What We're Watching: Norway and the ISIS question

What We're Watching: Norway and the ISIS question

Norway's government breaks up over ISIS returnee – Norway's right-wing Progress Party said it will resign from the country's four-party coalition government over the prime minister's decision to bring home a Norwegian woman affiliated with the Islamic State in Syria. The woman, who left Norway for the conflict zone in 2013, was arrested shortly after arriving in Oslo with her two children, on suspicion of being a member of ISIS. Prior to her return, she had been held in the Al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria, along with thousands of other family members of ISIS fighters. The defection of Norway's anti-immigrant Progress Party undercuts Prime Minister Erna Solberg's parliamentary majority, likely making it hard for her to pass laws in parliament. This case reflects an increasingly common problem for European countries: the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate has largely collapsed but what should countries do about the return of former fighters and their families to societies that don't want them?


Falling tensions along the Nile – Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan last week agreed to a draft deal to defuse tensions over Ethiopia's plan to dam a portion of the Nile River, a vital source of water and a strategic trade route that flows through all three countries. The deal, which is due to be finalized at a meeting in Washington on January 28-29, will involve filling the soon-to-be-completed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in stages during the region's wet season. The idea is to manage water levels to balance Ethiopia's need to generate electricity with Sudan and Egypt's need to access water trapped by the dam during droughts and other water shortages. We're watching this story, because Egypt had earlier threatened military action over Ethiopia's plans, which would have stoppered the source of 85 percent of its water. Negotiations over the final details could still throw the agreement for a loop.

Venezuela one year on – A year ago, with Venezuela mired in a harrowing political and humanitarian crisis, the US and dozens of other democracies recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president, and slapped heavy sanctions on the regime of strongman Nicolas Maduro. But while Guaido still has strong foreign support – he's just met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and is reportedly en route to Davos – the reality is that Maduro remains firmly in power at home. With the support of Russia and, more tacitly, China, Maduro has maintained the loyalty of his top generals, and succeeded in dividing and cowing the opposition. Guaido's approval ratings have fallen below 40%, as once-lively support for the opposition has flagged in the absence of real progress. What's more, there isn't a whole lot of scope for tighter international sanctions at this point, and virtually no chance that Washington would intervene militarily. Puppet Regime called this one right.

What We're Ignoring

The Earth sandwich – On Monday, Etienne Naude, a student at Auckland University in New Zealand, realized his dream to create an "Earth sandwich." He placed a slice of white bread on a beach in Auckland at the same moment that a stranger he recruited online placed a slice of bread directly across the globe, 12,724 kilometers (7,906 miles) away, in a field in southern Spain. Precise placement of the two bread slices was determined by careful computation of longitude and latitude using Google maps. We're ignoring this story for two reasons. One, white bread, Etienne? Really? Two, if you're going to use white bread, there better be condiments. Where are the condiments?

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?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

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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