May 09, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

LIBYA

Game of Zeroes

Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar got a shot in the arm when he received US President Donald Trump’s surprise endorsement last month.

Trump’s nod raised eyebrows, the New York Times noted, because Haftar, 75, is seeking to depose the government in Tripoli that enjoys the backing of the United Nations. Encouraging Haftar to take over the government also appeared to divert his attention from fighting the Islamic State militants operating in the country.

The European Council on Foreign Relations produced a good background report on the chaos in Libya. “A morally bankrupt elite is engaged in a zero-sum game for absolute power,” Tarek Megerisi, a policy fellow with the council, told NBC News recently. “Think ‘Game of Thrones’ where every house is ruled by Joffrey.”

In HBO’s fantasy drama, Joffrey Baratheon is an immature, cruel king.

The UN-backed government initially appointed Haftar to lead the Libyan government’s army. Today, Haftar is fighting to control the government, ruining international efforts to bring peace to a country that has been embroiled in two civil wars in the past eight years – the first between Col. Muammar Gaddafi and his enemies, and the second between the factions that remained after Gaddafi’s fall in 2011.

Haftar’s army is one of those factions. Its continuing battle for Tripoli has claimed around 400 lives, wounded nearly 2,000 people and displaced 50,000, reported Reuters.

Like so many other conflicts in the region, the Libyan civil war has become a proxy fight for other powers. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are supporting Haftar with military aid, saying he is the best person to stamp out terrorists and the “extremist militias” that control Tripoli, Al Jazeera wrote.

Maybe they have a point. The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that American officials are considering labeling a terrorist organization, supports the Tripoli-based government.

That support, however, also means that Turkey, whose leaders are friendly with the Muslim Brotherhood, are also likely providing military aid to the government, Al-Monitor reported.

Both sides have employed high-flying lobbyists in Washington and elsewhere to make their case to policymakers, reported Politico.

Haftar’s critics said he would rule like an authoritarian, forestalling the democracy that many dreamed about when Gaddafi’s 40-year rule came to an end. “We took part in the revolution to be rid of dictatorship,” Osama al-Juwaili, a commander in the Tripoli government’s forces, told Bloomberg. “I’m fighting for a civilian state.”

Unfortunately for Libyans, there will be no state if the fighting doesn’t stop.

WANT TO KNOW

IRAN

Fed Up

Iran warned Wednesday it could begin enriching its stockpile of uranium to weapons-grade in as little as 60 days if leading world nations fail to negotiate new terms for its 2015 nuclear deal, spelling out the implications of its partial withdrawal from the pact.

President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech that beginning this week Iran will keep its excess enriched uranium and heavy water, rather than sell it to other countries as previously agreed to limit its stockpile, CNN reported.

If the remaining signatories of the deal – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – fail to ease curbs on Iran’s banking and oil sectors in the next 60 days, then Iran would remove caps on uranium enrichment levels and restart work on its Arak nuclear facility.

The move comes a year after the US withdrew from the pact, and immediately prompted new sanctions from Washington on Iran’s iron, steel, aluminum, and copper industries. The European signatories are still interested but they’re finding it difficult to keep the deal alive, the Associated Press reported.

CHINA

The Umpire’s Nightmare

Beijing has thrown a curveball ahead of this week’s trade talks with the US by backtracking on virtually every commitment it had previously made to resolve Washington’s central complaints.

Among the deletions in the nearly 150-page draft trade agreement were its promises to change laws related to intellectual property and trade secrets, forced technology transfers, competition policy, access to financial services, and currency manipulation, Reuters reported, citing numerous US government and private sector sources.

“This undermines the core architecture of the deal,” said a Washington-based source with knowledge of the talks, according to the news agency.

It was this pushback that prompted President Donald Trump’s threat to raise tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 to 25 percent on Friday, a day after China’s Vice Premier Liu He arrives in Washington to continue trade talks.

But it could now be nearly impossible to prevent an escalation of the trade war, Reuters warned.

GUYANA

The Resource Curse

With ExxonMobil claiming to have discovered more than 5.5 billion barrels worth of oil beneath the Atlantic Ocean off Guyana, the small South American country could see economic growth top 300 or even 1000 percent by next year and become the richest country in the world, the BBC reported.

“Many people still do not get how big this is,” then-US Ambassador to Guyana Perry Holloway told a reception in the capital, Georgetown, late last year.

But the so-called “resource curse” may be rearing its head even before the money starts rolling in, the news channel noted. Corruption is already rampant in the former British colony, according to Transparency International’s Troy Thomas, and an ongoing political crisis signals a new level of problems on the horizon as the stakes increase.

The crisis stems from a no-confidence vote in December. The governing coalition lost the vote, but rather than ceding power it challenged the results in court, sparking protests from opponents who saw the move as an effort to subvert the constitution. Meanwhile, the court battle still hasn’t been resolved.

DISCOVERIES

A Footprint and a Mystery

Archaeologists in Chile are dealing with a case of “how did they get there?”

Researchers reported in a recent study that an ancient footprint found in northwestern Patagonia might rewrite the history of how prehistoric humans came to the Americas, according to Inverse.

Lead author Karen Moreno and her team said that the print was made by a barefoot human who was walking on mud about 15,600 years ago in southern Chile. Fragments of stone tools and fossil bones of large animals were found in the same area.

While the footprint certainly gives a glimpse of the period, scientists believe it also adds more mystery as to how and when the earliest settlers reached the Americas from Eurasia.

Previously, archaeologists posited that the Clovis people – named for the New Mexico city where their remains were first discovered in the 1930s – were the first humans to reach the Americas after crossing a land bridge from Siberia during the glacial period about 13,000 years ago.

New archaeological finds, however, point to even older remains that challenge this “Clovis First” theory. They suggest that humans may have reached the Americas by more than one route.

Moreno believes that ancient settlers might have migrated down Pacific Rim shorelines to get to South America, but more digging is required.

“This story is not finished here. It’s just the start,” she said.