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What We're Watching: Biden's secret papers, Ukrainians in Oklahoma, Tigrayan demobilization

US President Joe Biden during a campaign stop ahead of the midterm elections in Hallandale Beach, Florida.

US President Joe Biden during a campaign stop ahead of the midterm elections in Hallandale Beach, Florida.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Check your closets for classified docs

It’s been a rollercoaster kind of week for US President Joe Biden.

On the downside, it seems he just plumb forgot to return not one but two batches of classified documents from his days as VP. The first cache was reportedly found on Nov. 2 – yes, you read that right, just days before the midterms – but not reported publicly until Monday. Then, on Wednesday, reports emerged of a second tranche of unreturned docs discovered at another location. Biden, keen to distinguish himself from the way former President Donald Trump handled his own classified documents scandal, said his lawyers followed protocol and immediately contacted the National Archives about returning the documents. A Justice Department review is underway.

The good news this week for Biden is that for the first time since the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan in Aug. 2021, his approval rating (46%) is now higher than his disapproval (45%), according to an Economist/YouGov survey. Why the uptick? Biden has signed major pieces of legislation like CHIPS and the Inflation Reduction Act in recent months. Meanwhile, Republicans blew their chance for a “red wave” in the midterms, and the GOP's chaotic election of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy shows just how deep divisions in the party are. Still, House GOP members are hellbent on investigating Biden over a range of issues including, perhaps, the newfound classified files. Biden has had a good nine months — could the GOP-controlled house change his fortunes?

Ukrainian fighters headed for Oklahoma

As Russia and Ukraine argue over who is winning the battle for strategically important towns in the Donbas region, there are new signs that US support for Ukraine’s defense is intensifying. The US Defense Department has announced it will welcome up to 100 Ukrainian soldiers to a training facility in Oklahoma next week to teach them over the coming months how to use and maintain a truck-mounted Patriot missile defense system (or battery) that the US has agreed to provide to Ukraine’s military. (The US is supplying one battery, and Germany will provide a second.) It’s a significant step toward helping Ukraine establish a unified air defense system at a time when Russia is relying heavily on long-range artillery to target critical Ukrainian military and civilian infrastructure as well as Ukrainian cities. This isn’t the first time Ukrainian soldiers have been invited to the US for training, but it remains unusual. The US also says it will train hundreds more Ukrainians in Germany in the use of other powerful weapons.

The long road to peace in Ethiopia

Tigrayan rebels on Wednesday started handing over heavy weapons to Ethiopia's federal government, as mandated by a cease-fire agreement signed two months ago. The deal ended more than two years of armed conflict and a humanitarian crisis that has killed thousands, left hundreds of thousands close to famine, and displaced millions. So far, so good, right? Not so fast. First, aid delivery and services have resumed but remain far below what's needed for a region that has been clobbered by fighting and cut off from the rest of Ethiopia since Nov. 2020. Second, before signing on the dotted line, the Tigrayans demanded the withdrawal of troops from neighboring Eritrea, who have been on-again, off-again fighting on behalf of the Ethiopian government for much of the war. Not all the foreign soldiers have left, and Asmara — which did not join the peace talks in South Africa — has been silent for months. Demobilization of the rebels is a big step toward ending the conflict, but peace will remain elusive until all of Tigray is fully back to business and Eritrea is finally out.


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