The List

What You Missed While You Were Live-Tweeting the Conventions

Believe it or not, there's been other news.

For the last two weeks, the U.S. news media has been all election, all the time, as Republicans and Democrats met to formally nominate their presidential contenders. But while every camera lens in North America seemed to be focused on people in funny hats dancing awkwardly in Tampa and Charlotte, some pretty major developments were taking place around the world. Here's a look at some of the events you may have missed.

Syria spirals out of control

The carnage in Syria has gone on unabated, with Syrian warplanes continuing to bombard the city of Aleppo and bombings targeting security forces in Damascus. A mass grave containing 45 bodies was discovered outside the capital on Friday. The United Nations reported that more than 100,000 Syrians fled the country in August, the highest of any month since the fighting began, bringing the total number of external refugees to 235,300. Turkey has called for international assistance to handle the inflow of refugees and is reportedly considering military plans to establish a "buffer zone" in northern Syria. The French government has suggested it would recognize an opposition Syrian government if one were to emerge and is reportedly funneling aid to revolutionary councils in rebel-held areas of the country.


Clinton's bad trip to China

While former President Bill Clinton was having an impressive return to form at the convention in Charlotte, Hillary Clinton was having a more frustrating week. The secretary of state traveled to China this week hoping for productive discussions on both Beijing's reluctance to support international action against Syria and increasing tensions with its neighbors over disputed islands in the South and East China seas. Clinton arrived in China to personal attacks in the country's state-run media, including a Global Times editorial titled "Many people in China dislike Hillary Clinton." A planned meeting with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over as the country's top leader later this year, was canceled for "unexpected scheduling reasons" -- supposedly for a back injury. Clinton also got an earful during a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who told the secretary, ""Generally speaking, our relationship has been moving forward, but recently I am more or less worried... The U.S. should respect China's national sovereignty and territorial integrity, respect China's national core interests and the people's feelings." This weekend, Clinton heads to Vladivostok, Russia for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting.


Is Europe finally getting its act together?

The European Central Bank took its boldest step yet to contain Europe's debt crisis when it unveiled a plan to buy the bonds of financially struggling eurozone economies. Many analysts saw the move as a sign of the bank's commitment to preserving the eurozone and preventing Greece's financial contagion from spreading to too-big-to-bail economies like Italy and Spain. The euro rose to a two-month high against the dollar on the news, and stock markets around the world surged. "Let me repeat ... the euro is irreversible," Bank President Mario Draghi declared. "There is no going back to the lira or the drachma or to any other currency. It is pointless to bet against the euro." We'll soon see if he's right.


Iran dials up the tension

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Aug. 30 that Iran had doubled its production capacity at its underground Fordo nuclear facility and had "significantly hampered" the agency's ability to inspect another site. Iran claims the uranium at Fordo is enriched up to 20 percent for purely civilian purposes, but U.N. inspectors say they detected uranium enriched up to 27 percent at the site, which would put Iran close to making weapons-grade uranium. Iran hosted a week-long summit of the Non-Aligned Movement beginning on Aug. 26 and took the opportunity to attack criticize the United States and Israel, including displaying the wrecks of vehicles it says were bombed to assassinate Iranian scientists. On Sept. 5, Iran hosted representatives from Hezbollah, Amal, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad for the third International Conference and Festival of Islamic Resistance in Isfahan.


Colombia talks peace

On Aug. 28, the Colombian government confirmed it was holding peace talks with the left-wing FARC rebels, who have been fighting against the government since 1964.The FARC has been severely weakened in recent years, but around 8,000 guerrillas are reportedly still fighting. The first round of talks will be held in Oslo on Oct. 5 and will continue in Havana. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has come under criticism from his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, for agreeing to the talks. A previous effort at peace talks in 1999 ended in failure after the government had granted the group a safe-haven area the size of Switzerland, from which it still operates. This time, Santos has rejected the FARC's call for a ceasefire while the talks are taking place.


Kenya's days of rage

Kenya has been rocked by violence on several fronts over the past two weeks. Riots broke out in the city of Mombasa over the killing of a radical cleric, Aboud Rogo Mohammed, who had links to Somalia's al-Shabab militant group. Four people, including a policeman, were killed in the unrest, which included a grenade attack on police. Another cleric, Abubaker Ahmed, was arrested for inciting the riots. Both men were accused by the United States of recruiting Kenyan youths to fight for al-Shabab. The disturbance comes as the Kenyan military launched a major military offensive into Somalia to rout al-Shabab from  its stronghold in the port city of Kismayo. In unrelated violence, a land dispute in Kenya's coastal region has claimed the lives of more than 60 people in a series of raids on villages.


