Podcast / American Prestige / Mar 1, 2024

Gaza City Massacre, Darfur Aid Crisis, and Sweden Joining NATO

On this episode of American Prestige, headlines from around the globe.

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Gaza City Massacre, Darfur Aid Crisis, And Sweden Joins NATO | American Prestige
byThe Nation Magazine

On this News episode of American Prestige, Danny and Derek work on leap days. This week: in Gaza, a massacre in Gaza City (0:29), ceasefire talks (5:20), and Netanyahu’s postwar plan (8:35); the U.S. and U.K. launch more joint airstrikes against Yemen (10:25); North Korea trades arms for food with Russia (11:54); in Sudan, military groups block aid shipments to Darfur (14:13); a new date is set for a presidential election in Senegal (15:58); a Ukraine War update (19:04); Sweden’s NATO accession is finally ratified (26:08); Colombia reopens talks with the ELN (28:29); NORAD intercepts a new balloon (29:55).

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Refugees fleeing the conflict in Sudan queue with their jerrycans to queue to collect drinking water from the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) distribution point at the Ourang refugee camp in Adre on December 7, 2023.

(Denis Sassou Gueipeur / AFP via Getty Images)

On this episode of American Prestige: in Gaza, a massacre in Gaza City (0:29), cease-fire talks (5:20), and Netanyahu’s postwar plan (8:35); the US and UK launch more joint air strikes against Yemen (10:25); North Korea trades arms for food with Russia (11:54); in Sudan, military groups block aid shipments to Darfur (14:13); a new date is set for a presidential election in Senegal (15:58); a Ukraine War update (19:04); Sweden’s NATO accession is finally ratified (26:08); Colombia reopens talks with the ELN (28:29); NORAD intercepts a new balloon (29:55).

The Nation Podcasts
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Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

Where Did Biden’s Foreign Policy Go Wrong? | The Time of Monsters
byThe Nation Magazine

Writing in the Nation, David Klion recently reviewed a Alexander Ward’s new book on Biden’s foreign policy, which offers a redemption arc whereby an administration wounded by the botched exit from Afghanistan made good by its handling of the Ukraine invasion.

But as Klion notes, the two year frame of the book is too narrow. In conversation, David and I contextualize Biden’s foreign policy, which is deeply unpopular and flawed, in the larger history of hawkish liberalism. We look at the attempt to revive a style of military Keynesianism and Biden’s deep investment in Zionism, as well as the contradictions on issues of human rights that are hampering Biden’s presidency.

During the discussion, I alluded to this excellent Mother Jones article by Noah Lanard on Biden and Israel

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This transcript was computer-generated and may contain errors.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

Hello Prestige heads and welcome to American Prestige.

I’m Danny Bessner here as always with my friend and comrade Derek Davison and we are excited to bring you the news.

Derek let’s start with unfortunately very grim news and that is coming out of Gaza the Thursday attack that Israel has enacted.

SPEAKER 4: Derek

Yeah well not not according to them but I think we can draw our own conclusions.

There was a

You know, I hate to single out any particular atrocity among the grand atrocity that’s taking place in Gaza, but this one was pretty bad.

There was apparently a crowd of people in Gaza City on Thursday.

The fact that they’re in Gaza City should tell you that they are starving because everybody remaining in Gaza City is starving.

They’re being starved.

I shouldn’t say they’re starving.

They are being starved.

They approached one of the very irregular aid convoys that actually gets into northern Gaza these days.

Apparently, in large numbers, a group of Israeli soldiers who were positioned, I suppose,

Protect the Convoy, hard to say really, decided that this mob of starving people, this large group of starving people approaching the trucks was a threat and began opening fire.

Now, the Israelis say they only fired warning shots.

That doesn’t jive with the fact that a number of people suffered from gunshot wounds in the aftermath of this incident.

At least 112 people were killed, more than 750 wounded.

This is according to the health authorities in Gaza.

