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Transnational Thursdays 24

This is a weekly thread for people to discuss international news, foreign policy or IR history. I usually start off with coverage of some current events from a mix of countries I follow personally and countries I think the forum lives in or might be interested in. Feel free to drop in with coverage of countries you’re interested in, talk about ongoing dynamics like the wars in Israel or Ukraine, or even just whatever you’re reading.

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Imagine declaring war on a sovereign nation and no one even notices. This is much the experience of the Houthis, who declared war on Israel Tuesday and started firing missiles to widespread same-day coverage from media behemoths such as, Indiatimes, and Greek City Times. This might seem like a bit of a joke (and probably largely is) given that the Houthis are a marginal fighting force and also over 1000 miles away from Israel, but they do actually have ballistic missiles capable of reaching that far. In fact, the Israeli Arrow air defense system claims to have already intercepted missiles they believe to have come from Yemen.

Regardless of Yemen’s own power level, this mostly feels a little unsettling as it's another domino leaning towards a larger regional war, though the Houthis should be understood as part of the same Iranian proxy network that includes Hamas and Hezbollah, which is different than a more traditional sovereign nation getting involved. Also interesting are the implications for Saudi Arabia, which has been normalizing relations with both Israel and the Houthis (and kind of sort of Iran) and is now in a crappy position for both:

Yemen has enjoyed more than a year of relative calm amid a U.N.-led peace push. Saudi Arabia has been holding talks with the Houthis in a bid to exit the war, as Riyadh focuses on economic priorities at home.

But Houthi missile and drone attacks on Israel have increased the risks of conflict for Saudi Arabia.

The most direct flight path for any drone or missile launched from Yemen passes over western Saudi Arabia near the Red Sea before flying over Jordan and into Israel.

The Saudi government communications office did not respond to a request for comment on the kingdom's concerns over Houthi attacks.

Iran has used a proxy to prove they can fire missiles at Israel from Iranian soil.


I’ve covered in recent weeks that America has undergone a thaw in relations with Venezuela, lifting sanctions in exchange for the Maduro Administration allowing free and fair elections. This began with an opposition party primary, which was marked by intimidation and whose winner, Machado, is still not legally allowed to run for president. Still, it happened, and that’s gotta count for something...

“Top court in Venezuela suspends outcome of opposition primary”

Well, I guess that didn’t last long. The US has, reasonably, said that Venezuela needs to get it together or the sanctions come back. Technically Maduro has till the end of November to lift their prior ban on Machado and specify a date for the election, but as things are going now it doesn’t necessarily look like this thaw will even get that far.

Related: New Scott post on Hugo Chavez

I was just about to link the Scott post myself. It's amazing how much bullshit nigh limitless wealth lets you get away with, and the Venezuelans make the Saudis look competent, which is rare enough.

The Saudis are competent, it’s just that their goals are unconventional for a modern state, although in a way that makes sense for them.

Under which goals stuff like is a good use of money? (note that this article badly underdescribes how stupid this project is)

Every time I look at The Line I get this mix of awe and horror. The inevitable collapse will be something to behold.

I wonder how far this will go. Note that it is supposed to be 170 kilometre long and 500m high. I never seen buzzword-driven development going so far.

Yeah I think I underappreciated how much of the Chavez Era was just outlandish incompetence / having no plan at all rather than a concerted socialist effort failing on pure economic terms. I'm not sure why but I had an impression of Chavez as a pretty smart guy.

Probably just the fact your diet of Chavez was from neutral commentators who ignored his theatrics to focus on the substance of his policy, something they took for granted. And leftist commentators who deliberately ignored his craziness; because, any alternative to capitalism is something to be lauded, no matter how terrible.

Anyone who actually pointed out the absurdities was written off as a bourgeoisie stooge or an American imperialist.

The whole current Saudi Arabia situation is very interesting to me because they clearly want to pivot away from oil dependency and avoid the same trap as Venezuela but it's not clear they really know what they're doing. I'd be interested in reading a high-effort evaluation of what's going on in there.


All eyes have been trained on Juntos por el Cambio, the center right party that came third place in the first round of Presidential elections and got bumped out of running. Where will their support go in the runoff between Kirchnerist Economy Minister Sergio Massa and giga-libertarian Javier Milei? This was less obvious than it seemed because the party was somewhat torn between its more moderate side vs more conservative, free market side, led by former President Mauricio Macri.

