- 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)
India’s High Court Rules Groping Child Through Clothing Is Not Sexual Assault
- An Indian appeals court judge drew widespread outrage last week after ruling that groping a child over their clothes does not constitute sexual assault since there is no “skin-on-skin” contact.
- Activists and rights lawyers pointed out that nowhere in the 2012 Protection of Children From Sexual Offenses Act does it state that skin-on-skin contact is required for a sexual assault charge.
- Since a High Court made the decision, many are concerned that it makes the “skin-on-skin” requirement a precedent that other Indian courts need to heavily consider when ruling on cases.
- Supreme Court lawyers and the National Commission for Women are now petitioning the Supreme Court to review and reject the decision.
Judge Rules Sexual Assault Needs Skin-on-Skin Contact
In an extremely controversial decision last week, Bombay High Court judge Pushpa Ganediwala ruled that groping a child over their clothes does not constitute sexual assault
The case started in 2016 when a 39-year-old man groped a 12-year-old girl’s chest and attempted to forcibly remove her underwear. He was found guilty of sexual assault by a lower court and sentenced to three years in prison. He later appealed the decision where it ended up in Judge Ganediwala’s appeals court.
Judge Ganediwala came to her decision by writing that the incident didn’t feature any “skin-on-skin” contact, meaning it failed to achieve the statutory requirements for sexual assault. While she acquitted the man of his sexual assault charge, she did find him guilty of molestation and sentenced him to one year in prison.
Challenging the Ruling
The ruling was met with extreme backlash by activists and rights lawyers all across India. Their largest point of contention is that nowhere in the 2012 Protection of Children From Sexual Offenses Act does it state that skin-on-skin contact is required. Beyond obvious and overt sexual acts, only intending to commit an act is enough to meet the statute.
Adding to their concerns is the prominence of the court. The High Court is about the equivalent of a U.S. District Appeals Court, meaning that it has the power to set a precedent. Like in the U.S., precedence plays an important factor in deciding cases and can often act as a way to clarify laws. Judge Ganediwala’s decision effectively makes the “skin-on-skin” metric the rule when deciding future sexual assault cases.
That requirement may be relatively short-lived. Lawyers from India’s Supreme Court Bar, as well as officials and lawyers from the National Commission for Women, are petitioning the Supreme Court to review and reject the decision. It’s unclear what exactly will happen at this time, but for many, the decision touches on a large issue in India: sex crimes.
The country has long struggled with sexual assaults against women and minors, with many thinking the laws and punishments are too lax against perpetrators.
The issue is so prevalent that in 2018, official figures showed that the rape of a woman was reported every 16 minutes.
See what others are saying: (Times of India) (CNN) (CBS NEWS)
Wealthy Canadian Couple Posed as Motel Workers To Jump Vaccine Queue
- Rodney Baker, the CEO of a Canadian casino company, resigned this week after he and his wife were caught traveling to a remote area in Yukon that is home to many indigenous people to jump the coronavirus vaccine queue.
- The two allegedly posed as motel workers and were given the first dose of the vaccine but raised suspicions when they asked to be taken straight to the airport immediately afterward.
- Both individuals received two fines, one for failing to self-isolate and a second for failing to follow their signed declarations, adding up to $1,150 each.
- The White River First Nation is calling for stiffer penalties, saying the small fine would be meaningless to the wealthy duo. For reference, the former CEO was paid a salary of more than $10.6 million in 2019.
Couple Dupes Local Healthcare Workers
Like many other countries, officials in Canada have been working hard to ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations. In the Yukon territory specifically, health workers have been giving priority to remote communities with elderly and high-risk populations, as well as limited access to healthcare.
One of those areas is Beaver Creek, which is home to many members of the White River First Nation. However, Beaver Creek is now making headlines after two wealthy Vancouver residents traveled there to jump ahead in the vaccine queue.
The two culprits were identified as 55-year-old Rodney Baker, president and CEO of Great Canadian Gaming Corp, and his wife, 32-year-old actress Ekaterina Baker.
