Watching and Ignoring

Watching and Ignoring

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

The “Do Not Congratulate” Leak — The story is straightforward. Senior national security aides advised President Trump to avoid congratulating Vladimir Putin on his election victory, given Russia’s unacknowledged intervention in the US election, poisoning accusations against Russia in the UK, and other issues. Trump ignored this advice and congratulated him anyway. But our real interest in this story comes down to two questions: Who leaked this to the press and why? The leaker is someone with direct access to both the advice Trump received and the content of the call. That’s someone very, very close to the president. And why leak this? Is it someone’s concern over Trump’s relationship with Putin? Anger that Trump ignores advice? A warning of some kind? It’s not unreasonable to wonder if it might have been outgoing National Security Advisor HR McMaster or someone who worked for him.This story bears close watch.


Rising Tides and Stormy Skies — The World Bank says 143 million people could be displaced by climate change by 2050. The highest totals are likely to be in Sub-Saharan Africa (86 million), South Asia (40 million) and Latin America (17 million). HSBC, a bank, says the most vulnerable individual countries are likely to be India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Bangladesh.

Fake Democracy — More on British firm Cambridge Analytica, which has manipulated democracy through a propaganda campaign using social media channels built from data harvested from voters’ Facebook pages without their knowledge. Video has emerged of a senior Cambridge Analytica official bragging that during Kenya’s bitterly disputed presidential election last year, “we wrote all the speeches, and we staged the whole thing.” The company denies all wrongdoing. The Kenya vote pushed political and ethnic tensions to dangerous levels following accusations the results were faked and a court ordered a rerun of the entire vote. The two main candidates, winner Uhuru Kenyatta and failed challenger Raila Odinga, have since taken steps to ease tensions. But with the release of this new video, an opposition figure has demanded a full investigation.

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

Confused Citizens on Alert for Jihad — Munir Zanial, an aerospace engineer working in Kansas, was a dues-paying member of an organization called the Spirit Boeing Employees Association. Last September, Mr Zanial, a Muslim and native of Malaysia, rented some lakefront property owned by the organization to host a party honoring Malaysia’s Independence Day and the end of Ramadan. An unidentified person saw a Malaysian flag at the event and called the FBI to report a US flag “desecrated by ISIS insignia,” according to press reports. The FBI investigation didn’t last long, but the employee group then terminated Mr Zanial’s right to host parties without informing him, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, which has now filed suit on Mr Zanial’s behalf.

India’s Third Front — In recent years, voters in European countries like France and Italy have cast aside traditional political parties in favor of new (or rebranded) ones, and many Americans would love to see Republicans and Democrats face real third-party competition. Is there now an emerging national movement in fast-changing India that can compete on the national stage with center-right and center-left alliances led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP and the Congress Party respectively? The chief ministers of Telangana and West Bengal provinces will reportedly join forces to launch a new alliance, known as the “Third Front,” which will represent different castes and communities and won’t affiliate with the BJP or Congress. But this new grouping will only change the game if/when parties based in BJP states join the alliance. That hasn’t happened yet.

Truth in Translation — Your Friday author returned yesterday from the Antipodes, aka Australia and New Zealand, where he was told the following story: In 1770, on landing in northeast Australia and seeing a kangaroo for the first time, Captain James Cook asked a native of the place what the animal was called. The man replied “kangaroo,” a word which, roughly translated from the northeast Aboriginal language of Guugu Yimidhirr, means “I don’t speak English, you overdressed, pasty-faced weirdo and therefore have no idea what you’re asking me. Please repair your ship quickly and go someplace else.” I’m ignoring the sad reality that this story isn’t true and intend to go on repeating it.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

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