Conflict update: March 15 2017

SECOND VERSE, SAME AS THE FIRST

Well, that was fast. Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0, which is totally not about religion, you guys, just got blocked by a federal judge in Hawaii for being, you know, pretty much about religion. In his ruling, District Judge Derek Watson in particular rejected one of the administration’s favorite arguments as to why their Muslim ban couldn’t possibly be a Muslim ban:

While the administration maintains the latest order is not a ban on Muslims, since it removes reference to religion and targets only a fraction of the world’s Muslim population, Watson questioned that argument, potentially setting the stage for other ongoing legal challenges even as he puts a nationwide halt on the implementation. It is undisputed, the judge said, that the six countries are overwhelmingly Muslim by population.

“The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable,” he wrote. “The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed.”

Well sure, when you put it that way, but have you considered that SCARY TERRORISTS BAD BOGEYMAN EVIL ATTACK DANGER AFRAID?

I thought not.

Watson cited Trump’s own statements about the ban, and those of his closest advisers, as proof that it was intended to target Muslims, which adds a hilarious cherry on top of this very nice sundae. There’s obviously much more to come on this, and the fact that it happened just a short time ago, plus my obvious lack of being anything resembling a lawyer, are working against me right now. Stay tuned, is what I’m saying.

NETHERLANDS

I was going to lead with this until the ban ban–er, the banning of the ban, uh, the ban banning, whatever you get the point–happened. As it turns out, the Dutch people are not as susceptible to xenophobic white populism as voters in a certain global superpower I could name:

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal party is set to win the most seats in the Netherlands’ elections, maintaining its status as the country’s largest political party for the third consecutive election, according to exit polls published by Dutch broadcaster NOS.

Dutch voters took to the polls on Wednesday in overwhelming numbers — the turnout was projected to be above 80%, the highest in 30 years — to back a mix of pro-EU, liberal and progressive parties over the far-right, anti-EU and anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders — known as the “Dutch Trump”.

Wilders, who had become the subject of intense international media attention in the weeks running up to the election, appeared to win a humbling 13% of the vote and 19 seats, an increase on the previous election but below the party’s 2010 tally.

This is quite a result, because it suggests that Geert Wilders brought a whole bunch of new voters to the polls–to vote against him. I guess you could call it reverse populism.

So instead of Wilders’ reactionary far-right Party for Freedom governing the Netherlands, the regular far-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, led by current Prime Minister Mark Rutte, will continue governing it. As always though it will have to do so in coalition, and the secondary result of this vote, apart from Wilders’ surprising and frankly a little embarrassing performance, is that it’s going to be quite a task just forming a new coalition. Rutte’s party appears to have lost about ten seats in the next parliament, but more to the point his previous coalition partner, the center-left Labor Party, paid for its collaborative good nature by losing somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 seats. So instead of two parties, the next coalition will be a multi-party affair, with Rutte having to accommodate the right-wing Christian Democrats, the liberal D66 party, probably Labor again, and maybe the day’s apparent big winner…the Greens. Led by the Dutch Justin Trudeau, Jesse Klaver, GreenLeft appears to have quadrupled its seats in the next parliament, from four to 16. Now that’s populism.

IRAQ

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Conflict update: March 13 2017

TURKEY

A few hours ago Ankara turned its diplomatic dispute with the Netherlands up to 11 by barring the Dutch ambassador from returning to Turkey and announcing that it was suspending diplomatic relations with Amsterdam. The Turkish government further said that it was closing its airspace to Dutch diplomats and that it would pursue action at the European Court of Human Rights over the treatment of its cabinet minister, and Turkish nationals who demonstrated over that treatment, in Rotterdam over the weekend. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan then accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of “supporting terrorists,” without getting more specific but probably meaning the PKK, after Merkel had expressed support for Dutch actions over the weekend.

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern reiterated that his country would also not be amenable to hosting an AKP campaign rally, so expect him to be Erdoğan’s Nazi of the Day tomorrow. And I think it’s important to understand that while it might seem like Erdoğan is about two days away from his head literally exploding, in reality I don’t think this could be working out any better for him. Erdoğan’s political appeal has long centered on the idea that he was the only person who could protect Turkey from its enemies, whether domestic (Gülenists, the PKK, the Deep State) or foreign (America, Europe, Russia, Israel, international banking wink wink). In the middle of a close race on a referendum to decide whether or not to give him dictator-esque levels of power within the Turkish state, what better rallying call could Erdoğan want than a full-on diplomatic war with Europe? And since Erdoğan has systematically eliminated any sort of dissenting or even objective media, there’s nobody inside Turkey to challenge his “everybody vs. Turkey” narrative between now and the referendum.

The European Union is even feeding into this narrative by “warning” Ankara that the passage of the referendum could endanger Turkey’s chances of ever becoming an EU member. Erdoğan doesn’t even really want EU membership, but he’ll gladly take the EU warning, spin it as a provocation against the Turkish people, and turn it into a political advantage for himself.

