March 16, 2021
A Lebanese social media project goes viral with a simple message: The world sucks. Make it better.
Watch the GZERO World episode: Is the US Misjudging the Middle East's Power Shifts? Vali Nasr's View
A Lebanese social media project goes viral with a simple message: The world sucks. Make it better.
Watch the GZERO World episode: Is the US Misjudging the Middle East's Power Shifts? Vali Nasr's View
Listen: "Pivot to Asia." It was the catchphrase floating around Washington DC's foreign policy circles in 2009 when President Obama first took office. And yet twelve years later, the Middle East continues to consume the attention of the United States' military and diplomatic efforts. Now President Biden is determined to change that, and to turn Washington's attention to Asia once and for all as he moves to confront a growing China. But according to Johns Hopkins University Middle East Scholar Vali Nasr, President Biden's approach to the Middle East will have to adapt to the once-in-a-generation power grab occurring between Iran, Israel, and Turkey while Arab nations in the region increasingly lose influence.
Is the EU playing it safe or prolonging the agony? With Brexit talks still deadlocked in the 11th hour (and in the 11th month, at that) the European Union is taking no chances. Brussels on Thursday unveiled an emergency plan that aims to keep UK-EU trade and travel moving even in the event of the dreaded "no deal" scenario in which there's no agreement at all governing nearly $1 trillion in cross-Channel annual trade. The EU's contingency plan would require UK consent, and cover travel by air and road, shipping, and fishing for six months. Talks between London and Brussels are still stuck on a few key points — including regulatory rules and fishing rights — and technically the two sides need to reach a deal in the next few days or the clock runs out. But does the EU's plan, which would provide cover into early next year, now undercut the urgency of reaching a deal? Having a safety net is obviously a smart idea, but listen, Boris and Ursula, we can't take any more of this. We really, really can't.
Western Sahara shake-up: President Trump announced Thursday that the US had successfully brokered another détente between Israel and a former Arab foe as part of the Abraham Accords, this time with the Kingdom of Morocco. The two states once enjoyed solid diplomatic relations; however, ties were severed in 2000 amid the bloody Second Intifada between Israelis and Palestinians. So, what does each camp gain from this normalization deal? For the Israelis, it's yet another success in gaining formal recognition from prominent players in the Arab world, helping to boost its security and economic prospects in the region. It also helps Israel create a united bulwark against Iran, a mutual foe. For the Trump administration, the deal presents an opportunity to boast of another foreign policy triumph on its way out the door. But the biggest winner is Morocco: in exchange for agreeing to establish ties with Israel, the US reversed decades of foreign policy by ignoring a long-standing UN resolution and formally recognizing Moroccan control over the contested Western Sahara, where violence recently flared between Moroccan forces and Sahrawi nomads from the Polisario Front liberation movement who have long been fighting for independence on territory claimed by Rabat. This shake-up comes as the Western Sahara is already plagued by instability and violence.
Lebanon's PM charged with negligence: Lebanon's former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, along with three veteran ministers, has been charged with negligence over the Beirut port explosion back in August that killed over 200 people, injured 6,000, and caused far-reaching damage to the capital. Diab, whose government resigned after the disaster but has served in a caretaker capacity in recent months, says that his "conscious is clean:" The former PM says that he was made aware of the explosives (nearly 3,000 tons of material) at the port in June, but that his response was hampered by inconsistent and poor warnings from relevant government agencies. Diab's camp has made clear that it will not cooperate with the courts, saying that the matter should have been handled by parliament, which has a specialized court system for trialing top government officials. To date, 37 people are being prosecuted for the devastating blast that worsened Lebanon's longtime economic and political crises.
