What We're Watching: A Syrian Pandora's Box

Dangerous Chaos in Syria – Turkey's military move into northern Syria had two stated goals: to push Kurdish fighters inside Syria further from Turkey's border and to create a "safe zone" inside Syria in which Turkey could place up to two million Syrian refugees currently living in camps inside Turkey. But the Kurds have now allied with Syria's army, which is backed by Russia, and these forces are now moving north into that same territory toward Turkish troops and Arab militias backed by Ankara. Meanwhile, large numbers of ISIS fighters and their families have escaped prisons where Kurds had held them captive. Turkey's President Erdogan vows to press ahead with his operation until "ultimate victory is achieved." Pandora's Box is now wide open.


Orban's Urban Rebuke – Viktor Orban's Fidesz party outperformed all others in Sunday's local elections across Hungary, but opposition candidates made headlines by winning control of Budapest, the country's capital, and ten of Hungary's 23 large cities. The fiercely nationalistic Orban, who prides himself on building an "illiberal democracy," remains hugely popular in rural areas, and we're watching to see if he responds to this setback in the cities by tightening his grip on the country's media and pushing for changes to Hungary's constitution to further centralize power. We're also watching to see how an emboldened opposition might respond.

Ecuador's Lingering Money Problems – In a deal to end nearly two weeks of violent protests, the Ecuadoran government agreed late Sunday to cancel cuts to fuel subsidies. The protests began after President Lenin Moreno ordered the government to stop subsidizing gasoline and diesel sales as part of a plan to stabilize Ecuador's finances by securing $4 billion in emergency funding from the International Monetary Fund. Protesters have gone home (for now), but oil-exporting Ecuador remains stuck with the same basic problem: lavish government spending plans rolled out during boom times are no longer sustainable now that oil prices are lower and the economy has slowed. What's more, the government is saddled with several billion dollars of outstanding loans to China. We're watching to see how President Moreno squares this circle – which requires a mix of unpopular spending cuts and tax hikes – without touching off more unrest.

Tunisia's Outsider Must Now Work Inside – An austere, stiff, and formerly little-known law professor has won Tunisia's presidential election in a striking rebuke to the country's mainstream political parties. Kais Saied, an independent who ran a deliberately low-profile campaign, defeated charismatic populist media tycoon Nabil Karoui by as much as fifty points, according to exit polls. High turnout showed that Tunisians clearly want something better after a decade of dysfunctional post-Arab Spring governments. Saied won't have it easy. Tunisia's presidency has few formal powers and the party that backed Saied in the runoff – the Islamist Ennahda – has the most seats in Parliament but will have trouble forming a government. And so Saied, who lacks a party of his own, now faces a problem familiar to many outsider candidates: how to work within a system that he was elected to overhaul.

What We're Ignoring

Vietnam's Ban on the New Yeti Movie – The Vietnamese government has banned screenings of DreamWorks' animated blockbuster, Abominable, the story of a Chinese girl who finds a yeti living on her roof. Why? Vietnam is angry that the film contains a map showing a controversial U-shaped dotted line that indicates China's claims over large portions of the oil-rich South China Sea. The so-called "nine-dash line" is a regular maritime feature on Chinese maps, but other countries bordering the sea, like Vietnam, reject Beijing's claims. We're ignoring this controversy because Vietnam's ban won't change the movie or the politics of the South China Sea—and because we like animated yeti movies.

Ferrera Erbognone, a small town in the northern Italian province of Pavia, is home to one of the most cutting-edge computing centers in the world: Eni's Green Data Center. All of the geophysical and seismic prospecting data Eni produces from all over the world ends up here. Now, the Green Data Center is welcoming a new supercomputing system: HPC5, an advanced version of the already powerful HPC4. Due to be completed by early 2020, HPC5 will triple the Green Data Center's computing power, from 18.6 to 52 petaflops, equivalent to 52 million billion mathematical operations per second.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

A few days ago, the New York Times published a bombshell report on the Chinese government's systematic oppression of Muslims in Western China. The story was about many things: human rights, geopolitics, Chinese society – but it was also about technology: Beijing's repression in Xinjiang province is powered in part by facial recognition, big data, and other advanced technologies.

It's a concrete example of a broader trend in global politics: technology is a double-edged sword with sharp political consequences. Artificial intelligence, for example, can help develop new medicines but it can also support surveillance states. Social media helps nourish democracy movements and entertains us with cat memes, but it also feeds ISIS and 4Chan.

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Increasingly violent anti-government protests in Hong Kong have dealt a major blow to the city's once booming economy. Tourism – an economic lifeline in that city – has dropped, and retailers are suffering from a sharp decline in sales. Now, six months since the unrest began, Hong Kong has recorded its first recession in a decade, meaning its economy has contracted for two consecutive quarters. Here's a look at how Hong Kong's quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) growth has fared during the past two years.

Tehran's Next Move: "We don't want an Islamic Republic, we don't want it," was the chant heard among some protesters in Tehran over the weekend after the government announced a 50 percent fuel price hike meant to fund broader support for the country's poor. Under crippling US sanctions, the country's economy has plummeted, unleashing a "tsunami" of unemployment. What started Friday as nationwide economic protests took on a political coloring, as protestors in some cities tore up the flag and chanted "down with [Supreme Leader] Khamenei!". The unrest seems to be related, at least indirectly, to widespread demonstrations against Tehran-backed regimes in Iraq and Lebanon as well. Economically-motivated protests erupt in Iran every few years, but they tend to subside within weeks under harsh government crackdowns. So far, the authorities have shut down the internet to prevent protestors from using social media to organize rallies. But Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps has warned of more "decisive action" if the unrest continues.

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13 billion: Building a single state-of-the-art US aircraft carrier costs about $13 billion, a figure that exceeds total military spending by countries like Poland, the Netherlands, or Pakistan. But as China's ability to hit seaborne targets improves, the Economist asks if carriers are "too big to fail." (Come for that, stay for the many strange Top Gun references in the piece.)

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