Lima Charlie’s Weekly Review: U.S. Politics Edition – Highlights of the week in U.S. domestic, geo, cyber, politics. This week: Syrian missile strike, Paul Ryan’s exit, Mark Zuckerberg testifies, a European blockchain partnership and more.
US Domestic Politics
House Speaker Paul Ryan Embarks On Final Term
On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI) officially announced he will be retiring from Congress at the end of the current term he is serving.
Ryan’s joint fundraising committee raised $11.1 million dollars in just the first quarter of 2018 and his decision this week could hurt GOP fundraising for the current election cycle. Ryan is a prolific fundraiser, having raised almost $55 million for the GOP during the full 2018 cycle.
Among the accomplishments Ryan has touted are the major reform of the nation’s tax code for the first time in 36 years and rebuilding the nation’s military, from a budget perspective.
Of note, revisions to social security, Medicare, and Medicaid are unlikely to move forward, given that Ryan was one of the staunchest proponents of these changes.
The challenger vying for Ryan’s seat in November is Randy Bryce, an Army veteran who has come out strongly against Ryan, notably saying, “The mission was to repeal and replace Paul Ryan with a working person. Obviously, we’ve been able to push him out … but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
For more of Lima Charlie’s political coverage, both domestic and foreign, check out our reporting here.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Wraps Up Final Day of Congressional Testimony
On Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, wrapped up two days of Senate testimony, responding to 44 senators across two committees.
While Zuckerberg was not under oath, he was of course required to tell the truth to the Commerce Committee, given that lying to Congress is a federal crime.
The 33-year-old executive sat through hours of questions, striking a largely contrite tone and assuring his company may be open to certain aspects of regulation.
Zuckerberg confirmed that Facebook is cooperating with Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in 2016’s election and even confirmed that his own data was accessed by Cambridge Analytics.
Lawmakers had a five minute limit on their questions and, ultimately, the CEO noted that he is of the position that there should be some regulation, noting, “I think the real question, as the internet becomes more important in people’s lives is what is the right regulation, not whether there should be or not.”
Zuckerberg also received a great deal of pushback from Republican lawmakers, at one point stating he was not “specifically aware” of instances in which liberal content received censorship from Facebook, such as content from Planned Parenthood, MoveOn.org, or any Democratic candidate for office.
Ultimately, lawmakers raised issues concerning whether Facebook is capable of regulating itself and, despite this discussion, many find it unlikely that regulatory legislation will be passed any time soon. The Republican-led Congress and current administration have focused on deregulation in large part, instead. Nevertheless, during the testimony, Zuckerberg was unable to name even a single competitor which provides the same services as Facebook, leaving many to believe the company does have a monopoly on the market and regulation would be well-suited especially in light of the recent Cambridge Analytica news.
For more of Lima Charlie’s tech reporting, check out our coverage here.
President Trump Pardons “Scooter” Libby, Former Cheney Chief of Staff
On Friday morning, President Trump issued a full pardon to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former Chief of Staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Libby resigned from his 3 positions as Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs, Chief of Staff, and Assistant to the President, in October 2005 after being indicted on five counts by a federal grand jury. He was convicted of four counts, one of obstruction of justice, two of perjury, and one of making false statements. He was the highest-ranking White House official convicted in a government scandal since John Poindexter during the Iran-Contra affair.
Just three years ago, a key witness against Libby recanted her testimony and, today, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders noted Libby’s decade of “honorable service to the Nation” was admirable.
President Trump does not know Libby personally but noted, “for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly” in a 236-word statement on the pardoning.
US, UK, and France Launch Missiles Against Syria
On Friday night, the US launched a series of missile offensives, in concert with Britain and France, in response to allegations that the Bashar al Assad led government deployed chemical weapons against the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma, Syria, on April 7th.
— LIMA CHARLIE NEWS (@LimaCharlieNews) April 14, 2018
— Department of State (@StateDept) April 14, 2018
In a tweet on April 8th, President Trump said, “President Putin, Russia, and Iran are responsible for backing Gas Killing Animal Assad. Big price to pay.”
Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2018
President Trump followed on April 11th tweeting, “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
Friday’s missile strike comes almost exactly a year to the day after the US launched 59 Tomahawk missiles against the Shayrat Air Base, where a chemical attack was alleged to have been initiated on the Syrian town of Khan Shaikhun on April 4, 2017. On February 2, 2018, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated that while the US response to the Khan Shaikhun attack in 2017 was justifiable, the US had no actual evidence that the attack had involved chemical agents.
— LIMA CHARLIE NEWS (@LimaCharlieNews) April 14, 2018
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called the attack a “staged occurrence,” accusing the UK of involvement in its staging. Russia claimed the reports were a provocation to justify Western intervention in the region.
The April 7th attack in Douma took place just days after Trump ordered the military to pull US troops out of Syria, saying the US had won its fight against ISIS in the region already.
Following the incident, however, President Trump agreed during a National Security Council meeting to keep troops in Syria, while not committing to a long-term presence.
On Sunday, during a two-hour televised interview with several French media outlets, French President Emmanuel Macron said that he had “convinced” President Trump to stay in Syria before the US, UK and France launched Friday’s strikes.
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22 European Nations Enter Into Blockchain Partnership
This week, 22 European states—including Austria, Estonia, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia, and Sweden signed a partnership to form a European blockchain partnership which will embrace the technology and artificial intelligence.
(North America leads Europe in blockchain funding, although Europe and Asia are close competitors in the region. | Source: Funderbeam)
According to the Press Release, new countries across Europe are invited to join. Earlier this year in February, the European Commission launched the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum which was formed to help the Forum “play an active role in helping Europe to seize new opportunities offered by blockchain, build expertise and show leadership in the field.”
