Since 2015, Brazilians have seen former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s name in the headlines, and not for the reasons that led him to be considered one of the most popular world leaders from 2003 to 2011. Over the past two years, Lula, as Brazilians call him, has gotten more entangled in the web of corruption woven around the country. That web finally tightened its hold on the former president on July 12, when he was sentenced to nine-and-a half years in prison for corruption and money laundering. The sentence, regardless of the result of impending appeals, has already changed the image of yet another of Brazil’s elite untouchables, a man who for many represents Brazil’s booming years.

But one or two arrests will not transform Brazil. As the fight against corruption continues, deeper legislative and judicial reforms must follow.

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A friendship blossoms between Trump and Macron

Press coverage of the first meeting between US President Donald J. Trump and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, at the NATO summit in Brussels in May focused on the spirited handshake Macron gave Trump.  But too much emphasis on the symbolism of Macron’s machismo overlooked the fact that while Trump did not enjoy being upstaged, he also respects Macron as a strong leader. This has played an important role in the developing bonds between the two leaders.

The foundation for this new friendship, that has also been overlooked by many analysts, has been carefully laid by both leaders since their first meeting in phone calls and discussions between them and their advisors, and especially by Macron’s courting of Trump and comments from US officials that emphasized France’s importance militarily within Europe and NATO.

Macron’s invitation to Trump to celebrate Bastille Day in Paris, which one would normally expect a French leader to extend to their German counterpart, helped further cement their budding ties and has created the potential for what is likely to be one of the key relationships in international affairs.

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A familiar threat in a new environment

As the black flags of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) fall in Iraq and Syria, new ones have been raised in the Philippines. That ISIS is losing its battle for territory in its home countries, Iraq and Syria, is indisputable. ISIS leaders have admitted that the “caliphate” will soon fall. However, the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria is unlikely to be the end of the group as an active terrorist organization. Rather, as ISIS loses power in its traditional territories, it seems to be spreading its extremist ideology through other terrorist groups around the world, including those in the Philippines.

In May, an Islamist group affiliated with ISIS seized control of the Philippine city of Marawi. In this way, ISIS is embracing a “franchise model” similar to that employed by al Qaeda (AQ) following the US response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This franchise model allows the original faction of ISIS to maintain ownership of a disparate grouping of extremist divisions around the world, thereby ensuring its survival.

At its inception in 2013, ISIS broke off from its former affiliation as al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and became a geographically contiguous entity. Today, ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, has fully operational branches in eighteen countries, and aspiring branches in six more, including the Philippines. 

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British Prime Minister Theresa May called for a re-evaluation of the United Kingdom’s counterterrorism strategy in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.  This must be a top priority.

The UK’s current counterterrorism strategy—CONTEST—is organized around four “work streams” also known as the four Ps: Pursue (to stop terrorist attacks), Prevent (to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorist activities), Protect (to strengthen protection against a terrorist attack), and Prepare (to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack).

Of these, Prevent has been the most controversial in part because of the government’s unwillingness to release information on its evaluation of this program and pushback from Muslim communities.

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Al Jazeera, the first state-owned pan-Arab news network, means many different things to Middle Eastern governments and citizens. The Doha-headquartered network has provided Arabs with a style of reporting that was unheard of in the region before its launch twenty-two years ago. In 2011, Al Jazeera’s coverage of Arab Spring uprisings shaped history by promoting revolutionary change and human rights-focused narratives.

In some Arabs’ eyes, Al Jazeera is a ‘watchdog for democracy’ that gives a ‘voice to the voiceless’, covering stories that are popular among large segments of Middle Eastern societies and unpopular with most Arab governments. Other Arabs view Al Jazeera as a Qatari-run propaganda network that aims to destabilize the Middle East by advancing Islamist agendas, promoting sectarian unrest, and giving airtime to hateful extremists who promote violence and intolerance.

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After the French presidential election completed its two rounds in late April and early May, France, Europe and many around the world breathed a sigh of relief that Emmanuel Macron’s victory had put a stop to the know-nothing populism evident in the Brexit referendum and the ascendancy of Donald J. Trump to the US presidency. In that sense, Macron’s arrival at the Élysée Palace indeed represented the “Revenge of the Enlightenment” against the forces of obscurantism.

Yet embodying a welcome symbol of reason is not enough to govern. Since the moment he achieved power, Macron has demonstrated an equally important imperative: the recognition of the facts for what they are, not what he would wish them to be. In this regard, he is more than a pragmatist, he possesses what Sir Isaiah Berlin called “the sense of reality.”

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Russia’s large-scale military exercise to be conducted in September can provide critical insight for NATO allies seeking to improve their readiness posture against an increasingly revanchist Russia, according to an Estonian defense official.

“Russians train exactly as they intend to fight, thus Zapad will give up ample information on their military and political thinking as it is right now,” Kristjan Prikk, undersecretary for defense policy at Estonia’s Ministry of Defense, said at the Atlantic Council on July 11. According to Prikk, “we don’t consider this year’s Zapad exercise in itself to be a direct threat to us [NATO] or a cover for an attack, but we have to keep in mind that the Russians have the nasty habit of hiding their actual military endeavors behind exercises.”

“We have to be calm, vigilant, flexible,” in the months leading up to and following Zapad 2017, said Prikk.

In September, Russia will conduct a joint military exercise with Belarus—Zapad. Based on initial indications and past Zapads, the exercise, which will take place in Belarus, will assess the readiness of Russia’s military across many forces—land, sea, and air—and test a range of capabilities—not only conventional, but also cyber and nuclear, within a particular set of scenarios. This will be the first Zapad exercise since 2013. Zapad, which is also the Russian word for “west,” will take place against the backdrop of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, ongoing war in Ukraine, military intervention in Syria, and meddling in the US and French presidential elections.

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The political, security, and humanitarian challenges facing the world today cannot be overcome without international cooperation and a concerted effort to strengthen the “solidarity of values” of the transatlantic community, Daniel Fried, a recipient of the Atlantic Council’s 2017 Freedom Award, said at the awards ceremony in Warsaw, Poland, on July 7.

The post-World War II international order created by the collaborative efforts of the United States and Europe “is at risk and under assault from without—from Russia—and from within—from those who doubt the value of what the free world achieved and what the free world stands for,” said Fried, a former assistant secretary of state for Europe who is currently a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center and Future Europe Initiative.  

In an ardent call for transatlantic cooperation, Fried said: “We must equally recommit to the free world and the common values which have propelled us this far.”

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The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit and Expo 2017 hosted in the Kazakh capital Astana in June served to highlight important regional trends to which US policy makers should play close attention.

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News coming out of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7 and 8 focused on the predictable and predetermined US refusal to join the consensus on the Paris Agreement. Beyond the headlines, the more important takeaways may be that the US position actually strengthened international climate consensus, the international position on the role of natural gas in energy transition is maturing, and the contours of a US policy on energy and climate have begun to emerge. 

These three reflections are worth considering.

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