11 Feb

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective




The scene of a suicide bomb attack in Baghdad, Iraq. President Obama has asked Congress for an updated authorization for the use of military force to fight Islamic State. Photograph: AP

Obama seeks sweeping Isis authority amid infighting over open-ended war

President faces mounting opposition from Republicans and Democrats to draft bill that requests three-year authorisation for use of military force against Isis

The White House sought authority on Wednesday to expand its military campaign against the Islamic State, against a backdrop of mounting opposition to US foreign policy not just from the Republican opposition but from inside Barack Obama’s own party.

The draft bill seeking three-year authorisation for the use of military force (AUMF) made its way to sceptical lawmakers in a bid to update – for the first time since the 9/11 attacks – a heavily contested legal authority that the administration claims was approved for its recent strikes in Iraq and Syria.

Text of the letter released by the White House confirms a report in the Guardian on Tuesday that the new AUMF does not include geographic limits in the war against Isis and would allow troops to operate on the ground for limited periods of time almost anywhere in the world……………


Muslim students

Deah Barakat with his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. All three were shot dead. Photograph: Supplied

Three Muslim students dead in North Carolina shooting as suspect arrested

Hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter trends as man, 46, charged with murder after killing at housing complex near University of North Carolina campus

Investigators are still searching for a motive behind an attack in North Carolina that left three Muslim students dead, as speculation mounted that the killings might be linked to their religion.

Craig Stephen Hicks, who turned himself in to police, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the shooting deaths which took place on Tuesday night in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The victims are Deah Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. Barakat was a second-year dental student at the University of North Carolina, where his wife was planning to begin her dental studies in the fall. Her sister was a student at North Carolina State University. Police responded to reports of gunshots at 5.11pm on Tuesday. All three victims were pronounced dead at the scene.

Parents of the victims arrived at the scene desperately pleading for information about the shooting. Police officers were unable to confirm the identities of the victims for several hours.

Police said on Wednesday they believed the crime stemmed from an ongoing dispute over parking. Hicks and the victims were neighbors.

“Our investigators are exploring what could have motivated Mr Hicks to commit such a senseless and tragic act,” said chief Chris Blue of the Chapel Hill police department………………….


Poroshenko: Ukraine conflict risks spiralling out of control

Leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany arrive in Minsk for peace talks against backdrop of intense fighting

Ukraine’s president has warned that the separatist conflict in east Ukraine will spiral out of control if there is no de-escalation and ceasefire.

Petro Poroshenko was speaking as he arrived in Minsk for peace talks with the leaders of Russia, France and Germany that are taking place against a backdrop of intense fighting.

“Either the situation goes down the road of de-escalation, ceasefire … or the situation goes out of control,” he said.

More than 20 people were killed on Wednesday as Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels jockeyed for position.

The summit in the Belarus capital is the climax of a frantic diplomatic push by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, François Hollande, to prevent the crisis from escalating further. Ten months of conflict have already claimed more than 5,400 lives.

For the first time since October, Poroshenko is expected to come face-to-face with Vladimir Putin – whom Kiev and its western allies accuse of masterminding a pro-Russia rebellion…………………..




Jon Stewart’s departure is only shocking to those who weren’t paying attention

The beloved host of The Daily Show has long indicated he was restless with television. Where will this restlessness will take him next?

It was the shocking departure that set off a million moans from a generation of liberals. But if you watched him carefully on Tuesday night and over the past several months, you may have noticed Jon Stewart trying to tell you something: he’s been over the Daily Show for a long time. And don’t blame John Oliver.

The outcry began as soon as a statement from Comedy Central declared that this was suddenly the beginning of the end for a comedian who, for 17 years, has brought Americans into his studio home for the ultimate satirical incarnation of a fireside chat.

Then Stewart had to say it himself – sheepishly, if suggestively.

“I don’t have any specific plans,” Stewart said. “Got a lot of ideas, got a lot of things in my head.” Unfortunately for the audience that tuned into his almost nightly lampoons on politics and his conversations with statesmen, authors and experts, those ideas likely don’t include TV.

“I don’t think I’m going to miss being on television every day,” he said. “I’m going to miss coming here every day.”

With that, Stewart made clear that the grind of writing and producing four shows a week – almost every week, for going on two decades – had worn him down, no matter his affection for his coworkers.

Scryers of the television tea leaves, though, may have seen this coming when Stewart took several months off from the show last year in order to direct a film, Rosewater, while Oliver took over in the interim…………………..


