World update: March 10-11 2018



At least 24 Afghan soldiers were killed on Saturday in Farah province when, while assembling for an operation, they were attacked by the Taliban. In related news, the Taliban have apparently been telling religious scholars not to attend a conference later this month in Indonesia that is supposed to build momentum for negotiations in Afghanistan. Consider that another thumb’s down about the idea of peace talks.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently unveiled a new national biometric ID card meant, among other things, to eliminate voter fraud. It’s…not being received well. The card includes a category for “ethnicity” and another for “nationality.” The “ethnicity” category is supposed to offer a way to track the country’s ethnic makeup–Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, and so forth (though it apparently isn’t comprehensive and some small minorities are upset that their communities haven’t been recognized). But everybody’s nationality has been entered as “Afghan,” which traditionally means “Pashtun.” While that usage has fallen somewhat out of style (“Afghan” now usually just means “somebody who lives in Afghanistan”), for people inclined to be pissed at Ghani’s government anyway this is just providing one more excuse. And since everybody was classified as “Afghan” anyway, there doesn’t seem to be much point to including that category on the ID cards in the first place. If the point is to distinguish citizens from non-citizens, there are less provocative ways to do that.


The Philippine military says its forces killed some 44 militants from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters group late last week in Maguindanao province. Philippine authorities claim that the BIFF is affiliated with ISIS, though that link is certainly not as apparent as it is with groups like Abu Sayyaf. The BIFF broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2008 over the MILF’s willingness to accept autonomy from Manila (the BIFF is after full independence).


The Chinese government made it official on Sunday, removing presidential term limits and thereby allowing Xi Jinping to remain in office indefinitely. Xi’s closest political ally, Wang Qishan, is expected to be named vice president in the next several days.


You can never accuse the Trump administration of being normal, or consistent, or functional. In that vein, and despite the fact that it would make Donald Trump look bad (or worse, I guess) internationally, there is a growing chance that his big summit with Kim Jong-un is never going to happen even though Trump himself agreed to it last week. Consider, for example, the circumstances under which Trump apparently agreed to the summit:

Behind the scenes, events unfolded even more haphazardly. Mr. Trump was not scheduled to meet Mr. Chung until Friday, but when he heard that the envoy was in the West Wing seeing other officials, the president summoned him to the Oval Office, according to a senior administration official.


Mr. Trump, the official said, then asked Mr. Chung to tell him about his meeting with Mr. Kim. When Mr. Chung said that the North Korean leader had expressed a desire to meet Mr. Trump, the president immediately said he would do it, and directed Mr. Chung to announce it to the White House press corps.

Yeah, OK, not off to a great start. This certainly explains why the administration has been publicly flailing around to try to implement and message this decision–because Trump made it on the spur of the moment.

Now consider that the administration has already walked Trump back from “sure, I’ll negotiate with Kim” to “well, I might sit down with Kim if he meets our preconditions–and, by the way, these are just going to be talks, not negotiations (whatever the distinction is supposed to be).” And consider that all the talk about Kim’s supposed willingness to completely denuclearize has come from the US and South Korea, not Pyongyang. What if, like the proverbial game of “telephone,” what Kim said to those South Korean envoys a week or so back isn’t really what’s being reported out of the Trump administration right now? So, yeah, I wouldn’t be certain that this summit is going to happen at all and certainly there’s reason to doubt it could happen by May.



Ethiopian forces stationed near the country’s border with Kenya “mistakenly” killed nine civilians in a single incident, according to Ethiopian officials (they don’t seem to have been forthcoming with the date of this incident). The forces were in place to deal with potential activity by the Oromia Liberation Front. The Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia says that at least seven other people have been killed in the Oromia region this month and that hundreds of people have been arrested under an ongoing state of emergency.



The Russian military says it has successfully tested one of Vladimir Putin’s cool new toys, the hypersonic Kinzhal missile. So that’s nice. The Kinzhal is supposed to be capable of flying at 10 times the speed of sound, making it very hard to track or defend against.

Putin is being criticized for a comment he made in an interview with NBC News this weekend, in which he suggested that the Russians who allegedly interfered in the 2016 US election might not have been really Russian:

“Maybe they’re not even Russians,” Putin told Megyn Kelly, referring to who might have been behind the election interference. “Maybe they’re Ukrainian, Tatars, Jews — just with Russian citizenship.”


He also speculated that France, Germany or “Asia” might have interfered in the election — or even Russians paid by the U.S. government.

Maybe they were mole people, who live underground but love The Apprentice so fucking much that they resolved to do whatever it took to put Donald Trump in the White House. Anything’s possible! Anyway, as you might expect, it’s that “Jews” part that’s really raising eyebrows. Russia has, to say the least, a checkered history with antisemitism (Putin himself, or people around him, have flirted with it fairly recently), and boy, if Jews with Russian citizenship aren’t “Russians,” what does that mean?

