—The 2016 presidential election is just two days away. Follow the news with our politics team here. The latest development: Donald Trump was temporarily rushed off stage at a campaign rally in Nevada Saturday night after fighting allegedly broke out in the crowd.
—Tens of thousands of South Koreans participated in protests this weekend demanding the resignation of President Park Geun-hye over a corruption scandal.
—U.S.-backed Iraqi forces continued their drive into the ISIS-held city of Mosul in Iraq, while U.S.-backed Syrian forces say they will begin an offensive to retake Raqqa, the terrorist group’s stronghold in Syria.
—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
Yemeni Rebels Release Detained Ex-Marine After More Than a Year
An American held in Yemen for more than a year has been released and flown to Oman following diplomatic negotiations, and is expected to return to the United States.
The man was taken from Sanaa, Yemen's capital, to Oman, The New York Timesreported Sunday. U.S. State Secretary John Kerry was involved in the talks that led to his release.
The Times identified the man as Wallead Yusuf Pitts Luqman, a 37-year-old former Marine who was abducted in April 2015 as he tried to leave Yemen, where he had taught English for two years. Luqman was held by the Houthis, the Shiite rebel group that has controlled Sanaa since 2014 and which a Saudi-led coalition has been trying to dislodge with air strikes since March. Oman has claimed neutrality in the conflict, which has killed more than 10,000 people, according to the latest United Nations estimates.
Oman has been instrumental in facilitating the return of some Americans held by the Houthis during the conflict. In September 2015, two men who were held for six months were sent to Oman and then transported back to the U.S.
Syrian forces said Sunday they have begun a military operation to capture Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State in Syria.
The Syria Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab militias backed by the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, made the announcement at a press conference in Ain Issa, about 50 kilometers, or 30 miles, away from Raqqa, the BBC reported. The force, formed in early 2015, has made gains in areas north of Raqqa.
In Iraq, U.S.-backed Iraqi forces continued their offensive against ISIS fighters in Mosul, which has been under the terrorist group’s control since June 2014. The military campaign consists of about 100,000 troops from government security forces and Shiite and Kurdish militias, according to Reuters. ISIS fighters have fought back by targeting troops with car bombs and ambushes.
The simultaneous attacks could help decrease the number of safe havens for ISIS fighters. But the fight for Raqqa could prove more difficult than the one for Mosul, explained Sarah El Deeb in the AP last month:
Perhaps that’s because Syria is proving to be a more daunting terrain than Iraq. Going after ISIS-held Raqqa would mean moving deeper into an explosive mix of regional and international rivalries, including a proxy war that has pitted the United States against Russia and its allies.
The fight against ISIS in northeastern Syria also underlines a U.S. reliance on its one effective partner there—Syria’s Kurds. But such an alliance for a Raqqa campaign threatens to ignite a new conflict, with another U.S. partner, NATO member Turkey, and its allied Syrian rebels.
There are about 1 million people living in Raqqa, and nearly 200,000 in Mosul.
Thousands Protest South Korea's President Over Political Scandal
On Friday, Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s president, gave an emotional televised address to South Koreans, apologizing for her involvement in a political scandal that has captivated the nation. A day later, tens of thousands of protesters filled the streets in the heart of Seoul, demanding she resign.
Park admitted last week that she relied on the private counsel of a longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, in making decisions as head of state and allowed Choi to help edit presidential speeches. Police have arrested Choi, who has no official government position, for charges of attempted fraud and abuse of authority. Prosecutors say Choi used her close relationship with Park to collect money for her nonprofit foundations. One of Park’s top advisers, Ahn Chong-bum, is suspected of collaborating with Choi, and resigned last week.
Many South Koreans have expressed outrage over the possibility that Choi has influenced government decisions. Rallies against Park began last week and have grown steadily. Police estimated 50,000 people participated in Saturday’s protest, making it one of the largest held in the capital in recent years, according to Yonhap News Agency, South Korea’s largest news organization.
“I came out today because this is not the country I want to pass on to my children," Choi Kyung-ha, a protester, told the AP Saturday. “My kids have asked me who Choi Soon-sil was and whether she’s the real president, and I couldn’t provide an answer.”
Park said she takes responsibility for the scandal, calling it a “mistake.”
“I put too much faith in a personal relationship and didn't look carefully at what was happening," she said at Friday’s public address. "Sad thoughts trouble my sleep at night. I realize that whatever I do, it will be difficult to mend the hearts of the people, and then I feel a sense of shame and ask myself, 'Is this the reason I became president?'"
Park is in her fourth year of a five-year term. Her approval rating has plummeted to 5 percent since the scandal emerged, the lowest for any leader of the country in nearly 70 years.
