World update: February 17-18 2018



Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has now had a second provincial governor tell him to get bent when Ghani tried to sack him. Ghani tried, and has apparently failed, to can Abdul Karim Khadam, governor of Samangan Province. Khadam is a member of the Jamiat-e Islami party along with Atta Muhammad Nur, the governor of Balkh province who similarly told Ghani to go f himself in December, and he was supposed to be replaced by a member of former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami party. If this keeps up, questions about Ghani’s ability to actually govern Afghanistan are going to keep getting louder.


“Dozens” of protesters were reportedly injured on Friday in clashes with Maldivian police. Thousands of supporters of the country’s political opposition hit the streets to demand that President Yameen Abdul Gayoom release opposition leaders from prison and resign.



The Intercept’s Joe Penny visited Niger to report on the US drone/special forces base at Agadez, a facility that may actually be illegal under Nigerien law and that has not engendered positive feelings among Nigeriens:

MANY PEOPLE I spoke to in Niger feel their country has had its autonomy usurped by Westerners. “The reality is that Niger is not at a level where it can say yes or no to the French or Americans. … We only have sovereignty on paper,” said Djibril Abarché, president of the Nigerien Human Rights Association. When I asked Amadou, the justice minister, if his country has effectively ceded its military command to Westerners, he balked and explained that the Americans “don’t give orders to our generals, they give orders to our soldiers.”


Is the American presence helping security at all? It’s up for debate. “If I put guards in front of my house to stop criminals from entering and the criminals still come, are the guards worth anything?” asked the secretary-general of Niger’s Islamic University, Seydou Boubacar Touré. “We have the American base, the French base, but Boko Haram continues to kill us. … I don’t see their utility here.” Attacks along the border with Mali and in the southeast on the border with Nigeria have been frequent for years. During my time in Niger, a Boko Haram attack in Diffa killed seven Nigerien soldiers and injured 25.


Three suicide bombers, presumably Boko Haram, killed at least 20 people late Friday night in the village of Konduga, just outside of Maiduguri in northeastern Nigeria.


Ethiopian Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa said on Saturday that the country’s new state of emergency will last six months with an optional four month extension and that there is no chance of a military coup unseating the country’s civilian government. Essentially the state of emergency has been imposed to give the government a legal justification for cracking down on protests and jailing protesters. Which likely means hard times ahead.


Al Jazeera reports on a conflict between the Kenyan Forest Service’s efforts to preserve the Embobut forest and the needs of the Sengwer people who live there, one that many Sengwer say has turned violent:



The Trump administration’s concerns that European nations are not doing enough to support their own national defense is being eclipsed by a concern that European nations might start doing more to support their own national defense:

After years of encouraging European nations to work together to provide more of their own defense, the United States is having second thoughts, driven by concerns about NATO and possible protectionism in defense industries.


The new American skepticism has been the big surprise of the high-level security conference held this past week in Munich. And it has puzzled and disconcerted NATO officials, who have welcomed the European Union’s new commitment, after the Russian annexation of Crimea, to do more for its own defense.

Last year the EU set up the Permanent Structured Cooperation on Security and Defense, or PESCO, which is supposed to fund defense improvements while reducing redundancies and increasing interoperability between EU militaries. This is everything the United States says it wants, and now that it’s happening the United States is pissed. Why? Mostly due to fears that the new program is going to suppress the European market for American defense contractors. The Trump administration is concerned that PESCO could be “a protectionist vehicle for the EU,” which coming from these people is so far beyond ironic that I think we need to invent a new word to describe what it is.

There are also some nominal concerns that the new effort could take resources away from NATO, and those concerns are shared by Eastern European EU and NATO members who despite slagging the EU and kissing up to Moscow at nearly every opportunity are still terrified that Russia might come for them at some point. But it would be monumentally stupid for European countries to diminish NATO and thus alienate the United States, which spends an obscene amount on its military and consequently will always have far more military resources than the EU could ever mobilize. Right now the only problem with PESCO is that the Trump administration is both for it and against it and nobody in Europe seems to know what the hell to do with that.


Five people were killed on Sunday when a gunman attacked an Orthodox church in the town of Kizlyar, in Dagestan. The attacker was eventually killed by police. ISIS later claimed credit for the attack, though as always you need to distinguish between attack’s it has inspired and attacks it has actually carried out itself.


Russia is planning to restore the Crimean Khanate’s historical palace complex in Bakhchysarai and has already started working on the Big Khan Mosque on the site. And by “restore” I mean “replace“:

The ATTA Group, a company behind the restoration, specialises in contemporary architecture and uses modern materials such as steel and concrete that will inevitably destroy the fragile building, Dudakov said.


