World update: April 18 2018

OK, so. WordPress has been down most of the day so I prepared a short update in case it came back online at some point. As you can undoubtedly tell, it is back, but it’s too late and I’m too fried to write anything else today so this will have to do.



OPCW investigators still haven’t gotten access to the site of the alleged April 7 chemical weapons incident in Douma. A United Nations security team sent to assess the site apparently took fire on Tuesday, so the team’s Wednesday trip to the site was called off. It’s unclear who fired at them or why, but at this point the likelihood of actually obtaining any evidence is so low that it’s almost not worth the risk, particularly when the US and company already took it upon themselves to mete out retribution.

It remains an interesting peculiarity that the site was apparently safe enough for Western media to be allowed in days ago, but it’s unsafe for the OPCW now. Yesterday when I wrote that CBS had gotten into Douma and found witnesses corroborating something that seems like a chemical attack, I was remiss–it was actually CBS and the AP who both got into Douma and found witnesses corroborating a chemical attack. OANN and The Independent have both reported that they found no evidence of a chemical attack, so clearly everybody is doing great journalism here.


The US Senate is considering another bill that would put restrictions on US support for Saudi Arabia’s war effort in Yemen. This one, co-authored by Senators Todd Young (R-IN) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), is softer than the effort led by Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee last month, which failed. It “holds” the Saudis to subjective, nebulous requirements, like making “an urgent and good faith effort to conduct diplomatic negotiations to end the war in Yemen,” allowing “food, fuel, and medicine” into the country, and complying with “applicable agreements and laws regulating defense articles purchased or transferred from the United States.” All of these things would be certified by the Secretary of State, likely soon to be Mike Pompeo. To be clear, Mike Pompeo is never going to not certify that Saudi Arabia is in compliance with these standards, so this bill is probably not much more than window dressing.


Turkey had been scheduled to hold its next national election in November 2019. This election is very important because it will be the first election held under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s new presidential system, which leaves most power in Erdoğan’s hands. If Erdoğan wins reelection and his Justice and Development Party wins big in parliament, then Turkey’s slide into illiberal democracy en route to straight up authoritarianism will be locked in. Many in Turkey’s opposition parties have been concerned that Erdoğan might move the vote up, perhaps to this August, in order to take advantage of a discombobulated opposition and to get out ahead of what’s expected to be a fairly rough year for Turkey economically.

The good news is that Erdoğan is not going to move the election up to this August. The bad news is that he’s moving it up to this June 24. Yikes. He’s been promising for some time that he wouldn’t do this, but, hey, what’s the point of cosplaying as an Ottoman emperor if you can’t act capriciously every once in a while?

The outcome, which is likely to be an Erdoğan/AKP clean sweep, will further undercut any pretense that Turkey might one day get into the European Union. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while then you know I believe Turkey’s bid to join the EU has always been a mutual farce, but Erdoğan has made it much harder for the Europeans to pretend that they might let Turkey in some day. This helps Erdoğan, since it gives him a reason to rant about foreign enemies to his voters, and he needs that kind of thing the way the rest of us need oxygen.


Some 500 Syrian refugees left Lebanon on Wednesday to return to Syria. They were driven out of their homes southwest of Damascus by rebels but that area has now been retaken by the government.


The Egyptian military believes that it has killed Naser Abou Zaqoul, alleged to be the leader of ISIS’s Sinai branch, in a shootout. It has not said when the battle took place.


Saudis can start going to the movies again as of Friday. Well, assuming they want to see Black Panther, anyway.


Five people were reportedly killed in southeastern Iran on Wednesday when a group of militants attacked an Iranian border post from Pakistani territory. Two of the dead are members of the Iranian security forces. It’s unclear who the attackers were but they may have been Baluch rebels or perhaps from the al-Qaeda-linked Jaish ul-Adl organization.

Meanwhile, unnamed diplomats are telling Reuters that the EU is warming to the idea of imposing new sanctions on Iran as a way to try to forestall Donald Trump scuttling the nuclear deal next month. Several countries had previously been cool to the idea, which is being pushed by the UK, France, and Germany. Italy in particular still seems to be skeptical of the idea. It is of course uncertain whether the EU can satisfy Trump enough to get him to hold off on the nuclear accord.



The Taliban bombed a police vehicle in Kandahar province on Wednesday, killing four police officers and a civilian bystander.


Gunmen killed a Shiʿa store owner in Quetta on Wednesday in a drive-by shooting. Shiʿa Hazara are frequently targeted by terrorist groups in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.


The US State Department says that Chinese authorities have detained tens of thousands of Uyghurs in “re-education camps” in Xinjiang, part of a serious crackdown by Beijing against that community. Beijing is worried about radicalization in the Uyghur community, though what they’re doing is at least as likely to make the problem much worse as it is to make it any better.

