World update: January 23 2018



The fact that America’s intervention in Afghanistan is in year 17 should be bad enough. The only lesson the US foreign policy establishment seems to have learned from Vietnam is that you can’t lose if you don’t stop fighting, even if the only reason you’re still fighting is so you don’t have to lose, and so America is committed to killing Afghans in perpetuity basically to save face. But the way America has been conducting this war makes things so, so much worse:

On 5,753 occasions from 2010 to 2016, the United States military reported accusations of “gross human rights abuses” by the Afghan military, including many examples of child sexual abuse. If true, American law required military aid to be cut off to the offending unit.


Not once did that happen.


That was among the findings in an investigation into child sexual abuse by the Afghan security forces and the supposed indifference of the American military to the problem, according to a report released on Monday by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, known as Sigar.


Philippine officials say that Islamist militants have been able to sustain themselves and even partially rebuild their operation since Marawi in large part because of the tens of millions of dollars worth of booty they were able to loot from Marawi while they were occupying it. Banks, jewelry shops, and homes were all relieved of their valuables before the militants lost the city.


If the only thing you’ve been tracking from North Korea lately has been the threat of nuclear holocaust, you’re not alone. Care International says that North Korea’s ongoing food shortage is the world’s most under-covered humanitarian disaster. Eritrea and Burundi were close behind.



A double-tap car bombing in Benghazi on Tuesday killed at least 33 people. There’s been no claim of responsibility. Benghazi is under the control of Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, but there are still pockets of Islamist resistance in the city.


The United Nations estimates that there are currently more than 688,000 people who have been displaced by fighting in the CAR, the highest number of displaced persons in that country since 2013. More than half a million people have fled the country altogether, meaning that about a quarter of its population has been uprooted in total.


New Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has ordered top government officials to declare their assets by the end of next month as part of his effort to stamp out corruption (or at least to appear to be stamping out corruption).



Chilean President-elect Sebastian Piñera has announced his new cabinet, and it, um, oh boy:

Chile’s president-elect, the billionaire businessman Sebastian Piñera, has unveiled a new hardline cabinet, including prominent conservative figures and some politicians once closely aligned with the Pinochet dictatorship.


The new interior minister, Andrés Chadwick, was a vocal supporter of Augusto Pinochet during his 1973-1990 regime, which named him president of the Catholic University Students Federation.


Chadwick and the new justice minister, Hernán Larraín, were also supporters and defenders of the secretive German enclave Colonia Dignidad, which was established by the fugitive Nazi officer and paedophile Paul Shäfer in the early 60s. It later emerged that the enclave was used by security officials to torture and murder opponents of the regime.

Kudos once again to the World Bank for helping put these guys in office. You’re all doing a heck of a job.


The Washington Post looks at the impact of the Odebrecht corruption scandal in Peru:

So far, three former presidents of Peru stand accused of taking Odebrecht cash. Sitting President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski survived one impeachment attempt in December but may face another following revelations that a firm he set up in the 1990s, Westfield Capital, received $782,000 from the Brazilian giant.


Odebrecht has admitted to paying $29 million in bribes to public officials in Peru between 2005 and 2014 in exchange for $12.5 billion in contracts. But it has denied that all of its Peruvian projects were tainted by corruption.


Once seen as a “Pacific Puma” whose fast economic growth was easing deeply entrenched poverty, Peru has seen a slowdown as the Odebrecht scandal has grown. Economists estimate that halted projects and frozen contracts shaved as much as 1.5 percentage points off Peru’s gross domestic product last year. This year, economists say, the investigations will cost Peru at least another point.


Venezuela’s constituent assembly has scheduled an early presidential vote for late April. The timing seems meant to maximize President Nicolás Maduro’s edge in facing an almost hopelessly fractured opposition that will undoubtedly be unable to form a cohesive electoral front in that short a time–particularly not when Maduro has most of the country’s major opposition figures either in custody or in exile.


Finally, part 2 of my interview with Andrew Bacevich and John Mearsheimer is online at LobeLog. In this one, we discuss what they see as the greatest oncoming change in international affairs:

LobeLog: What do you see as the biggest long-term challenge facing America on the world stage?


John Mearsheimer: One change that’s taking place in international politics that Trump has no control over but that will affect his presidency more and more over time—and which is reflected in the NSS—is the rise of China and the resurrection of Russian power. This change in the balance of power has created a situation where we’re moving away from unipolarity and toward multipolarity. If you look at the National Security Strategy (NSS) carefully, it trumpets the fact that great power politics is back, and it’s not just Iran and North Korea that are the principle threats the United States needs to worry about—it’s also China and Russia. It seems clear to me that the Trump administration has its gunsights on both China and Russia and will devote an enormous amount of defense resources to dealing with those two countries. Over time, I think this will mean a fundamental change in our foreign policy, and we will end up focusing more on East Asia and less on the greater Middle East.


Andrew Bacevich: Events since the end of the Cold War have demolished the notion that we live in a unipolar world dominated by the United States. I don’t think that was ever a plausible proposition, but if we look at what has actually happened over the past 30 years or so, the folly becomes fully evident. That said, it’s not clear to me that people in Washington are willing to acknowledge how wrong they were. So when you reference things like the rise of China, the big question is whether the United States is willing to accept the fact that ours is a multipolar world, with fostering stability in that world the task at hand. Or are people in Washington intent on clinging to delusions of unipolarity, the task at hand then being to prevent China’s rise.

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