World update: October 2 2018



Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan led a rally of his supporters in Yerevan on Tuesday against what he called a “counterrevolution” by his political opponents. Pashinian’s rise to the premiership in May, amid massive public protests against then-PM Serzh Sargsyan, didn’t do anything to address the fact that Sargsyan’s Republican Party still has a majority in parliament. Pashinian wants to call for an early election but the Republicans, along with a couple of smaller parties, passed a bill on Tuesday that could block him from doing so. Not exactly the sort of thing that springs to mind when you hear the term “counterrevolutionary,” but perhaps not very constructive either.


Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev apparently had occasion to speak with one another at the Commonwealth of Independent States summit late last month and agreed to several relatively modest steps to try to reduce conflict between their countries. They agreed that their defense ministers would meet to find ways to reduce border skirmishes, that they would open up a regular operational communications line, and that they would continue negotiations on a settlement to their larger conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (though Pashinyan has stressed that he’s not able to negotiate on Nagorno-Karabakh’s behalf).


At least 13 people were killed on Tuesday in a terrorist bombing at a campaign rally in Nangarhar province. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.


An Afghan delegation has reportedly met with Maulana Samiul Haq, who runs the Darul Uloom Haqqania school in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Darul Uloom Haqqania’s prestigious alumni list includes Jalaluddin Haqqani of Haqqani Network fame, Asim Umar of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent fame, and two former Taliban leaders. It must be quite a school. The Afghans seem to think that, what with having taught so many of them, Maulana Samiul Haq might be able to bring the Taliban around to the idea of peace talks.


A seven year old boy was killed and nine other people injured on Tuesday morning in a bombing in West Bengal state. The local head of the All India Trinamool Congress, the ruling party in West Bengal, is believed to have been the intended target.

Indian police used tear gas and water cannons on Tuesday to try to disperse a group of thousands of farmers who were marching on New Delhi to protest low commodity prices and demand government assistance. Nevertheless, at least some of the protesters seem to have made it into the city, forcing authorities there to implement crowd size restrictions to try to fend off a major demonstration.


The US and Chinese navies apparently had an uncomfortably close encounter in the South China Sea over the weekend:

On Sunday, USS Decatur, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer carried out an innocent passage freedom of navigation operation near Gaven and Johnson Reefs in the Spratly Islands. The ship, according to a CNN report, was trailed by a People’s Liberation Army-Navy Type 052C Luyang II-class destroyer.

The Chinese destroyer then “approached USS Decatur in an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver in the vicinity of Gaven Reef in the South China Sea,” according to Capt. Charles Brown, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet, who released a statement to CNN.

The Type 052C destroyer “approached within 45 yards” of the bow of the Decatur, presumably in a maneuver designed to forcibly stop the vessel’s continued passage. The Decatur had to maneuver “to prevent a collision,” according to Brown’s statement.

The maneuver appears to be the most serious attempt by the PLAN to forcibly interfere in a U.S. freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading to Pyongyang this weekend for talks with Kim Jong-un, amid a longer East Asian swing that will take him to China, Japan, and South Korea as well. They’ll presumably talk denuclearization and do some planning with respect to the anticipated second summit between Kim and Donald Trump.



The Libyan government closed, then reopened Tripoli’s airport yet again on Tuesday due to fighting between militia groups on the southern outskirts of the city. The fighting, which can hardly be called a flare-up anymore as it seems to be pretty endemic, is partly due to the consolidation of smaller militia groups into “super militias” with lofty political ambitions. A group of these “super militias” in Tripoli have effectively taken control of the Government of National Accord, which is helpless without them, and they’re being challenged by “super militias” outside the city that want a piece of the action.


The Liberian central bank issued a statement on Tuesday saying that an internal audit has accounted for the over $100 million in newly printed cash that was previously thought stolen. The alleged theft had kicked off a massive investigation that ensnared several high-profile Liberians. But apparently the money was inside us the bank’s vaults all along.


At least 44 people were killed and 70,000 displaced over the weekend in ethnic violence on the border between Ethiopia’s Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz regions.


A US airstrike on Monday northeast of Kismayo reportedly killed nine al-Shabab fighters.



Let me get something out of the way up front here: I have never been the US ambassador to NATO. (Apologies to anybody who feels misled at this point.) So I have no idea really what they tell you when you get that job, if there’s a briefing packet or notes or an online training course or what. But I’m assuming that one of the big rules about being US ambassador to NATO is that you’re not allowed to start World War III. And yet Kay Bailey Hutchison came disturbingly close to doing just that on Tuesday:

The U.S. ambassador to NATO set off alarm bells Tuesday when she suggested that the United States might “take out” Russian missiles that U.S. officials say violate a landmark arms control treaty.

