The National Today

Russia, China make gains globally as U.S. influence wanes

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke out against the U.S. on Wednesday at the extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey. Abbas called the U.S. president's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital last week "a crime." (Osman Orsal/Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here under "Subscribe to The National's newsletter," and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

Trump's shrinking world

The United States is not welcome at the table.

That's the message Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivered at a summit of leaders of Islamic nations in Turkey this morning, saying his people will no longer participate in Middle East peace negotiations brokered by America.

Abbas said Palestinians won't accept any role for the U.S. in a peace process with Israel "from now on." (Kayhan Ozer via Associated Press)
Abbas called the U.S. president's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital last week, "a crime," and urged that the United Nations take over any future talks.

The other 56-members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation then backed up his stance, saying they "rejected and condemned" Trump's move. They urged the world to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

Trump came to power last year vowing to 'Make America Great Again,' with promises to defeat terrorism, negotiate peace in the Middle East and make his country respected all over the world.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, met with Syrian President Bashar Assad at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria on Monday. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin/Associated Press)
Thefortunes of ISIS have certainly waned in the region, but it's not necessarily the United States that is getting the credit.

Vladimir Putin was on the ground alongside Bashar al-Assad to declare victory in Syria this week. And then the Russian President carried on to Cairo, where he signed a $21 billion US deal to build a nuclear plant for the Egyptian government, rekindling a Cold War alliance.

Putin also spent some time in Ankara, cozying up to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and putting the finishing touches on a deal to sell Turkey a bunch of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles.

Putin watches a Russian jet fighter escort through the window of his plane Monday. His tour of the Middle East this week has included meeting the leaders of Syria, Egypt and Turkey. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Reuters)
During Barack Obama's eight years in power, he was frequently accused of following a foreign policy of "disengagement." He pulled troops out of Iraq, refused to get drawn into the fighting in Libya and Syria, and generally stayed out of European affairs.

It's a trend many say is accelerating, rather than reversing, under Trump.

And it's not just Putin who senses a power vacuum. China has stepped up its presence in global organizations as the U.S. pulls back, taking leadership roles at UNESCO, the World Bank and Interpol, and becoming a key contributor to UN peacekeeping missions.

The Chinese have also been using their economic might to expand their influence in recent years. They've supplanted the U.S. as Africa's largest trading partner, and become a significant player in the Caribbean and Latin America.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and President Donald Trump at a cabinet meeting at the White House in November. Tillerson reportedly told his staff Tuesday that Russia interfered with the 2016 U.S. election, a position that differs with that of Trump. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Regardless, America may no longer have the capacity to mount a global charm offensive. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been busy downsizing the state department and cutting budgets, and there has been a mass exodus of top diplomats.

At a closed-door meeting in Washington yesterday, Tillerson reportedly told staff that Russia did interfere in last year's elections — differing with his boss's "fake news" public position.

There was no talk of Middle East peace.

Terrorists' drug of choice

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is sounding an alarm about a sharp increase in seizures of tramadol in West Africa, an opioid that terror groups both sell and use.

The morphine-like drug is a painkiller that also has a calming effect — it's sometimes used to sedate horses.

"Tramadol is regularly found in the pockets of suspects arrested for terrorism in the Sahel, or who have committed suicidal attacks," Pierre Lapaque, the UNODC regional representative in West and Central Africa, told a press conference in Dakar, Senegal this week.

A Libyan police officer views a haul of tramadol seized from a shipping container in 2011. The black market trade in the drug has been increasing - Italian police recently intercepted nearly 62 million doses of tramadol in two shipments destined for Libya. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)
"This raises the question of who provides the tablets to fighters from Boko Haram and Al Qaeda, including young boys and girls, preparing to commit suicide bombings."

According to a report by a Nigerian think-tank, tramadol use is "rampant" within the ranks of Boko Haram, and well as the government forces that fight against them, fuelling atrocities on both sides. Back in 2013, The Guardian reported that the terrorist group was feeding school children dates stuffed with the drug and then dispatching them to kill their peers.

Yearly seizures of the drug in Sub-Saharan Africa have more than tripled since 2013. This includes 3 million pills discovered in Nigeria this past September, packed into boxes bearing the UN logo and apparently en route to fighters in Northern Mali.

Indications are that there is a lot more of it floating around on the black market. Italian police have made two massive tramadol seizures in recent months — 37.5 million tabletsat the port of Genoa last May, and 24 million more pills at another port in early November. Both shipments originated in India and were destined for Libya.

A Palestinian employee displays seized tramadol pills at the office of Gaza Prosecutor General. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)
ISIS is also a fan. Earlier this fall, The National's Adrienne Arsenault found boxes of the drug scattered around the ruins of Raqqa.

(Captagon, an amphetamine, is another drug that is said to have been widely abused in the Syrian war, earning the nickname "the Jihadi pill." Although many experts now believe that ISIS was simply feeding its fighters meth.)

There is another explanation for the increasing availability of Tramadol in West Africa: recreational users.

It's a popular drug among young people. Last week, Ghana's Daily Dispatch had a front page warning about youth mixing tramadol with energy drinks and 'ogeeri' seeds.

Barbecuer beware

Since 2004, there have been more than two-dozen reports of injuries after people ingested loose bits of wire from grill-cleaning brushes. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Health Canada has decided that it won't ban the sale of wire-bristle barbecue brushes, and will instead leave it up to manufacturers and grillers to keep their utensils safe.

Since 2004, there have been more than two-dozen reports of injuries after people ingested loose bits of wire from grill-cleaning brushes along with their burgers, ribs and steaks.

It's a rare, laissez-faire choice from a federal agency that is often inclined to take industry-changing actions. Here are some recent examples where Health Canada has stepped in:

In 2014, Health Canada halted the sale of insect repellents containing citronella, which confused scientists who considered the oil to be basically harmless. After a public outcry the decision was reversed the next year.

Quote of the moment

"It is well known that I have asthma, and I know exactly what the rules are. I use an inhaler to manage my symptoms, always within the permissible limits, and I know for sure that I will be tested every day I wear the race leader's jersey."

- Chris Froome, four-time Tour de France champion, responds to news today that he failed a doping test at Spain's Vuelta race last fall. UK Anti-Doping closed a year-long investigation into Team Sky, Froome's employer, last month. There were no charges.

Britain's Chris Froome, wearing the leader's yellow jersey, holds a glass of champagne during the last stage of the Tour de France cycling race on July 23 this year. (Benoit Tessier/The Associated Press)

What The National is reading

  • Liberals have passed half as many bills as the Harper government. (CBC)
  • 'Feminism' is Merriam-Webster's 'word of the year.' (USA Today)
  • North Korean landmines are washing up on a South Korean beach. (Daily Mail)
  • Refugee family grateful to be alive after leaping out of burning home. (CBC)
  • Artificial intelligence may make the next market crash worse. (Quartz)
  • Police urge burglars who stole babies ashes to 'do the right thing.' (Irish Times)

Today in history

Dec. 13 1996: Snowboarding on the edge of mainstream.

Fourteen months before Ross Rebagliati tests positive for pot at the Nagano Olympics, boarders worry that maybe they're leaving the counterculture behind.

Devoted boarders in Whistler are split on what it means that their sport will be an official Olympic event in 1998. 13:18

About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.