World update: November 13 2018



The Trump administration, led by Afghanistan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, may ask Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to postpone next year’s presidential election so as to minimize disruptions as it seeks to engage the Taliban in peace talks. Of course suspending the election would itself be a huge political disruption that could lead to protests and outright resistance in some parts of the country. To get around that problem the Afghan government could call a loya jirga, a special assembly of national leaders that would be empowered to establish an interim government until new elections are held. But Ghani himself, who thinks he can win another term next year but may well be completely shut out in an interim arrangement, would for obvious reasons oppose anything like that.


India is helping to finance the construction of the Shahtoot Dam in Afghanistan, on a major tributary of the Kabul River. What does this have to do with Pakistan, you ask? Well, the dam project threatens to reduce water flows on the Kabul River, which flows into Pakistan. India and Pakistan don’t, you know, get along with one another. And so there are concerns in Pakistan that India is funding the dam project not out of altruistic concern over Afghanistan’s potable water supplies, but as a way to weaken Pakistan. The situation is starting to look like a real potential flashpoint. Water wars: not just science fiction any more.


Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that President Maithripala Sirisena cannot proceed with his plans to dissolve parliament and hold a new election. This is only an interim ruling–the court plans to issue a final ruling next month–but it means parliament may in fact reconvene on Wednesday. If it does, it is likely to vote to restore Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to office after Sirisena tried to sack him last month. Sirisena can suspend parliament again to prevent it from voting.



The leaders of Libya’s two main rival factions, Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and warlord Khalifa Haftar, met in Palermo on Tuesday for the first time in months and both seemed to agree with a United Nations plan to hold a national conference early next year and build toward a national election in June. Haftar even seemed to endorse Serraj remaining as PM until the election, which would presumably mean he’s swearing off of violence until then. The Italian conference seems to have gone very well, even accounting for the abrupt departure of the Turkish delegation over allegedly being “excluded” from some of the sessions.


Fighting between the Cameroonian army and anglophone separatist rebels seems to be picking up again, though the two sides are giving wildly different casualty figures for their recent clashes. The Cameroonians say that at least 29 separatist fighters have been killed by government forces in the country’s Northwest region since November 10, while the separatists say they’ve killed 13 government soldiers against only two losses of their own. Either way it seems the situation in western Cameroon has become dangerous and unacceptable.



Ukraine’s national gas company, Naftagaz, has raised energy prices to a level that many Ukrainian municipalities can’t afford to pay, potentially leaving hundreds of thousands of people without access to heat as winter approaches. As a result, people in towns and cities across central and southern Ukraine are taking to the streets to protest. Naftagaz’s price hikes are due to two causes. One, Ukraine has stopped buying gas from Russia, which was already charging it a premium given all the bad blood between those two countries. Now it buys from European gas firms, many of which are simply serving as middle men, selling secondhand Russian gas at a markup. Two, Ukraine has been forced to raise gas prices by–you know what’s coming here–the International Monetary Fund, which is demanding a bunch of painful austerity measures if it’s going to keep floating loans to the Ukrainian government. If there’s economic misery anywhere around the world, there’s a decent bet the IMF is involved somehow.


Former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is reportedly seeking “political asylum” in Hungary, which is wild because if he were Arab and seeking asylum from war the Hungarian government would almost certainly tell him to go fuck himself. As it stands, Gruevski is trying to flee from a corruption conviction for which he was supposed to start serving his sentence last Friday. Gruevski was PM from 2006 until 2016 when he was forced to resign amid a wiretapping scandal. He was convicted of using government funds to buy himself a swanky €600,000 Mercedes.


Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš may be in some political hot water over allegations that he had his son, Andrej Babiš Jr., lured to Crimea and detained by a couple of Russians there in order to prevent him from testifying in the corruption case that Czech authorities continue to pursue against both men. The case stems from Old Babiš’s pre-politics business career and has hung over his premiership from the start. Young Babiš still hasn’t been questioned by Czech authorities, so the allegations are very unproven, but they may lead to a confidence vote that will probably weaken Old Babiš whether he wins it or not.


In remarks to the European parliament at Strasbourg on Tuesday, lame duck German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she agrees with French President Emmanuel Macron about the need for a European military that complements but is separate from NATO. Nobody cared.


The Italian government has refused to change its 2019 budget despite the European Commission’s rejection. Tuesday was the EC’s deadline for Rome to respond to its concerns that the budget’s deficit target was too high and that the budget itself was likely to exceed that target. The European Union wants Italy to pay down its debt with austerity, but the Italian government argues that growing its economy, which still remains smaller than it was prior to the 2008 financial crash, is the bigger priority. Growing the economy would probably help Italy service its debt more readily than continuing to shrink it with austerity, but that’s just not The European Way. The European Way is to immiserate everybody, still not pay down your debt, and then elect a neofascist government because voters are pissed at all the misery. They’ve already gotten halfway there in Italy with the political rise of the League.


