World update: June 7 2018


Because he is actually President Baby, the World’s Most Colicky Head of State, Donald Trump is real mad about having to go all the way to Canada for this weekend’s G7 summit just to hang out with a bunch of boring losers (well, he’s got a point there actually). And as fussy babies are wont to do, he’s letting everybody know about it:

Macron, who used to be Donald’s best friend at President Camp, has–while promising to be polite to Trump–begun talking about a “G6,” three guesses which country is being excluded there. But his calls for the other six members of the G7 to stand together against Trump will likely fall on deaf ears, as other members scramble to try to appease President Baby and get on his good side.



Several political defections from the formerly ruling Republican Party have left Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan suddenly leading a parliamentary majority. Ex-Republican legislator Samvel Aleksanyan split on Wednesday, giving Pashinyan 53 seats in the country’s 105 seat legislature. Pashinyan has already started preparing the country for a snap election by replacing the Republican governors in Armenia’s provinces. Now that he has a majority he should be able to call for a new election whenever he wants.


The Afghan government has declared a unilateral one week ceasefire in its war against the Taliban, which will carry through the rest of Ramadan and into the Eid al-Fitr celebration that follows. In taking this step, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is hoping to encourage relatively moderate elements in the Taliban to pursue peace talks. The offer does not extend to groups other than the Taliban, so ISIS is out, and the Afghans say they’re reserving the right to respond to Taliban attacks.


A roadside bomb in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province killed the police chief of Dir district along with his driver on Thursday. There’s been no indication of responsibility but the area suggests Pakistani Taliban.


With diplomats at the US consulate in Guangzhou suddenly coming down with the same mystery affliction that’s been affecting US diplomats in Cuba, Chinese authorities are promising to investigate the situation. The State Department said on Wednesday that it’s evacuated some of its personnel from the consulate. Those who have been affected report strange noises in their apartments and appear to have suffered concussions despite not having taken any blows to the head. The US may suggest that Chinese and Cuban authorities combine their investigative efforts since the cases appear to be identical.


If their June 12 summit goes well, Trump says he wants to invite North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the White House for a visit. He’s even talking about normalizing diplomatic relations with North Korea, a huge step that would presumably have to come after a negotiated settlement to the Korean War–which is itself a big step. On the other hand, if things go badly, Trump says he’ll start using the phrase “maximum pressure” again in reference to North Korea. Glad to see he’s got all the bases covered. One thing Trump is not doing is actually preparing for the summit:

Earlier, in the Oval Office, Trump, who reportedly resists reading briefing documents, claimed that he does not need to do much homework before the summit. “I don’t think I have to prepare very much,” he said. “It’s about attitude. It’s about willingness to get things done.”

Good luck with all that then. If North Korea really plays its cards right here, analyst Mattia Tomba thinks it could be “the world’s cheapest factory.”

That sounds like a really cool thing to be. They must be so excited.



Earlier this week, The Guardian published an investigation into ISIS-Greater Sahara that sheds some light on the group’s origins and those of its leader, Abu Walid al-Sahrawi:

Sahraoui, the leader and founder, may be a jihadist pledged to Islamic State, but his camel and motorbike-mounted militants are very different to ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Sahraoui is thought to be originally from the disputed territory of Western Sahara and spent time in Algeria before coming to Mali. After years at the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and the al-Qaida-linked group al-Murabitoun, he split off to found ISGS, piggybacking on a conflict on the Niger-Mali border that had been rumbling on for decades and was ripe for exploitation.

The people he chose – nomadic Fulani herders in the regions of Tillabéri and Tahoua – had been feuding with the Daoussahak Tuareg of the Ménaka region in Mali for decades.

“The Tillabéri problem is an ethnic problem,” said a Nigerien intelligence officer who had worked on the region for decades. “The Fulani have a problem with the Tuareg, and jihadists profited from the situation.”

The Fulani-Tuareg hostility stretches back decades but exploded in the 1990s, and then an influx of Tuaregs returning to Mali in 2011-2012 after serving in Muammar Gaddafi’s army in Libya made the situation even worse. Definitely check this piece out.


Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced on Thursday that he will not stand in Burundi’s 2020 presidential election. Nkurunziza is in his third term despite having been limited to two terms under the country’s constitution. He just shepherded through a referendum that lengthened Burundi’s presidential terms from five years to seven years, starting after the 2020 vote, and reset Nkurunziza’s political clock. So in theory he could run again in 2020, run for reelection in 2027, and serve until 2034 under these new constitutional terms. So this announcement is pretty stunning, if he sticks to it. But that’s a very big “if.”


South African President Cyril Ramaphosa wants white Afrikaner farmers to know that his plans for land reform will not threaten their livelihoods:

Ramaphosa, who replaced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma in February, has promised to redistribute land to the black majority to address the deep racial inequality that persists more than two decades after the end of apartheid.

He has been at pains to dispel fears among some white South Africans that they could face violent land seizures if the government’s land reform program is bungled.

“Tonight I want to say to all of you: Let us not see the issue of land as a reason to pack up and go,” Ramaphosa told a gathering of the Afrikanerbond, an organization founded 100 years ago to defend the interests of the descendants of mainly Dutch settlers.

“It is an opportunity to build a more just and equitable society that makes full and effective use of the resources we have,” Ramaphosa said, peppering his speech with phrases in Afrikaans, Afrikaners’ mother tongue.


The Ukrainian parliament on Thursday approved the creation of a new anticorruption court while also sacking the country’s anticorruption finance minister, Oleksandr Danylyuk. One step forward, one step back, I guess. Though in truth the formation of the court is less about taking substantive measures to attack Ukraine’s massive corruption problem than it is about attracting foreign aid and investment from countries leery of getting into business with a country with such a, well, massive corruption problem. It’s not exactly window dressing, but neither was it born out of a genuine desire to clean up Ukrainian politics. Ukrainian reformers seem to be OK with trading Danylyuk for the court, for what it’s worth.



Finally, Mike Pompeo’s promises to reverse his predecessor Rex Tillerson’s plans to gut the State Department so far haven’t been met–though that’s not necessarily Pompeo’s fault:

“The guidance people are getting is basically, the jobs that were vacant pre-2017? Forget about them,” one of them said.


“Now that the dust has settled, folks are realizing [the lifting of the freeze] is not quite as good as it seems,” another said.


The officials said the reason was largely bureaucratic: The State Department must still adhere to a cap on new hires dating back to the summer of 2017, when Tillerson and the White House Office of Management and Budget agreed to cut the workforce by 8 percent.


Before he was fired, Tillerson said he had achieved about half of the proposed cuts, or 4 percent.


A State Department spokeswoman confirmed that positions vacated before the end of last year would not be filled under current congressional spending requirements, appearing to indicate that Congress is to blame.

The hollowing out of the US diplomatic corps was easily Tillerson’s most successful act in office, and naturally it was also his most destructive.

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