World roundup: December 17-18 2022
Stories from Pakistan, Tunisia, Peru, and elsewhere
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Happy Hanukkah to those who are celebrating!
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
December 16, 755: Chinese general An Lushan declares himself emperor, attempting to usurp power from the ruling Tang Dynasty. The An Lushan Rebellion lasted over seven years (long after the death of its namesake in 757), and while it failed it also badly weakened the Tang Dynasty, which strengthened the neighboring Uyghur Khaganate and the Tibetan Empire.
December 16, 1944: A major and sudden German offensive in the Ardennes Forest begins the Battle of the Bulge, one of the most important engagements on the Western Front in World War II. The battle ended on January 25, 1945, with an Allied victory. The German attack did delay the Allied advance into Germany by several weeks, but the cost was the near obliteration of whatever remained of the German military’s capacity to wage an offensive war.
December 16, 1971: The Indo-Pakistani War and Bangladesh Liberation War (two parts of one conflict) both end.
December 17, 1398: The Battle of Delhi
December 17, 2010: A Tunisian street vendor in Sidi Bouzid, named Mohamed Bouazizi, sets himself on fire to protest mistreatment by corrupt municipal authorities. Public outrage over Bouazizi’s case sparked the Tunisian Revolution, which in turn sparked the Arab Spring movement.
December 18, 1499: The first Alpujarras Rebellion begins
December 18, 2005: The four year Chadian Civil War begins when the rebel group Rally for Democracy and Freedom attacks the town of Adré near the Sudanese border. The rebels, backed by Sudan and its Janjaweed militia, were eventually defeated by the Chadian government of President Idriss Déby, and an agreement between Déby and then-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir ended the conflict in January 2010.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Islamic State fighters killed nine Iraqi police officers in an ambush in Iraq’s Kirkuk province on Sunday. The militants reportedly detonated a roadside bomb in the vicinity of a police patrol and then followed that with a direct assault. One of the attackers was reportedly killed as well.
An Israeli settler killed two Palestinians, brothers, with his car at a checkpoint south of the West Bank city of Nablus on Saturday. The language being used here is I think illustrative, because the settler is described as “running over” the victims, probably intentionally, when if this were a Palestinian driver and two settler victims it would almost certainly be characterized as a car ramming terrorist attack. The killer drove off and as far as I know has not been arrested nor does there seem to be much activity on the part of Israeli authorities to find him. This is another interesting dichotomy, since had this been a Palestinian driver the Israeli military would currently be engaged in a massive manhunt.
This is, as I’ve written several times here, the deadliest year on record for Palestinians in the West Bank. Israeli state violence gets more attention, but settler violence—which often gets tacit state support in terms of how (or whether) it’s punished—has also been a major contributor.
The International Monetary Fund’s executive board has reportedly approved a new $3 billion, 46 month bailout package for Egypt, after the Egyptian Central Bank instituted a sufficient degree of austerity for the IMF’s taste. Egypt’s economy appears to be in a state of implosion in large part because of what the war in Ukraine has done to global food prices, Egypt being one of the world’s largest wheat importers. The deal will inject some hard currency into the central bank, which Egyptian officials are hoping will stimulate potentially billions of dollars in new foreign investment.
The governments of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Hungary, and Romania have concluded an agreement to lay a power cable under the Black Sea to bring Azerbaijani electricity to Hungary, via the other two countries. Baku is looking to sell power generated by offshore wind farms to European clients. This would help Romania and Hungary offset their dependence on Russian energy supplies and could be expanded to other parts of Europe. Hungarian officials are also reportedly engaged in talks with the Omani and Qatari governments about potential oil and natural gas deals. From Azerbaijan’s perspective, deals like this make economic sense and politically offer leverage against any European impulse to support Armenia in the ongoing south Caucasus conflict.
In a display of their capabilities and their capacity for irony, a group of terrorists seized a counter-terrorism facility in northern Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Sunday, taking hostages. As far as I know this is an ongoing situation so details are somewhat sparse. Additionally there’s no confirmation in terms of responsibility, though given the location the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) seems the most likely culprit. Militants attacked a police station in another part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in a separate incident on Sunday, killing at least four police officers and wounding four more before withdrawing. Again there’s been no claim of responsibility here but the attackers were also probably from the TTP.
Meanwhile, former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Saturday that his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party will force the dissolution of state legislatures in two provinces, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. PTI holds majorities in both bodies, and Khan is attempting to leverage those majorities to force the Pakistani government to call an early general election. Normally state legislatures are elected at the same time as everything else in Pakistan, which means their next scheduled election will come in November 2023. In moving up elections in these two provinces, including by far the largest province in Pakistan (Punjab), Khan wants election authorities to just throw in the towel and decide to hold the whole election ahead of schedule.
Nepalese President Bidhya Devi Bhandari has given the country’s political parties until December 25 to work out a new governing coalition after last month’s election. Although they emerged from that vote just two seats shy of a majority, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s Nepali Congress party and its coalition partners have not been able to close the deal with a smaller party to put themselves back in the majority. At the same time, the opposition Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) hasn’t had any better results on its end. It’s unclear what Bhandari is planning to do if there’s no working majority by the deadline, but a new snap election could be possible.
At least 11 people were injured on Sunday when a river ferry apparently exploded in Yangon. As far as I know there’s been no determination as to the cause. That said, and although I am not an expert, I assume ferries don’t randomly blow up all that often. Given conditions in Myanmar it seems reasonable to at least speculate that a man-made explosive device was involved.
