Syria gas attack triggers new round of UN paralysis, U.S. posturing on Assad regime tactics
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- The world's effort to punish the Assad regime in response to the gas attack in Syria is following a familiar pattern
- Toronto police have charged alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur with a seventh count of first-degree murder
- The U.S. military has an air accident problem, and the toll is becoming hard to ignore
- Missed The National last night? Watch it here
Stern warnings and facts on the ground
Back when he was running for president, Donald Trump brushed off questions about his promise to defeat ISIS "within 30 days" by saying it wasn't smart to "broadcast" the exact plan to your enemies.
Now that he's running the United States, his views seem to have changed.
This morning, Trump took to Twitter to deliver a warning about imminent military action against Syria.
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!—@realDonaldTrump
It isn't the first time the U.S. president has shown his hand.
One year ago, when America fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airbase near Homs to punish Bashar al-Assad's regime for a chemical attack that killed around 100 people in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, the Russians were given a discrete heads-up
"Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line," a Pentagon spokesman admitted a couple of days after the attack. "U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield."
The danger of touching off the Third World War is clearly on Trump's mind. In a follow-up tweet this morning, he made an almost plaintive plea to Vladimir Putin.
Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?—@realDonaldTrump
But there's also an element of theatre to the world's efforts to punish Assad for crossing a "red line" that he has already hopped across on multiple occasions.
At an emergency UN Security Council meeting yesterday, there was much bluster and no tangible result.
The Americans introduced a resolution to create an inquiry into last weekend's suspected gas attack in Douma, which killed more than 70 and sickened 500 more. Russia vetoed it.
The OPCW's fact-finding missions don't actually determine who perpetrated chemical attacks, just that they took place.
A joint UN-OPCW body that looked at responsibility shuttered its operations last October, when Russia and Bolivia voted against extending its Security Council mandate. Its seventh and final report blamed the Syrians for the April 2017 attack in Khan Sheikhoun, and the Islamic State for a September 2016 gasing that wounded two women in the town of Umm Hawsh.
In the wake of that attack, Russia and the U.S. joined together to force Assad to relinquish his chemical weapons. And in the fall of 2014, the United Nations reported that 96 per cent of the Syrian regime's "declared" chemical stockpile had been destroyed.
Such actions didn't change much.
Neither did America's missile strikes last April. Within hours, Syrian warplanes were again taking off from the Shayrat airfield.
In a particular act of defiance, they carried out more airstrikes in Khan Sheikhoun.
A seventh Toronto victim
Toronto police have charged alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur with a seventh count of first-degree murder.
Abdulbasir Faizi was 44 years old when he disappeared on the evening of Dec. 28, 2010, after leaving his job at a Mississauga printing company. The Afghan immigrant, who lived in Brampton, Ont., was reported missing the following day by his wife and two daughters.
He joins the lengthening list of McArthur's alleged victims. Faizi and Skandaraj Navaratnam disappeared in 2010. Majeed Kayhan was last seen in the fall 2012, while Soroush Mahmudi was reported missing in the summer of 2015. Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman were last seen in 2017.
The other identified victim, Dean Lisowick, was never reported missing. Police now believe that he died in April 2016.
Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit with his hands cuffed in front of him, he said little beyond "thank you" when the judge put his case over until his next scheduled hearing on April 25.
This afternoon, Det.-Sgt. Hank Idsinga, the lead investigator with the Toronto Police, held a news conference to provide an update on their probe of McArthur. Police are set to search 70 properties connected to McArthur, he said, and are examining 15 cold cases, dating back to the 1970s, for possible links.
In an unusual step early last month, police released a picture of a man whom they believe is an eighth victim. The close-up of his battered face appeared to have been taken post-mortem.
The image came from a cache of photos that McArthur kept on his computer.
Toronto Police are currently reviewing cold-case murders and disappearances dating back to the early 1970s.
U.S. military spending
The U.S. military has an air accident problem.
Since the middle of March, 16 service members have been killed in non-combat crashes. And April began with four wrecks in four days, resulting in seven of those deaths.
Some accidents have received a lot of attention, like the March 16 incident in Iraq where a U.S. Air Force HH-60 helicopter clipped some power lines, killing all seven aboard. On April 4, a CH-53 Super Stallion heavy transport helicopter on a training mission crashed near El Centro, Calif., killing all four onboard.
But the overall toll is becoming hard to ignore: 18 accidents and 49 deaths in one calendar year.
This past weekend, William "Mac" Thornberry, the Texas Republican in charge of the House Armed Services Committee, warned that America's military is "at a crisis point."
He bristled at White House suggestions that the Department of Defense budget might be raided to pay for Donald Trump's promised wall along the Mexican border.
A recent investigation by the Military Times, an independent defence-focused newspaper, used U.S. Access to Information laws to build a database of all military aviation accidents — fatal and non-fatal — since 2011. It found an almost 40 per cent increase in crashes since 2013, a rise that the paper ties to the Sequestration cuts that came online in 2013 when Republicans and Democrats couldn't reach a budget deal.
That explanation might not fly: U.S. Army helicopter accidents have actually declined since 2013 — probably because they're not flying so many risky combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
America's total military spending has declined in recent years, that too is a function of fewer wars.
The U.S. Department of Defense had a base operating budget of $611 billion in 2016. That's nearly three times as much as China's $215 billion in military spending, and more than the combined defence expenditures of the next eight biggest spenders — a list that includes Russia, France, the U.K., Saudi Arabia and India.
President Trump has repeatedly accused Barack Obama of leaving the military "underfunded." But his new budget won't be enough to address his generals' lengthy wish lists, despite earmarking $700 billion for defence this fiscal year, and $716 billion for 2019.
The military has long been the U.S. government's single-largest expenditure. But that could soon change.
That's just par for the course in Canada.
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Quote of the moment
"My thinking on cannabis has evolved."
- John Boehner, the former Republican speaker of the House, announcing via Twitter this morning that he is joining the board of a pot company. In 2009 when he was a Congressman, Boehner said he was "unalterably opposed" to legalization.
What The National is reading
- Algerian military plane crashes after takeoff, 257 dead (CBC)
- Global trading system at risk of being 'torn apart,' warns IMF's Lagarde (CNBC)
- Quebec City mosque shooter seeks right to parole after 25 years (CBC)
- Seven Myanmar soldiers sentenced to 10 years for Rohingya massacre (Reuters)
- Paul Ryan will not seek re-election (NY Times)
- Parents face court over baby's vegan diet (Sydney Morning Herald)
- Canada's 'Winterpeg' heats up (South China Morning Post)
- World's largest brewer develops greener way to put bubbles in beer (Guardian)
- The seismic signal of Lionel Messi (BBC)
Today in history
April 11, 1969: Acadians head south to help Cajun cousins
The CBC travels along with a group of New Brunswick Acadians who are trying to help Louisiana's Cajun population preserve their native tongue. Cajun French was "in danger of total annihilation," suppressed by state education rules and undermined by modern communications. An interesting story rendered remarkable by Mrs. Leonie Boudreau-Nelson's hat.
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