Wednesday Briefs – 28 October 2020

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This week: Russia-Turkey Competition; Peak Conspiracy; Fear and Loathing 2020; Reading List.

Russia-Turkey Competition

The prosaically-named Institute for the Study of War, a think tank whose mission is to “advance an informed understanding of military affairs” chronicles the escalating competition between Russia and Turkey throughout the Middle East, North Africa and now in a new front in the Caucasus. See here the ISW’s regional map showing each country’s footprint and maritime claims.

Both countries are led by strong men with long tenures in office and each has ambitions to recreate his nation’s former glory. Fossil fuel deposits in the Mediterranean and North Africa make things more complicated and more contentious, as do arms sales to client proxies and friendly states. Long-suffering Syria remains an important country for both Russia and Turkey. Says the ISW:

“The situation in Syria is precarious; Syria remains a priority effort for both Russia and Turkey while the two parties are increasingly at odds. Turkey views Syria as core to its national security, fearing both a renewed refugee influx and autonomous Kurdish governance on the Turkish border. For Russia, Syria is a critical venue for projecting power in the Middle East and Mediterranean and pressuring the United States”.

Elsewhere, confrontation endures in various forms and to varying degrees in Libya, the Black Sea and now Nagorno-Karabakh where Armenia and Azerbaijan have had a hot and cold war for decades.

Peak Conspiracy

Falling markets, soaring virus numbers, simmering or boiling protests, a fragile economy, an imminent presidential election that may end in deadlock. After an improving spring and a hopeful summer, the darkest days of 2020 seem to have returned this week. Yet as usual, sentiment moves faster than reality and we could be in an entirely different place next week or next month, probably a better place but possibly a worse one.

2020 has in fact been a good year for some people (if they managed to avoid the virus): shareholders and executives of tech companies, purveyors of household necessities, and of course conspiracy theorists. From the point of view of the last, it looks oddly convenient for adversaries of Donald Trump that the week preceding the election should be marred by low markets and high coronavirus. The fact that Europe is now undergoing the same surge in confirmed cases may or may not be a counter-argument for these die-hards: after all, don’t Europeans overwhelmingly favor Joe Biden?

More seriously, coronavirus numbers will peak in this wave just as they did in the previous two. The IHME predicts a continued rise through winter with no let-up but it is still possible that this wave will reach its apex after a five to seven week period, as did the second wave. As we pointed out last week, the IHME has already lowered its year-end forecast of deaths by nearly 100,000 since last month. Unfortunately, a shorter wave would give more fodder to conspiracy theories because counting from the onset of the wave (around September 20th), the six week mark would fall on or close to Election Day. How odd that confirmed virus cases should peak at voting time and decline shortly thereafter.

MORE on conspiracy theories and wrong beliefs from UnHerd >>> It pays to believe obviously untrue things.

Fear and Loathing 2020

A large percentage of voters seem to be choosing their presidential candidate not as a person whom they admire or want as a leader but as someone whom they see as the lesser of two evils and as the president whom they would fear or loathe less than the offered alternative. President Trump has always had his detractors even within Republican ranks, and his name in some parts of the country is as reviled as it is loved in other parts. Vice-President Biden does not seem to elicit the same strong reaction, for or against, but he is seen by some as the waning moderate front for a vigorous movement of leftist radicals, and as such his candidacy does provoke the same degree of fear and loathing.

Attitudes towards policies appear to be the same, with voters opting for the candidate more likely to undo or dial back policies and decisions put in place by a predecessor whom they opposed. “Rolling back” seems to be everyone’s main platform: rolling back taxes and regulations or rolling back tax cuts; rolling back the Iran nuclear deal and Paris climate accord or rolling back our withdrawal from them; rolling back the Supreme Court’s activist decisions or rolling back that rollback by expanding the Court, etc. We seem to be choosing undoing more often than we are choosing doing. Politics has become reactionary on both sides.

Recently read and recommended:

A New Study Estimates That COVID-19 Is Responsible for 2.5 Million Years of Life Lost in the U.S.

Where Europe’s Second Wave Is Filling Up Hospitals

Humans don’t know how to be happy

Protests, Chaos in Nigeria

Reflections on Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard Address

It pays to believe obviously untrue things

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