NETHERLANDS

The flip side of this coin is that the events of this weekend have also been a big boost for fascist cesspool Geert Wilders and his Party for (White People’s) Freedom:

With two days to go until the Dutch vote in a pivotal parliamentary election, pollster Maurice De Hond found that the spat between the Netherlands and Turkey, and Saturday’s night of rioting by ethnic Turks in Rotterdam, had benefited the two parties that have been most skeptical on immigration.

The poll showed Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s pro-business VVD party on track to win 27 seats in the 150-seat parliament with 18 percent of the vote, three more than in the pollster’s last survey, published on Sunday but taken before the weekend.

Geert Wilders’s anti-Muslim Freedom Party was in second place with 16 percent, or up two seats to 24.

Wilders is trying to make more hay by demanding the expulsion of the Turkish ambassador. Now that Ankara has drawn first blood on that front Wilders may be able to get a lot of mileage out of this argument in the run up to Wednesday’s election, unless Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte does expel the ambassador (which would then invite continued escalation with Turkey).

Wilders is unlikely to be the next prime minister of the Netherlands, and he’s a longshot even to have a role in the country’s next government. No party is going to win an outright majority on Wednesday, and Wilders is so toxic that there’s almost no chance he and his party will be asked to join a coalition. But as Foreign Policy’s James Traub writes, Wilders has owned this campaign and has brought his loathsome xenophobia right smack into the mainstream of Dutch politics. The “center-right” is likely to maintain its hold on the government, but it’s had to incorporate a bit of Wilders’ white nationalism in order to do so.

IRAQ

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Welcome to 2017: Get your war on

If it seems like we have a lot of wars going on all over the world right now, well, that’s because we do–e.g., Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Kashmir…shall I continue? I’m not here to talk about any of those. Instead, this is a look at a handful of places that could flare into brand new wars (or at least new phases of very old wars) in 2017. This is admittedly an inexact designation. For example, the conflict that may be most at risk of escalating into full-fledged war began escalating last year, so if it does escalate into a war we’ll probably say it began in 2016. I’m talking about the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, the autonomous, majority Armenian enclave that claims to be part of Armenia but is, as far as the rest of the world (save Armenia itself) is concerned, part of Azerbaijan.

Karabakh’s history goes all the way back to ancient Armenia and, the southern Caucasus being the tumultuous place they are, if we tried to recount all the different political entities that have controlled it at one time or another we’d be here for another 10,000 words. Suffice to say that it’s long been majority Armenian, so the people there were decidedly unhappy when the extraordinarily short-lived (it lasted about three months) Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic broke up into Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia in 1918, and Karabakh wound up in Azerbaijan. Armenia and Azerbaijan then warred (1918-1920) over their borders, including the status of Karabakh. British occupation at the end of WWI affirmed Azerbaijan’s control over the province, but the people of Karabakh kept fighting Azerbaijani control and asserting their desire to unify with Armenia.

Then the Soviets swept through the southern Caucasus and the whole conflict kind of got stuck in place. Continue reading

Conflict update: December 1

Syria

I wasn’t planning on doing one of these tonight, and this one may not be as comprehensive as these usually are, but I feel compelled to say something about the amazing, ongoing cucking of Tayyip Erdoğan at Vladimir Putin’s hands. Amberin Zaman has been covering this for Al-Monitor, and it’s really something else. Two days ago, Erdoğan spoke at something called the Inter-Parliamentary Jerusalem Platform Symposium (surely it sounds better in Turkish), and at some point during his remarks this happened:

At first it was to clear Turkey’s border of the Islamic State (IS). Then it was to roll back the Syrian Kurdish militants of the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Today brought a brand-new explanation for why Turkish troops entered northern Syria in August to team up with opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels: “Why did we enter? We do not covet Syrian soil,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Istanbul at the Inter-Parliamentary Jerusalem Platform Symposium. “We entered there to end the rule of tyrant [Bashar] al-Assad. [We didn’t enter] for any other reason.”

This is quite a statement, considering that Erdoğan and other Turkish leaders have really stopped talking about toppling Assad and instead have emphasized that their decision to invade Syria is, as Zaman says, about fighting ISIS and/or confounding Kurdish ambitions. Turkey’s official position, that Assad must go, hasn’t changed, but it’s just been heavily de-emphasized. Or at least it had been until Erdoğan said this. But yesterday Erdoğan talked to Putin by phone, and lo and behold we got to witness a true Festivus miracle: Continue reading

Ethiopia’s domino effect

Early this month, something horrific happened at an Oromo Irreechaa celebration/impromptu political protest in the central Ethiopian town of Bishoftu. The Ethiopian government says its police fired warning shots into the air in response to “troublemakers” in the 2 million-plus crowd attending the festival, and those shots triggered a stampede that killed more than 50 people. Others claim that the police fired straight into the crowd and killed well over 100 people and maybe as many as 300. As you try to decide which account to believe, it bears mention that the Ethiopian government has a long-established track record of vastly undercounting the death toll in situations like this. Regardless, the result of the Bishoftu event was a resumption of the widespread Oromian protests that have recurred in Ethiopia since last year, resulting in the declaration of a state of emergency a few days later.

