What We’re Watching: Taliban loom large, China’s 5-year plan, Israel OKs West Bank construction, Zambians vote

What We’re Watching: Taliban loom large, China’s 5-year plan, Israel OKs West Bank settlements, Zambians vote

People on vehicles, holding Taliban flags, gather near the Friendship Gate crossing point in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman, Pakistan.

REUTERS/Abdul Khaliq Achakzai

US braces for Taliban takeover: Just weeks before US forces were set to fully withdraw from Afghanistan after almost 20 years, the Pentagon is sending 3,000 additional troops to guard Kabul's airport and help most US embassy staff leave the country safely. The State Department refused to call this development an evacuation, insisting that the embassy will remain open after the US withdrawal for some duties, including processing special US visa applications for Afghans who worked for and helped the US military. Meanwhile, Taliban forces have captured their eleventh provincial capital in just one week as they zero in on Kabul. The Taliban now control the country's second and third largest cities — Kandahar and Herat — as well as roughly two-thirds of all Afghan districts, raising fears of an imminent takeover. US intelligence now anticipates Kabul could fall within 30 to 90 days, much earlier than previous estimates. Given the speed of the Taliban advance, the Biden administration's partial — and hasty — drawdown of the US diplomatic mission in Kabul makes sense in order to avoid the chaotic scenes of 1975, when the last Americans to leave Saigon were lifted off in helicopters from the roof of the embassy after the Vietcong conquered the capital of then-South Vietnam.


Israel authorizes Jewish and Palestinian construction in the West Bank: Israel has green-lit the construction of 2,200 new homes in the occupied West Bank — including 1,000 new units for Palestinians in the Jewish-majority area of the West Bank, known as Area C. It's the first time in years that the Israeli government has given Palestinians approval to build in this specific area, and comes after recent moves by Israel to bolster the standing of the Palestinian Authority, which rules in the West Bank yet is very unpopular with Palestinian voters. But critics say it is also a calculated play by Israel's rightwing PM Naftali Bennett to push through plans for more Jewish settler homes. Settlement construction is a lightning rod issue in Israeli politics: Meretz, a left-wing junior member of Naftali's coalition government, has already criticized the move. Still, none of this is surprising given that Bennett has never concealed his rightwing bonafides, and Israel's nascent ideologically-diverse coalition government was always going to have major disagreements on policy issues. So, why announce this now? Bennet likely wanted to get it out of the way so that the thorny issue doesn't overshadow his first meeting with US President Joe Biden next month.

What's in China's new five-year plan? Beijing has released a new "rule of law" blueprint detailing some of the government's policy priorities over the next five years. Clearly, cracking down on tech giants will continue to be a massive policy focus for Beijing, which detailed the need to "enhance anti-monopoly law enforcement." The Chinese Communist Party will also increase regulatory control over sectors like healthcare, technology, and the insurance industry. In recent weeks and months, Chinese regulators have increasingly enforced new rules limiting the autonomy of businesses in pursuit of what the government calls "social stability". But some critics say this new report is business as usual, and merely reflects President Xi Jinping's modus operandi of quashing potential rival power centers in the business world.

Zambia's nail-biter election: Zambians go to the polls on Thursday to vote in a general election amid a severe COVID-fueled economic crisis. In what is expected to be a very close race, voters must choose between President Edgar Lungu, in power since 2015, and business tycoon Hakainde Hichilema, known by his initials HH and backed by most opposition forces. HH, running for an astounding sixth time, wants to cut mining taxes to lure foreign investors and renegotiate the country's debt with the IMF. (Zambia was the first African country to default after the pandemic struck, in part because the money it owes to China, which rarely gives debt relief, has increased seven-fold under Lungu.) The latest polling has HH ahead by a narrow margin because economic stagnation and untenable borrowing have hurt Lungu, but the challenger' says it won't be a fair fight: the incumbent is using intimidation and violence to subdue voter turnout, even deploying the military. You can bet a close result will be contested in both the courts and the streets of Africa’s second-largest producer of copper.

