While We Were Distracted

While We Were Distracted

While much of the world focused on the Trump-Kim summit, the Michael Cohen testimony, and threats of war between India and Pakistan, there were lots of big developments in other places this week. Don't believe us? Check out this sample, with details on why we can't ignore them:


US-China: Forging Ahead

Trump announced "substantial progress" in negotiations with China last Sunday that led to postponement of a deadline that would have pushed tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods to alarming levels.

After the failure to make progress with North Korea, the president now has extra incentive to hope for a breakthrough that allows him to sign a major agreement with Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago later this month. Trump's lead trade advisor reassured Congress this week that Trump will continue to drive a hard bargain.

Nigeria: Same as the Old Boss

The election was delayed a week, and deadly violence marred the process, but Muhammadu Buhari has been reelected as Nigeria's president.

That's where the good news ends for the winning candidate. The ailing 76-year-old president must now manage a court challenge from his defeated opponent, a struggling economy, a continuing threat from Boko Haram militants, high unemployment, and a fast-expanding population of young people. Still, the worst-case scenario—an inconclusive result and fears of major social unrest—appears to have been averted.

Brexit: May Gives Way

On Brexit, the UK Parliament took decisive steps this week toward the moment when Britain's leaders decide that they just can't decide.

On Wednesday, Parliament endorsed Prime Minister Theresa May's concession that departure from the EU, now scheduled for March 29, might have to be delayed. Then, after Parliament voted down a one-page outline of his party's plan for a soft Brexit, Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who voted against British entry into the EU in 1975, grudgingly announced support for a second Brexit referendum.

US/Russia: Cyber-Shots Fired

US officials announced this week that during and after last November's US midterm elections, the US Defense Department launched a cyber-assault that knocked Russia's Internet Research Agency, a notorious troll farm, off the Internet.

The attack is significant because it was reportedly approved by President Trump and because it's an example of the sort of pre-emptive cyber-strike the White House says the US will use more often to "expose and counter the flood of online malign influence and information campaigns" widely attributed to Russia.

Israel: A February Surprise

Less than six weeks before elections, Israel's attorney general announced on Thursday that he will indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on fraud and bribery charges. A recent public poll suggests this news might just flip the vote.

The likeliest beneficiary is former army chief of staff Benny Gantz, whose Blue and White Alliance with former Finance Minister Yair Lapid is considered the toughest challenger to Netanyahu's Likud.

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?

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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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