Foreign Policy Faux Pas
December 2, 2020
The Good News
- Giving the gift on language: A D.C. lawyer learned English as a child from a teacher who tutored her each day. She found her to say thank you. (WaPo, $)
- Dishing it out: Celebrity Chef David Chang won $1 million. He’s giving it all to restaurant workers (CNN)
“Today the real test of power is not capacity to make war but capacity to prevent it.” ― Anne O’Hare McCormick
“A wise man does not try to hurry history. Many wars have been avoided by patience, and many have been precipitated by reckless haste.” ― Adlai Stevenson
Biden Inherits Foreign Policy Faux Pas
(Chandan Khanna via Getty Images)
Incoming president Joe Biden is preparing for an administration that will be tasked with solving intractable issues like the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, rebuilding alliances, and America’s relationship with China. And while vaccines are imminent, markets are up, and there might even be a last-minute congressional relief package — all good — there are looming problems with Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Afghanistan that could derail Biden’s foreign policy agenda early on.
Iran is livid over the assassination of its top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was buried Monday. Leaders blame Israel for the killing, and have pledged to retaliate “at the proper time.” The Trump administration may not have had direct involvement, but its favoritism toward Israel and hostility toward Iran can’t be overstated. The 2015 nuclear deal had imposed tight restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018 and reimposed financial penalties and economic hardships on the country.
Since then, Iran has stockpiled 12 times the amount of low-enriched uranium as the deal allowed, and two prominent Iranian officials have been assassinated, one by the US. Should Tehran retaliate by escalating attacks on US personnel in Iraq, or by attempting to assassinate US or Israeli officials, it could seriously complicate a Biden effort to find a diplomatic solution.
Within the first few months of Barack Obama’s presidency, North Korea tested a long-range missile and a nuclear device. Within the first year of the Trump presidency, Pyongyang test-launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and its most powerful nuclear bomb to date. Experts warn that Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un may try similar provocative moves at the start of the Biden administration. Many predict that in early 2021, Kim will likely test one of the new ICBMs he displayed during an October parade, in part to see how it goes, and in part to send Biden a message that North Korea is a nuclear power that can’t be stopped. Figuring out the best response could take a lot of valuable time and energy at the beginning of Biden’s term.
Then there’s the only remaining nuclear arms control deal between the US and Russia, which is set to expire shortly after Biden takes office. New START, the 2011 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, limits the size of the two countries’ nuclear arsenal, which together account for 93 percent of all nuclear warheads on the planet. Biden wants to extend the pact its full five years, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated he’d only agree to a one-year extension. The short timeline could give Putin an advantage to perhaps demand some concessions from the new administration before agreeing to an extension.
As for Afghanistan, Trump is rushing to decrease the remaining US troop size to just 2,500 by January 15, 2021 — five days before Biden is sworn in. Experts say the quick withdrawal and fewer troops left could further damage the already wobbly peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Recently, Taliban fighters have increased their attacks on Afghan security forces and civilians across the country. “It’s hard to imagine a less responsible way to withdraw,” said a former Army infantry officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Pulling US troops out of the country as those negotiations proceed could hurt Kabul’s negotiation position and encourage even more Taliban attacks,” he emphasized. “Giving away any leverage you have as you leave is a pretty stupid way to go about it.” Dealing with the fallout from that Trump decision could be a real time suck for the new administration.
If You’re A-List, Do You Have To Enlist?
(Big Hit Entertainment via Getty Images)
- South Korea’s National Assembly has given the oldest member of the global phenomenon — K-pop group BTS — an early birthday gift. Kim Seok-jin, who turns 28 on Friday, would have had to join the military for almost two years under the country’s conscription system. But on Tuesday lawmakers revised the law to allow top K-pop stars like Kim, who goes by his stage name Jin, to postpone their service until age 30.
- The announcement of the nicknamed BTS law immediately electrified fans of male K-pop stars, particularly BTS fans who call themselves the Army. Under the new revision, K-pop entertainers who’ve received government medals for helping spread or elevate the country’s cultural influence around the world can apply for deferment of their military service. All seven members of BTS meet that requirement, as the group was awarded the medal in 2018.