It replaces medieval, handmade tiles with modern, Spanish-made roofing, and whole wooden beams with glued, composite planks.

This is part of a larger Russian plan to erase Crimean Tatar culture and rewrite its history, a plan that has already filtered into media and public schools on the peninsula.


You have to give the Polish government credit–it has a real talent for picking fights it doesn’t want and doesn’t need:

Israeli politicians accused Poland’s prime minister of anti-Semitism Saturday for equating the Polish perpetrators in the Holocaust to its supposed “Jewish perpetrators,” setting off a new chapter in an angry dispute over Poland’s new bill criminalizing the mention of Polish complicity in the Nazi-led genocide.


Yair Lapid, head of the centrist opposition Yesh Atid party, said Israel should recall its ambassador immediately in response to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s comments, which he called “anti-Semitism of the oldest kind.”

On Saturday, Morawiecki was trying to assure an Israeli reporter at the Munich Security Conference that a new law that makes it against the law to say that Poland participated in the Holocaust would not criminalize mentions individual “Polish perpetrators.” Instead of stopping there, he for some reason kept talking, and the next words that came out of his mouth were “just as there were Jewish perpetrators.” Of the Holocaust.

I’m beginning to think that Morawiecki isn’t the brightest bulb in the pack. Why say that? Nothing good is going to happen there. Sure enough, the Israeli government is outraged, people are drawing swastikas on the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv, and there’s a genuine question as to whether or not the head of the Polish government is a Holocaust denier. Which he probably isn’t, he’s probably just a dolt.


Viktor Orbán delivered his state of the nation address on Sunday and really let his freak flag fly:

“Christianity is Europe’s last hope,” Orban told an audience of party faithful at the foot of the Royal Castle in Budapest. With mass immigration, especially from Africa, “our worst nightmares can come true. The West falls as it fails to see Europe being overrun.”

Ah, OK, sounds sensible. Orbán wants to stop George Soros and the European Union, and probably the Illuminati and the Grays or whoever, from subverting Hungarian culture, which for him seems to just mean he wants to kick all the Jews and non-Whites out of the country. Classy guy, really. Now he wants to form a global alliance of white people against migration, which is going to be an especially neat trick when climate change starts forcing even more migration in the not too distant future.


Don’t look now, but French President Tinia Emmanuel Macron’s popularity is slipping. His approval rating is down to 44 percent, lower than it’s been since October.


Theresa May told the Munich Security Conference on Saturday that she wants to negotiate a new post-Brexit security treaty with the European Union post haste. And this is one aspect of Brexit that should go smoothly, since it really is in everybody’s interests to cooperate on security matters. But British squeamishness about the role of the European Court of Justice in UK affairs could wind up being a problem.



Bolivian authorities now believe that both of last week’s explosions in Oruro were deliberately caused by dynamite. They had previously believed that an explosion on February 10 was accidental, but a subsequent blast in almost the same place three days later raised new suspicions about the earlier incident. It’s not clear who carried out the attacks.


Evangelical celebrity Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz still leads handily in polling for Costa Rica’s April 1 presidential runoff, but his lead has narrowed slightly over the past week. Alvarado Muñoz leads his opponent, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, by a bit over 10 points (55.1 percent to 44.9 percent), but that’s down from around 14 percent the previous week.


Finally, the big message from the American delegation to the Munich Security Conference seemed to be, basically, that they should ignore the deranged moron in the Oval Office and his Twitter ravings:

Amid global anxiety about President Trump’s approach to world affairs, U.S. officials had a message for a gathering of Europe’s foreign policy elite this weekend: Pay no attention to the man tweeting behind the curtain.


U.S. lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — and top national security officials in the Trump administration offered the same advice publicly and privately, often clashing with Trump’s Twitter stream: The United States remains staunchly committed to its European allies, is furious with the Kremlin about election interference and isn’t contemplating a preemptive strike on North Korea to halt its nuclear program.


But Trump himself engaged in a running counterpoint to the message, taking aim on social media at his own national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, because he “forgot” on Saturday to tell the Munich Security Conference that the results of the 2016 election weren’t affected by Russian interference, a conclusion that is not supported by U.S. intelligence agencies. They say they will probably never be able to determine whether the Russian involvement swung the election toward Trump.

Of course, unless these people are all prepared to engage in a coup if Trump wakes up one morning and decides to, I don’t know, launch ICBMs at Bhutan or something, then Trump really can’t be ignored no matter how much they might wish it could be so.

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