US & Canada
President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday canceled plans to make a remote, last-ditch appeal to senators for billions more in aid for Ukraine. His aborted plea comes as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), usually a strong pro-Ukrainian voice, told his caucus to hold out against the $106 billion foreign aid package and vote no to send Democrats the message that they need to meet GOP border demands. The vote is scheduled for Wednesday.
But negotiations broke down on Friday over questions of US border security spending. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) complained that GOP negotiators just want Democrats to “swallow their most difficult proposals” without offering compromises.
Zelensky had hoped to drive home the urgency of aid for Ukraine, but the prospects didn’t look good even before he pulled the plug. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said there was nothing Zelensky could have said that would have made him come around on Ukraine aid sans a border deal.
Besides, even if Ukraine aid cleared the Senate, it would struggle in the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson would have to get enough moderate Republicans and Democrats on board to fend off far-right members of his own party while trying to retain his leadership position. (You didn’t think that game of musical chairs was over did you?)For Ukrainian troops in the trenches, though, it could mean life or death this winter, and ultimately victory or defeat. US aid is very nearly tapped out, and Ukraine has no other ally that can provide anywhere close to the required amount and quality of equipment.
Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media, delivered his landmark State of the World speech at the annual GZERO Summit Japan in Tokyo, hosted by Eurasia Group, the world’s leading geopolitical risk firm. In the speech, streamed live on GZERO’s website and on social media, Ian presented his vision for where the world is headed in 2024 and outlined the major themes and forces shaping the geopolitical landscape.
Watch the full speech in the video above and read his full remarks below (check against delivery.)
Good morning! Delighted to be here with all of you and my warm appreciation to my friend Prime Minister Kishida for kicking us off today.
But also my apologies in advance. Because the State of the World is...deeply concerning.
At last year’s summit, I warned that our G-zero world, the lack of leadership in today’s international order and the geopolitical conflict that grows in its wake, was gathering speed. That acceleration is continuing while channels of international cooperation – multinational institutions, traditional alliances, and global supply chains – are losing their ability to absorb shock.
Today, when we speak of war, we have to specify which one we’re talking about. The war that ended the peace dividend, remaking the security architecture of Europe? Or the war destabilizing the Middle East, threatening global religious conflict?
Serious doubts have emerged about the economic well-being of China, the nation that along with the United States has done most in recent decades to power our global economy forward. Just how problematic is China’s post-pandemic recovery, and how will anxieties from China’s weakness shift that country’s already assertive foreign policy?
Serious doubts have emerged about the political well-being of the United States. People no longer look surprised when I warn that the world’s most powerful nation – the United States – has become the most politically divided and dysfunctional democracy of all the G7 countries (though the United Kingdom is competitive). For the US, 2024 is like Voldemort, the year that you really would rather not mention.
I’ll open this morning with these urgent challenges for the coming year and an unprecedented—in my lifetime at least—dangerous state of global politics.
All that said… there’s more good news than you’d expect. We just have to look for it. Opportunities created by new international players and even newer technologies deserve our attention too. And I’ll get there.
But first, let’s get start with crisis.
Israel vs. Hamas
When we talk about Israelis and Palestinians, we have to decide how deep in the earth we want to dig to expose the conflict’s roots.
This morning, we’re concerned with the state of our world in 2024, so I’ll resist the temptations to talk about the fights of decades and centuries past.
The terrorist attacks of October 7 and the now two month war that has followed come from two central realities…
One, Benjamin Netanyahu knows he can’t remain Israel’s prime minister without active support from political parties who believe God intends for Israel’s Jews to live on land still settled by and legally claimed by Palestinians. He has governed accordingly.
Two, a total failure of leadership on the Palestinian side, aided by the Arab world more broadly and most every international actor engaged in the Middle East conflict, has allowed Hamas to act on behalf of the Palestinian men, women, and children that this terrorist organization now uses as human shields.
Hamas is responsible for the murder of 1,200 Israeli citizens, more than 90 percent of them civilians. In response, Netanyahu’s government feels entitled to eradicate Hamas… with little regard for the more than two million Palestinians who can’t escape the line of fire.
Israeli Defense Forces are today fighting across the entirety of Gaza, and the killing continues.
The United States government has some leverage over Israel (though given political challenges at home, less than many would think) to influence the conduct of this war and the scale of its carnage. The Biden administration, working with Qatar and the United Nations, has helped bring humanitarian help to Palestinians trapped in Gaza. Significant numbers of Israeli hostages and Palestinians in Israeli custody have been released.
It has also pressed Israel to minimize civilian deaths as it works to destroy Hamas. But for most of the world, these moves are too little too late, and the United States today finds itself nearly alone in supporting continued war (indeed, and it’s a little shocking to say, it is as isolated on this issue as Russia when Putin invaded Ukraine nearly two years ago)
President Biden has had more success, at least so far, in avoiding an expansion of the war beyond the borders of Israel and Gaza. That work will become more difficult as the next phase of the war is presently advancing with Israel forces into southern Gaza.
