World update: November 14 2018



At least 9 Afghan soldiers were killed in Maidan Wardak province and 3 Afghan police officers were killed in Takhar province late Tuesday in separate Taliban attacks. Meanwhile, at least 7000 Hazara are believed to have been displaced by recent Taliban advances in Ghazni province’s Jaghori and Malistan districts. They’ve gone either to the city of Ghazni or to neighboring Bamiyan province. The Taliban continue to press an offensive against a Hazara militia led by Hakim Shujayee.


Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s hand-picked prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, lost a confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday, dissolving his cabinet…at least on paper. Rajapaksa and his supporters are now simply refusing to acknowledge the vote, leaving the country with two PMs–Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe–neither of whom has an uncontested claim on power. Things were so chaotic on the floor of parliament that speaker Karu Jayasuriya called for a voice vote rather than a roll call, which to be fair does seem like an inappropriate way to take such an important vote.


The repatriation of the first batch of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh will not begin on Thursday as scheduled. None of the refugees are willing to return. So far, Bangladesh is sticking to its commitment that repatriation will be voluntary only.


The new annual report from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission says that Beijing has “eased off sanctions enforcement” with respect to North Korea, and asks the Treasury Department to compile a list of Chinese entities violating those sanctions in the next 180 days. Those entities could then be subject to US penalties.



The United Nations says that donor nations have come up with less than 46 percent of the funds they’ve pledged to support the G5 Sahel Force, a multinational unit including soldiers from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger that is supposed to be fighting extremist groups across the region. With instability escalating in Mali and Burkina Faso in particular, the G5 force is seen as a critical need. Whether or not it can actually do anything to help stabilize the region, even at full funding, remains an open question.


One of the effects of South Sudan’s long-running civil war is that the country really hasn’t had the chance to do basic nation-building things like, say, sort out its language situation. The lingua franca in South Sudan remains the Juba dialect of Arabic, but Arabic carries a lot of baggage from pre-independence days. Arabic is the language of Sudan, and South Sudan’s people fought long and hard to become independent of Sudan. Kind of by default, the South Sudanese government adopted English as its official language rather than trying to promote one or even a few of the country’s 60 languages and risk alienating people with its choice. But not that many South Sudanese speak English, and because of the war they haven’t had a chance to learn it.


As expected, on Wednesday the UN Security Council voted to lift international sanctions on Eritrea, sanctions that were imposed back in 2009, as a reward for the country’s recent diplomatic opening to both Ethiopia and Djibouti.


Madagascar’s presidential election looks like it’s heading to a runoff between former presidents Andry Rajoelina, currently at 39 percent of the vote with 70 percent counted, and Marc Ravalomanana, at 36 percent. Incumbent Hery Rajaonarimampianina is way back at seven percent. There are widespread concerns about the reliability of the vote count, but assuming nothing major happens the runoff will take place on December 19.



Latvia’s would-be prime minister, New Conservative Party leader Janis Bordans, gave up his efforts to form a government on Wednesday after failing to find any coalition partners. Bordans got first crack at forming a government after October’s parliamentary election, which produced a badly fragmented outcome.


The Czech government formally announced on Wednesday that it will not participate in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. It joins Austria, Hungary, and the US in rejecting the UN-sponsored measure. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš had previously expressed his opposition to the compact so this comes as no surprise.


The Swedish parliament on Wednesday rejected Moderates party leader Ulf Kristersson’s second bid to become prime minister at the head of a minority government. This was always a long shot, but its failure would seem to make a snap election more likely than ever. There are few other options for forming a government apart from a grand left-right coalition, which nobody seems to want, or some partial grand coalition involving parts of both the center-left and center-right alliances that dominate Swedish politics. Enough parties have already pre-rejected such an arrangement that it’s hard to see how one could be cobbled together.


Try as I might, I just can’t bring myself to care that Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron are fighting with one another, except occasionally to laugh about it. But I will note that Trump’s anti-Macron Twitter barrage on Tuesday came on the anniversary of the Paris terrorist attack in 2015. The French government on Wednesday suggested that Trump could have acted with a bit of “decency” on Tuesday, but if you’re expecting decency from this guy I have to say you must have been in a coma for the past decade.


So the European Union and the UK have a Brexit backstop deal, the thing they’ll fall back on in about 18 months when they haven’t been able to negotiate an actual Brexit deal and the UK’s transition period is nearing its end. The deal revolves around the Ireland-Northern Ireland border, where everybody wants to avoid a return to a hard border but nobody seems to be able to come up with a way to do that without making one or more groups of people very angry. In this case the anger is coming from Brexit hardliners in the Conservative Party and from the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. Why? Well, mostly because it looks like Theresa May caved to EU demands.

The agreement calls for the UK and EU to remain in a customs union if no other solution to the border problem can be found, without giving the UK a way to unilaterally quit that union. It maintains a legal role for the European Court of Justice in the UK and appears to tie the UK’s hands as far as negotiating its own trade deals so long as the backstop is in effect. Which is all unacceptable to hardliners. It doesn’t erect any trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, but it does require Northern Ireland to be even more aligned with EU rules than the rest of the UK which does create some separation, and the DUP has “concerns” about that.

So now it’s time for either or both of those aggrieved parties to put up or shut up. May apparently passed her first hurdle on Wednesday by presenting her plan to her cabinet and managing not to trigger any resignations, though the cabinet was reportedly divided on the merits of the agreement. There may be a leadership challenge to May within the Conservative Party as early as Thursday, according to the BBC, but if you ask me there’s a pretty good chance that both the hardliners and the DUP are going to do more barking than biting here. May is presenting this agreement in a very “après nous, le déluge” kind of way, warning that the deal is the deal and if anybody brings it, or her, down, it will mean the Tory government’s collapse and a new election.

So all these people who are unhappy with the status quo have to decide just how unhappy they are, and whether it’s worth the risk of a new election that could end with a Labour government in power. Polling actually has been looking OK for the Tories of late, but a dramatic crash and burn on Brexit could very well hurt the party, and if it goes into a snap election led by a right wing pod person like Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg that might hurt too. May is in a precarious position, but it’s not clear just how precarious.



Jair Bolsonaro named his new foreign minister. It’s career diplomat Ernesto Fraga Araújo, who currently runs the US and Canada desk in the foreign ministry and likes to write mash notes to Donald Trump on his blog. His appointment has been rumored for some time because, well, there are probably only so many fascist diplomats in Brazil so it’s pretty easy to do the math.


Bolsonaro hasn’t even taken office yet, but he’s already got his first international feud, with Cuba. Cuba has, or had, over 11,000 doctors working in poor and rural areas of Brazil. Earlier this month Bolsonaro questioned their training and then insisted that they could only remain in Brazil if they received their full salaries and were allowed to bring their families out of Cuba to be with them. Right now the Cuban government takes 75 percent off the top of those salaries (which sounds excessive, though a private contractor would also bill its doctors out at a certain rate and keep some part of that money for itself), and of course it tightly restricts movement off the island. So Havana has announced that it’s pulling its doctors out of Brazil, and Bolsonaro has responded by offering asylum to any Cuban national who requests it. Nice to see everybody getting along so well.


Perhaps you’ve heard that Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel has left the White House because Melania Trump didn’t like her. There’s been a fair amount of hand-wringing about Melania Trump overstepping her role, or something, and I have to be honest I just don’t give a shit. Ricardel is a close John Bolton ally and that along should disqualify her from public service.

Finally, the “bipartisan” National Defense Strategy Commission–it’s not really bipartisan when it’s manned by Democrats and Republicans who all love spending obscene amounts of money on the military while people struggle to afford basic needs–says that the US military edge has degraded so much we might lose World War III against Russia and/or China. Well, shit. And here I thought we were a lock to come out ahead in what would surely escalate to a nuclear exchange. The problem is that the Pentagon has been spending too much of its $700 billion/year fighting a bunch of small wars and not enough on preparing for Armageddon. And, you know, that sounds very reasonable except for the $700 billion/year part.

If the people who run the Pentagon can’t manage on that budget, then maybe it’s time to get new people in the Pentagon, or stop fighting a couple of our forever wars, or both. No, wait, obviously the solution is to throw even more money at these people. The commission says “it is beyond the scope of our work to identify the exact dollar amount required to fully fund the military’s needs,” but it’s not beyond mine, and at the risk of staking out too bold a position, I propose that we give the Pentagon all of the dollars in the entire world. Just round them all up and dump them in a big bag, or maybe a couple of big bags, at the front door of the building. Fuck making sure that anybody can eat, or get medicine, or find a place to sleep, or retire with some dignity. Let’s turn all of our money over to the DoD, which can then blow it at the roulette wheel in Kabul while complaining that, goddammit, we’re being squeezed so tight over here, you can’t expect us to fight an infinite number of wars from now until the end of time on this budget!

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