Europe/Americas update: July 17 2018



Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic argues that the reflexive liberal defense of NATO against Donald Trump’s behavior is obscuring an important discussion about whether NATO should still exist at all:

At best, NATO is a Cold War relic whose attempts to broaden its mission in the twenty-first century have been disastrous failures. At worst, it’s a vehicle for anti-Russian provocation that both strengthens the hand of reactionary forces in Russia and edges the world closer and closer to armed, potentially nuclear, conflict.

Yes, getting rid of NATO is one of Putin’s most cherished goals. But that fact alone shouldn’t color debate over NATO, any more than it would be a good idea to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine just because Putin wouldn’t like it.

For all the hair on fire rhetoric around the NATO summit, most of the talk about Trump undermining the alliance is speculative. It’s going to take months or even years for Trump’s actions and rhetoric to show their effect in terms of deteriorating the transatlantic relationship. I think we will see a deterioration, don’t get me wrong, but it’s going to take a while to feel it. Meanwhile, though, the immediate effect of last week’s summit was a renewed commitment on the part of an already over-militarized alliance to collectively spend more on the military:

It is true that NATO members had already committed during the Obama administration to raise their defense spending to 2 percent of GDP, an already over-the-top figure that explains why only five countries have managed to meet this goal thus far. But there is evidence that Trump’s intemperate demands have placed renewed pressure to ratchet up military spending. According to Foreign Policy — hardly a bastion of anti-establishment thinking — current and former European officials have said that Trump’s threats to “go it alone” at a closed-door meeting during the summit pushed NATO members to pledge more military spending. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the post-summit press conference that Trump’s “message is having an impact,” and that because of him, Canada and the European states will spend an added $266 billion between now and 2024.

Could Stoltenberg simply be buttering up Trump? Absolutely. But European officials like Macron also have reason to save face by publicly playing down the idea they were bullied by Trump.

Members also committed to ensuring that more of their military units are ready for NATO deployment and boosted their commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq. To be clear, I think the idea of European partners in NATO spending more on defense is OK–to a point. Those guys have a tendency to get carried away with that sort of thing. But this only makes sense if the United States is going to spend less. And we’re not. We’re all just going to commit to throwing more money down the military hole instead of spending it on something that, I don’t know, actually helps people.


The EU has begun screening Albania and the Republic of North (?) Macedonia with an eye toward beginning talks on their accession to the bloc next June. The Macedonians have a couple of extra hurdles to jump through because they still haven’t technically settled their naming beef with Greece. The “Republic of North Macedonia” name still has to pass muster with the Greek parliament and in a Macedonian referendum before it becomes official. If it doesn’t, Greece may return to blocking the Macedonians’ entry into both NATO and the EU.


I’ll have more on the Trump-Putin summit later, but for now, here’s a very necessary plea for people to stop trafficking in “LOL TRUMP AND PUTIN ARE GAY FOR EACH OTHER” memes:

Because gay-Trump metaphors conflate homosexuality with inadequacy and failure, they further the stereotype that gay people are weak political actors and security risks. This is not a new idea in the United States. During the McCarthy era, the government systematically questioned suspected gays, publicly disclosed information about their sexual habits and branded them as communists. Until 2011, the United States barred openly gay people from serving in the armed forces. The Pentagon and successive presidential administrations defended this policy on the flawed grounds that gay people would harm military effectiveness and pose a security risk. Those policies functioned on the very logic underpinning careless cartoons and videos about gay-Trump dalliances.


Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, for one, seems to have been OK with how the Trump-Putin summit went, mostly because it didn’t end with any apparent concessions to Putin over anything in Eastern Europe.



Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is still prevented from running in October’s election on account of being in jail, may throw his support behind Jaques Wagner, a former defense minister and governor from Bahia state, to be the nominee for his Workers’ Party. As Lula is still the most popular politician in Brazil despite his legal troubles, his endorsement could be a real boost to Wagner’s chances. Right now the frontrunner for the Workers’ Party nomination is former São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, but Wagner is considering jumping into the race and presumably would if he could get Lula’s support.


A 12 or 13 year old boy was shot and killed Monday night when protesters attacked and burned a police station in the community of San Félix, south of Caracas. The circumstances are unclear but police did fire on the protesters so it seems likely they killed him.


Nicaraguan police along with Daniel Ortega loyalist paramilitaries besieged and captured the Monimbo neighborhood in the city of Masaya on Tuesday morning. Reports have at least three people killed in the fighting, but those are preliminary and almost certainly low. Monimbo has been one of the centers of the anti-Ortega protest movement. It’s early to draw any conclusions but if there’s a chance that this protest movement could escalate into full-blown civil war this attack sounds like the kind of incident that could push things in that direction.

