SHORT CUTS: Bibi and Boris in Trouble, Africa's Big Deal, Kiwihack!, and More…

SHORT CUTS: Bibi and Boris in Trouble, Africa's Big Deal, Kiwihack!, and More…

Today, we step away from the usual roundup of what we're watching and ignoring in order to cast a wider net over a busy week in international politics. Here are short cuts on several of the most important stories.

Bibi's in big trouble

Even after winning elections in April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also known as Bibi, was unable to form a government before Wednesday's deadline, a first in Israeli history. Now new elections must be held on September 17.

Opposition leader, and former Defense Minister, Benny Gantz appears set to again lead his Blue and White coalition against Netanyahu. The stakes are high for Bibi – he is facing corruption charges, and wants to be in a position to pass laws that grant him immunity from prosecution while he is in office.

One twist: this week, Gantz publicly floated the idea of a unity government between Blue and White and Netanyahu's Likud party—as long as Netanyahu is not prime minister. Could that happen? Likud may well come out in front in September, but Netanyahu's unprecedented failure to form a government means that his fellow Likudniks might start to see him as expendable after the vote.


New Zealand Hack Attack Reveals a Dangerous Global Trend

In New Zealand this week, the opposition National Party leaked details of the government's budget plan two days before it was to be publicly unveiled, and the country's Treasury claims the info came from hacking government computers. The National Party denies it hacked anything, and the Treasury won't say who it believes was behind the attack.

The resulting controversy echoes questions over Donald Trump's presidential campaign, in which information about his opponent Hillary Clinton was stolen by the Russian government, but it poses a question that will surely be asked in countries around the world in coming years: As hacking makes it easier than ever to access sensitive data, what should a political party do when it's offered illegally obtained but politically valuable information by an outside actor? In some cases, an actor based in another country?

The Mueller Effect

President Trump responded to the public statement from Robert Mueller earlier this week, in which the Special Counsel made clear that his report does not exonerate the president on obstruction of his investigation but that he chooses not to add more than is already in his report. The president's response? Mueller, he said, was just "highly conflicted" by anger at Trump for not naming him FBI director and a past disagreement over an unspecified business deal.

Did Mueller's statement light the fuse of impeachment or leave all sides disappointed? Click here for our take(s) on one of the biggest stories of the week.

Boris Goes to Court

Boris Johnson may be the odds-on favorite to succeed Theresa May as Conservative Party leader and prime minister of the UK, but a judge ruled this week that he must appear in court to face charges that he lied and misled the public during the Brexit referendum campaign in 2016. Under British law, a public official can be charged with misconduct if he or she knowingly misleads the public on a matter of important public interest. At issue: Johnson's false claim before the Brexit vote that the UK's membership in the EU was costing British taxpayers £350m ($440 million) a week.

Britain's prosecuting authority can shut this case down if it chooses, but Johnson can't be pleased to see so much scrutiny of his credibility on the eve of his best-ever chance to become prime minister.

Africa's Kind of (a) Big Deal

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement, which would create a single market of more than 1.2 billion people if all African countries eventually sign up, went into effect this week. At the moment, much of Africa's trade is with countries outside the continent but the deal could boost continental commerce more than 50%, says the UN, spurring economic growth and creating jobs for Africa's soaring youth population.

Still, the deal, which would allow "free movement of business persons and investment" among member states, remains a work very much in progress. First, the countries that have already signed up have until July to decide how the agreement will actually work. Second, just 24 of Africa's 54 countries ratified the deal so far.

Greece turns the political page

An underreported story from European Parliament elections: Syriza, Greece's governing party, performed badly enough in the bloc-wide vote that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has announced early elections, probably in July. Economic conditions are unlikely to improve much before the original election date in October.

The main opposition New Democracy party has promised for years that its investor-friendly approach to economic policy will help Greece recover from its deep economic crisis more quickly than Syriza can. We're likely to find out if they're right: the party stands an excellent chance of winning a majority in parliament. On the other hand, a Syriza freed of responsibility from governing might become a serious obstacle to better Greek relations with the country's European creditors.

Venezuela's Road to Nowhere

Not surprisingly, talks held in Oslo between representatives of Venezuela's government and opposition have ended without much progress. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, recognized as Venezuela's legitimate president by dozens of other governments, has called on his supporters to return to the streets to protest. The stalemate continues because the leadership of Venezuela's military, and most other parts of the government, remains loyal to President Nicolás Maduro.

For now, Venezuela's economy continues to spiral, and 3.7 million Venezuelans have fled their country, according to the UN. No matter where Maduro's men meet Guaido's, there is little reason to believe the two sides can find common ground until the military becomes convinced that it's more dangerous to keep Maduro than to put him on a plane.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What is the legacy of Colin Powell?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tragically died of complications of COVID-19. He was the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first Black National Security Advisor and the first Black Secretary of State. And he leaves a legacy of a long career, dedicated almost entirely to public service.

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Can this guy defeat Viktor Orban? Hungary's opposition movement of odd bedfellows has finally settled on the person they think has the best chance of defeating PM Viktor Orbán at the ballot box: Péter Márki-Zay, a politically conservative small-town mayor from southeastern Hungary, who beat out left-leaning European Parliament member Klara Dobrev in a weekend poll. Márki-Zay has a lot going for him: as a devout Catholic and father of seven it will be hard for the ultraconservative Orbán to paint him as a progressive threat, even as Márki-Zay reaches out to reassure left-leaning groups that he will protect LGBTQ rights. What's more, Márki-Zay has little political baggage: until recently he was a marketing executive. But can the relatively inexperienced Márki-Zay keep the various opposition factions happy? The stakes couldn't be higher: since taking power more than a decade ago, Orbán has deliberately made Hungary into an "illiberal" state, cracking down on the press, undermining the rule of law, and clashing with the EU. Bonus: if Márki-Zay stays in the news, you get to say "Hódmezővásárhely" the name of the city he currently runs.

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5,600: Myanmar's military junta will release from prison 5,600 people who were jailed for protesting against last February's coup. The gesture, the biggest act of amnesty since the junta took power, comes just days after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which rarely interferes in members' internal affairs, said it would exclude the head of Myanmar's military from an upcoming regional meeting.

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Colin Powell's legacy

US Politics

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