In particular, US officials know that Iran has leverage too… in its material and moral support for Hamas, for Hezbollah in Lebanon, for militant groups in Iraq and Syria, and particularly for Houthi fighters in Yemen. Iran is funding, training, and arming these forces. It isn’t directly ordering the dozens of attacks we’ve seen in recent weeks on US and Israeli targets in the region, but it certainly appears happy to see them. And when it comes to Israel, there are few differences of opinion between these groups and their sponsors in Tehran—none of them recognize the right of Israel to exist.
Under no circumstances will President Biden renounce the US alliance with Israel– but Israel has permanently lost some of its traditional support inside the United States. American public opinion has shifted with the nation’s demographics. Younger voters don’t share the assumptions of their parents and grandparents about unconditional support for Israel. More Americans are publicly questioning its continuing occupation of the West Bank and even its commitment to democracy. These concerns will grow as Palestinian civilian casualties rise.
This morning, we are not close to any resolution of this war or of the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, for now the war is set to further escalate.
Russia vs Ukraine
Then there’s the war no one asks me about anymore – the one still raging in Ukraine. Have to say I’m a little annoyed about that—I wrote my dissertation on Russians in Ukraine back in 1994. So you’ll all have to humor me.
At last year’s summit, I noted that Russia controlled about 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory, and that Ukrainian forces were unlikely ever to evict Russian fighters fully. Twelve months later, very little has changed—that which has, has been negative.
In the past year, Vladimir Putin followed through on threats to exit a deal, agreed with the United Nations, that allowed Ukraine to export grain through the Black Sea. He formally annexed some of this occupied land into the Russian Federation, though only the Kremlin’s very few allies, fellow pariah states like Belarus, North Korea and Syria, have recognized this step.
Ukraine’s counteroffensive has moved the front line less than 25 kilometers since the operation began this past summer—and with their installation of defensive fortifications it’s safe to say the counteroffensive is over.
While in Russia, a sudden failed mutiny aside—I’ll say the name Prighozin, only because we’ll never have to mention it again--Putin’s strategic position has improved over the past year—and especially over the last two months.
New questions have emerged about the staying power of Ukraine’s main backers in America and Europe. In the US, in particular, the Kremlin is encouraged that conservative Republicans have made ending support for Ukraine an election year battle-cry. Zelensky, not Putin, now faces increased pressure to move toward a negotiated settlement.
Putin’s international standing is now a little less isolated. The Gaza war has helped Moscow argue that Americans are hypocritical neocolonialists who care more about power than about the lives of innocent people. This message plays well in US-skeptical corners of the Global South. It also threatens to create divisions in the transatlantic alliance, which rallied so effectively in the early stages of the Russian invasion.
In recent weeks, Russia has expanded missile strikes across Ukraine to the highest levels we’ve seen this year. Higher oil prices have helped boost Russia’s domestic production of missiles and ammunition to greater levels than before the war started. North Korea is helping supply more of both, and Iran continues to provide drone aircraft. An additional troop mobilization just announced (that Ukraine will struggle to match) might even help Russia take more territory.
In Europe, support for Ukrainian refugees remains high, but countries now have much less capacity to absorb refugees or pay for financial help for its war effort. This problem is shortening the political fuse as Europe’s economy remains sluggish. Populists have won recent elections in the Netherlands and Slovakia, and they’re gaining ground in Germany and France. And if Donald Trump is again elected president of the United States next November, right now a coin flip, Putin’s hopes for success in Ukraine will grow greater.
We know what the outcome is. Partition. Ukraine can’t get their land back. Nobody is going to formally announce that, of course. It’s unacceptable to the United States, Europe, and most of all the Ukrainians. But we live with lots of things that are unacceptable—a North Korean nuclear arsenal, Assad in power in Syria, the end of democracy in Venezuela. The critical question is over the coming months, can the US and Europe provide enough security and economic guarantees that they can continue to plausibly be aligned with Zelensky and the Ukrainian government, creating a European and a NATO future for the majority of Ukraine that they still have control over..
I want to be clear, none of this will resolve the war. Ukraine risks losing, but Russia doesn’t “win.”
Whatever longer-term gains its forces can make on the ground in Ukraine, NATO is strengthened by new members Finland and Sweden. This month, the EU will open a process for Union membership for Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, also an option that wasn’t on the table before Putin ordered his invasion.
Russia has faced 11 rounds of sanctions with more coming. Half of its sovereign assets have been frozen. Europe will not buy Russia’s commodity exports, which must still be sold to China, India, and others at discounted prices. Moscow will be left much more deeply dependent on China. All this damage for pieces of eastern and southern Ukraine that will take years to consolidate… and Putin isn’t getting any younger.
It leaves us with a bigger problem. Russia remains on the road to permanent rogue state status. Seriously in decline and seriously angry at the West. The first time that’s ever been true of a G20 economy...never mind one with 6000 nuclear weapons. We won’t be talking as much about Ukraine in another year, I’ll have to get over it. But I fear we’re going to be talking a lot more about Russia.
Now we turn to China. The greatest challenge facing China, and all who depend on its strength for long-term economic vitality, is easy to explain: The “China Growth Engine” no longer works the way it used to.
Youth unemployment stands at record highs. Manufacturing activity is contracting. The property sector, making up a fifth of the economy (not to mention 2/3 of China’s household wealth and about 40% of the collateral held by its banks), is in serious trouble. Exports have declined on the back of inflation and historically high interest rates in the US and Europe. Foreign investment has turned negative for the first time since we’ve recorded the data.
