What We’re Watching: Blowbacks in the Gulf and South Africa

"Sabotage" in the Gulf – On Sunday, four commercial ships, including two Saudi oil tankers, were hit by a "sabotage attack" off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. So far, no one has claimed responsibility, but Tehran is in the spotlight. Iran recently threatened to close the nearby Strait of Hormuz – a critical waterway for global oil shipments – in retaliation against tighter US sanctions. Whether this attack was carried out by Iran, or by someone trying to implicate Iran, rising tensions between the US and the Islamic Republic mean this is worth keeping an eye on.

Ramaphosa on offense – Celebrating victory in last week's national election, South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa made a bold promise to tackle corruption within his party, the governing African National Congress (ANC), "whether some people like it or not." By "some people" he's pointing directly at former President Jacob Zuma and those still loyal to him within the ANC. This shows us that Ramaphosa believes his win gives him an opportunity to consolidate authority within a divided party and to sideline the discredited Zuma faction once and for all. We'll be watching to see how Zuma (directly or indirectly) responds.

What We're Ignoring: Mike in Sochi, Burgers in Traffic

Mike Pompeo in Sochi – The US secretary of state arrives in Sochi today for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Top on the agenda are likely to be Venezuela, where Moscow and Washington back rival contestants for power, as well as Iran, where Moscow still supports the nuclear deal which the US left last year. We are, however, ignoring the secretary of state's visit, because we – and, presumably, Mr Putin – have learned that unless Trump himself is involved, its hard to be certain just what, if anything, Pompeo can really achieve.

A Whopper of a Bad Solution – The traffic in Mexico City is notoriously awful, but not as awful as Burger King's new idea for how to ease the angst. The flame broiling US burger chain has launched a new app that enables people to order Whoppers that are delivered directly to their cars by motorcycle. We are ignoring La Traffic Whopper because indigestion is no solution for congestion. DING! (credit to Gabe for that gem.)

The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace launched in 2018 with the commitment of signatories to stand up to cyber threats like election interference, attacks on critical infrastructure, and supply chain vulnerabilities. Last week, on the first anniversary of the call, the number of signatories has nearly tripled to more than 1,000 and now includes 74 nations; more than 350 international, civil society and public sector organizations; and more than 600 private sector entities. These commitments to the Paris Call from around the world demonstrate a widespread, global, multi-stakeholder consensus about acceptable behavior in cyberspace.

Read More at Microsoft On The Issues.

In recent years, Republicans have come to dominate most of the state legislatures in the US. Ironically, it was during the Obama-era that the GOP made major headway in states that had long been considered safely blue. State legislatures are now redder than they've been in nearly a century, and in most parts of the country, one party holds all the levers of power. For the first time since 1914, there's only one split legislature in the entire country: Minnesota. To be sure, some state races are bucking the trend: Kentucky and Louisiana, both deep-red states, recently elected Democratic governors. Here's a look at how Democratic and Republican control of state legislatures has evolved over the past four decades.

Forty years ago, Islamic extremists angry at the Saudi government's experiments with social liberalization laid siege to the Grand Mosque of Mecca, the holiest site in Islam.

The attack came on the heels of the Iranian revolution across the Gulf, putting the House of Saud and its American backers in a precarious spot. Tehran had challenged Saudi Arabia's Islamic legitimacy from without, while jihadists were now doing the same from within. For a few days it seemed as though the world's most important oil producer – and the custodian of Islam's holiest places – might be in danger of collapse.

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Forty years ago today, dozens of bearded gunmen stormed the holiest site in Islam, the Grand Mosque at Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.

They held the complex for two weeks before a French-trained Saudi force rooted them out, but the fallout from the attack went on to shape the modern Middle East in ways that are still with us today: in the scourge of transnational jihadism and the deepening rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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What changes now that the U.S. softened its position on Israeli settlements?

Well, I mean, not a lot. I mean, keep in mind that this is also the administration that moved the embassy to Jerusalem, from Tel Aviv. Everyone said that was going to be a massive problem. Ultimately, not many people cared. Same thing with recognition of Golan Heights for Israel. This is just one more give from the Americans to the Israelis in the context of a region that doesn't care as much as they used to about Israel - Palestine.

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