Dec 27, 2018

Axios World

By Dave Lawler
Dave Lawler

Welcome to Axios World, where two evenings a week we break down what you need to know about the big stories from around the globe.

  • This is our last edition of 2018. Since we launched in April, we've sent 72 newsletters, added tens of thousands of readers, and received hundreds of emails — everything from tips on under-covered stories to travel recommendations.
  • Thanks for making our first year a great one! Please tell your friends and colleagues to sign up here, and here's to a bigger and better 2019.
1 big thing: Americans split over allies and enemies

Americans are sharply divided over the role the U.S. should play around the world, and even over who America's top adversaries are, according to a report from Pew.

Expand chart
Data: Pew survey of 10,640 U.S. adults conducted Nov. 7-16, 2018. Margin of error ±1.7 percentage points; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

The big picture: Two years into Donald Trump's pugnacious and unpredictable presidency, polls show the world's view of U.S. leadership falling sharply. Democrats' top foreign policy priority is now repairing the alliances that have been fraying under Trump. Republicans, meanwhile, tend to want more of the same.

  • What to watch: Expect those themes to crop up when election season kicks off.

The competing visions...

  • The top priorities for Democrats are strengthening alliances, preventing the spread of WMDs, protecting U.S. jobs and dealing with climate change.
  • Republicans focus on protecting against terrorism, protecting jobs, maintaining military supremacy and reducing illegal immigration.
  • Republicans are more likely to consider countering Iran (52% R, 29% D) and China (39% R, 26% D) as priorities, while Democrats are more worried about Russia (32% R, 52% D).

The growing divide...

  • When the question was last asked in 2011, there was only a one-point gap between Democrats (48%) and Republicans (47%) on whether strengthening alliances should be a priority. That gap is now 26 points.
  • Divides over illegal immigration, human rights promotion and climate change have also grown. Those trends largely predate Trump.

The generation gap...

  • "Only about three-in-ten young people feel that the U.S. should place top priority on limiting the power and influence of Russia (29%), Iran (29%) and North Korea (26%). Even fewer say the same about China (21%)."
  • Young people are less concerned about maintaining military superiority, and more interested in bringing troops home. They're also more worried about human rights than older respondents.

What Americans don't care about...

  • Neither party cares much about attracting skilled workers from other countries, promoting democracy abroad or finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • Helping developing countries and aiding refugees also rank pretty low, though 30-some percent of Democrats consider them a priority, compared to one-in-ten Republicans.

The bottom line: Americans generally agree that the president should focus on jobs, protecting against terrorism and preventing countries from getting nuclear weapons. As for the rest, it depends who you ask.

2. Africa: Congo's crumbling elections

Protesters gather outside the Ebola center in Beni. Photo: Alexis Huguet/AFP/Getty Images

The Democratic Republic of Congo's electoral commission has postponed voting in three opposition strongholds — officially because of concerns over Ebola and insecurity — ahead of Sunday's vote, sparking a furious reaction from an opposition convinced the election is being rigged.

Why it matters: The DRC, a massive country in the heart of Africa and home to 83 million people, has never had a peaceful transfer of power.

  • Per the BBC, "With President Joseph Kabila's successor due to be sworn in next month, it appears the votes of more than a million people could be discounted." The national vote was already delayed by a week after a fire destroyed most of the voting machines set to be used in the capital, Kinshasa.
  • The latest: In the eastern city of Beni, protesters angry over the delay attacked an Ebola clinic. According to the Guardian, "armed men fired live rounds and teargas at protesters" there. Meanwhile, the foreign ministry expelled the EU's ambassador over the extension of sanctions on the ruling party's candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, among others.

The big picture: Kabila faces constitutional term limits and should have given up power in 2016. He didn't, and elections have been continually delayed. His hand-picked successor, Shadary, faces a divided opposition deprived of two leading candidates who were ruled ineligible. Still, his election is not a sure thing.

  • Asked about the decision not to allow voting in the three areas, Kabila told the BBC: "Don't worry. ... I don't think there will be any major issues as far as the one point something million voters that you are talking about." The voters seem to disagree.

2019 lookahead: Four of the world's eight largest countries by population — home to 2 billion people — will hold general elections in the next few months, starting with Bangladesh on Sunday. Nigeria, Indonesia and India will follow early next year.

Bonus: A polar feat for the ages

Ernest Shackleton and two members of his expedition mark a spot 111 miles from the South Pole, then a record, in 1909. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

After an astonishing 32-hour sprint to the finish that covered nearly 80 miles, American Colin O'Brady yesterday became the first person to complete a solo, unaided crossing of Antarctica.