Property prices are declining, household wealth is contracting, and borrowers are no longer willing to underwrite property construction. That triggers a wave of defaults from developers and lenders. Revenues for local governments are drying up even as their debt servicing costs rise. Domestic demand is stagnant, slowing growth further. China’s government has responded with limited stimulus, but large-scale bailouts for distressed developers, shadow banks, and local governments are off the table for now.
Headline growth may well come in at 5 percent this year, but the economy faces deflation created by persistently weak consumer spending, slowing private investment, overcapacity and mounting financial stress. Next year’s growth target might be high, but the leadership is right to focus more on the quality of the growth than its absolute level. The IMF now expects the Chinese economy to grow under 4% a year for the coming years; absent reform it could go lower. Unfavorable demographics, chronically high debt, and intensifying geopolitical competition with the United States and its allies have made a bad situation worse.
The Chinese people are worrying if the next generation will be better off than the present one for the first time since the 1980s. The increasingly centralized, opaque, and capricious nature of Chinese policymaking – and a series of disruptive domestic policies – tech crackdowns, the zero-COVID lockdowns and abrupt exit from them, and raids on foreign firms – has undermined confidence.
The positive story is that China remains a highly competitive economy, with advantages in manufacturing, renewable energy, and electric vehicles as well as leading-edge innovation in frontier industries like advanced computing, AI, and biotechnology. It has an educated workforce, increasingly world class infrastructure, and an innovation ecosystem that is a major source of strength.
China is also politically stable. Which allows President Xi to avoid the temptation to revert to debt-fueled growth if he chooses. Only a systemic financial contagion or mass protests, neither of which looks likely in 2024, could force his hand. Instead, he will simply add stimulus at the margins and call on China’s people to persevere as they attempt to shift towards new drivers of growth.
The risk is that the wrong policy choices could leave China’s economy in a scenario of prolonged deflation, stagnant growth, and high indebtedness Japan faced in the 1990s, but at a much lower level of development than Japan and its people enjoyed during those years.
A silver lining: All of this has fostered the charm offensive we’ve witnessed in past months (a far cry from the wolf warrior diplomacy of Xi’s first two terms) is likely to remain strong...even if it’s only a “tactical” retreat...because China’s economic problems aren’t going to be resolved anytime soon. The question is how much can it accomplish, and where a “thaw” opens up short term opportunity for both governments and businesses.
After all, America and China, the world’s two most powerful countries, neither like nor trust one another, and despite the productive meeting between Presidents Biden and Xi at the APEC summit in San Francisco last month, their relationship will continue down the road toward managed decline and a “de-risked” globalization.
In addition, the two countries are still continuing down the path toward a technology cold war, with Americans using export controls to limit China’s development of world-class semiconductors and artificial intelligence, while the Chinese use critical minerals and green tech for much the same purpose.
But the Biden-Xi meeting, and the months of careful diplomacy that led up to it, also reminds that the governments of both countries are geopolitical adults. Both prefer stability to chaos. Each has tried to contain the damage from international emergencies.
So while the United States and China have very different views of the war in Ukraine and Israel’s war with Hamas, both Washington and Beijing have carefully avoided action that might expand the fighting’s fallout. Especially with the economic challenges I’ve described in mind, Beijing remains geopolitically risk averse. China’s approach to the rest of the world is still driven mainly by economic, not political or ideological, incentives.
The exception is in areas Beijing considers to be within China’s sphere of influence, most critically in Taiwan. Voters on the island will elect a new president in January. If they choose William Lai, the candidate Beijing warns will harm cross-Strait relations—and that looks more likely than not--tensions will rise between China, Taiwan, their neighbors, and the United States. But no matter the outcome, China is in no position to start a destructive and unpredictable war in a time of economic anxiety. Overall, 2024 looks comparatively benign for the US-China relationship (yes, in part, because lots of other things look worse)
America’s political dysfunction
Like politics in the United States.
How dysfunctional is it?
Earlier this year, personal rivalries among Republican lawmakers left the US House of Representatives without a leader – and, therefore unable to pass legislation – for the longest period in 160 years. The last time divisions within the House stopped business in this way, the main issue dividing them was the legal status of slavery.
Now we face the 2024 presidential election. I can’t avoid it, much as I’d like to: We’re on track for a rematch: President Joe Biden vs former president Donald Trump.
Polls paint a bleak picture, Just 37% of Americans approve of Biden’s performance as president. About 65% of voters don’t want him to be president again. More than 70% of likely voters say the 81-year-old Biden is too old for the job.
On the other side, there is the twice-impeached, twice-acquitted Trump. Let’s review the record.
After he was defeated for re-election in 2020, Trump refused to concede his loss, created a plan to remain in power that has now landed him in court, and incited a violent insurrection to stop the formal certification of Biden’s victory.
He has been indicted in four separate criminal cases and, unless he’s elected next year, faces prison. In a civil case, a jury found charges that Trump had raped a woman in the mid 1990s to be “substantially true.”
Just 38% of Americans approve of his four years as president, 60% don’t want him back in the White House. And he now leads all other Republican 2024 presidential candidates by more than 30 points.
Can Trump be president again? Absolutely. If the election were held today, Trump would win. The outcome now looks like a coin toss.
