What We're Watching: Taliban government, Bolsonaro’s insurrection sputters, Myanmar uprising

What We're Watching: Taliban government, Bolsonaro’s insurrection sputters, Myanmar uprising

Taliban name interim government: Three weeks after taking over Afghanistan, the Taliban on Tueaday appointed an interim government made up largely by veterans of the 20-year war against the US. The most high-profile names are PM Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund, foreign minister under the first Taliban regime (1996-2001); interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, with a $5 million US bounty because he's the leader of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, a group responsible for some of the deadliest attacks on US and Afghan forces; and deputy PM Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's top negotiator with the US in Qatar. The Taliban had promised an inclusive government that would represent all Afghans, but the interim one is dominated by ethnic Pashtuns. It also has exactly the number of women most predicted: zero. The Taliban hope that an interim cabinet will make it easier for them to gain international recognition and to get on with the complicated business of governing Afghanistan — and find the money to do so.


Bolsonaro's insurrection fails (for now): On Tuesday, Brazil's independence day, about 100,000 supporters of rightwing President Jair Bolsonaro marched in the capital Brasilia to protest against the Supreme Court for investigating him for spreading fake news and corruption. Hundreds broke through police barriers, but ultimately failed in their bid to reach Congress and the Supreme Court, which some of Bolsonaro's diehards wanted to occupy to emulate the January 6 US Capitol insurrection. They were also kept away from thousands of counter-protesters and supporters of leftwing former president Lula da Silva, who will probably run for his old job against Bolsonaro a year from now and is currently leading the polls by a big margin. Bolsonaro, meanwhile, had been firing up his base for days, declaring war on the courts and — taking a page from his pal Donald Trump's screenplay — insisting that he won't accept the result of the election if he doesn't win. Although Bolsonaro fell short of the 2-million strong turnout he was hoping for and his approval ratings continue to decline, don't expect him to give up anytime soon.

Myanmar's shadow government declares war on the junta: Eight months after the generals toppled Myanmar's democratically elected leaders, the government in exile has urged all citizens to join forces in a "people's defensive war" against the junta. That'll probably entail a combination of peaceful resistance by civilians, mass defections by bureaucrats and military/police personnel, and attacks by ethnic minority militias. The junta, for its part, says this is all just an attention-grabbing ploy ahead of next week's UN General Assembly, which still recognizes the previous government. Regardless, the call for a national uprising comes as Myanmar is currently suffering its worst violence since the coup, mostly in long-restive ethnic minority states. If the fighting extends to the rest of the country, especially cities, it could usher in a civil war in all but name where no outsider wants to intervene.

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Germany's historic moment of choice is finally here, and voters will stream to the polls on Sunday for the country's first post-World War II vote without a national leader seeking re-election. They will elect new members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will then try to secure a majority of seats by drawing other parties into a governing partnership. He or she will then replace Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor.

If the latest opinion polls are right, the center-left Social Democrats will finish first. In coming weeks, they look likely to form a (potentially unwieldy) governing coalition with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats, which would be Germany's first-ever governing alliance of more than two parties.

Change?

Though he's a man of the center-left, Olaf Scholz, current finance minister and most likely next chancellor, wouldn't represent a radical break from Merkel. He's among the more fiscally frugal of Germany's Social Democrats, and after decades in German politics, he's an experienced technocrat and a skilled manager of political alliances.

Nor would a change in government radically shift Germany's foreign and trade policies. Its new government, whoever it includes, will keep strong security ties with the United States and NATO and protect opportunities to expand economic relations with China. Germany's dependence on Russian energy will demand a continuation of Merkel's pragmatic approach to Vladimir Putin's government.

Scholz's conviction that a strong and cohesive EU is good for Germany will limit any temptation to get tougher with the governments of Poland and Hungary over their violations of EU rules and principles. And aware that COVID can widen gaps between richer and poorer EU countries, and that anti-EU economic populism remains a potent force in Italy and elsewhere, he's likely to support a generous approach to pandemic recovery in southern Europe.

