In the political world, 2017 has – in some regards – been a continuation of the year that had preceded it. North Korean aggression and nuclear threats have continued, the Middle East remains a heavily volatile region with continuing tension between arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia and Brexit proves to be as divisive for the UK as it had been in 2016 – if not more so.
However, whilst 2016 was characterised by the rising tide of populism – evidenced by the result of the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s victory – 2017 has seen developments in some of the world’s oldest problems (like Jerusalem) and some new ones (such as cyber attacks and cryptocurrencies).
The US was the main actor in global affairs this year. From pulling out of the Paris Accords to poking and prodding some of the world’s nuclear hornet’s nests, Donald Trump’s agenda seems to have one clear goal: to shake things up.
Following the firing of a ballistic missile over Japan, the international community roundly condemned North Korea for its aggressive actions. Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un kept tensions high, but continued their verbal war rather than going nuclear.
January 2017: Trump takes office
Donald Trump was officially sworn in as the 45th president of the United States following his surprise election victory in November 2016. His prioritisation of US defence, as well as an emphasis on protectionism, set a precedent for divisive policies during the year.
Following his inauguration, he has faced a barrage of problems – from a dramatic drop in popularity and the breakup of his White House team to the pending investigation into Russia’s meddling in the US election.
He has, however, delivered on some of his campaign pledges – as promised, he officially recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and withdrew from the Paris Agreement. Despite facing opposition from lawmakers in the US government, he attempted to repeal Obamacare and implement his travel ban.
February 2017: North Korea aggression
North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan, provoking worldwide condemnation and increasing tensions between Kim Jong-un and international leaders. Attempts from South Korea, China, Russia and the US to restrain the rogue nation and diffuse the conflict via diplomacy prove futile, as aggressions and threats continue.
March 2017: Dutch elections
The centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), led by Mark Rutte, maintained its position as the Netherlands’ most popular party, though suffering a loss of eight parliamentary seats.
Geert Wilders’ nationalist Party for Freedom (PVV) continued the populist surge of 2016, gaining five seats and obtaining the second highest amount of votes.
March 2017: Theresa May triggers Article 50
Theresa May’s Conservative government historically triggered Article 50, officially beginning the process of leaving the EU following the 2016 referendum.
The UK has two years to negotiate a deal with the EU, and the official date set for Britain to leave the EU is March 29th, 2019. There has been much speculation on whether May will walk away with a ‘Deal’ or ‘No Deal’.
April 2017: The US goes on foreign offensive
President Trump took an aggressive stance in dealing with violence in the Middle-East. On April 6th, Trump launched 59 missiles at a Syrian airbase. A week later, the US released a MOAB – the largest possible non-nuclear weapon – on an ISIL base in Afghanistan.
The move prompted mixed reactions – Saudi Arabia stated that it was a ‘courageous decision’ and Israel said Trump had sent out a ‘strong and clear message’. Russia, allies of Syria, was not in agreement – Putin said Trump’s move was in violation of international law.
May 2017: Emmanuel Macron wins French election
Emmanuel Macron gained a comfortable victory over Marine Le Pen to become the new French president, accruing almost twice as many popular votes than the leader of the National Front.
The victory of the 39-year-old is seen to temporarily halt the wave of populism that had been prevalent throughout 2016.
May 2017: Trump sacks James Comey
Trump fired former FBI director James Comey, a move largely thought to be due to the on-going investigation into Russian interference in the US Presidential election.
The dismissal is one of several exits from the White House in the first few months of Trump’s presidency, with Michael Flynn and Sean Spicer being among those who departed.
June 2017: Trump withdraws from Paris Agreement
He said that the agreement would harm the US economy and that it would conflict with his ‘America First’ ideology. However, the US is not able to leave before 2020.
June 2017: Conservatives slip in UK general election
Theresa May’s political gamble to call a snap general election in April backfired, as the Tories failed to amass the 326 seats required to form a new government.