Biden does have one important advantage: There has never in American history been an election in which the challenger’s reputation matters at least as much as the incumbent president’s. And that will make this race unusually – perhaps uniquely – difficult to forecast.
For now, we can say that an economic slowdown in 2024, further age-related decline for Biden, deeper fractures over Israel among Democrats, or early court victories for Trump would further reduce Biden’s chances.
But a US economy that avoids recession, clearer signs of age-related decline for Trump, policy overreach (especially on abortion) from congressional Republicans, or an early criminal conviction in one of Trump’s several trials would tip the scales further in Biden’s favor.
In the meantime, other governments – allies and rivals of the United States – are already calculating the opportunities, costs, and risks that US elections might create for them. In Beijing and Moscow, in Tel Aviv and Tehran, in Kyiv, Pyongyang, Brussels, and here in Tokyo, policymakers must reckon with an unprecedentedly uncertain US election outcome that will impact the global role of the world’s most powerful country.
As we turn to 2024, there are also positive emerging stories that deserve much more attention than they receive, trends that promise both more stability in geopolitics, more resilience for the global economy, and greater dynamism for the international system in years to come.
I’ll start with India.
For all its many shortcomings, India is a politically stable democracy, and the stall of China’s growth has made India’s historic economic expansion that much more important for the global economy. But this isn’t India’s most important contribution to the world in 2024.
Instead, I’m highlighting India today because of its emerging role as crucial bridge between the Global South on one side and the United States, Japan, and Europe on the other. It’s hard to overstate the geopolitical importance of this leadership role for Delhi.
Today, much of the developing world feels ever more alienated by the role the United States and advanced industrial economies more broadly play in international politics and the global economy.
They endured a pandemic in which wealthy countries stockpiled vaccines and poorer countries took on more debt. They see that the industrialized giants, which have pumped centuries of CO2 into the atmosphere and are still shrugging off calls to pay for the global damage, now want developing countries to cut emissions and manage their own refugee flows.
They see how much the Western powers care about Ukrainian refugees and how little they care about Palestinians and their children with nowhere to run in Gaza. They feel the price effects of Western sanctions on Russia, Iran and others.
But when India, the biggest, strongest economy in the developing world, a country whose independence of thought and action is not in question, works to strengthen its relations with the United States and its G7 allies, that’s a strong recommendation for pragmatic relations with the West.
India’s role as bridge makes existing global architecture both more stable and more inclusive. It helps prevent a China-led and still-expanding BRICS partnership from becoming a geopolitical counterweight to the G7.
Further, India is one of the very few countries in the world—certainly the largest—where the implications of the 2024 US election don’t particularly matter. Modi has proven he can get along with both Biden and Trump, and he has much better odds of winning an election in 2024 than either of them.
Will India’s current foreign-policy direction outlive Modi and the growing pains it will surely face? We can’t yet say. But for 2024 and the foreseeable future, the world has picked up surprising geopolitical resilience from India’s new role.
Next up, the European Union.
No question, Europe faces strong economic challenges in 2024, not to mention the rise of populism in countries across the continent.
But a series of crises over the past decade—the pandemic, climate change, the Russian invasion--made worse by the traumas of Brexit, has solidified the multinational political commitment to the world’s most ambitious experiment in supranational governance—the European Union is strengthening as an institution.
The EU now has a more centralized authority over fiscal and economic challenges, climate and energy policy, data policy, health policy, and other critical aspects of state governance.
A stronger EU leaves euro-skeptics in France, Italy, and other EU states groping for new political arguments. Italy’s prime minister Georgia Meloni has moderated her country’s budget-busting economic populism. Voters in Poland have pushed out their country’s Brussels-defying illiberal government. Fist-shakers like Hungary’s Viktor Orban are left without leverage to extort concessions from EU institutions.
And though populists have scored recent gains in the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Germany, none of this has undermined the strength of the European Union—and they won’t matter to EU elections next year.
There is still plenty of anger directed at Brussels bureaucrats and much resistance to more centralized EU decision-making. But as we enter 2024, the European Union’s social contract has never been stronger, more resilient, and more necessary.
There’s Mexico. Like India and the EU, Mexico will hold elections in 2024, but here a term-limited leader must step aside. It’s a very good story.
Mexico is an increasingly dynamic economy that is strongly integrated into the new US-Mexico-Canada agreement and a lead beneficiary of a growing trend of nearshoring of investment and production. It helps, of course, to be lead trade partner of the world’s largest economy, but the country’s political predictability is helping it capture more benefits from that relationship.
Likely incoming president Claudia Sheinbaum has the backing of enormously popular outgoing leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, but she’s a committed technocrat and former climate scientist with strong relations with the business community built through her work as mayor of Mexico City. In a country with one of the largest and most talented bureaucratic classes in the developing world, it’s hard to overstate the value of those connections.