Hundreds of migrants feared dead in Mediterranean this week

Drowning of over 300 migrants this week raises concerns over Europe’s reduced coastguard rescue operations

More than 300 migrants are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean this week, raising further concerns about the logic and morality of Europe’s decision to downsize maritime rescue operations last autumn.

Four rubber dinghies, each carrying up to 100 west African migrants, are believed to have capsized after leaving Libya for Italy several days ago, the UN refugee agency said, based on accounts from survivors. Nine migrants were rescued, and the remainder are missing, feared drowned. A further 29 migrants died from hypothermia after another boat was rescued on Sunday.

If confirmed, the estimated death toll means that more than 400 migrants have died in the Mediterranean since the start of the year, an unusually high number that far surpasses the equivalent figure from 2014. By this time last year, 27 migrants had drowned at sea, according to research by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)……………….


Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama in Beijing in November 2014.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama in Beijing in November 2014. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Obama says Putin must abandon ‘KGB’ mentality to end war in Ukraine

In BuzzFeed interview Obama reflects on Russia’s resurgent ‘Soviet style’, his reversal on gay marriage, the ‘shame’ of Staples and ransom payments

Russian president Vladimir Putin “has a foot very much in the Soviet past”, President Barack Obama said in a pointed interview published on Wednesday, while expressing hope that the Kremlin might still help defuse the crisis in Ukraine.

In a wide-ranging conversation with BuzzFeed that touched on same-sex marriage, corporate power and ransoms for kidnapping, Obama declined to “psychoanalyze Mr Putin” but said his Russian counterpart had “missed some opportunities” economically and diplomatically.

“I think he looks at problems through this Cold War lens,” Obama said, attributing the Kremlin’s “old Soviet-style aggression” and failure to diversify Russia’s economy to Putin’s dated worldview. If Russia struggles economically, Obama said, a reversion to “old expansionist ideas” would have negative consequences for the US.

Obama also said he maintains that a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine is still possible, despite the deadlock to which peace efforts by European nations, pro-Russia rebels and Putin have led.

“I continue to hold out the prospect of Russia taking a diplomatic offering from what they’ve done in Ukraine,” Obama said. “I think, to their credit, they’ve been able to compartmentalize and continue to work with us on issues like Iran’s nuclear program……………



john kerry oops

Remember when John Kerry was anti-war? Neither does he. Photograph: Andreas Gebert/dpa/Corbis

When would an anti-war activist back arms sales? When he’s secretary of state

Is there any way that sending arms to the Ukrainian military doesn’t escalate regional hostilities? Who cares! It makes warmongers ‘feel better’

Secretary of State John Kerry has to be the worst anti-war activist in recorded history. Is there a military action – save one – that he hasn’t supported since he came to national prominence as an anti-war activist in the early 1970s? In the the past decade and a half alone, he’s voted for the war in Iraq, strongly defended drone strikes, was the chief advocate for the bombing of Syria in 2013, and was by far the most hyperbolic cabinet member calling for a years-long, multi-country war against ISIS.

And now Kerry has been privately telling lawmakers that he supports the US entering into a proxy-war against Russia by sending lethal weaponry to the Ukrainian military, even though the Obama administration supposedly does not yet have an official position.

He’s hardly alone. The US conventional wisdom machine in the US government is now hurtling towards sending offensive weapons into another foreign conflict, without the slightest concern for the devastating consequences it might bring.

Defense Secretary nominee Ashton Carter floated the idea that he was “strongly inclined” to arm the Ukraine government with US weapons against Russian-backed rebels in his confirmation hearing last week. Since then, as Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin reported Tuesday, “Vice President Joe Biden this weekend came very close to endorsing military aid for Ukraine when he pledged to continue to support Ukraine’s ‘security’ needs.” Ranking members of both parties on the House Armed Services Committee, Reps Adam Smith and Mac Thornberry, said this week that a bill calling for US weapons in Ukraine is imminent. (Gee, I wonder if US weapons manufacturers give Smith and Thornberry extraordinary amounts of campaign cash? Oh, look at that, they do.)

Of course, no US lawmaker has even attempted to explain why this won’t escalate the situation in Ukraine, rather than solve it. It’s been up to the US’s foreign counterparts to inject semblance of rationality into the conversation. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel remarked last weekend “I cannot envisage any situation in which an improved equipment of the Ukrainian army leads to a situation where President Putin is so impressed that he will lose militarily.”…………………..

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