As I said, the Israeli military has its own story here, which is that these people began to mob the delivery trucks, the convoy, basically implying that they were looting the convoy, which seems to elide the fact that, again, they’re starving.

that the IDF is starving them and then so you know they they look like a threat they seem like a threat to these Israeli soldiers so they shot some warning shots and what happened was a stampede ensued and people were killed they were trampled or they were run over by the panicked truck drivers in the convoy again this this elides the fact that

The stampede, to the extent that there was one and they’ve released some aerial footage of this, began because of the gunfire.

So that’s one teeny problem with this story.

The other one, as I said, is that people were shot.

So these were not just, clearly not just warning shots.

It happened at 4 a.m.

as Egyptian aid trucks arrived in Gaza City.

The sound of gunfire on this footage aired by Al Jazeera as Gazans who’d come to gather aid began to flee.

and afterward residents walk away with bags of food surrounded by the injured.

So, yeah, that’s all we know at this point.

There’s been a condemnation coming from all over the place across the Arab world, even Europe condemning the Israelis for this incident, for clearly opening fire on a crowd of starving people.

The response from the Biden administration, unsurprisingly, has been to

Talk about how troubling this is and to meekly, humbly ask the Israelis if they might someday get around to investigating it if it’s not too much trouble.

So about what you would expect from the Biden administration.

And as I say, that’s where things stand.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

So, Tarek, this might be a naive question, but this seems to be a particularly aggressive act.

Is there any understanding as to how this happened?

Because why would Israel, I mean, geostrategically, I guess, thinking maybe that’s not the right way to view this.

But do you see what I’m saying?

SPEAKER 4: Derek

I don’t think it is.

I mean, I think it’s a group of soldiers who

may have panicked or may have just seen a target of opportunity and decided to open up on it.

I don’t think geostrategy is the thing to think about here.

This is just an atrocity.

I mean, this is just a massacre, the kind of thing that happens in a conflict where you’ve dehumanized the civilian population that you’re attacking to the extent that you don’t really even see them as human beings or worth any kind of consideration.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

Is there anything coming out of Israel itself that you’ve seen?

SPEAKER 4: Derek

Other than the party line, which, as I said, was that this was all kind of an unfortunate series of events that was caused by these, you know, sort of a mistake, but sort of, you know, caused by these reckless starving people who mobbed the trucks in the first place and really shouldn’t have done that because tsk, tsk, how inappropriate for starving people to race towards some indication of food.

That’s the only thing I’ve seen.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

Okay, let’s move on to the ceasefire talks after that incredibly grim update.

SPEAKER 4: Derek

Yeah, we’re supposed to believe that there’s been some progress in ceasefire talks over the past week or so and Joe Biden on Monday while he was getting ice cream with Seth Meyer, I wish I was making that up but I’m not, shouted out to reporters basically or he responded to a question that was shouted to him saying that he was hoping there would be a ceasefire deal in place

within the next week.

So by this coming Monday that there would be a ceasefire deal in place.


Well, I hope by the beginning of the weekend.

I mean the end of the weekend.

SPEAKER 4: Derek

Hamas and the Israeli government and pretty much everybody else involved in the ceasefire negotiations on Tuesday responded to that by saying, we have no idea what the hell Joe Biden is talking about.

There’s no deal that’s anywhere close to being completed.

You can chalk that up to gamesmanship, I guess, but Biden himself, after the incident on Thursday in Gaza City, told reporters that, gee whiz, maybe things aren’t going to get done by next Monday after all.

the obvious conclusion to draw here is that he was bullshitting people because Monday was of course one day before the Michigan primary and he was hoping to minimize the embarrassment from a protest vote in that primary so I think he was just lying his ass off and that’s that’s where things stand with with you know there is a deal framework that’s on the table it involves a first phase of around

titled News-Gaza City Massacre, Macron


It’s very tilted toward the Israelis, let’s say.

It doesn’t meet the calls for a path to a permanent ceasefire.

It doesn’t meet calls for the Israeli military to withdraw from Gaza during the ceasefire.

There is some allowance for redeployment

outside of populated areas to other parts of Gaza, but not a withdrawal.

So there still seems to be a lot of disagreement here.

