Europe/Americas update: March 14-15 2019



It’s nice to see Polish media keeping it classy:

A Polish-language weekly, Only Poland, was reportedly spotted at Poland’s Parliament on Wednesday with a front-page offering to inform readers “How to spot a Jew.”

Listed were markers such as “Names, anthropological features, expressions, appearances, character traits, methods of operation” and “disinformation activities.”

The list of supposedly Jewish traits was accompanied on the front page by a headline reading “Attack on Poland at a conference in Paris,” a reference to a Holocaust conference held in Paris last month. The article ran with a photo of Jan Gross, the Polish and Jewish Princeton scholar who wrote “Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland,” the seminal text on a massacre of the Jewish people of Jedwabne by their non-Jewish neighbors during the Nazi occupation in Poland. In 1996, Gross was the recipient of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland; in 2016, the ruling party, Law and Justice, considered stripping him of the award.

Only Poland is apparently a fringey newspaper, but still. Anyway I can’t imagine why anybody might think there’s an antisemitism problem in Eastern and Central Europe. It’s a complete mystery.


Bosnian authorities say they’re investigating claims that Croatian intelligence officers have been trying to recruit Salafi Muslims in Bosnia into some kind of phony terrorist network to bolster Croatian claims about dangerous fighters returning to Bosnia from the Middle East. It’s a bizarre story and one whose main points the Croatian government is denying, but Bosnian security forces say they uncovered the plot and prevented it from being carried out.


Viktor Orbán is hoping for an orderly European parliament election later this year that will eliminate the need for a violent bloodbath bring more euroskeptics into the body who will devolve power away from Brussels and to the individual European states. Mostly, as with everything else, this is about Orbán’s demonization of Muslims and immigrants in order to score political points, to cover for his own corruption and ineffectiveness as PM, and also to satisfy what I’m sure is his own racism.

Orbán’s extremism has gotten him into some trouble on the European front, however. The European People’s Party, a coalition of some 80 center-right parties across Europe that includes such luminaries as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, is threatening to expel Orbán’s Fidesz party. Why? Mostly because of Orbán’s frequent attacks on the European Union and on European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who is himself a member of the EPP, as well as his blatantly antisemitic attacks on George Soros. Hungary, or at least Orbán’s government, benefits from Fidesz’s membership in the EPP, which has shielded it to some degree from EU sanctions.


Something very strange happened at the North Korean embassy in Madrid late last month:

Days before President Trump was set to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam, a mysterious incident in Spain threatened to derail the entire high-stakes nuclear summit.

In broad daylight, masked assailants infiltrated North Korea’s embassy in Madrid, tied up the staff, stole computers and mobile phones, and fled the scene in two luxury vehicles.

The group behind the late February operation is known as Cheollima Civil Defense, a secretive dissident organization committed to overthrowing the Kim dynasty, people familiar with the planning and execution of the mission told The Washington Post.

The attackers reportedly appeared Korean and interrogated embassy staff before fleeing with computers, phones, basically a potential treasure trove of intelligence on North Korean activities like, say, what it’s been doing to evade sanctions. Not much is known about this Cheollima group but it has apparently managed to smuggle a couple of regime opponents out of North Korea and has called for resistance to Kim Jong-un’s government. The sophistication of an operation like this suggests that they’ve had some pretty significant training and are not just some ragtag group of dissidents.

Where things get weird is in this report from Spain’s El País newspaper that Spanish authorities have managed to identify two of the attackers and connected them to the CIA. They apparently believe the attackers were looking for information on former North Korean ambassador to Spain Kim Hyok-chol, known to be a close foreign policy adviser to Kim Jong-un.

Now, would the CIA be above supporting an attack on an embassy like this? Of course not. But the timing is weird, given that had the operation failed and word gotten out it would have wrecked the Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit in Hanoi before Trump and Kim even had a chance to wreck it themselves–to say nothing of the effect it would have had (and may yet have) on US-Spanish relations. And it’s entirely possible that a group of North Korean dissidents has been working with the CIA, received CIA training, and then went off and carried out this attack on its own volition. The Washington Post’s sources seem to be in agreement that the CIA wasn’t involved, though considering that at least some of the Post’s sources are probably in the CIA that’s not really proof of anything.


As expected, the House of Commons voted 412-202 on Thursday to approve extending the Brexit deadline past March 29. The length of that delay depends on what happens in the next few days. If parliament can agree on a Brexit deal by March 20, then Theresa May will be empowered to ask for a short delay through June 30. If on the other hand we all remain in the real world where there’s virtually no chance of parliament agreeing on a Brexit deal by March 20, then May will be empowered to ask for a lengthier, possibly indefinite delay, which would almost certainly mean the UK will be holding a European parliamentary election this year after all. May then plans to submit the same Brexit plan the Commons has now voted down twice for a third vote, hoping to browbeat legislators from her party and the Democratic Unionist Party into changing their position. Since the EU has already said it’s done negotiating, you can expect May to bring the same plan back for a vote over and over and over again, perhaps hoping to win a few votes from parliamentarians just desperate for her to stop the madness.

Unless, of course, the EU doesn’t grant any delay at all. Which is a possibility. All 27 of the remaining EU members would have to agree unanimously to give the UK an extension, and while several of them have suggested a delay is preferable to a “no deal” Brexit, some are suggesting they’ll need to see a plan from May as to how she’s going to ensure that, say, the tenth vote on the same Brexit deal goes any different than the first two have gone. It’s unclear whether “because I plan to bludgeon parliament with this same piece of legislation over and over again until it begs for mercy” could be considered a plan. If the EU objects to an extension then the UK will be leaving on March 29, and I mean really leaving–no transition period, no slow separation to make it easy for businesses, no Irish border backstop, nothing.



Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the US has removed all of its diplomats from Venezuela. So they can’t constrain US policy anymore. What a cheery thought.


Mexico now has a national guard, at the behest of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador who plans to deploy it against violent drug cartels. The force will be filled initially by 50,000 personnel transferred from the Mexican military and police, with recruits brought in to get it up to 80,000 by the end of the year.


Pompeo told reporters on Friday that the US government plans to withdraw or deny visas to any prosecutors at the International Criminal Court who investigate possible US war crimes in Afghanistan. This is a very legal and definitely very cool thing to do that does not at all bolster the already substantial evidence that the US has in fact committed multiple war crimes in Afghanistan and also believes itself to be above international law. The ICC says it will continue its work regardless.

Finally, in a perverse bit of diplomacy, Donald Trump’s obsession with profiting off of the US Empire might actually help bring about its end:

The latest rumor is that the Trump administration will demand that all countries where U.S. forces are based agree to a “Cost Plus 50” formula. This would require host nations to subsidize the entire cost of the U.S. military presence — and pay an additional 50 percent of that amount.

My research suggests this would be a risky move, and one that could potentially damage long-standing relationships with allies and partners. This type of transactional foreign policy increases the risk that countries will rethink their agreements to host U.S. forces. This could reduce the U.S. military’s ability to operate globally, if the United States is later unable to obtain permission to use foreign bases in times of crisis.

There’s only one thing that’s appropriate to say here:

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