Alex Kliment is Creative Director at GZERO Media and a Senior Editor of Signal. He also writes and directs Puppet Regime, GZERO’s political satire puppet series. Alex first joined Eurasia Group in 2006 as a Russia analyst, after which he co-founded the firm’s first Emerging Markets practice and later led a research team serving the firm’s corporate clients. He’s also worked previously as a journalist for the Financial Times in Washington, DC and São Paulo, Brazil. Alex holds degrees from Columbia University and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Alex speaks a few languages and is the only person you will ever meet who has impersonated a New York City phone booth, killed Alexander Hamilton in a suburban commuter parking lot, and done a better Trump voice than Alec Baldwin (bring it on, Alec.)
Today, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro will visit the White House for the first time. Bolsonaro is a right-wing firebrand whose unlikely rise, disparaging views on minorities, shrewd use of social media, and combative relationship with the press have led some to call him the "Tropical Trump."
But how useful is that label? What's Bolsonaro after at the White House? And why did the Brazilian president recently ask what a "golden shower" is?
You can watch the whole interview by clicking here. But here are a few highlights to keep in mind ahead of today's meeting:
Bolsonaro's visit to the White House aims to accomplish a few things: First, to bolster his street credibility with his right-wing base at home, who admire Trump; second, to draw closer to Trump on a way to resolve the crisis in Venezuela, which has caused a politically volatile situation on the Brazilian border; and third, to secure closer military ties with Washington.
Like Trump, Bolsonaro was an outsider candidate with sharply anti-progressive views who defied the pundits by winning. But there are big differences too. For one thing, Bolsonaro counts on a small party in a fractious legislature – he has nothing like the support of the Republican party that Trump enjoys in the Senate. What's more, Trump-style anti-globalization rhetoric doesn't play nearly as well in a country where globalization has lifted tens of millions out of poverty. Here are some more thoughts from us on the differences between the two men.
And lastly, the context for that famous Bolsonaro's "golden shower" tweet is a raging culture war between the right and left in Brazil that threatens to overshadow key economic priorities like reforming the country's unsustainable pension system.
Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin touched down in Crimea to celebrate five years since Moscow seized the peninsula from Ukraine. Later this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Europe, where Italy is expected to sign on to Beijing's trillion-dollar Belt and Road global infrastructure plan.
Our thought bubble: Each of these visits speaks to a different way that the world order – once dominated, for better or for worse, by the Euro-Atlantic "West" – is now rapidly shifting.
Russia tearing things down: Back in 2014, President Putin justified the annexation of Crimea by rattling off 20 years worth of grievances with the West, finishing with this warning: "if you compress a spring to its limit, it will snap back hard." Russia in the years since has been in snapback mode – keen to defend what it sees Moscow's sphere of influence (Ukraine), force the US to reckon with Moscow as a global player again (Syria), and to accelerate the political fragmentation of the West along nationalist/populist lines (using its cyber capacity to exacerbate underlying social and political polarization in Europe and the US).
China building things up: But where Russia is concerned primarily with accelerating the decline of an old order, China is looking to create a new one of its own – building new Chinese-led global financial structures, exporting Chinese technological standards and norms, particularly in the development of 5G, and broadening economic and trade relationships left to languish by a less trade-friendly US. Critics worry that Chinese loans will create debt traps, or that Chinese technology companies will muscle out Western competitors while creating national security liabilities. But dozens of countries are eager to tap into lavish Chinese financing for much-needed infrastructure, and to gain better access to that billion-strong export market.
The Belt and Road initiative, which already includes some 80 countries, is a centerpiece of President Xi Jinping's plan for China to "take center stage in the world." Until now, the that strategy has focused primarily on Africa, Asia, Latin America, and smaller countries on Europe's fringes – but if Italy signs on, it would be the first G7 country to join. That would mark a major new milestone in Beijing's global rise.
The big picture: US President Donald Trump has certainly upended long-standing assumptions about American support for a certain kind of global order. But that's only part of a much larger story in which a rising China and a rankled Russia are challenging and remaking the international landscape. In sum: it ain't all Trump.
GZERO's Alex Kliment sits down with Roberto Simon, Politics Editor of Americas Quarterly, to learn what Brazil's controversial president wants to get out of his meeting with Donald Trump. Also, yes, we explain that golden shower thing.
After two weeks of nationwide protests against his bid to run for a fifth consecutive term, the nearly-incapacitated Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika issued a statement yesterday announcing he will withdraw from next month's election. The vote will be postponed, and the government will be reshuffled.
The momentum of the protests and a general strike this week that threatened the country's crucial oil and gas industry likely convinced Bouteflika's handlers to change course. A telling moment came over the weekend when the head of Algeria's powerful military signaled that the armed forces were sympathetic to the protesters. Note to embattled dictators: when the military no longer supports you, the game is up. (Cue nervous laughter from the presidential palace in Venezuela.)
North Korea may be preparing to conduct fresh missile tests, according to reports. President Trump insists that his relationship with the mercurial North Korean Supreme leader remains great, even after their Hanoi summit fell apart – but Kim Jong-un's latest hip hop single suggests otherwise. Watch the video here.
The US president has the legal authority to grant security clearances to anyone he chooses, but the episode has raised fresh questions about whether the president's decision to empower Kushner on a host of sensitive briefs – in particular, relations with Saudi Arabia and broader Middle East peace efforts – threatens US national security.
But Trump isn't the only world leader whose kids (or kids-in-law) are creating headaches.