World update: December 3 2018


OPEC members are meeting in Vienna on Thursday, and most expectations are that they’ll agree on a 500,000 barrel per day cut in oil production in order to boost prices. If they do it probably won’t go over well with Donald Trump, and OPEC members have to be cognizant of his mood swings as well as their decreased leverage, which is mostly due to the Jamal Khashoggi affair and what it’s meant for Saudi Arabia’s global stature. Analysts seem to think OPEC will try to balance prices at around $70/barrel, up from the $55-$65 range they’re in now but lower than the $80+ spike of a couple of months ago.



The Saudi-led coalition’s decision to allow the Houthis to evacuate their wounded to Oman has led to a quick breakthrough in the chances for peace talks, which may begin as early as Wednesday in Sweden. The Houthis will arrive first, followed by the Yemeni government, in order to avoid the possibility that the Houthis might stand everybody up again. It’s highly unlikely that these talks will produce a breakthrough, but just getting everybody to the table for once would be a pretty significant achievement.


Sayroon party boss Muqtada al-Sadr sent a letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Monday threatening to take his party–the largest in the Iraqi parliament–out of the governing coalition and into the opposition unless Abdul Mahdi fills his remaining open cabinet posts with “technocrats.” Sadr has long demanded that the Iraqi cabinet be filled with “non-political” types, but so far the cabinet has been filled with the usual party hack suspects. Several of the most important cabinet offices remain open, however, including the two security posts–interior and defense.


The Qatari government announced on Monday that it’s pulling out of OPEC, effective at the start of the new year. While there’s no way to separate this decision from the political tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and it’s unlikely Qatar would be doing this if it weren’t for the Saudi-led blockade, the fact is that Qatar just doesn’t produce very much oil these days–less than two percent of OPEC’s total. Doha says it wants to focus on developing its massive natural gas reserves, which doesn’t entirely make sense as a justification but is good enough for PR work.


CIA Director Gina Haspel will be briefing the Senate on the Jamal Khashoggi murder after all, though only Senate leadership and the leaders of key national security committees. Many senators were irritated last week when only Mike Pompeo and James Mattis were sent by the Trump administration to brief the full Senate on why the US must continue to eat shit from uphold its alliance with Saudi Arabia. They wanted her to talk about the CIA’s assessment that Mohammad bin Salman ordered the killing.


The Iranian government insists that its missile testing does not violate United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, despite US claims to the contrary. In point of fact they’re right, and while missile testing is arguably a provocation it’s not nearly as big a provocation as, say, this:



Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is breaking new ground for an Armenian PM by picking a fight with the leaders of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region:

The squabbling started when a candidate for parliament in Pashinyan’s My Step alliance, Sasun Mikaelyan, said at a November 26 campaign rally that “the success of the people’s protests this spring was more important than the Artsakh liberation war.” (Artsakh is the Armenian word for Nagorno Karabakh.) That amounted to heresy in many circles in Armenia, where the military victory over Azerbaijan in Karabakh is glorified as the nation’s finest hour, and it elicited strong reactions.

Senor Hasratyan, spokesman for the de facto Karabakh defense ministry, accused Mikaelyan (himself a Karabakh war veteran) of “having a desire to speak and nothing to say” and criticized the attempt to diminish “the heroic battle of our thousands of martyrs.”

Pashinyan himself joined the fray the following day; at a pre-election rally in Alaverdi, he said that he was the only leader of Armenia whose son has served in the military in Karabakh, and took an additional shot at the Karabakh leadership, claiming that even their children didn’t serve in the armed forces there.

Those claims happen to be untrue as well as inflammatory, and they precipitated days of back and forth potshots. At this point both sides seem eager to get beyond the conflict.


Both the Afghan government and the Trump administration are intensively focused on organizing a new Afghan peace process. But it’s not clear the Taliban is particularly interested, mostly because it’s been winning so much lately:

Last week, when Ghani laid out his upbeat vision of a “road map” to peace at a conference in Geneva, the response from the insurgents was scathing. They dismissed his government as a “powerless” foreign puppet and any discussion with its officials as a “waste of time.” They said they were waging a holy war against American “invaders” and would negotiate only with them.

The insurgents reacted with the same dismissive scorn several days ago when U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told a conference in California that the Trump administration wanted to solve the conflict without agreeing to withdraw troops.