And in particular, you know, on those issues as well as on I don’t even know that they broached, frankly, the idea or the issue of which Palestinians the Israeli government would be freeing.

And Hamas has been asking for

some really prominent people like Marwan Barghouti who was arrested during the Second Intifada, just really well-known people who are in Israeli prison on, you know, terrorism charges effectively and the Israeli government is reluctant to go down that road.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

What about the post-war plan that Netanyahu revealed?

SPEAKER 4: Derek

Yeah, this was late last week, so like late Thursday, Friday was when the reporting on this really kicked in.

Benjamin Netanyahu presented his day after plan to the War Cabinet, the Security Cabinet, and it was pretty much what you would expect.

It called for effectively an indefinite reoccupation, military occupation.

of Gaza, the creation of a buffer zone on the Gazan side of the security barrier.

No role for either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority as governing bodies in Gaza after this.

Instead, there would be some ad hoc

Local governments in various parts of Gaza, you know, trying to turn Gaza, I think, like the West Bank, into a series of Bantustans, effectively.

I don’t even know where they would find Palestinians who’d be willing to collaborate in that.

I mean, they would be tard as collaborators if they participated, so I’m not even sure how they would find anybody willing to do that.

it’s you know it breaks almost every red line that the Biden administration has laid out for a post-war settlement uh it certainly breaks uh you know it certainly you know kind of flies in the face of any uh calls from either the US or Arab countries for uh substantive movement toward a Palestinian state so it’s it’s uh you

almost shocking in the way that they’re just sort of thumbing their nose.

Netanyahu was sort of thumbing his nose in particular at the US.

I guess it shouldn’t be shocking at this point, but it was stark in the divergence between what he’s talking about, which is what the Israeli government I think is talking about, and what the rest of the world has been talking about in terms of a potential post-war scenario.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

Let’s move on to Yemen, and let’s talk about the dual US-UK airstrikes there.

SPEAKER 4: Derek

Yeah, I just wanted to mention this.

There’s been another round over the weekend of US-UK airstrikes against Houthi targets in northern Yemen.

This is the fourth round of strikes that the two militaries have been carrying out since they started the first round on January 12th.

Now, the US military has

continued pretty much pretty much continuously been attacking uh what it calls in what it calls self-defense strikes against uh you know particular Houthi missile sites or drones or things of that nature all throughout but but in terms of these like major rounds of uh attacks this was the fourth one it came after uh you know we talked about this last week there was

a flurry of Houthi attacks against uh Red Sea shipping including the attack on the the Rubimar which as far as I know is still kind of listing in the Gulf of Aden and taking on water uh and and kicking oil out the crew has you know long since been evacuated there’s no I mean there’s no indication that uh if if we’re still talking about deterrence and I don’t know that anybody even is uh the Houthis I think carried out another attack on an oil tanker to no effect but they

They fired on it on Sunday, so the day after this latest round of airstrikes.

So clearly they’re feeling chastened and deterred, as always.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

Well, mission accomplished.

Let’s talk about North Korea.

SPEAKER 4: Derek

Yeah, this was a story earlier this week on Tuesday.

The defense minister of South Korea, Shin Won-sik, estimated or announced, I guess, the South Korean government’s intelligence or its information that said that North Korea has sent Russia

titled News-Gaza City Massacre, Macron

152 millimeter artillery shells.

Now, of course, they’re not just sending 152 millimeter artillery shells, but that’s the kind of haul that we’re talking about.

And of course, these things are all being put to use in Ukraine.

