What We're Watching: A widening Bolivian divide

Bolivia's polarizing interim president: After Bolivian president Evo Morales and his deputies were pushed out of office for rigging last month's presidential election, little-known opposition Senator Jeanine Añez took office as interim leader. Añez has promised to guide the country toward a "national consensus" ahead of new elections in January, but she's already risked deepening political divides. On day one, she lugged a giant bible into office, in a perceived swipe at Morales, who had elevated popular indigenous traditions that the ultra-conservative Ms. Añez once called "satanic." She's also abruptly reoriented the country's foreign ties toward Latin America's conservative governments. On her watch, at least eight pro-Morales protesters have been killed by the authorities. Morales himself, exiled in Mexico, says he's the victim of a coup and wants to run in the elections. Añez says he's barred, but his MAS political party still controls both houses of congress and has to be a partner for any smooth transition. Some compromise is necessary, but things don't seem to be going that way.


Impeachment and 2020 Democratic primaries: As the Trump impeachment process grinds on, a potential problem is emerging for some Democratic presidential candidates. If the House impeaches President Trump, there will be a trial in the Senate. If that trial is held in January/February, it will force Democratic senators to be in Washington rather than on the campaign trail engaging voters directly. That's potential bad news for presidential-hopeful Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Cory Booker—and might be good news for rival candidates Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, who won't be chained to Washington. But do Republicans really want to help Biden beat Warren and Sanders, both of whom might be easier for Trump to beat? We'll be watching to see how Democrats in the House and Senate try to manage this problem.

US walks out on South Korea: Talks on the cost of basing US troops in South Korea ended abruptly Tuesday when the Americans walked out of the meeting, accusing Seoul of falling short of "fair and equitable burden sharing." Washington had demanded a five-fold yearly increase (to $5 billion) in Seoul's contribution to maintaining 28,500 American troops on the Korean peninsula. Earlier this year, Seoul agreed to pay $890 million, more than 40 percent of the day-to-day expenses of keeping US troops in the area. It also paid more than 90 percent of the hefty cost of relocating the US' main Korean base, and buys billions of dollars worth of US arms. Until now, US presidents have seen Washington's security commitments to Seoul — which date back to the 1950s when the Korean War ended without a peace treaty — as mutually beneficial: South Korea gets protection from the North, while the US gets to safeguard its security and economic interests in East Asia. Will President Trump's hardline approach to South Korea work? And will it set an enduring precedent? We're watching because similar talks on cost-sharing with Japan, Germany, and NATO are slated for next year.

What We're Ignoring

Dog days in Turkmenistan: Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the eccentric autocrat who runs the gas-rich Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan, has long adored his country's renowned horse breeds (even when he's falling off of them.) But now he is pivoting to a different point on the mammalian map: dog. In particular, the Alabai, a hardy little sheepdog that has been part of Turkmenistan's traditionally nomadic society for thousands of years. Recently, he's been writing books and poems about the dogs, and now he plans to build a 50-foot tall statue of one in the capital as a symbol of national unity. We are ignoring this because we're spoiled by the last Turkmen president's penchant for building 25-story gold plated statues of himself that rotated to face the sun. Next to that, this pup stuff doesn't stack up.

This month, a bipartisan group of legislators in Washington state presented new legislation that could soon become the most comprehensive privacy law in the country. The centerpiece of this legislation, the Washington Privacy Act as substituted, goes further than the landmark bill California recently enacted and builds on the law Europeans have enjoyed for the past year and a half.

As Microsoft President Brad Smith shared in his blog post about our priorities for the state of Washington's current legislative session, we believe it is important to enact strong data privacy protections to demonstrate our state's leadership on what we believe will be one of the defining issues of our generation. People will only trust technology if they know their data is private and under their control, and new laws like these will help provide that assurance.

Read more here.

Let's be clear— the Middle East peace plan that the US unveiled today is by no means fair. In fact, it is markedly more pro-Israel than any that have come before it.

But the Trump administration was never aiming for a "fair" deal. Instead, it was pursuing a deal that can feasibly be implemented. In other words, it's a deal shaped by a keen understanding of the new power balances within the region and globally.

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For months now, the US has been lobbying countries around the world to ban the Chinese tech giant Huawei from building the 5G data networks that are going to power everything from your cell phone, to power grids, to self-driving cars. US security hawks say allowing a Chinese company to supply such essential infrastructure could allow the Chinese government to steal sensitive data or even sabotage networks. On the other hand, rejecting Huawei could make 5G more expensive. It also means angering the world's second-largest economy.

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The end of the interim in Bolivia? – Mere months after taking over as Bolivia's interim president, Jeanine Áñez has decided that "interim" isn't quite permanent enough, and she now wants to run for president in elections set for May 3. Áñez is an outspoken conservative who took over in October when mass protests over election fraud prompted the military to oust the long-serving left-populist Evo Morales. She says she is just trying to unify a fractious conservative ticket that can beat the candidate backed by Morales' party. (Morales himself is barred from running.) Her supporters say she has the right to run just like anyone else. But critics say that after promising that she would serve only as a caretaker president, Áñez's decision taints the legitimacy of an election meant to be a clean slate reset after the unrest last fall. We are watching closely to see if her move sparks fresh unrest in an already deeply polarized country.

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1: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was formally indicted on corruption charges Tuesday, making him the first sitting prime minister to face trial in Israel's history. The charges came hours before Netanyahu was set to meet President Trump for the unveiling of the US' long-anticipated Mideast peace plan.

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