The World Today for June 08, 2018

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The Indispensable Nation

Is Russia the indispensable nation in the Middle East?

Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Sean McFate thinks so.

Pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and other steps by the administration of US President Donald Trump have undercut America’s diplomatic influence in the region, McFate argued recently in a CNBC op-ed.

“Until the US gets serious about the Russian threat, we will cede much of the Middle East to Moscow in a self-inflicted catastrophe of American foreign policy,” he wrote.

Russia and Iran teamed up to help Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad largely defeat the rebels who sought to overturn his regime. Now, however, it seems as if Russia is pivoting to prevent Iran from wielding too much influence in the country.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently said that only Syrian forces should be allowed on the Israeli border, according to i24 News, an Israeli broadcaster. That was a pointed rejection of Iran’s plan to move its militias and other forces within rocket range of Israel as tensions between the two countries heat up over Iran’s influence in the region and Israel’s assertion that the mullahs are working on a nuclear bomb.

Iran responded by saying that Syrian officials, not Lavrov, should determine which foreign powers can remain the country, Newsweek wrote. They noted that the US and Turkey weren’t leaving the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin fears that repeated Israeli airstrikes on Syrian and Iranian positions could destabilize Syria further, eroding the gains that Al-Assad has made in recent years in his country’s civil war, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

When Putin is concerned, he doesn’t mess around.

As Business Insider explained, Israeli airstrikes on Syrian air defenses last month, a move designed to beat down Iranian-backed militias who have said they would remain in the war-torn country to help Al-Assad, came immediately after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met the Russian president in Moscow.

Don’t think that Russian and Iranian leaders are at odds. Middle East analytical news site Al-Monitor said they are drawing closer to each other as Putin reaches out to Iran to help the latter country’s economy as the US seeks to reimpose sanctions in the wake of the scuttled nuke deal.

European leaders are similarly talking to Putin to salvage the deal, wrote the Atlantic.

Lastly, perhaps most surprisingly, China is also stepping into the fray, Reuters reported.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is slated to visit China this month, though the exact dates have yet to be announced. Russian and Chinese companies are already pushing into Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported, as European firms reluctantly leave out of fear of alienating American officials.

The Middle East is so mixed up, the balance of power can shift at any time. Right now, however, the man in Moscow appears to hold many, if not all, of the cards.



Betting Big

The International Monetary Fund struck a deal with ailing Argentina to the tune of $50 billion in credit in an attempt to save the country’s dwindling currency and balance its crippling debt.

The IMF’s move comes only four weeks after Argentina indicated it would be unable to pay its global debt, much of which is pegged to the US dollar, as its currency continues to inflate. This year alone, the peso is down over 25 percent compared to the dollar, the Wall Street Journal reported.

With the new injection of cash, Argentina will be able to hasten the rate at which it pays back its debt, a result of high domestic expenditures that outpace revenues, and greater net imports than exports.

The deal is a big bet for embattled President Mauricio Macri, who is trying desperately to pull his country back from the brink amid a flurry of simultaneous crises.

But even high inflation, a drought that’s decreased crop yield by one-third this year, and a politically and economically sick Brazil, Argentina’s largest trading partner, haven’t bottomed out Macri’s poll numbers ahead of next years elections, the Financial Times reported.


A New Era

The government of Spain’s new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was sworn in Thursday, a cabinet comprised mostly of women and also including an openly gay magistrate, a significant departure from traditional political mores in a country plagued by corruption scandals, the BBC reported.

Presenting his cabinet to Spain’s King Felipe VI, the new prime minister said his new team “shared the same vision of a progressive society that was both modernizing and pro-European.”

Sanchez emerged the winner from a vote of no-confidence against former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy over the weekend due to a corruption scandal involving his Popular Party.

A motley crew of far left and nationalist parties helped Sanchez become prime minister even as his Socialist Party holds only about 25 percent of seats in parliament. Many wonder how long he’ll be able to keep the coalition together and if new elections are on the horizon, wrote the New York Times.

With 11 of the nation’s 17 ministries now run by women, including the powerful economy and finance ministries, Spain joins only three other countries where at least 50 percent of ministers are women: France, Sweden and Canada.


About Face

President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi announced Thursday he would not seek another term in office when his current mandate ends in 2020 – despite the fact that he just pushed through a new constitution allowing him to hold his post until 2034.

“I swear and am really ready, with all my heart, with all my mind and with all my strength, to support the new president we will elect in 2020,” he told supporters Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

It’s a startling about face, considering that Nkurunziza’s decision in 2015 to circumvent constitutional term limits and run for office a third time sparked widespread violence that killed more than 1,200 in this East African nation.

Despite the turmoil, more than 73 percent of Burundians approved the president’s constitutional amendments that extended terms from five years to seven, allowing the 54 year old, in power since 2005, the chance to serve another two terms.

Given the trend on the African continent of longtime leaders looking to secure power through constitutional means, Burundi’s opposition parties were wary of the president’s promises, the AP wrote.


Out of the Ashes

It’s a terrible twist of fate to survive a cataclysmic natural disaster only to be killed by a piece of debris.

But that’s exactly what happened to one man during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii in AD 79, CNN reported, showing the detail with which new scientific methods can provide new perspectives on some of history’s most well-known events.

In a recent investigation of previously excavated sites in Pompeii using state-of-the-art tools – including 3D models and drones – researchers uncovered a new victim of the explosion.

But unlike most residents who perished in fire and ash, the man, estimated to be in his 30s, survived death by encroaching lava – only to be crushed by a piece of boulder knocked loose from a doorjamb.

But aside from the cartoon-like pictures of the find, the man’s discovery shows the strides archaeology has taken in recent years thanks to new technological developments.

Now, researchers are able to re-create the situation in which the poor soul found himself – like the fact that a bone infection likely slowed the man down when fleeing the eruption.

“This discovery has shown the leaps in the archeological field,” said Massimo Osanna, general director of the Archeological Park of Pompeii. “The team on site are not just archaeologists but experts in many fields,” including engineers and restorers who have technical tools like drones and 3D scanners.

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