Europe/Americas update: August 5-7 2017



Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met on Monday on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum conference in Manila and, according to Lavrov at least, it was a Good Talk:

Lavrov described his talks with Tillerson as lengthy and said they covered a wide range of topics, from the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula to coordination plans between Russia and the United States to withstand attacks.

“We felt the readiness of our U.S. colleagues to continue dialogue. I think there’s no alternative to that,” Lavrov said.

The two sides agreed that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and Under Secretary Thomas A. Shannon would continue discussing complex issues on the bilateral agenda.

In fairness, and I know Hashtag the Resistance doesn’t like to hear this (and coming from this administration I understand why), but there really is no alternative to continued dialogue with Russia even if it achieves nothing.


Well, there is one alternative, I guess, and that’s what thousands of NATO forces drilled on last month in Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. For a US military that’s been busily destroying impoverished, arid countries in the Middle East and Central Asia for the past couple of decades, the switch back to European brinksmanship entails a number of changes:

The adjustments to the new threats are wide ranging. Hundreds of desert-tan battle tanks and armored fighting vehicles must be repainted dark green to blend into European terrain. Soldiers accustomed to operating from large, secure bases in Iraq and Afghanistan must now practice using camouflage netting to disguise their positions and dispersing into smaller groups to avoid sophisticated surveillance drones that could direct rocket or missile attacks against personnel or command posts.

American troops no longer have unfettered right of way in the air or priority access on the ground, as they did across Iraqi river valleys and Afghan mountain ranges. In today’s Europe, borders count in all matters military. On a recent Friday, an American Army supply convoy rushing ammunition from Germany to Romania was held up at the Austrian border until the next Monday by restrictions on military convoys during busy summer vacation travel periods.

You know what they say, any apocalyptic World War worth fighting is worth fighting well.


French President Osiris Emmanuel Macron seems like he may be pressing his luck with his worshippers his subjects French voters. It seems Macron wants his wife, Isis Brigitte, to take on a role similar to an American first spouse–including an office, a small staff, and a budget. The thing is, France has historically never had an officially defined role for the president’s partner, so defining that job has always been sort of an ad hoc thing. And, as it turns out, French people kind of like it that way:

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is facing a people’s revolt against plans to give his wife an official “first lady” role.

More than 150,000 people have signed a petition against the move that would give Brigitte Macron an office, staff and an allowance from the public purse.

Macron, and this will come as no surprise to anybody who’s followed this budding monarchist’s nascent but already hilarious political career, wants to give his wife an official job at the same time he’s promulgating a “morality law” that would bar legislators from employing their spouses or family members. What a guy. Hard to believe his approval rating has declined significantly in pretty much every poll.

However rough things may get for Macron at home, though, as long as his chips away at workers’ rights in the name of horse shit centrism he’ll always be able to count on favorable anti-worker New York Times editorials dressed up as objective news reporting. Good for him.


After almost 13 months of panic, incompetence, and hilarious political miscalculation, for some reason Britons don’t seem all that confident in Theresa May’s abilities as prime minister anymore. A new poll shows that 61 percent of UK voters disapprove of her handling of Brexit talks, up from 56 percent a month ago and 46 percent a month before that. Only 35 percent say they’re confident that May can negotiate a good exit deal.

I wonder how those voters will react to news that May’s government, which has publicly scoffed at the notion that the UK might be required to pay a “divorce bill” to Brussels as part of the Brexit process, is reportedly prepared to pay as much as 40 billion euros in just such a scenario. This is the latest in a long string of concessions made by London to Brussels in just the first few weeks of talks–and while that €40 billion is less than the €60 billion the EU wants, you can be sure London will be willing to go up from that number.



There were a couple of potentially major developments in the Maduro political crisis over the weekend. On Saturday morning, Venezuelan soldiers surrounded chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz’s office in Caracas. Ortega Díaz is a Chavista and former Maduro ally who has since turned on the Venezuelan president and is arguably his highest profile critic. She was later officially fired by Maduro’s new constituent assembly. This, again, however you may feel about Ortega Díaz or Maduro or Chavez or the Bolivarian project, is part of a very dangerous slide into authoritarianism. Sacking attorneys general who don’t toe the line is literally Nixonian, and thus hardly the model for democratic governance.

On Sunday, something even more serious briefly looked like it might be unfolding:

A small group of men staged a pre-dawn assault on an army base in Venezuela on Sunday, making off with weapons and declaring themselves in rebellion against the beleaguered government of President Nicolás Maduro.

Government officials and a spokesman for the rebellious soldiers offered conflicting versions of events at the Paramacay military base in Valencia, each side declaring victory.

This turned out to be something shy of a genuine mutiny, but the rebels claim to have made off with a fairly substantial cache of weapons–Maduro says they were run off almost empty-handed, so believe who you will I suppose. If they were able to get clear with weapons, then this incident could be the prelude to a genuine mutiny.

A military intervention has always been one possible endgame for Maduro, though he’s tried to hedge against that by cultivating good relationships with top military officers and recent retirees. Still, those guys all have hopes of continuing their careers and not winding up at The Hague or something like that, so Maduro probably can only push them so far before they buckle. And lower level officers/enlisted personnel may have even shorter fuses than the guys in the upper ranks. There are already some signs that the military is nearing the end of its rope. And if it finally gives, the likely outcome is full-blown civil war as some faction of the military is probably going to remain loyal to Maduro. In another ominous sign, on Monday a group of hackers who claim to be connected to the men who attacked the military base began targeting Venezuelan government websites. Needless to say, this could be another prelude to some kind of major military action.


I’m sure there are other stories I could cover but it’s very late and this one makes me laugh, so here we go:

Senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse have already been to Iowa this year, Gov. John Kasich is eyeing a return visit to New Hampshire, and Mike Pence’s schedule is so full of political events that Republicans joke that he is acting more like a second-term vice president hoping to clear the field than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago.

President Trump’s first term is ostensibly just warming up, but luminaries in his own party have begun what amounts to a shadow campaign for 2020 — as if the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue weren’t involved.

The would-be candidates are cultivating some of the party’s most prominent donors, courting conservative interest groups and carefully enhancing their profiles. Mr. Trump has given no indication that he will decline to seek a second term.

Most of these guys, particularly Pence, are just positioning themselves in case the bottom totally drops out of the Trump administration. But Kasich is reportedly talking like he might run anyway. The hilarity here for me isn’t so much in thinking ahead to 2020 as it is in wondering if this story is going to worm its way into Trump’s decaying brain and lead to another unhinged 3 AM tweetstorm. It’s important to look on the bright side whenever possible.

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