Europe/Americas update: December 18 2017



I missed this piece a couple of days ago because, well, because I don’t read Newsweek very often, but I stumbled upon it today and I was reminded why I don’t read Newsweek very often:

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The actual piece, to its credit, only argues that Putin is preparing in case of World War III, but that’s not the kind of headline that would get clicks and so Newsweek has to sex it up to make it sound ambiguously like Putin might just be planning to start World War III. He’s not, in case you were wondering. But way to get the clicks.

Russian anti-corruption crusader and right-wing nationalist Alexey Navalny says he could beat Putin in a “fair election.” To that I say a) he’d never get one and b) LOL no.


Russia is pulling its truce monitors out of Ukraine, accusing Ukrainian authorities of preventing them from doing their job. Kiev responded by denying those claims and accusing Russia of undermining peace efforts with the move. The Ukrainians say that rebel shelling killed three of their soldiers on Sunday, while the rebels say that “hundreds” of Ukrainian projectiles have been fired at rebel-held areas over the past day or so…causing, uh, no casualties, apparently. Fascinating.


Moldova has recalled its ambassador to Russia over what it says is “mistreatment” of Moldovan officials by Russia. It’s the latest in a series of diplomatic spats between the two countries this year.


Austria’s far-right Freedom Party is back in government, baby, and we’re all so very excited:

The return to power of the Freedom Party, which was founded by neo-Nazis after World War II, was concerning enough that Austria’s president, Alexander Van der Bellen, took the exceptional step of eliciting several promises from the new government before he would administer the oath of office.


Those included acknowledging Austria’s commitment to European Union and its responsibility to a Nazi past that tore apart the Continent last century.


Mr. Van de Bellen also reminded the new government leaders that they represent everyone in Austria, a rejoinder to a campaign characterized in large part by an antipathy toward immigrants.

New Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, of the slightly-less-far-right People’s Party, wants to assure everybody that he’s reined the neo-Nazis in–on their anti-Europeanism, not on the hating foreigners stuff. Kurz apparently agrees with them on that. He’s headed to Brussels on Tuesday to make the necessary assurances. There were protesters in Vienna to greet the new government…but disturbingly few of them.


Angela Merkel says she wants to have an outline of a possible coalition government between her CDU-CSU coalition and the Social Democratic Party in place by mid-January in order to get a handle on Germany’s current state of political chaos. She’s all but ruled out any arrangement short of a full coalition, so SPD offers to support her in a minority government situation seem to be non-starters.


Brexit Secretary David Davis is going to “warn” the European Union that it can’t “cherrypick” economic sectors in a post-Brext trade deal–or, in other words, it can’t establish a free trade agreement with Britain over goods, but not services. Services, especially financial services, are crucially important to the British economy, and an EU free trade deal that leaves them out would be devastating. According to the “senior government official” who talked to the Guardian about this, Davis’s position is “they [the EU] either want to have a broad economic relationship with the UK, or they don’t.”

Yeah, about that:

Britain cannot have a special deal for the City of London, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator has told the Guardian, dealing a blow to Theresa May’s hopes of securing a bespoke trade agreement with the bloc.


Michel Barnier said it was unavoidable that British banks and financial firms would lose the passports that allow them to trade freely in the EU, as a result of any decision to quit the single market.


“There is no place [for financial services]. There is not a single trade agreement that is open to financial services. It doesn’t exist.” He said the outcome was a consequence of “the red lines that the British have chosen themselves. In leaving the single market, they lose the financial services passport.”

Sounds like the next round of negotiations should be a real blast!



At the Monkey Cage, political scientists Jennifer Pribble and Juan Pablo Luna break down Sebastián Piñera’s victory in Sunday’s presidential runoff:

On Sunday, Chileans elected Sebastián Piñera president. The runoff election followed a first round on Nov. 19 for both the executive and legislative branches. Piñera, of the right-leaning National Renovation party, represents the conservative Let’s Go Chile coalition. The president-elect defeated center-left candidate Alejandro Guillier, of the ruling New Majority coalition, by 9 points, turning the current government out of office. This will be Piñera’s second term in office. He governed Chile between 2009 and 2014.


Turnout increased between the first and second round, but initial data suggests the growth heavily favored the right. While a large share of left voters who participated in November stayed home on Sunday, conservative voters who abstained in the first round showed up at much higher rates. During Piñera’s acceptance speech, supporters could be heard singing “Chile has been saved.”

They conclude that Piñera benefited from incumbent socialist President Michelle Bachelet’s lousy approval rating (owing to a corruption scandal), dissent on the Chilean left, a collapse of the Chilean center, and a rise in overall voter unhappiness (again owing to corruption scandals).


The Organization for American States called for a new Honduran election on Monday, in a fairly shocking statement that basically, in very tepid technical language, alleged that Honduran election officials faked the vote count to ensure that incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández “won” reelection:

The OAS statement described irregularities, including deliberate human intrusions in the electoral computer system, pouches of votes opened or lacking votes, and “extreme” improbability around voting patterns it analyzed, making it “impossible to determine with the necessary certainty the winner.”

“Deliberate human intrusion” is diplomat-speak for “made up the count.” It’s really quite stark once you strip away the niceties. Naturally the Hernández-led Honduran government is rejecting calls for a new vote, but with protests ongoing things may get very ugly. Honduran rights groups say that more than 20 people have already been killed since the November 26 election, and there’s not yet any end in sight.


Today’s big story was obviously the unveiling of Donald Trump’s National Security Strategy. I don’t know that it’s worth giving this document that much attention–NSS papers are mostly pointless things that often don’t really reflect the actual policies that the administration subsequently follows, and that’s particularly true under a president like Trump who almost certainly hasn’t read his own strategy and couldn’t possibly care less what it is. Of course, sometimes they do closely reflect the policies the administration subsequently pursues, like the Bush administration’s 2002 NSS that spent a long time ominously trying to justify preventative war. But even then, it’s not clear any major Bush administration figures ever actually read the thing.

The big topline item in Trump’s NSS is obviously the declaration that China, and Russia, are America’s “competition”:

The president’s strategy explicitly named China and Russia as “competition” that seek to “challenge American power, influence, and interests” and attempt “to erode American security and prosperity”.


While the US will seek opportunities for cooperation with its rivals, “we will stand up for ourselves and we will stand up for our country like we have never stood up before”, Trump said in his address.


“America is in the game and America is going to win,” he said.

I guess the next one of these meetings will be a little more awkward

There was the requisite fear-mongering about Iran and North Korea, and some chest-thumping about ISIS, but at its core it reflects Trump’s “America First” bullshit: little interest in international collaboration on issues like climate change, virtually no interest in squishy hippie things like human rights, and a deep desire to renegotiate trade agreements. Also, we might be expanding the range of situations under which we would be willing to use nuclear weapons, so that’s exciting.

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