The Oromian struggle for the protection of their basic human and civil rights has been going on for years, but it took the announcement that the government was appropriating traditional Oromian land for its planned expansion of Addis Ababa for the protests to strengthen and the situation to turn violent (the Amhara people, with similar grievances as the Oromo, have also started protesting against the government). That this has all come at a time when the country is facing its worst drought in a half century only increases the chances that the situation will spiral out of control. In the wake of what’s being called the “Irreechaa Massacre,” the Oromo situation may have escalated from protest movement to full-blown civil war, and while that obviously impacts Ethiopia first and foremost, it’s already also having ripple effects in northeastern Africa.

Take, for example, Somalia. Ethiopia has been a contributor to AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia, since 2014, and had troops deployed in Somalia to counter al-Shabaab for several years before that. But with protests heating up back home and troops needed to quell them, Ethiopia has had to withdraw from many of the parts of Somalia that its troops were occupying, and unsurprisingly al-Shabaab has been taking advantage: Continue reading

Ethiopia blinks, a little, sort of

After nine weeks and an estimated 140 deaths, the Ethiopian government on Wednesday finally made a big concession to the Oromos who have been protesting against it: it agreed to suspend its plan to expand the city of Addis Ababa into Oromian land. Unfortunately its statement about the decision suggests that it has no real idea why the Oromos were protesting the plan in the first place:

In a televised statement on Wednesday, the Oromia branch of the ruling EPRDF party announced the plan had been “scrapped” after discussions with local residents.

In the statement, the government said it had “huge respect” for the Oromo people who opposed the master plan.

But the statement downplayed the reasons for the opposition, saying it was based on a simple misunderstanding created by a “lack of transparency”.

In fact, the opposition was rooted not in some trivial misunderstanding, but in the decades of real mistreatment that the Oromo people have suffered, as well as a general dissatisfaction with Ethiopia’s corrupt, single-party government (this list of grievances now includes the brutality with which these initial protests have been handled). The Addis Ababa expansion plan was the last straw, but it’s unlikely that the unrest is going to be contained now unless and until the other straws are dealt with.

Hey, thanks for reading! If you come here often, and you like what I do, would you please consider contributing something (sorry, that page is a work in progress) to keeping this place running and me out of debtor’s prison? Also, while you’re out there on the internet tubes, please consider liking this blog’s Facebook page and following me on Twitter! Thank you!

Death toll mounts in Ethiopian violence

Protests have continued among Ethiopia’s Oromo community, and while the government is still insisting that only five people have been killed, independent estimates have put the rising death toll at somewhere around 75 people. The State Department interjected itself into the situation on Friday, expressing its “concern” over the deaths and “urg[ing] the government of Ethiopia to permit peaceful protest and commit to a constructive dialogue to address legitimate grievances.”

The Ethiopian government has been displacing local farmers, many of them Oromo, from their land in favor of foreign investors for some time now, so its announced plan to expand Addis Ababa’s urban footprint into Oromian territory was in some respects the last straw. But Ethiopia expert Yohannes Woldemariam argues that the leased farmland and urban expansion issues are masking much deeper anger at Ethiopia’s one-party rule:

[Former Prime Minister Meles] Zenawi’s violent crackdown on the 2005 demonstrations protesting the widely believed rigged election was a clear indication of his determination to hang on to power. In the 2010 elections, the EPRDF [the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front] won 499 out of 547 parliamentary seats — with all but two others going to EPRDF-allied parties — and all but one of 1,904 council seats in regional elections. Despite the semblance of parliamentary rule, those elected were irrelevant to the governance of the country, since the TPLF [the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front, which dominated the EPRDF] and PM Zenawi maintained near absolute control over the country’s politics.

If there was any doubt in 2005, in the 2010 and 2015 elections, it became clear that this was a one-party rule with a vengeance, ensuring the triumph of repression, the squashing of dissenting voices and the shutting down of independent media. Elections in Ethiopia are shenanigans to show complete EPRDF control rather than engagement in democracy. There is a clampdown on internet access, and the arrest and sentencing of political opponents and journalists. Even two Swedish journalists reporting in the Ogaden were imprisoned on terrorism charges.

The current Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, though not a Tigrayan, has largely stuck to the TPLF party line, while the TPLF itself seems rudderless since Zenawi’s death in 2012. Except, of course, when it comes to stifling opposition, which they do very well and pretty ruthlessly.

Hey, thanks for reading! If you come here often, and you like what I do, would you please consider contributing something (sorry, that page is a work in progress) to keeping this place running and me out of debtor’s prison? Also, while you’re out there on the internet tubes, please consider liking this blog’s Facebook page and following me on Twitter! Thank you!