World update: January 15 2018



The New York Times has some deep background on the ongoing clash between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the fired-but-still-there-anyway Balkh governor Atta Muhammad Nur. Ghani’s supporters portray the ex(?)-warlord as corrupt and unaccountable, while Nur contends that Ghani is attempting to sideline him for political reasons. The US may also have a reason for wanting Nur gone:

One event that probably contributed to Mr. Noor’s firing happened about two months ago, when fuel trucks contracted by NATO were blocked by his forces in Balkh. Mr. Noor said the trucks were using NATO’s tax-exempt status to import illegal fuel. Some officials, however, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid angering Mr. Noor and his allies, suggested that the trucks were stopped because they were refusing to pay Mr. Noor’s men a cut.


Afghan officials say the episode angered Gen. John W. Nicholson, the top American commander in Afghanistan. Mr. Ghani’s aides used it in their lobbying against Mr. Noor, arguing that the former warlord was not only against the Afghan president, but also his American allies.

Perhaps because of this, Nur has allegedly been trying to cultivate a relationship with mercenary colonial enthusiast the Earl of Mayo Erik Prince, whose sister is of course Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Clearly he’s looking for a way into the Trump inner circle.

Russia continues to try to engage with the Taliban, but selectively–dealing with elements within the Taliban that it believes are more amenable to a peace deal while excluding elements it sees as rigidly opposed to such a thing. Oxford’s Samuel Ramani argues that this isn’t just a practical decision by Moscow, but that it represents a Russian effort to undercut the US as a peace broker in Afghanistan.


Militants–it’s unclear if they were Baluch separatists or Islamists–killed six people in southwestern Pakistan on Monday when they opened fire on a militia convoy.

General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Monday that he remains committed to rebuilding the US-Pakistan relationship despite all the bad blood that seems to have accumulated around it. Dunford’s remarks can be seen as part of an emerging “good cop” approach toward Islamabad from some in the Trump administration, including CENTCOM boss Joseph Votel and Defense Secretary James Mattis, based primarily on improving military-to-military ties.


Four Pakistani soldiers were killed on Monday by cross border artillery fire from Indian forces in Kashmir. India meanwhile says its forces killed five Kashmiri separatist fighters attempting to cross from Pakistani Kashmir into Indian Kashmir.


The Myanmar government says its first camp to house returning Rohingya and Hindu refugees from Bangladesh will be ready next week as planned. This is either good news for those refugees or bad news, depending on whether the camp turns out to be a genuine tool for repatriating these people or an open-air prison. At this point either outcome seems equally likely.


The Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission has ordered the shutdown of a news website called “Rappler” over allegations that it violated Philippine laws requiring media outlets to be owned by Filipinos. The site has foreign investors but insists that they have no actual ownership role. The fact that Rappler was consistently critical of President Rodrigo Duterte has I’m sure in no way contributed to its fate. The site will be allowed to continue operating pending appeal.


The early news on the environmental damage caused by the Iranian oil tanker that sank in the East China Sea (weather patterns have now pushed it into Japanese waters) on Sunday is not good. The fire that had been consuming the oil spill has now gone out, leaving a sizable oil slick that ships were attempting to contain on Monday. The sinking of the vessel will likely release the rest of its cargo plus the ship’s own fuel, which is considerably more environmentally damaging than the cargo. On the plus side, the cold water in the area will likely slow the leak and could help contain the damage.



At least 20 people were killed on Monday and Tripoli’s Mitiga airport was closed in fighting between rival factions in the putative Libyan capital. The Government of National Accord says that the fighting involved one faction attempting to break fighters out of prison. The prison is near Mitiga, which is a military airfield that was repurposed for civilian use because Tripoli’s main airport is unusable due to damage suffered during the civil war.


Muhammadu Buhari insisted in an official statement on Monday that he will punish anyone and everyone responsible for recent ethnic violence in central Nigeria. Buhari’s opponents have suggested that he’s refusing to take action against Fulani herdsmen who are contributing to the violence because Buhari himself is Fulani.


The Guardian is reporting that Somali security forces destroyed 23 camps for internally displaced Somalis late last month with no warning for residents. The reason is unclear, and anybody who tried to ask them seems to have taken a beating for their trouble. Somali officials are now saying that the camps were on disputed private land and that a court had ordered their removal, but that doesn’t really seem to explain why things were done the way they were done or why the Somali forces apparently prevented journalists from taking any video or photographs of the operation.


A group of Ugandan lawyers is trying to get the recent law lifting the country’s mandatory presidential retirement age overturned in court. The law, which removed a constitutional provision mandating that all presidential candidates must be younger than 75 years old, was passed with the intention of allowing current President Yoweri Museveni (73) to run again in 2021 and indeed to remain in office until he dies or somebody removes him, whichever comes first. The lawyers want the law overturned on the grounds that it was passed only via intimidation from Museveni’s government, which sent security forces into the parliament chamber when the debate over the measure deteriorated into actual fighting on the chamber floor. They’re arguing that the presence of those forces intimidated legislators into supporting the bill.