Ultimately Macri apparently persuaded Presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich to endorse Milei, despite him being a huge dick to her throughout the election (“Among other things, Milei called Bullrich an 'assassin' and falsely accused her of planting bombs in kindergartens during her militant leftist youth.”) Bullrich conducted a press conference side by side Milei, offering her endorsement, but this doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll get her 24% share of the vote. Already moderates from within the coalition have balked, including JxC senators and the leaders of two allied parties, the Civic Coalition and the Radical Party. It’s still unclear what the results of the election will be, and less clear still if JxC will survive in its current form at all.

There's a lot going on, international media against right-wingers as usual, a lot of confirmed vote fraud across the country and more to come. I think this is really Argentina's last chance to get back on track, this elections are against the current administration, responsible for 50% of poverty, 140% inflation and so on.

It's a very well established political structure that will do anything to hold power and not much people can do, probably already a lost cause.

Tbh even if Milei was elected I can't imagine him being able to make major systemic changes. They won't be able to afford dollarization without a substantial loan no one wants to give them, and he won't have a significant mandate in the legislature to push the reforms he really wants. I think others here have mentioned that they would also need to modify the constitution to put restraints on the provinces' abilitiies to borrow from the government.


After Azerbaijan’s conquest of Nagorno-Karabakh and subsequent flight of the inhabitants, the previous few weeks have seen the US government warning about the threat of Azerbaijan continuing onwards to invade Armenia and Canada threatening to start sanctions. I covered last week one commentator who felt war was imminent, but recently Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has surprised everyone and actually said he wants to sign a peace agreement with Azerbaijan and restore diplomatic relations. Pashinyan was also PM during the 2020 war and narrowly survived being unseated by domestic protests.

I guess a man knows when he’s beat, and this probably is good insurance against an actual invasion, but likely the fallout will be devastating for him politically. Russia, historically Armenia’s protector though the two have fallen out of friendship, was apparently not consulted on the decision and requested more information from Armenia on their plans.

I suspect Armenians realized that they have no hope, Russia, to which they wanted to align, has zero interest in them, and they are fresh out of friends. On the other hand, Aliev is being smart and content with taking the win and not pissing off the West unnecessarily, at least for now. They wanted Karabakh back for years, now they have it and will likely have enough to do for now to absorb it. So for now it probably will quiet down for a while.


Germany has been taking a little tour of Africa and boosting relationships. President Steinmeier recently visited Tanzania where he committed to openly discussing Germany’s colonial crimes against Tanzania in hopes of boosting diplomatic relations, including meeting with victims of the repression of the Maji Maji rebellion (estimated 200k-300k death toll).

Chancellor Scholz also made visits to Ghana and Nigeria, where he proposed Germany buying more natural gas from Nigeria. This is partially a continuation of several years of Germany deepening energy times with Africa, including importing more from Algeria and offering to help Senegal develop off shore gas fields. However, onlookers are wondering if the present push is also a result of the slow moving fallout of shuttering Germany’s nuclear power supply, which has made securing a steady electric supply a larger concern for “energy hungry Germany” than normal. If so, turning to Nigeria isn’t necessarily a great sign here as they’ve had recent difficulties keeping their own power grid running, but hey, they just cut off power to Niger so I guess they got extra for sale.


In the second round of constitution drafting, Chile’s right wing Republican party (who were initially against changing the dictator-era constitution at all) have now released their version of a new constitution, which will be voted on in a referendum come December 17th. Like Boric’s resoundingly defeated left wing constitution before it, the Republican proposal will include a grabbag of conservative gimmes many of which probably have no place in a constitution at all, including provisions to restrict abortion, “remove a tax on houses (which effectively pay only a fraction of high-income owners, and it’s considered vital to fund services in low-income municipalities), cut the number of seats in Congress, speed up the expulsion of irregular immigrants and grant preferred treatment to victims of terrorism.”

Currently 51% of voters are against the change and 34% in favor. That said, the polls have been trending of support for the changes increasing, even if they’re still long way off and the most likely outcome is failure.

