World update: April 6 2018



Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi went ahead with his visit to Kabul to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday, despite new tensions over Pakistani airstrikes in Afghanistan’s Kunar province earlier this week. The meeting seems to have gone smoothly, and the two leaders apparently agreed on “a common aim of regional security”–or, in other words, on next to nothing.


There’s far less discrimination against India’s Dalit community today than there was even a generation ago, but that doesn’t mean there’s none, or that the Dalits are satisfied with the progress they’ve made. Tensions over lingering discrimination flared up in nationwide protests this week that could signal political danger for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party:

In recent decades, India’s historically disadvantaged Dalit community has made impressive strides in terms of economic prosperity. Just a generation ago, many people would move out of the way to avoid touching a Dalit. Some still do. But today there are Dalit millionaires.


Still, caste tensions lie just beneath the surface. And the Dalits’ anger at the Modi government has been simmering. Though Mr. Modi himself has been careful to court the Dalit vote by supporting a longstanding system of affirmative action for India’s lower castes, officials in his party have questioned this. There have also been some nasty crimes against Dalits by Hindu fanatics; often the government’s response has been less than outraged.


As North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meets with South Korean President Moon Jae-in later this month and (probably?) with US President Donald Trump next month, one potential complication could be how Seoul and Washington want to approach the process of denuclearizing North Korea. In the past both the US and South Korea have favored an incremental approach, where North Korea takes small steps toward denuclearization in return for small concessions. Trump, however, has suggested he’s going to demand full denuclearization immediately, which could be too much, too soon for Pyongyang. Moon is trying to bridge this gap by focusing on a comprehensive denuclearization agreement that is implemented gradually, but it’s not clear that will be acceptable to either Trump or Kim.



A US airstrike on Thursday killed three al-Shabab fighters in southern Somalia. On Friday, however, two al-Shabab (probably) car bombs in Mogadishu killed three people.



The Trump administration unveiled a new round of sanctions against Russian individuals and entities on Friday, targeting seven of Russia’s richest oligarchs along with 17 officials in Vladimir Putin’s government and 13 companies. This new list hits some people who seem to be pretty close to Putin and their heirs.


Hungary’s general election is this Sunday, and it seems all but certain that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party will emerge still in control of the Hungarian government. However, there is a decent chance that a united opposition–all three major opposition parties have opted to go easy on one another this time around–could win enough seats to cost Fidesz its chance at a 2/3 parliamentary majority (it’s only a couple of seats shy right now), which it needs to make serious constitutional changes and really kick its hard-right agenda into high gear. Fidesz also needs to worry about turnout–Fidesz voters are pretty reliable, but if a large number of more infrequent voters choose to participate this time (especially in the cities) it’s likely (though not certain) that they’ll be voting for opposition candidates. Polling suggests that turnout could be higher than usual. Of course, Fidesz has spent the past few years gerrymandering things to give their candidates a hefty edge, so they may be OK no matter what.


The political situation is considerably more ambiguous in the Czech Republic (I’m sorry, I refuse to go with “Czechia,” I just can’t do it). Would-be Prime Minister Andrej Babiš just can’t seem to negotiate a governing coalition–his most recent attempt fell apart on Thursday. He could get another chance from President Miloš Zeman, but early elections are looking increasingly likely.


Likewise, talks over forming a government in Italy appear stalemated, and on Friday the center-right coalition that collectively won a plurality of seats in last month’s election reiterated that they stand united. That’s likely to complicate negotiations, since one of those parties–Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia–and the independent Five Star Movement have mutually rejected the idea of working together. It’s increasingly difficult to see how any government can be formed without the participation of Five Star and at least one of the parties in the center-right coalition. But if the coalition can’t be broken up, then it’s not clear what the road forward could possibly be.



Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was supposed to report to prison by 5 PM on Friday due to his corruption conviction, but, well, he decided he didn’t want to go, and nobody seems to be making him at this point. Instead of heading to the slammer, Lula rallied with supporters at a union office in São Bernardo do Campo and dared the police to come get him. They did not.

It defies belief that Lula can just will his way out of a prison sentence, but police don’t seem particularly interested in busting through the crowd of supporters around the union office to haul him away. But it certainly doesn’t seem like he’s prepared to go quietly, which suggests he might still be committed to running in October’s presidential election. What a mess.


Speaking of messes, the United Nations says that about 800 Venezuelans are fleeing violence and destitution and crossing the border into Brazil every day. Some 52,000 Venezuelans have crossed into Brazil since the start of 2017. The UN estimates it needs $46 million to care for Venezuelan refugees across the region, but so far only about four percent of that need has been funded.


Two exciting stories for you tonight. First, get ready for SPACE WAR–and, specifically, if you’re from the US, get ready to lose SPACE WAR:

War is coming to outer space, and the Pentagon warns it is not yet ready, following years of underinvesting while the military focused on a host of threats on Earth.


Russia and China are years ahead of the United States in developing the means to destroy or disable satellites that the U.S. military depends on for everything from gathering intelligence to guiding precision bombs, missiles and drones.


Now the Pentagon is trying to catch up — pouring billions more dollars into hardening its defenses against anti-satellite weapons, training troops to operate in the event their space lifeline is cut, and honing ways to retaliate against a new form of combat that experts warn could affect millions of people, cause untold collateral damage and spread to battlefields on Earth.

Well, on the plus side there are a ton of great opportunities here for defense contractors to build, for example, SPACE DRONES that cost $1.5 billion a piece but, oops, won’t be able to operate in below freezing temperatures until upgrade 35.6 in 2067 at an extra $900 million per drone. Get your bids in now. But in a more pessimistic sense, it’s hard to see how humanity can come together to solve our extinction-level problems here on earth–climate change, disease, water shortages, etc.–if we can’t stop thinking about new and more exotic places to do war on one another.

Finally, speaking of doing war, the Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe illuminates some of the debates that have been going on within the Trump administration’s national security team. Boy is it illuminating. For one thing, there’s confirmation that your current president, Dovish Donald Trump, gets angry when US drone strikes kill terrorists but not their families. Also, perhaps you’ve come to realize that the US military now for all intents and purposes defines “victory” as “never admitting defeat,” but did you know that’s actually how they define it?

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis echoed that point in late November when he outlined an expanded role for U.S. forces in preventing the return of the Islamic State or a group like it in Syria. “You need to do something about this mess now,” he told reporters. “Not just, you know, fight the military part of it and then say, ‘Good luck on the rest of it.’ ”


His remarks reflected a broader Pentagon consensus: In the absence of a clear outcome, winning for much of the U.S. military’s top brass has come to be synonymous with staying put. These days, senior officers talk about “infinite war.”


“It’s not losing,” explained Air Force Gen. Mike Holmes in a speech earlier this year. “It’s staying in the game and . . . pursuing your objectives.”


The Army recently rewrote its primary warfighting doctrine to account for the long stretch of fighting without victory since 9/11. “The win was too absolute,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy of the old document. “We concluded winning is more of a continuum.”

“Winning is more of a continuum.” Jesus Christ. A cynic might say they’ve also concluded that never winning or losing anything pays better than decisively doing either. But we don’t want to be cynical here.

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