The South African government has summoned acting US Ambassador Jessye Lapenn to answer for Donald Trump’s recent shithole/shithouse comments. This isn’t the first time this has happened since Trump’s remarks made news, and you can probably expect this event to repeat itself across other countries Donald considers to be shitholes/shithouses in the days to come.



Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose is out of a job. He resigned on Monday amid an ongoing crisis within his Social Democratic Party, whose leadership voted to withdraw support for his premiership. It seems Tudose demanded the resignation of Interior Minister Carmen Dan last week, and Dan happens to be a close ally of party boss Liviu Dragnea, so when push came to shove it wasn’t Dan who had to go. Dragnea is arguably the most powerful politician in Romania–he’s now scalped two PMs, having forced Sorin Grindeanu out in June–despite the fact that a past corruption conviction prevents him from serving in parliament–and hence as PM–himself. Tudose was something like Dragnea’s sixth choice for the job after Grindeanu was pushed out, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that their partnership didn’t have much staying power.

Meanwhile, Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Meleșcanu says he will summon the Hungarian ambassador to ask why the Hungarian embassy displayed the Székely flag on Monday. You may recall that last week, Tudose made comments that could have been construed as a threat against Romania’s ethnic Hungarian Székely community and its desire for autonomy. With Tudose out of the picture this situation could go away, or the Romanian government could continue to press its luck until it becomes a full-blown crisis.


The Spanish government says it will maintain direct rule over Catalonia if Catalan separatist parties insist on reelecting Carles Puigdemont as regional president despite the fact that Puigdemont is currently fleeing Spanish prosecution by hiding out in Belgium.


Theresa May’s plans for Britain’s own special little sweetheart deal with the European Union are being threatened by Norway, of all places. See, Norway is part of the European Economic Area, which means it’s not a full EU member but contributes to the EU and participates in the EU’s free movement policy in order to get access to the EU single market. If Britain is allowed to have access to the single market after Brexit without, for example, accepting free movement, then Norway is going to pitch a fit and rightly so. There’s already a growing movement in Norway to withdraw from the EEA, and it will only get stronger if Norwegians think Brussels is giving extra benefits to the UK. Which makes it even less likely that Brussels will be willing to do a special deal for London.

There’s also word that the EU plans to demand maximum free movement concessions from Britain in order to work out a transition period after Brexit, whereby London would have to accept full free movement for the duration of the transition and anyone moving to the UK up to the end of the transition period would be treated under whatever terms Britain accepts for EU nationals after Brexit. Britain is looking to set a cutoff date for EU nationals at March 2017, which is when May exercised the Article 50 clause and started the countdown to Britain’s EU exit.

Also, France and Germany are resisting sweetheart deals that would allow financial services companies to continue basing themselves in London while still operating on the continent and that would allow British airlines to keep flying between EU destinations after Brexit, two things London desperately wants. Everything really seems to be going well for the UK here.

Meanwhile, if you’re wondering why Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon is talking about independence referendums again, it might have something to do with a new report that estimates Brexit could cost Scotland upwards of £16 billion per year. Sturgeon is using the report to push for the UK to remain part of the EU single market at least.



Oscar Perez, the weird military dude/actor who threw some grenades out of a helicopter over Caracas last June and then filmed some kind of Steven Segal knockoff video about how he was going to personally kick Nicolás Maduro’s ass, was either killed or captured be Venezuelan forces on Monday after a violent standoff outside the Venezuelan capital. Perez released video clips of himself and a couple of supporters in the midst of a firefight with the Venezuelan forces, saying that they wouldn’t allow him to surrender. It’s not clear what happened after that.


Finally, while Trump’s shithole/shithouse remarks were grotesque enough to condemn on their face, it’s important to also consider the extent to which they, and Trump’s overall loathsome image, are damaging to US interests broadly speaking:

Reuben E. Brigety II, who was the United States ambassador to the African Union from 2013 to 2015, said on Monday that he had been in touch with African ministers and ambassadors throughout the weekend.


“The appropriate word to describe their reactions to the president’s comments is fury,” he said, “notwithstanding the fact that the president has said that he didn’t say what was attributed to him. They don’t believe it.”


Mr. Brigety said that Mr. Trump’s remarks were on the agenda for the annual African Union summit meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this month.


“A red line has been crossed,” he said.

Frankly much if not all of Africa might be better off without us, but I’m not sure we’re better off without Africa, particularly if you’re a big believer in the idea that America is competing for global influence with China. And even if, like me, you think the world could use a little less “Pax” Americana, there are far better ways to draw down US meddling around the world than this one, where everybody just kind of starts to hate us because our president is an epically massive piece of crap.

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