Sheinbaum also has the advantage of simultaneous credibility with the activist left that makes up Lopez Obrador’s political base and with the foreign business community. Just as India can bridge Global South and the G7, Sheinbaum can create better opportunities for new links between North, Central, and South America—the most geopolitically stable region of the world (something that increasingly matters when you’ve got wars raging and defense spending skyrocketing most everywhere else)
This push for greater hemispheric integration in the world’s most stable region will be important for years to come. The domestic and regional politics won’t favor a new multilateral trade deal for the foreseeable future, but we’re liable to see something stronger and more durable here than the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, because the public-private partnerships can help create something increasingly close to a regional US-led Belt and Road-style project for the Americas. It will be bolstered by new tech and energy investments and alignment, with support from the World Bank.
The Divided States of America
And while we’re in the Western hemisphere, I’m glad to have some good news to report on political culture in the United States.
Not about Washington, to be sure.
But… though Americans hold their national political institutions in historically low regard, that’s not true at the local level. In fact, the decentralization of US politics has allowed for a free market of political strategies driving some of the most remarkable growth and human capital attraction in the developed world.
Among so-called blue states, those that favor Democrats, the Bay Area in Northern California, home to Silicon Valley, leads the way in global artificial intelligence development. That, in turn, has led a startling economic turnaround in San Francisco, a city long home to one of the country’s worst examples of wealth inequality and urban blight.
The greater New York City area is arguably the world’s most global metroplex for its availability of capital and its power to attract diverse top-level talent. It also remains the epicenter of global finance.
Among red states, those that support Republicans, Texas has not only rebounded to hit record levels of fossil fuel production and finishing, but has also seen genuinely explosive growth in post-carbon energy production and supply chains. This state now leads the country in both.
And south Florida’s ability to attract and drive finance, banking, and tech has powered one of the most remarkable surges in inbound investment growth in the country.
It’s important to remember the economic scale here. Florida’s economy is larger than Turkey’s. New York’s economy is larger than South Korea’s. Texas’ economy is the same size as Italy’s. California’s economy is larger than Britain’s.
Blue and red states represent radically different growth models, but the decentralization of political and economic power nationally allows the United States to become a laboratory of competing socioeconomic experiments on the scale of major industrialized countries.
Add record levels of federal infrastructure investment, the impact of industrial policy from the Biden administration, and US job creation through the pandemic, and there’s good reason to believe the United States will have plenty of growth despite the increasingly alarming dysfunction in the nation’s capital.
You’ll note Japan isn’t on this list. It’s not in crisis. It’s also not a positive surprise.
Like my speech, the world needs more Japan.
I’ve honestly been surprised at how low Prime Minister Kishida’s popularity is here right now, given how well he’s respected in government and among the business community in the United States.
The strength of Japan’s political institutions, rule of law, the cohesion of its society, and its willingness to partner with others for the common good—all uniquely in a country with global scale and reach--make Japan more important than ever for our G-zero world. Japan today better reflects the values of the United Nations (which the United States created) than America does.
Our GZERO Summit is a modest (but growing!) effort to help expose and extend those strengths globally. Our sessions today are oriented with that in mind, the key areas of intersection between this great nation and our deeply uncertain geopolitical environment today. Let’s all wish for the greatest success.
Finally, I’ll close this morning with this…
We live in a world of crises. Over the past quarter century, we have passed through financial crises, major terrorist attacks, wars, floods of refugees, climate fallout, populist distortions of politics, a historic pandemic, epidemics of disinformation, still more wars, and yet more fears for the future.
As I said here last year, we’re talking today about emergencies we could not have forecast 12 months ago. We will be talking about new conflicts and crises inside the United States, inside China, across Europe, and in many parts of the developing world again next year.
But there is one last bit good news…
In the months and years to come, we will find still more possibilities for progress in these crises. And as our world becomes more dangerous, the number of human beings capable of bringing about positive change... in our world, within our countries, in our neighborhoods and within our families… will grow.
This is the human resilience that has served us so well during our short time on this little ball. And now we will have tools our grandparents could not have imagined that can help us… and help one another… to create new and better possibilities for all of us.
Thank you for listening.
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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here from Tokyo, Japan. And a Quick Take to kick off your week. And, of course, we are still talking about the ongoing war in the Middle East, which is very much on again, as there is inability to get further deals on hostages for prisoners and aid. And that means the Gaza War is not only in the north, but now across the south as well. And this is a significant problem for the United States which, increasingly, is finding itself isolated on this issue. In fact, I would say in terms of global support for the US on Israel, it's about as opposed as we saw in the initial weeks of the world against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It's a shocking place to be, given, first of all, how important and how deep the US Military alliance is and has been with Israel. And, also, given that it is in response to horrific, unprecedented terrorist attacks and unspeakable atrocities on October 7th.
But the reality is that, as the war has pressed on, the information war is being won by Hamas internationally. And the level of atrocities that are being committed on the ground, and impossible to remove Hamas, short of that, is hurting Israel's position. We are seeing the Americans start to move publicly towards a position of pressuring Israel more. And I specifically note, with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who came out in recent hours saying that the Palestinian civilian population would be the center of the future of whether or not there's resolution and peace and stability following this war. And that Israel was in danger of winning the tactical battle, but losing the strategic battle, as Palestinians continue to be devastated in large, large numbers. That's the first time I've ever seen a US Secretary of Defense talk about the potential strategic loss in a war of a principal US ally, certainly in my lifetime. And it was said pointedly and certainly with preparation. In other words, this was a message, even like a brushback against Bibi Netanyahu and the war cabinet.
