Foreign Fodder

* Who would have thought less than a year ago that the 30-something, internationally unknown Frenchman, Emmanuel Macron, would now be a major world-stage player and the de facto leader of a fractured Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel can’t form a coalition government and no longer wields uber influence. The leaders of Britain, Italy and Spain have serious home-front priorities. President Macron is now the EC’s go-to guy for progressive thinking, continental optimism and hope for some form of unity. Sacre bleu.

* “My desire  to  resign is voluntary on my part and arises from my concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and my desire for a smooth, non-violent transfer of power.” So said, possibly with a straight face, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, 93, who once vowed to rule for life. Well, his 37-year, corruption-rife, economically-chaotic rule ended before his life did. As for that “voluntary” resignation, chances are impeachment proceedings and military house arrest were key motivators.

* This just in from impoverished North Korea and blind-sided Egypt, which just experienced a horrific, massive assault on a mosque full of worshipers. Are there more outrageous examples of warped, tragically unconscionable priorities than nukes over food or the murder of innocents in the name of religion?

Foreign Fodder

* Not that it’s a major consolation, but it’s now apparent that the Russians didn’t limit themselves to the U.S. when it came to sovereign, political disruptions. Britain and Spain also have issues with Russian meddling: the former with its Brexit referendum and the latter over Catalan independence.

The common theme, as noted by British Prime Minister Theresa May, is Russia’s intent to “sow discord  in the West.”

* Hardly surprising, but still somewhat humbling that other countries issue travel warnings to its citizens who are planning to visit the U.S. And those warnings have been picking up apace recently. A scary gun culture, beyond-volatile politics and a rash of high-profile violent crimes are the major factors behind the advisories. The countries involved include Canada, England, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany and the Bahamas.

Embassy Departures

The U.S. State Department has announced that it is withdrawing all “non-essential personnel” from its embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia. For those impacted, it was undoubtedly appreciated; these are starkly dangerous, terrorist times. Have to wonder, however, if it isn’t just a bit bittersweet. How does it feel to be labeled, well, “non-essential”?

Catalonia Chasm

Seems an eternity ago, but it was only 1992 when Spanish King Juan Carlos welcomed the world to the Barcelona Olympics. Spaniards and local Catalans regaled in the international exposure and status of hosting the XXV Olympiad.

Catalonia pride was officially underscored. The 1992 Summer Olympic Games were also spelled out in Catalan: “Jocs Olimpics d’estiu de 1992.” Plus, the King rolled out his country’s rhetorical welcome mat in Catalan, the ultimate–these-are-no-longer-the-fascist-Catalonia-suppressing-days-of-Francisco Franco–gesture.

That was 25 years ago. A generation as an epoch.

Last week the Catalonian Parliament voted to secede from Spain. Within hours, the Spanish prime minister had fired the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, as well as the director general of the regional police force. Madrid took control of Catalonia’s government. Catalonia was stripped of its autonomy.

There are no plans for King Juan Carlos to intercede.

Marseille Attack

Terrorism is as old as human history. Evil, insanity, and perverted ideologies and religions have long littered mankind’s vulnerable landscape. Having said that, could there be anything more unconscionably sacrilegious than a murderous attack on innocents preceded by a “God is great” (“Allahu akbar”) invocation? Wholly heinous.

Foreign Affairs

* Were it not so frightening, it would merely be outlandish. Here was the U.S. and South Korea, upping the war-games ante by joining in live-fire, bombing exercises that simulated precision strikes against North Korea’s “core facilities.” North Korea called it a “rash act.” And here was North Korea firing off a midrange ballistic missile and conducting a nuclear test. President Donald Trump called it “very hostile and dangerous to the United States.”

More envelope pushing at the world’s nuclear trip-wire. Who backs down first? Call it “East-West Side Story.” What it would look like if the Sharks and Jets had nukes.

* The U.S. is seriously considering sanctions to pressure China and anybody else who trades with North Korea. We get that. Don’t preclude any option shy of outright war. What doesn’t make sense, however, is the continued need to search for ways to motivate the Chinese to help out more with its menacing, next-door neighbor. The next-door neighbor that is an existential threat, especially in its own neighborhood.

