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U.S. Officials Propose Sending up to 120,000 Troops to the Middle East

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  • The New York Times reported that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan proposed a plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacked U.S. forces or advanced their nuclear weapons development.
  • Many U.S. and European officials are worried that expanding military influence could lead to a conflict between the U.S. and Iran, arguing that Washington is promoting the confrontation, which has been escalating in recent months.
  • The State Department ordered all non-essential embassy and consular employees to leave their posts in Iraq Wednesday, also issuing a separate travel advisory warning U.S. citizens not to travel to Iraq “due to terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict.”

Shanahan’s Proposal

Ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalated Monday when it was reported that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan proposed a plan that would send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacked U.S. forces or sped up their nuclear weapons development.

The story was first reported by The New York Times, which spoke to Administration officials who were present at a meeting of top security aides on Thursday. Officials told the Times that the plan does not explicitly call for invading Iran, a move that would require a lot more troops.

However, many officials were still reportedly shocked by the number of troops called for in the proposal. The Times noted that the 120,000 troops would almost approach the number of U.S. forces that invaded Iraq in 2003.

Many are skeptical that President Trump would want to send so many U.S. forces to the Middle East in the first place. While people high up in his administration like National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have pushed for hardline policies against Iran, Trump has been more reluctant.

On May 5, Bolton announced that the U.S. was deploying an aircraft carrier strike group and Air Force bombers to the Middle East in an effort to counter Iran.

In a statement, Bolton said that the move was “in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” but did not elaborate. The Trump administration has since said that U.S. intelligence showed Iran’s proxy groups mobilizing in Iraq and Syria to attack U.S. forces.

Trump, however, has made it clear that he does not want to get involved in another conflict in the Middle East and has actively pushed to remove U.S. presence in Syria.

Trump, outright denied the Time’s report on Tuesday but did not rule out military intervention.“It’s fake news, OK?” Trump told reporters.

“Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we’re not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”

Divisions in the Administration

The divisions between Trump and his advisors are representative of broader divisions in the Trump administration.

While some in the administration fall in the same camp as Bolton and Pompeo, others do not agree with their approach, arguing that hard-lines instead of diplomacy will only encourage more aggression.

Some officials have said that deploying troops to the Middle East would just give Iran and its proxies more targets to strike, which could risk drawing the U.S. into a conflict. Others still point out that more troops would reverse efforts of both the Trump and Obama administration to remove U.S. troops from the Middle East.

That said, some officials and experts believe that Pompeo and Bolton actually want a confrontation with Iran. One U.S. official who spoke to the Times said the intelligence Bolton and others have cited as showing an increased Iranian threat was actually just “small stuff.” Even going as far as to say that it did not merit the military plan that has been proposed.

The official also said that the goal of the sanctions on Iran is to draw Iran into an armed conflict with the U.S.

Divisions Abroad

Those divisions regarding the situation with Iran also extend beyond the U.S. and to its allies.

According to the Times, military and intelligence officials in both the U.S. and Europe have said the most aggressive actions have actually come from the U.S., and not Iran. Those same officials also expressed concern that Bolton has pushed Trump into backing Iran into a corner.

During his tour in Europe, Pompeo tried to rally European leaders against Iran, but they did not take the bait. Following a meeting in Brussels on Monday, European officials told reporters they had urged the U.S. to restrain from escalating the situation, out of fear that it could lead to conflict with Iran.

Privately, several European officials said Bolton and Pompeo are pushing Trump to take a series of steps that could put the U.S. on a course for war.

On Tuesday, senior British military official Major Gen. Chris Ghika, who is also the deputy commander of the U.S.-led military coalition against ISIS, pushed back against the U.S.’s claim of an Iranian threat presented in their intelligence.

“There has been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq or Syria,” Ghika told reporters at the Pentagon.

U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, gave a rare statement in response. “Recent comments from [Operation Inherent Resolve’s] deputy commander run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from US and allies regarding Iranian backed forces in the region,” the lead spokesman for U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Iraqi officials have also been skeptical of the intelligence the U.S. said it has on Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria. On Wednesday morning, the State Department ordered that all non-essential diplomatic personnel at the U.S. embassy and consulate in Iraq leave the country.

The State Department also issued a separate travel advisory, warning U.S. citizens not to travel to Iraq “due to terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict.” Again, Iraqi officials have expressed skepticism over this claim.

Continued Escalation

The alleged proposal from Shanahan comes as both the U.S. and Iran have been escalating geopolitical tensions in the region in recent weeks.

On April 8, the Trump administration announced that they were designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization in an unprecedented moved that marked the first time the U.S. labeled part of another country’s government a foreign terrorist organization.

Iran’s parliament responded to the U.S designation of the IRGC by passing legislation labeling the entire U.S. military as a terrorist organization a few weeks later, a move that came just days after the U.S. announced they would no longer allow countries that buy Iranian oil to be exempt from U.S. sanctions.

Then things really started to ramp up when Bolton announced that the U.S. was deploying military forces to the region to counter Iran on May 5.

Iran reacted the news a few days later, announcing that they would stop complying with some of their commitments under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, like restrictions on building stockpiles of enriched uranium and heavy water, which are used in nuclear reactors.

