What We’re Watching: US Olympic boycott threat, Myanmar junta delays vote, US resumes aid to Palestinians

What We’re Watching: US olympic boycott threat, Myanmar junta delays vote, US resumes aid to Palestinians

Will the US skip the 2022 Olympics? The Biden administration and its allies are reportedly discussing the possibility of a coordinated boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Although the State Department almost immediately tried to walk back its own previous statement, the move would be an act of protest over allegations of China's vast human rights abuses in Xinjiang province. Skipping the games is a big deal, symbolically at least. The last time the US did so was in 1980, when America boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow in response to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan a year before. But practically speaking, do boycotts have a real effect on anyone besides the athletes who miss a shot at gold? That's a thornier question. Regardless, there are many ways to define "boycott" — the US could — and likely would — do as little as simply keeping its top diplomats from attending. China, for its part, has threatened a "robust response" to any efforts to snub the Beijing games.


Myanmar junta digs in its heels: As widely feared by pro-democracy activists, Myanmar's ruling generals on Wednesday announced they may delay new elections until at least 2023. The extension of the post-coup state of emergency confirms that the regime is indeed content with killing protesters and stifling the opposition until it deems citizens are scared enough that a military-backed party will "win" when eventually it's time to go to the polls. So, what's the way forward for Myanmar? The generals have so far held steady in the face of mounting street protests, international sanctions, and even a potential rift with China over attacks on Chinese-owned businesses. Rumblings of an impending civil war are getting louder, but it's hard to imagine a ragtag army of dissidents and ethnic minority groups posing a serious threat to the well-armed and battle-hardened military. As long as the junta is willing to watch the country burn if necessary to stay in power, the generals are likely to keep — literally — calling the shots for a long time.

US resumes aid to Palestinians: In the latest reversal of the Trump administration's Middle East policy, President Biden is restarting US funding to the Palestinians. The Biden administration will dole out $235 million, the lion's share of which will go to UNRWA, which provides financial and humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Biden has also signaled his intention to give even more money to Palestinian leadership, and possibly reopen the Palestinian diplomatic mission shuttered during the Trump presidency. The current US administration aims to foster goodwill amongst the Palestinians, who felt shunned by President Trump's Mideast peace proposal, broadly seen as dismissing their interests and favoring Israel. Washington also hopes to restart peace negotiations between the two sides in the medium term, yet any engagement will need to wait until the dust settles on Israel's political stalemate and the Palestinians vote in their own polls in May and July. The situation is very much in flux.

Ken Burns discusses Muhammad Ali's background and how the journey of boxing's greatest champion is just as relevant today—in sport, culture and beyond.

"He is speaking to us with a kind of force and clarity...that to me is just so enduring." - Ken Burns

In a frank (and in-person!) interview, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, speaks with Ian Bremmer at the UN ahead of the annual General Assembly week. Guterres discusses COVID, climate, the US-China rift, and the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, and does not mince words when it comes to the dire state of the world. "We are standing at the edge of an abyss," Guterres warns. COVID is "defeating" the global community and a climate catastrophe is all but assured without drastic action. Amidst this unprecedented peril, there remains a startling lack of trust among nations. And yet, there is still hope.

No country in the Western Hemisphere is more closely associated with disaster and misery than the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Its latest upheaval centers on news that the country's top prosecutor wants Haiti's prime minister to answer questions about the murder of the president in July. Haiti is again locked in a power struggle among competing factions within its ruling elite.

Why is Haiti still so poor and disaster-prone?

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For Michael Chertoff, former US secretary of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009, the fact that America has not experienced a single attack by foreign terrorists since 9/11 proves that the US was "successful" in its strategy to prevent terrorism. That "was not [an] accident and there was a deterrent effect to be honest — had we been lax, more would have tried." Although he admits the US government wasn't transparent enough about the intelligence it was collecting, Chertoff credits US intelligence agencies with helping to foil the plot to blow up airplanes mid-air from Heathrow to the US in 2006. The US mission in Iraq, or what came after was not clearly thought out, according to Michael Chertoff, who served as the Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush. The Iraq war made it difficult to focus on the US mission in Afghanistan and absorbed resources that could have been used more effectively elsewhere, he said.

Watch the full episode: Is America safer since 9/11?

Listen: In a frank interview on the GZERO World podcast, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, speaks with Ian Bremmer at the UN ahead of the annual General Assembly week. Guterres discusses COVID, climate, the US-China rift, and the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, and does not mince words when it comes to the dire state of the world. "We are standing at the edge of an abyss," Guterres warns. COVID is "defeating" the global community and a climate catastrophe is all but assured without drastic action. Amidst this unprecedented peril, there remains a startling lack of trust among nations. And yet, there is still hope.

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.


"Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still." — Harry S. Truman

The former US president's warning feels particularly prescient as world leaders prepare to gather at the 76th United National General Assembly in New York City, the first such in-person event in over 18 months. The importance of apt leadership in determining societies' ability to cope — and survive — has been on full display since COVID-19 enveloped the globe, decimating communities and killing some 4.5 million people.

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As the 76th UN General Assembly gets underway, dealing with the pandemic is still the top priority for world leaders. But for John Frank, vice president of UN Global Affairs at Microsoft, COVID is not the only major challenge the world faces today.

One of them — included in the UN Secretary-General's new Common Agenda for strong, inclusive pandemic recovery — is a different way to measure economic growth beyond the traditional productivity-led GDP model by taking more into account the cost of pollution, one of the main causes of climate change.

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For UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the pandemic has made the world even more divided than it was before COVID. That's especially true on climate, in his view, because rich and poor countries simply don't trust each other anymore. If we want COP26 to succeed, Guterres says we must rebuild that trust — or face the consequences of inaction. "If you are on the verge of an abyss, you must be careful about your next step." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

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UNGA 76: Vaccines, climate, crises

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UN Chief: Still time to avert climate “abyss”

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