Europe/Americas update: February 16-17 2019



Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Sunday canceled a planned trip to Israel on Tuesday for a summit of the Visegrád Group (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic), and his government summoned the Israeli ambassador. The Poles are angry over a comment Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made recently in Israeli media to the effect that Poles collaborated in the Holocaust. Which is a true historical fact, but Poland’s current nationalist government gets very twitchy when anybody brings it up. And to be fair, Netanyahu was originally quoted in the Jerusalem Post saying that the “Polish nation” collaborated in the Holocaust, which is not a true historical fact. It’s unclear if Netanyahu was misquoted or misspoke, but his office later clarified that he was not talking about all Poles or Poland as a whole. It remains to be seen whether this gaffe or mixup or whatever will impact Netanyahu’s outreach to the European right, in which Morawiecki’s government is a prominent member.

Early last year Morawiecki’s government tried to enact legislation that would have made it a crime to accuse the Polish nation of complicity in the Holocaust. In part due to Israeli objections about the law’s breadth and severity, the legislation was changed so that it’s still illegal to make that accusation but doing so no longer carries the risk of jail time.


The Bulgarian Socialist Party, the largest opposition party in the country, is quitting Bulgaria’s parliament, at least temporarily. The BSP says that recent changes to election law pushed through by the ruling center-right coalition represent an effort to rig the country’s voting system in the coalition’s favor. The BSP holds enough seats in parliament that its absence could lead to more frequent failures to reach a quorum.


The “Yellow Vest” protests continued for the 14th straight week on Saturday and turned violent, with clashes reported between demonstrators and police. An estimated 41,500 people took part, almost 10,000 fewer than the week before and well off the numbers who were turning out at the movement’s height in November. Public support has turned on the protesters, and reports that a group of them shouted antisemitic abuse at French writer Alain Finkielkraut in Paris probably won’t help improve their image.


Polling ahead of Spain’s snap election in April shows the ruling Socialist Party doing well, but maybe not well enough, while the far-right Vox Party looks set to win anywhere from “too many” to “way too many” seats. The Socialists are in position to win around 115 seats, which would make them the largest party in parliament but is far short of the 175+ they would need for a majority. Vox, meanwhile, is polling anywhere from around 15 seats to around 45 seats depending on the survey. The possibility exists that Spain’s center-right and far right parties could collectively win enough seats to form a majority if they could agree on a coalition, though these results seem to point to a more inconclusive outcome.



US Senator Marco Rubio headed to Colombia for some reason on Sunday to visit a “staging point” for humanitarian aid that self-declared Venezuelan president Juan Guaidó says he plans to bring into Venezuelan on February 23. Rubio warned Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro that refusing to allow the aid into Venezuela, as he’s been doing, would constitute a crime against humanity. He didn’t mention whether that label would also apply to the US sanctions that have helped to make the aid necessary, sanctions that Rubio has wholeheartedly supported. Marco Rubio is determined to liberate the Venezuelan people and he’s willing to kill as many of them as it takes to do so.


Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Henry Céant unveiled a new emergency economic package on Saturday meant to appease protesters demanding the ouster of President Jovenel Moïse. Céant announced that his office’s budget will be cut by 30 percent, with similar cuts expected for parliament and the president’s office. Moreover, Haitian politicians will be losing some of their budgets for travel and consultants as well as their allowances for things like gas and telecommunications, which should quell some outrage over official corruption. Protests do seem to have eased up a bit, though whether that’s due to these measures or just to fatigue is unclear.


The US-Europe relationship has been fraught since the moment Donald Trump assumed the presidency, but the events of the past few days have really laid out just how damaged things are:

European leaders have long been alarmed that President Trump’s words and Twitter messages could undo a trans-Atlantic alliance that had grown stronger over seven decades. They had clung to the hope that those ties would bear up under the strain.

But in the last few days of a prestigious annual security conference in Munich, the rift between Europe and the Trump administration became open, angry and concrete, diplomats and analysts say.

A senior German official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on such matters, shrugged his shoulders and said: “No one any longer believes that Trump cares about the views or interests of the allies. It’s broken.”

At the root of all this tension is–well, there are a lot of things at the root of all this tension. Trump’s nationalism, certainly, and his general demeanor, but also decades of serious issues in the US-Europe relationship that have been repeatedly swept under the proverbial rug. But also also, there’s Iran. After a remarkable speech in Warsaw on Thursday wherein he basically ordered European leaders to fall in line with US policy toward Iran, Vice President Mike Pence went to the Munich Security Conference on Saturday and–amid a broad list of US complaints about its European allies–repeated the demand, to identical (that is, zero) effect. Before Pence spoke, German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the conference and harshly if obliquely criticized the Trump administration’s foreign policy, including the decision to violate the Iran nuclear deal. Highlighting where the mostly European audience stands, Merkel’s speech was applauded while Pence mostly got the silent treatment:

To be fair, it sounds to me like maybe one or two people started clapping there and then quickly stopped, but I could be wrong.

The bottom line here is simple: the Trump administration seems increasingly hell-bent on war, and Europe isn’t coming along for the ride, and that’s really starting to piss Trump and his acolytes off. As Steven Cook writes, this is reminiscent of nothing so much as the Bush administration’s lurch toward war with Iraq:

Taken together—the Warsaw conference, Pence’s bullying of the Europeans, Bolton’s threatening video, and the broader background noise in Washington—the events of the past week were familiar in a foreboding way. The chatter about Iran has not become the war fever that gripped Washington in 2002 over Iraq, but the echoes of that year are not hard to miss in the Trump administration’s effort to shape the domestic and international debate about Iran. No one has made a reference to smoking guns and mushroom clouds, but how far off are we when the most senior U.S. officials have essentially declared their Iranian counterparts to be little more than a murderous gang hellbent on dominating the region? This was the same message that the George W. Bush administration stressed over and over again about Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

Pence could have spared himself the trip to Poland and sent Donald Rumsfeld in his stead to reprieve his infamous criticism of the Germans and French as “old Europe,” though, having learned their lesson in Iraq, the former defense secretary would now have to include the British. The entire sad conference was also reminiscent of the way in which the Bush administration scoured the four corners of the globe to build its coalition of the willing. Most ominously, there is a lot of whispering in Washington that the Trump administration is ignoring the professionals within U.S. intelligence community, Defense Department, and other foreign-policy bureaucracies who have judged Iran to be in compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.