Iran also said that if the other countries that signed the deal do not work to ease the restrictions imposed by the U.S. in 60 days they would slowly stop their compliance with the restrictions outlined in the deal piece by piece.

Shanahan’s proposed plan appears to be a direct rebuke of Iran’s announcement last week. Shanahan’s posturing seems to explicitly imply that if Iran moves forward with its nuclear development as stated in their ultimatum to the other signatories of the deal, the U.S. could deploy troops to the Middle East, possibly risking an all-out confrontation.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Fox News)

International

Police Cause Stampede Killing 125 at Indonesian Soccer Stadium

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The sports game turned bloodbath was among the deadliest in the sport’s history.


Trampled by the Crowd

At least 125 people died after police fired tear gas, sparking a chaotic stampede toward the exits at a soccer match in Indonesia, according to local officials.

The game between Arema, the home team in East Java’s Malang city, and Persebaya Surabaya took place Saturday night at the Kanjuruhan Stadium.

The event organizer had prohibited Persebaya fans from attending the game in an effort to prevent rivalrous brawling, but that only ensured the stadium would be exclusively packed with riled-up Arema fans.

When Arema lost 3-2, hundreds of spectators poured onto the field and some reportedly threw bottles and other objects at the players and managers. Several cop cars were also toppled outside the stadium and set ablaze.

Eyewitness accounts claim that riot police beat people with shields and batons, then fired tear gas canisters directly into the crowd and even into the stands.

Hordes of people, many of them dizzy and blinded by the chemical, clambered desperately for the exits.

The ensuing stampede quickly left 34 people dead, both from being trampled and suffocated, including two police officers and possibly some children, according to some reports. Many more were badly hurt and rushed to hospitals, but as dozens of them succumbed to their injuries, the death toll climbed to at least 125.

An official estimate initially put the number at 174, but it was later revised down due to some deaths being counted twice.

As many as 300 other individuals may have sustained injuries during the incident.

Who is to Blame?

Some human rights groups pointed fingers at the police for provoking the mayhem by improperly deploying tear gas.

“The excessive use of force through the use of tear gas and inappropriate crowd control was the cause of the large number of fatalities,” Indonesia’s Legal Aid Foundation said in a statement.

The Foundation also blamed the local soccer committee, which sold 42,000 tickets in a stadium only meant to seat 38,000 people, for filling the venue over capacity.

Typically, tear gas is meant to put distance between the rioters and police, dispersing the crowd in an intended direction, not to be used indiscriminately in a secure location like a sports stadium.

Moreover, the global soccer governing body FIFA prohibits the use of tear gas.

“I regret that this tragedy occurred,” President Joko Widodo said in a televised address. “And I hope this is the last football tragedy in the country.”

He said he had asked National Police Chief Listyo Sigit to investigate the incident and ordered an evaluation of security at soccer matches.

East Java’s police chief Nico Afinta defended the use of tear gas in a news conference on Sunday.

“We have already done a preventive action before finally firing the tear gas as (fans) began to attack the police, acting anarchically and burning vehicles,” he said.

Indonesia’s soccer association, known as PSSI, suspended the premier soccer league Liga 1 indefinitely in light of the tragedy and banned Arema from hosting soccer matches for the remainder of the season.

Dozens of Indonesians have died in soccer-related violence since the 1990s, but Saturday’s tragedy is among the deadliest in soccer history.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The New York Times)

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Hurricane Ian Makes Landfall in Cuba as Florida Braces for Devastation

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When it hits the sunshine state, Ian is expected to be a category 3 hurricane.


Ian Lands in Cuba

Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba Tuesday morning as a major category 3 storm, battering the western parts of the country with sustained winds of 125 miles per hour.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that life-threatening storm surges, hurricane-force winds, flash floods, and mudslides are expected. Officials said that around 50,000 people have been evacuated as of Tuesday afternoon. 

According to reports, flooding has damaged houses and tobacco crops in the region, and widespread power outages have also been reported.

As dangerous conditions continue in Cuba, Ian is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico and pass west of the Florida Keys later on Tuesday, becoming a category 4 before the end of the day.

Officials predict it will drop back to a category 3 before making landfall as a major hurricane in Florida, which it is expected to do Wednesday evening.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said that Ian is currently forecast to land “somewhere between Fort Meyers and Tampa.” She added that the storm is expected to slow down as it hits Flordia, extending the potential devastation.

Uncertain Path

Forecasts of Ian’s path, however, remain uncertain, leaving residents all over Florida scrambling to prepare for the storm.

Schools have closed down, airports have suspended operations, and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has activated the National Guard and taken steps to ensure power outages can be remedied, warning that many should anticipate losing power.

There are also numerous storm and surge watches and warnings in place across Florida and in parts of Georgia and South Carolina.  

Evacuation warnings have been implemented throughout many parts of Florida, and officials have said that around 2.5 million people were under some kind of evacuation order by Tuesday afternoon.

Mandatory evacuations have been put in place in several counties, largely focused on coastal and low-lying areas. Some of those evacuation orders have extended to parts of Tampa — Florida’s third-largest city.

