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What We’re Watching: Taliban loom large, China’s 5-year plan, Israel OKs West Bank construction, Zambians vote

US braces for Taliban takeover: Just weeks before US forces were set to fully withdraw from Afghanistan after almost 20 years, the Pentagon is sending 3,000 additional troops to guard Kabul's airport and help most US embassy staff leave the country safely. The State Department refused to call this development an evacuation, insisting that the embassy will remain open after the US withdrawal for some duties, including processing special US visa applications for Afghans who worked for and helped the US military. Meanwhile, Taliban forces have captured their eleventh provincial capital in just one week as they zero in on Kabul. The Taliban now control the country's second and third largest cities — Kandahar and Herat — as well as roughly two-thirds of all Afghan districts, raising fears of an imminent takeover. US intelligence now anticipates Kabul could fall within 30 to 90 days, much earlier than previous estimates. Given the speed of the Taliban advance, the Biden administration's partial — and hasty — drawdown of the US diplomatic mission in Kabul makes sense in order to avoid the chaotic scenes of 1975, when the last Americans to leave Saigon were lifted off in helicopters from the roof of the embassy after the Vietcong conquered the capital of then-South Vietnam.

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Israel-Palestine de-escalation likely by weekend; next space race?

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on World In 60 Seconds (aka Around the World in 180 Seconds) :

Biden says he expects significant de-escalation between Israel and Hamas. Will the conflict end soon?

He wouldn't say that if he hadn't already been told that by Bibi Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, as well as the fact that Israeli Defense Forces have already been saying that they've engaged in significant deterioration of Hamas's military and leadership capabilities. That means that within days you likely get a ceasefire. It's going to be back and forth. The Israelis saying Hamas have to go first. And even when you get a ceasefire agree, then you get more violence, and you get an outbreak. So it's a bit of a rolling back and forth as opposed to suddenly there's just no more military engagement. But I would be really surprised if in another week we see this level of military conflict and of deaths on the ground, primarily in Gaza. In fact, I'd say really by the end of the weekend, I would think that this is going to calm down significantly. Biden wouldn't be saying that otherwise.

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Will Palestinians get to vote?

The last time Palestinians went to the polls was in 2006, after Mahmoud Abbas replaced longtime Fatah stalwart Yasser Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority. But factional infighting between Fatah and Hamas (designated a terror group by the US and EU) brought the Palestinians to the "brink of civil war," Abbas said at the time. Discord over power, ideology and vision led to a bloody battle that saw Fatah expelled to the West Bank in 2007, where it has ruled ever since, while Hamas maintains power in the overcrowded Gaza Strip.

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What We’re Watching: US Olympic boycott threat, Myanmar junta delays vote, US resumes aid to Palestinians

Will the US skip the 2022 Olympics? The Biden administration and its allies are reportedly discussing the possibility of a coordinated boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Although the State Department almost immediately tried to walk back its own previous statement, the move would be an act of protest over allegations of China's vast human rights abuses in Xinjiang province. Skipping the games is a big deal, symbolically at least. The last time the US did so was in 1980, when America boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow in response to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan a year before. But practically speaking, do boycotts have a real effect on anyone besides the athletes who miss a shot at gold? That's a thornier question. Regardless, there are many ways to define "boycott" — the US could — and likely would — do as little as simply keeping its top diplomats from attending. China, for its part, has threatened a "robust response" to any efforts to snub the Beijing games.

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Colombia's humanitarian gesture for Venezuelan refugees merits US support

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

Number one, why did Colombia's president grant legal status to 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants?

Well, because they have them, first of all. Because given the extraordinary economic collapse and the human rights abuses of Venezuelans under the Maduro presidency, not to mention the coronavirus crisis making their lives even worse, they've been fleeing, and most of them have ended up in Colombia. Not providing legal status means they can't work, means they have no path for a future. Some of them have even fled back to Venezuela or returned to Venezuela, and again just shows just how critically difficult their life has been. It's a humanitarian gesture of pretty staggering degree. It makes an enormous difference in the lives of these people. Think about how the United States under Biden now preparing to accept 125,000 refugees per year, up 10 times from what it was just a year ago, the world's most powerful country. The wealthy countries never get overwhelmed with refugees the way the poorest countries do. It's states in Sub-Saharan Africa and it's South and Southeast Asia and it's Latin America, and in the Western hemisphere, it's been Colombia.

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Israel-UAE relations & the Abraham Accords are not at risk under Biden

In a Washington Post op-ed, commentator Hugh Hewitt states his concern that President Biden will continue his streak of policy reversals in the Middle East, specifically regarding the peace deals that Trump brokered in his final year in office. But in fact, Biden has consistently supported the Abraham Accords, even during the heat of the presidential campaign. Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analysts Jeffrey Wright and Sofia Meranto take out the Red Pen to point out that Hewitt may be overreacting to Biden's recent freeze on a fighter jet deal to the UAE.

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What We're Watching: Putin's next move, jabs for Palestinians, Wine goes to court in Uganda

What next for Navalny? Thousands of protesters supporting jailed Russian dissident Alexei Navalny braved an overwhelming police response on Sunday, turning out in more than 80 cities across the country to demand his release from prison. It was the second protest to occur in the two weeks since Navalny was jailed after his return from Germany, and more than 5,000 people were arrested nationwide. The intensity of the police response shows the Kremlin is taking no chances with the protesters, even though their numbers are still relatively small — nowhere near, say, the hundreds of thousands who poured into the streets of Belarus' capital last fall. And it's hard to imagine Vladimir Putin agreeing to release Navalny under pressure from the streets. In fact, it looks like his kangaroo courts are gearing up to lock up the nettlesome anti-corruption crusader and throw away the key. Europe and the US have threatened action if that happens, but sanctions against Russia have proved ineffective in the past. Lacking a political party in a system that is rigged for the party in power anyway, Navalny only has the streets: can they really shake things up enough from below that power starts to crack at the top?

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Vaccine politics and human rights

More than 32 million COVID shots have now been administered globally, raising hopes that the light at the end of the tunnel is now in sight.

The US has vaccinated 3 percent of its total population, while the UK is nearing a solid 5 percent inoculation rate. In Israel, which has been hailed as a vaccine success story, almost 24 percent of people have already received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

But while many countries are able to glimpse the outlines of a post-COVID world, there is a huge population of people who are being left out entirely. Refugees, as well as displaced, undocumented, and stateless people around the world remain ineligible for inoculations and vulnerable to the coronavirus.

We take a look at three case studies where powerless populations are being left in the lurch.

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