Quick Take: Biden's challenge and Navalny's courage

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and it is the last full day of the Trump administration. Extraordinary four years, unprecedented in so many ways. I guess the most important feature for me is how much more divided the United States is, the world is, as coming out of the Trump administration than it was coming in. Not new. We were in a GZERO world, as I called it well before Trump was elected president. The social contract was seen as fundamentally problematic. Many Americans believed their system was rigged, didn't want to play the kind of international leadership role that the United States had heretofore, but all of those things accelerated under Trump.

So perhaps the most important question to be answered is, once Trump is gone, how much of that persists? It is certainly true that a President Biden is much more oriented towards trying to bring the United States back into existing multilateral architecture, whether that be the Paris Climate Accord, or more normalized immigration discussions with the Mexicans, the World Health Organization, the Iranian Nuclear Deal, some of which will be easy to do, like Paris, some of which will be very challenging, like Iran. But nonetheless, all sounds like business as usual.


But I would say that after the events of January 6th, the most significant response that I heard from world leaders around the world was shock that that could happen in the United States and certainly more awareness of the divides in the United States, of the reality that Trump is less of an aberration and more of a structural consequence than perhaps they had been willing to believe, or internalize, accept. And so, even though I think we're going to see a honeymoon of the United States with allies, with most allies, there will also be a ceiling on just how reintegrated the US will be diplomatically with these countries.

Some of which because China is more powerful and has more influence around the world. And that also continues, was happening under Obama, has sped up under Trump, and will continue under Biden. Some of that because there's more hedging on the part of American allies around the world. And some of it because the United States isn't as aligned on some key issues with other countries. I think about the response on technology. You saw how the Germans and the French were really critical of Trump being de-platformed by Google, and Facebook, and others.

You look at the Europeans today. Their views on the future of technology, not clearly aligned with the United States. I think more aligned with the US than China, but not obvious that it's massively so. They'd much rather, if they have a choice, continue to hedge. And on climate, even though Biden will be much more aligned with the Europeans than Trump was, we shouldn't pretend that these countries are going to be in lock step. So, I mean, some of it is a geopolitical environment where American adversary, principal adversary, is getting stronger. Some of it is that the United States is less willing to play the kind of role it has, and other allies don't believe in it. And some of it is because the actual policy orientations are changing over time.

And all of those things mean that the Americans don't get to come back to the status quo ante. And it'll be very interesting to see how the incoming Biden team deals with that. It's very interesting to see how Armin Laschet, who has just taken over the reins of party leadership from Angela Merkel and may well become the next chancellor of Germany, how he deals with that issue.

Another big issue about how we deal with it is Russia. Haven't spoken as much about Russia recently, but after the events of this weekend, how could I not. Alexei Navalny, the most popular member of the Russian opposition, hard to say there's a leader of the Russian opposition because political parties that are formally opposition in Russia are allowed by the Kremlin, and Navalny is not that, he has been detained for 30 days, kind of a show hearing where he wasn't allowed access to his defense attorney, really a joke. Upon him landing in Moscow, the plane was diverted from Vnukovo Airport to Sheremetyevo, which is where most of the international flights historically had come in, at the last minute by the Russian government, as well as a detention of family members and friends that were waiting for Navalny.

Look, staggering bravery and courage of Navalny going back to his homeland after a failed assassination attempt by poisoning. And he was in Germany for months. You could say, "How could he do that? Because he's obviously risking his life." Then you can ask, "How could he not do that when he knows just how badly his countrymen have been mistreated by a dictatorship, and his relevance, his ability to make a difference in his country, for his country inside, and standing for what he knows is right, is so much greater than he can as an exile living in comparative comfort in a country like Germany?"

Look, I mean, I have no idea, if I was in his position, how I would act, but I will tell you that an extraordinary amount of thanks, of gratitude, that we have human beings like that, who are capable of putting the many before the needs of the one, I'm going to go back to Star Trek, if you want. It's quite something to see, and to watch it play out real-time, and he knows, and his wife, who was with him on the plane, knew exactly what they were getting into. And not only did it not stop them, in some ways, it emboldened him. There will be additional sanctions from the US and Europe.

There'll be travel restrictions on Russian officials. It will have virtually no impact on the Russian economy. And it's kind of like what the Chinese are doing, rounding up all of these Democrats and arresting them in Hong Kong. It's making rule of law impossible in that territory. It is ending an agreement to have one state and two different political systems. And ultimately, the Chinese government doesn't feel like there are any consequences.

And it is that impunity, my friend, David Miliband, the former foreign secretary for the UK, that impunity, as he writes about, that leaders around the world increasingly feel when there is an absence of global leadership, when the United States no longer has the same level of credibility to be able to lead by example, when there are massive divisions, and the country that is most powerful after the United States is, frankly, the opposite, in terms of the absence of human rights and indifference to individual liberties and privileges. We're going to see a lot more of this. And it is the behavior of brave individuals like Navalny that give all of us hope that even as the geopolitics are so truly problematic, that human spirit remains indomitable. And lots for us to continue to hope for in this 2021. So next time I'll talk to you, there will be a new President of the United States. The underlying structural issues will still persist, but there will be a lot to talk about. Hope everyone's doing well. Stay safe, avoid people. Talk to you soon.

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Learn more about Zoe and her story.

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Ida Liu Global Head of Private Banking, Citi Global Wealth

Ida Liu

Global Head of Private Banking, Citi Global Wealth

Alexander Kazan, Chief Commercial Officer at Eurasia Group

Alexander Kazan

Chief Commercial Officer, Eurasia Group

Caitlin Dean, Practice Head, Geostrategy, Eurasia Group

Caitlin Dean

Practice Head, Geostrategy, Eurasia Group

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