Believe it or not, there's been other news.
- By Joshua E. KeatingJoshua E. Keating is an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
For the last two weeks, the U.S. news media has been all election, all the time, as Republicans and Democrats met to formally nominate their presidential contenders. But while every camera lens in North America seemed to be focused on people in funny hats dancing awkwardly in Tampa and Charlotte, some pretty major developments were taking place around the world. Here’s a look at some of the events you may have missed.
Syria spirals out of control
The carnage in Syria has gone on unabated, with Syrian warplanes continuing to bombard the city of Aleppo and bombings targeting security forces in Damascus. A mass grave containing 45 bodies was discovered outside the capital on Friday. The United Nations reported that more than 100,000 Syrians fled the country in August, the highest of any month since the fighting began, bringing the total number of external refugees to 235,300. Turkey has called for international assistance to handle the inflow of refugees and is reportedly considering military plans to establish a “buffer zone” in northern Syria. The French government has suggested it would recognize an opposition Syrian government if one were to emerge and is reportedly funneling aid to revolutionary councils in rebel-held areas of the country.
Clinton’s bad trip to China
While former President Bill Clinton was having an impressive return to form at the convention in Charlotte, Hillary Clinton was having a more frustrating week. The secretary of state traveled to China this week hoping for productive discussions on both Beijing’s reluctance to support international action against Syria and increasing tensions with its neighbors over disputed islands in the South and East China seas. Clinton arrived in China to personal attacks in the country’s state-run media, including a Global Times editorial titled “Many people in China dislike Hillary Clinton.” A planned meeting with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over as the country’s top leader later this year, was canceled for “unexpected scheduling reasons” — supposedly for a back injury. Clinton also got an earful during a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who told the secretary, “”Generally speaking, our relationship has been moving forward, but recently I am more or less worried… The U.S. should respect China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity, respect China’s national core interests and the people’s feelings.” This weekend, Clinton heads to Vladivostok, Russia for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting.
Is Europe finally getting its act together?
The European Central Bank took its boldest step yet to contain Europe’s debt crisis when it unveiled a plan to buy the bonds of financially struggling eurozone economies. Many analysts saw the move as a sign of the bank’s commitment to preserving the eurozone and preventing Greece’s financial contagion from spreading to too-big-to-bail economies like Italy and Spain. The euro rose to a two-month high against the dollar on the news, and stock markets around the world surged. “Let me repeat … the euro is irreversible,” Bank President Mario Draghi declared. “There is no going back to the lira or the drachma or to any other currency. It is pointless to bet against the euro.” We’ll soon see if he’s right.
Iran dials up the tension
The International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Aug. 30 that Iran had doubled its production capacity at its underground Fordo nuclear facility and had “significantly hampered” the agency’s ability to inspect another site. Iran claims the uranium at Fordo is enriched up to 20 percent for purely civilian purposes, but U.N. inspectors say they detected uranium enriched up to 27 percent at the site, which would put Iran close to making weapons-grade uranium. Iran hosted a week-long summit of the Non-Aligned Movement beginning on Aug. 26 and took the opportunity to attack criticize the United States and Israel, including displaying the wrecks of vehicles it says were bombed to assassinate Iranian scientists. On Sept. 5, Iran hosted representatives from Hezbollah, Amal, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad for the third International Conference and Festival of Islamic Resistance in Isfahan.
Colombia talks peace
On Aug. 28, the Colombian government confirmed it was holding peace talks with the left-wing FARC rebels, who have been fighting against the government since 1964.The FARC has been severely weakened in recent years, but around 8,000 guerrillas are reportedly still fighting. The first round of talks will be held in Oslo on Oct. 5 and will continue in Havana. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has come under criticism from his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, for agreeing to the talks. A previous effort at peace talks in 1999 ended in failure after the government had granted the group a safe-haven area the size of Switzerland, from which it still operates. This time, Santos has rejected the FARC’s call for a ceasefire while the talks are taking place.
Kenya’s days of rage
Kenya has been rocked by violence on several fronts over the past two weeks. Riots broke out in the city of Mombasa over the killing of a radical cleric, Aboud Rogo Mohammed, who had links to Somalia’s al-Shabab militant group. Four people, including a policeman, were killed in the unrest, which included a grenade attack on police. Another cleric, Abubaker Ahmed, was arrested for inciting the riots. Both men were accused by the United States of recruiting Kenyan youths to fight for al-Shabab. The disturbance comes as the Kenyan military launched a major military offensive into Somalia to rout al-Shabab from its stronghold in the port city of Kismayo. In unrelated violence, a land dispute in Kenya’s coastal region has claimed the lives of more than 60 people in a series of raids on villages.
Libya cleans house
Muammar al-Qaddafi’s former spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi was deported to Libya this week from Mauritania, where he had been held in custody since fleeing there in March. Libya has promised a fair trial for Senussi, who stands accused of numerous crimes under the Qaddafi regime. The deportation is seen as a blow to the International Criminal Court, which has been pushing to try Senussi along with the late leader’s son Saif al-Qaddafi. On Aug. 29, Libya’s newly elected National Assembly suspended three members for alleged ties to Qaddafi’s regime. The country’s interior minister also said he would not risk starting an armed confrontation with the Salafist militant groups who have bulldozed shrines sacred to Sufi Muslims in recent days.
U.S. closes the book on Bush-era torture
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Aug. 30 that no one would be prosecuted for the deaths of a prisoner in U.S. custody in Afghanistan in 2002 and one in 2003. The Justice Department had already ruled out prosecutions related to the use of waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques, and this week’s announcement was the final confirmation that there would be no effort to pursue legal action related to the “enhanced interrogations” carried out by the CIA under the Bush administration. Holder emphasized that the decision not to prosecute “was not intended to, and does not resolve, broader questions regarding the propriety of the examined conduct.” Several days later, Human Rights Watch released a new report on detainees reportedly handed over to Qaddafi’s regime for interrogation as part of the CIA’s rendition program. The report contained a previously unknown instance of waterboarding.
Canada heats up
One person was injured and another killed on Sept. 5 as a gunman opened fire at a victory celebration for the Parti Quebecois, which has just won regional elections in the province. Analysts say the separatist party has little chance of winning a referendum on independence for Quebec, but will push to devolve more power from the federal level and push to more strictly mandate the use of French — including a controversial proposal to force immigrants to take a French test in order to run for office. Canada also closed its embassy in Iran this week and expelled the remaining Iranian diplomats on Canadian soil, citing Tehran’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its lack of cooperation with nuclear inspections.
Blacklists and black eyes in Pakistan
The Obama administration decided this week to blacklist the Pakistan-based Haqqani network as a terrorist organization. The group is implicated in many of the deadliest attacks against U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the blacklisting will allow U.S. authorities to target the group’s sources of funding. But the move was opposed by some within the administration who worried it would further damage relations with Pakistan and undercut efforts to negotiate with the Taliban. Also this week, a Pakistani Christian girl who was held in custody for more than three weeks after being accused of desecrating a Quran was released on bail. The prosecution of the 14-year-old, who supporters say has Down’s Syndrome, has attracted international scrutiny to Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).
He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements.| Marc Lynch |