World update: October 23 2018



After he leaves Russia (see below), National Security Advisor John Bolton will make a swing through the Caucasus, where he’s expected to emphasize the need for security cooperation against Iran. He’s likely to get a lukewarm reception for that pitch. Caucasian countries would really rather not get sucked into the US-Iran rivalry because it’s a no-win situation for them, and in Georgia’s case their main security concern is Russia, not Iran. Both the Georgian and Armenian governments view Iran as a useful counterweight to Moscow, so they’re clearly not looking to pick a fight with Tehran.


The Treasury Department on Tuesday sanctioned eight individuals accused of supporting the Taliban, including two members of Iran’s Quds Force.


The Saudi government, suddenly very interested in buying international support anywhere it can, has reportedly offered Pakistan $6 billion in assistance to help Islamabad cope with its economic crisis. Half of the aid will come in the form of foreign currency support and the other half in deferred payments for oil supplies. The Saudi assistance should allow Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to reduce the size of the bailout he’s seeking from the International Monetary Fund and thereby reduce the pain Pakistan has to suffer due to IMF austerity.


China on Tuesday opened the world’s largest sea bridge, a 34 mile long, $20 billion monstrosity that connects Hong Kong to the mainland city of Zhuhai. It cuts a four hour trip down to 30 minutes and runs partway through a tunnel under the Pearl River Delta in order to allow ships to pass through unimpeded.



Cameroonian writer Kangsen Feka Wakai considers Paul Biya’s reelection and the ways in which Biya has built on the legacy of his predecessor, Ahmadou Ahidjo:

Cameroonians of different generations have paid a hefty price for having had the French-endorsed Ahidjo as its first president. We owe the hyper-centralized system, which is at the root of the marginalization and resentment fueling the secessionist movement in the Anglophone regions of the former West Cameroon to Ahidjo’s deceit and mechanizations. It was Ahidjo who masterminded the dismantling of the federal structures that was the basis of reuniting the former English and French protectorates. It was Ahidjo who created our proto-feudal system of regional barons. We owe Paul Biya’s New Deal—inseparable from his unwillingness to relinquish power—to Ahidjo’s lack of foresight despite his perceived omniscience.  And, above all, Ahidjo is responsible for the cult of personality, which entrust an entire nation’s destiny and the stability of a region in the hands of an aging patriarch barely able to sustain his stride.

Indeed, the crimes committed by the system Ahidjo cultivated, which Biya later transmogrified into a self-sustaining model that enables his grip, are too numerous to enumerate. Ask any Cameroonian and they’ll point to families irrecoverably dispersed by the New Deal; they’ll cite relatives detained for an eternity on spurious charges; they’ll narrate tales of parents broken from unpaid salaries, accumulating arrears and a nebulous bureaucracy. They’ll describe a system that has bitten, chomped and spat out men and women of integrity at its whim; a system that casts, molds and elevates the deplorable to do its bidding.


The United Nations envoy for the CAR, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that six of the country’s multiple paramilitary forces have agreed to participate in a disarmament program that should get underway by the end of the year. If this arrangement holds it could be the first step toward finally ending the violence that has gripped the CAR since 2013.



Bolton apparently spent most of his time in Moscow refusing to budge on the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, despite Vladimir Putin’s trolling:

In a bit of dark humor that underscored the moment, Putin referred to Washington’s announced withdrawal from the INF and then quipped about the balance between peace and force represented by the Great Seal of the United States.

“As far as I can remember, the U.S. seal depicts an eagle on one side holding 13 arrows and on the other side an olive branch with 13 olives,” Putin said, sitting across from Bolton at talks before the news conference. “Here’s the question: Did your eagle already eat all the olives and only the arrows are left?”

“Hopefully I’ll have some answers for you,” Bolton replied. “But I didn’t bring any more olives.”

“That’s what I thought,” Putin said, provoking laughter from Bolton.

Bolton reiterated US complaints that Russia has been violating the treaty, which are legitimate but not the reason why Bolton, who hates arms control treaties on principle, and Trump, who has a five year old kid’s fascination with the big boomy bombs, wanted to tear up the treaty. Likewise, the complaint that China isn’t party to the accord is also legitimate but also not the reason this administration is walking away from it.


