Ten U.S. Sailors, Two Navy Boats, and Iran

President Obama went before Congress one last time, to offer a plea for civic unity—and some sharp jabs at Republican presidential candidates.

President Obama and his aides promised that this year’s State of the Union address would be different, and he delivered on that promise. It was a somewhat unusual speech: Surprisingly devoted to rebutting Republican candidates for president, unusually loose and humorous, and elsewhere strikingly cerebral, passing up the tear-jerking climaxes of past addresses for a wonky and cerebral—though no less heartfelt—plea for civics and a better politics.

The goal of the speech, aides said in previews, would be for Obama to begin to frame his own legacy for the historians. He would eschew the standard litany of policy ideas in favor of a broader look at the future. That’s what he did.

Early on, the president articulated the progressive view of the world. “America has been through big changes before — wars and depression, the influx of immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, and movements to expand civil rights,” he said. “Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears.” But he added, “Such progress is not inevitable. It is the result of choices we make together.” That’s a clear-eyed view of history for a leader who has often fallen into the trap of portraying history as an inexorable march toward human perfection.

Hope for a Besieged Syrian Town


Updated on January 11 at 3:06 p.m. ET

Aid convoys have arrived in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya where as many as 28 people are reported to have died of starvation since December 1.

The ICRC is working with the Red Crescent and the United Nations to deliver the supplies.

“Crowds of hungry kids around,” Sajjad Malik, UNHCR’s representative in Syria, said in a text message from Madaya, the agency said in a statement. “It’s heart-breaking to see so many hungry people. It’s cold and raining but there is excitement because we are here with some food and blankets.”

Madaya, which is near Syria’s border with Lebanon, is controlled by rebel groups and has been subjected to a blockade for months by government forces and their allies in Hezbollah, the Shiite militia group from Lebanon. Madaya’s residents last received food and supplies six months ago. The  convoy—49 vehicles carrying basic food items, water, medical supplies, infant formula, and blankets—will deliver enough food to last about 40,000 people for one month.

Aid will simultaneously be delivered to Foua and Kefraia, two villages in northern Idlib province that have been encircled by rebels. Approximately 20,000 people are believed to be trapped in the villages since last March, and a convoy of 21 trucks is taking supplies to them.

On Monday, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the international-aid group that’s also known as Doctors Without Borders, said five people, including a 9-year-old boy, died of starvation in Madaya on Sunday. That brings to 28 the number of people who have died because of a lack of food in the besieged city.

The starvation deaths in the city made Madaya the current face of suffering in Syria’s civil war. Reuters reports that Syrian rebel leaders told the UN that they won’t take part in talks with the government until the siege on Madaya, as well as other blockades, are lifted.

The Syrian civil war pits the government of President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, against a slew of rebel groups, ranging from secular to Islamist. Some of these groups are backed by the West. The nearly five-year-long civil war has created a massive humanitarian disaster, a refugee crisis that has long-term political implications for Syria’s neighbors, and a massive influx of migrants to Europe.  

A Hospital Bombed in Yemen

At least four people have been killed and 10 others injured after a strike on a Médecins Sans Frontières-supported hospital in Yemen, the medical aid group said Sunday.

At around 9:20 a.m. local time, a “projectile” struck the Shiara Hospital in the Razeh district of northern Yemen, said the group, which is also known as Doctors Without Borders, in a statement on its website. At least one more projectile fell near the hospital.

The strike led several buildings inside the medical facility to collapse. Three of the injured are staff of MSF, which has been working at the hospital since last November. Two are in critical condition, the group said.

MSF could not confirm the origin of the attack, but said planes were seen flying over the hospital at the time. All staff and patients have been evacuated, some to Al Goumoury hospital, which is also supported by MSF, in Saada.

Northern Yemen has seen months of heavy bombardment by airstrikes. A coalition of nine Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, has been bombing Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in the country on behalf of the Yemeni government since last spring. The strikes have killed hundreds of people and destroyed buildings and homes, leading to food and medicine shortages.

Raquel Ayora, MSF’s director of operations, said that “all warring parties, including the Saudi-led coalition, are regularly informed of the GPS coordinates of the medical sites where MSF works.”

“There is no way that anyone with the capacity to carry out an airstrike or launch a rocket would not have known that the Shiara Hospital was a functioning health facility providing critical services and supported by MSF,” she said.

The hospital in Razeh is the third hospital supported or run by MSF to be struck in the last three months. Last October, the United States bombed a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 30 people. MSF officials said the U.S. and allied forces were given the GPS coordinates of the medical facility; the U.S. said the hospital was “mistakenly hit.” Days later, Saudi-coalition airstrikes destroyed a small hospital in the Haydan district in Saada in Yemen.

What’s Next for El Chapo?

The Mexican government is reportedly willing to extradite Joaquín Guzmán, the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel boss known as ‘El Chapo,’ to the United States for trial, Mexican officials told news outlets on Saturday.

Mexican officials previously captured Guzmán in February 2014 in a major victory against the cartels for recently elected President Enrique Peña Nieto. That victory turned into humiliation in July when Guzmán escaped from Mexico’s highest-security prison via a sophisticated mile-long tunnel built by his associates. Mexican marines re-captured him on Friday in Los Mochis after one of the largest manhunts in the country’s history.