Brexit poses an existential dilemma for Northern Ireland’s communities.
BELFAST—I’m driving across Europe’s most divided city, where politics is existential and fear often only a few streets away.
We’re heading west toward the River Lagan from the largely Protestant east, the flags of illegal paramilitary groups hanging limply from lampposts. Sitting beside me in the car is someone who describes himself as “an active loyalist”—loyal to the British Crown and state and opposed to a united Ireland—but, like other unionists I spoke with, asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. He is a member of the city’s Protestant working class, which has united in anger at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s prospective Brexit deal with the European Union, principally because of the de facto customs border that it proposes between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, in order to avoid one with the Republic of Ireland.
For some kids, the weekly trash pickup is a must-see spectacle. Parents, children, waste-management professionals, and experts on childhood all offer theories as to why.
For Ryan Rucker, a dad in Vacaville, California, the weekly summons comes on Wednesday mornings, usually around seven. For Rosanne Sweeting on Grand Bahama island, in the Bahamas, it’s twice a week—Mondays and Thursdays, anytime from 6 to 8:30 a.m.—and for Whitney Schlander in Scottsdale, Arizona, it’s every Tuesday morning at half-past seven.
At these times, the quiet of the morning is broken by the beep beep beeping of an approaching garbage truck—and broken further when their kids start hollering, begging to be escorted outside to wave or just watch in awe as the truck collects and majestically hauls away the household trash. Rucker’s daughter Raegan, 3, takes her stuffed animals outside with her to watch the pickup. Cassidy Sweeting, 4, enlists her mom’s help to deliver granola bars and water bottles to the three trash collectors. Finn Schlander, 3, invited the neighborhood garbage-truck driver to his birthday party. (Ultimately, he was unable to attend, but the party had garbage-truck decorations nonetheless.)
It’s time to abandon the dogma that’s driven our foreign policy and led to so much disaster in the region.
President Donald Trump’s October decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria produced a rare moment of bipartisanship in foreign policy. With a shared sense of alarm, Republicans and Democrats alike accused Trump of betrayal.
Certainly, it was a betrayal of the Kurdish partners who bled for us in the fight against the Islamic State. It was also a betrayal of process—leaving our military leaders and diplomats struggling to keep up with tweets, our allies in the dark, our messaging all over the map, and chaos on the ground.
If all this episode engenders, however, is a bipartisan dip in the warm waters of self-righteous criticism, it will be a tragedy—or worse, a mistake. We have to come to grips with the deeper and more consequential betrayal of common sense—the notion that the only antidote to Trump’s fumbling attempts to disentangle the United States from the region is a retreat to the magical thinking that has animated so much of America’s moment in the Middle East since the end of the Cold War.
I served as a career diplomat throughout most of this era, sharing in our successes as well as our failures. Despite important achievements, we all too often misread regional currents and mismatched ends and means. In our episodic missionary zeal, especially after the terrible jolt to our system on 9/11, we tended to overreach militarily and underinvest diplomatically. We let our ambitions outstrip the practical possibilities of a region where perfect is rarely on the menu, and second- and third-order consequences are rarely uplifting. The temptations of magical thinking, the persistent tendency to assume too much about our influence and too little about the obstacles in our path and the agency of other actors, led to indiscipline and disappointments—steadily diminishing the appetite of most Americans for Middle East adventures.
That leaves American policy at a crossroads. Our moment as the singular dominant outside player in the Middle East has faded, but we still have a solid hand to play. The key to playing it well will be neither restoration of the inflated ambition and over-militarization of much of the post-9/11 period nor sweeping disengagement. Instead, we need a significant shift in the terms of our engagement in the region—lowering our expectations for transformation, ending our habit of indulging the worst instincts of our partners and engaging in cosmic confrontation with state adversaries, finding a more focused and sustainable approach to counterterrorism, and putting more emphasis on diplomacy backed up by military leverage, instead of the other way around.
The surreal story of how a comedian who played the Ukrainian president on TV became the president in real life—then found himself at the center of an American political scandal
Last May, in the weeks leading up to his presidential inauguration, Volodymyr Zelensky learned that a man named Rudy Giuliani wanted to meet with him. The name was only distantly familiar. But the former mayor of New York City was the personal attorney of the president of the United States, and he apparently wanted to make the case that certain investigations deserved the full attention of the new Ukrainian administration. Zelensky understood that it might be hard to say no.