Reportedly, again, according to the South Koreans, North Korean factories are working at full capacity, given all the limitations that you might expect in terms of raw materials and tools and electricity even to churn out weapons for Russia.

in return and again going by what what Shin was talking about here the Russians have been sending North Korea parts they’ve been sending some of the raw materials that they may not have but mostly apparently they’ve been sending food which you know I you know I guess we could

I have a discussion here about the policy, the US policy of strangling the North Korean economy over the last 18 years and starving the North Korean people as a result, but it seems like that maybe has backfired a little bit because now the Russians are able to get

weapons that are sustaining their war effort in in Ukraine because it has become a war of artillery and Russia just like the West is had sort of moved on from that but North Korea produces a fair amount of artillery pretty easily so they’re sustaining the war effort and they’re they’re paying food and I just you know imagine if the US had been making sure all this time that

North Korean people had enough to eat maybe things would be a little bit different now not to to cast aspersions on our grand strategic sanctions policy of course yeah please don’t do that Derek let’s talk now about Sudan and Darfur

Yes, this was a report from the United Nations earlier this week, over the weekend, in fact, that they’re claiming that the Sudanese military is blocking humanitarian aid shipments into Darfur from Chad.

Chad, of course, borders Western Sudan, including the Darfur region.

Darfur has of course been maybe the region hardest hit by the conflict between the Sudanese military and the rapid support forces.

We don’t have great information on what has happened in Darfur as opposed to, let’s say Khartoum where most of the media reporting has come from.

But Darfur has by all accounts been very badly hit.

Its population has suffered a number of attacks on civilians by the RSF, non-Arab civilians, the RSF being a very Arab tribal rooted institution and organization.

Around 700,000 people have crossed out of Darfur into Chad, but many more than that are still believed to be displaced inside Sudan.

So bringing aid into Darfur is critical.

for those people.

The Sudanese military claims that it isn’t interfering with humanitarian aid, but it does have to keep the border restricted because the other thing that’s coming in from Chad is weapons for the RSF, courtesy allegedly of the United Arab Emirates and the government of Chad and various other RSF backers in the region.

But still, this is another grim update.

Sorry to be… I’m nothing but grim today, I guess.

yeah today being the last three years uh why don’t we talk about Senegal for some more grim news yeah this is I mean this is a strange story well it’s not strange I guess I think you can see where it’s going but uh we’ve talked about this uh Mackie saw the president of Senegal uh earlier this month or I guess by the time people listen to this it will be last month because they’ll be

listening to it on March 1st.

But he postponed the presidential election that was supposed to take place at the end of February.

Initially, the Senegalese parliament rescheduled it for the middle of December, but Senegal’s constitutional court ruled that that was unconstitutional and that he could not delay the election like that.

it ordered him to hold the election at his at as soon as possible you know late February was was out by that point but but Sal has said that he you know intends to uphold the ruling and no problem we’ll have the the election as soon as possible he held a national dialogue this week to in part settle on a new date for the election that dialogue interestingly did not involve

almost any of the candidates who are supposed to run in that election, most of them boycotted because they were accusing Saul of trying to, again, manage some way to extend his presidency.

The dialogue settled on June 2nd

as the new as the new proposed date for the presidential election which is interesting in as much as Saul’s term ends on April 2nd and he said after the court ruling and has said I think at more than one occasion

since the court ruling that he has no intention of trying to stick around after April 2nd he’s not looking to extend his term he will be gone but that doesn’t really work then because you’ve got two full months between Saul departing and the election of a new president which means Senegal would be without a head of state and it’s unclear how they would proceed even to hold an election without a head of state so there’s been some talk about what can we do in an interim

basis and of course one of the at least one of the participants in the national dialogue suggested well why don’t we just extend the president’s term for another two months and gosh you know I don’t know if Saul would be in for that but I bet if you twisted his arm he might and then who knows what could happen in June maybe it wouldn’t be the right time to hold an election then either who knows


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SPEAKER 3: Danny

Thanks, Eric.

Let’s talk about the Ukraine war.

SPEAKER 4: Derek

Yeah, there are a few things to talk about here, I guess.

On the ground, as we talked about last week, the Ukrainian military pulled out of Avdiivka.

In the days since then, the Russian military has been steadily advancing through a number of villages as the Ukrainian military, I think, is scrambling.

You won’t hear that in

Western media outlets and the Ukrainian government is insisting that they’ve withdrawn in an orderly fashion to a new defensive line.

I think they’re still trying to find a new defensive line and are somewhat scrambled at this point, having pulled out of Avdiivka.

