World update: September 5 2018

This evening’s updates may be a little less verbose than usual because I’ll be out for a while watching some people do a live podcast or something in DC. I’m not quite sure what to make of it.



A double-tap suicide bombing on a wrestling club in Kabul on Wednesday killed at least 20 people. The initial bomber is believed to have killed four, then a second bomber struck after emergency services had responded to the scene.

Zalmay Khalilzad’s appointment as new US envoy for Afghanistan isn’t going down terribly well in Pakistan:

But the chairman of Pakistan’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mushahid Hussain, said the choice of Khalilzad was unwelcome news and did not bode well for U.S. attempts to end the Afghan conflict.

“Zalmay Khalilzad’s appointment is a bad choice and sends a negative message to Islamabad, when Washington badly needs Pakistan’s cooperation for peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he said. “He is known as a Pakistan-hater, who has been unable to rise beyond his prejudices against Pakistan.”


Nevertheless, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Islamabad on Wednesday to meet with new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and said he’s “hopeful” that the two countries will be able to reset their frayed relations. Khan’s ties to Islamists and the Pakistani military, groups that support the Afghan Taliban, make it unlikely that he’s going to change Pakistani policy toward Afghanistan in ways that meet with US approval, but on the other hand Pakistan’s economic struggles may force it to appease Washington at least enough so that it can secure an IMF loan.


Pakistani officials say that Indian soldiers shot and killed a Pakistani civilian near the line of control in Kashmir on Tuesday. India has denied the charge but also reported its forces killing an “intruder” who had crossed the line on Tuesday.


Ronda Mayor Mariano Blanco was murdered by unknown gunmen in his office on Wednesday. Rodrigo Duterte had previously accused Blanco of ties to the drug trade, so perhaps that’s what did him in. Or maybe Duterte’s vigilantes are attacking local officials who wind up on his bad side. There do seem to have been a lot of attacks against local Philippine leaders recently.


South Korea sent envoys to North Korea on Wednesday to work out plans for another Kim Jong-un/Moon Jae-in summit later this month. The visit appears to have gone well, but there are signs of trouble ahead for the US-South Korean relationship. Moon appears committed to working out a genuine peace deal that would formally end the Korean War by the end of this year, while the US government is sticking to its long-time policy that formally ending the war is a concession to North Korea that should only be given after Pyongyang has made substantive steps toward disarmament.



The State Department has designated Jamaʿa Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM or Nusrat al-Islam), AKA al-Qaeda in Mali, as a terrorist group. The United Nations, meanwhile, is publicly identifying groups that signed a peace accord with the Malian government in 2015 but whose involvement in smuggling, human trafficking, and violent activities has left the country mired in violence nonetheless. The French government is pushing for those groups to be blacklisted by the UN. It should be noted that the UN is also highlighting human rights abuses allegedly committed by Malian forces in “anti-terror” operations.


As many as 20 people were reportedly kidnapped from a bus traveling from Maiduguri to a town near the Cameroonian border late Tuesday by suspected Boko Haram fighters.


A group of al-Shabab fighters reportedly killed at least six people in two separate attacks in Mogadishu on Tuesday. Somali officials say that on Monday, the group kidnapped over 60 tribal elders in an attack in the semi-autonomous region of Galmudug.


Prospects for containing the DRC’s latest ebola outbreak took a hit on Wednesday when authorities announced the first case of the disease to hit the eastern city of Butembo. Not only is Butembo a fairly sizable city, it’s a regional commercial hub which means a lot of traffic passes through it. So far this outbreak has killed at least 85 people since July.



The Cypriot government plans to ask for European Union assistance to deal with the high number of asylum seekers flocking to the island. It may coordinate its efforts with other primary “point of entry” nations like Greece and Italy.


