A Western War of Words - And Worldviews

A Western War of Words - And Worldviews

Last weekend, world leaders, security experts, and business executives flocked to the Hotel Bayrischer Hof in Munich for the 55th annual Munich Security Conference. What's the Munich Security Conference? Think of it a bit like Davos, but with policymakers in dark suits rather than billionaires in Gore-Tex.


The backdrop to this year's gathering was the sense of a deepening divide between the Trump administration and Washington's traditional European allies. Back-to-back speeches from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Vice President Mike Pence threw that estrangement into stark relief.

Here's a quick breakdown on some of the most important rifts:

On the Middle East: Pence said "the time has come" for America's European allies to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join the US "as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region, and the world the peace, security, and freedom they deserve." He also defended the US's decision to withdraw its troops from Syria as a "change in tactics, not a change in mission." But the campaign-style speech got a chilly reception from the Munich crowd. Merkel questioned the wisdom of scrapping the nuclear deal, rather than using it as leverage to get Iran to shutter its ballistic missile program and cut support for proxy fighters in Yemen and Syria. She suggested that the US withdrawal from Syria might only end up strengthening Iran and Russia. Her overriding message: real allies should sit down and talk about these tough problems before taking unilateral action.

On trade: The usually cautious Merkel directly criticized the Trump administration's threat to use national security concerns as a pretext to slap import tariffs on European cars. "Look: we are proud of our cars," said Merkel. Pointing out that South Carolina is home to one of the largest BMW factories in the world, the German chancellor said, "if these cars…are suddenly a threat to the national security of the United States of America, that shocks us."

On China: Pence made clear that the US intends to continue to play hardball with China on trade, intellectual property theft, and Beijing's technology and industrial policies. Fine, said Merkel, but in an implicit dig at Trump's more unilateral approach, she countered that multilateralism and cooperation between allies – painstaking though they may be – offer the best chance to grapple with China's rise. You can't, she said, "think that you can solve all things on your own."

Hey Joe! Mike Pence wasn't the only American making waves at Munich. A record-sized US delegation also included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leading members of the US defense and foreign policy establishment, many of whose views are closer to Merkel's than those of Pence or his boss. Former US Vice President and possible 2020 contender Joe Biden, attending in an unofficial capacity, attracted attention with a strongly pro-NATO speech in which he told anxious allies that "This too shall pass. We will be back."

Really? Tempting as it might be for the Europeans to pin their hopes on waiting for a change of administration in 2020, it's a risky strategy. Merkel is on her way out – but Trump might not be.

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.

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80: If polar ice caps continue to melt at their current pace due to climate change, 80 percent of all emperor penguins will be wiped out by the end of the century because they need the ice for breeding and keeping their offspring safe. American authorities want to list emperor penguins, which only live in Antarctica, as an endangered species so that US fishing vessels will be required to protect them when operating in their habitat.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent COVID-19 policy developments:

The Biden administration extended an eviction moratorium even after the Supreme Court said they couldn't, what's next?

Well, the CDC imposed a nationwide eviction moratorium in light of increased risk from evicted people because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Supreme Court in June ruled that they (CDC) overextended their authority in doing so and mandated that the moratorium expire on schedule in July. A group of progressive activists weren't happy about this and raised a huge stink in Congress, but Congress recessed for their August vacation before they could solve the problem, putting big pressure on President Biden to extend the moratorium even though he said he didn't think that it would pass constitutional muster. The CDC did it anyway, extending the moratorium until October 3rd, which is a time that's short enough to probably avoid it being overturned by lawsuits, but long enough that Congress has time to figure out how to either extend it on a bipartisan basis or put more money into a rental assistance fund that few people have taken advantage of so far. This whole incident shows the power of progressive activists in the Biden administration who were able to elevate the profile of this issue and potentially prevent millions of people from losing their homes this summer.

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On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer takes a look at the yin and the yang of alcohol's role in high-level diplomacy and society at large. Alcohol can bring people together just as easily as it can tear them apart. From a 1995 Clinton/Yeltsin Summit where a drunk Yeltsin almost derailed Bosnian peace talks, to Obama's Beer Summit and the recent G7 Summit, booze plays a part in how world leaders interact. Globally, alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing, by over 70 percent between 1990 and 2017, according to one report. . Low and middle-income nations like Vietnam, India, and China are a driving force behind that trend, with drinking in Southeast Asia rising by over 34 percent between 2010 and 2017. And yet, amidst this global booze boom, the world has only grown more and more divided.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

Equestrian jumpers, and their horses, are disciplined species. They don't appreciate surprises very much.

But many participants were caught off guard during this week's individual jumping qualifiers in Tokyo by a very daunting statue of a sumo wrestler on the hurdle course (which is dotted with statues paying homage to traditional Japanese culture, like geisha kimonos, cherry blossoms, and taiko drums).

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For Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee, protesting at the Games is fine — as long as it doesn't "interfere" with the competition itself or awards ceremonies. The Olympics, in his view, are an oasis of calm in the middle of an increasingly tense world, and "we shouldn't be spoiling that by pointing out the obvious , which is that there are social and political problems." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World on US public television.

India's rape problem: Hundreds of protesters have flocked to the streets of New Delhi for four days straight after a 9-year old girl was raped and murdered in a small village outside the capital while going to fetch water for her family. Some demonstrators burned effigies of India's PM Narendra Modi, saying that the government has not done enough — or anything, really — to address the country's abysmal rape problem: there were more than 32,000 rapes recorded in 2019, certainly a vast undercount given the stigma associated with reporting sexual assaults in India. The scourge of sexual violence against women and girls in India was brought to light in 2012 when a 23-year-old woman was gang raped and murdered while traveling on a bus in the nation's capital, prompting international outrage. Four men have been arrested in connection with this week's attack, though they have not been charged. The city of New Delhi, meanwhile, has ordered an inquiry to probe events surrounding the young girl's death, though Indians who have been sounding the alarm on violence against women for decades aren't expecting much to come of it.

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