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.

As digital technology reshapes the workplace, a move toward skills-based training and employment will unlock opportunities for companies and job seekers alike. While automation and AI are already taking on many routine tasks, demand for people with technology skills is rising fast around the globe. Getting the right people into the right jobs within the right organizations is one of the biggest challenges facing the world of work. So how can it be overcome? To read some recent skills-related stories, visit Microsoft On the Issues.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

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Iran has vowed to avenge Sunday's attack on its Natanz nuclear facility. Tehran blames Israel, which — as in the past — has neither confirmed nor denied it was responsible. And all this happens just days after indirect talks on US plans to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna. What the Iranians do now will determine the immediate future of those negotiations, a Biden administration priority.

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The end of "forever" in Afghanistan: The Biden administration says it'll withdraw all remaining US troops in Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that prompted Washington to invade the country in the first place. It's unclear how the withdrawal will affect American plans to steer intra-Afghan peace talks in the right direction under the terms of a peace agreement reached by the Trump administration and the Taliban in May 2020. Trump promised to pull out next month as long as the former al-Qaida hosts kept their end of the bargain by not launching deadly attacks (spoiler alert: they have not). Biden's move honors his campaign pledge to end a "forever war" that has claimed more than 2,300 American lives and cost the US Treasury almost $1 trillion since 2001. However, critics fear that a hasty departure could leave the Afghans helpless to prevent the Taliban from returning to power, rendering the entire mission not only expensive, but ultimately pointless.

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week on World In 60: J&J vaccine woes, Blinken warns China, Fukushima water and a large rabbit.

How will the pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine affect the overall pandemic fight in the United States?

Yeah. Right at it, right? Well, we heard that the FDA has suspended vaccines from J&J because of blood clots. They found six in seven million cases. It's kind of like the suspension of AstraZeneca in Europe. It's likely only going to last for a few days. It's a very small percentage of the total number of vaccines that are being jabbed right now into the arms of Americans. It's not going to really slow America's ability to get everyone vaccinated, but it is going to create more vaccine hesitancy. People at the margins will say, "Is this safe? They said it was fine. Now they're saying it's not okay." I understand why there's enormous caution on the part of the FDA, but I wish, wish, wish the communications had been a little softer around all of this. Also will be a problem in terms of export, as J&J is going to be a piece of that. And again, others around the world will say, "Well, if I don't get Moderna, if I don't get Pfizer, I'm not sure I want to take it at all." So all of this is negative news, though I would still say the United States this year is looking really, really good among major economies in dealing with pandemic.

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750 million: While struggling with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world right now, India has approved Russia's Sputnik V COVID vaccine. Moscow has a deal in place to produce 750 million doses of the shot in India.

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In recent weeks, both Pfizer and Moderna have announced early phases of vaccine trials in children, and Johnson & Johnson also plans to start soon. If you know a kid who wants to learn about vaccines, how they work, why we need them, this story is just what the doctor ordered.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week and I've got your Quick Take and thought I would talk a little bit about where we are with Iran. One of the Biden administration's promises upon election was to get the Americans back into the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. As of last week, negotiations are formally restarted, and pretty quickly, in Vienna, they're not direct. The Americans and Iranians are both there, but they're being intermediated by the Europeans because they're not yet ready to show that they can talk directly to each other. That's Iran being cautious in the run-up to their presidential election coming this summer. But the movement is there. So far the talk has largely been about sequencing the Iranian government, saying that all of the sanctions need to be removed before they're willing to go back into the deal, because the Americans after all, unilaterally withdrew from a deal that the Iranians were indeed adhering to, and the inspections did confirm that.

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