While the country was reasonably united in wanting to cast away the last vestiges of the dictatorship (the recent rise of Pinochet-boos like Kast not withstanding), there doesn’t seem to be much else they can actually agree on.

The government of President Gabriel Boric has said it does not plan a third attempt, and 58% of polled voters said they are also against another rewrite attempt.

The pledge to revamp the South American country's constitution was the main political agreement reached following raucous and sometimes violent protests that played out in 2019.

While around 80% of Chileans voted to draft a new constitution in 2020, voters have grown wary following growing political polarization, economic stagnation and crime.


Eyes have been trained on the human rights situation in Israel, but it’s worth noting things have never recovered in Sudan either, where the conflict still rages on (ironically with a similar death toll over a longer time span).

Fighting between the national army, led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, has been raging for almost seven months, claiming the lives of more than 9,000 people and forcing almost 5.8 million from their homes.

The economy has taken a massive hit, with the International Monetary Fund expecting it to contract more than 18% this year.

Peace talks are resuming in Sudan, though not for the first time so it remains to be seen if they actually go anywhere. Notably, the actual factions at war…do not seem to be in attendance? What is everyone even going to talk about?

The latest round of peace talks in Jeddah this week are being attended by officials from Saudi Arabia, the US and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African bloc whose members include Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Notably absent are representatives from Sudanese political parties and former rebel groups — although they had met in Addis Ababa to lay out plans for a return to democracy.

An added hitch is that Iran and Sudan have normalized relations after seven years apart, which has caused some onlookers to worry about Iran becoming a new source of weapons and influence in the conflict, at a time when Iranian proxies are already flashpoints in Gaza, Lebanon and Yemen.


“Colombia regional elections: The political wave of change comes to a halt

Gustavo Petro was the first ever leftist president elected in Colombia, and came to power buoyed on a wave of progressive political energy. Since then his agenda has floundered, whether you blame opposition obstruction (certainly true) or personal corruption (also possibly true), that’s the way it is. Colombia isn’t doing too badly, the economy has recovered steadily, the cartels are increasing in power but Petro has been successively establishing peace with the radical guerilla groups, and there’s still a significant demand for some of the poverty alleviation measures he’s championing, such as land reform. But in the regional elections this week voters signaled they may be done with the experiment:

In 2019, alternative candidates won in several major cities such as Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena and Cúcuta, and in smaller ones such as Buenaventura, Manizales and Palmira. In 2022 the traditional parties — Liberal, Conservative, Democratic Center, Radical Change, Social Party of National Unity — did not even have candidates for the presidency. These results contrast with the outcome of Sunday’s vote.

The choice was clear: Sunday’s regional and local elections in Colombia could either strengthen or weaken the wave of political transformation that has been building in the country in recent years. And the result was also clear: the wave has lost steam. The main mayoralties and governorships were won by politicians from different sides of the political spectrum, but they had one thing in common: they came from traditional political parties or had the majority support of them. The elections marked the return of the status quo…

[Gustavo Petro’s] party, the Historical Pact, was defeated in the mayoral race of Bogotá, where Petro himself had been mayor. “The survival of the Historical Pact is at stake in the Bogotá mayor’s office,” the party’s candidate, Gustavo Bolívar, told EL PAÍS at the beginning of the campaign. On Sunday, Bolívar came in third place.


I've mentioned in the past that, not content to not wage bloody warfare against an ethnic sectarian movement, President Abiy has tried to forcibly integrate the Amhara militia Fano into the armed forces. Fano didn't like that and conflict broke out. Abiy, who received a PhD in Conflict Resolution, knew exactly how to handle such a situation and started killing the crap out of holdouts. It isn't covered much but this has been raging for a while:

Dozens of civilians have been killed this month by drone strikes and house-to-house searches in Ethiopia's Amhara region, where authorities have touted security gains since conflict erupted in July, a state-appointed human rights commission said on Monday [the 30th].

At least 183 people were killed in the first month of the conflict, the United Nations said in late August. But with internet connections down across the region, it has been difficult to get a clear picture of the situation.

On the other hand, Abiy has now walked back his earlier statements that the Red Sea was a strategically critical area that Ethiopia must control, and has now promised his very irate neighbors in Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somalia, that he's definitely not planning to invade their countries anytime soon. That's that conflict resolution PhD at work.