Tearing Up Treaties

Happy Monday! Wisconsin decided last week to make history and designate their mixology mistake, the brandy old fashioned, as the (somewhat) official state cocktail—the first such designation in the country. The editors of this newsletter won’t stand for such offense to good American whiskey. Steve Hayes, what do you have to say for yourself?

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) engaged in intense combat with Hamas over the weekend as Israeli troops closed in on Gaza City’s Al-Shifa Hospital, under which Israeli military officials say Hamas’ main command and control center lies. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry claimed the IDF had blockaded and fired on the hospital; the IDF acknowledged fierce fighting in the area surrounding the facility, but denied attacking or blockading the hospital itself. Israeli officials said they’ve established a safe corridor to evacuate the facility, but doctors at the hospital reported some people being shot at while attempting to flee. Electricity and fuel are running low at the facility, and some patients requiring intensive care have reportedly died after a power outage. “The United States does not want to see firefights in hospitals where innocent people, patients receiving medical care, are caught in the crossfire,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday. “We’ve had active consultations with the Israeli Defense Forces on this.”
  • French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday offered his strongest criticisms yet of Israel’s war in Gaza, calling for a ceasefire. “These babies, these ladies, these old people are bombed and killed,” he said. “There is no reason for that and no legitimacy, so we do urge Israel to stop.” Macron apparently softened his comments on Sunday in a call with Israeli President Isaac Herzog. According to Herzog’s office, the French president said he didn’t mean to suggest Israel was intentionally harming civilians and that he supported Israel’s war against Hamas. The Palestinian death toll from the war, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, has risen to more than 11,000—though that figure, even if accurate, doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians. That said, U.S. officials’ confidence in the rough accuracy of the reported deaths has grown in recent days. “We think they are very high, frankly, and it could be that they are even higher than are being cited,” Barbara Leaf, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, said last week in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that “far too many Palestinians have been killed, far too many have suffered these past weeks.” 
  • The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSV), under the command of Gen. Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, overran a Sudan Armed Forces military base in El Geneina on November 4, reportedly killing more than 800 people in a refugee camp near the Darfur capital. According to the United Nations refugee agency and reports from eyewitnesses and local activists, the RSV went door to door in the Ardamata refugee camp, systematically killing men and boys. Some locals estimated the total death toll resulting from the early November attacks could be more than 1,000. 
  • Russia launched missile strikes on Kyiv over the weekend, according to Ukrainian military officials, resuming the bombardment of the Ukrainian capital after a nearly two-month-long hiatus. No major damage or casualties were reported. Russian forces also renewed attacks on Ukrainian positions near and around Bakhmut and Avdiivka, both cities in eastern Ukraine—though Ukrainian officials said on Sunday the “attacks are being repelled.” Ukrainian defense leaders, meanwhile, said they struck two Russian landing ships with sea drones in an overnight operation in Crimea on Thursday.
  • The Pentagon announced Sunday U.S. military forces had carried out another round of airstrikes on Iranian facilities in eastern Syria—the third such bombardment in recent weeks—in response to dozens of attacks targeting U.S. troops over the last month. The strikes, according to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, were conducted “on a training facility and safe house near the cities of Abu Kamal and Mayadin,” and reportedly killed six or seven Iranian proxy fighters.
  • Five U.S. troops were killed on Friday when a military helicopter crashed into the Mediterranean Sea after a training incident, which defense officials said occurred “during a routine air refueling mission as part of military training” and exhibited no indications of foul play from hostile actors. “While we continue to gather more information about this deadly crash, it is another stark reminder that the brave men and women who defend our great nation put their lives on the line each and every day to keep our country safe,” Austin said in a statement Sunday.
  • President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet this week at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the White House confirmed on Friday. The meeting is the first between the two leaders since last November’s G20 summit in Bali, and comes after a diplomatic chill in the wake of the spy balloon incident earlier this year. A top priority for the Biden administration will be resuming military-to-military talks between Chinese and American forces; China cut off communication in August 2022 following then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. In recent months, the Chinese military has conducted dangerous intercepts of U.S. aircraft operating in the region, leading to several close calls. 
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson on Saturday unveiled a “laddered” short-term continuing resolution (CR) to stave off a government shutdown that would fund the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Energy, Agriculture, and Transportation until January 19, and the rest of the government until February 2. Both proposals would fund the government at current spending levels. “The bill will stop the absurd holiday-season omnibus tradition of massive, loaded-up spending bills introduced right before the Christmas recess,” Johnson said in a statement on Saturday. The measure does not include the broad cuts that some House conservatives had pushed for, and several hardliners quickly announced they’d vote against the CR. Johnson said he intends to bring the bill to the floor for a vote on Tuesday.
  • Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina suspended his presidential campaign last night in a surprise move that reportedly caught even his own campaign staff off guard. “I think the voters, who are the most remarkable people on the planet, have been really clear that they’re telling me, ‘Not now, Tim,’” Scott said in a Fox News interview Sunday night. Scott said that he wouldn’t make an endorsement in the race: “The best way for me to be helpful is to not weigh in.” He also said that he wasn’t interested in serving as a running mate to any of the candidates.
  • Suspicious envelopes—some containing fentanyl—were sent to election offices in Georgia, Nevada, California, Oregon, and Washington last week, and in Washington state resulted in the closing and evacuation of election offices in multiple counties, delaying ballot counting in last week’s municipal elections. “This is domestic terrorism,” said Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. “It needs to be condemned by anyone that holds elected office and anyone that wants to hold elective office anywhere in America.” Authorities are still investigating the source of the letters.
  • A federal court on Friday ordered the Louisiana legislature to redraw its congressional map after finding the current map—which includes only one majority-black district—likely violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of black voters in the state. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ order requires the legislature to create a new map by January 15, or a lower court will take control of the process. 
  • Don Samuels, a former Minneapolis City Council member, announced on Sunday that he will challenge Rep. Ilhan Omar in next year’s Democratic primary. Samuels, who narrowly lost his first bid to unseat Omar in 2022 by only 2 points, said he will make Omar’s positions on Israel and its war against Hamas a major focus of his campaign.

