In many ways, Barack Obamaâ€™s election eight years ago as Americaâ€™s first black president broke the mold. But in other ways it has not. Both at home and abroad, there are certain codes and behaviors and best practices that the preternaturally moderate Obama has abided by for the past eight years to ensure a kind of business-as-usual guidance in a complicated world.
Take as the latest example his criticism yesterday of Congressâ€™ override of the presidential veto of a bill to give 9/11 victimsâ€™ families the right to sue the Saudi government. Obama told CNN that â€œif we eliminate this notion of sovereign immunity, then our men and women in uniform around the world could potentially start seeing ourselves subject to reciprocal laws." It is a precedent that could essentially threaten the longstanding application of international relations and diplomacy that Obama believes keep a dangerous world from slipping toward ever greater dangers.
On the other side of the globe, instead, we now have a case of an unconventional leader who is clearly prepared to break more than just the mold. Since taking office in the Philippines in June, President Rodrigo Duterte is wreaking havoc left and right. He has signaled to Filipino law enforcement and vigilantes that it is OK to kill suspected drug dealers. Meanwhile, a visit today to Vietnam highlights his renegade approach to foreign policy. Not only have his recent harsh words for the U.S. overturned decades of a tight Washington-Manila alliance, but it has unsettled Asian neighbors such as Vietnam that are looking to work with the U.S. to stave off a rising China. Pose these realities to Duterte, and he tends to shrug it off as, well, business as usual.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., in the high-stakes race for the White House, one could pose the votersâ€™ choice this way: the Obama mold or the Duterte hammer.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY
- Tropical storm warning for the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Vincent, and the Grenadine Islands.
- Itâ€™s Galactic Tick Day. Calm down. Itâ€™s got nothing to do with small arachnids from space.
- Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi turns 80. Tanti auguri!
INDIA LAUNCHES STRIKES IN KASHMIR
The Indian army carried out what an official described as â€œsurgical strikesâ€ in Kashmir, along the disputed border with Pakistan, allegedly to prevent terrorist infiltrations into India, The New Indian Express reports. Pakistan confirmed that two of its soldiers had been killed in an exchange of fire with Indian troops. Tensions between the two rival nations have been high since an attack on Indian soldiers earlier this month killed 18, although Pakistan denied being involved.
â€" ON THIS DAY
Thereâ€™s a "Whole Lotta Shakin" Going Onâ€ in todayâ€™s 57-second shot of history.
OPEC AGREES TO LIMIT CRUDE OUTPUT
Oil prices rose after OPEC countries agreed to modest oil output cuts for the first time since 2008, in a bid to reduce oversupply thatâ€™s led to falling prices, Reuters reports.
Donald Trumpâ€™s net worth fell by $800 million over the past year to $3.7 billion, largely due to the â€œsofteningâ€ of the New York property market, Forbes reports.
"Ab crack," "thigh gap," "bikini bridge" â€" these new body trends get thousands of likes on Instagram. Experts say they are terrible for women's health of mind and body.
For German daily Die Welt, Julia Maria Grass writes: â€œThe internet further perpetuates these trends. â€˜Only 5 to 10% of girls in the real world actually look like their Instagram ideal,â€™ psychologist Schnebel says. â€˜It makes girls feel ugly because they know itâ€™s impossible for them to reach their ideal shape with their physical shape.â€™
Although apps like Instagram ban certain hashtags to contain dangerous body trends, stubborn users find ways around them by spelling words differently. â€˜Bulimiaâ€™ becomes â€˜bulima.â€™ â€˜Thinâ€™ is written as â€˜thynn.â€™â€
Read the full article, Extreme Body Images On Instagram Raise Eating Disorder Fears.
SUDAN ACCUSED OF USING CHEMICAL WEAPONS
NGO Amnesty International says it has â€œcredible evidenceâ€ that the Sudanese government has been using chemical weapons over the past eight months in Darfur, killing between 200 and 250 people, including children. According to the investigation, there were about 30 chemical attacks, the â€œscale and brutalityâ€ of which is â€œhard to put into words,â€ Director of Crisis Research Tirana Hassan said.
â€" MY GRAND-PEREâ€™S WORLD
Basket Surprise â€" Jaipur, 1994
SEVERAL MISSING AFTER CHINA LANDSLIDES
Rescue teams in China's eastern Zhejiang province are searching for at least 32 missing people after two landslides provoked by Typhoon Megi, AP reports. At least five people have already been killed in China and Taiwan, due to the storm.
MORE STORIES, BROUGHT TO YOU BY WORLDCRUNCH
- The Creative Boost Of Buenos Airesâ€™ Shared Workspaces â€" Clarin
- Mom vs. ISIS: Indonesian Student Torn About Going To Syria â€" KBR
- Sexism, Italian-Style: Bad News For My Eight-Year-Old Daughter â€" Rue Amelot Essay
British actor Benedict Cumberbatch joined Pink Floyd member David Gilmour on stage in London last night for a rendition expand=1] of the bandâ€™s classic song â€œComfortably Numb.â€
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
- Arab-Israeli Rapprochement: Is Saudi Arabia Next? - Worldcrunch ›
- Why Iran Is Actively Backing The Taliban For The First Time ... ›
- Iran-Azerbaijan Tensions: How Khamenei Overplayed Islamic Ties ... ›