But climate policy, an area where Merkel concedes she should have done more, will be an important and interesting story to watch. Given its leadership within the EU and its standing as the world's fourth largest economy, the influence of Germany's next government on climate policy will be crucial to global climate strategies. A new German government with Scholz as chancellor will likely push the pace of transition from carbon to renewable energy, at least in part because the Green Party coalition partner will push for this as hard as it can. The Greens must show progress on the climate front to maintain political credibility and popularity. If the Free Democrats are indeed part of the coalition, they'll push hard to limit tax increases to pay for tougher climate action, but they won't blow up the coalition that gives them a seat at Germany's governing table.

Merkel's legacy

Even in a country that values stability and continuity, Angela Merkel's 16-year run is remarkable. More than once she's proved the maxim that it's not the smartest or strongest who survives, but the one most adaptable to change. Merkel is smart and strong, to be sure, but she'll be remembered longest – by both devoted admirers and bitter critics – as the leader who insisted Germany could and should do more to help indebted countries survive Europe's sovereign debt crisis (2010-12) and to manage the surge of migrants that followed unrest in the Middle East (2015-16). Her improvisational talents also led her to change tack on nuclear power (after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan) and on common European debt.

But the main reason Merkel leaves power with an 80 percent approval rating is that, whether she receives more credit than she deserves, she has presided over a period of economic expansion and prosperity in Germany that few other world leaders can match. It's all the more remarkable then that her party looks set to find itself in opposition once a new government is formed. It's Merkel that German voters like, not her political family.

Bottom-line: Whatever he accomplishes as Germany's next chancellor, Olaf Scholz will find Angela Merkel a tough act to follow.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has seen a lot during her 16 years in power. She's navigated a global economic recession, multiple wars in the Middle East which sparked an EU refugee crisis, and now a once-in-a-generation pandemic. Often the only woman in the room, Merkel has had to learn to tactfully deal with dozens of idiosyncratic world leaders. Many have come and gone since 2005, but Merkel has won elections again and again. We take a look at who she's dealt with from the top five democracies (by economic size) throughout her tenure.

In May 2020, economic historian Adam Tooze told GZERO World he feared 1 in 5 American workers could still be out of job now due to COVID. It didn't happen. Why? Tooze says he failed to anticipate how quickly we'd get highly effective vaccines, and the scale of the economic stimulus the government was willing to put up. During the 2008 financial crisis, he explains, "we were still beginning to flex our muscles with regards to economic policy, and the scale of fiscal and monetary stimulus that we've seen is as unprecedented as the shock of the spring of last year."

Watch Tooze's interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television starting Friday 9/23/21. Check local listings.

Will Evergrande be China's Lehman Bros? Chinese authorities are bracing for the increasingly likely default of Evergrande, the country's most indebted property developer. If Evergrande — a gargantuan corporation with properties in 200 cities across China — stiffs its creditors, that'll send shockwaves throughout the country's financial system, and the wider Chinese economy and society. The possible ripple effects on home buyers and countless companies and individuals that do business with or are owed money by Evergrande have invited comparisons with Lehman Brothers, the US investment bank whose 2008 collapse triggered an American financial crisis that quickly spread to the entire world. Although in principle authoritarian China has ways of containing the fallout, the potential for social unrest is real — and opacity could make it worse. More broadly, the demise of such a big player in the country's once-booming real estate market, which accounts for over 7 percent of GDP, would expose the shaky foundations of China's debt-driven economic growth model, eroding confidence in China both at home and abroad.

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Betrayal. Treason. Duplicity. These are some of the words used by the French government to describe the US' recent decision to freeze Paris out of a new security pact with the UK and Australia in the Indo-Pacific, which nixed a contract for Australia to buy French submarines.

Macron's subsequent tough stance against one of its oldest and closest allies is unusual, including his decision to briefly recall the French ambassador from Washington, the first time a French president has done so. But this headstrong strategy is also a deliberate diplomatic choice.

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43: Eight months into the job, US President Biden's approval rating has hit a new low of 43 percent, a six-point drop since August. Of all the US presidents elected since World War II, only Donald Trump had a lower approval rating at this stage of his presidency. It sure looks like Biden's honeymoon period is over.

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