May formed a coalition with the right-wing Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Critics stated that May’s lacklustre and lukewarm campaign, as well as the alienation of some of her core base, led to her receiving fewer votes than had been expected.
August 2017: Mass attacks on the Rohingya in Myanmar
The United Nations described this as “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is widely criticised for inaction in response to the attacks on the Rohingya.
September 2017: Merkel wins election, but far-right gains ground
Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) maintained its position as the largest party in German politics in an expected electoral victory. However, it is CDU’s lowest vote share since 1949, having 8% fewer votes in 2017 than in the previous election.
The election was a strong outcome for the right-wing AfD, who became the third-largest party in the Bundestag with 12.6% of the vote, their best outcome in a national election to date. This is the first time a right-wing political party entered the German parliament since the Nazis.
October 2017: US and Israel withdraw from UNESCO
US and Israel withdrew from cultural organisation UNESCO, referencing an alleged anti-Israel bias by the institution. The move strains already tense relations between the US and the rest of the world.
October 2017: Catalonia declares independence from Spain
Catalonia briefly declared independence from Spain following a referendum in which 92% of respondents voted for the region to become independent. On the 31st of October, Spain imposed direct rule under Catalonia, and the Constitutional Court of Spain suspended Catalonia’s declaration of independence.
November 2017: Mugabe resigns as President of Zimbabwe
The 93-year old Robert Mugabe’s decision followed sustained pressure from the country – including a military takeover and an impeachment.
December 2017: The US recognises Jerusalem as capital of Israel
Donald Trump officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in a speech on 6th December 2017, announcing the US will move its embassy to the city.
The announcement prompted mixed responses worldwide; while Israel cheered the decision, Palestine stated the move would “destroy the peace process” and that the US would be “abdicating its role as a peace mediator”. The EU and United Nations Security Council largely condemned Trump, stating the move would exacerbate existing tensions.
BP and Iraq Sign Development Deal for Kirkuk Oil Fields
Iraqi Government and British energy giant BP have signed an agreement for the future development of the Kirkuk oil fields in Northern Iraq.
A statement on the Iraqi Oil Ministry’s website said the “memorandum of understanding” between the government and the London-based oil company would enable further development of the oil fields as well as “to open a new page of work” for the North Oil Company, a subsidiary of the Oil Ministry, on “solid foundations”.
BP Director, Michael Townsend, said the company would conduct the necessary surveys and prepare the required statistics. He claims the company will increase production by 750,000 barrels of oil a day.
The Kirkuk Oil Field, discovered in 1927, is one of the largest oil fields in the world, producing half of Iraq’s oil exports, a reported million barrels a day. However, it has also been a wellspring for local instability: the fields had been seized in 2014 by the Kurdistan Regional Government, who piped oil across the Turkish border, a few hundred kilometres to the north. The fields were only retaken by government forces in October 2017.
Baghdad is attempting to reassert its authority throughout its provinces and according to Iraq’s Minister for Oil, Jahbar Ali al-Allaibi, Thursday’s announcement will “speed up the rehabilitation process”.
During the Saddam Hussein era, the fields suffered irrecoverable damage due to poor management. Excess production was reinjected back into the ground making Kirkuk’s oil thicker and therefore harder to extract.
On Wednesday al-Allaibi met with Britain’s ambassador, John Wilkes, where according to the ministry’s website, they talked about joint cooperation between the two countries in the oil and gas industry.
Trump’s Presidency and Russian Relationship: The Future
Much has been said about Donald J. Trump’s love affair with Russia. Questions deserve a thorough and honest investigation. As distasteful and risky it may be, the best outcome of the enquiry is accusations continue to swirl, Trump limps through three more years, and in 2020, he is crushed at the ballot box. The world moves on. If removed from office, odds are Trump whips his base into a frenzy. Only the height and duration of civil unrest is in question. A worse case is that Trump emerges emboldened, eager to settle Putin’s longstanding challenge.