Tampa has not been hit by a major hurricane in over a century — a fact that just further emphasizes the unusual path this storm is taking. 

Florida’s Division of Emergency Management has a tool to track evacuation zones, as well as more resources at floridadisaster.org. For those looking for shelter, the Red Cross has a system to find one nearby. 

Continued Threats

The current evacuations are being driven by a number of very serious threats posed by Hurricane Ian. According to the NHC, hurricane-force winds, tropical storm conditions, heavy rainfall, and flooding are expected throughout much of the region.

“Considerable” flooding is also expected in central Florida and predicted to extend into southern Georgia and coastal South Carolina.

One of the biggest threats this hurricane poses is storm surge flooding at the coast — which has been a driving factor in the evacuations.

“Life-threatening storm surge looks increasingly likely along much of the Florida west coast where a storm surge warning is in effect, with the highest risk from Fort Myers to the Tampa Bay region,” the NHC warned Tuesday.

As many experts have pointed out, these dangerous threats of storm surges and catastrophic flooding have been drastically exacerbated by climate change. Specifically, sea level rise driven by climate change makes surges and flooding more likely and more extreme.

According to Axios, a profound example can be found in St. Petersburg, Florida — which is expected to be impacted by Ian — and where sea levels have risen by nearly nine inches since 1947.

That, however, is not only the real-time impact of climate change that is evident from this storm. In addition to climate change being “linked to an increase in rainfall from tropical storms and hurricanes,” Axios also notes that Ian “has been rapidly intensifying over extremely warm sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean that are running above average for this time of year.”

“Climate change favors more instances of rapidly intensifying storms such as Hurricane Ian, due to the combination of warming seas and a warmer atmosphere that can carry additional amounts of water vapor,” the outlet added.

See what others are saying: (Axios) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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Giorgia Meloni Claims Victory in Far-Right Shift for Italy

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Her party has neofascist roots, and she has praised Mussolini in the past.


An Election Without Precedent

Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party grabbed the largest share of votes in Italy’s national election by a wide margin, giving the post of prime minister to the first woman and most right-wing politician since Benito Mussolini.

She declared victory early Monday morning after exit polls showed her party overwhelmingly in the lead with at least 26% of the vote, making it the dominant faction in the right-wing coalition, which got 44%.

The other two parties in the alliance — Mateo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia — took 9% and 8% of the vote, respectively.

The center-left alliance only garnered 26% of the vote, with 63% of votes counted, according to the interior ministry.

Voter turnout dropped to a record low at only 63.91%, nine points below the rate in 2018, with turnout especially dismal in southern regions like Sicily.

Meloni is set to become prime minister in the coming weeks as a new government is formed, and the rest of Europe is bracing for what many see as a neofascist demagogue to take power in the continent’s third largest economy.

Speaking to media and supporters following the preliminary results, Meloni said it was “a night of pride for many and a night of redemption.” She promised to govern for all Italians and unite the country.

But her relatively extreme politics — opposed to immigration, the European Union, and what she calls “gender ideology” — unsettles many who fear she will roll back civil rights and form a Euroskeptic alliance with other far-right leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

The Next Mussolini?

During the election, Meloni stressed that she is a conservative, not a fascist, but opponents point to her rhetoric, past statements, and party’s history as evidence to the contrary.

“Either you say yes or you say no,” she howled to Spain’s far-right Vox party earlier this year. “Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobby. Yes to sex identity, no to gender ideology. Yes to the culture of life, not the abysm of death. Yes to the university of the cross, no to the Islamist violence. Yes to secure borders, no to mass migration. Yes to the work of our citizens, no to big international finance. Yes to the sovereignty of peoples, no to the bureaucrats in Brussels. And yes to our civilization.”

Meloni co-founded Brothers of Italy in 2012 as an alternative to the more mainstream right-wing parties. It has roots in the Italian Social Movement (MSI), a neofascist party that sprouted in the wake of World War II to continue Mussolini’s legacy after his party was banned. The Movement’s symbol — a tricolor flame — remains on the Brothers of Italy’s Flag today, and Meloni has refused to remove it.

She joined the MSI’s youth branch in the 1990s and went on to lead it after the party was renamed the National Alliance.

“I believe that Mussolini was a good politician, which means that everything he did, he did for Italy,” Meloni said at the time.

For the first decade, Brothers of Italy struggled to win more than a single-digit percentage of the vote, and it only garnered 4% in the 2018 election.

But in 2021 and 2022, it distinguished itself as the only opposition party to the unity government that fell apart last July, causing its popularity to inflate.

But the party still wrestles with its fascistic roots; last week, it suspended a member who was running for parliament because a local newspaper revealed that he had made comments supporting Adolf Hitler.

In an August video, Meloni promised to impose a naval blockade in the Mediterranean to interdict Libyan refugees from crossing to Southern Europe on boats. She has also discussed pulling Italy out of the Eurozone or even the E.U. entirely, but she moderated her rhetoric toward Europe during the election.

Italy has received some 200 billion euros in European pandemic recovery funds, and it is set to receive more unless the Union punishes Meloni’s government for democratic backsliding.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (NPR)

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