Foreign Policy

Trump Returns to White Home Amid Outbreak

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Donald Trump leaves Walter Reed military hospital amid widespread criticism, Ethiopia bans flights over the controversial Renaissance Dam, and European countries introduce a new round of coronavirus restrictions.

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Trump Faces Criticism Over Handling of His Treatment 

U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Monday that he is being discharged from Walter Reed military hospital after undergoing treatment for a COVID-19 diagnosis he received last week. In the tweet announcing the news, Trump urged Americans not to “be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life” and praised his administration’s development of “some really great drugs & knowledge.” The move came just three days after Trump was first admitted to the hospital.

Taking the heat. Despite initially receiving support from across the political spectrum, Trump’s handling of his own diagnosis has invited heavy criticism. Critics charged that Trump’s “don’t be afraid” message trivializes the disease in the face of more than 210,000 deaths in the United States. He previously faced criticism on Sunday after he left Walter Reed in a motorcade to drive past supporters congregated outside, a move that led Dr. James Phillips, an attending physician at the hospital, to chide the president, arguing that “the irresponsibility is astounding.”

Closing in. Trump’s release comes as his inner circle continues to be hit hard by the virus. Several top White House and Republican officials have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days with White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany being the latest after she announced on Monday on Twitter that she had tested positive.

A new beginning? There is some speculation that Trump’s personal experience with the disease may cause him to change his approach to the pandemic and adopt a more serious tone, similar to the way other infected leaders have. But as Foreign Policy’s Micah Zenko wrote, “the president will never take COVID-19 seriously, and the federal government’s lack of urgency and overall incompetency will persist.”

More damage. More than that, Trump’s experience could hurt the United States’ already damaged reputation on the international stage. Not only does it open obvious vulnerabilities in the country’s constitutional fabric that its adversaries could exploit, it also erodes Trump’s credibility even further and could make other governments even more distrustful of the him. In the event of an international incident, Zenko warned that “during the remaining weeks of the presidential campaign … few would believe anything uttered by Trump or anyone who works for him.”

What We’re Following Today

Venezuela strikes gold. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has scored an important victory in the United Kingdom. A British appeals court ruled that a legal battle over $1 billion in gold belonging to the Venezuelan government but stored in London should be reconsidered. The ruling reversed a decision made by a lower court which said that the British government had recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president, meaning Maduro couldn’t withdraw the funds. But the justices presiding over the case said that the British government’s continued willingness to work with Maduro diplomatically is inconsistent with its official stance on the matter.

The status of the gold was left uncertain after Washington successfully convinced London to block Maduro’s access to it. Venezuela’s central bank sued the Bank of England over the move, and Monday’s decision put Maduro in a stronger position to actually retrieve the gold.

Ethiopia bans flights over Renaissance Dam. Ethiopia has banned all flights over its controversial Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile tributary, a move that is likely to worsen the ongoing dispute with Egypt and Sudan over the project. “All flights have been banned to secure the dam,” Wesenyeleh Hunegnaw, the director-general of the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, told Reuters. Later on Monday, in a speech to parliament, Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde told lawmakers that construction was underway to begin a second filling of the dam and that it would begin generating power within the next year.

The dispute between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan has intensified since Ethiopia first began filling the dam in July, but despite several rounds of talks, no long-term resolution has been determined. Ethiopia argues that the dam is vital to its economic development, whereas Egypt and Sudan contend that it threatens their fresh water supply. Read FP’s coverage of the dispute here.

Protests rock Kyrgyzstan. Protests have started in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek and other parts of the country over allegations of vote-rigging in last weekend’s parliamentary election. Protesters stormed a parliamentary building on Tuesday and 120 people have been hospitalized after police used force to disperse demonstrators. Two pro-government parties emerged as the clear winners, but only two other parties out of 16 total that stood candidates crossed the 7 percent threshold required to win any seats. International observers have called allegations of electoral fraud “credible” and a “serious concern,” and opposition parties have said they will not recognize the results of the election. 

Following Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, the emerging crisis makes Kyrgyzstan the most recent in a string of former Soviet republics to face turmoil, testing Russia’s capacity to handle multiple crises developing along its borders.

Europe nears lockdown. European countries are slowly implementing new restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus as cases across the continent continue to surge. On Monday, the Irish government rejected advice from a top government health team recommending that the country return to full lockdown, but chose instead to reintroduce a series of measures that will restrict movement and limit restaurant and pub capacity. The decision follows a move by France on Sunday to place Paris under maximum coronavirus alert, closing all bars and placing certain restrictions on restaurants. Spain also announced partial lockdowns in Madrid and two other cities.

Oman normalizes relations with Syria. Oman sent a new ambassador to Syria on Sunday, becoming the first Gulf state to normalize relations with Syria following a mass diplomatic exodus from the country in the aftermath of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal response to protests against his rule at the beginning of the country’s civil war in 2011. Oman stood out among its neighbors because it was one of very few Arab countries that did not completely sever relations with Syria, reflecting the country’s determination not to take sides.

The decision also demonstrates Syria’s slow move back to normality now that Assad’s government has mostly restored its authority. Last month, Assad and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met to discuss rebuilding the Syrian economy. The United States, however, has hit back at these moves. Last week, it imposed a new round of sanctions on key Syrian individuals.

Tasmanian devils have been reintroduced to the wild in mainland Australia, a significant development for the carnivorous marsupials after the species had been nearly hunted to extinction in many parts of the world. The conservation group Aussie Ark released several groups of Tasmanian devils—which got their name as a result of their high-pitched squeals—into a 1,000-acre enclosed sanctuary in order to maximize their chances of survival, though no food, water, or shelter was supplied to mimic conditions in the wild. “We’ve got some basic means of keeping an eye on them,” said Aussie Ark President Tim Faulker. “But essentially, now it’s over to the devils to do what they do.”

That’s it for today.

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