Two other things I would mention quickly. One is that the cases against Bibi Netanyahu at home in Israel, you'd think these aren't relevant to the war, but they have been reopened. And those investigations are restarting now in the Jerusalem District Court. And certainly Bibi understands that unless he's able... Very unpopular right now, not likely to last very much beyond the war. Unless he's able to get his political allies to find a way to make those crimes not crimes, legislatively, then he's facing jail time. So he has an incentive to keep the war going domestically, in addition to removing Hamas.
There's also the question of what it means to destroy Hamas. Is it you have to kill the leadership, but you can still have a lot of people running around with weapons? Is that you have to get rid of all of the tunnel infrastructure and all of their military infrastructure? At some point, someone's going to make that decision inside the Israeli war cabinet, and it's not going to be 100 or zero. It's going to be 50% or 60% or 70% or 80%. And that decision is going to be not just about what the Israeli generals think, but also the level of international pressure on the country. So it's a tough one.
Finally, when we look at the Middle East more broadly, as the Israelis have restarted the war in Gaza against Hamas, you also have a significant escalation of Houthis, the Shia militant forces in Yemen, attacking the United States. And an unprecedented level of military strikes against the US warship, as well as lots of commercial traffic and the Americans responding in kind. That is very different. For the first time, not a nuisance attack against an American ship or a base that would be easy to shoot down, but rather a more significant and extended amount of violence. The potential for this war to expand across the region is very real indeed. And in that regard, we don't see guardrails in the Middle East. That's also something that a Biden administration, facing a very tough reelection campaign, is super, super concerned about. So anyway, that's it from me for now, and I'll talk to you all real soon.
I was writing my column today about the Israel-Hamas cease-fire when I heard the news that Henry Kissinger had died at the age of 100. For a media company like ours, which focuses on geopolitics, Kissinger is one of the most defining, controversial, and complicated figures of the last century.
It is hard to find anyone who has worked seriously on politics or studied foreign affairs who has not had an encounter with or held a view of Henry Kissinger. Statesman. War criminal. Genius. Failure. You name it, the allegations have been thrown at him. Kissinger embodied the possibilities and the perils of power. You will hear the debate over his legacy play out – as it has been playing out for decades – in the days and weeks to come. But the first thing you have to know about him is this: Everything and every moment with Kissinger was a negotiation. Including his legacy.
I experienced this the first time I met him.
It was April 2003, and I was in New York at Dr. Kissinger’s office to interview him for the weekly CBC TV show I hosted at the time, “Hot Type.” I would do hour-long, sit-down interviews with thinkers, writers, and leaders. Our team had tried to get the interview with Kissinger for two years, first because he had much to say about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were then raging, but also to get him to respond to the best-selling, eviscerating critique of his life written by Christopher Hitchens in the book, “The Trial of Henry Kissinger.” It demanded a response.
Hitchens, a brilliant writer who marshaled language as a weapon to combat Kissinger’s bombs, was a regular on my show who argued strenuously that Kissinger should be tried as a war criminal. “I have never been more serious,” he said, as he took a drink. We always had a drink handy during Hitchens interviews because he insisted on having a Scotch and an ashtray before deploying his thoughts. “We have the evidence.” Hitch went on to present it all, from the illegal bombing of Laos and Cambodia to what he said was one of Kissinger’s worst but almost ignored alleged crimes. “In his capacity as national security adviser, Henry Kissinger arranged for the murder of a military officer in Chile, Raul Schneider, head of the Chilean armed forces general staff.” Hitch took a puff of smoke and went on: “You may have heard this expression lately in America, that there should be a proper, orderly transition of power. Well, because of Nixon, people didn’t want an orderly transition of power, and it fell to Kissinger to have Schneider removed, so he commissioned a hit on him.”
The events Hitch described bear repeating. On Oct. 22, 1970, CIA-backed militants shot Schneider point blank as he traveled to work. They didn’t kill him immediately, but Schneider died three days later. Declassified documents from the National Security Archive make it impossible to overestimate how involved Kissinger and the CIA were in this assassination and the subsequent coup that overthrew the democratically elected Chilean leader Salvador Allende. It was part of the secret CIA plan called “Operation FUBELT,” which irrefutably laid out everything Hitch argued (read more about it here, if you want). In 2001, Schneider’s family actually brought a wrongful death lawsuit against Kissinger, but it was tossed out of court because the Official Act protected Kissinger from legal liability.
In any case, you can see why Kissinger was not keen on a sit-down. His legacy was, even then, so long and so vast that both supporters and detractors like Hitchens had much to put on display. Supporters often pointed to his ending the Vietnam War and the Nobel Peace Prize he won in 1973, or the “shuttle diplomacy” he did in the Middle East, or the critical role he played in bringing China into the global community. They argue – as did Kissinger in his memoirs – that he was a man of his time, a time when the fight against Communism was the dominant threat to democracy. Add in the existential threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and Kissinger believed that the US had a critical, if sometimes bloody, role to play that it could not ignore. That is the very essence of realpolitik, as he defined it. Maybe. But even his most ardent supporters – and there were many – knew that the US role in Cambodia, Chile, and Indonesia left behind hard-to-remove immoral tattoos.
