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Cold-Blooded Politics

Cold-Blooded Politics

Alex's big story of 2018: The murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Not only did the killing of this Saudi journalist capture and hold the world's attention, it threw a harsh light on some larger themes now reshaping global politics.


First, the government-backed killing of a prominent writer underscored the growing dangers that journalists face all over the world. That's a problem not only in autocracies like Saudi Arabia or China, but in increasingly precarious democracies too. This threat to the press is part of bigger trends: plummeting public trust in institutions, a growing "war on truth," and flagging faith in liberal democratic norms.

At the same time, his murder – by all indications ordered by a crown prince with close ties to the White House – also raised legitimate questions about whether Donald Trump's nakedly transactional foreign policy will expand authoritarian governments' perceptions of what they can get away with.

A potentially positive legacy of Khashoggi's murder: The intensified scrutiny of Saudi Arabia threw fresh light on the war in Yemen and helped push the US Senate to cut support for Riyadh's military campaign there. That's partly why a ceasefire became possible for the first time last week. That's a glimmer of hope for an end to "the world's worst humanitarian crisis."

His big question for 2019: Can the world's newly empowered nationalists keep from cutting each other up?

Discontent with the status quo has propelled nationalist politicians to electoral victory in seven of the world's ten largest economies in recent years. And while Italy's Salvini, Hungary's Orban, Austria's Kurz, India's Modi, Mexico's Lopez Obrador, America's Trump, and Brazil's Bolsonaro can agree on what they're against, their interests will clash when they must deal with one another directly.

We see this problem everywhere: Italy and Hungary have migration battles. Italy and Austria have a border dispute. So do India and China. Trump and AMLO have plenty to fight about. AMLO and Bolsonaro are ideologically at odds. And of course, the two biggest economies on earth are now governed by nationalists. Can all these tough guys keep tensions under control?

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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