The North Korean military fired two ballistic missiles into the seas off of the Korean peninsula’s eastern coast on Sunday. According to the South Korean military these were medium-range missiles that landed outside of Japanese economic waters. On Monday morning, North Korean media reported that Pyongyang had conducted a “final phase” test for putting a spy satellite into orbit. This seems to have been a different test, to be clear.
Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio rolled out a plan on Friday to inject an extra $320 billion or so into Japan’s
military self-defense forces over the next five years, putting the country right behind the US and China in military spending. Perceived threats from China, and to a lesser extent North Korea, are the rationale behind the spending boost. But Kishida’s initiative may not get a great reception from the Japanese public, 65 percent of whom (according to a new Kyodo poll) are opposed to the plan’s corresponding tax increases and 87 percent of whom don’t think Kishida did a very good job of explaining why tax hikes would be necessary.
The counting is done in Fiji’s parliamentary election and there’s an argument to be made that the party that actually won is the party that came in, um, fourth. Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s FijiFirst party has finished with control of 26 seats, two shy of a majority in the 55 seat parliament. Opposition leader Sitiveni Rabuka’s People’s Alliance has finished with 21 seats, while its coalition partner National Federation Party has finished with five, giving them a collective total of…26 seats, two shy of a majority. The fourth place Social Democratic Liberal Party emerged with control of three seats, meaning its support will determine the composition of Fiji’s next government. Party general secretary Lenaitasi Duru says that talks are ongoing with both factions and one assumes the party will be able to extract significant concessions in return for its votes.
Tunisian President Kais Saied had set up what was almost a no lose situation for himself heading into Saturday’s parliamentary election. His decision to strip political parties of most of their power caused most opposition parties to boycott the vote, meaning that whatever parliament emerged was likely to be heavily skewed in Saied’s favor. And even if it wasn’t, Saied’s constitutional changes had stripped parliament of much of its power anyway. Why, just about the only way this election could have backfired on Saied is if turnout were just absurdly, embarrassingly low, and really what were the chances of that happeni-I’m sorry, what was that? Turnout was 8.8 percent? Well, um, never mind then.
Truly I don’t know what happens now. Saied is obviously under no obligation to, say, obey the opposition’s suggestion that he resign, and there’s not much they could do to force him. But this turnout is humiliating to a degree that it undercuts Saied’s legitimacy and suggests that the substantial public support he seemed to have when he seized power in July 2021 has evaporated. But again, there’s no structural mechanism that would mandate that he do anything other than to keep on keeping on.
Speaking of Russian energy alternatives, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz officially opened the country’s first liquefied natural gas terminal on Saturday at the port city of Wilhelmshaven. LNG is one of the primary options European countries are adopting as they wean themselves off of (or are weaned off of) Russian natural gas, much to the delight of suppliers in places like Qatar and the United States. But the continent is not exactly overcrowded with LNG infrastructure so countries like Germany are ramping up their LNG capacity as quickly as possible.
Former Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar resumed that post on Saturday under the terms of the coalition agreement his Fine Gael party made with the Fianna Fáil party following Ireland’s 2020 election. Now-former taoiseach and Fianna Fáil boss Micheál Martin has now slotted in as Varadkar’s deputy and should be named foreign minister as well.
I think it’s safe to say that Peruvian President Dina Boluarte’s term is off to a pretty shaky start, given the protests that have gripped the country since Pedro Castillo was removed from office earlier this month and have resulted in at least 20 protester deaths so far. Now she’s already reshuffling her cabinet, which has only been in office for about a week, after two ministers resigned over reports of police violence. Boluarte spent Saturday morning limply scolding the Peruvian Congress for rejecting her request to move the country’s April 2026 general election up to December 2023 in an effort to calm the unrest.
The vote may actually work to Boluarte’s advantage to some degree, since it allows her to recast herself as an enemy of the same deeply unpopular legislature that ousted Castillo and as a champion of the poor, Indigenous, and otherwise marginalized Peruvians who supported the former president and have hit the streets in anger over his impeachment and arrest. If she’s lucky, those protesters will stop demanding her resignation and focus their ire on Congress. She’s been trying to convince them that she was working to “protect” Castillo during her time as his vice president, to not much apparent success as yet.
Finally, at his The Racket newsletter, Jonathan Katz examines The Atlantic columnist George Packer’s recent paean to liberal interventionism:
George Packer is the consummate liberal hawk. The former New Yorker staff writer, now employed by the Atlantic, supported the U.S. invasions and bombings of Haiti, Serbia, Libya, Afghanistan, and most unforgettably Iraq — always, crucially, on “humanitarian” grounds. Packer’s signature move is the agonized hand-wring (in 2013, he debated himself on whether the U.S. should escalate its bombing of Syria). This is almost always followed by a conclusion that, regrettably, the bombs should fly once again. And, just as often, they do.
So it got my attention when Packer wrote an essay last month titled “A New Theory of American Power.” Its thesis and subhead: “The United States can—and must—wield its power for good.”
The first thing to note is that the headline is misleading. Packer doesn’t present any theory of American power at all. Moreover, what he does (hand-wringingly) propose isn’t new. His bottom line is the same as it has been since his career began in the 1990s: “a decent world isn’t possible without liberalism, and liberalism can’t thrive without U.S. engagement.” By “engagement,” Packer means the expression of American power. And by power, of course, he mostly means bombs.
What is new, for Packer, is the way he wants to see those bombs delivered. But his latest change of tactic is telling.
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