India to get US satellite data: Ahead of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's upcoming visit to India, a deal is in the works under which the Indian military would get access to US satellite data for its missiles and drones. The agreement helps India narrow its military gap with China, and is part of the Trump administration's broader efforts to check China's ambitions by bolstering the defense capabilities of other Asian countries. For years India has avoided getting dragged into the US-China tussle, but last summer's deadly border clash with the Chinese in the Himalayas prompted Delhi to take a more active role in the "Quad" group of countries (a security group including Australia, India, the US and Japan, which Beijing views as a US attempt to create a NATO-style anti-Chinese military alliance in the region). We're watching to see how China will react to further US-India military cooperation, and how the Indians will walk the fine line between bolstering their defenses and avoiding more open conflict with Beijing.
Iran pretending to be Proud: The FBI is blaming Iranian agents for a recent flurry of emails that threatened US voters if they don't vote for Donald Trump. The emails, supposedly from the Proud Boys — a pro-Trump far-right street gang — targeted registered Democrats with the message "vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you." US intelligence officials say the scam was designed to tarnish Trump, but to us it seems more like a bid to create broader confusion and distrust surrounding the election. You can expect more shenanigans of this kind in the coming days, as the Feds say both Iran and Russia have gained access to voter registration information in some US states. (They have not been able to change any information or affect any vote tallies.) But, in our view, any issues surrounding the legitimacy of the US election have much more to do with American polarization than with foreign meddling. If you disagree, we'd love to hear why.
India reckons with violence against women, Dalits: The deaths on the same day of two Dalit women after being gang-raped has sparked outrage across India. In New Delhi, scores of protesters were arrested for violating coronavirus restrictions after urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to end the country's "rape culture," while a Dalit party leader called on all members of the lower caste to rally throughout India to demand that the perpetrators be hanged. The tragic deaths have exposed the country's bid problem with rising gender- and caste-based violence. India was one of the most dangerous places to be a woman even before COVID-19, and the pandemic has only made things worse. Dalits — who used to be referred to as "untouchables" under the caste system that the country formally abolished in 1950 — are still victims of severe discrimination by upper-caste Indians. We're watching to see if the anger at these latest deaths turns into a nationwide protest movement that puts pressure on Modi to do more to uphold the rights of both women and Dalits.
EU ups the ante on UK over Brexit: Weeks after Boris Johnson ignited the ire of Brussels by rewriting parts of the UK's exit deal from the European Union, the EU has hit back by launching legal proceedings against the UK for breaching the agreement. The dispute is largely over a proposed new law that would prevent the UK nation of Northern Ireland from following EU trade rules and keeping a "soft" border — a key condition of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement signed by the UK and the Republic of Ireland — while both sides negotiate a final trade deal. European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said that the legislation was in "full contradiction" of Johnson's earlier commitments. Brussels has sent London a "letter of formal notice" — the first phase of the legal process — giving the British government one month to respond before the matter goes to the EU Court of Justice. This all comes as Brussels and London are about to enter the final round of withdrawal talks at the EU Summit on October 15, where they hope to finalize a Brexit deal for EU leaders to approve soon — despite the massive gaps that persist between the two sides. Johnson, for his part, has said that the UK will leave the EU by year's end with or without a deal.Israel, Lebanon agree to maritime talks: After robust diplomatic efforts conducted by Washington in recent years, Israel and Lebanon, longtime enemies who have fought some of the bloodiest wars in the Middle East, have finally agreed to start talks over an ongoing maritime dispute. The talks, to be brokered by the US in conjunction with the UN, will be the first time Israel and Lebanon — who have no diplomatic ties and often clash over land borders and ideology — have engaged in direct dialogue in thirty years. The conversation will center on a decades-long row over a contested area in the Mediterranean Sea linked to three Lebanese energy fields. Both sides will meet in mid-October in southern Lebanon, abutting the volatile frontier where Israeli forces have clashed with Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants and the Lebanese army for decades. (After two decades of war, Israel ended its occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000).