Although Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison’s comments were somewhat ambiguous, arms control experts said they could be interpreted to mean a preemptive strike. Such a move could lead to nuclear war.

Only after the comments drew a furious response from the Russian Foreign Ministry did Hutchison clarify on Twitter that she “was not talking about preemptively striking Russia.” But the diplomatic damage was already done.

Golly, you think so? Apparently Hutchison meant that the US would need to up its missile defenses in Europe to “take out” these new Russian missiles, which the US says violate the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, in the event they were ever launched.

Hutchison’s qualifications to serve as ambassador to NATO are that she used to be a US senator from Texas and…she’s a Republican? Who didn’t piss off Donald Trump? I don’t know, I’m just spitballing here. Typically the US ambassador to NATO is either a career diplomat, ex-military officer, or someone with special expertise in European affairs. Hutchison is a career politician who once lost the Republican primary for governor of Texas to Rick Perry. Maybe she wasn’t exactly the best possible choice for the job.


Swedish parliament speaker Andreas Norlén has tapped the leader of the center-right Alliance bloc, Ulf Kristersson, to form Sweden’s next government. He’s probably not going to be able to do it without breaking up the center-left bloc led by current Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, since both blocs have about the same number of votes and neither is really that close to a majority. The far right Sweden Democrats hold the balance of power at this point but they’re so toxic neither of the major alliances wants to have anything to do with them. What may emerge from this is some sort of big tent unity government, which would probably be a gridlocked failure and drive even more voters to the far right.



The churn in Brazilian polling ahead of Sunday’s presidential election is getting to be ridiculous. A new Datafolha survey now puts far right frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro 11 points up on Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad in the first round, 32-21. That’s a gain of four points for Bolsonaro and a loss of one for Haddad in less than a week in the same survey. Crucially, the poll also has Bolsonaro ahead in the runoff, 44-42. That’s assuming Bolsonaro doesn’t win outright in the first round, either because of a late surge or because somebody decides to play around with the results. Brazil’s agribusiness lobby endorsed Bolsonaro on Tuesday, the latest sign that wealthy Brazilians are falling in line behind the self-professed fascist over the guy who might raise their taxes.


Many analysts seem to view the USMCA, the trade agreement that’s replacing NAFTA, as little more than a name change:

“This isn’t a revolutionary deal. It’s a modification of a deal already in place,” said Eric Winograd, senior U.S. economist at AllianceBernstein, an investment and research firm. “The total economic impact will be very small. I do not expect it to boost the U.S. economy.”

To the degree that it could drive growth, the deal would do so by removing the cloud of uncertainty that Trump has created by unsettling global trade, some economists said. That climate of doubt may have held back investments — so the new deal could perhaps add a tenth of a percentage point to the economy’s growth rate next year, said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank.

“We see this rebranded NAFTA agreement as a marketing exercise,” Rupkey said. “The harsh war of words from Trump’s economics team terrified markets, consumers and businesses for a time, but what the U.S. actually got was much more modest than what the angry war of words seemingly demanded.”


The Trump administration, because they’re pretty much all assholes, has decided to change US policy around giving family visas to the same-sex partners of foreign diplomats in the US. Now those partners will only be eligible for visas if they’re married to the diplomats. Which means if you’re the same-sex partner of a foreign diplomat in the US who comes from a country that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage–which is most of them!–you pretty much need to pack your bags and get the hell out. Or I guess you could get married here in the US and then all you’d be doing is risking serious persecution back home. No biggie. There are apparently some exceptions to this policy in specific circumstances, but overall a lot of people are going to get screwed here:

The new policy grants some limited exceptions for diplomats representing countries where same-sex marriage is illegal. The domestic partner still could get a visa as a family member so long as that country recognizes same-sex spouses of U.S. diplomats posted there. But officials posted to international organizations, such as the United Nations, do not represent a foreign government, and there are no exceptions to the policy.

A new Pew Research Center poll finds that only 27 percent of people in 25 countries around the world “have confidence in President Trump to do the right thing in world affairs,” against 70 percent who do not. Angela Merkel (52 percent), Emmanuel Macron (46 percent), Xi Jinping (34 percent), and Vladimir Putin (30 percent) all have higher confidence ratings than Trump. Additionally, 70 percent say that the US “doesn’t take into account the interests of countries like theirs when making foreign policy decisions.” Trump’s ratings are lowest in Europe, though people who align with far right European parties still like him. Go figure. Amazingly, 50 percent of those surveyed still have a favorable view of the US against 43 percent unfavorable, and 63 percent say they prefer a world with the US as the global power against 19 percent who prefer China fill that role.


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