What We're Watching: Johnson's big mouth, US withdrawing from Afghanistan, back from the brink in Somalia

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson's big mouth: Boris Johnson is no stranger to controversy over crazy things that he's said — his perilously off-the-cuff style is part of his political brand. But the British PM is currently under fire over reports that he told advisers last fall he was prepared to "let the bodies pile high in their thousands" rather than impose another lockdown in the UK. Johnson denies it, but the BBC journos who reported the story are standing by it. The flap comes right as Johnson is also being accused — by his estranged former chief advisor Dominic Cummings — of having used campaign donations to refurnish his Downing Street residence. The clash between Johnson and Cummings, who is still influential among Johnson's own Tories, centers on Cummings' accusation that the PM's handling of the pandemic was incompetent. A swift vaccine rollout has helped the polarizing Johnson claw his way back to 51 percent approval rating in recent weeks — whether these latest antics and scandals will hurt his support remains to be seen.


Washington fears Taliban attacks: The US State Department on Tuesday instructed all non-essential personnel to vacate the US Embassy in Kabul and make their way back to the US. Washington reportedly fears an uptick in Taliban violence just weeks after President Biden announced that the long-anticipated withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan would be completed by September 11, 2021. Taliban militants have threatened to wreak havoc if Washington doesn't stick to the original plan — agreed to by the Trump administration — of leaving by May 1. Meanwhile, the withdrawal plan has sparked a contentious debate in the US: Some politicians, like Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), who served multiple tours in Afghanistan, say a hasty US withdrawal will enable a violent Taliban takeover, endangering both Afghans and Americans. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that the US is committed to moving ahead with the withdrawal immediately, noting that "free riders" in the region need to step up and take a more active role in keeping Afghanistan stable (seems like he's talking to you, Pakistan).

Back from the brink in Somalia: A crisis in Somalia appears to have been averted, at least for now. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed's term in office ended in February, but elections for the legislators who would choose a new president were delayed by a dispute between the federal and regional governments. The lower house of parliament recently voted to extend Mohamed's term by two years. When the Senate rejected this idea, security forces divided into rival factions and appeared ready to shoot it out in the streets of Mogadishu. Clashes last weekend forced tens of thousands from their homes. But Mohamed announced on Wednesday that he will appear before congress on Saturday to make his case for a term extension, a signal that he would accept its final decision in order to avoid bloodshed. That's especially good news since al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabab fighters in Somalia have exploited unrest in the past to launch terrorist attacks across the country. We'll be watching to see if Mohamed submits to the will of parliament and the country can move to elections as soon as possible.

Two Black women hugging, with one woman pictured smiling

With half of all Black Americans excluded from the financial mainstream and Black-owned small businesses blocked from funding, we're working with city leaders and providing digital access to essential financial tools for immediate impact in Black communities. Learn more.

Ian Bremmer interviews economist Larry Summers on GZERO World. Summers served as the Treasury Secretary under President Clinton and as the Director of the National Economic Council under Preisdent Obama. He sounded the alarm bell about inflation back in February 2021 when few people were talking about it. Part of the reason prices are rising so much today, Summers says, is because the Biden administration made the political decision to do "too much stimulus," a big mistake in his view. Summers discusses how supply chain problems are also contributed to the highest levels of inflation in the US in 30 years.

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Australian Open - First Round - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 21, 2020 China's Peng Shuai in action during the match against Japan's Nao Hibino

The Women’s Tennis Association this week decided to suspend all tournaments in China, over doubts that the country’s star player Peng Shuai is safe and sound. Peng recently disappeared for three weeks after accusing a former Vice Premier of sexual assault. Although she has since resurfaced, telling the International Olympic Committee that she’s fine and just wants a little privacy, there are still concerns that Peng has been subjected to intimidation by the Chinese state.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

How is Europe dealing with new omicron version of the pandemic?

Well, I mean the big issue isn't really that one, the big issue if you see the havoc that is created in several European countries at the moment is the delta. The delta is making impressive strides, particularly in countries that have a slightly lower vaccination rates. So that's the number one fight at the moment. And then we must of course prepare for the omicron as well.

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Caravan of Taliban soldiers with guns held upright

Listen: With the US gone and the Taliban back in control, Afghanistan faces a long winter. Mounting food insecurity and a crumbling economy have left many Afghans feeling abandoned. The international community could help solve this humanitarian crisis, but can they trust the Taliban?

Ian Bremmer sat down with journalist and author Ahmed Rashid to learn more about the Taliban today. Few people know more about the Taliban than Rashid, who wrote the book on the group — literally. In the months after 9/11, his critically acclaimed 2000 study Taliban became a go-to reference as the US geared up to invade Afghanistan and knock the militant group from power. Twenty years later, how much has the group changed since the days of soccer-stadium executions, television bans, and blowing up world heritage sites?

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

What are the DSA and the DMA?

Well, the twin legislative initiatives of the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act are the European Union's answer to the challenges of content moderation online and that of the significant role of major market players, also known as gatekeepers in the digital markets. And the intention is to foster both more competition and responsible behavior by tech companies. So the new rules would apply broadly to search engines, social media platforms, but also retail platforms and app stores.

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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 is happening to Roe v. Wade?

Well, this week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case called Dobbs v. Jackson, which challenges a Mississippi law that would outlaw abortions after 15 weeks in the state. That law itself is a direct challenge to the legal precedent set by Roe v. Wade nearly 50 years ago, which is one of the most politically important Supreme Court decisions in American history. It has driven deep polarization between the right and the left in the US and become a critical litmus test. There are very few, if any, pro-life Democrats at the national level and virtually no pro-choice Republicans at any level of government. Overturning Roe has been an animating force on the political right in the US for a generation. And in turn, Democrats have responded by making protecting Roe one of their key political missions.

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What We're Watching: Angela Merkel's punk rock farewell, Iran nuclear talks resume

Angela Merkel's punk rock farewell. Although she doesn't officially step down as German Chancellor until next week, Angela Merkel's sendoff took place on Thursday night in Berlin, with the traditional Grosser Zapfenstreich — a musical aufweidersehen, replete with torches and a military band. By custom, the honoree gets to choose three songs for the band to play. Among Merkel's otherwise staid choices was a total curveball: You Forgot the Colour Film, a 1974 rock hit by fellow East German Nina Hagen, a renowned punk rocker. The song, a parody bit about a man who takes the singer on vacation but has only black-and-white film in his camera, was understood as a dig at the drabness of life in the East. We're listening to the tune, and... digging it, kind of — but we still prefer Merkel's own Kraftwerk-inspired farewell song from Puppet Regime. Eins, zwei, drei, it's time to say goodbye...

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