Europe/Americas update: July 20 2018

EUROPE

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Friday that European militaries need to “unify systems” in the coming years in order to reduce inefficiencies in defense spending on the continent. A case in point: both Britain and a Franco-German partnership are working on competing next generation fighter projects instead of collaborating their efforts, though to be fair neither project has the funding it needs and they could decide to combine their efforts after Brexit. Or everybody could bag it and just hop on the F-35 bandwagon. European countries seem to be excited about the potential for integrating the F-35’s high tech sensors into their militaries, though conspicuously nobody yet seems to be praising the combat aircraft’s ability to, you know, do combat stuff.

RUSSIA

Vladimir Putin says the Kremlim’s extremely unpopular plan to raise the eligibility age for state pensions will be reviewed, while insisting that some reform of the country’s pension program is necessary. The current idea to raise the eligibility age is so unpopular that it appears to be dragging Putin’s own once-sky high approval rating down.

Russia’s Interfax news agency reported on Friday that Putin is “ready to discuss” Donald Trump’s offer to host him at the White House. Trump apparently extended the offer during their summit in Helsinki earlier this week.

UKRAINE

The Trump administration, meanwhile, said on Friday that it has rejected an offer from Putin to hold a referendum (presumably an independence referendum) in breakaway eastern Ukraine. The administration says that any referendum held “in a part of Ukraine which is not under government control would have no legitimacy.”

POLAND

The lower house of Poland’s parliament has overwhelmingly passed a new measure that would make it easier for the government to replace Małgorzata Gersdorf, the chief justice of Poland’s Supreme Court. Gersdorf was ousted in a controversial measure earlier this month that arbitrarily lowered the mandatory retirement age for Polish judges, but she’s refused to leave her post. The new measure, which is also expected to pass the Polish Senate easily, allows for a replacement to be named when only 80 of the court’s 120 justices have been seated. Right now the threshold is 110 justices.

HUNGARY

The next time Benjamin Netanyahu accuses anyone of antisemitism, we should all probably note the ease with which he has befriended some of Europe’s most reactionary, antisemitic governments in the name of political expediency. This week he hosted Hungary’s Viktor Orbán in Israel in what was a thoroughly nauseating display of two paunchy far right goons scratching each other’s backs in public:

Orban may be a black sheep in Brussels, but to Netanyahu he’s a kindred spirit. The Israeli prime minister, a fellow right-wing nationalist, shares the Hungarian’s affinity for President Trump and antipathy toward the custodians of the liberal order in Europe — including figures such as Soros. When Netanyahu faced an international backlash, led by American Jews, against his plans to deport tens of thousands of African asylum seekers, he blamed the liberal financier for the criticism. His son once posted a neo-fascist, anti-Soros meme on social media.

Netanyahu, to the ire of many Israelis, signed a joint statement with Poland’s right-wing government this month softening Israel’s stance toward a divisive new law passed in Warsaw that criminalizes certain criticism of Poland’s role in the Nazi genocide of Europe’s Jews. Netanyahu also gave something of a pass to Orban for his comments praising Horthy.

As Haaretz journalist Anshel Pfeffer writes, Netanyahu is courting nationalists in Eastern and Central Europe to blunt E.U. criticism of Israel’s provocative moves at home, from its perennial expansion of West Bank settlements to new laws passed this week that prioritize Jewish-only communities, downgrade the status of Arabic, and limit Palestinian access to the nation’s highest court.

GERMANY

Merkel also told reporters on Friday that she “will carry on cultivating” Germany’s relationship with the United States despite the “strong pressure” it’s under on account of how she and Trump pretty much despise one another. She also noted, however, that Europe “can’t rely” on the United States for protection or to keep order, and criticized recent US trade practices.

