Europe/Americas update: September 4-5 2017



At the BRICS summit in China on Tuesday, Vladimir Putin said that Donald Trump is “not my bride.” This huge revelation was Putin’s way of saying he’s not disappointed with Trump because “disappointment” isn’t a thing that world leaders should be with one another. In that sense I actually agree with him. Putin also says he’s reserving the right to demand more cuts to the US diplomatic mission in Russia, and he’s ordering his foreign ministry to file suit in US court over the Trump administration’s order evicting Russia from three of its diplomatic offices.


Putin also seemed to warn Washington against sending weapons to Ukraine. Defense Secretary James Mattis raised the possibility of sending weapons to Kiev last month, but Putin–who is merely a bystander to all this Ukraine business, you see, and simply wants what’s best for the Ukrainian people–argued that arming Kiev would not help bring the mostly-frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine to a close. Putin said that Russia will draft a UN Security Council resolution to put UN peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine, a development that the German government at least seems to support.


Sweden has rejected an asylum request made by a 106 year old refugee from Afghanistan. I don’t even know where to begin here. Apparently the Swedish government doesn’t think it’s dangerous in Afghanistan, which is why they denied her request. Maybe a few of their ministers should go spend some time in Afghanistan, outside of Kabul, and see how it goes.


A new poll shows that 59 percent of Germans are satisfied with the direction their country is going, a result that should augur well for Chancellor Angela Merkel heading into parliamentary elections later this month.


Here’s something comforting: as President Baal Emmanuel Macron’s popularity continues to crater, a plurality of French voters see Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his France Unbowed party as Macron’s main opposition. You don’t have to like Mélenchon (and I’m not here to try to sell you on him) to realize that things could be much worse–Marine Le Pen’s National Front could be in that position, but instead they’re well back in the same poll.

Speaking of Macron, he’s heading to Athens on Thursday to deliver a highly symbolic address on the need to democratize the European Union. It’s presumably no secret that I’m not a Macron fan, but the one area on which I think he’s right is on the dire need for EU reforms, both in terms of developing a common fiscal policy and on the need to increase transparency and public input into EU politics.


A Home Office document that lays out Britain’s post-Brexit immigration plans was leaked to The Guardian and released on Tuesday. It takes an extremely hard line against European immigrants:

The 82-page paper, marked as extremely sensitive and dated August 2017, sets out for the first time how Britain intends to approach the politically charged issue of immigration, dramatically refocusing policy to put British workers first.

“Put plainly, this means that, to be considered valuable to the country as a whole, immigration should benefit not just the migrants themselves but also make existing residents better off,” the paper says.

It proposes measures to drive down the number of lower-skilled EU migrants – offering them residency for a maximum of only two years, in a document likely to cheer hardliners in the Tory party. Those in “high-skilled occupations” will be granted permits to work for a longer period of three to five years.

The document also describes a phased introduction to a new immigration system that ends the right to settle in Britain for most European migrants – and places tough new restrictions on their rights to bring in family members. Potentially, this could lead to thousands of families being split up.

It’s probably not worth reacting strongly to a position paper whose tenets will certainly be negotiated down substantially during Brexit talks, but this seems like an exceedingly hard-line document.



Michel Temer’s political fortunes appear to be nosediving:

Brazilian President Michel Temer faces a tougher battle to quash an imminent second corruption charge because he has lost support among disgruntled members of his governing coalition in Congress, the country’s lower house speaker said on Monday.

Speaker Rodrigo Maia also said the government does not have the votes to approve an overhaul of the costly pension system, a cornerstone of Temer’s plan to address a record budget deficit.

Last month, the house rejected the first corruption charge against Temer, that he took bribes from executives at the world’s largest meatpacker, JBS SA, in return for political favors.

Brazil’s top prosecutor is expected to file a new charge by next week. Some Temer allies feel they were not rewarded for voting to save him from a Supreme Court trial, while parties whose members voted against him kept their cabinet posts.

It would be exceedingly ironic if Temer were eventually brought down by a failure to be corrupt enough.


The Colombian government and rebel group ELN have signed a temporary ceasefire, and  it’s all thanks to Pope Francis. The pontiff is arriving in Colombia on Wednesday so he’ll be able to tout this deal, which goes into effect on October 1 and could be the first step toward a final peace deal between the Colombians and their largest remaining rebel faction. Under the terms of the deal, ELN has agreed to stop doing, well, all the shit it does–kidnapping, violence, etc.–while the government has agreed to improve the treatment of its ELN prisoners and to beef up security for prominent leftist political leaders. Obviously it remains to be seen whether the ceasefire can hold together long enough to lead to a permanent settlement.


