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Why is Mike Pompeo in the Middle East?

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on a very important mission right now. This week he is visiting four countries in the Middle East and Africa. Two of them, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, have recently moved to normalize ties in a historic deal recently brokered by the Trump administration. The other two — Sudan and Bahrain — are rumored to be looking at forming closer ties with Jerusalem as well.

What is it that each country involved wants out of Pompeo's trip? Is this really just about building a united Israeli-Arab front against Iran or are there other interests at work? Here's a look at the key players.

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US global power intact, as is NYC; Trump's RNC & tight US election

Watch Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

When I look at the United States, it is certainly true that our ability to lead by example, our ability to say, the Belarus elections are rigged is hard because, you know, we're claiming that our own elections may well be rigged. So, it's harder to lead by example. And we aren't as happy with our institutions. And the post office is having problems, some self-inflicted, in delivering mail. And when you see, you know, 8,000 chicks being sent to a farmer in Maine, and they all show up and they're dead, you're like, "what the hell?" I mean, it's like the DMV, the US Postal System. We should be able to fix that. And the American dream doesn't apply to a lot of Americans in the way that it did 20, 30, 50 years ago. Inequalities, much more structural. All these things are true. But the idea that the US is in inextricable decline just flies on its face against realities of the country.

A few examples: The relevance of the US dollar, its strength is uncontested. There's nothing else close. The Eurozone is getting weaker. And the Chinese are not moving towards internationalizing and floating the RMB. The Japanese yen, certainly not. So, the willingness of international investors to continue to pile money into the United States has been undaunted and undiminished by everything we've seen in the past years, whether you talk about the financial crisis or more recently, the Trump election or most recently the pandemic. The pandemic tells you that the most important companies out there are the tech companies. Brick and mortar are really going to get hurt. And there are a lot of Americans that are getting hurt on the back of that, and particularly a lot of poorer Americans, particularly a lot of minorities in the United States who are getting hurt the hardest. By the way, that's true in all the other major advanced industrial democracies, too.

But the United States has by far the most powerful tech companies out there. That's going to create asymmetrically more power for the United States, more influence, more ability to set the rules and norms. And those rules and norms may not be liked by other countries. They may not be multilaterally and collectively agreed upon, but the power is still there. The United States today is the world's largest energy producer. They're exporting energy around the world. Largest food exporter. These are really important issues that really matter for power around the world. That's before we talk about the American military, the size which I think is too big. I think we spend far too much money on. I think we've got a lot better return for other sorts of investments in US infrastructure and human capital. But the power internationally and what you're able to do with it is certainly clear. So, the idea that the US has a lot of the things that are broken, sure. The idea the US is in decline, is not coming back, is insane.

New York City, very similar. Right now, New York is not so fun, right? I mean, you know, people aren't going inside to restaurants and they really shouldn't be. And it's very dense. And a lot of wealthy people are in their second and third homes. All of this is true. And yet the level of intellectual attraction, the knowledge economy becoming only much more important, not less. That's really going to hurt second and third tier cities. It's not going to hurt the places where the highest density of knowledge economy workers actually are. And there's no question that people aren't going to need to go to work every day the way they used to post-pandemic. But they will still need to interact personally with their colleagues once, twice, three times a week. So maybe that means the New York metropolitan area gets a little larger. I could easily imagine that Midtown gets hurt and commercial real estate takes a real dump. And you can live farther into, you know, Brooklyn, Bronx, those places get more developed. But that's very different from saying New York City is going to, you know, is on its back foot. I actually think it's exactly the opposite. People that are moving away from first tier global cities are paying no attention to the growth in inequality, the strength of the knowledge economy, the fact that the top 10%, 1%, 0.1% are doing dramatically better on the back of this crisis, as they have over many decades. And that is the principal driver of the top tier global cities in the world of which there aren't as many anymore. London, post-Brexit is more problematic. Hong Kong, post the end of though one state-two systems change from the Chinese government is more problematic. New York City is not. And so, for all of those reasons, I think the it's really early to proclaim New York City is dead. I'm betting very strongly in the other direction. And you guys can put a pin in that.