They reportedly flew from Vancouver to Whitehouse, then chartered a private plane to the remote community. Afterward, they went to a mobile clinic where they were able to receive the Moderna vaccine after saying they were new hires at a nearby motel.
Their presence raised suspicions given how small the population is in Beaver Creek, but the two raised even more eyebrows when they asked to be taken straight to the airport after receiving their doses.
Workers from the vaccination clinic checked with the motel and alerted law enforcement when they learned that the Bakers had lied about working there.
The couple was stopped just as they were preparing to fly back to their luxury condo in downtown Vancouver. According to CBC, both individuals received two fines, one for failing to self-isolate and a second for failing to follow their signed declaration, adding up to $1,150 each.
Indigenous Community Responds
“We are deeply concerned by the actions of individuals who put our Elders and vulnerable people at risk to jump the line for selfish purposes,” the White River First Nation’s Chief Angela Demit said in a Facebook statement addressing the situation.
She also told The Washington Post that she wants to see stiffer penalties for the couple because the relatively small fines would be “essentially meaningless” for such wealthy individuals. For reference, Mr. Baker’s annual compensation in 2019 was reported to be more than $10.6 million.
Janet Vander Meer, the head of the White River First Nation’s coronavirus response team, also called the incident, “another example of ongoing acts of oppression against Indigenous communities by wealthy individuals that thought they would get away with it.”
“Our oldest resident of Beaver Creek, who is 88 years old, was in the same room as this couple. My mom, who’s palliative, was in the same room as this couple,” she told Globalnews.ca. “That’s got to be jail time. I can’t see anything less. For what our community has been through the last few days. The exhaustion. It’s just mind-boggling.”
To prevent situations like this in the future, a spokesman for the Yukon government said it would implement new requirements for proving residency in the territory.
As far as the Bakers, Rodney resigned from his role at Great Canadian this week. A spokesperson for the company, which is currently the subject of a separate money-laundering probe, says it “has no tolerance for actions that run counter to the company’s objectives and values.”
See what others are saying: (CBC) (The Washington Post) (Yukon News)
Protests Erupt Across the Netherlands Over COVID-19 Curfew
- For the third night in a row, Dutch police clashed with protesters and rioters in ten cities across the Netherlands.
- The protests are a result of frustrations over the 9:00 p.m. – 4:30 a.m. curfew the country imposed to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
- Rioters looted across major cities and even burned down a coronavirus testing site. So far, 184 people have been arrested and thousands have received fines for their participation.
- The Prime Minister has said that when possible, the curfew would be the first safety measure to go, but he also made it clear that those rioting over it were criminals and will be treated as such.
Violence Over Coronavirus Curfew
The Netherlands faced riots and protests over coronavirus curfews and lockdown measures for the third night in a row.
The protests raged across ten cities, including major ones such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague. Authorities say that 184 people have been arrested so far, and thousands have received fines for their participation.
Protesters are particularly upset with an ongoing curfew in the country that puts restrictions on travel between 9:00 p.m.- 4:30 a.m.. It’s meant to slow the spread of the virus by preventing nightlife activities; however, critics have questioned just how effective those measures actually are.
Beyond the skepticism, the Netherlands is also facing a spread of misinformation about COVID-19, leading many to downplay how dangerous it is.
Last night’s protests led to violence with police, as well as a COVID-19 testing site being burnt to the ground. Wider Dutch society has been shocked by the violence since protests of this nature are relatively rare in the nation.
Mayors across the country vowed to introduce emergency measures that are intended to help deal with the protests.
Coping With the Virus
Regarding the curfew itself, the government has refused to budge on the issue. When responding to last night’s violence, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that when possible, the curfew would be the first safety measure to go. Still, he also made it clear that those rioting over it were criminals and will be treated as such.
The Netherlands had managed to maintain the virus relatively successfully, six months ago, it had among the lowest new daily cases in Europe, with around 42 daily new cases in July. That all changed in September when cases began to rise dramatically, peaking of 11,499 daily new cases on Dec. 24.
Due to the imposed restrictions, cases began to fall again, although they are still far higher than they were in the summer of 2020.