It doesn’t look like there’s going to be any huge breakthrough by the Russians, but the Ukrainians have been steadily giving ground for some time now.

uh so that’s uh yeah that’s where things kind of stand on the ground

I don’t know where you want to go next, Danny.

We can talk about the G7 debating Russian asset seizures, or we can talk about Emmanuel Macron’s threatening to send Western soldiers to Ukraine.

This was great.

All right, so this is somewhat lighter, I guess.

On Monday, ahead of a meeting of European leaders in Paris,

The Prime Minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico, said that there was some impetus or some movement afoot for NATO and or EU member states to send troops to Ukraine.

Now, this seemed like crazy talk.

But it was not, apparently, because after the meeting of the European leaders in Paris, Macron, Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, gave a news conference in which he said in part that if you’re talking about the idea of sending Western soldiers to Ukraine, nothing can be ruled out.

This was his quote.

We should not exclude that there might be a need for security, which then justifies some elements of deployment.

But I’ve told you very clearly what France maintains as its position, which is strategic ambiguity, that I stand by.

Nothing should be excluded to pursue our goals.

What happened next was sort of an avalanche of people racing, Western leaders racing to every microphone that they could find to disclaim any plan to send soldiers to Ukraine.

We had, let me see, just

brief list here, the leaders of Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, the UK, the US, NATO itself, all disavowed any plans to do this and suggested effectively that they had no idea what Macron was talking about.

Even French officials clarify that he wasn’t referring to combat forces, but rather sending soldiers to participate in some support role.

It all was very interesting and Macron was apparently trying to, I guess, create some sense of what the smart people like to call strategic ambiguity for Russia and he wound up

not doing that, creating instead a panic in NATO where everybody kind of raced to disavow his comments.

There’s I mean, there’s a couple of things here.

And I should say Vladimir Putin on Thursday, the president of Russia, warned

in a speech to Parliament among others that any deployment of Western troops to Ukraine would risk nuclear war, which is the kind of thing I don’t think he necessarily needed to say, but he felt obliged to say it anyway.

All of this is kind of funny.

It aligns the fact that we’ve been we’ve we’ve seen reports that there are already Western forces in Ukraine.

I mean, there was a report last year that the US has a special operations detachment working out of the Ukrainian embassy.

They insist they’re nowhere near the fighting.

They’re just there to do sort of odd jobs, I guess, handyman stuff or whatever.

But, you know, it’s it’s it is a little funny that that our friend Macron kind of opened his mouth and

Now let’s talk about the G7.

was the possibility of seizing frozen Russian assets and putting them towards financing the war in Ukraine, either rearming Ukraine or maybe and or Ukrainian reconstruction in a post-war sense.

This has been the brainchild, apparently, of Janet Yellen, the U.S.

Treasury Secretary, who’s been pitching the idea of at least partially seizing these assets.

As I say, they’ve been frozen, but they’re still in place.

They haven’t been repurposed for anything.

They still, in theory, are Russia’s assets.

There is a certain amount of enthusiasm for finding a way to make these frozen assets pay off for Ukraine, in particular as the appetite for Western money going to Ukraine is drying up, especially in the U.S.

There are bigger concerns, though, and I think the biggest concern is that if you take the money that Russian oligarchs and other, you know, the Russian government, let’s say, and other unsavory types have deposited in

London banks, Swiss banks, any institution invested, any of these things that have been frozen, and you seize them and take them away and put them toward Ukraine, you’re gonna have a lot of other actors who invest a lot of money in Western cities, Western countries, Western institutions say, gee, maybe I should take my money out of that place because they could wind up doing the same thing to me someday.

So they really don’t want to go down this road and set this precedent because that would be a big financial hit to the West.

So, you know, there’s discussion going on about this.

Is it legal?

Can we justify doing it?

What are some, you know, are there some ways to get around this?

And one possibility I’ve seen talked about would be to leave the principle in place, these assets, but devote any like interest revenue or other revenues that are generated by the assets

toward Ukraine.

But that’s, you know, again, it’s still going on.