Also, briefly, just should talk about, you've got the Republican convention starting this evening. We had the DNC last week. They are very different conventions. The Democrats very slickly put together, they knew it was going to be all virtual for all a long time, and so they were able to really plan for it. They put a lot of money into it. They had Hollywood sensibilities. They also had a lot of Hollywood participating. And as a consequence, it was abundantly watchable. It was made for TV and there were a lot of high-profile speeches that went very well. The RNC is clearly going to be very different, is mostly going to be about Trump. Keep in mind, there's a lot more enthusiasm for Trump and there is enthusiasm for Biden. There's a lot broader enthusiasm for the DNC and the Democrats than there is enthusiasm for the Republicans and the RNC. So, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Trump is taking the dominant role and his family at the RNC.

The other thing that's interesting, of course, is it won't be as virtual. It probably won't be anywhere near as slickly put together. It might not work as well on television, but it is going to send more of a message that's about the economy. It's about being in front of people, getting the country working again. That's interesting, not because I think Trump is great on the economy, I actually don't, but he does outperform Biden in the polls on the economy, consistently. It's the only thing he outperforms Biden on. So I thought Biden made a mistake when he said, "I'll listen to the scientists on coronavirus." Yes, definitely say that. But then he said, "and I'll shut the country down if I need to." You don't actually need to shut the country down and Trump is going to use that because that is the strongest argument Trump, who is underwater in the polls right now compared to Biden, has as we move towards November. We look at the next two plus months before this election, and you know, the economy isn't picking up as fast as we'd like it to, but it is picking up.

The coronavirus is still far worse than we would hope to see in the United States. And the total numbers are going to be horrifying, we'll certainly be breaking through 200,000 deaths well before the election, but the number of cases is now coming down, the number of deaths per day is coming down, even the number of positive test results is, in most states in the US now, below the 5% that's recommended for being able to start reopening your economy more quickly. While in many European countries, again, the absolute levels and the numbers per capita of deaths are much, much lower in most countries than in the United States, but the trends are actually now heading in the wrong direction. Particularly in Spain, a number of other countries too.

All of which implies to me that this election is going to get tighter, not farther apart, over the next couple months, barring any Black Swan event. So, we'll see what happens with the RNC. Again, the country's maximally divided. No one's going to agree on any of this stuff. But we'll certainly be covering it.

US vs China: Are both sides winning?

Anyone with a pulse and a smartphone probably knows by now that the US-China rivalry is heating up these days, and fast. (If you know anyone who doesn't, get them a Signal subscription.)

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Countdown to the (possibly contested) US election

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Normalcy is incrementally coming to the United States, if not yet to a lot of developing markets, but certainly to Europe, certainly to China. And I haven't spent a lot of time talking about the US election yet, certainly nothing close to the media coverage. I thought I would today because we've got 99 days until November 3rd. You say 100 days yesterday, sounds like a bigger deal, but that's only because we have a base 10 numeric system. If we had a base three numeric system, 99 days out would be pretty meaningful, right? But no, I thought let's finally, right, we've got these massive, incredibly expensive, billions of dollars spent, a year and a half of the entire process, I mean, by far a greater subversion of democracy, the way the US elections are held than any other advanced industrial democracy in the world. We all know it. Democrats, Republicans, people sick of the party system. We all recognize nothing can be done about it. It's fantastic for special interests that spend an immense amount of money trying to ensure that candidates do their bidding. But now that we are only 99 days out, political polls really do start to matter. We know who the candidates are on both sides. We don't yet have the V.P. on the Biden side. But still, I mean, we're pretty close. 100 days out, 99 days out, you feel like you can start paying attention.

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The politics of a mask & the global fight against the coronavirus

Imagine you're a crew member aboard a space craft. Beyond the safety of the hull lay a hostile wilderness, devoid of oxygen and home to a deadly mix of photons and cosmic rays. That's the thinking behind an old philosophy to which the Covid-19 pandemic has breathed new life. It's called Spaceship Earth. The idea: we're all hurdling through space together with no escape capsule, so planetary problems have to be addressed for everyone's sake.

In commentary for the latest episode of GZERO World, Ian Bremmer is taking a look at the challenges and opportunities of the COVID-19 pandemic. The worst crisis of our lifetime is affecting every country, race, and ethnicity. More than 10 million are infected. More than half a million have died and economies and health systems have been devastated. But it may have also given us a rare opportunity to fix our ship. That is, if politics doesn't stand in the way. Case in point: Arguments over wearing a mask have proliferated across the U.S., even in some of the most heavily impacted states.

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