Europe/Americas update: February 6 2018



It was reported earlier this week that Russia has moved some nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad, which raised some eyebrows at, among other places, NATO. On Tuesday, the Kremlin politely reminded everybody that what it does with its missiles on its territory is its business, nobody else’s. And that’s fair, but sticking potential nukes smack in the middle of Europe is bound to cause a bit of concern. The Russians say they’ve put the missiles there to get around a proposed US missile defense system in Eastern Europe. The US insists that any such system would be meant to defend against Iranian missiles and would be too small to prevent a Russian nuclear strike if it comes to that. Of course, since the chances of Iran ever launching missiles at Europe are probably slightly smaller than the chances of a Russian nuclear strike, you can understand why Moscow might be a little skeptical about that explanation.


Polish President Andrzej Duda signed his legislature’s “shut up we did not have anything to do with the Holocaust” bill into law on Tuesday. But, perhaps to head off the criticism Poland is already getting from Israel and the United States, Duda referred the new law to Poland’s constitutional court for review. If the court finds that, for example, the measure violates the right to free expression, academic freedom, etc., it could kick it back to parliament for revision. But the law, designed to wink at the hard-right government’s supporters by whitewashing the actual complicity of some Poles with the Nazis, will go into effect while the court is reviewing it.


Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on Tuesday that his government is prepared to change the country’s name to add some kind of geographical qualifier that distinguishes it from Greek Macedonia. “North Macedonia” and “Upper Macedonia” are among the possibilities. The Greek government might be amenable to an agreement along these lines, which would then open the door for Macedonia to pursue membership in the European Union and NATO. But it’s not clear that Greek voters would be amenable to it. Hundreds of thousands of them have demonstrated in Thessaloniki, Athens, and other Greek cities in recent weeks to express their opposition to any deal that lets Skopje use the word “Macedonia” in its name at all.


The European Commission said on Tuesday that both Serbia and Montenegro could be on the path to EU membership by as soon as 2025, provided they continue to make reforms in areas like anti-corruption and democratization.


Coalition talks between Germany’s conservative alliance and the Social Democrats were supposed to conclude on Tuesday (well, actually they were supposed to conclude on Sunday but who’s counting?), and I guess you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out how it went because as far as I can tell they haven’t announced anything–not even another extension.

This is a lot of hub-bub for a deal that, from the outside, looks like something the Social Democrats should run from as far and as fast as humanly possible. They’re already getting creamed among their traditional labor base by the fascist-adjacent Alternative for Germany in part because of the anti-worker compromises they had to make in their last coalition with the conservatives–if Grand Coalition 2.0 is just going to be more of the same, they’re going to take a bigger hit at the next election. Of course, that next election could be very soon without a Grand Coalition, since Angela Merkel could well decide to call a snap election if these talks fail. AfD would be likely to gain seats in snap elections, some of them undoubtedly at the SPD’s expense. I guess the question is whether SPD wants to take the hit now, or continue neutering itself for another few years and potentially take a bigger hit down the road.


Emmanuel Macron seems to be courting a regional crisis in Corsica. Recent electoral victories by Corsican nationalists have strengthened calls for autonomy and a special status for the island. Macron says he’s open to some changes in how Corsica is administered but has refused to pardon Corsican militants and says he will not consider giving the Corsican language official status.


Tory MP Anna Soubry is threatening to leave the party if hardline Brexiters like Jacob Rees-Mogg take over completely. In a BBC interview she urged Theresa May to “sling out” Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson, and their whole crew. Soubry is one of the more prominent pro-EU Tories in parliament, and if she were to leave the party she probably wouldn’t be the only one. But her remarks illustrate the box in which May now finds herself.

If May tries to move against Rees-Mogg, Johnson, et al, she’ll likely lose, which means losing her premiership. On the other hand, if she gives those guys what they want, a hard Brexit with a tough negotiating stance toward a free trade deal with the EU, two things are going to happen. One, the EU is going to laugh in her face and there won’t be a free trade deal, likely the worst possible outcome for the British economy. Two, May is going to lose a number of pro-EU Tories, which will probably cause her already minority government to fall. Really this whole process has been brilliantly managed by the Tories, from David Cameron’s decision to hold a Brexit referendum in the first place to Theresa May’s keen tactical understanding of British politics.



Lefty Andrés Manuel López Obrador has an 11 point lead over second-place contender Ricardo Anaya, 38-27, in the latest polling for July’s presidential election. That’s actually a bit smaller than López Obrador’s lead in the same poll in November, even though his own support increased by three points. He is the only candidate in the race with a net positive approval rating.


Finally, let’s talk about the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations agency tasked with dealing with, well, migration. The US contributes more to the IOM than any other country, and so typically it gets to pick the IOM’s director-general–the current DG, William Swing, is a long-time American diplomat. Swing’s second and final term is up this year, and so the Trump administration has done some out of the box thinking to find his replacement, and their pick to run the UN agency that handles migration issues is Ken Isaacs, a guy who by all outward appearances actually hates migrants:

In tweets, social media posts and radio appearances reviewed by The Washington Post, Ken Isaacs, a vice president of the Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, made disparaging remarks about Muslims and denied climate change — a driving force behind migration, according to the agency the State Department has nominated him to lead.


In June, after a terrorist attack in London, Isaac reposted and commented on a CNN International story that quoted a Catholic bishop saying “This isn’t in the name of God, this isn’t what the Muslim faith asks people to do.”


Isaacs responded: “CNN, Bishop if you read the Quran you will know ‘this’ is exactly what the Muslim faith instructs the faithful to do.”

Well, he doesn’t hate all migrants equally. Christians are actually pretty cool. Muslims though, fuck those people. Isaacs has apologized for (the fact that) his remarks (made it into the Washington Post), and the State Department says it’s going to continue supporting his nomination. But the director-general has to be elected by the agency’s 169 member states, and given Isaacs’s comments, plus the general esteem in which the Trump administration is held around the world, he may actually be rejected. At that point the Trump administration will likely zero out its aid to the IOM, which it probably wants to do anyway.

I know it would make sense to say something here about how the Trump administration always finds a way to sink just a little deeper, to dig at the bottom of the barrel until it finds a new bottom, but frankly that wouldn’t be true in this case. Isaacs’s nomination isn’t a new low for this administration–rather, it’s entirely in keeping with the overall racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, reactionary ethos that Donald Trump himself has come to embody. Hopefully Isaacs’s nomination will be rejected, and then hopefully the Trump administration will cut its aid to the IOM. The IOM will suffer for it in the short run, but in the long run the more the rest of the planet can divest itself of the rot at the core of American politics, the better off it will be.

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One thought on “Europe/Americas update: February 6 2018

  1. I like the perspective you offer at the end there; if the US wants out of the international community— likewise with Britain and the EU— then the rest of the world should say good riddance

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