World update: August 15 2018

attwiw is taking a few days off, so today’s condensed and early update will be the last until Monday. Thanks for reading!



At least 18 civilians have been killed in the past 24 hours of fighting in Yemen. Along with the 13 civilians killed on Tuesday by coalition airstrikes on the town of Durayhami south of Hudaydah, Houthi artillery reportedly killed at least five civilians in Hajjah province in northern Yemen.


The lira regained some value on Wednesday amid reports that Ankara has levied new retaliatory tariffs against several US imports. Turkey’s central bank imposed tight controls over currency exchanges and that seems to be the main reason for the lira’s rebound. It’s now trading at slightly over six to the dollar after dropping as low as 7.24 to the dollar earlier this week. Also helping? Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim b. Hamad Al Thani on Wednesday promised to invest a cool $15 billion in the Turkish economy. If there’s one thing the Qataris know, it’s how to buy treat friends.

Meanwhile, a Turkish court on Wednesday refused to release US pastor Andrew Brunson, whose imprisonment caused the downturn in US-Turkish relations that has contributed heavily to the lira’s drop. Another Turkish court did, on the plus side, release Taner Kılıç, the local chairman of Amnesty International who was imprisoned over allegations that he has ties to–who else–Fethullah Gülen.

Reuters has a piece on Turkey’s new finance minister, Berat Albayrak, who is tasked with calming markets and convincing currency traders that Turkey will take appropriate steps to head off the lira’s decline. Specifically, Albayrak has to show that Turkey will follow conventional economic wisdom rather than the political dictates of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which is a bit difficult seeing as how Albayrak is Erdoğan’s son in-law and probably wouldn’t have his current job if he weren’t.


As promised, Israel reopened its main overland point of entry into Gaza at Kerem Shalom on Wednesday, and re-extended Gaza’s legal fishing zone to nine nautical miles. The Israelis closed the crossing and shrunk the fishing zone down to three nautical miles early last month in response to violence in Gaza. The past four days have been quite calm, which prompted these steps.

In other positive news, West Bank Palestinians on Wednesday received a huge mail delivery…from 2010. No, seriously. It’s all part of the prompt international mail delivery that Israel insists it provides the Palestinians.


An anonymous US official has confirmed to the Associated Press that its report about UAE officials bribing al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to pull out of certain parts of Yemen is accurate. Technically this official says the money went to AQAP-friendly tribal leaders who then “drove” AQAP out of their territory. The likelihood that those tribal leaders were themselves AQAP or at least resumed friendly relations with AQAP shortly after taking the cash is pretty high, but who’s counting?


It’s rare that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei admits to a mistake, and really it kind of damages the whole institution when he does. But Khamenei did earlier this week allow that he made a mistake back in 2013 when he allowed the Iranian government to enter into nuclear negotiations with the US. Live and learn, I guess.



A suicide bomber struck outside an education center in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 48 people and that figure has been steadily rising all day (UPDATE: on Thursday the Afghan government abruptly revised it down to 34). The purely civilian target and the location, in a predominantly Shiʿa neighborhood, strongly suggest ISIS, and indeed the Taliban has already denied involvement.

In Ghazni city, it appears that Afghan forces have definitely regained the upper hand over the Taliban. But now that the fighting is winding down the death toll is being tabulated and it’s significant–so far 400 civilians are thought killed since Friday:

The Taliban, meanwhile, swept through yet another Afghan military base in the north on Wednesday, this time in Baghlan province. They killed at least 39 Afghan security forces, in addition to the more than 100 killed or captured in Monday’s attack on a military base in Faryab province.


Imran Khan’s pick to be speaker of the Pakistani parliament, Asad Qaiser, won the job on Wednesday by a 30 vote margin over the candidate backed by the opposition. With parliament to vote on a new prime minister on Friday, this outcome suggests strongly that the job will be Khan’s.

Researcher Mark Hannah argues that the US could help Khan reduce the power of the Pakistani military–were Khan so inclined–by redirecting US aid to Pakistan away from the military and toward the civilian government:

Pakistani democracy is often seen as a “charade.” The military enjoys a virtual monopoly over foreign and economic policy, and the country’s parliament is dismissed as a mere patronage scheme, which preserves family fortunes and perpetuates tribal dominance. But Western critics often fail to appreciate how their own governments have undermined the country’s democratic institutions and empowered its unelected military rulers.

U.S. policy in particular has cultivated the military’s outsized influence. Since the Cold War, Washington has regarded Pakistan as little more than a security bulwark, first against the Soviet Union and then against jihadists after 9/11. Tens of billions of dollars in U.S. aid have flowed into Pakistan in recent decades, the vast majority directed at strengthening the military and coaxing it to cooperate with U.S. counterterrorism efforts. A report from Harvard’s Belfer Center found “a systemic lack of supervision in the provision of aid to Pakistan… and the incentivization of U.S. taxpayer–funded corruption in the Pakistani military and security services.” It’s no wonder the Pakistan Army — flush with American aid dollars — is now the most powerful part of the government.


