World update: February 8 2019



Syrian state media reported Friday that seven people were killed by a landmine in Hama province. It’s likely, but not certain, that ISIS placed the mine back when it controlled part of Hama province at its territorial height.


There are no details about this that I’ve seen yet, but the Saudi-led coalition said early Saturday that it was conducting an attack on a Houthi drone facility in Sanaa. It says it’s taking precautions as far as civilians are concerned, but I think it’s pretty clear how the coalition feels about civilian casualties by now.

Meanwhile, the Houthis and the Yemeni government have reached an agreement to exchange…the remains of hundreds of people killed in the war. Each side will release 1000 bodies to the other. It’s not the prisoner exchange they’ve been negotiating in Jordan this week (though both sides say they’ve made progress on that issue), but it could be a small confidence building step toward further talks.


Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinian teenagers during Friday’s protests at the Gaza fence. They claim the protesters began throwing rocks and explosives over the fence at Israeli forces.

Seasoned peacemaker Jared Kushner is reportedly heading to the Middle East later this month for discussions on his fabulous but still yet-to-be released Israel-Palestine peace plan. Kushner is likely to release his plan after the Israeli election in April, though if it’s what everybody seems to think it is–the Palestinians accept eternal disenfranchisement in return for some economic aid mostly financed by Gulf Arab states–then it’s almost certainly going to be dead on arrival.


In remarks connected to the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said via his website on Friday that Iran’s “Death to America” slogan isn’t going anywhere. He did clarify that the phrase doesn’t mean “Death to Americans,” just to American leaders responsible for its “evil and mean” policies. Khamenei also criticized Europe, saying that his “advice is not to trust them, just like with the Americans.”



According to US and Afghan officials, Pakistan has begun playing a constructive role in pushing the Afghan Taliban toward peace talks, both by facilitating their participation and threatening Taliban members who try to obstruct the process. This is an awkward situation for Islamabad because it wants to be helpful in order to get back in Washington’s good graces, but if it’s too helpful then all those past statements about how Pakistan wasn’t helping the Taliban and didn’t have any influence over it will look kind of like, well, lies. The big question is whether Pakistan will be willing/able to strong arm the Taliban into holding talks with the Afghan government, not just the US. The Taliban are very resistant to talking with Kabul, at least not until the US withdraws, but the US probably won’t withdraw unless there’s a firm agreement in place between the Taliban and Afghan leadership.


Donald Trump made his next meeting with Kim Jong-un Twitter-official on Friday:

It’s not actually clear how much Trump’s North Korea envoy, Stephen Biegun, accomplished in Pyongyang this week, but he and his North Korean counterparts did agree to meet again prior to the summit.



Protests again broke out on Friday against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and Sudanese police once again cracked down hard on them. In one incident, police fired tear gas into Al-Sayed Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi Mosque, one of the main mosques in Khartoum, toward the end of midday prayers in order to head off a protest march that was forming there.


Libyan officials say they’ve arrested Abdel Qader Azuz, a suspected al-Qaeda leader who allegedly fled the eastern city of Derna due to the so-called “Libyan National Army” military campaign there. Azuz was apparently picked up in Misrata and then taken to Tripoli.

The situation at the El Sharara oil field in southern Libya is apparently much less settled and a bit more violent than the LNA has let on. Khalifa Haftar’s forces claimed earlier this week to have taken control of the field peacefully from a group of local fighters, guards, and others who had seized it in December over a dispute with the Tripoli government over its failure to pay their salaries and other local issues. Then it emerged that the LNA hadn’t actually taken the field but merely one substation at the facility. Now it turns out that the operation hasn’t been so peaceful–at least five people have reportedly been killed in fighting between the LNA and the forces controlling the oil field. The potential for further violence seems pretty high, and Libya’s National Oil Company on Friday urged all parties to remain calm and avoid escalating tensions any further.


US Africa Command says two more of its airstrikes in Somalia this week killed at least 15 al-Shabab fighters. Both strikes–one on Wednesday, the other on Thursday–were in the Lower Shabelle region of southern Somalia. As always, Africa Command claims no civilians were hurt in the strikes.


Details of the CAR’s peace deal with 14 rebel factions were made public on Friday:

The agreement says that armed groups will undertake to respect the legitimacy of the country’s institutions, and to renounce the use of arms and violence against the defense and security forces, U.N. personnel and humanitarian workers.

They also agree to refrain from any act of destruction, occupation of public buildings, place of worship and violence against the civilian population, as well as acts of sexual or gender-based violence.

In exchange, armed groups are able to create political parties.

The government, meanwhile, will monitor the agreement and analyze the reintegration of the leaders of armed groups who formerly served as civil servants or military.