We know about the Chinese rationale: not wanting an officially failed state leeching millions of refugees across the border. The Chinese also don’t want to risk a unified Korea that would be a more formidable U.S. proxy. Having said that, c’mon Beijing. Do the pragmatic, expedient, common sensical and, yes, ultimately self-serving thing, by maxing out on your overwhelming economic leverage over North Korea. No winking and nodding this time, clamp down. It would also help your case against those U.S.-S.K. war games.

* We know the U.S. Navy is pursuing an inquiry into the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after two tragically-disturbing collisions and two other avoidable accidents. One likely reason for preventable incidents: an over-reliance on technology. It breeds complacency, which leads to night-time accidents in high-traffic–military and commercial–areas.

Foreign Affairs

* Guam, as we’ve been seeing, is the U.S. territory in North Korea’s most immediate nuclear cross hairs. One blatantly obvious factor in the nuclear drumbeat is the rhetorically and temperamentally unhinged Donald Trump. Locals are understandably worried. And how ironic that those 170,000 American territory residents can’t even vote for the president of the United States, the very person with access to the nuclear codes.

* On Monday (Aug. 21), the U.S. and South Korea will begin their annual military exercises that always antagonize North Korea. Should these be postponed, it would send a signal–to not only North Korea, but to China and others–that Donald Trump is big enough to back away from the brink, no longer channeling Gen. Curtis LeMay and ready to play a responsible diplomatic card–not a vintage Trump card.

* Another regrettable byproduct of Trump’s impulsive peril is his claim that he’s not ruling out “military” action in Venezuela. Just when Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, was coming down on Venezuela for its flagrant violation of Democratic norms, Trump gives Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro an opening to play the common-enemy, interventionist Yanqui card against the U.S. He knows that Trump is less popular in the region than he is.

No surprise that Bolivian President Evo Morales, a Maduro ally, jumped in right away. “Now the world knows that those who were against Maduro were only looking for a military intervention from the empire,” he said. Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia–and no buddy of Maduro’s–chipped in with: “Friends have to tell each other the truth. (Military intervention) shouldn’t even be considered.” Former Mexican President Vicente Fox minced no words. “Donald, get it together!” he urged. … “Venezuela needs a way out, but not through violence. Take a dive into history. You’re wrecking the U.S., don’t wreck the world.”

And this from David Smilde, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America: “This will undoubtedly galvanize (Maduro’s) coalition.”

How’s that for a North Korean diversion?

Foreign Fodder

* Arguably more important than what the U.S. says or how it sanctions Nicolas Maduro about the devolving democracy of Venezuela is what others in South American say–and do. It’s, therefore, significant that the South American trade bloc Mercosur has moved to suspend Venezuela for failing to follow democratic norms. Your own continental peers know best.

Mercosur accounts for three quarters of South America’s economic activity. Its combined markets encompass more than 250 million people. It’s likened to the European Union–only four times larger in size. Mercosur’s member states are Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Associate states are Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

* North Korea: It will take give-and-take. It always does, even with the quizzically provocative regime of Kim Jong-un. As the world’s pre-eminent nuclear power, with a major share of the world’s 15,000 nuclear weapons, the U.S. is big enough to make a concession without conceding any national security disadvantage.

As important as China is, the key leverage piece is really American troops along the Cold War, trip-wire border of North and South Korea and regular military exercises on the peninsula. To date, these have been off the negotiating table for the U.S., resulting in continued motivation for the North Koreans to keep pushing their nuclear envelope. At some point, this zero-sum scenario could literally go ballistic.

For North Korea, “final victory” means peninsula unification, not hitting Chicago with an ICBM. Maybe that should be the call of Koreans.

Foreign Fodder

* University of Montana student Guthrie McLean was recently arrested in China over reportedly injuring a taxi driver in defense of his mother, who is deaf. Chinese authorities threatened to imprison him for up to three years if a $7,400 fine wasn’t paid. According to Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines, the family didn’t pay that amount–and declined further comment. Guthrie has since been released.

The takeaway after reading between the lines: This isn’t North Korea. Relatively modest extortion can be negotiated.

* We all know that the key to having any chance of reining in North Korea is China. It subsidizes Kim Jong-un’s “economy” and enables his unhinged autocracy. We also have to wonder what impact last month’s arms sales to Taiwan will have. Rex Tillerson’s state department approved $1.4 billion in missiles, torpedoes and technical support. That might be enough right there to offset any diplomatic gains from Trump’s hosting of Xi Jinping and his wife at that Mar-a-Lago dinner date.