Who's Japan's new PM? The world's third largest economy has a new prime minister after the Japanese parliament voted to elect Yoshihide Suga to the top job just weeks after Shinzo Abe, Japan's longest serving prime minister, resigned because of health problems. Suga, a former cardboard factory worker and close political confidant of Abe for almost a decade, was elected to head the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) with 70 percent of the parliamentary vote. There's widespread consensus among political observers that Suga, known as a pragmatist, will seek to continue Abe's political agenda and legacy, with one commentator dubbing him an "Abe substitute." Suga's cabinet also includes many former Abe loyalists, suggesting a continuation of his policies. Japan now faces twin economic and health crises, while experts say a second wave of infection has already hit the country. One key decision for Suga is whether to move forward with the Olympic games, which Tokyo is still slated to host next summer despite uncertainty about the pandemic.
Moria refugees in limbo: More than a week since a fire ripped through the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, thousands of refugees remain in limbo, sleeping on the streets with little access to food, water, or shelter. Of the nearly 13,000 displaced refugees — who hail from 70 different countries — the Greek government has been able to resettle about 1,200 in temporary migrant camps. In part, that's because many of the migrants are refusing to go to new camps, demanding to be resettled permanently elsewhere in Europe. Moria, an overcrowded camp originally intended to house just 3,000 people, became a symbol of despair in 2015 when thousands of refugees fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and parts of Africa began arriving at the Mediterranean coast in droves in the hopes of permanent resettlement in Europe. This week, Germany said it will take in more refugee families from Greece, but as Lesbos descends into chaos (yet again), critics say the offer doesn't go far enough. The plight of Moria has long been a symbol of the deep divisions over migrant policy that continue to plague the 27-member European Union.
Lebanon's blown deadline. With their country in turmoil, Lebanon's leaders had one job. Under a plan drawn up earlier this month by France, the country's ever-squabbling sectarian political factions agreed to form a new, reform-oriented government by September 16. In exchange for that, Paris was supposed to help unlock massive amounts of foreign financial support for the crisis-wracked country. That one job proved to be too much. Clashes over key posts, and resistance from parliament speaker Nabih Berri — an ally of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite group, who has criticized the French plan and called for the US to drop its sanctions against the group — scuttled the talks. As Lebanon staggers through a crippling economic crisis and the aftermath of last month's devastating port explosion, the stakes couldn't be higher. Prime Minister designate Mustapha Adib, whose job it is to form a government, says "god willing, all will be well." As Lebanon's human leadership continues to fail, God's will may be all that can help at this point.
Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:
First, who is Lebanon's new prime minister?
His name's Mustafa Adib and I had never heard of him. Apparently, he wasn't being considered for prime minister until apparently 24 hours ago. He was Lebanon's ambassador to Germany or is Lebanon's ambassador to Germany. And also, a PhD in political science. So clearly, we must like him. He can't be a bad guy. He looks basically like a technocrat. But in part, it's because Lebanon is impossible to govern and can't agree on any of the well-known and outspoken figures. And this is a massive economic challenge that they're facing. Their currency is falling apart. Their budgets, they can't fund. They had that massive explosion that's going to cost billions to rebuild Beirut. Just happened a couple of weeks ago. They're also fighting coronavirus. They have millions of refugees on their territory that they're paying for. And they don't have as much money from the Gulf states that they had historically because they're facing their own budgetary challenges. On top of which, it's really hard to get an IMF deal done when you don't have effective governance and when Hezbollah is part of your government structure.
So, it's pretty ugly. I wish this guy well. I can't imagine we're going to be hearing from him for very long. But that is the situation in Lebanon. Godspeed.
With daily COVID cases surging to record highs, why is India reopening?