Putin Mocks Trump
The competition is real. Putin’s economic and political dominance gnaws Trump. Putin knows this. So, he taunts the President and dares Trump to employ the same ruthless tactics he exploited to consolidate power and possibly become the world’s richest man. Since Trump only sees green, he took the bait. The race is on to be the world’s first trillionaire.
Russia’s population is 142 million. Its $3.86trn translates into a measly $26,900 per capita GDP. In contrast, the 326 million people of the United States generate $18.62trn in GDP, nearly five times Russia’s total. The US per capita GDP of $57,600 more than doubles Russia’s. Despite Russia’s meek economy and reports that Putin has embezzled up to $200bn in assets, Putin remains incredibly popular in Russia.
The apathy regarding this unparalleled heist makes Trump and Putin salivate over what they could jointly pilfer from the world economy. To advance their contest, the pair will identify a common threat. US-Russia relations will warm. Under the guise of “Peace through strength,” Russian sanctions will be lifted, and the Magnitsky Act repealed.
The administrative state in retreat, animal spirits will run wild. Trump’s name will be emblazoned across the globe. Countries desperate for jobs will be compelled to forge deals sponsored by Putin and Trump. Ethics be damned, the race to the bottom of the $120trn global economy will prompt a wave of corruption never seen before. Every facet of human decency will be compromised: environmental regulations, free and fair-trade by-laws, intellectual property, and human rights protections. The collusion is real.
In time, complicity will turn to double-crossing. It’s the Trump-Putin way. Makeshift “me-first” trade deals will collapse. Boycotts, divestitures and sanctions will be commonplace. Cooperation will evaporate. New political boundaries will be drawn with little world condemnation.
It doesn’t have to happen this way. Patience is a virtue. The checks and balances of the three branches of government are powerful mechanisms to thwart overt corruption.
Yet, for the impatient who seek Trump’s impeachment or removal via the 25th Amendment, be careful what you wish for. Only Trump can tame his army. To assume Trump will plead mercy at the feet of the administrative state contradicts Trump’s lifelong persona. He will relentlessly counterpunch and encourage his followers to do likewise. The short and long-term political and social risks are astronomical.
If Trump stems the tide, consolidates power and aggressively partakes in Putin’s race for two terms, the risks outstrip his forced removal. The consequences will be multi-generational.
Rope-a-Dope Is the Key to Containing Trump
The only path that possibly prevents extensive collateral damage is to check Trump into policy oblivion. Legislators must play rope-a-dope for as long as it takes, even three years if necessary. If Democrats take back both houses in 2018, the tactic will not set up Trump and his base for a final knock-out punch in 2020. For that to occur, numerous members of the GOP must join the effort. They too must throw periodic jabs at Trump then absorb a barrage Trump’s counterpunches.
With foes in every corner, even Trump – the self-proclaimed greatest counterpuncher in history—and his base will wear themselves out well before 2020. Then the decisive knockout punch can be delivered at the ballot box—without collateral damage.
Trump is severely wounded. If he gracefully and peacefully surrenders the Presidency, great. But don’t expect it. Rope-a-dope deployed by both parties is the countries best hope for a peaceful end to the Trump Presidency. Any other scenario risks the once unthinkable; an ‘American Spring’.
May Meets Macron
The UK prime minister agreed to pay £44.5m towards tighter border security at Calais.
Editor’s Remarks: The French president arrived in the UK for the Anglo-French summit amid widespread complaints from the Tory party about just why Britain is paying another £44.5m for tighter security in France. One Tory MP pointed out that this addition brings the total figure the UK has paid to France in recent years up to £170m. France, meanwhile, says that the amount is necessary because the migrants in Calais are trying to get to the UK, who must, therefore, contribute towards their costs. The talks were also consumed by the imminent task of reaching consensus over the UK’s trade deal with the UK after Brexit goes through.
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