THREE STORIES IN THE KEY OF: THE LIVING DEAD

THREE STORIES IN THE KEY OF: THE LIVING DEAD

People can’t always choose where they die, but where they lie afterwards can have huge political significance across borders and generations.


First, to North Korea, where the United States has long pressed Pyongyang to return the bodies of American service members killed in the Korean War. The issue is at the center of Trump’s overtures to North Korea – after the Singapore summit he announced that the remains of hundreds of US soldiers were to be returned as a gesture of North Korean goodwill. But after a rocky follow-up meeting in Pyongyang last weekend, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said more talks were needed to hash out the details. If the dead can’t be returned, the living will surely have a much harder time negotiating any tenable nuclear deal.

Next, to Israel, where the government still wants to find the body of Eli Cohen, perhaps the most famous spy in the country’s history. As an Arab Jew who impersonated a playboy Syrian businessman in Damascus in the 1960s, Cohen was an invaluable asset to Israeli intelligence. In 1965, his cover blown, the Syrians publicly hanged him in Damascus, but his work helped Israel to avoid defeat in the Six-Day War two years later. Last week, it emerged that Mossad had spirited Cohen's watch out of Syria earlier this year, but his body remains (somewhere) there. Here’s a thought: if Bashar al-Assad wants some accommodation with Israel as part of a settlement to the waning Syrian civil war, returning Cohen’s body could be low-cost goodwill gesture. One catch: the body has been moved so many times that apparently not even Syrian intelligence is sure where it is.

Lastly, to Spain where the country’s new socialist government has stoked controversy by reviving a proposal to move the body of former dictator Francisco Franco from an elaborate cliffside shrine outside of Madrid (pictured above) to a more modest location. Franco, who ruled Spain with an iron fist for some forty years until his death in 1975, remains a divisive figure in the country. Many conservative Spaniards feel nostalgia for his strongly centralized, Spanish nationalist rule, and about 35 percent of those polled say they oppose the plan to move his bones. Just under half of Spaniards, meanwhile, said it should happen. The stigma of Franco’s regime – the last of Southern Europe’s right-wing dictatorships to fall – has made it harder for far-right parties to take root in Spain than elsewhere. But with Spain now facing a surge of migrants – a challenge that has stoked right-wing groups elsewhere in Europe – could efforts by the government to suppress Franco’s memory backfire?

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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