Meanwhile, China is conducting military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. This has raised the usual complaints from Taiwan, which are a bit more strenuous given that relations between Taiwan and mainland China have hit a rougher-than-usual patch lately.



Nobody knows if Khalifa Haftar is still alive except maybe Haftar himself and his doctor. But we do know that his chief of staff, General Abdel-Razeq Nathouri, is still around after surviving a car bomb attack against his convoy on Wednesday outside of Benghazi. Nathouri is a contender to succeed Haftar as commander of the Libyan National Army, so while it’s tempting to suggest that this assassination attempt was the work of Islamists in Benghazi, my money would be on one of his fellow senior LNA leaders.



A whole bunch of Russian media outlets seem convinced that the Trump administration has promised not to levy any new sanctions against Russian interests in the near future. As you might expect, the administration is not saying anything to US media about this.


Workers discovered a 500 kilogram unexploded World War II bomb in Berlin on Wednesday that will necessitate evacuating an area near the city’s central train station on Friday while it is removed. Should make for a wonderful rush hour.


Italy’s Five Star Movement has given the League until the end of this week to abandon its center-right alliance (including most especially Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party) and agree to form a government with Five Star instead. It’s not clear what the “or else” is in this ultimatum, because it’s not like Five Star has a lot of other options in terms of governing partners. The center-left Democratic Party has shown some signs of wavering on its decision to go into the opposition in recent days, but not enough to say they would certainly join Five Star if push came to shove.


The New York Times suggests that French President Emmanuel Macron’s honeymoon may finally be over:

The veteran journalists did not wear ties and they did not address him as “Mr. President”: two outrageous insults in a television interview this week that served to underscore a new chapter in Emmanuel Macron’s mercurial presidency, one defined by popular anger.


The total lack of deference and a barrage of hostile questions in the interview on Sunday evening have reverberated for days in France and come on top of a coolly savage portrayal of Mr. Macron in a new book of memoirs by his predecessor François Hollande.


What both Mr. Hollande’s book and the television interview had in common was not only the substance of their attacks — that Mr. Macron is a self-seeking servant of society’s fortunate — but also their underlying message: It is open season on the French president.

Again, it seems hard to believe that anybody could be souring on a president who has cut France’s wealth tax while trying to raise taxes on pensioners and strip away workers rights. But here we are.



Raúl Castro will resign the Cuban presidency on Thursday, ending 42 years of Cuban presidents with the last name “Castro.” He will be replaced by Miguel Díaz-Canel, his current vice president, who was nominated by Cuba’s National Assembly on Wednesday and is the only candidate for the office. Castro will remain head of Cuba’s Communist Party, and thus arguably still the leader of Cuba, until the next party conference in 2021.


I feel like a broken record, but Mexican presidential frontrunner Andrés Manuel López Obrador has yet again extended his polling lead in advance of July’s election. The newspaper Reforma‘s latest poll has him at 48 percent, up six from their last poll in February and good for a 22 point lead over the rest of the field.


The Senate is also considering a replacement for the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations to Use Military Force that have become the underpinning for the post-9/11 “we’re allowed to do whatever the fuck we want wherever the fuck we want to do it” US foreign policy standard. It’s been clear since, oh, 2003 that both of these AUMFs needed to be tossed in the garbage and that Congress desperately needs to reassert its constitutional role in military action, so it’s good to see a group of senators take the initiative and write a new AUMF that increases the president’s unilateral military authority no wait that can’t be ri-

Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) on Monday unveiled a new authorization for use of military force, or AUMF, that redefines the limits on President Donald Trump’s ability to attack non-state terrorist groups around the world. This is not related to Trump’s recent strikes in Syria.


Their proposal does four things.


Most notably, it expands Trump’s authority to take military action against al Qaeda, ISIS or the Taliban, wherever they may be geographically. It also authorizes military action against “associated forces” of those groups.

Kudos to Tim Kaine for proposing that Donald Trump, a man he considers manifestly unfit for office, be given even more latitude to Bomb The Shit Out of Them.

What this AUMF would do, under the guise of limiting the president’s war-making powers, is to create a series of voluntary congressional actions to authorize any new troop deployments. It requires Congress to affirmatively vote to stop those deployments, so that if Congress does nothing–if it opts not to even hold a vote–the deployment is considered approved. Since most members of both the House and Senate are utterly terrified of the idea of taking responsibility for military action, they’re unlikely to ever even hold an authorization vote unless the president proposes, I don’t know, airstrikes on Seattle or something. So the new AUMF would solve the problem of presidents overreaching with the old AUMFs by giving the president so much leeway that “overreach” is no longer possible. What could go wrong?

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