Europe/Americas update: October 23 2017


The long-feared problem of waves of ISIS’s foreign fighters returning home to carry out terror attacks hasn’t materialized, at least not to the extent many analysts have been fearing, and the reason is pretty straightforward: more of them than expected have been killed in Syria and Iraq. But still, as Robin Wright explains, enough have already made it home to make up a big potential threat:

A new report, to be released Tuesday by the Soufan Group and the Global Strategy Network, details some of the answers: At least fifty-six hundred people from thirty-three countries have already gone home—and most countries don’t yet have a head count. On average, twenty to thirty per cent of the foreign fighters from Europe have already returned there—though it’s fifty per cent in Britain, Denmark, and Sweden. Thousands more who fought for isis are stuck near the borders of Turkey, Jordan, or Iraq, and are believed to be trying to get back to their home countries.

ISIS apparently kept meticulous records on its foreign fighters, so it will most likely be able to reach those who have returned home. One question is how many of them will want to receive ISIS’s message. There’s simply no way to know how many of the thousands who have left Syria and Iraq left with the intention of continuing the fight on a different front and how many were disillusioned by their experiences.



A Russian journalist named Tatyana Felgenhauer was attacked on Monday when a man broke into the Echo of Moscow radio studio where she works as deputy editor and stabbed her in the throat. She’s in serious condition but is expected to survive. State media is reporting that the attacker was fixated on Felgenhauer specifically. However, as Echo of Moscow is one of the few media outlets left in Russia that doesn’t consistently adhere to the Kremlin line, the attack has raised concerns about the safety of other independent journalists in Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian state.


The northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto voted in favor of greater regional autonomy in a referendum on Sunday. Just what we all need, another referendum. Turnout was low in both cases (57 percent in Veneto and just 38 percent in Lombardy), but while the result is unlikely to lead toward an independence movement it is likely to strengthen the right-wing xenophobic Northern League party that was pushing for this result. So that’s nice.


Catalan authorities say they’re prepared to resist Madrid’s attempt to take over the regional government, settling up a civil disobedience campaign as the next phase of the independence crisis.

Meanwhile, Catalan independence leaders continue to believe that they can shame the European Union into stepping in to stop Madrid, despite a growing mountain of evidence to the contrary. In other words, they’re Bart:

Guys, the EU doesn’t want Catalonia to secede. The domino effect it would set off could throw Europe into total chaos. It will trade its “credibility” in return for a firm precedent that trying to secede from an EU member state is a very bad idea.


EU negotiator Michel Barnier poured another pitcher of cold water over the cake Theresa May wants to have and eat on Monday, saying that the UK shouldn’t hope for a better post-Brexit trade deal with the EU than the one Canada has. He further seemed to suggest that negotiations over that deal would necessarily have to go on beyond Britain’s 2019 departure from the union. May is still, despite her denials, under the impression that Brussels will cave and give her a deal that grants the UK full access to the European market without any of the responsibilities that go along with EU membership. This has always been delusional but never more so than it is now, after Brussels has spent several months making its position very clear.



The Trump administration has decided to send its diplomats back to Venezuela on Monday. They’d been pulled from the country back in July when anti-Maduro protests were at their most violent.

Meanwhile, four of the five opposition candidates who won governorships in last Sunday’s state elections bit the proverbial bullet on Monday and took their oaths before the constituent assembly. The opposition rejects the assembly on principle, and the new governors-elect were refusing to swear to that body rather than to their state legislatures per usual, but President Nicolás Maduro had threatened to hold new elections in those states and so four of them (so far) caved rather than lose their new gigs. One of the hurdles Venezuela’s opposition has been unable to overcome is just how disjointed it is, several disparate constituencies united only by their opposition to Maduro. This development is unlikely to help bring everyone together.


It’s not often you’ll catch me recommending anything by Matt Yglesias, but he had a lot to say about Donald Trump’s big Sunday interview with Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo:

Bartiromo is an extraordinarily soft interviewer who doesn’t ask Trump any difficult questions or press him on any subject. That makes the extent to which he manages to flub the interview all the more striking. He’s simply incapable of discussing any topic at any length in anything remotely resembling an informed or coherent way. He says the Federal Reserve is “important psychotically” and it’s part of one of his better answers, since one can at least tell that he meant to say “psychologically.”


By contrast, it’s often hard to make any sense at all of Trump’s words. Asked whether he plans to tie an infrastructure plan to his tax plan, Trump says, “I was thinking about tying it, but there’s too many honestly.” Too many what? He then continues: “You lose a few votes, you gain a few votes. I don’t want to take any chances ’cause I feel we have the votes right now the way it is.” There is, of course, no tax bill at the moment, so there’s no way Trump has the votes for it.

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