Two Treaties for the Trash

Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to the Russian Navy's Commander-in-Chief Nikolai Yevmenov during the annual Navy Day Parade on July 30, 2023, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to the Russian Navy's Commander-in-Chief Nikolai Yevmenov during the annual Navy Day Parade on July 30, 2023, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)

While the mortal status of Russian President Vladimir Putin has once again come into question, there can be no denial of the death of two armaments treaties in recent weeks, as Russia officially withdrew its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and ended its participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE).

Russia’s decision to formally withdraw from these two Cold War-era defense treaties is just the latest in a long record of rejecting Western norms, and is meant to send a message both internally and externally. Locked in an ongoing offensive against Ukraine, Moscow seeks to project strength abroad, while Putin, up for “reelection” next year, must project strength at home. More than anything, the long-foreseen end to formal agreements and limits on Russia’s offensive capabilities represent a further degradation of the Western-Russian relationship—a relationship that might not recover in our lifetime.

NATO members and allies were quick to condemn Russia’s decision, decrying the withdrawals—and the ongoing attack on Ukraine—as a threat to Euro-Atlantic security. “Russia continues to demonstrate disregard for arms control, including key principles of reciprocity, transparency, compliance, verification, and host nation consent, and undermines the rules based international order,” NATO allies said last week in a statement released after Russia announced its formal exit from CFE. “While recognizing the role of the CFE as a cornerstone of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture, a situation whereby Allied States Parties abide by the Treaty, while Russia does not, would be unsustainable.” In response to Russia’s direct refutation of the arms control treaty, the Allied States Parties announced they would “suspend the operation of the CFE Treaty for as long as necessary, in accordance with their rights under international law.” The decision was “fully supported by all NATO Allies.”

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