Time to consider weekly global headlines in an ever-changing world
Selected News Headlines
8 May-12 May 2017
8 May 2017, Paris, France – CNN – This week began with news of the victory of Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential race (7 May). At 39, Macron is the youngest French leader since Napoleon Bonaparte, and by many considered both a huge gamble and a much-needed shot in the arm for France, against the growing European tide to the political right.
Macron is, after all a president without a political party.
While campaigning as a centrist, the fact that Macron is not a ‘machine-man’, that is, a product of established party politics, may well have made him a popular figure. However, he now has to create a party around his presidency so that he may be able to form a governing majority in the French parliament. The French legislative elections are due on 11-18 June, giving Macron very little time to find approximately 500 quality candidates to field in his name.
Should he be unfortunate enough to chose the wrong candidates to represent his ‘En Marche’ movement, it is likely that Macron’s star may fall well short of French expectations and his presidency marred by controversies and personal conflicts in the En Marche camp, rather than governing France.
And while the Le Pen camp was defeated in the presidential polls, many are giving long odds on Macron decisively dealing with highly polarising social issues such as immigrant integration, the economy and supporting the EU. If Macron can’t bring internal peace and prosperity to the French people in a very short timeframe, the public backlash is likely to be severe and dramatic.
8 May 2017, Washington D.C, United States – New York Times – The scandal-prone Trump administration was hit again by controversy this week when it was revealed during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee meeting that former Acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, in early 2017 warned Trump against selecting General Michael Flynn as his National Security Adviser – suggesting that Flynn had been compromised by the Russians.
In typical Trump style, the American president chose to ignore this fact.
This revelation about Flynn by Yates came to light at the same time as a separate piece of news, which stated that even former President Obama warned Trump in 2016 not to hire Flynn.
The knives are out for Trump. Since his inauguration last January, some House Republicans, notably Senator John McCain and the entire Democrat party are keeping the heat on Trump as he bumbles his way through his presidency. Should Trump simply trip up due to his own ‘unorthodox style’, or find his way to impeachment through the ongoing Congressional investigation into whether Russian ‘help’ got him elected, it is unlikely that stability will be a hallmark of his leadership.
9 May 2017, Seoul, South Korea – The Economist – The election of Moon Jae-in as South Korea’s new president, following the impeachment and removal from office of former South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, marks a new era in South Korean politics.
It also signals the emergence of difficult relations with the United States.
For weeks now, the Trump administration took a very hard line against North Korea, chastising them for their threats, their ballistic missile tests and their alleged preparation of another nuclear weapon demonstration.
President Trump went so far as to deploy the THAAD, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence missile system. This system is America’s most advanced land-based anti-missile system and its deployment to South Korea not only enraged North Korea, but also China which is concerned that the US has now altered the balance of power against its ballistic missile deterrent.
Moon Jae-in, the son of a North Korean refugee who fled south during the Korean War and who made a name for himself as a student activist and human rights lawyer, is known for his desire to reopen dialogue with Pyongyang and soften Seoul’s approach to its highly irascible northern neighbour.
This does not fit well with Trump’s hardline approach of heightened military confrontation and greater economic sanctions against North Korea.
America’s efforts in Korea are predicated on smooth relations with Seoul. A hardline confrontational approach by the US can only work with the agreement of the South Korean government, which hosts some 28,500 US military personnel.
Should Washington and Seoul diverge on how to handle North Korea, resentment and bitterness between the two steadfast allies could make for especially tense and interesting times. The South Korea government could politely ask the US to withdraw its THAAD system, or South Korean demonstrations aimed at the US military presence in the country could become the ‘new normal’, undermining years of official bilateral mutual trust and cooperation. Of course either of these scenarios would be welcomed by China, whose national security interest is to push American power further from its territory and spheres of influence in East Asia.
9 May 2017, Washington D.C., United States – The New York Times – In what appears to be a defining moment in relations between Turkey and the United States, President Trump has decided to arm the Kurdish Syrian militia, the YPG.
According to the Turkish government, the YPG is an outlaw terrorist movement with links to Turkey’s own separatist Kurdish rebels the PKK. Turkey has been fighting the PKK since 1984, a conflict that has cost in excess of 50,000 lives, with 3 million people displaced, and has seen the Turkish military engage in cross-border operations against the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government, long known to be sympathetic to Kurdish separatists in Turkey.
For Turkey, arming and enabling Kurdish separatists in neighbouring countries only encourages the PKK to continue fighting Ankara’s authority. Most Turks in government therefore consider this situation an existential threat to the territorial sovereignty of the contemporary Turkish state.
The Trump administration, however, has a different view. It believes that by arming the YPG, one of Syria’s most effective militias, the Americans will have a dependable proxy on the ground in Syria to fight the remaining forces of Islamic State (IS) – especially for the long anticipated capture of the IS ‘capital’, the Syrian town of Raqqa.
Ankara, now under the ‘strong-man’ rule of President Erdogan has signalled that it will not tolerate America potentially altering the regional balance of power in favour of the YPG, even if it is for purely short-term, transactional reasons such as the elimination of IS from Syria.
Considering that Turkey is warming its relations with Putin’s Russia, with the possibility that this critical NATO state may start buying Russian weapons and drift away from America’s orbit, and by extension, NATO’s orbit, Erdogan is playing for keeps. He wants Turkish jurisdiction to be maintained over Kurdish lands in Ankara’s possession. He may sacrifice Turkey’s pro-Western orientation if he has to and that in itself may alter the security of southeastern Europe, especially if the American base in Incirlik is forced to close. Incirlik is currently home to the US Air Force’s 39th Air Base Wing – that’s around 5,000 USAF personnel. The base also has an undisclosed number of American tactical nuclear weapons.
Closing this base and moving it elsewhere could jeopardise ongoing US air missions over Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, unravelling America’s tenuous position in the Middle East and Central Asia.