What We're Watching: Brexit Battles, Israel and Iran, and Clashes in Cameroon

Brexit Battles – UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government has asked Queen Elizabeth to temporarily suspend Parliament for five weeks starting in September. That would dramatically shrink the time available for MPs who oppose the government's Brexit plans to pass legislation before the October 31 Brexit deadline that would prevent the UK from crashing out of the EU without a deal – and may make it impossible. Hobbling Parliament could give Johnson more leverage in his talks with the EU to modify the terms of the UK's withdrawal agreement, after Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron promised to consider any credible new ideas from Johnson on how to handle the Irish border. But this is a huge escalation, and MPs may respond with their own nuclear option – a no-confidence vote.


Iran-Israel Proxy Flare-Up – On Sunday, Israel confirmed it bombed an Iran-backed militia group in Syria that it says was preparing to launch "killer drones" against Israeli targets. Israel is also thought to be behind attacks on Iranian-allied groups in Lebanon and Iraq, and hits on Hamas targets in Gaza. The governments of Iraq and Lebanon condemned the strikes, while Hezbollah promised retaliation. With three weeks to go until snap elections that will determine Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's (Bibi) political fate, we're watching to see whether this flare-up escalates, and whether it boosts Bibi's election chances against former Israel Defense Forces chief Benny Gantz.

Clashes in Cameroon – English-speaking regions of majority Francophone Cameroon are on lockdown following a violent weekend in which clashes between the army and Anglophone separatists killed 40 people and sent tens of thousands of residents fleeing for safety. The conflict started in 2016, when the central government cracked down on English speakers protesting a move to impose French on local schools and courts. The flare-up in recent days came a week after 10 prominent Anglophone separatists were handed life sentences for rebellion. So far, more than 2,000 people have died and more than 500,000 have been displaced in the three-year-old conflict.

What We're Ignoring:

US-Iran talks – The surprise visit of Iran's foreign minister to the recent G7 Summit, at France's invitation, has raised expectations that Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani might meet on the sidelines of next month's UN General Assembly meetings in New York. We shouldn't get our hopes up for a breakthrough. In Iran, it's the Supreme Leader, not the president, who makes the big foreign-policy decisions, and Ayatollah Khamenei has dismissed the idea of a meeting. Even if he agrees and Trump and Rouhani do sit down together, Iran is highly unlikely to make big concessions from a position of economic weakness, and Trump won't relent on sanctions. As Willis wrote in yesterday's edition, Iran's government is among those hoping to get a better deal from a new US president in 2021.

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How did an entire country's media spread false news for a night?

Fascinating case study in France over the weekend. For less than a day, we thought that the most wanted men in the country had been caught in Scotland. Turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The so-called news was actually reported quite carefully at first, on Friday night with careful words. But the language quickly moved from conditional to categorical and therefore, to misinformation through human error. What you have here is the tension between being first and being right, which has always been present in journalism but is more and more as you have these 24 hour news channels, social media, and the incredible economic pressure on news sites that are advertising based and therefore click based.

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Donald Trump announced a fresh "phase 1" trade deal with China last week, part of his ongoing bid to reduce the United States' huge trade deficit with China. The US has been buying more from China than China buys from the US for decades, but since coming into office Trump has made reducing that deficit central to his "America First" agenda. It's not easy to do. Consider that in 2018, after two full years of the Trump administration, the trade deficit with China actually swelled to its highest level since the Clinton years. That's because many perfectly healthy economic factors contribute to a trade deficit: stronger economic growth under Trump has meant more demand for foreign goods, so as long as the economy keeps humming along, it will be hard for Trump to reduce the deficit. Likewise, the strong US dollar makes foreign goods cheaper for US consumers to import, while China's own economic slowdown in 2018 decreased Chinese demand for American goods. For a historical perspective on all of this, here's a look at how the US-China trade balance has developed under each US president going back to 1993.

On Friday, we detailed the main arguments for and against President Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from a pocket of northern Syria where their presence had protected Washington's Kurdish allies against an attack from Turkey. We then asked Signal readers to let us know what they thought.

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Dangerous Chaos in Syria – Turkey's military move into northern Syria had two stated goals: to push Kurdish fighters inside Syria further from Turkey's border and to create a "safe zone" inside Syria in which Turkey could place up to two million Syrian refugees currently living in camps inside Turkey. But the Kurds have now allied with Syria's army, which is backed by Russia, and these forces are now moving north into that same territory toward Turkish troops and Arab militias backed by Ankara. Meanwhile, large numbers of ISIS fighters and their families have escaped prisons where Kurds had held them captive. Turkey's President Erdogan vows to press ahead with his operation until "ultimate victory is achieved." Pandora's Box is now wide open.

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