Asia/Oceania/Africa update: August 23 2018



A new report from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project finds that the US showered Azerbaijan’s Silk Way Airlines with $400 million in business from 2005 through 2015 ferrying US war materiel into Afghanistan via the so-called “Northern Distribution Network.” Those contracts were made possible by a sweetheart $420 million loan deal from the US Export-Import Bank that enabled Silk Way to buy the planes needed to fulfill its Pentagon contracts. What’s problematic about this is that Silk Way is most likely owned by the Aliyev family, as in Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev. Funny how that works out. To be fair, though, this isn’t the only corrupt Caucasian or Central Asian regime whose palms the US has greased as part of the NDN program.


Not to be outdone by ISIS boss Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s audio message, al-Qaeda afterthought leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has released a five minute video message to would-be followers, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. He called on all Muslims to join the jihad, apparently. It’s unclear whether he included any details that would prove he’s still alive, though he probably is. He’s believed to be holed up somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, though I’m not sure if analysts really think he’s still there or they just stopped caring where he is and that’s the last place where anybody thought to look for him.


One Pakistani soldier was killed on Thursday by a roadside bomb in North Waziristan. The Pakistani Taliban is presumably responsible.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading to North Korea next week with a new special North Korea envoy: ex-Ford Motor Company Vice President Stephen Biegun. Well, at least we know he’s qualified for the job. In addition to lobbying foreign governments (though obviously not North Korea’s) to, I don’t know, buy Ford trucks or whatever, which is what his job at the car company was, Biegun did work in the Bush administration and appears to have some background in US-Russia relations. Which means pretty much nothing as far as North Korea is concerned, but whatever. I figure in another year or so we’ll be appointing the COO of Dairy Queen to handle nuclear talks with Iran, so let’s all just enjoy the ride for what it is.



There are three Liberal Party members reportedly gunning for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s job: fringe right winger Peter Dutton, slightly less fringe right winger Julie Bishop, and center-right dude (though still more conservative than Turnbull) Scott Morrison. It is likely that the Liberal Party will hold a leadership vote on Friday, though by no means is it a done deal as Turnbull has yet to actually commit to a vote and says he’ll only call one if he receives a petition signed by a majority of the party’s legislators. If he can’t remain in office, and it’s likely he can’t, Turnbull probably favors Morrison as their politics align pretty closely. But Dutton, despite being divisively far to the right, may be a slight favorite to win the vote. Part of Turnbull’s intransigence may be a tactic to give Morrison time to whip votes for his candidacy.

UPDATE: Turnbull has reportedly gotten the petition and will call a party leadership vote. He’s said that if the party votes to vacate the position he will not stand as a candidate in the subsequent election. In fact Turnbull is planning to quit parliament altogether, which would open his seat and maybe give the Labor Party a shot at it.

UPDATE UPDATE: Aaaaaaaand Turnbull is out. Hopefully I’ll wrap these updates up and get to bed before the party elects a new leader because frankly I’m already tired of having to keep adding these updates.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE: Morrison is the pick. More on this tomorrow.



Militants, probably from ISIS, attacked a checkpoint east of Tripoli on Thursday, killing at least four people.

Journalist Jonathan Fenton-Harvey reports on the threat that Libya’s numerous militia groups are posing to the effort to finally settle the country’s civil war:

“Militias have the power to make or break the peace process, they are the main power-holders on the ground. It is often said that the lack of provisions for militias is what made the LPA an ineffectual agreement, and indeed it is militias who the GNA are currently beholden to,” Tarek Megerisi, Libya analyst at the European Council of Foreign Relations, told The New Arab.

The UN has repeatedly warned that armed militias will harm the peace process in Libya. In August, UN experts said: “predatory behaviour of armed groups posed a direct threat to Libya’s political transition.”

Militias could target the Libyan Investment Authority, National Oil Corporation and Central Bank of Libya. In June, the Benghazi Defence Brigades deliberately targeted an LNA-controlled oil refinery. Attacks on these vital institutions could further destabilise Libya and harm the state-building process.

The UN experts also addressed that militias’ presence creates lawlessness and further friction between different factions and communities.


Bucking convention, Donald Trump has decided to boldly take the United States back to the pro-apartheid policy of the Reagan era:

The United States warned South Africa on Thursday that seizing land without compensation risked sending the country down the wrong path, deepening a spat over Pretoria’s efforts to fix a glaring racial disparity almost 25 years after the end of apartheid.

South Africa accused U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday of stoking racial divisions in a late-night tweet in which he said he had asked U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to study South African “land and farm seizures” and the “killing of farmers”.

Trump’s sudden interest in South African land redistribution was sparked, as all good policy ideas should be, by watching Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox. Lots of great ideas are born there. There’s really only one teensy problem here, which is that the stuff Trump tweeted about simply isn’t happening outside of the fever dreams of white nationalists. Farmers, some of them white, have been killed in South Africa because South Africa, sadly, is a violent place. No honest look at South African crime statistics shows that white farmers are in particular being singled out for violence, because it can’t–official stats in South Africa don’t break crime down by race in that way, nor are there good records about who is and isn’t a farmer. Of course, this is Donald Trump we’re talking about, so we know he’s interested in neither statistics nor honesty. Nor does he particularly care that the South African government is now justifiably pissed over his tweet. What does interest Trump is appeasing his frothing white nationalist base at a time when many of his most blatantly crooked associates are being sent up the proverbial river.

Now, it is true that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced last month that he wants to amend South Africa’s constitution to introduce the possibility of seizing farmland without compensation. Why? Mostly because the distribution of land in South Africa continues to be wildly unequal as a relic of apartheid. But Ramaphosa has only announced an intention to seek a constitutional amendment. He hasn’t actually amended the constitution, and there’s pretty good reason to think he doesn’t have the votes in parliament to do so. There’s also pretty good reason to think that he proposed the amendment as a political trick to silence pro-seizure political opponents, and that he himself doesn’t really want to go through with it. Which means that even if the constitution were to get amended, there’s no reason to expect a bunch of land seizures to take place. On top of which, the South African judicial system would undoubtedly weigh in on the matter, and since South Africa is a country that tends to abide by the rule of law all the analogies you’ve been seeing to Zimbabwe’s chaotic land redistribution in the 1980s and 1990s are most likely bullshit.

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