FRANCE

Alexandre Benalla, one of Emmanuel Macron’s personal security team, is in French custody now after video surfaced of him cosplaying as a riot police officer and beating protesters during a May Day demonstration in Paris. Macron has also sacked him, a move that took him far too long to make. Another one of Macron’s bodyguards, Vincent Crase, has also been arrested because apparently he joined in on the beatings. Later in the day it turned out that Macron’s administration knew about Benalla’s actions on May Day and chose to suspend him for 15 days without informing French authorities. And they gave Benalla a swanky new apartment only 10 days ago. With Macron’s polling numbers sinking to begin with, this scandal could be a serious blow to his administration.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

Centrist pro-business candidate Geraldo Alckmin’s presidential campaign got some help on Friday when a coalition of five centrist parties agreed to support him in October’s presidential election. Right now Alckmin is polling in fourth place behind far-right frontrunner, Jair Bolsonaro, environmentalist Marina Silva, and businessman Josué Gomes, but under this centrist arrangement Gomes would become Alckmin’s running mate so in theory they could combine their support. Bolsonaro is the leader but he’s only polling in the high teens, so the race is still very much up for grabs. Having the backing of the centrist coalition would also give Alckmin some extra advantages in terms of public campaign financing and media airtime. Alckmin’s platform amounts to continuing incumbent Michel Temer’s extremely unpopular austerity economic program without Temer’s extremely unpopular systemic corruption program, so that should be awesome.

COLOMBIA

Several former members of the FARC rebel group took their seats in parliament on Friday under the terms of the peace deal they reached with the Colombian government. Incoming President Ivan Duque campaigned on unwinding that deal and requiring ex-rebels to make some restitution for crimes against the state before they can serve in the legislature, but it’s unclear whether he’ll really be able to make any substantive changes to an agreement that now seems to be a fait accompli.

NICARAGUA

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega says that the protesters who have been demanding his resignation since April are all part of a “murderous, coup-mongering satanic sect.” Just a perfectly normal way to respond to dissidents, nothing to see there. In a speech on Thursday, Ortega blamed the United States for trying to remove him from power, which true or not is definitely a strong political tactic at the moment. Ortega wants to portray himself as the victim of a far right conspiracy who is defending Nicaragua’s silent majority against reactionary thugs. That there’s no real evidence to back this story up is somewhat irrelevant. Ortega’s violent crackdown on the opposition has forced it underground, but its leaders have pledged to make a comeback.

UNITED STATES

The Trump administration has given itself a giant loophole that will allow it to sell weapons legally to governments that routinely use them to kill civilians:

When it was issued in April, the Trump administration’s Conventional Arms Transfer policy was widely panned by critics for prioritizing the profits of weapons companies ahead of transparency and human rights concerns. The White House was blunt about its intentions, promising that the executive branch would “advocate strongly on behalf of United States companies.”

But one change in particular may make it easier for American companies to sell weapons to governments that routinely kill civilians in conflicts by discounting killings that the governments claim are unintentional. The change could have a significant impact on sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — the top two U.S. weapons clients — both of which are engaged in a destructive bombing campaign in Yemen.

The loophole hinges on the insertion of one word in a section that is otherwise identical to the Obama administration’s conventional arms policy, which was issued in 2014. While the previous policy prohibited arms transfers to countries that perpetrate “attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians,” the Trump administration policy bars such transfers to countries that commit “attacks intentionally directed against civilian objects or civilians” (emphasis added).

Finally, Stephen Walt offers a pretty solid explanation as to why the US foreign policy establishment’s complaints about Donald Trump are mostly being ignored by the US public:

The main reason, I suspect, is that the elite foreign-policy establishment doesn’t have a lot of credibility anymore. After all, this bipartisan caste of national security managers are responsible for open-ended NATO expansion, which did not make Europe a reliable “zone of peace”; mishandled the Kosovo War; failed to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks; either conceived, supported, or went along with the invasion of Iraq; have continued to back the 17-years-and-counting-quagmire in Afghanistan; bungled assorted interventions in Libya, Yemen, and Syria; repeatedly mismanaged the Middle East peace process; and have presided over an ever-expanding and apparently endless “war on terror.” Some of these folks also approved the illegal surveillance of Americans, the torture and targeted killings of foreigners (some of them innocent civilians), and any number of other crimes or follies. The credibility of this elite was further tarnished by the 2008 financial crisis and their failure to recognize that globalization and rising inequality were leaving many people behind and were bound to provoke a powerful backlash.

To make matters worse, most members of this elite refused to hold themselves or their friends accountable for all of these failures. Instead, both Democratic liberal interventionists and Republican neoconservatives kept insisting that the United States had the right, the responsibility, and the wisdom to spread its values far and wide and that there was no alternative to their ambitious strategy of liberal hegemony. With a few notable exceptions, most of these folks have never acknowledged their past errors or shown that they’ve learned from their mistakes.

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Author: DWD

writer, blogger, lover, fighter

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