World update: September 4 2018



We’ll start where things left off last night, with the announcement that Haqqani Network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani has passed.

RIP, I guess?

It’s unclear when Haqqani died–all we know is that the Taliban announced it on Tuesday morning, citing an illness. The BBC reported him dead back in 2015, and for all we know that report was correct though at the time the Taliban denied it. His life ran the gamut, from valued US proxy in the 1980s during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to enemy of the US state during the US invasion of Afghanistan. But through it all he remained close friends with Osama bin Laden and a reliable cat’s paw for the Pakistani intelligence service. His organization became a close Taliban ally, never quite as religiously conservative as the Taliban but usually far more violent, and it continues to play a major role in the Taliban’s operations to this day.

Jalaluddin’s death won’t make much of an impact on the battlefield, as the Haqqani Network has been led by his son, Sirajuddin (who is also the #2 boss in the Taliban), for many years now. But I’d like to think that, even as I type this, Ronald Reagan is covertly running guns to Jalaluddin up there in Heaven…or, you know, wherever they are.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, the Taliban killed two police officers in an attack on a checkpoint in Badghis province on Tuesday, and another group of Taliban killed four police officers in an attack in Paktia province.


The Trump administration had harsh words in response to the conviction of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar on Monday:

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said in a statement Monday, “It is clear to all that the Burmese military has committed vast atrocities. In a free country, it is the duty of a responsible press to keep people informed and hold leaders accountable.

“The conviction of two journalists for doing their job is another terrible stain on the Burmese government. We will continue to call for their immediate and unconditional release,” Haley said.

No word on whether Haley’s boss still believes the press is the “enemy of the people,” a view that, to be fair, he hasn’t articulated on Twitter since, uh, Thursday:


Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday withdrew the immunity and then ordered the arrest of a prominent senator and critic. Antonio Trillanes, who had immunity stemming from his involvement in a failed 2003 coup, is the second Duterte critic in recent months to suddenly find himself in jail on what I’m sure are completely unrelated matters.


The Japanese government plans to push for a resumption of commercial whaling at next week’s International Whaling Commission conference in Brazil. It’s possible Tokyo will get its way though the Australian government in particular seems committed to preventing that. But this is the second whaling story I’ve read in two days and now all I can think about is the likelihood–nay, the near-certainty, that Donald Trump is going to call at some point for getting the US back into the whaling business. Somebody please help me.



According to the United Nations, the militias that have been carrying on their own little mini-civil war in Tripoli for over a week now have agreed to a ceasefire. Again. Hopefully this one will hold, unlike last week’s. Some estimates have the death toll from the past eight days of clashes as high as 61, though that number may still climb as the violence dies down and it becomes easier get around the city and assess the damage.


Alleged Islamist militants fired on government soldiers in western Algeria on Tuesday, triggering a gun battle in which three soldiers and two militants were killed.


Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was sworn in for his second term on Tuesday, vowing to maintain the country’s secularism and to defeat extremists. While I did not plan it this way, I swear, a few hours ago I posted a new interview about Mali with Sahel scholar Alex Thurston over at Patreon. It’s unlocked for anyone so please go check it out:


That planned drawdown in US forces in Africa isn’t going to come without some strings attached, naturally. While the US reduces its troop presence on the continent, it will be increasing its drone presence–specifically armed MQ-9 Reaper drones. Which should be fine, because it’s not like drones ever cause any problems.



Johns Hopkins’ Edward Joseph isn’t a fan of doing territorial swaps in the Balkans, and not just because John Bolton appears to think they’re a good idea:

In fairness to Bolton, territorial exchange has an alluring logic: Serbia and Kosovo are deadlocked over the latter’s independence, with European Union-led normalization talks going nowhere; neither country can advance to EU membership until the deadlock is addressed; and each country has adjacent bits of territory populated by the other, i.e., Serbs or Albanians who would rather live among their kindred population. So, if the parties can agree on territorial exchange as a way of unblocking their standoff, why should the United States or Europe stand in the way?

The answer is that the logic of a deal between Serbia and Kosovo—if it could be accomplished (and the obstacles are more complex than realized)—cannot be contained. The same alluring appeal of allowing unhappy people to depart one ethnically mixed country for a homogenous one also intrigues the Serbs of Bosnia, the Albanians of Macedonia, and pretty much every minority in the region with an axe to grind and a population concentrated enough to advance a bid for territorial secession.


After spending a week watching racists tear up the city of Chemnitz, the German people appear to have decided that the racists make some compelling arguments. New polling shows that the Alternative for Germany party has 17 percent support, sliding it into the second spot ahead of the Social Democrats for the first time.


Good news! Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab says that a Brexit deal is in si–I’m sorry what was that?

“We have made significant progress, we are making significant progress every week … and a deal is within our sights,” he said.

However, other lawmakers were less positive, indicating that May’s minority government will struggle to find support for whatever deal it strikes with Brussels. May must win parliamentary approval on a deal, or risk leaving the EU without any formal agreement.

“Chequers is a dead as a dodo. The secretary of state (Raab) knows that and so does everyone else in this House,” said Tom Brake, a lawmaker from the Liberal Democrat party.

Anyway, I’m sure it will all work out for the best.



Brazilian prosecutors have charged Workers’ Party vice presidential candidate Fernando Haddad with corruption dating back to his time as mayor of São Paulo. Haddad is likely going to be advanced as the WP’s presidential candidate now that his erstwhile running mate, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has been officially barred from running due to his own corruption conviction. The charges won’t stop Haddad from running, but they’ll likely weigh heavily on his candidacy.

Amid the wreckage caused by Sunday’s catastrophic fire, Brazilian firefighters may have found the skull of the Brazilian National Museum’s most famous exhibit, the 11,500 year old skeleton known as “Luzia”–perhaps the oldest human  remains ever discovered in the Americas. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the damage appears to be in “worst case scenario” territory, with as much as 90 percent of the museum’s artifacts destroyed.


Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez said on Tuesday that migration levels are perfectly normal and this whole “refugee crisis” has been concocted by Venezuela’s international enemies. Meanwhile, officials from 11 regional countries met in Quito to figure out how to deal with the fake crisis. They signed a declaration calling for higher regional spending to care for Venezuelan migrants and requesting more international assistance. Rodríguez suggested that some of the countries–or at least Colombia–wanted to create an excuse to drum up international aid so that they can “live off” of the proceeds.

Florida International University’s Frank Mora thinks that as bad as things may be in Venezuela, the likeliest scenario is that Nicolás Maduro will remain in power:

Under these constraints, there are a few plausible scenarios for Venezuela’s future. There is reason to believe that the most likely one is that Maduro and the PSUV continue to muddle through by taking advantage of existing political and socioeconomic conditions. Perhaps counterintuitively, scarcity and economic meltdown seem to favor the regime more than the opposition. Maduro will continue to use his emergency powers and control of state institutions, including the military and security forces, to suppress dissent and divide the opposition, limiting its ability to truly challenge the ruling party, either through protests or some constitutional mechanism. So, although life will continue to get worse in Venezuela, the regime will most likely retain its hold on power through the remainder of this year and into the next.


Finally, tonight’s update would be incomplete if we didn’t mention Bob Woodward’s new HOT INSIDER look at the Trump White House. It apparently paints a picture of a president whose brain is shot through with holes and a collection of sociopaths and sycophants who work for him even though they all know he’s obviously unfit for office and spend most of their time trying to stab one another in the back. In other words, everything is pretty much exactly the way you thought it would be. There are a couple of nutty-sounding foreign policy episodes mentioned in that Washington Post piece, but I don’t see any reason to dwell on them here.

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