- More than 200,000 young men have to interrupt their studies or careers each year to join the military, which South Korea considers critical to the country’s defense against the North. Few exceptions are allowed. But last September lawmakers introduced a bill for revising the Military Service Act, after BTS became the only South Korean group to top the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart with their song ‘Dynamite.” (NYT)
Szájer’s Secret Sex Party
- Belgium is in the middle of a second COVID-19 lockdown, with restaurants and bars closed, a curfew in place, and gatherings of more than four people in public spaces banned. Regardless, not only did several diplomats and at least one member of the European Parliament (MEP) defy those restrictions, they thought it was a good idea to throw a Friday night sex orgy involving 25 people, above a bar in the center of Brussels, quite close to the main police station.
- József Szájer was an MEP who got caught trying to escape police by crawling out a window. Drugs were found at the scene, but Szájer denied taking any. After claiming diplomatic immunity, he was escorted home. Szájer is a longtime representative of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, a party that since coming to power has waged an assault on LGBTQ rights in Hungary in what they term is a defense of “Christian values.”
- In 2020 alone, Orbán’s government ended gender recognition for transgender people, and legislated to ensure that only heterosexual married couples can adopt children. At least being caught attending what Szájer euphemistically termed a “house” party” was enough of an embarrassment that he unexpectedly quit as a member of MEP on Sunday. (Vice)
Additional World News
- Rosy Vaccine Outlook Brightens World Economic Forecast, But Recovery May Be Uneven (NPR)
- A real-life money heist in Brazil: Armed gang mount fierce assault on city of Criciúma (BBC)
- Peru Needs More Than a New President—It Needs a New Constitution (Foreign Policy)
- Arecibo Observatory Telescope Collapses, Ending An Era Of World-Class Research (NPR)
- China to collect first moon rocks since 1970s after successful probe landing (Guardian)
- Singapore Becomes First Country to Approve Sales of Lab-Created Meat (Bloomberg)
- Up in arms: Trump’s huge UAE arms deal and the fight over it, explained (Vox)
- Iran’s parliament approves bill to stop nuclear inspections (AP)
- In Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Deal, Putin Applied a Deft New Touch (NYT, $)
- Putin wants to reverse Russia’s population decline. The coal city of Kemerovo show the huge challenges. (WaPo, $). Putin has a population problem.
- Germany bans far-right, pro-Nazi group; Police raid homes (AP)
- Harsh truths from Trudeau: Canada PM Trudeau indicates U.S. border restrictions to last a long time (Reuters)
- First Covid vaccines to be offered to health workers, nursing homes, CDC panel says (NBC)
- COVID-19: How Bad Could December Get? (Atlantic, $)
- Mysteries of COVID Smell Loss Finally Yield Some Answers (Scientific American)
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Bipartisan Stimulus Get Mitch Slapped
- As COVID-19 continues surging around the country, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has rejected a new bipartisan $908 billion stimulus package put forward Tuesday in an effort to break the legislative stalemate that has gone on for months. The proposed plan aimed to address the expiration of key economic aid programs, including an unemployment insurance extension.
- The Kentucky Republican, who supports a more “targeted relief bill” of about $500 billion in new aid spending, said he’d spoken to White House officials about what President Trump would sign into law. McConnell says he will now offer potential solutions to GOP senators and get their feedback. It’s unclear if lawmakers can craft a plan that will get through both houses of Congress before the end of the year when many programs expire.
- House leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate leader McConnell haven’t budged from their respective $2.2 trillion and $500 billion aid bills. But many rank and file lawmakers from both parties consider it absolutely essential to pass more aid, even as party leaders remain at an impasse. Congress must approve funding legislation by December 11 to avoid another government shutdown, and McConnell has said a must-pass spending bill and pandemic relief provisions will “likely come in one package.” (CNBC)
At Last, Atlas Is Out
- The controversial neuroradiologist with no experience in infectious diseases — who President Trump brought on as his coronavirus guru — has left the building. Dr. Scott Atlas resigned as the president’s special pandemic adviser after a head-spinning four month tenure in which he attacked science-based public health measures and downplayed the threat of COVID-19.