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China’s Strategy for Becoming a Blue-Water Navy
While Australia has dismissed claims that China is looking to open up a military base in Vanuatu, the possibility remains, resulting in Chinese warships maintaining a potential presence less than 3000 kilometers off of Australia’s coast.
The possibility of Chinese presence in this region is very real given the pattern we have seen of China’s engagement in infrastructure projects that provide a dual military and civil use. China has recently established a military base in Djibouti, raising geopolitical tensions in the region, comprising its only naval base abroad. The US, in comparison has 700 military installations across upwards of 120 countries.
Both countries have insisted that there are no plans for this installation, but the geopolitical strategy of the move would place China’s military interests in the heart of the South Pacific. The move will assist China in taking modest steps toward becoming a blue-water navy.
Just last year, China had 183 cruisers, destroyers, small surface ships and submarines in comparison to the US’ 188.
Even China’s neighboring countries are expanding their maritime spheres of influence, including India Singapore, Thailand, and Taiwan. India’s goal is to add 60 warships over the next decade to contribute to a 200-vessel fleet.
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India, South Korea Sign Agreement For Maritime Cooperation
On Tuesday, India and South Korea signed a joint agreement to recognize competency certificates of seafarers, allowing maritime cooperation between the two nations and giving Indian mariners a chance to seek employment on upwards of 500 Korean ships.
India inks MOU on Mutual Recognition of Certificates of Competency of Seafarers in presence of Shri @nitin_gadkari & Minister of Oceans & Fisheries of Republic of Korea #ROK. This will help #Korea with its big shipping fleet & India with its large pool of sea-farers. #Sagarmala pic.twitter.com/C49KKsnwEd
— Ministry of Shipping (@shipmin_india) April 10, 2018
The memorandum of understanding was signed earlier this week and Indian shipping and transport minister Nitin Gadkari noted, “Korea is a large ship owning nation. As of now, Korean entities own more than 500 foreign going ships, and need seafarers to work on their fleet.”
Just last year, the number of Indian seafarers employed on Indian and foreign-flagged ships hit the 150,000 threshold for the very first time.
Geopolitically, India is the fifth largest supplier of officers following China, the Philippines, Ukraine, and Russia.
Next Mars Rover 2020 Launch Official
The assembly of the next Mars Rover has officially begun this week, with the spacecraft set to launch in 2020.
Just three years ago, NASA released Mars Trek which provides a fully interactive map of Mars based on previous missions.
Geopolitically, the race to Mars has drawn attempts and future plans from all corners of the world: In Europe, the ESA and Russia have joined forces for an ExoMars program which will reach the surface this October, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, Mangalyaan reached the Red Planet in September of 2014, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is also considering launching missions to Mars’ two moons, and the UAE is building a Mars Orbiter for Japan to launch in 2020.
South American Pink Tide Recedes as Former Brazilian Socialist Leader Imprisoned
On April 7, the former Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva was placed in federal prison.
The moment marked an inflection for the country and a watershed moment for the continent, as Lula was an icon of the left, whose corruption signaled a low point for socialism in Latin America.
The country is poised to see the height of its receding Pink Tide—Marea Rosa—as Brazilian politician and former military officer Jair Messias Bolsonaro and far-right candidate for the presidency has ascended to the lead in 2018 polls.
Bolsonaro is a nationalist, devout Christian with pro-gun, anti-abortion, and anti-gay rights beliefs and is seen as the only likely contender for the presidency.
Brazil’s conservative transition can mainly credit the rise in evangelical Christianity to which more than 33% of Brazilians ascribe. Those who support conservative values feel a sense of empowerment as a result of the left’s connection to the Operation Car Wash scandal which Silva was a key part of, involving money laundering and bribery. The scandal received its name because it became the biggest corruption scandal in Latin America and the illicit ring used a currency exchange service at the Posto da Torre (Tower’s Gas Station) in Brasilia to move the illegal payments.
President Trump has decided not to attend the Summit of the Americas currently occurring in the region, given the developments in Syria at the moment, sending the Vice President to the meeting. The Summit brings together more than 30 Organization of American States, including Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia, the US, and Uruguay.
At one time, Brazil was the powerhouse of the Pink Tide of leftist governments, with Chavez in Venezuela, Kirchner in Argentina, Mujica in Uruguay, and Bachelet in Chile. Most of the leaders in this Tide are either out of power or deceased with the exception of Venezuela’s Maduro.
China, Vatican To Set Terms of Agreement as Taiwan’s Holy See Relations Remain Uncertain
As China looks to open up diplomatic relations with The Vatican, a great deal of uncertainty lies in wait for Taiwan. Typically, when a country opens up diplomatic relations with Beijing, it will seek to break ties with Taiwan.
In this case, The Vatican has recognized Taiwan since 1942 and is, at the moment, the only European state with full diplomatic relations. When pushed, Panama even dropped connections with Taiwan when requested by China in 2017.
The issue arose as an imminent deal to determine how to appoint bishops in China came up, with Beijing desiring a full say in the decisions made by the state-led Chinese Catholic Church.
In 1957, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association was formed to ensure that state-sanctioned churches followed the wishes of the Communist Party, with the state-controlled Bishop Conference of the Catholic Church in China selecting and appointing its clerics. While the Holy See has implicitly approved these nominations over the last few decades, it has excommunicated seven it determined were “illicitly ordained.”
Many conservatives in the US have spoken out against talks between the Holy See and Beijing, hoping the Vatican will turn away from China and President-for-Life Xi Jinping.
LIMA CHARLIE NEWS
[Edited by Nikita Roach]
Lima Charlie provides global news, insight & analysis by military veterans and service members Worldwide.
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