Lebanon, imploding; COVID window, closing; China, emboldened; Giant ice shelf, collapsed; and just a bit more...
Lebanon, imploding. Several of Beirut’s deeply unpopular and Hezbollah hand-picked ministers finally have begun to resign, one after another, threatening a total collapse of the government, according to several reports on Monday. The ministers of justice, finance, and environment were among many to quit after a weekend of public protests following last week’s devastating explosion of a neglected warehouse, now a smoldering symbol of Lebanon’s dangerous dysfunction.
PM promises quick elections. On Saturday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab, reading the writing on the wall, said he would call for new elections soon.
Citizens furious. “It won't work, it's just the same people. It's a mafia,” Antoinette Baaklini, an employee of a power company damaged in the blast, told the Jerusalem Post. More on local “rage” from the New York Times, here.
Back into the streets. “Over the weekend, thousands of demonstrators surged into central Beirut, marching on government buildings and briefly seizing control of a series of ministries, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, before security forces retook the buildings,” WSJ reports.
Government may collapse. The current government was formed in January. “Members of the cabinet, in their entirety, were selected by militant and political group Hezbollah and its allies,” as the Wall Street Journal put it. But the resignations could break the carefully constructed sectarian balance required by the country’s constitution.
The United States’s response to the blast: “It will be substantial,” said Trump after participating in a conference call of international donors on Sunday. That effort is led by France’s Emmanual Macron, who has emerged as the face of international leadership, at least for this crisis. More on his call to action, here.
Esper blames the media for what he said. “We still don’t know,” why the Beirut explosion occurred, said Defense Secretary Mark Esper, told Fox on Saturday, walking back his Wednesday statement that “most believe” it was an accident. That had followed Trump’s speculation that it may have been “an attack,” which he attributed* to a meeting with “generals,” but with no evidence. White House and Pentagon officials have refused to identify which generals, or even confirm such a meeting happened. Trump himself later backtracked on his attack claim and said, “I don’t think anybody can say.” By Thursday, the Pentagon’s spokesman was saying nobody yet knew the cause.
Esper on Saturday “On the first day, as President Trump rightly said, we thought it might have been: attack,” he said, offering no hint as to why he changed his messaging or whether U.S. intelligence supported that assessment. And he blamed the media: “Yesterday, I commented that it was looking more like an accident. It’s regrettable that some in the media — not you — but some in the media rather than taking into consideration this great tragedy that fell upon the American people, are trying to draw divisions within the administration between maybe me and the president and others, and it’s simply not true.”
From Defense One
The Defense Reforms Taiwan Needs // Michael Hunzeker and Brian Davis: Taipei must stop buying the wrong weapons, restart work on its new strategy, and overhaul its reserve force.
US Troops Should Withdraw from Syria, Not Protect Oil Companies // Daniel L. Davis: Keeping 500 troops in-country to help Delta Crescent Energy drill only hurts America’s national security.
Defense Personnel to Get Crash Course in OpSec // Lindy Kyzer, Government Executive: But various problems have observers wondering whether it's a waste of time.
How the Pandemic Defeated America // Ed Yong, The Atlantic: A virus has brought the world’s most powerful country to its knees.
For Whom the Tok Tiks // Ian Bogost, The Atlantic: TikTok could persist in many ways in America. None is good.
Trump Has Launched a Three-Pronged Attack on the Election // Joshua A. Geltzer, Jennifer Taub, and Laurence H. Tribe, The Atlantic: And it starts with undermining the U.S. Postal Service.
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Esper: U.S. to have fewer than 5,000 troops in Afghanistan by November. In his Saturday interview on Fox, the SecDef also said that the reduction would be carried out only if the Pentagon believes it can do its missions with so few troops. "Right now, we think that we can do all the core missions, first and foremost being ensured the United States is not threatened by terrorists coming out of Afghanistan," he said. "We can do those at a lower level." The Hill has a bit more, here.
