Europe/Americas update: July 25-26 2018


Massive heatwaves across the northern hemisphere have led to 90+ degree days in parts of Scandinavia north of the Arctic circle and to dozens of deaths in Japan and South Korea. Part of the culprit is apparently a stalled jet stream, and the reason the jet stream is stalled is that the Arctic is now too warm to generate much of an air current:

The greater the temperature difference between the colliding air streams, the more powerful the jet stream. But the temperature gap—and therefore the power of the jet stream—is being weakened because the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, supplying the stream with increasingly warmer air.

“Heatwaves over northern hemisphere continents in recent years fit the hypothesis that rapid Arctic warming is playing a role,” says Francis.

Admittedly I am no climate scientist, but this seems kind of bad.



So Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker met at the White House on Wednesday and seem to have hashed out a deal that will avert a trade war between the European Union and the United States. Maybe:

“We agreed today, first of all, to work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods,” Trump said to applause from several House and Senate members present.

Both sides agreed that there will be no escalation of the dispute for now and no new tariiffs will be imposed. Trump and Juncker also said they would “resolve” the steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the US which started the dispute.

But while their remarks represent a breakthrough after weeks of stalemate, they were short of detail and given Trump’s mercurial record, the detente could easily come undone as negotiations begin in earnest.

Yeah, it’s that “for now” in the middle paragraph there that’s giving people pause. What Juncker basically extracted from Trump was a promise to hold off imposing new tariffs on Europe–especially potentially serious automobile tariffs–for some indefinite period of time while the two sides work toward a renegotiated trade deal. Trump will also reconsider the tariffs he’s already imposed on Europe while Juncker agreed that Europe will buy more US goods, particularly agricultural products and liquefied natural gas. It delays a trade war more than preventing one.

Juncker made concessions to Trump in exchange for Trump’s agreement to think about some stuff. But Trump hates thinking, is easily enraged, and doesn’t remember decisions he’s made from one minute to the next. So what guarantees that he won’t wake up tomorrow, bank Juncker’s concessions, and impose tariffs on the EU anyway? Nothing, probably. On the other hand, Juncker’s concessions mostly involved making promises about private European firms buying US products, promises that Juncker can’t actually keep, and so he has to hope that market forces don’t make him out a liar. Which is going to be tough, because the economics of Europeans buying US LNG in particular just don’t make a whole lot of sense, and genetically modified US agricultural products are mostly barred from importation into the EU.


At Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt debunks five misunderstandings about NATO. Two of them are direct contradictions of Trump’s belief that Article 5 of the NATO treaty compels the United States to go to war to defend Montenegro if it decides to, I don’t know, invade Vatican City or something and his conviction that NATO members owe back membership dues payments or whatever. Both of those things are bullshit. But Walt also has some thoughts for NATO defenders, arguing that the alliance isn’t a great fit for the post-Cold War world, that its expansion was a mistake, and that its problems run a lot deeper than one incredibly dumb US president:

There’s no question that Trump’s handling of NATO has been deeply disruptive, to no good purpose. After all, if you want to get tough with China on trade and do more to constrain Iran’s activities in the Middle East, a smart strategist would get Europe on your side and work constructively with them toward these ends. Trump has done precisely the opposite: tearing up the nuclear deal with Iran, starting trade wars with everyone he can think of, insulting European leaders, and driving his own image (and that of the United States) down to levels unseen in years. That might suit some of America’s adversaries, but it is hard to see how it advances any of the country’s core interests or even Trump’s own stated goals.

Even so, NATO’s present problems predate Trump and are largely the result of long-term structural forces. In the absence of a common, clear, and present danger, sustaining an elaborate multinational alliance was always going to be difficult, and it is in some ways a testimony to past diplomatic artistry that NATO has kept going as long as it has and despite the failures in Afghanistan and Libya and the divisions that erupted over the war in Iraq. Even if Trump had stuck with the status quo, reaffirmed the U.S. commitment, and played nicely with Europe’s leaders, it would not have reversed the gradual erosion of the trans-Atlantic partnership.


Donald Trump has rescinded his invitation for Vladimir Putin to visit the White House later this year. The invitation that Putin never accepted in the first place and that his spokespeople had shown little interest in even entertaining. Anyway it’s not happening, alright? Can we just move on? NO I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING.

Trump’s deference to Putin has raised a lot of eyebrows and questions. Is it because he’s a Russian agent? Is it because Putin has some dirt on him? Is it because Putin helped get him elected? The Daily Beast offers another possible explanation: Trump really wants to align the US and Russia in order to counter China. And where did he get that idea from? The answer might surprise horrify you:

Henry Kissinger suggested to President Donald Trump that the United States should work with Russia to contain a rising China.

