Can Trump put out the fire he started?
• The Wall Street Journal presents its version of the deliberations that took place in the White House last week:
“Military officials have long said they don’t seek a conflict with Iran. They were concerned about casualties and about ensuring any strike option was proportional, but they also worried about an Iranian response. The U.S. military’s presence in the region has been reduced over the years and no one wanted to stumble into a conflict with the military operating with reduced capabilities, a number of officials said.
“Pompeo was supportive of strikes at the breakfast, but also more understanding of the reluctance that others perceived coming from the Defense Department, administration and White House officials. Vice President Mike Pence supported the strikes in a national-security meeting later that morning, then supported the president’s decision to halt them, according to these officials.
“At that national-security meeting, the recommended option was presented to the president, officials said. Casualties were discussed and the president agreed to the plan, one official said…
“That estimate came later on Thursday: 150 potential casualties, or about 40 to 50 at each strike, Trump explained on Saturday.
“But one administration official disputed that estimate, saying it was a worst-case scenario for a strike that happened in the middle of the day. The strikes were planned for the middle of the night, when there would have been a few casualties at each location, the official said.
« That still may have been too many for Trump. ‘Anything is a lot when you shoot down an unmanned’ drone, the president said Saturday, when asked about the casualty estimates.”
• In a major rebuke of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, voters in Istanbul elected Ekrem Imamoglu to be mayor of Turkey’s most populous city. The election was a rerun from three months ago, after Imamoglu — a candidate from the main opposition party — pulled off a stunning victory over Erdogan’s chosen candidate. But the result was overturned on technical grounds by a court, a move that was seen as ominous sign for Turkey’s beleaguered democracy. Imamoglu’s repeat victory shows that there’s some hope yet. From my colleague Kareem Fahim:
“Ruling party candidate Binali Yildirim, a former prime minister, conceded the race in a televised speech shortly after the results showed Ekrem Imamoglu leading with nearly 54 percent of the votes. Erdogan, who fought tooth and nail to retain the mayor’s seat, offered his own congratulations on Twitter a short time later…
“Imamoglu’s win on Sunday gave Turkey’s main opposition party nominal control of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and its commercial hub, after decades of dominance by the AKP. Erdogan’s legendary political gifts, including his ability to sway elections by force of personality and to mobilize his sizable base of supporters, had failed him, at least for the moment…
“Turkey’s faltering economy and the soaring cost of basic goods were central concerns in both elections. But this time, some people also said they were angered by the cancellation of March’s vote, viewing it as a cynical manipulation of Turkey’s democracy.”
• North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has received an “excellent” letter from Trump and is seriously considering what his American counterpart had to say, North Korean state media reported Sunday. From my colleague Simon Denyer:
“Earlier this month, Trump announced he had received a ‘beautiful letter’ from Kim, breaking the silence between the two men since a summit in Hanoi in February ended in failure. The president appears to have written back and received a similarly warm response…
“Trump will travel to South Korea’s capital, Seoul, June 29-30, and some experts had suggested he might even try to arrange a meeting with Kim at the border between North and South Korea — although that would give the two sides no time to prepare.
“The news of Trump’s letter comes just after a landmark state visit to North Korea by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, which celebrated and strengthened the ties between the two countries. That visit has also helped bolster China’s role as a significant player in North Korea denuclearization talks.”
• Hundreds of thousands in Prague took to the streets to demand the Czech prime minister’s resignation. The rally against Andrej Babis was the biggest show of public discontent since the 1989 Velvet Revolution that overthrew communism.
The ripple effect
Their screams must have carried for miles in the thin air of the Atlas Mountains, anguished sounds of a terrorist attack that no one was there to hear, see or stop. Maren Ueland, 28, and Louisa Jespersen, 24, Scandinavian students who revered the outdoors, were descending North Africa’s highest peak in December when they encountered four men searching for Westerners to kill.
The men waited until after nightfall, then approached the women’s tent with knives and misplaced hopes of becoming Islamist heroes. They attacked Ueland, a Norwegian, and her Danish friend, Jespersen, in their sleeping bags, stabbed them until their bodies went limp and severed their heads in a ghastly sequence recorded on a cellphone.
The December 2018 attack, like so many in this age of mass killings and social media, was an act of senseless and performative violence. The killers became absorbed in a violent Islamist universe they saw on the screens of their cellphones. Their overriding aim was to impress the Islamic State, earn the status of soldiers in its apocalyptic struggle and see their own recording distributed across the group’s propaganda platforms. But the Islamic State did not distribute the video, refused to acknowledge the attack and to this day has ignored the Moroccans’ pledges of loyalty.
The video went viral nonetheless, viewed millions of times by Islamic State supporters who didn’t share the group’s selectivity, by dark-Web bottom dwellers devoted to gore and by the morbidly curious.
The most alarming audience, however, was one that the attackers had not envisioned: far-right and white-nationalist movements. Extremists posted gruesome scenes of the women’s deaths on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms alongside condemnations of Islam and calls for a civilizational clash.
When officials in Norway and Denmark pleaded with the public to stop sharing the video, that effort was denounced by far-right groups as a betrayal of religion and race — censorship of content that revealed the true nature of Islam.
The victims were caught between warring ideologies that they had rejected in life. In the days after the attack, far-right activists scoured the women’s social media accounts and mocked them for their tolerant views.
“It is obvious to point out the naivete of the two deceased, but they are, as all, a product of their upbringing,” said an entry on Uriasposten, a Danish, anti-Islamic website. “Perhaps the eternal struggle against ‘prejudice’ has unpleasant side effects.” — Greg Miller and Souad Mekhennet
Leaders from the Group of 20, which includes 19 nations and the European Union, will gather in Osaka, Japan, on Friday and Saturday for a global summit that hopes to tackle major problems like climate change, women’s empowerment and the global economy. But attention will likely be on the state of the U.S.-China trade war. President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are planning to meet during the summit, hoping to get talks back on track since things devolved in early May. The South China Morning Post reports that negotiators are frantically preparing for the high-stakes meeting. After speaking with Xi by phone on Tuesday, Trump said he thought there was “a chance” the two countries could strike a deal.
Speaking of deals, the remaining signatories of the Iran nuclear deal will meet Friday in Vienna to « tackle challenges arising from the withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions by the United States on Iran,” according to a statement from the European Union. Since Trump pulled out of the accord last year, tensions between Tehran and Washington have been heating up. The United States has reimposed suffocating sanctions on the country, prompting Iran to announce it would “surpass the deal’s limit on enriched uranium” by Thursday, according to Radio Free Europe. The Vienna meeting of representatives from Iran, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia will aim to “keep Iran fully compliant with its commitments,” said Federica Mogherini, the E.U.’s top diplomat.
In more domestic matters, candidates for the Democratic presidential primary will hold their first debates on Wednesday and Thursday. It’s a crowded field of 20 contenders who are hoping to oust Trump from the White House in 2020. Former vice president Joe Biden is leading in the polls, but has come under recent fire for comments concerning his past working relationships with segregationist lawmakers.
And the Trump administration’s much-touted and controversial summit on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will take place in Bahrain on Tuesday and Wednesday. As readers of Today’s WorldView know, the conference has been condemned by much of the Palestinian community as a bid to ease the economic struggles of Palestinians without granting them any rights. The move is unlikely bring the region any closer to peace: The Post reports that representatives from Israel and Palestine probably won’t show up. — Ruby Mellen