Europe/Americas update: September 21 2018

EUROPE

RUSSIA

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday effectively accused the US of using sanctions policy as a way to force other countries to buy US weapons. And hey, I know it’s Russia and we hate them now or whatever, but he’s got a pretty strong case.

ROMANIA

Romanian Social Democratic Party boss Liviu Dragnea survived a party leadership vote on Friday. There’s been a growing number of people within the party calling for Dragnea to step down and take his highly unpopular anti-anti-corruption crusade with him, and in an olive branch to them Dragnea promised to stop exerting so much influence over the Romanian government. Dragnea is barred from serving as prime minister because of a past corruption conviction and is currently appealing another corruption conviction, and after the vote he promised to “destroy” the Romanian Deep State, which he basically defines as all the people responsible for prosecuting him.

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

Lavrov visited Bosnia on Friday in what was basically a campaign appearance for Kremlin-friendly Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik, who is running for the Serb seat on Bosnia’s three-person presidential council. Lavrov, however, stressed Russia’s support for Bosnian unity, whereas Dodik is open about his desire for Republika Srpska’s eventual independence.

UNITED KINGDOM

British Prime Minister Theresa May had a powerful message for her Brexit plan’s critics in the European Union on Friday:

Wait, no, I’m sorry, that was the summary of her remarks. In her actual remarks she, uh, used more words:

Going on the offensive, she blamed EU leaders for the “impasse” in negotiations, a phrase that spooked the currency markets and led sterling to fall 1.5% against the dollar, its biggest one day drop this year.

Speaking from a lectern with two union flags behind her, May tried to accuse her counterparts of bad faith: “I have treated the EU with nothing but respect. The UK expects the same. A good relationship at the end of this process depends on it.”

Her remarks came a day after the Salzburg summit where EU leaders frustrated by May’s insistence on sticking rigidly to her controversial Chequers negotiating plan embarrassed her when the EU council president, Donald Tusk, unexpectedly declared it “would not work”.

May retaliated on Friday: “Yesterday, Donald Tusk said our proposals would undermine the single market. He didn’t explain how in any detail or make any counter-proposal. So we are at an impasse.” She called on the EU to spell out “what their alternative is”.

I don’t know if May needs this written down for her in big letters or what, but the EU doesn’t need to have an alternative. They can let the UK walk with no deal because that’s going to hurt Britain more than it hurts the EU. Indeed they have an incentive to do so because it will make the next country hedging on its EU membership think twice about bolting.

Nevertheless, the EU has consistently offered May two alternatives: a free trade agreement a la Canada or membership in the European Economic Area a la Norway. These have been on the table literally since the UK voted to leave the EU. The latter is unacceptable to the pro-Brexit crowd because it means continued free movement of people and that means too many icky continentals or worse roaming around Britain. The former is a no-go in part because it would mean either a return to a hard Irish border or the institution of customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. But it’s also unacceptable to Britain’s hilariously anachronistic self image, under which it is perpetually 1870 and the EU should be so desperate to maintain any economic contact with the mighty British Empire that it will simply rewrite all of its rules to appease London.

May and her cabinet are now left sputtering about respect and insisting that they’re going to “hold their nerve” and that it’s up to the EU to “engage” with what May has offered. Anybody who’s seen The Godfather Part II knows what happened to Fredo after he demanded respect. Something similar is probably about to happen to the Tories’ fantasy of a special bespoke Brexit deal.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

If you’re wondering who in their right mind could possibly support open fascist Jair Bolsonaro–the frontrunner in polling for next month’s presidential election–here they are:

The Brazilian backlash came after the embassy posted a video on Twitter, in which it sought to explain Berlin’s approach to remembering the Holocaust. “The Germans don’t hide their past. Learn how to teach history in Germany,” the embassy’s caption read. The video, however, came in the midst of a deeply divided presidential campaign.

After one commentator appeared to question whether the Holocaust had ever happened, the embassy felt obliged to clarify: “The Holocaust is a historical fact, with evidence and witnesses that can be found in many places in Europe.”

The original video itself drew a direct link between Germany’s contemporary far right and concerns that some of its ideology is based on right-wing extremist Nazi thoughts from the World War II era. Some Brazilian far-right supporters then appeared to regard the embassy’s association of Nazis with the right wing as slanderous.

VENEZUELA

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Friday that the United States is ready to Do Something About Venezuela:

“You’ll see in the coming days a series of actions that continue to increase the pressure level against the Venezuelan leadership folks, who are working directly against the best interest of the Venezuelan people,” Pompeo said. “We’re determined to ensure that the Venezuelan people get their say.”

Presumably this will be more sanctions. Folks, we’re so committed to ensuring that the Venezuelan people are free from Nicolás Maduro’s tyranny that we’re prepared to see every last one of them starve to death if that’s what it takes. God Bless America.

MEXICO

Incoming Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has no interest in continuing to handle US immigration policy the way Enrique Peña Nieto has been for the past five-plus years. And that probably means he’s not going to get along very well with Donald Trump:

The flow of Central American migrants through Mexico and into the United States — a matter of intense personal and political interest to the U.S. president — is on the rise again, defying Trump’s attempts to crack down at the border. Stopping migrants and asylum seekers through tougher enforcement is a priority for the Trump administration. López Obrador and his team have a different take.

“We are not going to chase migrants. We are not going to criminalize them,” said Alejandro Encinas, the incoming undersecretary in Mexico’s ministry in charge of immigration. “We have to stop looking at immigration as an issue of public security or national security, or the national security of the United States.”

Those sentiments echoed statements made by López Obrador during the presidential campaign, when he said Mexico had been doing Washington’s “dirty work” by catching Central Americans “fleeing violence and misery.”

UNITED STATES

Folks, so many people have said to me, The Cyber–and it’s really such a powerful thing, The Cyber, have you seen what they can do, I’ve had people tell me–and they tell me a lot of things, but this is one thing they do tell me–we have The Cyber to so many things, and so powerfully and in such a devastating way. But also troubling. From a danger perspective The Cyber is very, very dangerous, many people have said this and it really seems to be more and more:

The White House took a first step this week to fulfill President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to launch “crippling, crippling” cyberattacks on adversaries to protect U.S. computer systems, unveiling a new strategy that will allow the United States to take the offensive in cyberspace. But experts warn that the new cyber strategy risks exposing the United States to blowback and turning the internet into a Wild West of hacking operations.

In rolling out the administration’s new “National Cyber Strategy,” National Security Advisor John Bolton said that Trump had removed restrictions on the use of offensive cyber-operations and replaced them with a more permissive legal regime that gives the Defense Department and other agencies greater authority to penetrate foreign networks to deter hacks on U.S. systems.

“Our hands are not tied as they were in the Obama administration,” Bolton said.

Bolton described the new authority as part of an effort to “create powerful deterrence structures that persuade the adversary not to strike in the first place.” Decision-making for launching some attacks will be moved down the chain of command; previously, offensive cyber-operations generally required the approval of the president. Those envisioned in the new policy will include both offensive and defensive actions, only some of which may be made public, Bolton said.

Anyway you might want to make sure your firewalls are updated, because the chances of this new policy having a positive outcome are pretty slim.

Author: DWD

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