REDRAWING THE LINES: GERMANY AND COLOMBIA

REDRAWING THE LINES: GERMANY AND COLOMBIA

Over the past four days, Germany’s coalition government nearly collapsed because of a schism over the country’s migrant policy, and a left-wing candidate got 8 million votes in Colombia’s presidential election.​


What’s the common thread? Both stories flow from bold political gambles, framed in moral terms, that national leaders took years ago and which have fundamentally reshaped politics in their countries ever since.

In Germany, which Gabe has been watching closely as always, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 13-year tenure is looking increasingly tenuous as she faces rebellion within her own ranks over migrant policy. Her interior minister, Horst Seehofer of the Bavaria-based CSU party (for decades the more conservative alliance partner to Merkel’s own CDU) says he wants to turn away migrants at Germany’s southern border, directly flouting Merkel’s policy of allowing them in. If the CSU breaks with Merkel, her government could collapse, potentially triggering new elections.

What changed to get us here: Merkel’s historic 2015 decision to open the country’s borders to more than a million migrants from the Middle East and North Africa. In last fall’s elections, the upstart AfD party rode a scorching anti-immigrant platform into the Bundestag, becoming the first far-right party to make it there in Germany’s postwar history and swiping a huge chunk of CSU voters along the way. So for the more conservative figures in Merkel’s coalition, it’s a no brainer: take a harder line on migrants or risk losing more ground to the AfD. The Chancellor now has two weeks to work out a new Europe-wide solution in which other countries accept more migrants. But with anti-immigrant parties running Hungary, Poland, Austria, and now Italy, that won’t be easy. Merkel’s moral stand in 2015 may yet have deep political consequences in 2018.

In Colombia, the fact that Gustavo Petro, a former mayor of Bogota and one-time guerilla, had an opportunity to lose this Sunday’s presidential runoff to center-right candidate Ivan Duque was by itself historic. Never has a left-wing figure made it so far at the national level in Colombia, a country run virtually since independence by center-right parties.

What changed to get us here: Outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos in 2016 signed a controversial peace accord that ended 50 years of war with the left-wing FARC guerrillas. Throughout that conflict, the stigma of rebel violence closed off space for a normal left-wing politics and reduced much of political debate to the question of how to deal with the FARC. Now, issues like the economy and corruption have become much more salient for most Colombians, and there was Petro, running on a socially-progressive platform that took aim at inequality and pledged to wean Colombia off of fossil fuels.

Still, Mr. Duque won on a distinctly center-right platform — in many ways influenced by his political patron, hardline former president Alvaro Uribe — that envisions a staunchly pro-business agenda alongside revisions to some of the peace deal’s more lenient aspects. And with strong turnout, he commands a robust mandate. But Mr. Petro was upbeat on election night, pledging to lead a left-wing opposition from the seat he now gets in the Senate. Whether a newly viable opposition from the left pulls Duque towards the center or pushes him more towards his base in a deeply polarized country is a new story that may reshape Colombia profoundly, and fast.

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In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

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Iran has vowed to avenge Sunday's attack on its Natanz nuclear facility. Tehran blames Israel, which — as in the past — has neither confirmed nor denied it was responsible. And all this happens just days after indirect talks on US plans to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna. What the Iranians do now will determine the immediate future of those negotiations, a Biden administration priority.

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The end of "forever" in Afghanistan: The Biden administration says it'll withdraw all remaining US troops in Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that prompted Washington to invade the country in the first place. It's unclear how the withdrawal will affect American plans to steer intra-Afghan peace talks in the right direction under the terms of a peace agreement reached by the Trump administration and the Taliban in May 2020. Trump promised to pull out next month as long as the former al-Qaida hosts kept their end of the bargain by not launching deadly attacks (spoiler alert: they have not). Biden's move honors his campaign pledge to end a "forever war" that has claimed more than 2,300 American lives and cost the US Treasury almost $1 trillion since 2001. However, critics fear that a hasty departure could leave the Afghans helpless to prevent the Taliban from returning to power, rendering the entire mission not only expensive, but ultimately pointless.

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week on World In 60: J&J vaccine woes, Blinken warns China, Fukushima water and a large rabbit.

How will the pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine affect the overall pandemic fight in the United States?

Yeah. Right at it, right? Well, we heard that the FDA has suspended vaccines from J&J because of blood clots. They found six in seven million cases. It's kind of like the suspension of AstraZeneca in Europe. It's likely only going to last for a few days. It's a very small percentage of the total number of vaccines that are being jabbed right now into the arms of Americans. It's not going to really slow America's ability to get everyone vaccinated, but it is going to create more vaccine hesitancy. People at the margins will say, "Is this safe? They said it was fine. Now they're saying it's not okay." I understand why there's enormous caution on the part of the FDA, but I wish, wish, wish the communications had been a little softer around all of this. Also will be a problem in terms of export, as J&J is going to be a piece of that. And again, others around the world will say, "Well, if I don't get Moderna, if I don't get Pfizer, I'm not sure I want to take it at all." So all of this is negative news, though I would still say the United States this year is looking really, really good among major economies in dealing with pandemic.

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750 million: While struggling with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world right now, India has approved Russia's Sputnik V COVID vaccine. Moscow has a deal in place to produce 750 million doses of the shot in India.

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In recent weeks, both Pfizer and Moderna have announced early phases of vaccine trials in children, and Johnson & Johnson also plans to start soon. If you know a kid who wants to learn about vaccines, how they work, why we need them, this story is just what the doctor ordered.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week and I've got your Quick Take and thought I would talk a little bit about where we are with Iran. One of the Biden administration's promises upon election was to get the Americans back into the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. As of last week, negotiations are formally restarted, and pretty quickly, in Vienna, they're not direct. The Americans and Iranians are both there, but they're being intermediated by the Europeans because they're not yet ready to show that they can talk directly to each other. That's Iran being cautious in the run-up to their presidential election coming this summer. But the movement is there. So far the talk has largely been about sequencing the Iranian government, saying that all of the sanctions need to be removed before they're willing to go back into the deal, because the Americans after all, unilaterally withdrew from a deal that the Iranians were indeed adhering to, and the inspections did confirm that.

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