Libya cleans house

Muammar al-Qaddafi's former spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi was deported to Libya this week from Mauritania, where he had been held in custody since fleeing there in March. Libya has promised a fair trial for Senussi, who stands accused of numerous crimes under the Qaddafi regime. The deportation is seen as a blow to the International Criminal Court, which has been pushing to try Senussi along with the late leader's son Saif al-Qaddafi. On Aug. 29, Libya's newly elected National Assembly suspended three members for alleged ties to Qaddafi's regime. The country's interior minister also said he would not risk starting an armed confrontation with the Salafist militant groups who have bulldozed shrines sacred to Sufi Muslims in recent days.


U.S. closes the book on Bush-era torture

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Aug. 30 that no one would be prosecuted for the deaths of a prisoner in U.S. custody in Afghanistan in 2002 and one in 2003. The Justice Department had already ruled out prosecutions related to the use of waterboarding and other "enhanced" interrogation techniques, and this week's announcement was the final confirmation that there would be no effort to pursue legal action related to the "enhanced interrogations" carried out by the CIA under the Bush administration. Holder emphasized that the decision not to prosecute "was not intended to, and does not resolve, broader questions regarding the propriety of the examined conduct." Several days later, Human Rights Watch released a new report on detainees reportedly handed over to Qaddafi's regime for interrogation as part of the CIA's rendition program. The report contained a previously unknown instance of waterboarding.


Canada heats up

One person was injured and another killed on Sept. 5 as a gunman opened fire at a victory celebration for the Parti Quebecois, which has just won regional elections in the province. Analysts say the separatist party has little chance of winning a referendum on independence for Quebec, but will push to devolve more power from the federal level and push to more strictly mandate the use of French -- including a controversial proposal to force immigrants to take a French test in order to run for office. Canada also closed its embassy in Iran this week and expelled the remaining Iranian diplomats on Canadian soil, citing Tehran's support for Bashar al-Assad's regime and its lack of cooperation with nuclear inspections.


Blacklists and black eyes in Pakistan

The Obama administration decided this week to blacklist the Pakistan-based Haqqani network as a terrorist organization. The group is implicated in many of the deadliest attacks against U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the blacklisting will allow U.S. authorities to target the group's sources of funding. But the move was opposed by some within the administration who worried it would further damage relations with Pakistan and undercut efforts to negotiate with the Taliban. Also this week, a Pakistani Christian girl who was held in custody for more than three weeks after being accused of desecrating a Quran was released on bail. The prosecution of the 14-year-old, who supporters say has Down's Syndrome, has attracted international scrutiny to Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws.


The List

7 Questionable Claims in the Democratic Platform

From Guantánamo to Joseph Kony, the boasts that could invite a backlash.

This year's Democratic platform, which the party unveiled ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this week, includes a response to the new Republican attack line that Americans are not better off than they were four years ago. "America is safer, stronger, and more secure than it was four years ago," the document declares -- four separate times.

When it comes to foreign policy, however, some of the evidence that the party marshals to support that assertion, however, is sure to raise eyebrows. Here's a look at some of the more wobbly pronouncements in the platform's section on national security:


The platform praises President Barack Obama's decision in 2009 to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and set the goal of defeating "al Qaeda and its extremist allies" in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Obama "sent additional resources to reverse the Taliban's momentum and to give the Afghans the time and space to build the capacity of their security forces," the document notes. "We have accomplished that, and now we have begun the process of bringing our troops home from Afghanistan."

Beyond the vigorous debate over the extent to which Obama's targeted strikes against al Qaeda leaders have weakened the organization, there's also a great deal of doubt about whether the Afghan surge has worked. The U.S. military argues that it has, pointing to success such as expanding Afghanistan's security forces and driving the Taliban out of strongholds in southern Afghanistan. Yet as Wired's Spencer Ackerman has noted, the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar are still the most violent in the country, and insurgent violence across the country has hardly dropped. In a recent New Yorker article on whether civil war will soon return to Afghanistan, Dexter Filkins observed that "the war in Afghanistan has come to this: the United States is leaving, mission not accomplished."


The platform explains that the "Obama administration has taken a leadership role in ongoing climate negotiations, working to ensure that other major economies like China and India commit to taking meaningful action," and adds that the party "will seek to implement agreements and build on the progress made during climate talks in Copenhagen, Cancun, and Durban."

