World update: December 2-3 2017

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

A suicide bomber struck a soccer stadium in Jalalabad on Sunday, killing at least six people. There has been no claim of responsibility, but given that the attack took place in Nangarhar province ISIS is a strong possibility.

On the plus side, Afghan authorities say their forces killed Mullah Shah Wali, the commander of the Taliban’s special forces unit, last week in Helmand province.

PAKISTAN

Observers are wondering if the events of the past week signaled that the Pakistani government is now hopelessly in thrall to extremists:

The freeing of Hafiz Saeed, an Islamist cleric accused of masterminding a deadly rampage in Mumbai nine years ago, came as no surprise. Although denounced as a terrorist by the United Nations and the United States, Saeed enjoys a large following in Pakistan as a fiery champion of Muslim rights in Kashmir, the disputed border region with India. He has been repeatedly detained and released by the courts, a sign of Pakistan’s often contradictory efforts to secure at once domestic Muslim loyalty and international support.

 

In contrast, the chaotic scenes in late November of Muslim demonstrators throwing stones at police near the capital, then rising up across the country to protest a minor change in an electoral law, shocked the nation and raised the specter of mass religious unrest — a permanent worry in an impoverished nation of 207 million, 95 percent of whom are Muslim and most from the same Sunni branch as the protesters.

 

But the quick resolution of the problem also raised worrisome questions about the long-term capability of the government of Pakistan, a fragile democracy whose prime minister was recently ousted, to push back against religious extremism and the risks of bringing in the powerful military to settle civilian disputes.

AFRICA

MOROCCO

South African President Jacob Zuma says that Morocco and South Africa are about to restore normal diplomatic relations with each other, more than 13 years after they ended them. The Moroccan government broke off contact in 2004 after the South African government recognized the independence of Western Sahara, which the Moroccans claim as their own territory. Western Saharan independence is still official South African policy, but apparently the Moroccans no longer feel that should preclude a relationship.

NIGERIA

Two suicide bombers in the town of Biu killed at least 13 people in a crowded market on Saturday. As the bombers were both women it’s almost certain they were with Boko Haram, since the use of female suicide bombers is one of their regular tactics.

KENYA

Kenyan authorities arrested a political strategist for the opposition National Super Alliance on Sunday. It’s not clear why he was arrested and his whereabouts are unknown. Opposition leader and disputed presidential candidate Raila Odinga is planning to hold his own “inauguration” on December 12, Kenya’s independence day, so expect tensions to be high for at least the next couple of weeks.

ZIMBABWE

Responding to criticism that his cabinet was too deferential to the military that put him in power, new Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa replaced two ministers on Saturday. This seems to be mostly a cosmetic change, though–most of the complaints revolved around the fact that Mnangagwa named generals who had been active in the coup that ousted Robert Mugabe to run the powerful foreign and land ministries. Those appointments remain in place.

Benjamin Fogel at Africa Is a Country makes the argument that leftists should not be in the business of praising Robert Mugabe:

Why do so many Western Leftists feel the need to defend a counter-revolutionary, kleptocratic despot like Robert Mugabe? Is it because a country like Zimbabwe and its struggles only matters for them to score points against their interlocutors in the United States or Europe?

 

Mugabe is almost universally reviled among his own people. His corrupt authoritarian regime was about as far from any desirable socialist project as one could possible imagine and he hijacked a popular movement performing actual land reform in order to save his stumbling autocracy.

 

He remains a harsh social conservative who advocates legal action against LGTIQ persons. Gays are “worse than dogs and pigs,” he once said.

 

Mugabe was a neoliberal stooge up until the 2000s and far from being a Pan-Africanist hero sent his army to intervene in the most rapacious war in Africa’s history in the Congo, where the army committed major war crimes and seized diamond mines from the DRC in order funnel billions of the illicit proceeds stemming from “blood diamonds” into the coffers of Zimbabwe’s ruling elite, including new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

EUROPE

UKRAINE

Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president-turned Ukrainian governor-turned stateless pain in the ass, is calling for a protest camp to be established in Kiev akin to the Euromaidan camp that eventually (with some help) brought down former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Saakashvili wants to force the Ukrainian parliament to pass a new law governing presidential impeachment, presumably to usher in the departure of his former pal, current Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Saakashvili’s anti-corruption efforts are certainly on firm ground in perpetually corrupt Kiev, but it’s still not clear just how much popular support he has among Ukrainians.