Conditions-based, or election-based? Trump on July 28 said* the number of troops would decrease from about 8,600 to 8,000 “in a very short period of time,” and then “probably anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000” by Election Day. (Defense One)
Winter is coming, and that’s why “America’s window of opportunity to beat back COVID-19 is closing,” STAT News reports this morning. Colder weather will push gatherings indoors, where germs spread more easily. “The best time to squash a pandemic is when the environmental characteristics slow transmission. It’s your one opportunity in the year, really, to leverage that extra assistance and get transmission under control,” said epidemiologist Michael Mina, an assistant professor in Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and associate medical director of clinical microbiology at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Instead, too many people are choosing risky behaviors, and too many leaders risky policies. “We just continue to squander every bit of opportunity we get with this epidemic to get it under control,” Mina said.
Inside the White House’s “lost summer.” The Washington Post interviewed more than 40 people in and out of the Trump administration and emerged with this portrait of dysfunction and science denialism.
By the numbers: 162,481 Americans dead of the coronavirus, of more than 5 million infected, per the New York Times’ tracker.
Canada’s last intact ice shelf disintegrates. A chunk of Milne Ice Shelf bigger than Manhattan has fallen into the Arctic Ocean, the latest victim of the climate crisis. (Reuters)
The COVID lockdown helped slow global warming less than many hoped. "Temporarily, the pandemic reduced the emissions of the world's biggest carbon polluters by 20-25% in just a few weeks." says Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech. But a new paper in Science Climate Change finds that the world’s quarantines will prevent just .01 degree Celsius of global warming by 2050.
Still, Hayhoe sees hope in the way the global community changed its behavior on a dime to meet a threat. "I find this incredibly hopeful because if we made those changes permanent we'd be halfway to the Paris Climate Accords target in just four weeks,” she said.
Report: U.S. intelligence community watered down election-tampering conclusions. The NYT’s Robert Draper reports that a classified 2019 National Intelligence Estimate was changed to accommodate Trump’s fury over Russia’s meddling on his behalf. “The depth of Trump’s animosity has been known since before his inauguration,” Draper wrote in a long piece published on Friday. “What has not been known is the full extent of how this suspicion has reshaped the intelligence community and the personal and professional calculations of its members, forcing officials to walk a fine line between serving the president and maintaining the integrity of their work.”
A watershed: “If the story is true,” tweeted former Acting and Deputy CIA Director Michael Morrell, “it is the first example the public knows of the IC tailoring a written product to avoid angering POTUS. That would be the IC politicizing its own work.”
China loves Joe: On Friday, U.S. intelligence officials detailed what they can tell us about foreign interference into the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign.
No surprise, the Russians still favor Trump while the Chinese, on the receiving end of Trump’s major anti-China policy and public messaging campaign this year, would prefer Joe Biden defeat the incumbent.
“Russia is ‘using a range of measures’ to interfere in the 2020 election and has enlisted a pro-Russian lawmaker from Ukraine — who has met with President Trump’s personal lawyer — ‘to undermine former vice president [Joe] Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party,’” said Bill Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center.
“I don’t care what anybody says,” said Trump, immediately undercutting the U.S. intelligence assessment.
Lastly today: China sends fighter jets sent to intimidate Trump’s man in Taiwan. HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar II’s meeting with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen represents the highest-level American official to visit the island since 1979. China is none too pleased. More from the NYT, here.
Chinese hackers have made off with many of the trade secrets of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry, which makes a huge chunk of the chips that power U.S.-made and -used products, WIRED reports off presentations at last week’s Black Hat security conference.
Meanwhile, Beijing is growing bolder in Hong Kong, where security forces arrested prominent media tycoon Jimmy Lai, his sons, and several executives of his pro-democracy media outlets. (WaPo)
And finally, now Rubio gets sanctioned. China has retaliated against U.S. sanctions by naming 11 Americans for its own penalty box, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and New Jersey’s Rep. Chris Smith, a longtime China critic over its restrictions against Christian missionaries and proselytizing, who also has spoken out in support of Muslim Uighars’ religious freedom. CNN: “Rubio tweeted Monday morning, ‘Last month #China banned me. Today they sanctioned me. I don't want to be paranoid but I am starting to think they don't like me.’”