Beijing is taking the US before the World Trade Organization over the Trump administration’s tariffs on solar panels. This will probably lead to nothing but it is another small front in the trade war.


The Trump administration on Wednesday levied sanctions against three companies, based in China, Russia, and Singapore, accused of violating US and United Nations sanctions against North Korea.



On Tuesday, far-right Australian Senator Fraser Anning called for a public vote on whether to ban Muslims from entering the country. Classy, right? It actually gets better. In his speech raising the issue, Anning referred to such a vote as “the final solution to the immigration problem.” Ah, OK. He’s understandably getting a little heat for his interesting choice of words. Anning’s defenders, such as they are, want you to know that he’s not a crypto-Nazi racist, he just hasn’t heard of the Holocaust and/or is a moron.



The AP reports on Burkina Faso’s emergence as an extremist hotspot:

The once-peaceful Burkina Faso, in the heart of West Africa, is finding itself uncomfortably at the center of a battle between extremists and regional counterterror effort for which it is relatively unprepared. Larger neighbors Mali and Niger for years have fought extremist groups pledging allegiance to al-Qaida and the Islamic State organization.

Now with the extremist threat spilling across the borders to Burkina Faso, the country has signed up with a new regional counterterror force, the G5 Sahel. Military spending jumped 24 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The fight has strained security forces and frightened tens of thousands of students out of schools.


Nigeria’s myriad security issues are expected to loom large over next year’s presidential campaign:

Nigeria is beleaguered by security threats. In the northeast, Islamist extremists from Boko Haram and its splinter groups are waging increasingly complex attacks on military forces and civilians. In the middle part of the country, more than 1,300 people have been killed in increasingly vicious land disputes between cattle herders and farmers. Farther to the south, violence spikes from time to time in the Biafra region, where separatists are pushing to secede. And in various pockets throughout the country, like a major highway between Kaduna and Abuja, kidnappings of prominent figures and regular Nigerians alike have become common.

The threats are becoming a major issue for President Muhammadu Buhari as he tries for a second term in February. Increasingly, critics, and even allies, complain about his failure to take control of the security situation.


With Salva Kiir busy trying to implement the latest South Sudanese peace accord alongside rebel leader Riek Machar, it’s comforting to see that his government still has time to arrest political opponents. In this case, authorities picked up Peter Biar Ajak, a South Sudanese activist who has called for both Kiir and Machar to piss off and give somebody else a chance to run the country. At this rate the country will make the transition from failed war zone to failed autocracy with ease.



Donald Trump apparently has a “bizarre” habit of calling up French President Emmanuel Macron to shoot the shit whenever the mood strikes:

A former national security official told Politico that Trump wants to talk to Macron “constantly,” sometimes calling him for no particular reason.

“Macron would be like: ‘Hey what are we talking about?’ These are very busy people. You don’t just call to check in,” the official said. “The standard is you don’t have your principal call unless you’re asking for something or trying to reward a behavior, either a carrot or a stick. You don’t just randomly call.”

Adding to the hilarity, Trump doesn’t seem to realize that Paris is in a different time zone than Washington and so he often attempts to call Macron at what would be odd hours for the French leader. He apparently does this with other world leaders as well, because as we all know Trump is a very stable genius.

I’d say I feel bad for Macron, but honestly fuck him.


The man who drove his car into pedestrians outside of Westminster on Tuesday in an apparent terrorist attack has been identified as Salih Khater, a British citizen who migrated from Sudan.



New Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez took office on Wednesday with boilerplat promises to end poverty and corruption. Abdo is pretty much expected to continue the policies of his predecessor and fellow Colorado Party member Horacio Cartes.


Although he had to do it from prison, former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced his candidacy for October’s election on Wednesday. Lula, imprisoned over a corruption charge that his supporters say was politically manufactured to sideline him, still leads in polling ahead of the election despite the strong likelihood that the courts won’t allow him to run. Assuming he’s kept off the ballot it will throw the October vote into uncharted territory and probably significantly lower turnout. Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro is expected to “win” a Lula-free first round but wind up in a runoff that he’s at least even money to lose to whomever comes in second–which polling suggests will be center-right candidate Geraldo Alckmin.


The Trump administration revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan on Wednesday due to Brennan’s outspoken opposition to Trump himself. As is frequently the case, here Trump is taking an issue that probably should be a topic for reasonable discussion in the foreign policy/national security world–whether former government types should be allowed to keep and trade on their security clearances after leaving government–and has made it toxic by politicizing it and tying it to himself personally. It is entirely appropriate to ask why John Brennan still had a security clearance. It is entirely inappropriate for his clearance to be revoked because he’s on Donald Trump’s enemies list.

Trump has done this to a lot of issues: the role of NATO in 2018, the US-Russia relationship, the ubiquity of US military bases around the world, and so on. He makes it harder to talk about these things, all of which we really should be talking about if we want to get a handle on this country’s out of control security state. This is rapidly becoming one of his most irritating effects, in my humble opinion.

On that note, let me leave you with my interview from Tuesday with defense technology reporter Kelsey Atherton. We talked about the challenges in building a left-wing foreign policy vision as well as the Space Force and drones.

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