- 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.”
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.
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.
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)
Al Jazeera Suspends Journalists for Controversial Holocaust Video
- Al Jazeera posted a video on their youth-focused channel AJ+ that said Jewish people had intentionally misrepresented how bad the Holocaust was for them, and claimed that “Israel is the biggest winner from the Holocaust.”
- The video, which was in Arabic, attracted widespread condemnation after a U.S.-based nonprofit called The Middle East Media Research Institute posted a translated version of it.
- Al Jazeera removed the post and suspended two journalists involved with making the video.
Qatar-based multination publication Al Jazeera suspended two journalists who published a video that claimed Jewish people deliberately exaggerated the Holocaust so that Israel could benefit.
The video was posted on May 18 by AJ+ Arabic, Al Jazeera’s youth-focused channel that creates short video explainers designed for social media. It was reportedly posted on the Twitter and Facebook accounts for AJ+ and received hundreds of thousands of views before it was taken down.
The video was posted in Arabic, but it started to get backlash after the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a U.S.-based nonprofit, posted an English translation of the video.
After the video started receiving criticism, Al Jazeera tweeted that they deleted the video because it “violated the editorial standards of the Network.”
The following day, the publication said in a statement that it “has taken disciplinary action and suspended two of its journalists” over the video.
“Dr. Yaser Bishr, Executive Director of Digital Division, stated that Al Jazeera completely disowns the offensive content in question and reiterated that Al Jazeera would not tolerate such material on any of the Network’s platforms,” the statement said. “In an email to staff he also called for the mandatory bias training and awareness program.”
The statement also said that Dima Khatib, the Managing Director of AJ+ Channels, claimed that “the video was produced without the due oversight,” and added that workflows were being reviewed.
According to MEMRI’s, the video was posted with the caption, “The Gas Chambers Killed Millions of Jews – That’s How the Story Goes. What Is the Truth behind the Holocaust and How Did the Zionist Movement Benefit from It?”
Based on MEMRI’s translations, the video starts out with the narrator saying, “The narrative that six million Jews were killed by the Nazi movement was adopted by the Zionist movement.” The narrator then goes on to explain what happened in the Holocaust, describing the persecution of Jews and other groups.
Then the narrator says that the Jews were only part of the many groups murdered by the Nazis and asks, “So why is there a focus only on them?”
“Jewish groups had financial resources, media institutions, research centers, and academic voices that managed to put a special spotlight on the Jewish victims of the Nazis,” she continued.
She then claims that the number of people who died in the Holocaust is still being debated today and asks the question: “How did Israel benefit from the Holocaust?”
The narrator goes on to discuss the 1933 Transfer Agreement, where Zionist groups negotiated with Nazis to allow thousands of German Jews to leave for Palestine, and then makes the argument that Israel greatly benefited from this.
“Israel is the biggest winner from the Holocaust, and it uses the same Nazi justifications as a launching pad for the racial cleansing and annihilation of the Palestinians,” the narrator said.
She concludes the video by asserting that the idea behind the “State of Israel” comes from concepts “that suckled from the Nazi spirit and its main notions.”
Following the incident, numerous people took to Twitter to condemn Al Jazeera.
Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry called the video “the worst kind of pernicious evil” in a tweet, and argued that it “perpetuates hatred of Israel and the Jews.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Arabic media spokesperson, Ofir Gendelman, also expressed disdain in a tweet, writing that the video was “spreading lies about it & about Israel, specifically on #Ramadan in order to incite the masses.”
Others outside of Israel also criticized Al Jazeera. Donald Trump Jr. joined in on Twitter, writing, “Al-Jazeera is now openly publishing Holocaust Denial videos on their facebook page. Will @facebook take action & ban them for this like they’ve done to conservatives for far less?“
Al Jazeera English v. Al Jazeera Arabic
Others who criticized Al Jazeera on Twitter highlighted the differences between the publication’s English networks, like Al Jazeera English and AJ+ English, and their Arabic-language networks and content.
One user posted screenshots of the video posted to AJ+ Arabic next to a video about a Holocaust survivor posted on AJ+ English the same day.
“Don’t be fooled by AJ‘s polished facade for its gullible Western audience,” another user wrote on Twitter. “AJ isn’t news, it’s state-controlled propaganda.”
This discussion was also hit on in an article published by BBC. In the article, BCC notes that Al Jazeera English is known for its “varied coverage,” and shining a light on “underreported stories.”
However, that reporting “comes in stark contrast to Al Jazeera Arabic,” the article stated, continuing that Al Jazeera’s Arabic networks often include “friendly coverage of Islamist groups – particularly favouring those aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.”
This compare and contrast is interesting because Al Jazeera is considered a very reliable source among U.S. audiences, but at the end of the day, it is a multinational media network that is funded by the Qatari government.