The Greek and Turkish governments traded barbs on Tuesday over their maritime border, a recurring source of friction in their relationship. Greece has announced plans to extend its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea, off of Greece’s west coast to a distance of 12 miles. Obviously this does not have anything directly to do with Turkey, but it does reflect the Greek government’s interest in expanding its territorial waters in general, which potentially has quite a bit to do with Turkey.


The European Commission did, as predicted, send Italy’s 2019 budget back to Rome for a do-over on Tuesday, citing its 2.4 percent of GDP deficit target and the threat that such a high deficit will increase Italy’s debt. The Italian government now has to choose between redoing its budget to comply with EU rules or potentially facing penalties from Brussels. The initial reaction from the Italian government was defiant, with coalition party leaders Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini comparing their budget to the New Deal and declaring that the EU was “attacking” the Italian people.  But the Washington Post’s Amanda Erickson argues that the EU is doing the Italian coalition’s work for it by shooting down an unsustainable budget:

That government — a coalition between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League party — has an ambitious but contradictory agenda. The vaguely left-leaning Five Star Movement won Italy’s impoverished south by promising a generous guaranteed income and pledging to ditch a pension measure that raised the retirement age. The League took the richer, more industrial north with pledges of big tax cuts and stricter immigration policies.

Boosting benefits while slashing taxes is an obvious contradiction, especially since Italy’s economy isn’t growing. But rather than attempting to solve that problem, the coalition chose to write a 2019 budget that included both tax cuts and better welfare benefits, daring the E.U. to reject it and take the blame.

“The commission is playing right into their hand,” said Federiga Bindi, a political science professor at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, calling the Italian government’s strategy a win-win. “If the commission says okay, then [the government] can say, ‘See, we did it,’” she said. “If the commission rejects it, then they can use that to blame the commission.”



Jair Bolsonaro’s lead over Fernando Haddad heading into this weekend’s presidential runoff stands at 57-43 in a new Ibope poll. This is actually a little narrower than the 59-41 lead he had in the previous iteration of this poll, but not by much and not by enough if you were still hoping Brazil might not go fascist after all.

It’s old, but I would recommend checking out this lengthy piece on the Operation Car Wash anti-corruption effort from the Guardian if you’re trying to understand how Brazilian politics came to be in its current predicament. Read it with the caveat that there are a lot of people on the Brazilian left who believe, and not without reason, that the whole Car Wash effort was in effect a right-wing coup via the judicial system. But whether or not that’s true, Brazilian voters have been bombarded with this story steadily since 2014. You can’t explain Bolsonaro’s support without understanding it.


A second migrant caravan of more than 1000 people has formed in Guatemala and begun heading north toward the US border, and it may be the first of many to form in Central America in the days to come. You can expect this to just add to the Trump administration’s disgusting performative panic attack, which is less a reflection of genuine concern about the caravan than an extended shriek of rage and victimhood directed at the racist mob of cultists that is Trump’s base.


The initial caravan, now more than 7000 migrants in size, is still heading north through Mexico, and it includes people fleeing inhuman conditions in Central America:

Still bleary-eyed after a night camped out in a rain-soaked town square, Miriam Carranza combed the knots out of her daughter’s hair and listed the many challenges of life back in Honduras: the low pay and precarious job security at the maquiladora factory; the soaring inflation; the rampant insecurity.

But the final straw came when a local gang demanded payment of a “war tax” that far exceeded the income of Carranza and her construction worker husband.

“They said they would kill one of my daughters if we didn’t pay,” Carranza said as she struggled with seven-year-old Ashley’s unruly locks.

The family fled their home, and rather than risk making the journey north alone, they threw in their lot with the caravan of migrants currently making its way through southern Mexico.

“Honduras just isn’t a country where you can live in peace,” said Carranza.


Finally, Fellow Travelers has started a new colloquium project asking prominent scholars, politicians, NGO types, etc. for their five key principles for a leftist foreign policy vision. Their first set of entries is up, with pieces from Congressman Ro Khanna, Win Without War’s Kate Kizer, and University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor Patrick Iber. Please go check it out and support those guys at FTB, they’re doing important work over there.


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