3. Asia: Disaster in Indonesia

Smoke billows from the Krakatou volcanic eruption in Indonesia. Photo: Nurul Hidayat/AFP/Getty Images

Five days after a tsunami that killed at least 430 people in Indonesia, the volcano that triggered the disaster continues to erupt.

  • "159 people remain missing. Nearly 1,500 people were injured and nearly 22,000 have been evacuated from the coast and to higher ground," per the Washington Post.
  • "The tsunami was the third major natural disaster to hit Indonesia this year, after an earthquake killed more than 500 people on the island of Lombok in August and an earthquake and tsunami killed more than 2,200 on Sulawesi in September."
4. Middle East: Indictments? How about an election

Photo: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for early elections in April. Despite corruption allegations swirling around him, polls show his Likud party taking a plurality of seats.

Why it matters, from Axios contributor Barak Ravid: This high-stakes political drama is connected to the attorney general's upcoming decision on whether to follow police recommendations and indict Netanyahu on three separate cases of bribery. Last week, the state prosecutor said a decision on the Netanyahu cases will be made in the next several months.

  • The decision to go for early elections might influence his timetable. It might also be trickier to indict a prime minister with a fresh electoral mandate.

Where things stand, per the Telegraph's Raf Sanchez:

  • "The polls capture the paradox within many Israeli voters: 52% don’t want Netanyahu to have another term as prime minister — but he is still on course to win the election handily."
  • "That’s partly because people look at the other political leaders and don’t see any alternative. And it’s partly because Netanyahu — through his very real successes as well as his political skill — has convinced many people that he is irreplaceable."
  • "But there is one wild card: Benny Gantz, the Israeli military’s former chief of staff." It's unclear whether "he can unite — or divide — the anti-Netanyahu opposition" and whether he really wants to drive Netanyahu from office, or join his next coalition government.

Go deeper: How Mattis scuppered an Israel-Croatia arms deal

5. When 2018 wasn't so bad

Supporters of Armenia's then-opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan gather in Yerevan in May. Photo: Sergei Gapon/AFP/Getty Images

Most of what counts as "news" is bad — a flood is news, a sunny day isn't. But this year has been filled with grim events and trends and, as many of you have pointed out in your emails, so has this newsletter.

So I've decided to zoom in on a few cases where the geopolitical winds seemed to blow in a more positive direction.

  • Big leaps in small countries: In Armenia, mass protests swept out the corrupt old guard without intervention from Russia. In the Maldives, the pro-democracy opposition won an election widely expected to be rigged in favor of the strongman president.
  • Out with the old: The (allegedly) marvelously corrupt leaders of South Africa and Malaysia fell this year.
  • In with the new: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took over a country in crisis. He has released political prisoners, made peace with neighboring Eritrea, appointed a gender-neutral cabinet and given cause for optimism.

The bigger, brighter picture: Extreme poverty and illiteracy keep falling worldwide, and life expectancies are on the rise.

6. The top worries for 2019

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

... on the other hand: The Council on Foreign Relations' annual survey of experts identified nine "top conflicts" that pose the gravest threat to U.S. interests in 2019.

At home...

  • A major cyberattack "on U.S. critical infrastructure and networks."
  • A "mass casualty terror attack" on the U.S. or a treaty ally.

Latin America...

  • "Violent civil unrest" stemming from the crisis in Venezuela.

Middle East...

  • An armed conflict between Iran and the U.S. or an ally (like Israel) over the country's "involvement in regional conflicts and support of militant proxy groups."
  • Worsening of Yemen crisis "exacerbated by ongoing foreign intervention."
  • Fighting in Syria that leads to "further civilian casualties and heightened tensions among external parties to the conflict."


  • Increased violence and instability in Afghanistan "resulting from the Taliban insurgency and potential government collapse."
  • An armed conflict in the South China Sea between China and other claimants like the Philippines, Taiwan or Vietnam.
  • Renewed conflict with North Korea after negotiations collapse.

Go deeper: The year in North Korea with Trump and "Little Rocket Man"

7. Stories we're watching

Frosty, eat your heart out. Sculptors hard at work ahead of the annual snow sculpture exposition in Harbin, China. Photo: Tao Zhang/Getty Images

  1. Japan saw a record population drop in 2018
  2. Japan to restart commercial whaling for the first time in 30 years
  3. Cuba advances constitutional reform
  4. Syria airstrikes continue despite Trump withdrawal announcement
  5. The security consequences of Brexit
  6. Russia isn't taking 2019 off
  7. Pope Francis calls for mending of differences in Christmas message


"You know, when you think about it, you're fighting for borders in other countries, and they don't want to fight — the Democrats — for the border of our country."
— President Trump to troops stationed in Iraq, on his hardline stance on illegal immigration and the need for the wall.
Dave Lawler