The United Nations says that, in addition to the 280+ people they’ve killed since protests broke out in April, Nicaraguan authorities have also been arbitrarily detaining and torturing people:

“A wide range of human rights violations are being committed including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, and denying people the right to freedom of expression,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing.

The toll included at least 19 police officers, he said, adding that the reports come from human rights staff on the ground and the backdrop is the absence of the rule of law.

“The great majority of violations are by government or armed elements who seem to be working in tandem with them,” Colville told Reuters, adding that the protesters were mainly peaceful though some were armed.


If you’ve ever wanted to see a visual representation of the multi-pronged puke funnel that dumps US-made weapons all over the world, then consider your wish granted:

This visual is over-broad and simplified, but it’s still amazing to see it depicted this way.

OK, let’s talk about Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

I should note up front that Trump spent much of the day Tuesday unsuccessfully trying to unscrew himself. He insisted that he does accept the conclusions of the US intelligence community that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, even though he clearly wasn’t prepared to accept them on Monday. He hilariously claimed that he misspoke when he said “I don’t see any reason why it would be Russia” that interfered with the election, and that he really meant to say “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.” Sure thing dude.

Now, let’s talk about what didn’t happen on Monday. Trump didn’t surrender the United States to Russia. He didn’t agree to look the other way while Putin’s tanks roll over half of Europe. He didn’t agree to let Putin annex the Middle East. He didn’t even agree to recognize Putin’s annexation of Crimea. Which is good, we shouldn’t recognize Putin’s annexation of Crimea, but, you know, Putin did annex Crimea. And he’s not giving it back. If there were one horrible concession Trump were going to make to Putin, the one that merely acknowledges the facts on the ground would seem to be a likely candidate.

But Trump didn’t do any of those things. He didn’t commit an impeachable offense, not that it would matter anyway with a Congress that won’t impeach him for any reason. He didn’t commit treason, for fuck’s sake. I know there are a lot of folks who talk about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election as though it were an act of war, but come on. For one thing, most of us are conspicuously alive for this to be the middle of a war between the US and Russia. For another, do we, the United States of America, really want to redefine “act of war” to include “meddling in another country’s internal political affairs”? Because that could really get interesting. Trump insulted the FBI and the US intelligence community while standing next to Vladimir Putin. That’s embarrassing, but it’s not treasonous. And OK, Russian media thinks Putin “won” the summit. Who cares? Russian media would’ve said that no matter what happened.

Was the Trump-Putin press conference “disgraceful“? Yes, as is every other time Donald Trump opens his mouth and speaks on behalf of the United States. He himself is disgraceful. That we elected him president is inherently a disgrace.

I think what sets people on edge is that Trump does legitimately appear to be afraid of Putin. I don’t give a shit that Putin won the “battle for nonverbal dominance” on Monday or whatever hack psychology bullshit you want to talk about, but it is jarring to see this man who is an absolute asshole to just about everybody else act so deferential to Putin. It goes beyond his chumminess with authoritarians like Xi Jinping and veers into the outright timid.

It’s jarring and very unfamiliar for Americans to see their president looking like the leader of the weaker nation in a setting like that. So people grasp around for A Reason to explain it. Nukes? Maybe, but the US has those too and Russia knows it. It certainly isn’t Russia’s massive economic power that intimidates Trump, because Russia’s economy is, well, smaller than Texas’s. So we assume, I assume, it’s something personal. Putin has something on Trump. Some people go all the way to “Trump is a Russian agent,” others land on the pee tape or some variation on that theme. I remain convinced that it’s proof of money laundering and other financial crimes dating to Trump’s days as a real estate con artist. But we don’t know that any of these things are true. We’re just grasping.

I don’t want to minimize the significance of that. If the president is compromised, regardless of why, that’s a massive problem. It’s especially a problem if he’s been compromised by Vladimir Putin, the primus inter pares of every racist, reactionary piece of shit dictator or would-be dictator around these days, whose oil and gas companies gleefully help trash the planet and whose corrupt oligarch pals play a huge role in fostering global inequality. But nothing specifically happened on Monday that will permanently ruin the United States. When Putin decided to intervene on Trump’s behalf in 2016, I don’t think he did so with any particular policy goals in mind. He probably didn’t even do it with the intention of actually helping Trump get elected. But he did do it with the intention of exploiting the rot, the corruption, the anger, and the resentments that were already taking over US and really all Western politics. He’s gotten more out of Trump in that regard than he could’ve possibly dreamed. And that’s not just because of Trump. When people lose their minds over a an inconsequential press conference they’re helping to make things spin just a little more out of control. Just my 2 cents.

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