7 March 2020   Leave a comment

Lebanon has announced that it will attempt to restructure a $1.2 billion bond due on 9 March, putting the country in default for the first time. Lebanon has been on the brink of default for some time and the situation aggravates the serious political crisis the country has been going through for some months. The political crisis stems from the archaic political system the country has used to balance its competing political sects–the constitution allocates important political positions to different religious communities. The Guardian reports:

“Lebanon’s sovereign debt rating slid into junk territory long ago, but investor confidence has fallen further since the mass protests erupted. Credit rating agencies have warned of further downgrades in the event of a default, but economists have stressed the need to protect Lebanon’s foreign currency reserves.

“Jad Chaaban, an economics professor at the American University of Beirut, blamed the political class for Lebanon’s predicament, accusing it of decades of corruption. The crisis ‘is the creation of a failed and criminal political class that has lied and robbed for more than 30 years,’ he said on Facebook.”

Lebanon’s debt burden is about 155% of gross domestic product, one of the highest debt burdens in the world. But Hezbollah, which is one of the most powerful domestic actors in Lebanon, has opposed taking the necessary steps to ease the burden because those reforms would fall most heavily on the poor. The living conditions in Lebanon have deteriorated to the point where water and electricity are frequently unavailable and where rubbish piles up in the streets. The default will likely lead to belt-tightening which will only lead to greater political unrest.

NBC is reporting that US officials have serious doubts about whether the Taliban will uphold its obligations under the recent agreement it signed with the US. According to the report:

“‘They have no intention of abiding by their agreement,’ said one official briefed on the intelligence, which two others described as explicit evidence shedding light on the Taliban’s intentions.

“Trump himself acknowledged that reality in extraordinary comments Friday, saying the Taliban could ‘possibly’ overrun the Afghan government after U.S. troops withdraw.

“‘Countries have to take care of themselves,’ Trump told reporters at the White House. ‘You can only hold someone’s hand for so long.’ Asked if the Taliban could eventually seize power, Trump said it’s ‘not supposed to happen that way, but it possibly will.'”

The report confirms what many analysts have suspected: that the US is really not interested in the way the war in Afghanistan ends as long as the US is able to withdraw its troops. The Taliban have carried out 70 attacks on Afghan government forces since the peace agreement was signed on 29 February. Many in Afghanistan view the agreement as a betrayal, as reported by the Washington Post:

“Many Afghans who see themselves most closely allied with American values — and most dependent on U.S. support — fear they have the most to lose from the peace deal. Supporters of women’s rights, civil society and some sectors of the country’s political and security establishment described reading the deal with a mix of disbelief and anger.

“’I want peace. All Afghans want peace. But I don’t think this deal will bring us peace,’ the Afghan official said, describing it as a step in the wrong direction that will further destabilize the country.”

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan will end the war for the US, but it will most likely lead to greater turmoil in the country. Other powers, such as Iran and Pakistan, will view the power vacuum as an opportunity to advance their own interests. And the peace agreement does little to protect human rights, particularly the rights of women. The withdrawal is a classic example of the priority of interests over values in a realpolitik world.

Posted March 7, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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