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What We’re Watching: Hariri back as Lebanese PM, US-India vs China, Iran’s US election shenanigans

Art by Gabriella Turrisi
Hariri 4.0 in Lebanon: Veteran politician Saad Hariri returns as Lebanon's prime minister almost exactly one year after he stepped down amid mass street protests over corruption and lack of jobs. Now, though, his job has become even tougher: sky-high inflation, cash-strapped banks, and rising poverty were all bad enough before first COVID-19 hit. Then a huge explosion in the Beirut port killed over 200 people and caused billions of dollars in damages. Although bringing back Hariri for his fourth stint as PM doesn't seem to jive with the Lebanese people's increasing demands for change to deal with the country's collapse, he was the only candidate with sufficient support to get nominated in Lebanon's famously complex political power-sharing system. So far, Hariri has promised to set up a team of experts to carry out long-overdue political and economic reforms Lebanon that needs to get a financial lifeline from international donors like France. Will Hariri 4.0 deliver?

India to get US satellite data: Ahead of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's upcoming visit to India, a deal is in the works under which the Indian military would get access to US satellite data for its missiles and drones. The agreement helps India narrow its military gap with China, and is part of the Trump administration's broader efforts to check China's ambitions by bolstering the defense capabilities of other Asian countries. For years India has avoided getting dragged into the US-China tussle, but last summer's deadly border clash with the Chinese in the Himalayas prompted Delhi to take a more active role in the "Quad" group of countries (a security group including Australia, India, the US and Japan, which Beijing views as a US attempt to create a NATO-style anti-Chinese military alliance in the region). We're watching to see how China will react to further US-India military cooperation, and how the Indians will walk the fine line between bolstering their defenses and avoiding more open conflict with Beijing.

Iran pretending to be Proud: The FBI is blaming Iranian agents for a recent flurry of emails that threatened US voters if they don't vote for Donald Trump. The emails, supposedly from the Proud Boys — a pro-Trump far-right street gang — targeted registered Democrats with the message "vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you." US intelligence officials say the scam was designed to tarnish Trump, but to us it seems more like a bid to create broader confusion and distrust surrounding the election. You can expect more shenanigans of this kind in the coming days, as the Feds say both Iran and Russia have gained access to voter registration information in some US states. (They have not been able to change any information or affect any vote tallies.) But, in our view, any issues surrounding the legitimacy of the US election have much more to do with American polarization than with foreign meddling. If you disagree, we'd love to hear why.

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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Today at 12 noon EST, join GZERO Media for a virtual Town Hall, "Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year," presented in partnership with Eurasia Group and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Our panel will discuss the road ahead in the global response to the COVID crisis. Will there be more multilateral cooperation on issues like gender equality moving forward from the pandemic?

Register and watch the event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/townhall

Our moderator, CNBC health care correspondent Bertha Coombs, along with Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media, and Mark Suzman, CEO of the Gates Foundation, will speak with distinguished experts on three key issues:

Heidi Larson, Director, The Vaccine Confidence Project

  • How will COVID vaccines be distributed safely?

Minouche Shafik, Director of London School of Economics & Political Science

  • How has the pandemic disproportionately impacted women?

Madeleine Albright, Chair, Albright Stonebridge Group and Albright Capital Management; former US Secretary of State

  • What is the opportunity for global cooperation emerging from this crisis, and what are the greatest political risks?
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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely available in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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