his political career, but these new charges claim that he’s still Agrofert’s main owner, which is a violation of EU law. The Czech government could be on the hook to repay tens of millions of euros in grants handed out to Agrofert by the EU this year.