When The Blame Game Goes Bad

Politicians in a growing number of countries have boosted their popularity by demonizing outsiders as “enemies.” Here are three stories that illustrate what can go wrong with this strategy.


In Norway, Fisheries Minister Per Sandberg, deputy head of the anti-immigrant Progress party, was forced to resign this week after visiting Iran with his girlfriend without notifying the prime minister’s office in advance.

This particular girlfriend is an Iranian immigrant (and beauty queen) who had seen three requests for asylum in Norway rejected before she was finally granted a residency permit. Sandberg’s party has called for those with rejected asylum applications to be swiftly expelled from the country. Fortunately for Sandberg, his girlfriend managed to avoid that fate.

Here are two (more serious) examples.

In Italy, a bridge collapsed in the northern city of Genoa on Tuesday, killing at least 39 people. For Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini (pictured above), the enemy is the European Union and the spending caps the EU asks of member states. That spending could have helped repair shoddy infrastructure, he argued.

But journalist Albero Nardelli points out the EU has not only warned that Italy needs infrastructure spending, it “has given the green light to some €10 billion” for exactly that purpose, including in Genoa. But the M5S, the party with which Salvini’s Lega governs in coalition, has argued that Italy’s government shouldn’t spend big money on infrastructure because the need for repairs is a “fable.”

In addition, as Tuesday author Alex Kliment rightly notes, Salvini’s complaint that the EU doesn’t allow Italy enough for infrastructure spending would have more credibility if Italy weren’t dead last among Western European countries in corruption rankings. Too much money is stolen before it can be invested.

Salvini’s accusation won’t help the mood when Italy’s government submits a draft budget for EU review in October.

In Turkey, an economic crisis has taken hold. President Erdogan says the enemies are outsiders preying on the country’s economy. He calls tariffs imposed by the Trump administration “economic terrorism.”

But the true source of Turkey’s current turmoil is an economy built on heavy borrowing that’s denominated in foreign currency and a refusal to fight rising inflation by raising interest rates.

Erdogan presses Turkey’s central bank to keep rates low in hopes of keeping growth, and his own approval ratings, artificially high. The result is a sharp drop in the value of Turkey’s currency that began well before Trump imposed penalties in response to the standoff over a US citizen held in Turkey.

The bottom line: All three cases illustrate the reality that, though posing as defender of the people against foreign enemies can make for successful politics, it doesn’t help with governing.

Ferrera Erbognone, a small town in the northern Italian province of Pavia, is home to one of the most cutting-edge computing centers in the world: Eni's Green Data Center. All of the geophysical and seismic prospecting data Eni produces from all over the world ends up here. Now, the Green Data Center is welcoming a new supercomputing system: HPC5, an advanced version of the already powerful HPC4. Due to be completed by early 2020, HPC5 will triple the Green Data Center's computing power, from 18.6 to 52 petaflops, equivalent to 52 million billion mathematical operations per second.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

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It's a concrete example of a broader trend in global politics: technology is a double-edged sword with sharp political consequences. Artificial intelligence, for example, can help develop new medicines but it can also support surveillance states. Social media helps nourish democracy movements and entertains us with cat memes, but it also feeds ISIS and 4Chan.

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Tehran's Next Move: "We don't want an Islamic Republic, we don't want it," was the chant heard among some protesters in Tehran over the weekend after the government announced a 50 percent fuel price hike meant to fund broader support for the country's poor. Under crippling US sanctions, the country's economy has plummeted, unleashing a "tsunami" of unemployment. What started Friday as nationwide economic protests took on a political coloring, as protestors in some cities tore up the flag and chanted "down with [Supreme Leader] Khamenei!". The unrest seems to be related, at least indirectly, to widespread demonstrations against Tehran-backed regimes in Iraq and Lebanon as well. Economically-motivated protests erupt in Iran every few years, but they tend to subside within weeks under harsh government crackdowns. So far, the authorities have shut down the internet to prevent protestors from using social media to organize rallies. But Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps has warned of more "decisive action" if the unrest continues.

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13 billion: Building a single state-of-the-art US aircraft carrier costs about $13 billion, a figure that exceeds total military spending by countries like Poland, the Netherlands, or Pakistan. But as China's ability to hit seaborne targets improves, the Economist asks if carriers are "too big to fail." (Come for that, stay for the many strange Top Gun references in the piece.)

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