Still, this was the world in which Kissinger lived, and eventually, he agreed to talk to us, and we went to his office. As we were setting up, Kissinger walked by and popped his head into the room.
He looked at me in that languorous, predatory manner of his and said, “You will have 20 minutes.”
I knew immediately that he was testing me, seeing how I would react, and I was prepared. That was his way with everyone. “Dr. Kissinger,” I said, “you like to negotiate, and I think you can do a lot better than that.”
He paused, but I could not discern any reaction. “You have 20 minutes,” he repeated, his deep, bouldery voice falling another impossible octave as he trundled off.
When he finally sat down, he stayed for an hour.
We went through as much of his career as we could – he would not talk much about the Schneider case as it was in court, but he focused a fair bit on Hitchens’ critique, trying to bat it away.
“I’m not going to go through my life answering charges that are always, almost always out of context,” he said. “I have written three volumes of memoirs which people can read, and which I think will stand the test of documents becoming available. And if there is an important discussion of an issue, I may participate in it, but I’m not going to spend my life answering Hitchens.”
I pressed him on the illegal bombing of Cambodia, which was a stain he would never erase. How did he justify the bombings? His response is something that has stayed with me ever since. Remember, from 1969 to 1973, Kissinger worked with President Richard Nixon as both national security adviser and secretary of state, and to contain the Vietcong, Kissinger orchestrated the illegal bombing of Cambodia. In those years, the US dropped hundreds of thousands of bombs on Cambodia, causing what scholars have estimated to be 150,000 deaths or more. As the Washington Post wrote today, “The scale of this bombing campaign, internally called Operation Menu, was kept secret from the American public for many decades, though leaked and declassified records have revealed that Kissinger personally 'approved each of the 3,875 Cambodia bombing raids.'” Not only that, the bombing eventually led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the genocide that took place there.
But when I asked Kissinger about it, he simply said, “There were no people in those villages.”
The line haunts me. Of course, there were people there. What did he mean – that his end-justifies-the-means calculator didn’t count numbers below 150,000? Or worse, that Communist sympathizers were not considered people?
We debated the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan – he was 80 then and an adviser to George W. Bush – and we talked about his opening up of China and many other more celebrated aspects of his career, until I finally asked him a more fundamental question: Do you have any regrets? I wanted to turn back to the terrible costs of war.
“You know, on the question of regret,” he said, “I – one of these days I’m going to learn a good answer to that because …”
“You don’t have any regrets?” I interrupted, still a bit incredulous. And now, he smiled.
“No, I have many,” he admitted. “But what you mean by that is moral regret. You don’t mean tactical regrets. So, we tried to think through, my associates and I, where America was back then. We wrote annual, long, reports, we spent much time, I think, on the basic strategies we developed, and … I have no…I have no regrets.”
The last time I saw Kissinger was a few months ago in New York. I was at the launch of a new book on artificial intelligence by Mustafa Suleyman, and the CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, was giving the opening remarks. Schmidt had co-written a book with Kissinger in 2021 called “The Age of AI: And Our Human Future” and suddenly, as I was walking in, out walked Dr. Kissinger.
“Dr. Kissinger,” I said, but he passed silently, surrounded by people.
He was 100 and still attending book launches, writing about AI and politics and the future, advising politicians from both sides of the aisle, and right up to the very end, trundling forward, pushing ideas, and flexing his influence … with no regrets.
Poverty and food insecurity, exacerbated by COVID and the soaring cost of living, plague both the US and Canada. At the height of the pandemic, school closures in the US deprived many children of their vital food source: free school lunches. This, coupled with job losses and inflation, plunged many into food insecurity. The economic outlook has still not improved for these families, thanks to the high rate of inflation, which is keeping grocery and gas prices elevated.
In Canada, a cost-of-living crisis has seen demand for food banks surge, with the 2023 Hunger Count by Food Banks Canada revealing a 32% rise in year-on-year visits in 2022. Parents made up the largest share of food bank users. Like in the US, they are grappling with exorbitant housing, food, and fuel costs, compounded by childcare expenses. A record 1.9 million Canadians sought assistance from food banks in just March 2023 alone.
How has US food insecurity increased, but not poverty? The poverty line, defined by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963, hasn't been reassessed since. Back then, poverty was defined as anyone spending a third of their income on a “bare essentials diet.” But thanks to globalization and agricultural advances, an average American now spends only one-eighth of their income on food.Instead, housing and childcare are the biggest budget busters. An American renter making $30,000 likely allocates over half their income to housing and may struggle with food insecurity. But, given the 1960s “poverty” guidelines, they need to earn nearly three times less, or $12,880, to be considered poor.
HARD NUMBERS: Ontario’s ex-cons struggle to find homes, First Nations challenge carbon tax, “Super pigs” eye the border, Alberta cashes in on TV
17.3: The percentage of prisoners released from Ontario jails who have nowhere to live has nearly doubled over the past five years, reaching 17.3% in 2021-2022, the most recent annual data show. Experts blame a triple crisis of housing affordability, mental health, and addiction, and warn that there is a high correlation between homelessness and recidivism.
133: A group representing 133 indigenous groups in Ontario filed a lawsuit today challenging the federal government’s carbon tax, which they say disproportionately burdens their communities. The tax, a cornerstone of Justin Trudeau’s climate agenda, has seen growing local pushback, especially after the PM excluded home heating oil from the tax in October in a move viewed as a sop to his constituents in Atlantic Canada, where the fuel is most common.
