The big question for the 2020s

The big question for the 2020s

On August 16, 1953, Dwight Eisenhower walked into Washington's Statler Hotel to give his first formal speech as president, to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He used that address, which he titled "Chance for Peace," to make the case to both Soviet leaders and the American people that a US-Soviet Cold War was a bad idea—and not inevitable.

In it, he detailed how many schools, hospitals, and power plants could be built for the cost of a single bomber plane. He warned that "every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired" represented a "theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," and warned that a life spent arming for potential conflict was "not a way of life at all, in any true sense... it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."


It's worth remembering Eisenhower's warning as we close one decade and open another, because, whatever interim trade agreement Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping may sign in coming days, US and Chinese leaders look to be locking themselves into an expanding geopolitical conflict: in trade, in security, and particularly in development of the technologies that will shape our lives and define the global balance of power in coming decades.

The next war is more likely to be waged with cyber-weapons and trade tools than with conventional weapons, but the costs are no less prohibitive.

Some will blame Trump for this path toward confrontation, but growing US suspicion of China long predates his presidency. And while Democrats criticize Trump for a thousand things, most share his fears of China's growing economic and technological power. Others will point at Xi and the "new era" he has proclaimed for a more internationally assertive Beijing. But China has been growing and expanding its influence for 40 years.

A US-China rivalry is inevitable, but a conflict is not. Limiting the rivalry to "managed competition" would allow the US and China to devote more resources toward meeting the expanding needs of the American and Chinese people – not to mention challenges like climate change, which not even a superpower can solve alone. Constructive competition would also spare other governments the need to choose sides in ways that stunt the growth of their countries too.

Where will the current and future US and Chinese leaderships steer this most important of all international relationships? This is the biggest question now facing the United States, China, and the world as we open a new decade.

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Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.

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Dr Anthony Fauci says the US is again "going in the wrong direction" as COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across America. Over the past two weeks, hospitalizations — an apt indicator of serious illness from COVID — have spiked in 45 out of 50 states as a result of the contagious delta variant and rejection of vaccines, which are leading many US states to now have a vaccine surplus. We take a look at the 10 states where hospitalization rates have increased the most in recent weeks, and their corresponding vaccination rates — and unused vaccine rates.

Iraqi PM's face-to-face with Biden: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq's prime minister, met with President Biden at the White House Monday to discuss the future of US troops in Iraq. The US still has about 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq to engage in "counterterrorism" operations and train Iraqi forces. In an interview published this week, al-Kadhimi called for the withdrawal of all US combat troops, because, he said, Iraqi forces have proven capable of fighting ISIS militants on their own. (Just last week, some 30 Iraqis were killed when ISIS militants attacked a busy Baghdad market.) Al-Kadhimi still wants non-combat US troops to stay on in a training capacity. He became PM in 2020 as a consensus candidate after nationwide protests over corruption and joblessness forced the resignation of the unpopular previous government. At least 500 protesters were killed during a crackdown by Iraqi security forces, fueling demands for fresh elections, which are set to take place this October. The green PM has a tough job: he has to juggle relations with the Biden administration, which just pledged $155 million in aid to Iraq, and ties with Tehran, an influential player in Iraqi politics. (Iraq relies on Iran for energy imports, and Iran-backed militias inside Iraq are a force to be reckoned with.) Local sentiment has soured on the US presence as Iraqis resent being caught in the middle of US-Iran fights inside Iraqi territory.

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7,100: As a third COVID wave ravages Myanmar, the death toll has now risen above 7,100, a gross undercount because that total includes only those who died in hospitals. Myanmar, which has one of the weakest healthcare systems in Asia, is also dealing with a vaccine hesitancy problem: people are rejecting shots because they see vaccination as validation of the military, which overthrew the democratically elected government earlier this year.

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Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

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This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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"We've been dealing with pandemics from the earliest recorded history. Thucydides writes about a pandemic in the history of the Peloponnesian War. So the last thing 2020 was, was unprecedented," Stanford historian Niall Ferguson told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World. Ferguson, whose new book, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe," believes that the world should have been better prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic based on the numerous health crises of the 20th century, from the 1918 Spanish flu to influenza and HIV/AIDS. He provides perspective on how the COVID crisis stacks up compared to other pandemics throughout history.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

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