Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Justice Department watchdog announces probe into the behavior of federal agents during protest crackdown, the Taliban say they are ready to negotiate with Kabul in August, and China retaliates for Houston consulate closure by ordering the United States out of Chengdu.
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Watchdog to Investigate Federal Crackdown On Protests
The U.S. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has announced an investigation into the use of force by federal agents during recent protests against police violence and systemic racism.
The decision comes as U.S. President Trump has sent federal law enforcement personnel from various agencies to three American cities, with plans to deploy to more cities over the next three weeks. The moves have been criticized as political stunts, not least since all the cities targeted in the crackdown are run by Democratic Party mayors. One of those mayors, Portland’s Ted Wheeler, was tear-gassed while standing with protesters on Wednesday night.
The Justice Department investigation will look at the behavior of federal agents in two U.S. cities. They include allegations of excessive force against protestors in Portland, Oregon and the June 1 incident at Lafayette Square in Washington, when protestors were clubbed and tear gassed in order to make way for a presidential photo opportunity in front of St. John’s Church.
The F word. Writing in Foreign Policy on Thursday, Yale History Professor Timothy Snyder discusses why the history of fascism helps explain our present moment, and how understanding it may offer us a way out. “It can happen in the United States, and some of it has already happened, but the rest of it need not,” he writes.
On July 21, FP’s Michael Hirsh wrote a detailed essay on why fascists fail. In it, he offers some hope for those who worry about America’s democratic decline. “The good news is that history tells us he will almost certainly fail in the end, especially since Trump possesses nothing like the fearsome competence or detailed programs of fascists past,” he writes.
What We’re Following Today
China closes Chengdu. China’s Foreign Ministry retaliated in a tit-for-tat manner for the closure this week of the consulate in Houston by ordering U.S. diplomats to vacate the consulate in Chengdu, in the country’s southwest. The move is an escalation of sorts, since some observers expected Beijing might retaliate by kicking the United States out of the still-vacant consulate in Wuhan, but is a less dramatic move than shuttering a bigger diplomatic outpost like Shanghai. While the State Department ordered the Chinese to vacate Houston by Friday, it’s not clear they will. Speaking to Politico on Thursday, Cai Wei, the Chinese consul general in Houston, did not commit to closing the consulate today, and said it would remain open “until further notice.”
Taliban ready to talk. The Taliban is ready for talks “immediately” after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha has passed at the end of the month, as long as prisoner release requirements are met by that time, a Taliban spokesman has said. That means talks could begin as soon as August. The Afghan government has not yet responded to the announcement. Both sides are close to meeting their agreements on prisoner releases: Kabul must release 600 more Taliban prisoners to meet the terms of the deal and the Taliban must release a further 136 government prisoners.
U.S. jet confronts Iranian airliner. Passengers on an Iranian commercial airliner suffered minor injuries after it was forced to drop altitude suddenly to avoid a collision with a U.S. fighter jet over Syrian airspace. The plane had been traveling from Iran to Beirut with approximately 150 passengers on board. A U.S. Central Command spokesman said the U.S. F-15 was conducting a “standard visual inspection” on the plane as it was flying close to the U.S. military base at al-Tanf.
Mediation in Mali. Mediation efforts are continuing in Mali between the country’s opposition and President Ibrahim Boubcar Keita after a deal to form a unity government was rejected by the opposition because it would keep Keita as president. Keita still has 3 years to run on his second term, having been re-elected in 2018. Protests against Keita’s rule began on June 5, fueled by dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of an Islamist insurgency and ongoing corruption allegations.
China joins Mars race. China has launched a spacecraft that aims to reach Mars in February 2021, the first time it has sent an independent mission to another planet. The rocket included a rover—Tianwen-1—in its payload which plans to search for underground water and test the planet’s soil and atmosphere. It is the second Mars mission to launch in the past week, after the United Arab Emirates launched an unmanned orbiting probe to Mars on Monday.
Italexit? Italian Senator Gianluigi Paragone, a former member of the Five Star Movement, launched the “Italexit” party on Thursday following a meeting with Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage. While announcing his decision, Paragone cited a recent poll showing a sliver of Italians (7 percent) would vote for a an anti-European Union party. “Consensus will only grow further, in line with the lies Europe tells us,” Paragone said.
A mile high price. The Mexican presidential plane has returned to Mexico after failing to find a buyer in the United States. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador put the Boeing 787 up for sale when he took office in 2018, a nod to his populist campaign, and it spent the last year and a half in the United States. Former President Enrique Peña Nieto bought the jet, which features marble-lined bathrooms, in 2012. The $130 million resale price has scared off buyers so far.
War gaming. The U.S. Army has conducted a tactical retreat from Twitch, a popular online video game streaming site, after ethical and legal questions about its conduct on the platform. The U.S. Army’s esports team (made up of active duty service members) has been on the platform since 2019 and had used its presence on the site to entice prospective recruits. The Army allegedly ran fake giveaways for gaming products that, when clicked, took users directly to recruitment pages. The Army’s Twitch channel had also blocked users who had asked U.S. service members to comment on U.S. war crimes, potentially stifling the questioners’ right to speak freely without government interference. An Army spokesperson said the team had “paused” streaming for the time being to “review internal policies and procedures.”
That’s it for today.
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