World update: December 11 2018



The International Crisis Group’s Olesya Vartanyan says that Nikol Pashinyan’s landslide electoral win on Sunday could improve the prospects for peace with Azerbaijan. Pashinyan is in no position to make dramatic concessions to Azerbaijan on the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, but now that he’s broken the long-time ruling Republican Party there is an opportunity for a new outreach to Azerbaijan and for building a new, pro-peace consensus in Armenia.


So far the Azerbaijani government has responded coolly to Pashinyan’s rise to power, at best ignoring him and and worst wondering if he’s going to make himself a dictator. But some, Azerbaijani liberals in particular, seem to be feeling a bit optimistic about the possibility of a reset in relations. At the very least they’re arguing that nothing could be worse than a continuation of the old Armenian Republican Party-led government.


A series of attacks across Afghanistan on Tuesday left at least 30 people dead, eight of them civilians. The civilians, along with four police officers, were killed by a car bomb in Kabul. Elsewhere, Taliban attacks on security forces in Kunduz, Herat, and Baghdis provinces killed at least 18 police officers.


Kashmiri rebels attacked an Indian police outpost in Kashmir’s Shiopan district on Tuesday, killing four police officers and walking off with four automatic weapons.


India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has lost big league in state elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan, and Telangana, whose results were all announced on Tuesday. In total the BJP lost over 100 seats. The results were so bad that they have some wondering if BJP is headed to defeat in next year’s national election.


Thailand’s military junta will finally hold an election to transition the country back to civilian control on February 24. That vote is likely to be heavily weighted in favor of the junta’s political parties, as the Thai military will have tight control over the country’s political system at least through the election if not after.


Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou has been released on bail by Canadian authorities. Meng is wanted in the US on alleged sanctions violations, charges she says she will contest though I suppose we’ll see. It is unlikely the Meng decision had anything to do with China’s arrest of former Canadian diplomat and International Crisis Group researcher Michael Kovrig on Tuesday, but at the very least it can’t be ruled out that China detained Kovrig for leverage in Meng’s case. Beijing has not offered any explanation for Kovrig’s arrest. The ICG says it has no information on Kovrig’s whereabouts.

The US and China have begun a new round of trade talks, and already they’ve borne some fruit. The Chinese government has reportedly agreed to do away with the 40 percent tariff it imposed on US auto imports earlier this year and return those imports to the same 15 percent tariff levied against auto imports from everywhere else.



A parliamentary move to impeach President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed collapsed on Tuesday when 14 of the legislators who had supposedly signed on to the motion claimed that their names had been added without their knowledge. That left the pro-impeachment side without enough support for a valid motion. The charges against Mohamed revolved around his allegedly secret dealings with the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea.


The French government has sent some 1400 small arms to the CAR to bolster government security forces and try to counter growing Russian influence in the former French colony. Paris also says that it would not be opposed to lifting the international embargo on arms to the CAR in order to help defeat the various militias that have turned the country into a chaotic mess.


Attackers believed to be from the Islamist Allied Democratic Forces militia killed nine Congolese civilians overnight in the town of Oicha, near Beni.



The European Union has given Switzerland a six month extension (i.e., until June) to negotiate a new treaty with Brussels. The EU has proposed a broad treaty in place of dozens of ad hoc agreements controlling various aspects of the EU-Swiss relationship, but the measure would bind Switzerland more tightly to the EU than before and require it to pay into the EU budget, and as a result it’s met with significant political opposition in Bern. Switzerland’s window for accepting that treaty was supposed to close at the end of this month.


Over at Patreon earlier today, I spoke with Jacobin‘s Branko Marcetic about the yellow vest protests, Emmanuel Macron’s future, and the relationship between austerity and the far right. The interview is unlocked for everybody so please go check it out, and while you’re there consider signing up for a monthly subscription to unlock additional content and to support future interviews and guest writers here at attwiw.

While Branko and I were recording that interview, a gunman attacked the Christmas market in Strasbourg, killing at least three people and wounding 12 more. The attacker has been identified as Cherif Chekatt and he was known to French authorities as a “potential security risk.” He’s reportedly still at large, though this is obviously a developing story so by the time you read this things may have changed. As far as I know ISIS has not yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but it has all the hallmarks of an “ISIS-inspired” operation and it would be surprising if they didn’t claim it at some point. As to whether ISIS was directly involved, that’s still an open question.


Theresa May headed to Germany on Tuesday to ask for Angela Merkel’s help getting some extra Brexit concessions from the European Union. It went great!

Once she managed to get out of the car, Merkel told May that there was nothing she could do, or at least nothing she will do, to help May sell her Brexit agreement to parliament. May’s decision to postpone the vote on her agreement, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, may have accelerated the process of dumping her as prime minister. Several outlets are reporting that May could face a no confidence vote as soon as Wednesday, a vote that she would probably–though nothing is certain–lose.



The Russian military has flown two TU-160 nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuela in what is either a display of solidarity with their South American ally, a big middle finger to the US, or both. Probably both. Certainly Mike Pompeo seems to have gotten the middle finger part:

The Russians, for their part, had a pretty snappy comeback for Pompeo:

The Kremlin on Tuesday rejected Pompeo’s criticism, saying it was “highly undiplomatic” and “completely inappropriate.” 

“As for the idea that we are squandering money, we do not agree. It’s not really appropriate for a country half of whose defense budget could feed the whole of Africa to be making such statements,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

I’m not sure Peskov’s math is completely accurate, but other than that I’m struggling to find the lie.


Finally, it would appear that the US intelligence community is growing increasingly frustrated with Donald Trump, and not just over the Jamal Khashoggi murder although that’s been the most obvious source of discord in recent weeks. No, there’s apparently, and unsurprisingly, a whole range of issues on which Trump and his intelligence agencies differ:

President Trump continues to reject the judgments of U.S. spy agencies on major foreign policy fronts, creating a dynamic in which intelligence analysts frequently see troubling gaps between the president’s public statements and the facts laid out for him in daily briefings on world events, current and former U.S. officials said.

The pattern has become a source of mounting concern to senior U.S. intelligence officials who had hoped that Trump, as he settled into office, would become less hostile to their work and more receptive to the information that spy agencies spend billions of dollars and sometimes put lives at risk gathering.

Instead, presidential distrust that once seemed confined mainly to the intelligence community’s assessments about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election has spread across a range of global issues. Among them are North Korea’s willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons programIran’s nuclear and regional ambitions, the existence and implications of global climate change, and the role of the Saudi crown prince in the killing of a dissident journalist.

I’m not going to try to sell anybody on the idea that the intelligence community is Actually Good or that it has our best interests at heart, collectively. But on pretty much all of these issues the agencies are presenting Trump with a relatively uncontroversial set of facts–Russia interfered in 2016, Iran hasn’t violated the JCPOA and hasn’t knuckled under to restored US sanctions, climate change is real, Mohammad bin Salman killed Jamal Khashoggi–and Trump has decided to reject objective reality in favor of living in his own fantasy world. The story here isn’t really about the intelligence community, it’s about the dangers posed by a president who simply rejects any information that doesn’t confirm what he feels in his bloated gut.


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