Hello and welcome to our next-to-last week here at WordPress! I’m packing things up and moving to Substack starting next week, when I’ll be posting in both places by way of transitioning to the new site.
Great news: a new report from the World Meteorological Society says the effects of climate change are “accelerating“:
While some of these figures were published in a preliminary release of the study from last November, the full version has data on many key climate indicators, that the WMO says break new ground.
One example is ocean heat content. More than 90% of the energy trapped by greenhouse gases goes into the seas and according to the WMO, 2018 saw new records set for the amount of ocean heat content found in the upper 700 metres of the seas, and also for the upper 2,000 metres.
Sea levels also continued to increase with global mean sea level rising 3.7mm higher in 2018 than the previous year.
Sounds cool, everything’s in good shape.
Afghanistan has restored its ambassador to Pakistan, recalled earlier in the week over comments by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan suggesting that the Afghan government should be dissolved in favor of an interim government to handle peace talks with the Taliban. Either the Afghans are convinced by Khan’s claim that he was taken out of context or they just don’t see the point in making a big deal out of it. Maybe both.
Thailand’s election commission says that the pro-military Palang Pracharat party won the popular vote in Sunday’s general election with 8.4 million votes. That puts it ahead of second place finisher Pheu Thai, which opposes the country’s military junta and won 7.9 million votes. Pheu Thai won more seats and claims to have formed a coalition that controls 255 seats in the 500 seat lower house of parliament, but the military’s veto over civilian politics makes it unlikely that Pheu Thai will be able to form a government.
Malian leaders, worried about the potential return of ISIS fighters from Syria and Iraq, are asking the United States for help:
Malian Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga visited Washington this week to ask U.S. officials to bolster support for his country’s fight against terrorism, warning that the weakened Islamic State in Iraq and Syria could jump-start the flow of extremists across the Sahel, Africa’s arid northwest, worsen the region’s security and jeopardize American interests there.
“The United States should have the same engagement in the Sahel as it does in the Middle East,” he said in an interview. “Malian security is the essential key to international security.”
Extremist groups, including some affiliated with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, have wreaked havoc across parts of West Africa and the Sahel. In 2012, al-Qaeda-linked extremists infiltrated Mali, taking control of some of the country’s territory. A French intervention eventually beat them back, but parts of Mali remain a hotbed for extremists.
In December, the White House unveiled a broad Africa strategy that included prioritizing efforts to counter “radical Islamic terrorism.” But the Pentagon has also announced plans to slash by 10 percent its presence in Africa, where about 7,200 U.S. troops and personnel are stationed.
Meanwhile, militia attacks on civilians by Islamist groups and “ethnic militias” are on the rise throughout the Sahel. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project says that 2,151 civilians have been killed in more than 720 attacks since November, mostly across Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.
A car bomb hit Mogadishu on Thursday, killing at least 15 people. The bombing, claimed by al-Shabab, struck an area full of restaurants and hotels in the Somali capital.
Human Rights Watch says that Cameroonian security forces have killed at least 170 civilians in the country’s breakaway anglophone region over the past six months. Separatist militants have also attacked civilians but their death toll is dwarfed by the government’s. Because information from Cameroon’s anglophone region is hard to come by these days, HRW says it’s likely that the actual casualty figure is considerably higher than 170.
At least three gunmen were killed in a shootout with Comorian soldiers in Moroni on Thursday, after a group of opposition leaders publicly announced a plan to oust President Azali Assoumani. The gunmen appear to have been dissident ex-members of the Comorian military looking to recruit other soldiers to their cause. Assoumani won Sunday’s presidential election, though the conduct of the election has been questioned by observers and Assoumani had to push through a constitutional amendment ending term limits in order to be able to run again.
Another new poll, this time from the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, has comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy ahead going into the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election this weekend. The survey has Zelenskiy at 20.9 percent, ahead of incumbent Petro Poroshenko at 13.7 percent. Only 21.5 percent of Ukrainians think Zelenskiy will win the April 21 runoff, which isn’t good news for him but is still higher than Poroshenko’s 18.3 percent.
In a desperation move intended to convince the European Union to extend its Brexit deadline to May 22, Theresa May will on Friday present parliament with a “watered down” version of her Brexit agreement, which has already lost two votes. May will only have parliament vote on her Brexit deal specifically this time, and not on the framework for a future relationship with the EU that has been attached to the agreement in the two previous votes. It’s…probably not going to work. Once again, the Democratic Unionist Party is saying it won’t vote for the agreement, which likely means most Tory hardliners won’t vote for it either since mathematically it’s unlikely to pass without the DUP. If the third time is not the charm for May’s agreement, it’s looking increasingly likely that the UK with crash out of the EU without a deal on April 12.
Nicolás Maduro is asking people to “pray” that Venezuela recovers from its current national blackout, which is now on day four. So that’s probably a bad sign. Maduro now says the outage was caused by a “sniper attack,” and sure why not. His government on Thursday barred opposition leader Juan Guaidó from holding public office for 15 years, which would probably mean more if Guaidó actually recognized Maduro’s government as legitimate, which of course he does not. Guaidó is still calling for major protests amid the ongoing electrical issues. The Russian government, meanwhile, says that the soldiers it’s put in Venezuela are “specialists” there for purposes of military cooperation with Maduro’s government–they are “not threatening anyone, unlike (officials) in Washington.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross says that violence in some parts of Colombia is worse now than it was before the country’s 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels. A combination of ELN rebels, ex-FARC rebels who haven’t quit fighting, and criminal gangs have been battling one another for pieces of the country’s drug trade, displacing 27,780 people last year and, worse, leading to 221 landmine deaths, up 280 percent from 2017. The influx of refugees from Venezuela has contributed to this instability.
The Mexican government is preparing to receive another large Central American migrant caravan, though estimates of its size have varied widely. Authorities are reportedly readying for a whopper of a caravan, some 20,000 strong, but by all accounts the caravan that just set out from El Salvador only numbers in the hundreds. Donald Trump on Thursday complained, on Twitter of course, that Mexico is doing “NOTHING” to stop migrants from reaching the US, to which President Andrés Manuel López Obrador responded that he’s responsible neither for US immigration policy nor for the conditions those migrants are fleeing.
Finally, James Dorsey talks about the emergence of “civilizationalism” as a far-right alternative to the nation-state:
Largely underrated in debates about the Great Game is the fact that increasingly there is a tacit meeting of the minds among world leaders as well as conservative and far-right politicians and activists that frames the rivalry: the rise of civilizationalism and the civilizational state that seeks its legitimacy in a distinct civilization rather than the nation state’s concept of territorial integrity, language and citizenry.
The trend towards civilizationalism benefits from the fact that twenty-first-century autocracy and authoritarianism vests survival not only in repression of dissent and denial of freedom of expression but also maintaining at least some of the trappings of pluralism that can include representational bodies with no or severely limited powers, toothless opposition groups, government-controlled non-governmental organizations, and degrees of accountability.
It creates the basis for an unspoken consensus on the values that would underwrite a new world order on which men like Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Victor Orban, Mohammed bin Salman, Narendra Modi, and Donald Trump find a degree of common ground. If anything, it is this tacit understanding that in the shaping of a new world order constitutes the greatest threat to liberal values such as human and minority rights. By the same token, the tacit agreement on fundamental values reduces the Great Game to a power struggle over spheres of influence and the sharing of the pie as well as a competition of political systems in which concepts such as democracy are hollowed out.