What We're Watching: Europe's brutal second wave, protests in Iraq, tough talk from Turkey

Doctor and medical colleagues treat a patient suffering from COVID-19 in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Robert Ballanger hospital near Paris during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in France, October 26, 2020

Europe's second wave: After a brutal spring in which Europe emerged as a coronavirus epicenter, the outbreak largely subsided across the continent in the summer, allowing many Europeans to travel and gather in large groups. But now, a second wave of infection is wreaking havoc across Europe, with the region reporting more than 1.3 million cases this past week alone, according to the World Health Organization, the highest seven-day increase to date. Former coronavirus hotspots like France, Italy, Spain, and the UK are again grappling with a record number of new cases that could soon dwarf the out-of-control outbreaks seen this past spring. Meanwhile, countries like Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic that staved off massive outbreaks in the spring are also seeing an unprecedented number of new daily cases. As Europe now accounts for around 22 percent of all new COVID infections worldwide, hospitals in many cities are being swamped as many struggle to source life-saving equipment. As a result, Spain declared a national state of emergency Sunday, imposing nighttime curfews, while Italy imposed its strictest lockdown since May. Europe's Center for Disease Prevention and Control warned against complacency, noting that while transmission is mostly between younger people, keeping the death rate low, that could swiftly change if Europe doesn't get the virus in check.


Iraq a year later: Marking a year since the outbreak of widespread protests over corruption and joblessness in one of the world's most oil-rich countries, demonstrators in Iraq have again flooded the capital, Baghdad, and other cities with renewed calls to clean up graft and implement broader political and economic reforms. In recent years, unemployment has surged in the country, and millions of Iraqis have fallen into poverty while politicians have continued to line their pockets. The government's brutal crackdown on the last protests in 2019 — killing more than 500 people — remains a rallying cry, even after months of the pandemic largely kept activists off the streets. Police responded to the new wave of demonstrations fiercely, tear-gassing protesters, some of whom hurled Molotov cocktails at security forces. We're watching to see whether this fresh mobilization on the streets will move the needle on overdue reforms. The outcome of the US election could also play a role: will a Biden administration put more pressure on Baghdad to clean up its act?

Erdogan playing with fire: Turkey's strongman president Recep Tayyib Erdogan let loose over the weekend, with a wild speech in which he dared the US to impose sanctions on his country, blasted the EU, and called French President Emmanuel Macron crazy. Erdogan is upset about Washington's warnings not to get more involved in the war over Nagorno-Karabakh, in which Ankara is openly backing Azerbaijan against Armenia, as well as US objections to Turkey's testing of an advanced missile system that it recently bought from Russia. Macron, for his part, needs "mental treatment," the Turkish president said, because of his views on "Islam and Muslims." Macron, who has traded barbs with Erdogan in the past, recently vowed to quash radical Islam after a jihadist beheaded a French teacher. Erdogan has a long history of throwing punches abroad to distract from problems at home, but with the Turkish lira hitting record lows, can he afford to be so pugnacious? The foreign investors whom he depends on to keep his economy afloat seem to think not.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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