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.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in Rome tomorrow ready to plant a flag in the heart of Europe. Italy is expected to break with most other advanced economies by formally signing onto Beijing's $1.3 trillion global Belt and Road (BRI) infrastructure initiative.

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China's Belt and Road infrastructure initiative is one of the most ambitious geopolitical projects ever. By 2027, it aims to dish out an estimated $1.3 trillion in loans, around ten times what the US spent on the Marshall Plan in the aftermath of World War II. As China increases its investment in the West, will countries' loyalty shift toward Beijing? Here's a look at the already staggering scope of Beijing's agenda.

As you read this, US-backed Syrian and Kurdish forces are killing or capturing the last few Islamic State militants holding out in a fingernail-shaped sliver of riverbank in eastern Syria. It's all that remains of the caliphate declared by the Islamist extremist group across a swath of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.

Despite being on the back foot territorially, here are three ways that ISIS will continue to rile global politics:

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What we are watching

A retiring strongman in Kazakhstan – Since 1989, one man has ruled the massive, oil-rich Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan. That is, until yesterday, when Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned as president and put a close ally in charge until new elections are called. The 78-year old Kazakh leader was rumored to have been planning a transition for more than two years, putting allies in key posts, weakening the power of the presidency, and bolstering the clout of the country's Security Council, which he will still head. But the exact timing came as a surprise. We're watching this story – not just because it's a rare example of a strongman leaving power of his own will, but because we suspect Vladimir Putin is watching, too. The hardy 66-year-old Russian leader needs to figure out what he'll do when his current term expires in 2024. The constitution says Putin can't run again. Is Nazarbayev charting a path that Putin can follow?

A suspicious death in Italy – Italian authorities are investigating the suspicious demise of Imane Fadil, a 34-year-old Moroccan model who died in Milan earlier this month – apparently with high levels of toxic metals in her blood that could indicate poisoning. Fadil was a frequent guest at ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's infamous bunga-bunga sex parties, and was a key witness in his 2013 trial on underage sex allegations. Adding to the intrigue, Fadil was due to testify at another upcoming court case. Apart from all of this, her death could have an immediate impact on Italian politics: Italy's right-wing Lega party is now less likely to call a snap election this summer, because the Fadil case taints Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, the group that Lega would ideally like to team up with in order to gain a majority in parliament.

What we are ignoring

The Scent of Fascism – In a new commercial out of Israel, a beautiful woman glides through arty black and white scenes like a model, purring about putting new limits on the judiciary, and spritzing herself with a perfume called "fascism." Hot stuff, right? But this isn't just a sultry model hawking a designer fragrance – it's the country's right-wing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who has incensed the left with her bid to curtail the power of courts, which she says are too liberal. At the end of the spoof ad, which is meant to promote her New Right party ahead of upcoming elections, Skaked takes whiff of the perfume and tells viewers: "Smells like democracy to me." We are ignoring this bid to put her party's name back in the headlines because the fascism joke just isn't funny.

Devin Nunes' Mom – Devin Nunes, a Republican Congressman from California, has filed a lawsuit seeking $250 million in damages against a Twitter personality who goes by the handle @DevinNunesMom, other users of the popular messaging platform, and Twitter itself. According to a copy of the complaint uploaded by Fox News, Nunes, the ardent Trump supporter who used to chair the House Intelligence Committee, says @DevinNunesMom engaged in slander by calling him "presidential fluffer and swamp rat," and claiming he was "voted Most Likely To Commit Treason in high school," among other digital insults. The suit also accused Twitter of suppressing conservative viewpoints – an argument that other Republicans have used to put political pressure on the company. We'll be watching how that argument plays out, but we are ignoring @DevinNunesMom. Judging by the massive jump in followers that @DevinNunesMom has received since the case was filed, by the time this is all over, we're pretty sure Congressman Nunes will wish he had done so, too.