Europe/Americas update: July 16 2018



More stories are coming out about Trump’s behavior at last weeks NATO summit and they’re everything you imagined they might be:

On “CBS This Morning” Monday, Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group and a CBS News senior global affairs contributor, said that backstage at the NATO meeting there were elements that were even more eyebrow-raising than reports have suggested.

“One is that emergency session where they asked the Georgian and Ukrainian presidents to leave in the middle of their presentation. Apparently Trump said, ‘OK, we’re done with you now,'” Bremmer said.

“Trump was very frustrated; he wasn’t getting commitments from other leaders to spend more. Many of them said, ‘Well, we have to ask our parliaments. We have a process; we can’t just tell you we’re going to spend more, we have a legal process.’ Trump turns around to the Turkish president, Recep Erdogan, and says, ‘Except for Erdogan over here. He does things the right way,’ and then actually fist-bumps the Turkish president.”

Hell yeah, bring it in Rec. My man. Parliament doesn’t tell Erdo what to do, Erdo does what he wants and parliament is like “GO OFF KING.”


Of course the big news of the day is that Donald Trump surrendered to Russia and we’re all Vladimir Putin’s subjects now. Finally the three mostly ineffectual years of Russian I took in college are going to pay off. In all seriousness though, Trump and Putin met in Helsinki as planned and it went spectacularly well:

President Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday in Helsinki. They had a private, apparently unrecorded conversation, and then gave a joint press conference.

It was one of the most bizarre and disturbing events in which an American president has ever participated.

The most immediately striking thing about the conference was the overall affect of the two men. Trump appeared nervous, fidgety, and restrained compared to his usual boisterous, rambling self. Putin appeared much more coherent — a low bar to clear compared to Trump, to be sure — but also more confident and controlled, as if he held all the cards in the situation.

Overall it gave a strong impression of the leader of a small, weak country trying hard to impress and flatter the leader of a large, powerful one — except backwards, as if Angela Merkel was being pathetically obsequious towards, say, Miro Cerar.

If you’re not regularly reading Ryan Cooper at The Week, you should be. The highlight of the show involved Trump, in Finland, standing next to the president of Russia, declaring that he believes said president’s “extremely strong and powerful” denial of interference in the 2016 election over the consensus conclusions of the various intelligence and investigative organizations that work for Trump.

Then Putin gave a very careful non-answer to a question about whether or not he has compromising information on Trump. No, seriously.

While I respect the desire to get closure on the fiasco that was the 2016 election, the more urgent reason for investigating Russian involvement in that election is that it opens doors to investigating all sorts of other interesting things. Whether you believe Putin got Trump election or not, it is basically inarguable at this point that Trump is, for some reason, afraid of Putin. Maybe it’s the nukes, I guess, but something tells me it’s more personal than that. I don’t think the pee tape is real, and I don’t think Trump is a KGB mole or whatever, but I am increasingly convinced that Trump did some things as a businessman, perhaps involving some very wealthy Russian nationals, that he would very much prefer did not come to light, and Putin has all the details.

This is untenable. A president of the United States so compromised by past behavior that he’s basically owned by another world leader is a situation that cannot be allowed to persist, and yet it will persist because Republicans in Congress have no desire to do anything more than express their mild disapproval of Trump’s words and actions while happily going along for the ride with him. And senior Democrats have shown no real appetite for seriously questioning this man’s fitness for office should they win majorities in Congress in the fall.

Putin didn’t get any concessions from Trump, and didn’t give any either apart from a vague post-summit comment about possibly extending New START. But BuzzFeed’s Emily Tamkin gets it right when she explains why Putin came away the winner of this whole event:

The summit itself didn’t produce specific policy changes, or much of anything concrete. The two spoke vaguely of working together in the future on nuclear arms control and Syria, but didn’t outline plans to coordinate on either. Asked if there were, for example, specific agreements made Monday between the militaries, Trump answered, “Our militaries do get along.”

Putin, instead, took advantage of the short meeting and likely lack of deliverables to present a forceful image of himself as a man in charge — the statesmanlike leader of an engaged Russia, a country trying to work with the United States, if only the latter could get its diplomatic act together.


In order to avoid a potentially embarrassing defeat in parliament, Theresa May on Monday decided to accept all of the Brexit hardliners’ amendments to a cross border trade bill that was debated Monday evening. The amendments, despite May’s protestations to the contrary, will render her plan to keep the post-Brexit UK in a limited single market relationship with the European Union on goods moot. Specifically, one of the amendments blocks the UK from collecting customs duties on the EU’s behalf unless the EU agrees to reciprocate. Which it likely will not.



Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s somewhat conflicting statements about NAFTA may hide a desire to change its terms once he’s in office:

Outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto has seemed content with the NAFTA status quo. While the average maquila (factory) worker earns less than $20 a day, the Mexican negotiating delegation has been fighting against a joint proposal by U.S. and Mexican labor groups to increase the factories’ minimum wages. And as Trump has instigated a trade war, the Mexican administration has punished U.S. corn exporters by importing corn from Argentina and Brazil rather than bolstering domestic production.

López Obrador has already offered two important clues about his approach to NAFTA. On the one hand, he has praised Peña Nieto’s negotiating team and promised to work with them during the transition. It is unclear whether such statements signal a genuine preference to stay the course or are geared to soothe investors’ concerns for the time being before he pivots once in office.

In his acceptance speech, the president-elect pledged to create a Mexico where “all Mexicans can work and be happy where they were born … and that whoever wants to emigrate does so of their own will and not out of necessity.” That would require a clear change of direction.


Finally, the University of Chicago’s Paul Staniland looks at the risks and rewards of the US military’s preference for managing conflicts instead of trying to end them:

Violence management sidesteps politics in favor of sustained military targeting. This approach takes for granted high levels of political disorder, illiberal and/or fractured local regimes, and protracted conflicts. The goal is disrupting militant organizations without trying to build new states, spur economic development, or invest heavily in post-conflict reconstruction.

It has three core elements: a light U.S. ground force commitment favoring special forces, heavy reliance on airpower and partnerships of convenience with local militias, insurgents, and governments.

Politically, this strategy reduces both costs and commitments. America’s wars stay off the front pages, the U.S. can add or drop local partners as it sees fit, and U.S. counterterror operations remain opaque.

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