Oct 29, 2019

Axios World

By Dave Lawler
Dave Lawler

Welcome back to Axios World. We'll get you up to speed on the major global happenings in 1,589 words (6 minutes).

  • Tonight's edition comes to you from London. I'll be here all week to cover what should be a crucial turning point in the Brexit saga.
  • Thanks for joining me! Please tell your friends and colleagues to sign up, and I'd love your tips and feedback: lawler@axios.com.
1 big thing: Brexit election looms after another delay

Boris Johnson emerges from Downing Street before today's vote. Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images

The years-long Brexit saga played out today in miniature as the EU agreed to delay the U.K.'s exit yet again, but an effort to break the deadlock in Parliament — by calling a snap election — itself became deadlocked.

Why it matters: The latest extension, to Jan. 31, is a bitter pill for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had vowed to deliver Brexit by Oct. 31 "do or die." With momentum for his deal now stalled, he's intent on a Brexit election before year's end.

Catch up quick: Johnson defied expectations by reaching a deal with Brussels on Oct. 17, and he even won Parliament's approval last week — in principle.

  • But it all unraveled when members balked at his expedited timetable. The latest extension takes away the threat of a "no deal" exit, and thus the urgency Johnson had been relying on.
  • No election is due until 2022, but just about everyone agrees that the current Parliament is non-functional. The fight is now about when to hold an election and on what terms.

Driving the news: Johnson sought (and was denied) approval today for an election on Dec. 12, with his deal remaining on the table in the interim.

  • Two opposition parties that fiercely oppose Brexit — the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrats — proposed an election around the same time (Dec. 9), but with Brexit sidelined until afterward.
  • Expecting his plan to fail, Johnson signaled he'd adopt something "very similar" as his Plan B. The support of those three parties would put it on course to pass this week.
  • All three hope to take seats from the beleaguered Labour Party, which is fraying badly due to Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn’s divisive leadership. Corbyn opposes a December vote but may find himself outflanked.

Behind the scenes: I arrived in Westminster today thinking the U.K. was on course for an election one way or another, but I found the parade of failures and delays had clearly taken its toll on those who'd been watching up close.

  • "I'd never bet on any deal that requires the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and the SNP to trust each other," remarked a top political journalist.
  • “The lesson I’ve learned is that if you don’t think Brexit can get worse, you haven’t thought hard enough," a senior aide to a Conservative MP told me.

What to watch: The aide gave Johnson credit for winning back the pro-Brexit base and giving Conservative MPs a much-needed jolt after Theresa May's hapless premiership. But he said members would be studying opinion polls closely after the Oct. 31 deadline passes unmet.

“There’s a much greater sense of momentum at the top. There wasn’t that sense from 2017 to 2019. The risk is that with this drift and delays, that goes away. How many cycles of this can we go through?” said the aide.
2. A most wanted man is killed

Aerial view of the site where Baghdadi was killed. Photo: Ahmet Weys/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

1. The raid that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi began on the ground in northwest Syria at 5:01pm ET on Saturday, per CNN.

  • Two hours and 14 minutes later, a call of “jackpot” signaled Baghdadi had been killed.

2. Gen. Mazloum Abdi, commander of Kurdish forces in Syria, told NBC, "his intelligence service had a source deep in al-Baghdadi's inner circle who described a room-by-room layout of the terror leader's compound."

  • "The source ... proved to U.S. intelligence that he had direct access to al-Baghdadi this summer by turning over the ISIS leader's used underwear and later a sample of his blood."

3. "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi began life in a dry and desolate plain in the village of Al Jallam in central Iraq. He was one of five sons and several daughters of a conservative Sunni man who eked out a living selling sheep," Rukmini Callimachi and Falih Hassan write in the NYT's deeply reported obituary.

  • "American officials who worked in the Obama administration say that for all of 2014, 2015 and 2016 there was not a single time when they believed they had solid intelligence about al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts, even as numerous other senior Islamic State leaders were hunted down and killed."
  • "But unlike Osama bin Laden, al-Baghdadi was no recluse. ... [He] was directly involved in some of his group’s most notorious atrocities, including the organized rape of women considered to be nonbelievers."

Go deeper: Baghdadi raid depended on international ties Trump has spurned

3. Latin America: Two "brothers" hold two very different elections

An election night rally for Uruguay's ruling party. Photo: Pablo Porciuncula//AFP via Getty Images

Argentina's election on Sunday was closely watched by analysts and investors, but an election next door shouldn't be overlooked. Martin Aguirre, editor-in-chief of Uruguay's El Pais newspaper explains in an email from Montevideo:

The big picture: "Uruguay and Argentina are two countries with many similarities, to the point that they are usually referred to as 'brothers.' But their elections, held on the same day, couldn’t have shown more different results."

"In Argentina, center-right President Mauricio Macri was defeated by the Peronist opposition in an election that signaled the return to power of one of the most divisive political figures on the continent over the last decade: Cristina Fernández de Kirchner."

  • "Kirchner ran as vice president, but few analysts doubt she will hold real power in the shadows."