“The valiant Afghan Muslim nation is absolutely determined to force the occupying American forces out of Afghanistan,” Taliban officials declared in an online message. “We will not tire.” The option of whether to withdraw troops, the group added, will not be “chosen by American generals.”

The triumphalist tone of these broadsides was not new. But coupled with the insurgents’ intensifying campaign of violence since a brief truce in June — attacking military bases and peaceful villages, bombing schools and election offices, besieging a major provincial capital — it seemed to signal a hardening resistance to negotiations, rather than a boastful opening gambit.


The Trump administration is still convinced that the road to getting the Taliban to acquiesce to talks runs through Pakistan. Donald Trump himself wrote a letter to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan asking for his help dealing with the Afghan Taliban. Which is quite a marked change from his usually hostile approach toward Islamabad.


A Sri Lankan court on Monday enjoined would-be Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa from actually serving in that position. It’s the latest in a long line of rejections to Rajapaksa’s appointment, and requires him to appear before the court on December 12 to explain the legal basis for President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to sack former (?) PM Ranil Wickremesinghe in October and replace him with Rajapaksa.


The Cambodian government says it’s reconsidering its decision to ban leaders of the defunct opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party from politics after the European Union decided to review its duty free trade status. The EU action may lead to European tariffs on Cambodian goods.


The Trump administration expects China to act “immediately” to fulfill the promises it made in Xi Jinping’s G20 trade agreement with Trump. There’s just one problem with that expectation–Beijing doesn’t appear to agree that it made those promises:

China seems to have a markedly different view of the trade war cease-fire reached with the Trump administration over the weekend, with state media outlets making no mention Monday of a 90-day time frame or a reduction in tariffs on imported U.S. cars — or indeed any specifics about buying more American products.

That raises the prospect that the two sides have come away from their meeting in Buenos Aires, on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit, with very different ideas about what comes next.

I’m sure it will all work out fine. Or not.



Mohammad bin Salman left Algeria on Monday without getting any face time with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The infirm Algerian leader begged off his scheduled meeting with MBS citing the fact that he’s clinically dead flu.


A day after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was forced to deny rumors that he’d died and been replaced by a double, Gabonese President Ali Bongo went on TV to prove that he’s still alive. Rumors have been rampant since late October that Bongo died of a stroke while at a conference in Saudi Arabia. Bongo appeared in a video with no audio and no specifics about where he was or what his condition is, so you can probably assume that even though he’s still alive, he’s not in great shape.

Still alive, apparently (Wikimedia Commons)



I’m sure nobody could have predicted this, but Ukraine’s totally normal plethora of fascist militias, like the Azov Battalion, have already started using the country’s state of martial law to expand their paramilitary activities and boost their public profiles and recruitment efforts:


French “yellow vest” protesters have pulled out of their planned meeting with Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, citing death threats from more, shall we say, energetic members of their protest movement. French authorities say that three people have been killed since the yellow vest protests began last month, including one 80 year old woman struck by a tear gas canister that was fired through her window on Saturday.



Finally, Stephen Walt says that climate change may be the single biggest threat to ongoing US global hegemony:

U.S. President Donald Trump has said, “I don’t believe” climate change is real. Guess what? The global environment doesn’t care. The condition of the planet will be determined by the laws of physics and chemistry, not by Trump’s tweets, denials, bluster, or relentlessly head-in-the-sand approach to a rapidly warming planet. Trump will no longer be with us by the time the worst effects are realized, of course; it is future generations who will suffer the consequences.

And make no mistake: Those consequences are going to significant. As reported over Thanksgiving weekend, the latest U.S. government “National Climate Assessment” report makes it abundantly clear that rising average temperatures are going to have far-reaching and damaging effects. The report was a collaborative effort by 13 federal agencies, and it offers a sobering portrait of our likely future. Storms will be more intense and dangerous. Agricultural productivity will decline. Certain diseases and pests will be more numerous and bothersome, and heat-related deaths will increase significantly. Trump may not believe it, but what he does or does not believe is irrelevant, except as it affects what we do (or don’t do) today and thus how serious the problem is down the road.

The direct consequences of climate change will be harmful enough—even if we respond to them more energetically than we have to date—but I believe it will also have profound effects on U.S. foreign policy. Some of the consequences have already been catalogued—including in a landmark U.S. Defense Department study in 2015—but the long-term impact could be even more far-reaching. To be deliberately provocative: Climate change could do more to limit America’s global ambitions than all the books, articles, op-eds, and other advocacy undertaken by apostles of restraint.


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