Epstein and the 2024 challenge
If you thought the snows of the early New Year would somehow cleanse the wretched mess that was politics in 2023, you’ve likely been, well, snowed. 2024 has already started with the sordid whimper of Jeffrey Epstein’s documents being unsealed, and it is quickly escalating thanks to the very nasty bangs of two wars and an Age vs. Rage US election … but let’s not cock the guns quite yet.
First things first: On behalf of all of us here at GZERO, welcome back from what I hope was a restful break and a balm from the news, spending some time with your family and friends. We can’t thank you enough for being part of the daily political conversation. While it seems quaint these days to shake hands instead of fists, let’s start a year that’s promising to be nasty and brutish by sharing a friendly greeting instead of a furious meme.
Let’s get going.
2024 might well be framed by two people, one whom you know, convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and another most of you don’t know, Bob Auchterlonie, the commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, who is urging the need for greater defense preparedness to battle future crises. This year will essentially be a battle between what I call “the Epsteiners” and “the Auchterlonies.” Let me explain.
Epsteiners are those who are poring over the 45 court documents that were just unsealed by a federal court as part of a lawsuit against Epstein, who died four years ago in prison by suicide … or “suicide,” depending on who you ask. The documents are causing a collective conniption of conspiracy, even though they have so far been a smokeless gun.
While there is no way to minimize the horrible crimes of a pedophile like Epstein and his gruesome accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell, who is now serving a prison sentence for conspiracy and trafficking, the mentions in the docs of former Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, as well as Prince Andrew, are nothing new. This is a serious criminal case covered in goops of gossip and innuendo. That’s it.
Epsteiners, however, don’t care about the facts. They obsess over some paradigmatic conspiracy involving an ultra-rich cabal of politicians/financiers/celebrities/enablers being connected in some darkling, Deep State/Big Pharma/Big Tech/George Soros/Davos/Mainstream Media multiverse involving everything from pedophilia and vaccine mind control to wars. Epstein is just the latest clue! It’s all a blend of blathering balderdash, but my God, Epsteiners can’t stop reading it, and bloviators like Alex Jones and Tucker Carlson can’t stop talking about it. The Lolita Express! Murder? “Why would Bill Barr be covering up the death of Jeffrey Epstein?” Tucker asked Trump.
What does this mean for the stolen election narrative? What about Bill Clinton? Who else? And on it goes, online landscapers building virtual grassy knolls for all to see.
Auchterlonies ignore this stuff. Instead, they focus on real threats, not invented ones meant to drive clicks. In a recent interview with the Canadian Press, Vice-Admiral Auchterlonie listed the Israel-Hamas war and the potential for a widening regional conflict with Iran, the Russia-Ukraine war and Putin’s next steps, instability in regions of Africa, China, and more as urgent issues to worry about. “We are in the middle of this and I'm not sure everybody understands that the security and defense situation globally has deteriorated significantly," he told journalist Sarah Ritchie. He's right.
This is the world of the Auchterlonies. They pay attention to the main things that will impact your life and are not distracted by the circus of conspiracy.
While Epsteiners are obsessed with the prurient sex details (allegedly) involving Prince Andrew, Auchterlonies focus on news like Houthi attacks on container ships in the Red Sea and why this has doubled freight rates, driving up commodity prices on virtually everything. A third of the goods shipped globally, from your IKEA sofa to building supplies, usually pass through the Red Sea. No longer.
Attempted hijackings and rocket attacks are forcing ships to abandon the Suez Canal and sail a longer, more expensive route around Cape Horn. Want to understand inflation? The Houthi actions, supported by Iran, are a direct attack on the global economy and your wallet.
On Jan. 8, Eurasia Group and GZERO will reveal the Top Risks Report of 2024, and you are invited to join us. I’ll be hosting alongside Ian Bremmer, Cliff Kupchan, Susan Glasser, Marietje Schaake, and Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein. I can’t tell you what’s in the Top Risks, but I can say this is going to be pure Auchterlonie stuff.
While Epstein’s file isn’t a Top Risk for the year ahead (that much I can reveal), in some sense it is. As we said last year in our Top Risk report, disinformation is a real threat to democracy. It still is, and the Epsteiners are making it worse, eroding trust not only in institutions like government but in the very need for those institutions to exist in the first place.
Commander Auchterlonie’s agenda is to kick-start Canada’s lagging investment in its defense forces — and that is crucial — but his bigger point is more general: The world is getting dangerous, and we need to focus on the main things and get ready.
Look, everyone — me included – is reading about the Epstein stuff. How can you not? The latest groping allegations about Prince Andrew sell newspapers for a reason.
But in a year like 2024, when there are wars, elections, AI disruptions, and more pissed-off energy than at a Sex Pistols concert, the battle for our minds will be between Epsteiners and the Auchterlonies.