Cuba is embarking on a potentially huge political transition that could spell the end of the Castro era…sort of:

Over the rest of September, Cubans will meet in small groups to nominate municipal representatives, the first in a series of votes for local, provincial and, finally, national officials.

In the second electoral stage, a commission dominated by government-linked organizations will pick all the candidates for elections to provincial assemblies and Cuba’s national assembly.

The national assembly is expected to pick the president and members of the powerful Council of State by February. Castro has said he will leave the presidency by that date but he is expected to remain head of the Communist Party, giving him power that may be equal to or greater than the new president’s.

The degree to which this is going to represent a real change in Cuban politics will be determined by the government’s willingness to let true opposition candidates stand for these local offices. Chances are that demonstrable opposition will be weeded out, but we’ll see. Castro’s decision to leave the presidency is important, but he’s 86 years old–he was on his way out anyway. The interesting thing will be what kind of authority vests in the office of president once it’s separated from the office of Communist Party leader, or whether that separation will even last beyond Castro’s death.


In my personal mission not to waste my beautiful mind thinking about Donald Trump, I have two good pieces to share with you tonight. One is admittedly tangentially related to Trump. Jim Lobe writes about Trump’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, who has become the repository for all neocon hopes and dreams for this administration:

With the eviction of Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka from the inner precincts of the White House and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson besieged and taking fire from virtually all sides, neoconservatives – even the NeverTrumpers among them – must be quietly harboring renewed hopes that their restoration may soon be within reach.

And, as should become clear Tuesday, those hopes reside largely with the Trump administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who’s been on a tear against Iran for several weeks now. Her campaign culminated recently in her unsubstantiated claims—in contradiction to the most recent findings of her own State Department and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), not to mention Washington’s P5+1 partners—that Tehran is not in full compliance with the two-year-old Iran nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Haley’s big anti-Iran speech at AEI on Tuesday is a big signal about where she sits in the political ecosystem. The post of UN ambassador is usually a fairly high-profile one, but it’s taken on even more significance in the Trump administration, whose Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, frequently appears either to be on the outs with his boss or just sort of AWOL for whatever reason. Haley, who seems to be operating on her own even though she nominally reports to Tillerson, has become the administration’s most visible foreign policy spokesperson.

Finally, I offer an important, if insufficient (and I don’t mean that as a criticism), piece from Vox’s Zack Beauchamp on the dearth of foreign policy ideas on the left:

On issue after issue, from the war in Afghanistan to the rise of China, Democrats have little exciting to offer. Democratic members of Congress are happy to give fiery speeches condemning Trump’s policies on terrorism or Russia, but that’s not very different from what Republicans did on health care while President Barack Obama was in office.

This isn’t because Democrats don’t have any policy ideas in general. In fact, the party is teeming with them: Various Democrats in Congress, including some 2020 presidential prospects, have advanced new ideas on issues ranging from tweaking Obamacare by allowing all Americans to buy-in to Medicaid, to addressing structural racism in the criminal justice system by paying states to reduce their prison populations, to stopping the rise of monopolies in the tech field by requiring the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission to protect small tech companies from anti-competitive practices. On many of these issues, the party has moved substantially to the left of where it has been in the past.

But on international affairs, Democrats have far fewer exciting ideas to offer.

The problem Beauchamp identifies is that there’s no think tank support for a leftist foreign policy (I would argue there’s very little, but not none–the Institute for Policy Studies and the Frends Committee on National Legislation, among others, do very important work on very small budgets), and that’s mostly because there’s no money funding leftist foreign policy work. There’s a lot of money pushing the Washington consensus and a lot of money pushing the neocon agenda, but liberal funders seem to only care about foreign policy when specific crises emerge–the Iraq War, for example. There’s no appetite for a sustained progressive foreign policy message.

Part of this problem is a natural result of eight years (and 16 of 24 years) of a Democratic president. These sorts of institutions tend to form in opposition to the party in power, and while Barack Obama was by and large no progressive on foreign policy, there was very little interest in coming at him from the left. That’s why you have “Democratic” think tanks like the Center for American Progress and the Center for a New American Security, and “liberal” ones like Brookings, pushing foreign and national security policies that are indistinguishable from the rest of the center-right Blob consensus. It would be nice to see this change, and I think we’re in an era where small donors could help fund that change, but I’m pessimistic about the chances of it actually happening.

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