The former secretary of state—who famously engineered the tactic of establishing diplomatic relations with China in order to isolate the Soviet Union—pitched almost the inverse of that idea to Trump during a series of private meetings during the presidential transition, five people familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast. The potential strategy would use closer relations with Russia, along with other countries in the region, to box in China’s growing power and influence.

Kissinger also pitched the idea to Jared Kushner, the top White House adviser whose portfolio includes foreign-policy matters, one of the sources briefed on the discussions said.

Hey, the dumbest, most venal administration in US history taking advice from possibly the most amoral piece of shit of the entire 20th century. What could possibly go wrong?


Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday signed into law a controversial measure that will make it easier for the Polish government to replace recalcitrant Supreme Court Chief Justice Małgorzata Gersdorf. As he was doing so, thousands of Poles protested across the country against the ruling Law and Justice Party’s efforts to strip Poland’s courts of any semblance of judicial independence.


In an effort to tamp down tensions in the Balkans and to, I guess, preserve racial and ethnic purity or whatever, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić is pushing a proposal to swap territory with the government of Kosovo. Under the arrangement, the predominantly Serbian region of northern Kosovo would become part of Serbia while the predominantly Albanian region around the Serbian town of Preševo would become part of Kosovo. The deal would include some limited Serbian recognition of Kosovo’s independence and could unblock both countries’ paths into transnational bodies like the EU and, in Kosovo’s case, the United Nations. So far hardline Kosovars don’t seem terribly keen on the idea.


Italian police on Thursday cleared out and demolished a long-standing Roma encampment outside of the city of Rome, in spite of a European Court of Human Rights injunction against such action. The court ruled that the Italian government needed to provide a more detailed plan for resettling the Roma before destroying their camp, but the government, led by fascist-curious Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, has not yet done so. Ah, a far right Italian government persecuting Roma, what a definitely historically unprecedented and in no way troubling development.


Good news! The UK is definitely probably going to have enough food for everybody to eat once it leaves the European Union, even if it leaves without a long-term trade deal in place. The British government plans to start stockpiling food just in case, and given that Britain imports about 30 percent of its food from the rest of Europe that’s not a bad idea. But man, is it just me or is the bar for all the wonderful benefits Britain can expect to see from leaving the EU really pretty much scraping the ground at this point?



Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced on Thursday that he’s modified his plans to revalue the Venezuelan bolívar:

Venezuela will remove five zeroes from the bolivar currency rather than the three zeroes originally planned, President Nicolas Maduro said on Wednesday, in an effort to keep up with inflation projected to reach 1 million percent this year.

The revaluation process is scheduled to begin next month and will somehow tie the bolívar to Maduro’s new “petro” cryptocurrency, which doesn’t seem to be attracting that much interest from cryptocurrency types. Sounds like a foolproof plan.


The Nicaraguan Pro-Human Rights Association raised the tally of people killed since anti-Daniel Ortega protests broke out in April to 448. Of those, 399 have been identified. Ortega continues to deny responsibility for any of the deaths and accuse protesters of plotting a coup against him.


Finally, the search for a doctrine that sums up Donald Trump’s foreign policy is ongoing and there have already been many submissions. LobeLog’s John Feffer offers a new suggestion, the “Flight 93 Doctrine”:

Although Trump’s approach to global affairs seems to have no particular rhyme or reason, it does have a certain rhythm. It has an insistent, urgent beat, something like the notorious two-note theme of the movie Jaws. The president not only wants you to believe that the world is a dangerous place, but that those dangers are approaching at a terrifying pace. Only Trump can save you from those sharp teeth inches from your throat.

Let’s call this approach Trump’s Flight 93 doctrine, after an infamous article, “The Flight 93 Election,” published in September 2016 in the far-right Claremont Review. According to its pseudonymous author, later revealed to be former George W. Bush administration staffer Michael Anton, liberals like Hillary Clinton were piloting America into catastrophe, aided, electorally, by “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty.” Only Donald Trump and his conservative backers — like the heroes who charged the cockpit of hijacked United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001 — could avert such a tragedy. “A Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian roulette with a semi-auto,” Anton wrote. “With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.”

The analogy is, unfortunately, all too apt. Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, killing all aboard. It was heroism, yes, but at a very steep price. And playing Russian roulette with any kind of weapon rarely ends well.

No surprise, then, that, as the president spins the cylinder of the gun pressed to all our heads, the Trump Doctrine of non-stop risk-taking has turned out to be the most self-defeating approach ever adopted by a modern American president. In fact, it may turn out to be the last doctrine that the White House ever has the luxury to formulate.

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