I’d say this dustup might impact Russia’s presidential election next Sunday, but come on. The only question about that vote is how embarrassing the turnout is going to be. But Russian authorities have figured out how to get people out to the polls: raffles! No, really–Putin supporters are planning to raffle off prizes to people who vote. There may also be interesting referendums on the ballot to entice people to vote.


Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, who has been in office since 2012, may not be there much longer if he can’t get his coalition back into line. Fico has been hit by a major backlash over the murder of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak, with tens of thousands of people protesting over the corruption that Kuciak uncovered–which is in all likelihood what provoked his murder. Responding to the protests, the centrist Hungarian party Most-Hid has told Fico that he has to can Interior Minister Robert Kalinak or else they’ll pull out of his coalition. That would leave Fico’s SMER-SD party leading a minority government–or, failing that, it would mean snap elections.



Right-wing rich dude Sebastián Piñera was sworn in as Chile’s new president on Sunday and he’s going to Make Chile Great Again. Actually the comparison with Trump is unfair–Piñera has already been president of Chile once, from 2010-2014. Also, Russia didn’t rig his election–the, uh, World Bank did.


A new Ipsos poll finds that 58 percent of Peruvians want President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to be impeached over the Odebrecht corruption scandal. A new impeachment measure, the second one so far, is being considered by the Peruvian Congress, which will vote on it after Kuczynski testifies about the scandal before the committee investigating it this week. Interestingly, a slightly smaller number (56 percent) want him to resign, suggesting that there may be some Peruvians who are really out for Kuczynski’s (figurative) blood. His approval rating is a robust 19 percent.

He may not be smiling for very much longer (Wikimedia)


Congressional elections on Sunday saw candidates who have been critical of the Colombian government’s 2016 peace deal with FARC do very well for themselves, while FARC’s candidates most definitely did not:

The vote was the first time former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, were competing after disarming as part of the 2016 peace deal for ending a half century of guerrilla war.


As expected, support for their radical agenda was soundly defeated, with FARC candidates getting less than 0.5 percent of the overall vote. That means their political party, also called FARC, will get only the 10 seats guaranteed them by the peace accord.


“The FARC are in a tough spot,” said Leon Valencia, a former combatant who now runs the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, a think tank. “A long war has generated lots of fear and rancor towards them.”


By contrast, many of the accord’s critics picked up seats, with the Democratic Center party led by former President Alvaro Uribe headed to being the biggest bloc in the Senate.

Sunday’s vote also included the primaries for May’s presidential election, and so the nominees for Colombia’s right- and left-wing coalitions are set: Senator Iván Duque of Democratic Center and former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro of the left-wing Progressivists Movement. They will be running against, at this point, three other candidates in the general election.


Cubans turned out on Sunday to vote for the Communist Party’s slate of provincial and national legislature candidates. What makes this vote particularly significant is that the next national assembly is going to elect a new president, in April, who will [record scratch] not be a Castro.


Finally, if you’re wondering why the United States can’t stop fucking around in the Middle East, this might help explain it:

Nearly half of US arms exports over the past five years have gone to the war-stricken Middle East, with Saudi Arabia consolidating its place as the world’s second biggest importer, a report has shown.


The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) said on Monday that global transfer of major weapons systems between 2013 and 2017 rose by 10% compared with the five-year period before that, in a continuation of an upward trend that began two decades ago.


The US, which is the world’s biggest exporter, increased its sales between those two periods by 25%. It supplied arms to as many as 98 states worldwide, accounting for more than a third of global exports.


Russia, the world’s second biggest exporter, saw a decrease of 7.1% in its overall volume of arms exports; US exports were 58% higher than those of Russia.

You people who doubted that Donald Trump could Make America Great Again have some apologizing to do. We’re helping people around the world slaughter each other at unprecedented rates, and that’s pretty damn great in my book.

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2 thoughts on “World update: March 10-11 2018

  1. Concerning the question here about the distinction drawn between Jews and “Real Russians”, the Russian language has two words that are both rendered “Russian” in English but have distinct meanings- “Rossiyski” meaning citizens of the Russian Federation, and “Russki” meaning ethnic Russians, regardless of nationality. Russia is about 80% “Russki” and the rest are various minorities including those mentioned above. “Russki” is the older word but you can see why the second, broader one was needed in a multi-ethnic country; Afghanistan may end up having to come up with something similar to resolve issues with the Afghan/Pashtun categorizations.

    None of this changes the general scapegoating of minorities going on here, but there’s not any specific semantic implication that Jews or the other minorities aren’t legitimate citizens of Russia.

    1. Putin didn’t just scapegoat minorities, he targeted three specific minorities. I don’t think Putin is an antisemite but I think he knows the implications of what he said.

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