And this G7 meeting, as I said, was one of the things, maybe the biggest issue on the table, and they just were unable to come to any accord.

Yellen pitched it and I think ran into a lot of skepticism.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

Thank you as always.

Derek, good news.

Our long national nightmare is over as Sweden has been allowed into NATO.

Derek, what’s going on?

SPEAKER 4: Derek

Yeah, the Hungarian parliament voted on Monday, this was expected finally, you know, a year and a half or so after the fact, to ratify, voted to ratify Sweden’s NATO accession, which closes the deal.

Hungary was the last NATO member yet to ratify, so Sweden could be officially, formally inducted into the alliance at any time.

I think the hope was it would

I don’t think it’s happened yet, possibly because the parliamentary vote needs to be signed off by the president of Hungary and they just had a little bit of a changeover in that office, so there’s a new president who came in and maybe hasn’t had time yet to get around to this.

It should just be a matter of days before Sweden is officially part of the gang.

The last bit, piece that had, I guess, to come together for this vote to happen was Ulf Kristersen, the prime minister of Sweden, visiting Hungary late last week on Friday.

He and Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, cut a deal for Hungary to purchase four Swedish fighter jets.

this seems like a very minor thing to have held up Sweden’s NATO accession for this long and I don’t think you know I don’t think that was really what was going on I think it was a symbolic gesture by Sweden that which you know Swedish officials have in the past criticized Hungary is as have you know people all across Europe have criticized Orban for democratic backsliding and rule of law violations and all manner of

Things, his cozy relationship or relatively cozy relationship with Russia.

So, you know, this was a gesture, I think, to say, OK, we didn’t mean any of that.

You’re fine.

And that was enough to satisfy Orban.

So the vote went through.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

Thank goodness.

Let’s move over to the Western Hemisphere and talk about Colombia, in which talks with the ELN have been open.

SPEAKER 4: Derek

Yeah, this is just a few days after ELN, the National Liberation Army, announced that it was suspending talks with the government.

Suddenly, we announced that the Comey government and the ELN announced that the talks were back on.

I think we talked about this last week.

that ELN had suspended the talks.

They were upset because one of Colombia’s departmental governments or its provincial governments was opening its own separate negotiations with a subset of ELN fighters just geographically located in that state.

and they were worried that this was gonna you know complicate things with the the national talks so they kind of in a huff announced they were suspending talks I don’t know what prompted the about-face but they announced on Monday not only that they had

met again to wrap up their latest round of negotiations, which were taking place in Cuba, but also announced a new round of talks that will begin in April in Venezuela.

So, you know, I guess things are back on track, which is which is good news.

I think, you know, not to not to interrupt all the grim stuff, but something something to be mildly pleased about.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

So from good news to scary news, Derek, what is up with these balloons?

SPEAKER 4: Derek

Yeah, so well, this is this is kind of a disappointing, I think, story.

There were a number of media outlets that reported on Friday that the U.S.

military NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, had begun tracking.

You got in another balloon.

over US airspace in the Western United States.

And so a lot of people got excited that we were having another spy balloon of death story and it was gonna be the evil Chinese communists were snooping on us again and we were gonna have to shoot the balloon, the $50 balloon down with another

3.5 million dollar missile or whatever we did last time.

Unfortunately for all of those folks who got a little thrill up their leg over this, it turns out that this particular balloon was probably not a spy balloon.

It was too small.

It’s been characterized as a hobbyist


And it wound up leaving U.S.

airspace of its own volition anyway.

So it kind of the whole the whole thing kind of fizzled out.

Our apologies to anyone who was emotionally affected by that.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

Well, thank you, everyone.

We are Balloon News and we will see you next week.




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Daniel Bessner

Daniel Bessner is an historian of US foreign relations, and cohost of American Prestige, a podcast on international affairs.

Derek Davison

Derek Davison is a writer and analyst specializing in international affairs and US foreign policy. He is the publisher of the Foreign Exchanges newsletter, cohost of the American Prestige podcast, and former editor of LobeLog.

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