THREE STORIES IN THE KEY OF: UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

THREE STORIES IN THE KEY OF: UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Every action has a reaction—sometimes unintended. Here are three stories about the unintended consequences of governments’ actions that caught our attention this week.


Russia’s sanctions windfall: A more confrontational US foreign policy is delivering an unexpected windfall to Moscow—more money in the bank. That’s because Russia has benefited from two simultaneous effects of US sanctions. First, the price of oil, Russia’s main export, has risen steadily in anticipation of the re-imposition of US sanctions against Iran. Second, US measures against Russia itself have caused the value of its currency, the ruble, to fall by 15 percent since mid-August. The combined result is that a barrel of Russian crude, which is typically sold in dollars, is worth around 30 percent more todaythan one sold back in January.

Saudi Arabia’s tech funding: Saudi Arabia’s alleged killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has led a number of high-profile US business people to withdrawfrom an upcoming investment conference in Riyadh, a consequential development for the kingdom as it seeks to attract know-how from abroad. But the next wave of the backlash may wash over Silicon Valley—as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, has directed at least $11 billion in Saudi funds to Silicon Valley since mid-2016, according to the Wall Street Journal. As global elites sour on MBS as a result of the Khashoggi affair, many American tech companies and entrepreneurs could soon find their sources of funds under fresh scrutiny.

US aid to Central America: A migrant caravan of at least 1,500 Hondurans is currently making the more than 3,000-mile overland journey to the United States. Yesterday, members of the caravan were detained by Guatemalan officials for making what they claim was an illegal border crossing. This story hasn’t escaped the attention of President Trump, who threatened in a recent tweet to cut off all aid to Honduras, the second poorest country in Latin America, if the group isn't quickly returned home. But a reduction in US aid to Honduras, which has already been slashed by the Trump administration (see graphic below), may simply exacerbate the factors that led these migrants to flee their country in the first place.

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Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.

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Iraqi PM's face-to-face with Biden: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq's prime minister, met with President Biden at the White House Monday to discuss the future of US troops in Iraq. The US still has about 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq to engage in "counterterrorism" operations and train Iraqi forces. In an interview published this week, al-Kadhimi called for the withdrawal of all US combat troops, because, he said, Iraqi forces have proven capable of fighting ISIS militants on their own. (Just last week, some 30 Iraqis were killed when ISIS militants attacked a busy Baghdad market.) Al-Kadhimi still wants non-combat US troops to stay on in a training capacity. He became PM in 2020 as a consensus candidate after nationwide protests over corruption and joblessness forced the resignation of the unpopular previous government. At least 500 protesters were killed during a crackdown by Iraqi security forces, fueling demands for fresh elections, which are set to take place this October. The green PM has a tough job: he has to juggle relations with the Biden administration, which just pledged $155 million in aid to Iraq, and ties with Tehran, an influential player in Iraqi politics. (Iraq relies on Iran for energy imports, and Iran-backed militias inside Iraq are a force to be reckoned with.) Local sentiment has soured on the US presence as Iraqis resent being caught in the middle of US-Iran fights inside Iraqi territory.

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7,100: As a third COVID wave ravages Myanmar, the death toll has now risen above 7,100, a gross undercount because that total includes only those who died in hospitals. Myanmar, which has one of the weakest healthcare systems in Asia, is also dealing with a vaccine hesitancy problem: people are rejecting shots because they see vaccination as validation of the military, which overthrew the democratically elected government earlier this year.

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Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

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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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"We've been dealing with pandemics from the earliest recorded history. Thucydides writes about a pandemic in the history of the Peloponnesian War. So the last thing 2020 was, was unprecedented," Stanford historian Niall Ferguson told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World. Ferguson, whose new book, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe," believes that the world should have been better prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic based on the numerous health crises of the 20th century, from the 1918 Spanish flu to influenza and HIV/AIDS. He provides perspective on how the COVID crisis stacks up compared to other pandemics throughout history.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

COVID-19 was a global catastrophe that blindsided the world's wealthiest nations, and it's far from over. But as disasters go, it was hardly unprecedented. Humanity has a long history of failing to prepare for the worst, from volcanic eruptions to earthquakes to famines to shipwrecks to airplane crashes to financial depressions. But how do we get better at preventing such calamities from happening, and how many seemingly unavoidable "natural" disasters are actually caused by humans? On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer talks about all that and more with Stanford historian Niall Ferguson, who is just out with the perfect book for the topic, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe." Plus, a look at how one young Ugandan activist was literally cropped out of the global climate fight.

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GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

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GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

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Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal