The World Today for March 23, 2016

March 23, 2016


Terror: Europe’s New Normal

Beating the Islamic State (IS) – at least in the ground war for the so-called caliphate – may not be such a great thing.

Here’s why:

Over the past several years, IS was able to outstrip al-Qaeda in the competition for cash and recruits by declaring its quest to re-establish medieval-style Islamic rule across the Middle East and taking vast swaths of territory to back it up. But now that it’s actually losing that territory, at a clip of 22 percent over the past 14 months, the only tool it has to stay ahead of al-Qaeda is terrorism.

The job market for would-be recruits is booming.

At the same time, those territorial losses made spectacular terror attacks, which are the key to attracting donations from wealthy supporters in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, even more vital. The loss of oil wells and Syria’s border with Turkey – which IS had used to smuggle out crude – cost the terror group some 40 percent of its revenue, according to risk analysis firm IHS.

That means attacks like Tuesday’s bombings in Brussels – which killed 34 people and injured 250, according to the latest official estimates — may well be the new normal for Europe.

Consider this: Since its territorial losses accelerated in 2015, IS has perpetrated five major terrorist strikes abroad, hitting civilians in Brussels, Ankara, Beirut, and Paris and blowing up a Russian airliner in mid-air.

Today’s post mortems focus on Europe’s vulnerability as an explanation: open borders, a flood of refugees, poor cooperation among intelligence agencies and a frustrated and isolated Muslim underclass in neighborhoods like Brussels’ Molenbeek – where Paris attacks mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud lived and fellow perpetrator Salah Abdeslam was able to hide out for months before his capture March 18.

“We were fearing terrorist attacks, and that has now happened,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said at a press conference following Tuesday’s bombing.

Fearing, but not preventing.

After all, the authorities had been combing Molenbeek for Abdeslam for weeks before Tuesday’s attacks, as Abaaoud had boasted there were as many as 90 sleepers in the neighborhood, yet they failed to ferret out Tuesday’s bombers. Even now, a massive manhunt is still underway for a third man involved in the plot, along with two men who blew themselves up.

That assessment poses a threat to the Europe’s open borders and the recent deal to accept Syrian refugees while sending other migrants back to Turkey. France — which had insisted Turkey meets 72 long-standing criteria before allowing its citizens visa-free travel to the EU as part of the refugee deal — immediately ordered 1,600 extra police officers to patrol the nation’s borders, including at train stations, airports and ports following the Brussels attack, for instance.

But there’s another possible interpretation. Maybe it’s due to US President Barack Obama’s gradual withdrawal from the Middle East. Or maybe it’s the proximity of the battleground to Europe. Or maybe it’s the large number of Europeans – 5,000 out of around 28,000 foreign fighters, compared with 280 from North America – who have joined the fight. But it just might be possible that IS has branded this struggle as a European conflict – in contrast with al-Qaeda’s fight against America.

Maybe that’s why there is no known threat of a Brussels-style attack inside the US, according to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. 

If true, that could tempt Washington to fight the war on terror, like the war against fascism, primarily on foreign shores – or heighten pressure for the US to jump into Syria with both feet. But at this stage, we may be simply waiting for the other shoe to drop.


From Russia, With Lavrov

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Wednesday to hash out two key questions for the fight against IS.

Will the US act against the rebels who aim to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to enforce the current tenuous ceasefire? And will Washington concede that Assad remaining president might be an acceptable endgame, if it results in an end to the conflict and a killing blow for IS?

With peace talks underway in Geneva between the Syrian government and opposition leaders, the United Nation’s special envoy to Syria said he hopes Kerry’s visit can break a deadlock over Assad’s future. But the degree of difficulty is high, as the visit comes on the heels of Moscow warning that it might take the initiative to strike the US-backed rebels unilaterally if Washington fails to act. Kerry will also push Moscow to get pro-Russian separatists to comply with a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.

Cuba: We Love You, Now Change

“We love you, now change.”

That was the gist of Obama’s farewell speech to Cubans on Tuesday, in which he tied the promise of an unlikely lifting of a trade embargo dating back to 1962 to a relaxation of Cuba’s curbs on the internet and freedom of expression.

It wasn’t as tough as Ronald Reagan’s 1987 “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech in Berlin. But it was intended to have the same effect.

“I believe my visit here demonstrates that you do not need to fear a threat from the United States,” Obama said. “I’m also confident that you need not fear the different voices of the Cuban people and their capacity to speak and assemble and vote for their leaders.”

On Wednesday, Obama is in Argentina for another historic visit, hoping to put to bed resentment over America’s backing of the “dirty war” military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983.

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Firebombs

In the South China Sea, it’s David and Goliath meets Goliath and Goliath.

Filipino fishermen threw firebombs at Chinese ships exerting China’s rights to Scarborough Shoal, an area of the disputed territory that China seized after a three-month standoff with the Philippines coast guard in 2012, China’s foreign ministry said Tuesday.

The incident comes in the wake of a deal inked Monday to bring the US troops back to the Philippines – at five military bases. China blasted the move, which a local Philippines paper said would make the Southeast Asian nation “a major staging base for projecting US naval and air power in the face of China’s maritime expansion in the South China Sea.”

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all dispute China’s claims to various islands in the area, and the US opposes any effort to interfere with the free movement of ships.


No Jogging in Burundi

You think you have a good excuse for not exercising. Try living in Burundi – where if you want to go for a jog with a few buddies you need to register with the government and choose one of only nine approved tracks.

Sound crazy? President Pierre Nkurunziza banned jogging in 2014 because local running clubs double as political groups.

During Nkurunziza’s controversial bid for a third term last year, jogging became an integral part of protests that continued for weeks, eventually culminating in a failed coup attempt that touched off months of violence that claimed nearly 250 lives.

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— Compiled and written by Jason Overdorf


Wed, 03/23/2016 – 05:00

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