If Al Jazeera’s Arabic coverage is catered so differently to its Middle Eastern audiences, it inevitably raises questions about its legitimacy and reporting in the U.S.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (Haaretz) (The Guardian)
Taiwan Becomes First in Asia to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage
- Taiwan’s Parliament passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Friday, making it the first in Asia to do so.
- The decision comes after a 2017 ruling by Taiwan’s Constitutional Court which found that disallowing same-sex marriage violated the country’s constitution, and gave the government two years to pass a law legalizing it.
- Supporters of the bill are optimistic it will set an example for other Asian nations, while opponents say it does not support the will of the people, who overwhelmingly voted against legalization in a referendum last November.
Parliament Passes Same-Sex Marriage Bill
Taiwan became the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage after the country’s Parliament approved a bill Friday.
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei, in anticipation of Friday’s vote. Gathered outside the Parliament building, supporters cheered when the decision was announced.
The Parliament’s announcement came after lawmakers considered three separate bills and ultimately decided on the most progressive of the three, which was passed with a vote of 66-27. The legislation chosen was the only one that defined a same-sex relationship as “marriage,” while the other bills used terms like “same-sex union.”
The bill will take effect after Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, signs it into law. Ing-wen campaigned on marriage equality in 2016, and praised the passage of the bill on Twitter, writing, “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”
Once the law goes into effect, it will give same-sex couples many of the same tax, insurance, and child custody benefits that are allowed to heterosexual married couples. It will also allow limited adoption rights, though it is unclear if those rights will extend to the adoption of non-blood relatives.
Taiwan’s Progressive History
Taiwan has been applauded as a champion and leader of gay rights in the region, well before the passage of the new bill.
Its annual gay pride parade in Taipei is known for attracting tens of thousands of people from all over the continent, making it the largest pride parade in East Asia.
In 2017, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled that the laws that prohibited same-sex couples from marrying violated the Taiwanese constitution. The court then gave the government two years to pass a law legalizing same-sex marriage.
However, same-sex marriage remained a divisive subject in Taiwan. Following the 2017 ruling, conservative and religious opponents stalled the passage of a new law legalizing gay marriage. Opponents also pressured the government into holding a referendum on whether or not the public wanted gay marriage to be legal.
The referendum, which was held in Novemeber, showed that Taiwanese voters overwhelmingly opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage, and favored the definition of marriage as the union of a man and woman.
Taiwan’s ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), responded to the referendum by drafting two competing bills that would align with both the Constitutional Court’s decision and the results of the referendum. Unsurprisingly, those bills were strongly opposed by the LBGTQ+ community.
Taiwan’s Parliament ultimately did not choose those two bills, instead opting for the bill supported by the LGBTQ+ community, as represented by the vote on Friday. While marriage equality advocates have criticized the limits on adoption rights for same-sex couples, they still favored the bill that was passed over the other versions.
While supporters celebrated the bill’s passage, opponents of legalizing gay marriage expressed their anger. “How can we ignore the result of the referendums, which demonstrated the will of the people?” said John Wu, a lawmaker who is part of the opposition Kuomintang party. “Can we find an appropriate compromise solution? We need more dialogue in society.”
Potential Implications for the Region
Taiwan’s decision to legalize gay marriage makes it the first to do so in a region where gay rights have fallen wayside.
With the new law, many hope that Taiwan will set an example for other countries in the region. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, applauded Taiwan for leading the way for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia “amid growing authoritarianism and rights abuses in other countries throughout the region.”
However, it remains unclear if other Asian nations will follow suit. While countries like China and Vietnam have decriminalized homosexuality, gay marriage still remains illegal.
Other Asian nations still are slow to embrace change concerning LGBTQ+ rights.
Until last year, gay sex was considered a criminal offense in India which was punishable by up to ten years in jail. Just last month, Brunei implemented new laws that made gay sex and adultery punishable by stoning to death.
Brunei later walked back on the law after massive international protest. It now claims it will not enforce the death penalty, though gay sex will still be punished by jail time in the country.
That said, others are optimistic about strides some Asian nations are taking. Thailand has proposed a law that would recognize same-sex partnerships, and last year a Hong Kong court ruled that same-sex couples that live in the city would be allowed the same rights to visas as heterosexual couples who are married.
Same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Hong Kong, but public opinion polls show that support for marriage equality is gaining traction.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (BBC) (The Washington Post)
Modern Day Gold Rush?! What You Need To Know About This Illegal Mining Town
Imagine living in the highest elevation human settlement in the world. A place where the climate and living conditions are unlike any other. There are no roads. There is no plumbing, no running water, and no sewage disposal system.
What there is, however, is gold, tons of it. So much, in fact, that over the years, thousands of people have moved to the city with the hope of striking it rich. But even so, over 68 percent of the population still lives below the poverty line. Why? Watch the video to find out and learn more about the city that’s been coined, “The White Hell.”