Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Trump’s protest response shifts toward militarization, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson headed for crunch trade talks with EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, and Congo reports a new Ebola outbreak.
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Trump Threatens Military Response to Protests
Protests over police violence and systemic racism continued across the United States on Monday as the U.S. government response threatens to become even more militarized. “If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” U.S. President Donald Trump said during a speech on Monday.
Other members of the Trump administration also sound as if they’re on the warpath. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was heard quoting military jargon on a call with state governors that was later leaked to the public. “I think the sooner that you mass and dominate the battlespace, the quicker this dissipates and we can get back to the right normal,” Esper said.
From the country’s border to the capital. Officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), usually on America’s periphery, have been deployed in the heart of the capital. A CBP statement said the personnel were being deployed to assist and protect “law enforcement partners from any lawless rioting, domestic acts of terrorism, and other criminal activities.” Acting CBP chief Mark Morgan said the officers were currently in place guarding national monuments.
Boots on home ground? Deploying U.S. troops domestically faces some legal hurdles, as Jack Detsch reports in Foreign Policy. “The White House is limited from using the military to conduct most law enforcement operations under the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act,” Detsch writes. However, that doesn’t close the door on military action. Instead, the Insurrection Act—an 1807 law that was last invoked in 1992 during the Los Angeles riots after the police beating of Rodney King—could be used. The law “allows active-duty units to be sent in to relieve the National Guard or local police to stop riots,” Detsch adds.
How the world sees it. During his phone call with state governors, Trump warned that a strong government response at home was important to maintain U.S. prestige abroad. “You know, when other countries watch this, they’re watching this, the next day wow, they’re really a pushover. And we can’t be a pushover. And we have all the resources—it’s not like we don’t have the resources. So, I don’t know what you’re doing,” he said.
As FP’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer report, the protests have “laid bare to the world deeply rooted societal problems in the United States, undercutting America’s standing as a standard-bearer of modern liberal values, including the promotion of human rights, democracy, and free-market capitalism.”
The view from Washington. On Monday at about 6:30 p.m. Washington time, lines of police in riot gear began pushing a crowd of peaceful protesters back from the north end of Lafayette Park, where hundreds had gathered. Foreign Policy witnessed mounted police and National Guardsmen positioned behind the front lines, as Secret Service officers fired flash-bang grenades and tear gas at protesters.
The disproportionate show of force initially appeared to be aimed at clearing the area ahead of the 7 p.m. curfew that Washington’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, had imposed earlier that evening. In fact, protesters were being cleared so the president could have a photo op. In front of St. John’s Church, where moments before masses of people had been gathered (including clergy), Trump held up a bible as cameras flashed.
What We’re Following Today
COVID-19 as strong as ever, WHO reiterates. The World Health Organization (WHO) has moved to correct the record after an Italian doctor’s claims that the potency of the coronavirus is diminishing over time. The assertion was made by Alberto Zangrillo, the head of intensive care at Italy’s San Raffaele Hospital, citing a yet to be released study. Zangrillo is well known in Italy as former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s personal physician. “In terms of transmissibility, that has not changed, in terms of severity, that has not changed,” the WHO official Maria Van Kerkhove said.
U.S. envoy signals progress in Afghanistan. The U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talked up the chances of negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban in remarks to reporters on Monday. “We are in a good place,” Khalilzad said, adding that violence levels had stayed low after a recent three-day cease-fire. “We are optimistic that finally we’re moving forward to the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations,” he added.
Over the weekend, prisoner releases continued: The Afghan government released 700 Taliban members and the Taliban released 73 government prisoners. Taliban officials have another threat to worry about; according to a report in FP, many of the group’s top leaders are infected with COVID-19.
U.K. and EU plan crunch talks. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are headed for talks this month aimed at resolving post-Brexit trade negotiations between the two sides, the Financial Times reports. It comes as the deadline for the United Kingdom to request a two-year extension approaches at the end of June. Johnson has remained adamant that the U.K. must conclude a deal before Dec. 31, but trade negotiations have recently been bogged down—first because of coronavirus-related delays and now due to disagreements over fisheries and a common regulatory framework.
Congo reports second Ebola outbreak. Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have declared a new Ebola outbreak in the city of Mbandaka, now the second ongoing outbreak in the country. Six cases have been recorded so far, with four deaths. “This outbreak is a reminder that COVID-19 is not the only health threat people face,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on twitter.
Unrest at social media giant. Some employees at Facebook—whose 2.6 billion monthly active users would make it the world’s most populous country—staged a virtual walkout on Monday in protest of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s hands-off approach to President Trump’s increasingly inflammatory posts around the George Floyd protests.
Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois said the company is open to feedback from employees and that “we recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community.” According to Facebook’s 2019 diversity report, just 3.8 percent of employees are black. On Monday, the company also committed to donating $10 million (or roughly 0.2 percent of its 2020 first quarter earnings) to racial justice groups in the United States.
Poland presidential race tightens. Andrzej Duda, the favored candidate of Poland’s Law and Justice party would lose in the second round of the country’s presidential election, according to a new poll. The poll found Duda would win the first round, but be beaten by either of his rival candidates—Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski or Catholic journalist Szymon Holownia—in the second round. The Polish government was criticized last month for trying to force through a postal vote for a May 10 election date. Although that plan was ultimately defeated, a new date for the election has yet to be set.
Surprise fireworks lit up Japan on Monday in a synchronized display across the country. The project, called “Cheer up! Hanabi” (the Japanese word for fireworks), was a show of strength for an industry facing a sharp downturn with the Tokyo Olympics postponed and other fireworks festivals canceled over coronavirus fears. As the displays were designed to raise spirits during the country’s coronavirus epidemic, social distancing still factored into the planning: locations of the fireworks were kept secret and displays were limited to five minutes to prevent crowds forming.
That’s it for today.
Image credit: Roberto Schmidt / AFP