The World Today for October 09, 2018

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Hot Deserts, Cold Wars

The fighting in the Syrian civil war has cooled down but it’s far from over. In fact, it might continue for years.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently said American troops would remain in Syria to fight the Islamic State, Politico reported. White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said the troops would stay as long as Iranian forces were in the country.

Iran’s leaders are allies with the Baathist regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, suggesting the US military will remain in the country for a long time.

Then there are the Turks.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won’t pull his troops out of Syria until an election determines the country’s rightful ruler: “Whenever the Syrian people hold an election, we will leave Syria to its owners,” Erdogan said.

Fat chance that’s going to happen soon. The civil war began seven years ago after Assad, a tyrant first “elected” in a single-candidate referendum in 2000, cracked down on protests against his regime starting in 2011.

So Turkey will likely remain in Syria for years under an agreement that Erdogan struck with Russian President Vladimir Putin to avoid a bloodbath in Idlib, the last remaining stronghold of anti-Assad rebels, wrote the Guardian.

Safeguarding Idlib gives Turkey a buffer zone along its border with northwestern Syria. It permanently weakens Assad, giving Russia – another friend of the Assad regime – and Iran an excuse to hang around, too.

The arrangement is not stable, of course. And, critically, Israel isn’t happy with Iran setting up shop permanently near its border with Syria.

“Will Israel and Iran Go to War in Syria?” asked Brookings Institution Middle East expert Daniel Byman in a blog post.

Israeli officials maintain that their air force can penetrate almost anywhere in Syria if they feel the Jewish state is threatened. But Russia has provided Assad with anti-aircraft missiles, raising the possibility of a Syrian-controlled Russian weapons system shooting down an Israeli warplane, potentially sparking an international incident.

The missiles might not even be the biggest problem, Israeli newspaper Haaretz noted. Israeli officials have alleged that Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants are manufacturing rockets that could attack Israel in the event of full-scale war between the two sides.

Meanwhile, jihadists, though diminished, are still roaming around Syria. Don’t count them out, either, says international op-ed service Project Syndicate. Like Iraq’s weak military, the battle-weary Syrian army could fail to stop Islamic State fighters if they launched a sneak attack somewhere.

That’s a lot of belligerents and battle lines. Has the Syrian civil war ended or has the intermission just begun? It’s not clear yet.



The Price of Tea

The International Monetary Fund slashed its growth estimate for the global economy in 2019 in reaction to the escalating trade war between the US and China.

The IMF shaved 0.2 percentage points off its growth forecast for the US economy, now predicting growth of 2.5 percent for 2019 compared with 2.9 percent in 2018, CNN reported. It also lowered its forecast for China’s economy by 0.2 points to 6.2 percent, compared with 6.6 percent in 2018.

The spat between the world’s two largest economic powers, the broader drift toward protectionism and higher interest rates mean the prospects for everybody are “less bright” than they were in April, prompting the IMF to cut its global forecast by that same 0.2 percentage points.

“The impacts of trade policy and uncertainty are becoming evident at the macroeconomic level,” the IMF said. An intensification “could dent business and financial market sentiment, trigger financial market volatility, and slow investment and trade.”

Chief IMF economist Maurice Obstfeld said that the US-China rift could trim “close to a percentage point” off global growth if it continues.


No Way Out

The Venezuelan government’s claim that an opposition leader leaped from the 10th floor of the spy agency headquarters to kill himself has prompted street protests demanding justice and accusations from the dead man’s party that he was “murdered at the hands of the regime of [President] Nicolas Maduro.”

Detained on suspicion that he was involved in a purported assassination attempt against Maduro with a drone in August, opposition First Justice party politician Fernando Albán “requested to go to the bathroom, and when there he threw himself off the 10th floor,” according to a statement from Venezuela’s attorney general. Interior Minister Nestor Luis Reverol said via Twitter that Albán jumped from the window of a waiting room, the BBC reported.

Though the crisis in Venezuela has resulted in the deaths of protesters in earlier clashes with security forces, the specter of execution by defenestration or suicide to escape torture evokes unpleasant memories of the deadly dictatorships that plagued much of South America in the 1970s, the Associated Press noted.


Rolling Out the Mat

Ethiopia unveiled plans to institute a visa-on-arrival policy for citizens of countries across Africa – some five years after the African Union envisioned visa-free travel throughout the bloc in its  “vision and roadmap for the next 50 years.”

President Mulatu Teshome told the Ethiopian parliament Monday that soon all Africans will be able to simply fly into Ethiopia and queue up for a visa stamp. Just months earlier, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had announced that the country that hosts the African Union offices had started issuing visas online for tourists and other visitors across the world, reported

Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, has said he needs 38 visas to travel around the continent on his Nigerian passport, while a recent African Union report noted that Africans can travel without a visa to only about a fifth of other African countries, the BBC reported. Seychelles is the only country to have eliminated visas for Africans altogether.

What’s the big deal? Freedom of movement is key to leveraging Africa’s massive size to transform the economic fortunes of its people, analysts say.


Speech Bubbles, Roman Style

Millennia before Superman, Spider-Man and other superheroes were filling the pages of comic books and children’s hearts, the Romans were creating their own comic figures.

Near the town of Bayt Ras in Jordan, archaeologists recently discovered a 2,000-year-old Roman-era tomb that contained drawings captioned with texts that resemble speech bubbles, the Smithsonian reported.

They uncovered nearly 260 painted figures in good condition and noticed that the writings and dialogues were a mix of the Aramaic language written in Greek letters.

“The inscriptions are actually similar to speech bubbles in comic books because they describe the activities of the characters, who offer explanations of what they are doing – ‘I am cutting (stone)’; ‘Alas for me! I am dead!’ – which is also extraordinary,” researcher Jean-Baptiste Yon said.

The drawings portray the creation of the ancient city of Capitolias, part of the Hellenic region of Decapolis in the Levant under Roman rule: They show how the Olympic gods picked the city’s location, its growth and the daily life of its citizens.

Researchers hope that the find will reveal more about the lost city and explain the structure and evolution of Aramaic, once a lingua franca in the ancient Middle East and believed to be the language primarily spoken by Jesus Christ and his disciples.

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