Europe/Americas update: December 8 2017


The New York Times‘ Islamic extremism reporter, Rukmini Callimachi, has been tracking terrorist groups’ reactions to Donald Trump’s announcement that the US is recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It’s been universally negative, with one interesting exception:

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has long been one of the themes invoked by jihadists to push a narrative of Muslim victimhood and to fan an us-versus-them framework. So it’s of little surprise that Qaeda affiliates across the world reacted with venom after President Trump this week recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a decision that was also denounced by Arab leaders.


The Taliban, Hamas and Shia extremist leaders also railed against the move.


But the outlier was the Islamic State, which waited until Friday to publish an editorial in its weekly newsletter — one that appeared to be mainly concerned with critiquing what it saw as hypocritical and self-serving statements by other jihadist groups and Arab leaders.

ISIS argued that the focus should be on overthrowing Arab regimes that it claims are protecting Israel, not on Israel yet. Its online supporters, on the other hand, seem to be just as interested in producing angry memes about the Jerusalem decision as supporters of other extremist groups.



Russia’s foreign ministry said on Friday that it’s ready to engage in talks with the US to preserve the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty, which bans short and intermediate-range nuclear missiles. The INF was a huge marker in the drawdown between the US and USSR and its loss would be a very big backwards step for the non-proliferation movement. But for several years the US has been accusing Russia of developing weapons that would violate the treaty, and now Washington says it has satellite images to back up its accusations. The Trump administration is trying to pressure the rest of NATO into taking punitive measures against the Russians.


The third time was the charm, apparently: Ukrainian police tried yet again to arrest Mikheil Saakashvili on Friday and, go figure, they actually did it. That led quickly to a new round of protests by Saakashvili’s supporters in central Kiev. Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, Yuriy Lutsenko, has accused Saakashvili of “assisting a criminal organization,” but hasn’t gone into detail. His arrest ironically is unlikely to make as big a stir as the two previous attempts at his arrest did–while Saakashvili has a core group of committed followers, it’s not believed he has much of a wide base of support throughout Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told reporters on Friday that he has not been interfering with anti-corruption investigations despite accusations from Ukrainian reformers (like Saakashvili) and the International Monetary Fund. I guess it’s just a really messed up series of countless coincidences that his government has presided over so much corruption. It’s like, he’ll be minding his own business, just walking down the street when suddenly some corruption happens and he totally has nothing to do with it.


Despite having just switched prime ministers on Thursday, Poland’s parliament wasn’t too distracted on Friday to pass a measure that largely takes the “independent” out of “independent judicial system”:

The Polish parliament has approved government proposals to hand the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) effective control of judicial appointments and the supreme court, in a move seen by critics as an erosion of judicial independence.


The government describes the plans as a necessary means to speed up the process of issuing judgments and to break what it describes as the grip of a “privileged caste” of lawyers and judges. But a coalition of civil society groups has warned that Poland will “definitively cease to be a democratic state of law” once the legislation is approved by the senate and the president, and becomes law.

It’s entirely possible that part of the reason for the PM change the day before was to keep as much attention off of this move today.


We joke about him around here on occasion, but we should never lose sight of the fact that, at his core, Emmanuel Macron is a huge dick:

The man who campaigned for the French presidency in part by saying some important but uncomfortable things about France’s colonial legacy in Algeria has been replaced by the actual French president who likes to talk about Africa’s “civilizational” problems while exhorting Algerians to get over it. Like I said, a dick.


Against heavy odds, Theresa May seems to have actually come to an agreement with the European Union to advance Brexit talks past the break-up phase and into the trade agreement phase:

Under severe constraints of time and internal politics, British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday hammered out an initial agreement with the European Union to move British talks on exiting the bloc to the next, more serious phase.


A senior European official, Martin Selmayr, even posted on Twitter a picture of white smoke billowing from a chimney, as if a new Pope had been elected. Yet, this initial deal was no miracle but a hard slog, with harder battles ahead.