- Atlas hails from Stanford’s right-wing Hoover Institution, where he works on healthcare policy. He has no expertise or experience in infectious diseases or epidemiology, yet continually resisted stronger efforts by top government scientists to contain the pandemic. Atlas attacked public health measures such as masks, stay-at-home orders, and social distancing. He called on residents of Michigan to “rise up” against restrictions put in place by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who had been the target of a kidnapping plot. He also promoted the idea that the US should aim to achieve “herd immunity,” a so-called strategy that would probably result in millions of deaths.
- His views were repeatedly rebuked by public health and infectious disease experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, as well as Stanford University and the Stanford faculty senate. Stanford even issued a statement distancing itself from the faculty member, saying Atlas “has expressed views that are inconsistent with the university’s approach in response to the pandemic.” Dr. Celine Grounder, a member of Biden’s advisory panel on the crisis, was relieved Atlas was resigning. “You wouldn’t go to a podiatrist for a heart attack and that was essentially what was happening,” she said. (Guardian)
Additional USA News
- Barr none: Disputing Trump, Barr says no widespread election fraud (AP)
- Georgia Republican warns Trump is inciting violence over election: ‘Someone will get hurt’ (Guardian)
- Trump Raises $170 Million as He Denies His Loss and Eyes the Future (NYT, $). As his power grab fails, a cash grab succeeds.
- Justice Department investigating potential presidential pardon bribery scheme, court records reveal (CNN)
- Does Rudy Giuliani Want a Pardon From Trump? (Atlantic, $)
- Progressives aren’t in tandem with Tanden: Bernieworld seethes over Tanden as OMB nominee (Politico)
- Why Joe Biden lost North Carolina, according to activists (Vox)
- What to Know About the Supreme Court Census Case (NYT, $)
- CDC advisers to vote Tuesday on who will be first in line for a vaccine (WaPo, $). I’m not throwing away my shot!
- Judge throws out Trump rules limiting skilled-worker visas (AP)
- Militia Member Says He Deliberately Sabotaged an Attempted Abortion Clinic Bombing (Vice)
Need A New Species? We NOAA Guy.
- A 2015 expedition led by scientists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) discovered a never-before-seen small gelatinous blob almost 13,000 feet below the water’s surface in a submerged canyon northwest of Puerto Rico. Their discovery has only now been described in a research paper.
- The find was made possible by using high-definition underwater cameras, a first for scientists. A remotely controlled robotic vehicle called Deep Discoverer took the high-def images that enabled the team to make a full analysis of the blobs. “It was a beautiful and unique organism,” said a NOAA Fisheries scientist. “We collected high-definition video and described what we saw. We went through the historical knowledge of ctenophores and it seemed clear this was a new species and genus as well. We then worked to place it in the tree of life properly.”
- The new species of ctenophore, or comb jelly, is officially known as Duobrachium sparksae. No physical specimens of the animal have been collected. Recently it was reported that fossils found in New Zealand have led to the discovery of a previously unidentified species of extinct monk seal, which biologists say is the biggest breakthrough in seal evolution in 70 years and radically changes scientists’ understanding of how seal species have evolved around the world.
- The animal — named Eomonachus belegaerensis after a sea in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings — lived in the waters around New Zealand some three million years ago. It was 2.5 meters (8 feet 2 inches) in length and weighted 200-250 kg (441-551 pounds). (Guardian)
- The aliens are everywhere! Another Mysterious Monolith Suddenly Appears — This Time In Romania (NPR)
- The ancient Roman banquet celebrated shock, awe and carpe diem (CNN)
- No game days. No bars. The pandemic is forcing some men to realize they need deeper friendships. (WaPo, $)
- Not sure if this is the type of “poke” Facebook meant: Leaked Documents Show Facebook’s Absurd ‘Breast Squeezing Policy’ (Vice)
- The benefits of coronavirus dreams, explained by 3 theories (Inverse)
- Meet GPT-3. It Has Learned to Code (and Blog and Argue). (NYT, $)
- What if You Could Outsource Your To-Do List? (New Yorker, $)
- Beautiful Yet Unnerving Photos of the Arctic Getting Greener (Wired). The return of the tundra.
- Bluer blues and blacker blacks? How science is enhancing colors (NatGeo)