Europe/Americas update: January 9 2019



The Macedonian parliament will spend the rest of this week debating the constitutional amendments that would change the country’s name to “Republic of North Macedonia” ahead of a final vote on the switch presumably either late Friday or maybe over the weekend. The amendments are expected to pass despite significant public opposition, since renaming the country is the only way the Macedonians can get over their ongoing dispute with Greece and pursue membership in NATO and the European Union. The Greek parliament will then need to vote on its end of the renaming agreement. There is substantial opposition to the deal in the Greek parliament and among Greek citizens, who object to the word “Macedonia” being used to describe the former Yugoslav republic in any context. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras believes he has the votes to pass the measure but it’s no exaggeration to say that his government could collapse over this issue.


With Theresa May’s Brexit proposal due for a vote in parliament on January 15, she suffered another blow on Wednesday as the legislature passed an amendment that will require her to submit a new Brexit plan within three days if her initial plan fails to pass. Previously May had 21 days to submit a new plan, which means she could have dragged the process out to the brink of Brexit and counted on that urgency to sway some votes to her side. She has, after all, already delayed the vote on her initial plan, which was supposed to happen last month.



In a move nobody could have anticipated, Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday pulled Brazil out of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Like the rest of his far-right brethren around the world, Bolsonaro couched his decision in terms of protecting Brazilian sovereignty, which is funny insofar as the compact isn’t actually binding on any of its member states. I mean, no international law really is, but this one in particular doesn’t oblige signatories to do much of anything other than promise to cooperate with one another on migration issues. And yet it’s become a massive bogeyman for the global far right, almost like those guys are just disingenuous grievance merchants.


Nicolás Maduro will begin his second term as president on Thursday in the wake of a vote last week by the Lima Group–a regional body set up to decide What Shall Be Done with Maduro–to declare his reelection illegitimate. The vote suggests that further measure to isolate and impoverish Venezuela are in the offing, and certainly the Trump administration is going to be happy to help in those efforts. Maduro has promised to take “diplomatic measures” against Lima Group members, so expect some sternly worded letters to be forthcoming.


President Jimmy Morales’s decision to shut down the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and kick it out of Guatemala was suspended on Wednesdayby the country’s constitutional court. It’s unclear what happens next, though presumably CICIG is free to continue its work pending a more permanent ruling by the court. Or now there could be a giant constitutional crisis pitting the court against Morales. So probably that second thing.


Don’t look now (really, the Pentagon would prefer you didn’t), but the Defense Department has decided to stop releasing even its highly sanitized bomb damage and casualty assessments to the public:

THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT has quietly halted its practice of issuing detailed “strike releases,” periodic reports that provided information about bombings targeting Islamic State fighters, buildings, and equipment in Iraq and Syria.

The change comes as the U.S. military has ramped up its bombing offensive against ISIS in eastern Syria following President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement of a troop withdrawal last month. While many of the U.S.-led coalition’s actions against ISIS were shrouded in secrecy, the strike releases, which the military has been issuing since the start of the campaign against ISIS in 2014, were valuable tools for watchdogs that work to corroborate reports of civilian casualties.

“The only claim I’ve seen publicly made is that with ISIS almost beat, there’s less need for detailed releases,” said Chris Woods, the founder of Airwars, a London-based nonprofit that monitors and assesses civilian harm from bombing campaigns in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. “Yet both strikes and civilian harm are at their highest levels since Raqqa. Reducing transparency is entirely counterproductive in our view.”

Frankly I don’t see the problem. As we all know, American bombs only kill evildoers, while showering civilians with freedom and delicious Trump® Brand Chocolate-flavored Candies. Anyone, therefore, killed by a US bomb is ipso facto a Bad Guy and we don’t need to worry about how many of those we kill, am I right? I’m sure this is fine.

Meanwhile, Mike Pompeo is scheduled to deliver a Major Middle East Address in Cairo later this week that promises to be another stirring entry in the Trump administration’s “Neener Neener, Barack Obama Sucks” oeuvre. Pompeo will argue in particular that Obama’s Middle East policy was Bad because it ignored the Real Science Fact that Iran is the Evilest Evil That Ever Eviled and also too is responsible for ISIS in some way that I’m sure Pompeo won’t be able to explain, and if only they’d take after the Good Saudis who uphold human rights and freedom and truth and justice all would be right with the world. Horse shit, in other words.

Anyway, this is a good opportunity to remind everybody that the Trump administration doesn’t really give a shit in general about diplomacy and still hasn’t filled many of its most important diplomatic posts even after two years. Some of this, to be fair, is because the State Department still hasn’t recovered from its attempted disembowelment at the hands of Rex Tillerson, and some of it is due to partisan sniping between the administration and Senate Democrats. But at this point a lot of the problem seems to be the collection of insultingly unqualified buffoons Trump keeps putting forward for these jobs:

The dozens of remaining vacancies stem from both political fights on Capitol Hill and Trump’s apparent lack of urgency in putting forward nominees. Pompeo has sparred with top Democratic lawmakers over delays of some nominations in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, for example, has held up the nomination of the assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, David Schenker, over the administration’s failure to get congressional approval for airstrikes in Syria in 2017.

“We’ve done our part at the State Department by putting forward a slate of candidates,” Pompeo said in a statement last October, accusing Senate Democrats of using State Department nominees as “political football[s].”

But Senate Democrats have said many nominees Trump puts forward are wholly unqualified to be ambassadors, or have backgrounds that should preclude them from confirmation—such as Christine Toretti, the ambassador nominee for Malta, who had a restraining order filed against her for “placing a bullet-riddled target sheet” in the office of her ex-husband’s doctor. Other nominees have faced sexual harassment lawsuits or been embroiled in federal investigations. For other ambassador posts, Trump simply never bothered to nominate anyone.


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