U.S. officials had filed a formal extradition request for Guzmán only three weeks before his escape, but the Mexican government previously resisted U.S. pressure to send him north, according to The New York Times.

When Enrique Peña Nieto became the president in 2012, his government initially adopted more of an arms-length approach to the United States on security cooperation than his predecessor had. That often meant taking a more assertive stance in matters of sovereignty, including a reluctance to turn over prisoners to the United States.


[…]


Almost exactly one year ago, Jesús Murillo Karam, the Mexican attorney general at the time, said: “I can accept extradition, but when I say so. El Chapo has to stay here and do his time, then I’ll extradite him. Some 300, 400 years later. That’s a lot of time.”

This time, however, officials seem to fear that Guzmán could use his considerable resources to free himself again. In 2001, Guzmán escaped from custody by bribing officials and hiding in a laundry basket as it was wheeled out of the prison.

If turned over to U.S. authorities, Guzmán would face indictments in seven different U.S. federal courts for drug trafficking and murder. The maximum sentence he would likely face if convicted is life imprisonment without parole. Mexico formally abolished capital punishment in 2005 and is one of many countries that refuses to extradite defendants to the United States unless prosecutors promise not to seek the death penalty.

Guzmán’s lawyers are expected to strongly contest any extradition attempt, and the full legal process could take months in the courts. In the meantime, Guzmán is being held at the prison from which he broke out last year—albeit in a different cell.

The Problem With Telling Women to Stay an ‘Arm’s Length’ From Men


Carnival season in Cologne is just weeks away. For six straight days, the western German city will be locked in a giant party that one Berlin-based reporter said makes Oktoberfest look civilized. This year, the mayor of Cologne said she’s concerned for the safety of women during Carnival, following reports that hundreds of young men groped, robbed, or assaulted dozens of women in the city’s square on New Year’s Eve.

So, when a reporter recently asked the mayor how women could protect themselves in the future, Henriette Reker proposed a kind of code of conduct for women “so that such things do not happen to them.”

“There’s always the possibility of keeping a certain distance of more than an arm’s length—that is to say to make sure yourself you don’t look to be too close to people who are not known to you, and to whom you don’t have a trusting relationship,” she said Tuesday.

Reker’s suggestion that women could avoid being sexually harassed (or raped, as two women reported they were on New Year’s Eve) by keeping potential assailants at “arm’s length” drew immediate backlash. On Twitter, the outrage—much of it alternating between shock and sarcasm—amassed under #einarmlaenge, or “an arm’s length” in German.

“What’s most annoying is that no one knew about #anarmslength before. Think how much women could have prevented!” one German woman tweeted. “If you’ve got short arms, you can just carry two umbrellas. That way you’re sure to keep the right distance,” said another.

On the surface, Reker’s comments were probably well-meaning. She’s not wrong to try to advise women on sexual-assault prevention, which needs all the awareness it can get. Plus, Reker is a victim of assault herself. A day before she was elected mayor last October—the first female mayor in Cologne’s history—a man opposed to Reker’s refugee-friendly policies stabbed her in the neck with a knife. And after all, it’s her job as mayor to publicly express concern about the safety and welfare of her roughly 1 million constituents. Stay alert, be vigilant, that kind of thing.

But never mind that it’s unrealistic to expect enough room at a crowded street festival to keep anyone at arm’s length. In another way, #einarmlaenge isn’t about staying alert, being vigilant, that kind of thing. It’s a suggestion that women change their behavior in order to avoid being harassed by men. It seems to place the responsibility for the prevention of sexual violence not on those who perpetrate it, but on those who endure it.

“An arm’s length” is like much of the advice women have been given—by government officials and college presidents and other women, in countries around the world—to avoid attracting “negative attention,” which could lead to sexual violence. Drink less alcohol at parties. Wear more clothes. Don’t ride public transportation alone at night. Marry a man. In Israel in the 1970s, after a series of violent rapes, one politician suggested women be put under curfew until the perpetrators were caught. “Men are committing the rapes,” responded Golda Meir, then the prime minister. “Let them be put under curfew.”

As Amanda Hess wrote in Slate in 2013, “Rape is a societal problem, not a self-help issue. Parents can tell their own daughters not to get drunk, but even if those women follow instructions, it won’t keep other people’s daughters safe.” German government officials can tell women to stay an arm’s length away from strangers, but that won’t keep women in India or Russia or the United States safe.  

Reker hasn’t yet, to my knowledge, followed up her advice to women with a suggestion that men prevent sexual assault by not committing it. But here are a few suggestions worth considering. In 2011, a list of 10 “rape-prevention tips” mocking the tenor of the advice given to women made the rounds on the Internet. These were aimed at men. “If you are in an elevator and a woman gets in, don’t rape her,” one tip explained. “Use the buddy system! If it is inconvenient for you to stop yourself from raping women, ask a trusted friend to accompany you at all times,” advised another.

German officials have vowed to locate and prosecute the men behind the New Year’s Eve crime spree. “Anyone who believes they can breach law and order must be punished—no matter where they come from,” said Heiko Maas, the German justice minister, on Thursday. He was alluding to the fact that witnesses described the perpetrators as being of Arab or North African descent, and the connection that some have made between the assaults and the influx of asylum-seekers that Germany welcomed last year. But Reker isn’t telling women to stay away from strangers because some of those strangers might be migrants or refugees. She’s telling them to stay away because they’re men.