Europe/Americas update: September 18 2018

G’mar Tov to those who are observing Yom Kippur.

EUROPE

GERMANY

Because he’s by all accounts heavily in the bag for the Nazi-lite Alternative for Germany party, the now former head of the country’s BfV domestic spying agency, Hans-Georg Maaßen, was promoted on Tuesday to a higher position within the interior ministry. While this is a clear case of promoting somebody in order to stick him in a less consequential position without making a stink about it, he’s still making more money tomorrow than he did yesterday. Hell, I’ll go to Germany and be racist if that’s how they treat it over there.

ITALY

Italy’s tenuous Five Star-League governing coalition may already be circling its first real crisis. Five Star boss and Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio allegedly hinted on Tuesday that Economy Minister Giovanni Tria should resign if he’s not going to find a way to boost welfare spending next year, though Di Maio later denied that, sort of. Tria was chosen as economy minister because he supports a flat tax in line with the League’s preferences, but boosting welfare spending was a core Five Star demand going into the coalition government. If Tria doesn’t find some money for that priority and Five Star does come for his job, the League may try to defend him.

FRANCE

Emmanuel Macron’s interior minister and close ally, Gérard Collomb, is reportedly quitting his post next year to run for mayor of Lyon in 2020. This is a perfectly normal thing and should not be taken as a sign that President Jupiter’s buddies are jumping ship with his popularity rating hovering somewhere around “relatively contained yellow fever outbreak.” I’m sure that, say, Mike Pompeo would happily give up the State Department for a chance to be mayor of Wichita, Kansas.

AMERICAS

VENEZUELA

Look, I’ve never had to run a country, let alone one whose economy is falling apart and whose people are living in abject misery most of the time. So I couldn’t begin to tell Nicolás Maduro what he should do. But I think I can tell him some things that he shouldn’t do–like, say, this:

Video of Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro eating in an upscale steak restaurant in Turkey has caused outrage in crisis-hit Venezuela.

The images show Turkish celebrity chef Nusret Gokce, also known as “Salt Bae” carving meat in front of the president and his wife, Cilia Flores, at Gokce’s Nusr-Et restaurant in Istanbul.

Almost two-thirds of Venezuelans have reported losing weight as shortages of food worsened in recent years.

Red meat is especially scarce.

Yeah, I mean, that’s just not going to be well-received.

Maduro now says he may not attend the United Nations General Assembly session, which technically started on Tuesday but will really pick up later this week and into next week, because he might be killed. I think? It’s unclear whether he thinks he’ll be whacked in New York or when he gets back home–Maduro also says that ex-military officers are plotting with the US to overthrow his government, which to be fair is almost certainly true.

COLOMBIA

The New York Times reports on the “hundreds, if not thousands” of ex-FARC fighters who, either for their own protection or because they became disillusioned with FARC’s peace deal with the Colombian government, have already returned to guerrilla warfare:

The peace accords signed in 2016 by then-President Juan Manuel Santos and the rebels were meant to bring an end to five decades of fighting that left at least 220,000 dead and nearly 6 million people displaced from their homes.

Behind the agreement, though, loomed a fear: That many of the thousands of fighters granted amnesty under the pact might sour on civilian life and pick up arms again.

It has already happened.

“We doing the same work, we have the same ideals — and we’ll charge ahead, God willing,” said one of the commanders, who is 25 and goes by the alias Maicol.

UNITED STATES

Finally, the Polish government wants to entice isolationist US President Donald Trump to permanently station US soldiers in Poland as protection against any potential Russian funny business. Their plan, according to Polish President Andrzej Duda, is to build a military base for US personnel that will be called “Kamp Krusty” “Comet Ping Pong Pizza Base” “Fort Trump.” Good one, guys. Slate’s Joshua Keating explains why this is dumb. It’s not so much that Trump doesn’t respond to flattery–on the contrary, he’s a sucker for it–as it is that his “I don’t really know what I’m doing from one minute to the next” style of governance usually winds up hurting the countries that bend over backwards to get on his good side:

The track record for leaders who’ve tried to flatter and cajole their way into Trump’s affections is mixed. Through frequent phone calls and golf games, Shinzo Abe had supposedly wheedled his way into one of the closest relationships with Trump of any world leader. And still, Japan has found itself marginalized in North Korea talks, on the receiving end of Trump’s trade attacks, and subject to insulting tirades. “I remember Pearl Harbor,” Trump reportedly, and nonsensically, told Abe during a meeting this summer. South Korea’s Moon Jae-in has gone out of his way to give Trump credit for the diplomatic opening with the North, even suggesting he could win a Nobel Peace Prize. And yet, the U.S. has continually wrong-footed the South Koreans, and Trump has continued to denigrate them as freeloaders on U.S. trade deals and defense guarantees. Emmanuel Macron, who impressed Trump with a Bastille Day parade in 2017, was supposedly a “Trump-whisperer” engaged in a “Bromance” with the U.S. president. It didn’t stop Trump from pulling out of the Iran deal or the Paris Climate Accord. China pulled out all the stops for Trump’s lavish state visit last fall, and while Trump seems to have been genuinely impressed by the display, and frequently refers to his good relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, that dynamic hasn’t prevented Trump from escalating a trade war.

The one big exception to this pattern, and Keating notes that the reviews from North Korea and Russia are both pretty mixed as well, is Saudi Arabia. The Saudis spared no expense making Trump feel like a big boy ruler on his first overseas trip last year, and he’s been at their beck and call ever since. He’s been uniformly pro-Israel as well but I think that’s less Israeli flattery than it is Trump surrounding himself with a bunch of Likudniks. So it’s really the Saudis who hit the jackpot here. And yet I can easily imagine some random thing happening to turn Trump on the Saudis as well, because that’s just how he is. He has no object permanence, both figuratively and literally.

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