Masha Gesson describes a cache of new documents just released by the Clinton Presidential Library that detail the rise and fall of Bill Clinton’s relationship with Boris Yeltsin, which helped set the tone for US-Russia relations to the present day:

In the earlier chapters of this story, Yeltsin is embattled, facing a difficult—at times, it seems, hopeless—reëlection battle, and Clinton stands by his side, a steadfast source of support. Later, when Yeltsin feels secure in his post and Clinton, too, is entering the final stages of his Presidency, the two men are friends with an easy rapport. They exchange hugs. They joke with each other. During a meeting in Birmingham, England, in May of 1998, Yeltsin seems to be satisfied quickly and become bored. He says that there are many things his people have prepared for him to talk about. “Why don’t I just give you these?” he says, and hands Clinton his briefing cards. Clinton then hands over his own. “And they are classified ‘confidential,’ ” Georgy Mamedov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, comments “in mock astonishment,” according to the transcript.

By this time, however, the conflict that would undo their relationship was already under way. After many years of nonviolent resistance to mounting pressure from the Serbian government, Kosovo Albanians had begun arming themselves. Handfuls of men who were calling themselves the Kosovo Liberation Army had taken up posts in the mountains. In the spring of 1998, journalists who had been reporting on Balkan wars in earlier years descended on Kosovo like a bad omen: war was in the air. The word “Kosovo” starts making its way into conversations between the two Presidents. They reassure each other that their people are working on it. Then they shift to more important topics: Pakistan, Iran, the Russian economy.


EU members on Wednesday agreed to extend their Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia and Russian interests for another six months.


France and Germany appear to be really set on establishing a European financial system that is independent of US influence:

In a sign of how serious the breach between Europe and the United States is during the Trump era, senior officials in France and Germany are increasingly planning ways to sidestep U.S. financial dominance and the global sanctions power that goes with it.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas late last month called for Europe to achieve financial independence from Washington as a prelude to restoring its freedom of maneuver in foreign policy, and other German officials are reportedly mulling ways to minimize U.S. dominance of the global financial system, which enables it to impose sanctions on banks and individuals almost anywhere in the world.


The UK on Wednesday accused two Russian nationals–allegedly linked to the GRU–of involvement in the Skripal poisoning back in March. The Russian government says it has no idea who the men are, and anyway there’s no way it will agree to extradite them. But London has gotten a European Arrest Warrant issued against the two men, so their ability to travel without winding up in custody should be pretty well curtailed.



Just a day after likely Workers’ Party presidential candidate Fernando Haddad was hit with corruption charges, and a few days after frontrunner Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was denied permission to run for president due to his own corruption conviction, center-right candidate Geraldo Alckmin has now been charged with corruption as well, relating to campaign finance issues. I don’t know what’s happening in Brazil but I do know that the chances are looking better and better for far right candidate Jair Bolsonaro to win October’s election.


Finally, at the Guardian, columnist Madeleine Schwartz wonders if Donald Trump marks the end of “Atlanticism” or if maybe it was already on its way out:

But has Trump really ruined the transatlantic relationship? Headlines since the 1960s would suggest the relationship declined long before he took office. “The widening Atlantic” and “Atlantis Lost” – these are titles of books and newspaper articles that have appeared for decades. Like a couple that thrives on breakups and resolutions, its crises only fuel its perceived importance. Already in 1965, Henry Kissinger, whose name figures prominently in the history of transatlanticism, wrote a book called The Troubled Partnership: A Reappraisal of the Atlantic Alliance that argued that the partnership between the US and Europe was under deep strain, then because of Charles de Gaulle. (The book was a flop. The only place it sold, Kissinger later joked, was at the bookstore that had mistakenly placed it on the relationships shelf.)

Why, then, has the idea of the transatlantic relationship as the axis of world stability stayed around? Since the mid-60s, many of the structures that formed the basis of the original “post-world order” have eroded or disappeared. The US no longer heaps billions of dollars in aid upon Europe, as it did before 1951; international currencies are no longer tied to an external monetary policy designed in New Hampshire, as they were before 1971; countries that were once part of the Soviet Union are themselves Nato members. Even as the alliance between the US and Europe has waned, the concept of a free world built on transatlantic pillars has lived on as a powerful political idea. This is not because of the partnership itself, poorly defined and shifting, as much an ideological construction as an institution. Is it possible that the panic about the collapse of Atlanticism is really a panic about who is in charge? Lurking underneath the turbulent Atlantic waters lies nostalgia for American power and the idea that a few well-educated men could ensure world security.

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