The pact resolved a trio of issues that had taken the better part of nine months to negotiate. It avoided a “hard” border in Ireland; set the mechanism to calculate Britain’s “divorce bill,” estimated at $47 billion to $52 billion, roughly double Mrs. May’s original offer; and established judicial protocols to protect the rights of the three million European citizens in Britain and the million British citizens in the European Union.

After what appears to have been an all-night round of shuttle diplomacy, May seems to have cobbled together an agreement on the Northern Ireland border that passed muster with both Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster and the Irish government. It’s a big political win for May, who desperately needed one, but I’m not sure how much of a win it is and how long May is actually going to be able to coast on it.

The thing is, though, and I’m just going off of the Guardian’s summary of the terms, but it seems like the way May got agreement on the border was by punting on the actual details. The agreement affirms both that there will not be a hard Northern Ireland border and that Northern Ireland will be leaving the customs union along with the rest of Britain, and…doesn’t explain how those two requirements will (or possibly could) both be met. As a fallback it says Northern Ireland will stay in compliance with the customs union’s rules (staying in the union but under some different formal arrangement), but ensures no border of any kind between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Which, again, would seem to put the UK as a whole back in the customs union. But I guess everybody will cross this bridge when they come to it. For at least the second time.

The deal all but guarantees that the UK will have to leave the EU via “soft Brexit,” or with a free trade arrangement, because really the only way to begin to cobble together a solution to this conundrum is with a trade agreement in place. That’s going to piss off a lot of Brexit fetishists, which is problematic because the next phase of talks is likely to be a lot harder than this first phase was and discord from the Tory Backbiting Caucus is only going to make them harder still. And yet it’s not surprising the pro-Brexit crowd is a little uneasy about what’s transpired, because at the end of the day it’s hard to find any point on which May’s once-hardline negotiating positions haven’t been completely compromised. Which, as Eric Levitz notes, raises the question of why everybody had to go through the last several months of nail-biting negotiations:

Ultimately, the most damning part of Theresa May’s “breakthrough” may be this: She (almost certainly) could have had this deal months ago. May dragged out negotiations for eight months, only to accept virtually all of the EU’s conditions. Now, she’s left herself with less than a year to negotiate a sweeping free-trade agreement with the EU. And unless she is somehow able to win better terms in those (even more contentious) negotiations — where she will enjoy even less leverage than she has thus far — the British people will have subjected themselves to a historic decline in living standards, for the sake of gaining less sovereignty over their nation’s trading regulations, a heightened risk of a new round of troubles in Ireland, a strengthened independence movement in Scotland, and maybe, if they’re lucky, the freedom to modestly restrict immigration into the U.K.



Venezuela’s political opposition is boycotting Sunday’s mayoral elections. Which seems like very sound strategy–after all, boycotting July’s constituent assembly vote worked out really well for them. On the other hand, participating in October’s state gubernatorial elections didn’t work out either. But the constant electoral boycotts seem to accomplish nothing but handing victories to Nicolás Maduro while demoralizing the opposition’s base. Participating, even in a rigged process that you can’t win, would seem to be a better option than continually taking your ball and going home.


The Trump administration is getting close to naming a new deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, and it’s indicative of everything they’re doing to wreck the State Department:

Andrew L. Peek, a former captain in the U.S. Army Reserve and member of the president’s State Department transition team, will become the new deputy assistant secretary of state covering Iran and Iraq, according to three State Department officials familiar with the matter.


Peek, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer, has no prior diplomatic experience and has not earned a reputation as an established expert on Iran or Iraq but has years of experience in military intelligence and in the Senate, where he served Republican senators on foreign-policy issues.


He will replace Chris Backmeyer, who currently serves as deputy assistant secretary for Iran. Backmeyer previously served as deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the State Department and National Security Council director on Iran from 2012 to 2014 under President Barack Obama.

So Peek has no diplomatic experience and no expertise in the region he’ll be covering, but he’s ex-military and a solid Trump Republican. Sounds like exactly the kind of person you’d want to put into a crucially important post like this.

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