It’s heartwarming to see two seasoned world leaders like Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron put their personal differences behind them and, for the greater good, learn to get along with one anothe-

Oh, hah, OK then. Trump made a barrage of anti-Macron tweets on Tuesday morning that in any other time in history would have people referring back to the 25th amendment just to refresh their memories. It probably bears mentioning here that he’s been on a three day tirade against Macron because Macron proposed…doing something that Trump wants, increasing European defense spending. But since Trump doesn’t really understand the issue, he thinks that France should be writing checks to the US for back payments on NATO or something. Which is not how any of this works.


The Spanish government has announced a plan to move entirely to renewable energy by 2050. Ideally this would set an example for the rest of the world, but I wouldn’t bet on it.


Against all odds, it would seem that the UK and EU have reached a Brexit deal:

Theresa May summoned her cabinet to an emergency meeting on Wednesday afternoon to sign off her long awaited final Brexit deal, prompting hard-Brexit Tories to call for senior ministers to stand up and block it.

The critical meeting is the culmination of months of negotiations and will see May’s senior ministers consider whether they can personally endorse the agreement that the prime minister has been able to reach.

Ministers were summoned to No 10 in the early evening and some met individually with May or her chief of staff, Gavin Barwell. They were given the chance to read the key documents, although they were not trusted to take any papers home. Further one-on-one meetings were expected to take place on Wednesday.

“Cabinet will meet at 2pm tomorrow to consider the draft agreement the negotiating teams have reached in Brussels, and to decide on next steps,” a No 10 spokesman confirmed. “Cabinet ministers have been invited to read documentation ahead of that meeting.”

Some terms of the agreement appear to have leaked out. Instead of Britain having the right to terminate its Irish backstop arrangement unilaterally, an “independent arbitration committee” will be responsible for that. There will be a two year post-Brexit transition period in which Britain’s EU status will remain unchanged, with a review in July 2020 to determine whether Britain will transition to a new free trade deal, activate the backstop, or extend the transition period for another year. Northern Ireland absolutely will not be treated differently from the rest of the UK, according to British sources, and also will definitely be treated differently from the rest of the UK, according to EU sources.

If May’s cabinet supports the deal, and it seems at this point as though it will though who knows, there will be an emergency EU Brexit meeting later this month to discuss it, though a vote will likely not come until next month. Then we have to see if May’s government can survive. Hardline Tory Brexit fans are already running to any microphone they can find to denounce the deal, which admittedly does seem like May just threw in the towel overnight and decided to take whatever the EU was offering. The Democratic Unionist Party, which may be able to pull the plug on May’s minority government if it wants, says it wants to review the agreement but doesn’t sound terribly thrilled with what it’s heard so far. And we haven’t even mentioned the opposition parties, which are all likely to vote against whatever agreement May has reached.



Defense Secretary James Mattis, who doesn’t do political stunts, will be going to the Mexican border on Wednesday to legitimize the ongoing political stunt there. Hopefully the massive invading migrant horde won’t get ahold of him.


Finally, I just thought you’d all like to see what a well-oiled machine the Trump national security apparatus really is:

The Trump administration closed a diplomatic office designed to keep track of released Guantánamo inmates and make sure they didn’t return to their insurgencies. And now the U.S. government has lost track of several of them, including one who has returned to a terrorist-held part of Syria, a McClatchy investigation has found.

The Obama administration created the office of the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure with a mandate to negotiate and follow up on prisoner releases. President Donald Trump’s State Department emptied the office to underscore his campaign promise to keep open the U.S. military prison in Cuba, which today has 40 detainees.

One of the most glaring examples is that of former captive Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian who vanished from Uruguay last summer. Jose Gonzalez, executive adviser to Uruguay’s Interior Minister, told McClatchy that Dhiab walked across the Uruguay-Brazilian border, took a bus to Sao Paolo and caught a flight to Turkey. The Turkish Embassy in Washington said a search of Interior Ministry records found no evidence that he had arrived there.

Dhiab has been detected in south central Turkey where he has slipped in and out of the rebel held Idlib province, controlled by the al-Qaida affiliate al Nusra Front, according to a Syrian diplomatic source, citing Syrian intelligence. His mother is receiving medical care in Turkey, the Syrian said.

Trump’s campaign promise to keep Gitmo open was based on the idea that its inmates are so goddamn dangerous that we can’t possibly risk their return to the battlefield, lest they mow down American troops with their laser eyes and lighting blasts from their fingertips or whatever. That’s the same rationale behind maintaining an office to track Gitmo detainees who had already been released to third-party countries. But because that office was an Obama thing, the Trump administration had to reflexively get rid of it. Gitmo is an abomination that has steeped the last three US presidents in crimes against humanity, but that’s beside the point here. What is the point is that one of Trump’s overriding goals in office is to erase the Obama presidency, and not just on the big ticket items like the Iran nuclear deal and the Affordable Care Act.

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