"In Uruguay, the left-wing coalition that has ruled the country for 15 years experienced a bitter defeat, getting under 40% of the votes and being forced into a run-off next month that the main opposition candidate, Luís Lacalle Pou, is likely to win."

  • "Uruguay is one of the smallest and most stable countries in the region, but this could signal big changes not only in national politics, but on a regional level."

What to watch: "The Uruguay result was another breakthrough for the center-right in South America, where such candidates tend to be more favorable to U.S. interests on issues like trade and Venezuela."

  • "On the other hand, the result in Argentina might mean a significant setback for American interests, since the last Peronist government had close ties with countries like Cuba, Venezuela and even Iran."
  • "But one of the main characteristics of the Peronists is pragmatism, so it wouldn´t be surprising to see the new president, Alberto Fernández, adjust to the present trend in the region's politics.

Go deeper: Fernández's victory marks resurgence of the left in Argentina

4. Europe: Fringe blocks out the center in Germany

CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer reacts to the results from Thuringia. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

A hard-left successor to eastern Germany’s communist party (Die Linke) and a far-right party (the AfD) led locally by a man considered an extremist even by that party’s standards were the top finishers in the eastern German state of Thuringia on Sunday, winning a combined 55% of the vote.

  • The result underscores the political fragmentation in Germany, where Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the center-left Social Democrats have been facing political insurgencies from both sides.
  • The CDU has said it won’t partner with Die Linke and everyone refuses to partner with the AfD, which likely means no combination of parties will add up to a governing majority.

Zoom out: It’s an extreme example of a trend across Germany, where coalitions are becoming increasingly unwieldy and local results are reverberating through national politics.

Zoom in: “Die Linke and the AfD have been able to harness widespread dissatisfaction in the East, where the collapse of once state-owned industries after reunification led to high unemployment and social hardship,” per the FT.

  • “A recent survey found almost 60 per cent of residents in the east felt they are treated as second-class citizens, and more than half said German reunification was not a success.”
5. Axios on HBO: Iraq faces a "perfect storm"
Photo: Axios on HBO

Iraqi President Barham Salih told my colleague Jonathan Swan on "Axios on HBO" that his country and its neighbors face a "perfect storm" of crises.

Driving the news: Salih, who is Kurdish and has long been supportive of the U.S., told Swan, "The staying power of the United States is being questioned in a very, very serious way."

  • Salih said he was "worried about ethnic cleansing" following Turkey's invasion of a largely Kurdish area of northern Syria.
  • Salih also said he was worried about war breaking out between the U.S. and Iran — adding that Iraq can't afford to pick sides in such a war.
  • He said the victory against ISIS is "incomplete" and "for anyone to become complacent about it is terrible, reckless, dangerous, tragic."
  • Iraq, meanwhile, is going through massive protests over government corruption and economic struggles.

The bottom line: "I'm here in Baghdad. This is where all these issues are at play. This is quite a moment in history. This is in some ways the perfect storm," Salih said.

Go deeper

6. What I'm watching: The Rugby World Cup

New Zealand's players perform the Haka before a 2014 match in which they beat the U.S. 74-6. Photo: Andrew Snook/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Rugby is a sporting curiosity in the U.S., seen on college campuses but hardly anywhere else.

But in Japan, host of this year's World Cup, it's become a national sensation. A whopping 55 million people tuned in to watch the underdog Brave Blossoms defeat Scotland in the group stage. That's nearly half the country.

  • It's also massive in the British Isles and a number of former British colonies.
  • It's the national sport of New Zealand, which though regarded as tiny and pleasant in most contexts is a fearsome Goliath — and two-time defending World Cup champion — in rugby.

Zoom in: I landed in London on Saturday just in time to see the mighty All Blacks take on England in the semi-final, rushing past already-full pubs to be in place for the 9am kickoff.

  • I was surrounded by England fans who seemed unwilling to allow themselves to believe they had a real chance. Nervous tension filled the room as New Zealand's players began their famous pre-game Haka dance.
  • But England grabbed control right from the start and never let go, stunning the champions and bursting through to the final, where they'll face South Africa.
  • The victory knocked Brexit off the front pages the next day, and the buildup to Saturday already feels intense.

The bottom line: I'm not sure I'm a rugby convert just yet. But if England does win its second world championship, I'm glad I'll be here to see it.

7. Stories we're watching

Celebrating Diwali on the River Sarayu in Uttar Pradesh, India. Photo: Photo: Sanjay Kanojia/AFP via Getty Images

  1. Iraqi police kill at least 42 protesters amid renewed demonstrations
  2. Kushner meets Netanyahu rival Gantz for first time
  3. Hong Kong officers fire tear gas at police brutality protesters
  4. U.S. troops in Syria move to execute oil field protection plan
  5. U.S. to block all flights to Cuba outside Havana
  6. Pope weighs allowing women deacons and married priests in Amazon
  7. DHS grants 200,000 Salvadorans extra year to leave U.S.


"He's still coming up with ever-more ludicrous excuses for hiding from the British people."
— Boris Johnson on Jeremy Corbyn
"The reason I'm so cautious is because I do not trust the prime minister."
— Jeremy Corbyn on Boris Johnson
Dave Lawler