Well, a couple of reasons. First, because, you know, it's a very poor country and people are getting tired and angry of a pretty significant and severe lockdown that Prime Minister Modi had originally put in place. Also, India is a relatively young country. And so even if they have lots of cases, not as many people are going to need hospitalization and mortality rates are comparatively much lower than they are in the United States or Western Europe. That matters. Also, I mean, you have so many people that are prepared to live with a threat of disease, whether it's coronavirus or others, if that means that they can work, and they can continue to provide for their families. Because the alternative, with so many people at subsistence living, is much worse. And that's particularly true when you're not even testing many people. So, you don't really understand the broad contours of the crisis. I mean, there were some recent tests in this one slum that's the largest in Mumbai, over a million people live in it, I've not gone into it, but I've driven right by it on many occasions, and that 50% of that population was shown to have some kind of antibodies for coronavirus. I mean, just ripping through that area. And yet you didn't see big demonstrations or riots about coronavirus. Where you will, if the lockdowns last for longer. It's a lot easier to engage in longer lockdown and longer quarantine in countries with a lot of money and the ability to provide continued support for their populations, like in Europe, like at least until now, the United States. Though, we'll see what happens with the Phase 4 stimulus deal. In the US is getting a lot tougher for a lot of people, too.
What's the update on Belarus? Will Lukashenko fall?
It's looking less likely. The demonstrators, nonviolent, completely nonviolent, and in some cases hundreds of thousands, certainly most cases tens of thousands on the streets for a few weeks solid now in Minsk and in some other places. But Lukashenko, the president, the dictator who stole this election, claiming 80% of the popular vote, he clearly got nowhere close to that, is now arresting, detaining and arresting journalists. He has taken away the accreditation of all of the local journalists for Western institutions. So, we're not getting the same news on the ground that we were just a couple of days ago. They've also brought in special forces and they brought in tanks into Minsk, certainly sending a very disturbing message. All of that happening on the back of President Putin, of Russia, saying that if certain red lines were crossed, that the Russians would come in and provide direct support for Lukashenko. Putin had been staying on the sidelines for weeks. He certainly does not want to engage militarily. That will undermine popularity for Russia in Belarus. But he's now providing nearly a blank check for Lukashenko. And at the end of the day, you have to believe that that makes it much less likely that the supporters of democracy on the streets in Belarus are going to succeed. Horrible to say that. Horrible to see this. But that is what it looks like right now.
Certainly, personally continuing to stand for those demonstrators and hope that they can persist and prevail. But, my God, very dangerous and very courageous. If I had a kid right now in Belarus, I wouldn't want him or her to be out there on the streets. And that's what you also have to watch out for, right? I mean, the human dimension here, it's very easy to say, "stand for them." But in many of the industries, for example, in Belarus, you had seen demonstrations, but they're not willing to risk their jobs because otherwise, how are they going to make a living? And so, they haven't persisted with the kind of grass movement action in shutting down the strike action and shutting down those places that you've seen among the population as a whole in Minsk. It does look like it's moving towards Lukashenko and towards state power.
Finally, what do I make of recent Far Right protests in Germany?
Well, you know, even in Germany, where they've done an awful lot to provide support for the middle and working class and to ensure that people continue to have the ability to take care of themselves, to meet their bills, to not get evicted from their apartments, all of that, there is a significant level of impatience with very tough lockdowns and shutdowns across Germany. That's been very wide support for Merkel and the federal system in Germany, but much better alignment among the among the federal leaders, the regional leaders in Germany, than you've seen among red and blue states in the United States, for example. Merkel's popularity remains very high consistently through the pandemic. But you also saw thousands of the far right actually demonstrating in Berlin. Opposed to social distancing. Opposed to mandatory lockdowns. It is a tiny percentage of the population compared to those sorts of sentiments in other parts of Europe and certainly in the United States. But something to watch out for, particularly something to watch out for in former eastern Germany, where that political sentiment is by far the strongest, but also a part that's done comparatively well, given the social and economic response of the German government since coronavirus has hit. So, I wouldn't worry too much about that. But clearly, something that's worth the headlines, especially as the US continues to be dominated by Trump, dominated by social racial instability, and of course, our own pandemic. So, important to be looking at the news happening around the world today, especially because this pandemic is truly global and is affecting all of us together.