The deal also calls for the creation of a victims’ fund and–easing fears that this accord would grant impunity to combatants–the formation of a “truth and reconciliation” commission to assess war crimes cases. The government will also begin training ex-rebel fighters and incorporating them into new mixed military units. It’s far too early to say that the CAR’s long civil war is over. The vast majority of the CAR has been outside government control for years, and it will likely be a long, slow process to reverse that. And more armed factions may still be out there or may emerge. But this is certainly a very positive development.



The Greek parliament on Friday ratified North Macedonia’s bid to join NATO, which Greece had been holding up for several years over the whole “use of the name Macedonia” business. This vote, and Greece’s new support for the country’s application to join the European Union, should put that whole sordid naming business behind us.



Reuters is reporting that the Trump administration has been in contact with members of the Venezuelan military to encourage them to abandon Nicolás Maduro and throw in with his would-be replacement, Juan Guaidó. Which it seems like we’ve known for a while now. The administration seems to expect the defections to start any minute now, but there’s no sense in this Reuters piece of how advanced these contacts are or what, if any, success they’ve been having. Still, the longer this crisis drags on the greater likelihood that some part of the Venezuelan military will be convinced to turn, especially if the US and Europe manage to freeze Maduro’s ability to sell off Venezuelan assets for money to keep buying loyalty.

Apart from the question of what the military is going to do, Venezuela’s future now seems to hinge on whether or not Guaidó will be able to deliver the millions of dollars in humanitarian aid that he’s put together but that is currently stuck at the Colombian border. Maduro is opposed to foreign aid in principle because he argues that it demeans Venezuela (he argues that if the US wants to help the Venezuelan people it should lift its sanctions, and he does have a point there), but he’s also opposed to this shipment in particular because to allow it in would be to legitimize Guaidó. For Guaidó, he’s talked a lot of big talk about bringing this aid to people who desperately need it, and if he can’t close the deal then it’s very likely going to damage his case to the Venezuelan public.

The humanitarian standoff is probably the likeliest vector at the moment for this situation to turn violent. The possibility of a “limited” US military intervention to open up a humanitarian “corridor” into Venezuela cannot be ruled out–that “limited” mission would of course turn into a full-blown invasion/regime change operation in short order. But even if the US stays out of the direct fighting, it can still arrange for some fighting to happen. Which is maybe what this is all about:

Venezuelan authorities say a U.S.-owned air freight company delivered a crate of assault weapons earlier this week to the international airport in Valencia to be used in “terrorist actions” against the embattled government of Nicolás Maduro.

An air freight company, 21 Air LLC, based in Greensboro, N.C., operates the Boeing 767 aircraft that the Venezuelans allege was used in the arms transfer. The flight originated in Miami on Feb 3.

The Boeing 767 has made dozens of flights between Miami International Airport and destinations in Colombia and Venezuela since Jan. 11, a flight tracking service shows, often returning to Miami for only a few hours before flying again to South America.

The Venezuelans say they confiscated 19 weapons, ammunition, and radio equipment delivered by the plane on Tuesday. Assuming they’re telling the truth there’s no proof that this weapons came from the US government, but there’s also plenty of reason to suspect that they did.


Finally, Trita Parsi and Stephen Wertheim warn that in its zeal to oppose everything Donald Trump does, the Democratic Party is adopting some very problematic foreign policy positions:

This month, the president of the United States will meet for a second time with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Either the path toward peace for 75 million Koreans will advance, or it will reverse into recriminations and nuclear threats. In the coming months, too, the president may act on his desire to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from ill-conceived, open-ended missions in Syria and Afghanistan—or he will continue to keep them in harm’s way, with no strategy for victory in sight.

If the president taking these actions were not Trump, many of his domestic detractors would likely welcome progress toward diplomacy and peace. Yet over the past six months, politicians and experts have repeatedly done the opposite: They have urged this most impulsive and unprincipled of presidents to undertake more international conflict, not less. In the few instances in which Trump has sought to de-escalate violence, he has drawn howls from the national security establishment, including Democratic Party leaders. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, dubbed the Syria pullout a “Christmas present to Vladimir Putin.” Now a majority of Senate Democrats have voted to oppose a “precipitous withdrawal” from Syria and Afghanistan.

The gambit to out-hawk Trump is a dangerous one. It may have already influenced the administration to slow its departure from Syria and withhold peace-building measures from North Korea. And it threatens to turn the Democratic Party into a party of war. As progressives seek to develop a new foreign policy, they should reject the party’s drift toward belligerence and rescue diplomacy from Trump and the Democratic establishment alike.

I know the word “turn” in “turn the Democratic Party into a party of war” is doing a lot of work, because the Democratic Party has never been terribly reluctant to support military intervention. But the point about how opposition to Trump has affected the party’s collective thinking on these issues is a fair one.

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