62,000: As if there weren’t enough to worry about in the world, the US is now bracing for an invasion of “super pigs” from Canada. More than 62,000 of the voracious, destructive, and nearly unkillable creatures have already been spotted roaming the US-Canada borderlands. They are the crossbred descendants of wild boars that Canadian farmers released into the wild after the boar meat market crashed in the early 2000s. Experts say the pigs are an “ecological train wreck.” We can’t read this story without hearing “Super Pig” to the tune of Rick James’ “Superfreak” — and now … neither can you.141 million: And the last (of us) shall be first … The post-apocalyptic HBO show “The Last of Us” generated $141 million for the province of Alberta, where it was shot in 2021-2022. That makes it the most lucrative TV show ever shot in Canada. Next season, the drama moves to British Columbia.
Before Narendra Modi became prime minister, he said India should be quicker to kill terrorists outside its borders – carrying out extrajudicial assassinations on foreign soil, giving his spies the license to kill, James Bond-style.
Modi is popular enough in India that this should not dent his popularity or threaten his reelection bid next spring, but the news raises challenges for him internationally, not least with Canada, whose leader has been vindicated.
The US indictment alleges that on June 9 an Indian national, Nikhil Gupta, arranged for a payment of $15,000 to an American hitman to carry out a $100,000 murder contract on Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Sikh separatist leader who lives in the United States. The problem for Gupta, and Modi, is that the “hitman” was an undercover officer with the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
Eight days later, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian Sikh separatist leader, called Pannun, who was his lawyer, to tell him that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had just warned him his life was in danger. The next day, Nijjar was gunned down by a team of killers outside his gurdwara in Surrey, B.C. That night, the indictment says, Gupta sent a video of Nijjar’s bullet-riddled corpse to the fake hitman he had hired.
The next day, he messaged again — “we have so many targets” — and urged him to take out Pannun.
Gupta was arrested in the Czech Republic later in June on murder-for-hire charges.
The indictment alleges an Indian government official — presumably a senior spy — “directed the assassination plot from India” and that three more assassinations were planned in Canada.
This indictment makes everything that India has said since look ridiculous. When Justin Trudeau announced in September that Canada suspected Indian involvement in Nijjar’s death, Modi’s government responded with furious denials and expelled 41 Canadian diplomats. India’s media attacked Trudeau, even accusing him of being coked out in New Delhi for the G20 meeting, an entirely made-up allegation that nonetheless went viral around the world.
Joe Biden’s government was put in an awkward position by Trudeau’s accusation. Washington confirmed that it had intel that seemed to back Trudeau’s claim but also sought to calm tensions between its closest ally and India, whose cooperation it needs in containing China.
Behind the scenes, the Americans were exasperated, says Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Eurasia Group’s practice head for South Asia, who lives in New Delhi. “I’ve heard that the Americans have yelled at both sides and said the world has some serious problems going on right now. This is just bullshit. Let’s get this off the table very quickly.”
But India kept applying pressure to Canada, motivated by long-standing resentment of Canadian inaction on Sikh separatism.
Both Nijjar and Pannun had been helping organize a diaspora referendum calling for the creation of “Khalistan,” a majority Sikh state in northern India, which enrages the Indian government. There is little support for that idea in India, but it lives on in the hearts of Sikhs around the world, and India believes Canadian Sikhs finance terrorist attacks in India.
A Canadian inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing, which killed 329 people, blamed poor intelligence and policing for failing to prevent it, and nobody was ever convicted. India regularly complains that Canada does not do enough to crack down on separatists, alleging, for instance, that Nijjar was running a terrorist training camp. They accuse the Liberals of failing to crack down because they need Sikh votes.
India has legitimate complaints, but it now seems clear that Trudeau was entirely right and Modi entirely wrong about who was responsible for killing Nijjar.
It is easy to understand Trudeau’s moves now. He came under heavy criticism for taking the impolitic position he did, instead of trying to resolve the matter quietly, but he knew all along he would be vindicated. It’s much harder to understand Modi’s moves, especially after Gupta was arrested, and after both Trudeau and Biden raised this issue with him at the G20 meeting in September. How did he think this would end?
Biden has invested a lot of time and energy in wooing Modi, cultivating him as a crucial Asian ally in the soft-power struggle with a rising China. Wednesday’s news will inevitably raise questions about how useful an ally he can really be.
But India has now promised to investigate the matter. “The Biden administration is pushing the Indian government to make a commitment not to carry out such targeted killing on ‘friendly soil’ and against citizens of friendly countries,” says Chaudhuri.
“I suspect they have already told the Indians in no uncertain terms that this cannot happen again,” says Graeme Thompson, a senior analyst with Eurasia Group's global macro-geopolitics practice. “But Washington needs New Delhi on a range of high-priority issues, and New Delhi knows that.”
Despite this ugly business, the Americans have continued to engage on all fronts and will keep doing so. The same day the indictment came down, NASA announced it would train an Indian astronaut.
Biden is signaling that India and the United States need one another so much that the relationship will continue to deepen, whether or not Modi reins in his bumbling assassins.