Critics might say, "What progress?" The truth is that these climate talks have not produced much meaningful action -- specifically an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that would replace the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted back in 1997. The 2011 Durban conference, for example, merely extended the Kyoto agreement for several years and produced a vague and non-binding pledge to develop a new global treaty at a later date.


The Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony -- who was the subject of a withering viral video campaign by Invisible Children earlier this year -- makes a surprise appearance in the platform's only paragraph on Africa -- in the very first line, no less. "We will continue to partner with African nations to combat al-Qaeda affiliates in places like Somalia and to bring to justice those who commit mass atrocities, like Joseph Kony," it reads.

Critics may question the decision to name-drop the arguably marginal Kony at the expense of more pressing issues in Africa, or point to the fact that the U.S.-supported hunt for the rebel leader hasn't been going particularly well. The African Union mission has been hobbled by a lack of troops and equipment.


While the Republicans barely mentioned the European debt crisis in their platform, the Democrats appear to have gone the passive-aggressive route. "Europe's leaders have made clear they will do what is necessary to preserve financial stability in the Eurozone and have the collective ability to address their economic challenges," the platform notes. "We have been and will continue to be in frequent contact with our European allies to discuss best practices and share valuable lessons from our own experience reversing our economic downturn, helping them chart the best way forward."

Not only is it very much in doubt that European leaders really are ready to do whatever it takes to stem their economic crisis, but one way to read the platform isn't very diplomatic: "Europe, you'd better stay true to your word. And if you're not up to the task, we're happy to offer expert advice." That sentiment is unlikely to sit well with Europeans who have accused Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner of lecturing them on the debt crisis. And Republicans would probably have a thing or two to say about the claim that the United States has reversed its own economic downturn.


In a section on the Arab Spring, the platform trumpets the U.S. role in helping bring about democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, whether by building a coalition to intervene in Libya, facilitating political transition and reform in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen, or imposing sanctions on Bashar al-Assad's government while aiding the opposition in Syria. The document adds that in response to the Green Movement in Iran, "President Obama spoke out in support of the pro-democracy protestors and imposed human rights sanctions on the Iranian government."

At the Republican convention last week, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) condemned Obama for not doing enough to support the Iranian protest movement in 2009 (at the time, the Obama administration was pursuing diplomatic negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program) -- and others may question whether the White House is inflating its involvement in the other revolutions. But equally controversial is what's left out. The text does not mention the uprising in Bahrain, a U.S. ally that houses the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. In his major speeches on the Arab Spring, Obama refrained from speaking out as forcefully against Bahrain as he did against countries such as Libya and Syria, and has continued to sell weapons to the Gulf monarchy.


The Democrats pat themselves on the back for Myanmar's unprecedented reforms in recent years, noting that "we successfully employed a combination of sanctions and engagement to encourage the government to open up political space and release political prisoners. Our historic opening to Burma will continue to incentivize a democratic transition, a deeper engagement with the United States, and national reconciliation among Burma's many different ethnic groups."

Of course, the Obama administration's carrot-and-stick policy isn't the only reason Myanmar has opened up recently. Other countries imposed sanctions on Myanmar, and President Thein Sein is likely attracted to reform for other reasons as well. As Southeast Asia expert Joshua Kurlantzick has written, he may want to reduce Myanmar's dependence on China and avoid a pro-democracy uprising that could threaten the wealth that the country's ruling generals have amassed. "He apparently understands how far Myanmar, with a per capita GDP of roughly $3,000, has fallen behind once-comparable neighbors like Thailand," Kurlantzick adds.


The party manifesto asserts that "we are substantially reducing the population at Guantánamo Bay without adding to it. And we remain committed to working with all branches of government to close the prison altogether because it is inconsistent with our national security interests and our values."

The party's commitment might be more credible if it wasn't for the fact that Obama has so far failed to close the detention facility in the face of congressional opposition, despite having signed an executive order in 2009 that called for closing the prison within a year. Politico's Josh Gerstein also notes that the 2012 platform backs away from 2008 language about granting trials to suspected terrorists and curbing the president's power to combat terrorism.

In its 2008 platform, the Democratic Party declared that it would "close the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, the location of so many of the worst constitutional abuses in recent years." This year's boast about not subjecting any new inmates to those abuses is likely cold comfort for those who support shuttering the facility.