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Does the EU really have a foreign policy?

For decades, European leaders have debated the question of whether Europe should have a common foreign policy that’s independent of the United States.

Germany, the UK, and countries situated closest to Russia have traditionally preferred to rely on membership in NATO and US military strength to safeguard European security at a cost affordable for them.

French leaders, by contrast, have argued that, with or without NATO, Europe needs an approach to foreign-policy questions that doesn’t depend on alignment, or even agreement, with Washington.

There are those within many EU countries who agree that Europe must speak with a single clear voice if the EU is to promote European values and protect European interests in a world of US, Chinese, and Russian power.

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The politics of US crime: Perception vs reality

A recent spate of violent crimes in New York City has made national headlines. Since Eric Adams was sworn in four weeks ago as mayor of America’s most populous city, violence on the streets — and the subways — has again become a major political focus. Things got even more heated this week, when two young cops were killed while responding to a domestic dispute in Harlem.

Crime is not only a dominant political issue in New York. It also resonates more broadly with American voters worried over increased lawlessness and unrest. Indeed, crime is already shaping up to be a wedge issue as Republicans vie to win control of the US Congress this November.

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Hard Numbers: South China Sea jet search, US economy surges, Cuban protesters charged, Africa gets vaxxed

FILE PHOTO of a F-35C Lightning II, assigned to the Argonauts of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, launches off the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) on Jan. 14, 2022.

U.S Navy/EYEPRESS

100 million: The US Navy is scrambling to find a $100 million F-35 stealth fighter jet that crashed and sank soon after taking off on Monday from an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. One expert described the Cold War-ish race to locate the remains — stocked with classified equipment — before the Chinese do as "basically The Hunt For Red October meets The Abyss."

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The logo of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project is seen on a pipe at the Chelyabinsk pipe rolling plant in Chelyabinsk, Russia, February 26, 2020.

Nord Stream 2 used as a bargaining chip with Russia. The US now says that if Russia invades Ukraine, it’ll block the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is set to transfer even more natural gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. This is a big deal, considering that Germany – thirsty for more Russian gas – has long been pushing for the pipeline to start operating despite ongoing objections from Washington. The $11 billion energy project, which would double Russian gas exports to Germany, is seen as (a big) part of the reason why Berlin is reluctant to push back hard against the Kremlin over its troop buildup at the Ukrainian border. Still, German officials admit Nord Stream 2 could face sanctions if the Russians invade, suggesting that the Americans’ threat was likely coordinated with Berlin in advance. This comes amid ongoing diplomatic attempts to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis, with US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz set to meet at the White House on February 7.

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Putin Has a “Noose” Around Ukraine, Says Russia Analyst Alina Polyakova | GZERO World

What’s going on in Vladimir Putin’s mind? That’s the million-dollar question.

Ukraine and Russia analyst Alina Polyakova doesn’t think it’s anything good.

Russia's president, she says, has put a “noose” around Ukraine with a troop build-up along the border that could spell invasion in the near term. The US has led an effort to deescalate the situation through diplomacy.

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The AI Addiction Cycle | GZERO World

Ever wonder why everything seems to be a major crisis these days? For former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, it's because artificial intelligence has determined that's the only way to get your attention.

What's more, it's driving an addiction cycle among humans that will lead to enormous depression and dissatisfaction.

"Oh my God there's another message. Oh my God, there's another crisis. Oh my God, there's another outrage. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God," he says. "I don't think humans, at least in modern society where [we’ve] evolved to be in an 'Oh my God' situation all day."

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Merkin' It With Angela Merkel | PUPPET REGIME | GZERO Media

Angela Merkel is retired — but only from politics. Still, maybe she's not as good at other jobs as she was as German chancellor.

Watch more PUPPET REGIME!

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