World update: February 22 2018

Lots going on here today so I’m going to try to get through everything in one post.



The Turkish government expects to start facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to Afrin just as soon as it takes that enclave from the YPG. Which should happen, uh, any day now, I’m sure. I guess. Well, maybe not today:

Militias loyal to the Syrian government swept into the northwestern enclave of Afrin on Thursday in support of Kurdish militias, reclaiming the territory and stealing a march on Turkish forces that have been battling toward the city for nearly a month.


Television broadcasts and social media postings showed crowds celebrating in the main square of the city of Afrin, waving flags and holding posters of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is imprisoned in Turkey on terrorism charges.

Russian and Syrian government officials reportedly met with YPG leadership to hash out a deal for Afrin on Wednesday. That may explain why the Kurds reportedly handed the Sheikh Maqsoud area in northern Aleppo over to the Syrian army on Thursday.

After Thursday’s fighting, somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 civilians have reportedly been killed in Eastern Ghouta since Sunday. The UN Security Council was considering imposing a humanitarian ceasefire for Eastern Ghouta, but Russia has made it clear that it’s going to veto the resolution currently being circulated. Its UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, characterized reports of civilian casualties there as “mass psychosis” and “information warfare.”


Israeli security forces were filmed shooting and then beating a Palestinian man to death in Jericho on Thursday. The Israelis claim he attempted to attack the soldiers with a knife and was shot in self defense. I guess the beating was calisthenics.


Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, told an audience at Chatham House on Thursday that even if Donald Trump continues to waive US sanctions, Iran may withdraw from the nuclear deal if major banks don’t start doing business with Iranian firms. Banking restrictions were among the harshest sanctions the US imposed on Iran prior to the nuclear agreement, but Western banks have been loathe to reengage with Iran due to fears of running afoul of non-nuclear sanctions that are still in place, and due to the uncertainty created by Trump’s hostility toward the deal. This has limited the economic benefit Iran was supposed to get from the agreement.

Iran has started planning to put nuclear reactors on naval vessels, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. It would likely take years for the Iranian navy to really work out the kinks, but doing so would likely necessitate breaking the nuclear deal’s restrictions on Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles and the level to which it is allowed to enrich that uranium. It’s likely that the Iranians are intending this statement to the IAEA to be a threat to the US about what might happen if the nuclear deal were abrogated.



Eight police officers and four Afghan intelligence officials were killed in two separate attacks on Wednesday night and Thursday. On Wednesday night, Taliban fighters attacked a police station in Ghazni province with heavy weaponry, while on Thursday unknown gunmen ambushed the intelligence officials’ vehicle in Parwan province.


Pakistani officials say that Indian sniper fire across Kashmir’s line of control killed a laborer on the Pakistani side of the border on Thursday.


Though the Maldivian political crisis seems to have quieted down at the geopolitical level (inside the Maldives is another story), it’s still a worrisome potential flashpoint. The Indian government is concerned about losing influence in a near-abroad country to China, and it’s further concerned that a weak response could shift the Asian balance of power in Beijing’s direction.



Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is refusing to step down as leader of the National Party despite growing calls for him to do so in the wake of revelations that the married family values scold has been sleeping with a former staffer. Polls show that two-thirds of Australians want Joyce to go away. just resigned as National Party leader (and thus as deputy PM), so forget all of that stuff I wrote there. It seems the final straw was the revelation of a new harassment allegation against him. Joyce will remain in parliament, thus preserving Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s one-seat parliamentary majority (76 seats in a 150 seat legislature).



More terrible news about that Boko Haram raid in Dapchi earlier this week. After learning that dozens, perhaps more than 100, schoolgirls were likely abducted in that raid, contrary to initial reports, on Wednesday news broke that 76 of them had been rescued by Nigerian forces. That now also turns out to have been fake news. The governor of Nigeria’s Yobe state, whose office reported the news of the rescue, said on Thursday that there had in fact been no rescue and that all the girls were still missing. There’s still some confusion as to how many girls went missing but a roll call at their school on Tuesday showed 91 absences so that seems to be a reasonable starting point. Parents are understandably furious and demanding answers, both as to the whereabouts of their daughters and why the phony rescue report was made on Wednesday. The Dapchi attack is believed to have been carried about by Abu Musab al-Barnawi’s Boko Haram faction, the one still officially linked with ISIS.


The US military says it undertook another drone strike in Somalia on Wednesday, this time killing four al-Shabab fighters in the country’s southernmost Lower Juba province.


The Seychelles has come up with a novel way to retire some of its national debt–it’s selling parts of its territorial waters to conservationists. The investors agree to pay off the debt and the Seychelles government agrees to limit fishing and tourism in part of its waters–an area about 210,000 square kilometers in size at last check–and to put part of its annual debt maintenance payments into maintaining that zone. The goal is to protect 30 percent of the archipelago nation’s waters by 2020, including areas that are home to some of the Indian Ocean’s most endangered species.


