Meddling With the Military and Diplomacy
December 2, 2019
“When the gap between ideal and real becomes too wide, the system breaks down.”
“Diplomacy’s primary law: LEAVE ROOM FOR NEGOTIATION.”
– Barbara W. Tuchman
Taliban Talks Episode 2: The Phantom Meeting
Over Thanksgiving President Trump made an unannounced visit to the troops in Afghanistan. During this trip the president declared the US was once again meeting with the Taliban to discuss a deal, but that “we’re saying it has to be a cease fire.”
Trump’s remarks were particularly confusing for two reasons: (1) in September he had abruptly axed nearly a year’s worth of delicate peace negotiations, and (2) his negotiators had long concluded demands for a cease fire weren’t doable. Western diplomats were jolted and left struggling to understand how they could require a significant new concession from the Taliban that Americans have little leverage to extract.
In the previous talks both sides were essentially on the same page. The Taliban wanted the US out of Afghanistan, and the president wanted to end what he has labeled America’s unending wars. But as negotiators are wont to say, the devil is in the details. When Trump pulled the plug last September the two sides were on the verge of finalizing an agreement that for the time being would have gotten the Taliban to reduce the violence, but left discussions on a comprehensive cease-fire for future talks once the US had pledged, and begun, to withdraw its troops.
Trump’s comments suggested the Taliban’s position had changed: “They didn’t want to do a cease-fire, but now they do want to do a cease-fire ….” This apparently surprised Taliban negotiators, who said on Friday their original position hadn’t changed. But Afghan president Ashraf Ghani welcomed the remarks, as his government had been excluded from the talks, and he is currently stuck in a bitter re-election battle.
- Trump’s military meddling fuels growing tension with leadership (Guardian)
- The War-Crimes President: When violence is directed at those Trump’s supporters hate and fear, they see such excesses not as crimes but as virtues. (Atlantic, $)
- Timothy Weeks recalls Taliban hostage ordeal – ‘I never gave up hope’ (BBC)
- A Leak-Prone White House Finally Manages to Keep a Secret: President Trump’s aides were delighted that news of his Thanksgiving Day visit to Afghanistan stayed under wraps. (NYT, $)
A Bridge Over Troubled Reforms
- After Friday’s terrorist attack on London Bridge that claimed the lives of three people, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said terrorists convicted of the most serious offences should never be released from prison. He promised that if reelected, he would see enacted a package of hardline reforms, including mandatory minimum 14-year sentences, an end to automatic early release for terrorist and extremism offences, and a new system under which all those convicted will have to serve every day of sentences handed down by judges.
- Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn and London mayor Sadiq Khan quickly criticized the Tory government’s record of imposing draconian austerity cuts to prison services, while attempting a botched probation privatization and failing to run an effective sentencing system. (Guardian)
- Boris Johnson ignores family’s plea not to exploit victims’ deaths (Guardian)
- Trump off to London for NATO summit, under pressure to steer clear of British election (Reuters)
The Endless Trail Of Trials
- After Turkish forces invaded northern Syria in October, interrupting what had been Kurdish oversight of some 5,000 imprisoned foreign Islamic State fighters, the US and its European allies are at odds over how and where to prosecute about 2,000 of the detainees.
- Washington wants European nations to repatriate and put on trial foreign fighters who left their countries to join the Islamic State. But France and other European nations want foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria to be put on trial in Iraq, under an arrangement in which the UN would oversee the evidence, capital punishment would be ruled out, and the international community would help defray the costs.
- As for Iraq, a senior official said: “Our position is that we’ll take all Iraqi nationals …. On the foreign fighters, we would like to see their countries of origin take them.” Currently more than 10,000 Islamic State fighters are being held in detention centers in northeast Syria, of which about 8,000 are Iraqi and Syrian, and the remainder from more than 60 countries. (WSJ)
- Iraqi Parliament Accepts PM Adel Abdul-Mahdi Resignation, But Protesters Demand More (NPR)
Additional World News
- China makes it a criminal offense to publish deepfakes or fake news without disclosure (Verge)
- Facebook issues corrective label on user’s post under new Singapore fake news law (Reuters)
- In “60 Minutes” appearance, YouTube’s CEO offers a master class in moral equivalency (TechCrunch)
- Borneo is burning: How the world’s demand for palm oil is driving deforestation in Indonesia (CNN) & Leonardo DiCaprio responds after Brazil’s President blames actor for Amazon forest fires (CNN)
- Blocked roads then bullets: Iran’s brutal crackdown in its City of Roses (Guardian)
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Interested In Interest
- Rebecca E. Zietlow is a lawyer, legal historian, and professor of constitutional law. Her work is committed to racial equality and workers’ rights, and to the constitutional advocacy of activists promoting those rights. She specializes in the Reconstruction Era, the post-Civil War period in which the constitution was transformed to abolish slavery and protect individual rights.
- Zietlow says the Reconstruction Congress, in passing the Thirteenth Amendment and other relevant laws, saw the labor part of freedom as “not just the right to participate in the market, but the right to participate in a way that frees you from undue coercion.”
- Writing in The William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Lea VanderVelde asks: “What is the difference between owning a man and owning his services,” if his services —his labor—are all he has? How different is it, truly, to hold and force a woman to work until she pays off her debt, from garnishing the wages of a woman who cannot keep up with a loan at 300 percent interest?”
- Bottom line: the Thirteenth Amendment must prohibit high-interest loans as surely as it prohibits forced labor. (Atlantic)
Additional USA News
- Legal storm clouds gather over Rudy Giuliani, America’s tarnished mayor (Guardian)
- Prime Mover: How Amazon Wove Itself Into the Life of an American City (NYT, $)
- Residents flee fourth major Texas petrochemical fire this year (Reuters)
- H.I.V. Is Coming to Rural America: And rural America is not ready. (NYT, $)
- White House Says President Trump Won’t Participate In Wednesday Impeachment Hearing (NPR)
- Sharon Levy is the director of the adolescent substance use and addiction program at US News and World Report’s #1 ranked pediatric hospital in the country: Boston Children’s Hospital. Over the past year Levy and her team have dealt with 181 cases of teenagers with what’s medically termed “nicotine use disorder.” Levy makes it clear, however, that almost all have gotten “nic-sick” from vaping, and the number is rising.
- “Kids vomiting or experiencing headaches is common,” she says. “I’ve had patients who get dizzy or lose their orientation … kids tell me they’re disassociating while vaping, and they suddenly can’t remember where they are … cases of seizures have even been reported… you don’t see this in cigarette smokers.”
- Many adolescents are already having respiratory symptoms such as chronic cough or shortness of breath. 2,290 incidences of vaping-related lung injury across the US, including 47 deaths, have recently been reported, but Levy believes these acute cases are merely the tip of the iceberg. Her research suggests that far more teenagers may have unknowingly already incurred the beginnings of lung illness through vaping. (Guardian)
- Why humans are cruel: A psychologist explains why humans are so terrible to each other. (Vox)
- Air travel is a huge contributor to climate change. A new global movement wants you to be ashamed to fly. (Vox)
- Black Friday shoppers stay away from stores, make $7 billion-plus splurge online (Reuters)
- How we could sleep better – in less time (BBC)
- ‘Laziness has won’: apostrophe society admits its defeat (Guardian)
- Chew On This: Farmers Are Using Food Waste To Make Electricity (NPR)
“An event of great agony is bearable only in the belief that it will bring about a better world. When it does not, as in the aftermath of another vast calamity in 1914-18, disillusion is deep and moves on to self-doubt and self-disgust.” – Barbara W. Tuchman,
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