Europe/Americas update: May 9 2018


Having yet again been treated to the back of Donald Trump’s hand, the European Union is scrambling to try to salvage the Iran nuclear deal–but it sounds like it’s going to be a tough sales job:

A day after the US president broke with the landmark 2015 agreement and warned he would seek to hit European businesses that continued to trade with Tehran, the EU vowed to take steps to immunise firms from any US sanctions.


Foreign ministers aim to reassure Tehran that the nuclear deal is salvageable at a meeting currently slated for Monday in London which they are expecting their Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif to attend.


In a phone call on Wednesday between Emmanuel Macron and Rouhani, the French president stressed his willingness “to continue enforcing the Iran nuclear agreement in all respects”, the Elysée said in a statement. The statement added that Macron had “underlined the importance that Iran do the same”.


The Iranian Students’ News Agency quoted Rouhani as telling Macron: “Under the current conditions, Europe has a very limited opportunity to preserve the nuclear deal, and must, as quickly as possible, clarify its position and specify and announce its intentions with regard to its obligations.”

European Council on Foreign Relations fellow Ellie Geranmayeh believes it would be a mistake for the Europeans to cling to the idea that they can talk Trump back into the deal:

The E3 should now acknowledge that its negotiating tactic of accommodation and comprise with Trump has failed. If Europe is to have any influence forthcoming US policy on Iran, European governments should quickly shift tack, unifying behind a more assertive diplomatic strategy aimed at deterring the worst-case scenario of renewed Iranian nuclear program and more instability and violence in a region close to its borders.


European governments are clearly tempted to think that the delays in implementation of sanctions mean they still have time to persuade the US president to reverse course. But the US president has acted on his promise to fully withdraw from the deal. He is now supported in that view by key advisors who have long advocated a forceful stand against Iran, not just on the nuclear deal but also in terms of encouraging regime change in Iran. It should now be abundantly clear that the current US administration cannot be a partner in salvaging the deal.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Trump’s decision to violate the deal was a humiliation for Washington’s European allies, particularly after so many of them spent weeks cajoling Trump not to do what he did on Tuesday. It’s the latest in a pattern of humiliations, from Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement to his tariffs to his efforts to undercut years of European diplomatic efforts on the Israel-Palestine situation, not to mention the assortment of offensive tweets and assholish behavior in general. But because Trump is the president of the United States, and not the president of, I don’t know, Luxembourg, he’s able to get away with all of it.


Speaking of humiliations, here’s Donald Trump’s new ambassador to Germany acting more like Donald Trump’s governor of Germany:

As you might expect, Grenell’s royal diktat didn’t go over so well with the Germans, who for some reason seem to think that they don’t take orders from the United States. Oh well. I guess when you appoint a Fox News personality to an important diplomatic post you have to expect a few challenges along the way.


At pretty much the literal eleventh hour, Italy’s fragmented political parties finally appear to have made real progress on forming a government. Unfortunately, that government, if it’s formed, is going to include the fascists. The Five Star Movement and the far-right League broke the ice on Wednesday, a day before Italian President Sergio Mattarella was set to roll the dice and appoint a caretaker prime minister to get the country through the rest of the year. Mattarella had been expected to name that person on Wednesday but agreed to hold off for a day to give the League and Five Star one more crack at negotiations.

The big break came when former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi agreed to break up the center-right coalition he’d formed with the League, freeing that party up to negotiate with Five Star (which won’t have anything to do with Berlusconi) on its own. There’s no guarantee that Five Star and the League are going to be able to agree to terms on a coalition arrangement, of course, but Italy is closer to a government now than it has been at any time since its election in March.



Nicolás Maduro is promising to win Venezuela’s presidential election on May 20 and then to take on the “oligarchs” whom he accuses of raising prices in the run up to the election in an effort to hurt his reelection chances. He says they’ll get their “comeuppance” after his victory. So that sounds like fun.


A Mexican army unit was ambushed on Tuesday in Guerrero state, presumably by a drug gang, and three soldiers were killed.


Where to begin, really. Well, I guess we could start with Donald Trump’s forthcoming Nobel Peace Prize, which he would never say he deserves even though “everyone thinks” he does and he did say that:

Trump was asked by a reporter at the White House if he’s deserving of the prize after news broke Wednesday that three American men who had been imprisoned by North Korea were on their way home to the United States.


“Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it,” said Trump, who is preparing to meet face-to-face with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in coming weeks, as part of a bid to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.


“You know what I want to do?” Trump said to reporters. “I want to get it finished. The prize I want is victory for the world — not for even here — I want victory for the world. Because that’s what we’re talking about, so that’s the only prize I want.”

What a guy!

Then there’s Gina Haspel’s CIA Director confirmation hearing, which went about how you’d have expected, with Democrats who will mostly wind up voting for her anyway trying and failing to get her to take a firm position on torture. Marcy Wheeler summed up their efforts pretty succinctly:

I expected to dislike Gina Haspel, but be impressed with her competence (the same view I always had about John Brennan). But she did not come off as competent in her confirmation hearing, in large part because the lies surrounding her career cannot be sustained.


Let’s start with the questions she didn’t answer (usually offering a non-responsive rehearsed answer instead). She refused to say:


  • Whether she believes, with the benefit of hindsight, torture was immoral.
  • If a terrorist tortured a CIA officer, whether that would be immoral.
  • Whether the torture program was consistent with American values.
  • Whether she oversaw the torture of Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri.
  • Whether she was in a role supervising torture before she became Jose Rodriguez’ Chief of Staff.
  • Whether she pushed to keep the torture program between 2005 and 2007 (see that question here).
  • Whether she would recuse from declassification decisions relating to her nomination.
  • Whether Dan Coats should oversee declassification decisions regarding her nomination.
  • Whether she has been alone with President Trump.
  • Whether she would tell Congress if he asked her for a loyalty oath.


She also answered that she didn’t think torture worked, but then hedged and said she couldn’t say that because we got evidence from it.

She’ll be a perfect CIA director.

But I think I want to leave you with the somehow oddly comforting knowledge that yet another extravagantly expensive bit of defense contractor welfare new US military platform isn’t working:

The Gerald R. Ford, the U.S. Navy’s costliest warship, suffered a new failure at sea that forced it back to port and raised fresh questions about the new class of aircraft carriers.


The previously undisclosed problem with a propulsion system bearing, which occurred in January but has yet to be remedied, comes as the Navy is poised to request approval from a supportive Congress to expedite a contract for a fourth carrier in what was to have been a three-ship class. It’s part of a push to expand the Navy’s 284-ship fleet to 355 as soon as the mid-2030s.


It was the second failure in less than a year with a “main thrust bearing” that’s part of the $12.9 billion carrier’s propulsion system. The first occurred in April 2017, during sea trials a month before the vessel’s delivery. The ship, built by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., has been sailing in a shakedown period to test systems and work out bugs. It’s now scheduled to be ready for initial combat duty in 2022.

“Oh, I’m sorry, you wanted this $13 billion aircraft carrier to actually be seaworthy? Wow, to be honest we hadn’t factored this into our cost estimates. But I have good news! Our engineers are pretty sure they can upgrade this line so that the ships can move forward in water. That feature should be available in update 27.6, due out in 2054, and it’ll only cost another $9 billion per vessel. How many should we put you down for?”

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