What We're Watching: Another Egyptian Uprising?

American Boots on Saudi Soil – Last Friday, President Donald Trump announced the deployment of additional US troops to Saudi Arabia in response to an attack on Saudi oil facilities that Washington and Riyadh blame on Iran. The Pentagon says Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates asked for the troops as a deterrent to more Iranian attacks on their critical infrastructure. We wonder about the wisdom of using American soldiers solely as a kind of "tripwire." How will the US respond if Iran or the Houthis launch an attack that (deliberately or inadvertently) kills US troops? Also, we're old enough to remember that Osama bin Laden's first call for jihad, way back in 1996, was about casting out the "infidel" American troops who arrived, and stayed, in Saudi Arabia during the First Gulf War.


Venezuela's Fracturing Opposition – Things aren't getting any easier for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has been trying to dislodge strongman president Nicolas Maduro for almost a year. Talks between Guaido's people and Maduro's broke down earlier this summer, and a group of smaller opposition parties has now accepted an invitation from Maduro to hash things out without Guaido. It's the first big crack to appear in the Venezuelan opposition since Guaido declared himself Venezuela's rightful leader in January, with support from most of the world's democracies. We're watching to see what Guaido does next, but with his coalition splintering, apathy on the streets, and little to show for his efforts since a failed coup attempt in April, is he now a spent force?

Protests in Egypt – Hundreds of people were arrested over the weekend in a rash of unexpected protests against dictator president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The demonstrations, which are extremely risky in Egypt's police state, seem to have been touched off by colorfully phrased allegations of corruption made by a former regime crony who now lives in Spain. Since deposing democratically elected president Mohamad Morsi in 2013, el-Sisi has cracked down ruthlessly on dissent, while trying to push through modest economic reforms. Observers of this weekend's unrest noted that most of the protesters were in their 20s, meaning they would have been too young to take part in the Arab Spring demonstrations of 2011-2012. We are watching to see if the protests continue next weekend. El-Sisi's troops have made a point of blocking access to Tahrir Square, main stage of the 2011 revolution.

What We're Ignoring

Havana Syndrome – Remember those bizarre reports that started surfacing in 2017 that Cuba was using some kind of mysterious new "sonic weapon" against US diplomats in Havana? President Trump even went so far as to kick some Cuban diplomats out of the US in response to the alleged attacks, which were blamed for hearing problems and even brain damage. There was never any clear evidence of sonic attacks, and there have been occasional attempts by scientists to advance an alternate theory. Last year, a "rare jungle cricket" was suggested as the real culprit. Now mosquitos are partly to blame, according to Canadian scientists who say the symptoms may have been caused by a nerve toxin in the fumigation spray that Cuba was using to kill the critters during the Zika virus crisis in 2016. We are ignoring this story because we can't keep up with the various theories anymore.

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How did an entire country's media spread false news for a night?

Fascinating case study in France over the weekend. For less than a day, we thought that the most wanted men in the country had been caught in Scotland. Turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The so-called news was actually reported quite carefully at first, on Friday night with careful words. But the language quickly moved from conditional to categorical and therefore, to misinformation through human error. What you have here is the tension between being first and being right, which has always been present in journalism but is more and more as you have these 24 hour news channels, social media, and the incredible economic pressure on news sites that are advertising based and therefore click based.

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Donald Trump announced a fresh "phase 1" trade deal with China last week, part of his ongoing bid to reduce the United States' huge trade deficit with China. The US has been buying more from China than China buys from the US for decades, but since coming into office Trump has made reducing that deficit central to his "America First" agenda. It's not easy to do. Consider that in 2018, after two full years of the Trump administration, the trade deficit with China actually swelled to its highest level since the Clinton years. That's because many perfectly healthy economic factors contribute to a trade deficit: stronger economic growth under Trump has meant more demand for foreign goods, so as long as the economy keeps humming along, it will be hard for Trump to reduce the deficit. Likewise, the strong US dollar makes foreign goods cheaper for US consumers to import, while China's own economic slowdown in 2018 decreased Chinese demand for American goods. For a historical perspective on all of this, here's a look at how the US-China trade balance has developed under each US president going back to 1993.

On Friday, we detailed the main arguments for and against President Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from a pocket of northern Syria where their presence had protected Washington's Kurdish allies against an attack from Turkey. We then asked Signal readers to let us know what they thought.

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Dangerous Chaos in Syria – Turkey's military move into northern Syria had two stated goals: to push Kurdish fighters inside Syria further from Turkey's border and to create a "safe zone" inside Syria in which Turkey could place up to two million Syrian refugees currently living in camps inside Turkey. But the Kurds have now allied with Syria's army, which is backed by Russia, and these forces are now moving north into that same territory toward Turkish troops and Arab militias backed by Ankara. Meanwhile, large numbers of ISIS fighters and their families have escaped prisons where Kurds had held them captive. Turkey's President Erdogan vows to press ahead with his operation until "ultimate victory is achieved." Pandora's Box is now wide open.

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