FRANCE

As expected, Corsican nationalists cleaned up in the first round of voting for Corsica’s new assembly, raking in over 45 percent of the vote. Emmanuel Macron’s party brought in a bit over 11 percent of the vote to come in a strong, um, fourth place. The second round of voting takes place next Sunday.

UNITED KINGDOM

Theresa May has struck out in her weekend effort to reach a deal with Irish leaders over the post-Brexit Northern Ireland border. May was hoping to get a deal done before her meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday, where she’s supposed to present Britain’s final, best offers on the three main lingering Brexit issues: the size of the divorce bill, post-Brexit rights of European nationals in the UK, and the border. But we can’t always get what we want, I guess. There’s a European Union summit happening on December 14 at which leaders will decide if it’s time to advance Brexit talks to the second stage, the part about the UK’s future trade relationship with Brussels. If they decide not to advance the talks–and Ireland has promised to veto advancement if it’s not satisfied with the border situation–then it’s going to be very hard to see how the UK and EU could negotiate a trade deal before Britain leaves the union in 2019.

Maybe all this talk is for naught though, because Tony Fucking Blair is heading to The Hague for a justly deserved war crimes trial going to make Brexit not happen:

Tony Blair has confirmed that he is trying to reverse Brexit, arguing that voters deserve a second referendum because the “£350m per week for the NHS” promise has now been exposed as untrue.

 

In an interview with the BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend on Sunday, the former prime minister said that what was happening to the “crumbling” NHS was a “national tragedy” and that it was now “very clear” that the Vote Leave promise about Brexit leading to higher NHS spending would not be honoured.

Ah, yes, it sure is rotten when powerful national figures lie to the citizens who put them in office. Especially when those lies feed terrible decisions that lead to disastrous consequences for the people affected by them. Thanks for your service, Tony.

AMERICAS

VENEZUELA

Stymied in its efforts to find real money that it can use to pay its creditors, the Venezuelan government will invent some fake money instead:

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced the creation of a new virtual currency in a bid to ease the country’s economic crisis.

 

He said the Petro would be backed by Venezuela’s oil, gas, gold and diamond wealth.

I don’t mean to nitpick, but if “Venezuela’s oil, gas, gold, and diamond wealth” were able to backstop a currency in the current environment, then probably the country’s regular currency, the bolivar, wouldn’t be worthless. Maybe this will catch on, I don’t know, but somehow I don’t see Venezuela’s creditors being mollified by virtual stacks of Petros.

HONDURAS

The situation here continues to deteriorate. The Honduran army has been called out on the streets to enforce curfews, and so far its soldiers (American-trained, because there’s literally no right-wing government on the planet for which the United States isn’t willing to arm and train is shock troopers) have killed at least three protesters in clashes around the country. Hundreds of people have been arrested. Challenger Salvador Nasralla on Sunday called on the army to refuse its orders to enforce the curfew, but there’s no sign they’re planning to do anything like that.

At this point, with 95 percent of the vote in, President Juan Orlando Hernández has a lead of about 1.5 percent over Nasralla, but recounts are already beginning–and are already being challenged by Nasralla, who says the scope of the recount is much too narrow–so the announcement of any official results could take a while.

UNITED STATES

I’ll leave you with this cheery thought for your Monday:

The U.S. agency tasked with protecting the country from missile attacks is scouting the West Coast for places to deploy new anti-missile defenses, two Congressmen said on Saturday, as North Korea’s missile tests raise concerns about how the United States would defend itself from an attack.

Oh wait, that’s not the cheery thought. This is the cheery thought:

Here’s the problem. The United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars developing, testing, and fielding ballistic-missile-defense systems over the past few decades. But in tests, these systems hit their target only about 50 to 60 percent of the time.

 

And even this record exaggerates how they would likely perform in an actual conflict. In the tests, everyone involved knows ahead of time when, where, and at what angle the missile will be launched. Also, with only a couple of exceptions, the tests have aimed an interceptor against just a single target—whereas, in a real war, the attacker would almost certainly fire a volley of missiles. The real attack might even happen at night, whereas all of the tests have been conducted in daytime.

Have a good day!

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