Zelensky had won his country’s highest office despite having been a politician for little more than four months. Even as he prepared to assume the presidency, he remained a professional comedian and a fixture on television shows, including League of Laughter. Unsure of whether he should agree to meet Giuliani, Zelensky gathered advisers in the headquarters of his entertainment company.
An unusual confluence of events after World War II led to America’s bitter rivalry with the U.S.S.R. That pattern is not repeating.
Anyone looking for evidence of a growing economic and ideological conflict between China and the United States will have no trouble finding something—the trade war now roiling both countries’ economies, the standoff between police and pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, Beijing’s swift retaliation against the NBA over a single Houston Rockets executive’s tweet in support of those same protesters. President Donald Trump seems to think a new cold war is at hand. His national-security strategy statement identifies China as an adversary bent on dismantling a U.S.-centered global order and forging a new one in its own favor. This point of view is catching on outside the administration, too. Earlier this year, the Committee on the Present Danger relaunched once again. First organized in the late 1940s to push for a massive military buildup and revived in the 1970s to promote a more confrontational approach toward the Soviet Union, the group now seeks to mobilize Americans for an existential struggle against China.
The city’s leaders believe a revamped education system will make its people more loyal to China and less likely to protest.
HONG KONG—After months of protests, an embarrassing rebuke at the ballot box, a pair of new laws in the United States targeting Hong Kong, and a worsening economic outlook, the territory’s leader, Carrie Lam, promised to do some soul-searching. It seemed an appropriate response: Her city looked to have changed, gripped by a suddenly politically engaged populace determined to face down the authorities.
And in recent days, it appears Lam has indeed emerged with a solution for how to quell unrest here: Faced with demands for greater freedoms, an end to police brutality, and full universal suffrage, she has determined that what Hong Kong’s people really need is more Chinese-style patriotic education instead.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Television in 2019 offered up sweet birthday babies and hot priests; exposed nuclear cores and examined injustices; giant octopuses and the king of edible leaves, His Majesty the Spinach. It was a year in which more than 500 original scripted series were estimated to air—a new record signaling a television landscape that’s more abundant but also more fragmented than ever.
With that in mind, this year’s “best of” list, like last year’s, tries to recognize shows that did specific things particularly well. Some were brand new; some have already been canceled. But most of them came into being because someone took a chance on an odd idea, a risky concept, or a distinctive voice. As the streaming wars heat up, none of these series feels like a safe bet, which is precisely what makes them so worthwhile to watch.
Vladimir Putin has a fondness for the Soviet era. So do many Russians—but often not for the same reasons.
SOCHI, Russia—Gazing up at the bust of Joseph Stalin, the young boy listened silently as his mother squatted next to him, whispering the Soviet dictator’s story into his ear. The pair studied the black-colored sculpture, among many of Stalin in this city’s history museum (just one, apparently, is not enough). “He built this city,” the mother told the child, who stared admiringly at Stalin’s signature moustache. “He was like a czar.”
To some extent, that is true. Though Russian intellectuals and poets had long found refuge in this Black Sea port, it was Stalin who ordered its development, turning it into a resort city. His vision was to create a Soviet Riviera, replete with grand botanical gardens and enormous, well-equipped hotels.
A conversation with the evangelical pastor and theologian
Shortly after I met my wife, Cindy, in 1989—she was living in New York City at the time, while I was living in Northern Virginia—she told me about a new church she was attending in Manhattan: Redeemer Presbyterian. The young minister, she told me, was “the best pastor in America.”
His name was Timothy J. Keller.
Since that time Keller, 69, has become one of the most consequential figures in American Christianity. When he founded Redeemer in the fall of 1989, fewer than 100 people attended; in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, Keller was preaching in multiple services in three different venues each Sunday to about 5,000 people—mostly young, single, professionally and ethnically diverse. He has written about two dozen books, several of them best sellers. And unlike that of many popular ministers, his reach extends farbeyond the Christian subculture.
The fancy bike brand tried to depict a wellness journey. It didn’t go as planned.
The internet has some feedback on Peloton’s holiday ad campaign. The fitness-tech company, famous for its $2,400, Wi-Fi-enabled stationary bikes that let riders stream spin classes, debuted a new television commercial in mid-November, but it didn’t become infamous until earlier this week, when Twitter got ahold of it.
In the ad, a young mom gains confidence in the year after her husband buys her a Peloton for Christmas—or, at least, that’s what the ad seems to be aiming for. The commercial documents the woman (who is also documenting herself, via her phone’s front-facing camera) while she gets up early day after day to exercise or jumps on the bike after work. At the end, she presents the video of her exercise journey to her husband. “A year ago, I didn’t realize how much this would change me,” she tells him. “Thank you.”