What We're Watching: Bolton's Exit, Kremlin Spies, and Turkish Threats

What We're Watching: Bolton's Exit, Kremlin Spies, and Turkish Threats

Exit John Bolton - Yesterday's news that President Donald Trump has fired national security advisor John Bolton offers yet more evidence that, however his critics will characterize his motives, Trump is eager to avoid fresh military conflicts and wants to try to make deals instead. The ultra-hawkish Bolton appears to have wanted a more aggressive approach to Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Venezuela, and other places where US adversaries operate. Trump had evidently reached the limits of his trust in Bolton's judgment. But the remaining mystery is why, in the first place, a man elected on promises to end wars hired a man who wants nothing more than to start them? And, of course, who will want this job next?


Russian Spy Games – A CIA mole provided sensitive Kremlin intelligence, including photographs of documents seen by Vladimir Putin, for more than a decade, according to a bombshell CNN story. The source led the CIA to believe Putin had personally ordered Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. But in 2017, the CIA pulled him out of Russia – a decision that a source told CNN was partly motivated by the Trump administration's patchy handling of classified intelligence. The New York Times followed with other details, including concerns among some US intelligence officials that their most senior Russian asset may have been a double agent. There's plenty of fodder in this story for those on all sides of the Trump-Russia story – we're watching to see how Trump's critics, the president himself, and Vladimir Putin react now that the spy games have become public.

Turkey's Waning Hospitality – Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said that unless the US sets up a safe-zone within Syria where he can send a million of the Syrian refugees currently living in his country, he will "open the gates" for them to head into Europe. Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, by far the largest number of any country. But Ankara's hospitality is wearing thin. Since 2015, the EU has given Turkey $6.7 billion to deal with the influx of migrants, but Erdogan says this isn't enough now, as Turkey's deepening economic woes have fueled anti-Syrian sentiment among Turks. We're watching two things here: first, will Trump agree to Erdogan's ultimatum on setting up the safe zone? Second, if not, will the EU-Turkey deal hold up? Given the backlash against migrants across the EU, Brussels can ill-afford to see millions of fresh arrivals now.

What We're Ignoring:

Calls to abolish higher education – A Republican state senator from Tennessee received national attention after he called to abolish higher education during his weekly radio show. Kerry Roberts, who represents a district near Nashville, said the move would "cut off a liberal breeding ground." The lawmaker subsequently walked back his comments, suggesting they were hyperbole (judge for yourself – his education remarks start around 50 minutes in). We are ignoring this story, because we'd rather tune in to a serious debate about whether Americans would be better off spending time and money on vocational or technical education rather than on increasingly expensive four-year degrees.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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35.4: The US has overtaken China as the country with the largest share of the world's Bitcoin mining networks, now accounting for 35.4 of the global mining presence. This comes after the Chinese government banned domestic cryptocurrency mining operations to promote its own digital yuan that would track every single transaction.

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