Brussels: One year later

Memorial at the entrance of the Brussels Airport

My trip to Brussels ended over the weekend and I am back in D.C. now. It was quite an experience and I am so grateful for the chance to learn more about the EU, as well as get so many foreign policy briefings and observe the historic exercise.

Along with being in Brussels during British Prime Minister Theresa May’s historic triggering of Article 50 to begin Britain’s exit from the European Union, I was also in Brussels during the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the Brussels airport and metro.

Soldiers walking by my hotel room

There were memorials both at the metro station and at the airport in memory of the more than 30 people who died in the attacks. Security is still high in Brussels as intelligence indicates the coordinators of this attack and the one in Paris have Belgium ties.

We saw soldiers in teams on most street corners holding large weapons, often with their fingers on the trigger. One night, I looked out the window of my hotel to see three soldiers casually strolling by.

There’s some debate among Belgians about this. On one hand, the soldiers are visible and so it would be easy to report something suspicious quickly. On the other hand, there are people who feel that seeing soldiers on the street is not necessarily a good sign in a free society and heightens tensions unnecessarily.

World and Washington wrap-up

I have a lot more to share with you about the trip and what I learned, but first, I thought I would do a roundup of what is happening in Washington and the world right now.

Syria chemical weapons

You’ve likely seen the images of chemical weapons used in Syria yesterday. It’s absolutely horrifying and, sadly, would not the first time the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on its own people. (You should check out this 60 Minutes report from 2015.) There’s a legitimate critique of the Obama administration about whether the United States should have taken action when we realized Assad was using chemical weapons on his people the first time.

Syria’s a confusing place, but here’s a brief explanation of what is happening there. This may be a bit of an oversimplification, but my goal here is to give you an idea of the main players in order to make other sources you read approachable.

There are basically three main groups involved in the fighting: The Assad Regime, the rebels (who want to oust Assad), and ISIS.

Then there are all the innocent people caught in the crossfire.

As I understand it, ISIS has mainly set up in the desert area while the rebels and the Assad Regime continue to battle. Russia entered the area militarily in support of the Assad Regime. Syria is an important ally to Russia as Russia has some of its military bases there. There has been a lot of criticism about whether Russia’s military is indiscriminately bombing innocent civilians. This is why you’re seeing people dismiss Russia’s claim that the recent chemical weapons deployment was actually the bombing of a chemical weapons facility run by the rebels.

The White House statement on this, which basically blamed the Obama administration, was rather strange. Like I said, there is a legitimate argument that the Obama administration should have acted on the first attack… but not sure what that has to do with questions about how the Trump administration should act now.

The U.N. security council held an emergency meeting about that today and the U.S., France and Britain offered a resolution condemning the attacks .  Russia reportedly rejected that resolution. Which is the whole hold up in peace. The EU would like to see the Assad step down and a new government formed which is inclusive of the rebels.  Russia wants to see Assad stay. What does the U.S. think? I’m not sure. Good question. Let me know if you find out.

North Korea

Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet with President Trump this week, so it isn’t surprising that North Korea performed another ballistic missile test yesterday. Remember, North Korea did something similar during Japan’s visit earlier this year. They’re likely testing this administration.

What’s surprising is this statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, which sounds more like an oil executive who doesn’t want to talk about a controversial drilling site rather than a serious security concern.

King Abdullah II in Washington

Jordan’s King will meet with President Trump today. It’s probably a safe guess to say that refugees and migration will be the topic of conversation.

 

Queen Rania and First Lady Melania Trump plan to visit a D.C. charter school.

President Trump also has some other calls today.

Finally, speaking of migration… there is an interesting piece from The New Yorker following the human trafficking of a girl from Nigeria. We talk a lot about migrants from Syria, but not some of the other countries facing desperate situations.

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