Several Congolese refugees were reportedly killed on Thursday in more clashes with Rwandan police. The refugees left their camp to protest against ration cuts at the UNHCR office in Karongi. Rwandan authorities say that they were ordered to disperse by police but refused and began throwing rocks and then the next thing you know some of them just up and died or something, I guess. One assumes they chose to elide the part where the police responded with live ammunition.


Africa Is a Country looks at both the corruption of now ex-President Jacob Zuma and the more unsavory aspects of his replacement, Cyril Ramaphosa:

While Ramaphosa is certainly preferable to Zuma and if he accomplishes his stated goals of stabilizing the economy, purging the state of its parasitic elements and restoring broken institutions to operational readiness it will be to the benefit of all South Africa, but that does not mean the left should not make a strong critique of Ramaphosa.


Ramaphosa once led South Africa’s then largest union, the National Union of Mineworkers, through the most violent and politically unstable period in South Africa’s history. He faced off against a murderous racist government, but he traded all the political capital he earned from the worker’s struggle for actual capital to become filthy rich. Ramaphosa has a personal fortune estimated at over $450 million. His defenders trot out the old line, “because he is rich already, he can’t be bought,” but the examples of Donald Trump, Silvio Berlusconi, Mauricio Macri and many others show this is sort of logic is pathetic fantasy. Indeed his rise to immense wealth wasn’t so much due to his abilities as a businessman, but rather because the ANC “deployed” him to the private sector and South Africa’s white captains of industry decided he was a man they could do business with. As a result he was catapulted into the boardrooms of such mega corporations as McDonalds and Coca-Cola. His coziness with such interests are cause for concern. While Ramaphosa might not introduce the same sort of parasitic approach to governance as Zuma, he is unlikely to prove himself to be a friend to workers and the poor.


His involvement in the Marikana Massacre is either downplayed — “he just sent an email” — or ignored altogether. His own relative silence over the last few years over Zuma’s worst excesses has been excused as just politicking.



A Yugoslav army veteran threw a grenade over the fence at the US embassy in Podgorica late Wednesday night and then blew himself up. No one else was injured in the blasts and at this point it doesn’t appear he was working with anyone else.


Members of the Basque separatist group ETA may be about to take a vote on whether to dissolve the group altogether over the summer. ETA declared a ceasefire in its more than 50 year militant campaign in 2010, then a full cessation of hostilities the following year. It disarmed last year and so it’s not entirely clear what purpose it still serves.


After having met with her closest advisers on Thursday, British Prime Minister Theresa May plans to lay out “the way forward” for Brexit next week. Advanced number theorists estimate that this will be roughly the 1700th time May has laid out a way forward for Brexit since the process began last year, and in all likelihood it won’t be any more coherent than any of the previous 1699 attempts. The European Union, in case you were wondering, seems to be rejecting yet another British proposal for the post-Brexit transition period that amounts to “just let London have whatever it wants and ignore the stuff it doesn’t like.” It seems exceedingly unlikely that the Brits are going to finally get the message this time.



Nicolás Maduro wants to reschedule Venezuela’s 2020 parliamentary election to coincide with its presidential election in April. With the Venezuelan opposition mostly in tatters at this point and likely to boycott the presidential race, Maduro would be banking on his people winning a majority in the legislature, which is currently controlled by the opposition though its authority has been totally stripped away by the Maduro ally-controlled Constituent Assembly, and giving him control of every lever of power in Venezuela.


H.R. McMaster may be on his way out of the White House. I’m sure he must be terribly disappointed. The administration would like to find a four-star gig in the army into which it could “promote” McMaster, but there’s a decent chance the army won’t take him back now that he has Trump stink all over him.

Finally, John Feffer examines majoritarianism, the idea that binds Donald Trump and other right wing authoritarian nationalists around the world, from Narendra Modi to Benjamin Netanyahu to Vladimir Putin:

The U.S.-India love connection, which predates Trump, is based on mutual economic interest and similar concerns about Pakistan and China. But Trump and Modi bring something else to the equation. Both leaders share a personalistic, business-friendly governing style best captured by Modi’s phrase “minimum government, maximum governance.”


But there’s another, underlying similarity. Trump is borrowing a page from Modi’s book on how to advance majoritarian politics in a multiethnic country.


“Majoritarianism insists on different tiers of citizenship,” writes Mukul Kesavan in The New York Review of Books. “Members of the majority faith and culture are viewed as the nation’s true citizens. The rest are courtesy citizens, guests of the majority, expected to behave well and deferentially.”

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