The blame game. Iran’s leaders seem to be on the same page when it comes to who is responsible for Iran’s current economic and strategic challenges: the United States and its allies. Going into the weekend, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged his followers not to fight or criticize one another but instead to “shout all your screams at the United States.” Earlier today, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made televised remarks acknowledging many of Iran’s challenges and encouraging watchers to “put all your curses on those who created the situation” – the U.S., Zionists and Saudi Arabia. Their acknowledgment of Iran’s problems is notable in its own right, but that the supreme leader and president are in lockstep is no less notable, especially as an indication of the current level of internal political competition in Iran itself. Meanwhile, Iran’s top military commander met with his Iraqi and Syrian counterparts in Damascus yesterday to coordinate operations. We’ve extensively cataloged the significant pressures on Iran, but it continues to prove its resilience.
Protests in Nicaragua. Over the weekend, protesters returned to the streets of Nicaragua to express their displeasure with President Daniel Ortega. The protests re-emerged after a period of relative calm during which the Nicaraguan government had reportedly reached out to the opposition to initiate dialogue with business leaders, Catholic Church leaders and other important representatives. The unrest in Nicaragua has induced Washington in recent months to identify the country as a problem on the order of Venezuela for the United States. Over 100 protesters were arrested during the protests but were quickly released, which underscores the government’s desire to make sure this is a momentary setback and not a backslide that would motivate the U.S. to intervene more substantively.
Resurgence of the yellow vests. After consecutive weeks of falling participation in France’s yellow vest protests and signs that President Emmanuel Macron may have stabilized the domestic situation, the protesters reasserted themselves in Paris over the weekend. The actual number of participants was not particularly impressive; according to France’s Interior Ministry, 32,300 demonstrators protested this weekend throughout France compared to 28,600 last weekend. What changed was the willingness of the protesters to turn into rioters. Pictures of violence on the iconic Champs Elysees made waves in the media. Macron, who cut short a ski trip to deal with the renewed violence, said the government would move decisively against those attempting to “damage the Republic.” The coverage of these protests has inflated their importance. France is a deeply divided country and, as is the case in many European states, economic opportunity has been stymied in recent years even as Germany has been profiting handsomely. In any case, the yellow vests are a symptom of France’s broader dysfunction and not a particularly transformative symptom at that.
Germany’s proto-superbank? Deutsche Bank is in talks again with Commerzbank on a potential merger. Deutsche Bank confirmed the news in a statement on Sunday, saying that “new opportunities” had forced it to “review strategic options.” It is a significant about-face considering that, in December, Deutsche Bank’s CEO said any reports that it was considering a merger with Commerzbank were “fictions.” Despite the denial, the rumors have continued, reaching a crescendo last week before the admission that talks are being considered. The big change in all of this is that the German government now supports the merger as a way to strengthen Deutsche Bank, which has been struggling with profitability for years.
Japan’s quiet military reform. With all that’s said about China’s military development, Japan’s tends to fly under the radar. Speaking at a graduation ceremony at Japan’s National Defense Academy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reaffirmed his desire to change Japan’s constitution, which forbids the use of military force for offensive purposes. Somewhat relatedly, government sources told Kyodo News yesterday that Japan will develop long-range air-to-ship cruise missiles that would double the range of Japan’s current air-to-ship missiles. The new expenses will reportedly be included in the next draft of Japan’s budget. These aren’t transformative moves in their own right, but on a day largely absent major geopolitical developments, it’s worth pausing for a moment and remembering that China isn’t the only country gearing up for a much more volatile regional environment in the Asia-Pacific.
- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro asked his cabinet to resign so he could restructure the government.
- The South China Morning Post reported that a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, aiming to end current trade hostilities, may be pushed back to June.
- The Taliban took 150 Afghan fighters prisoner after chasing them to the Turkmenistan border on Sunday.
- Russia and Belarus are holding joint military drills through March 22.
- The Philippines has withdrawn from the International Criminal Court.
- China expelled the former head of the National Energy Administration from the Communist Party for corruption.
- The number of first-time asylum seekers in Europe was down 11 percent in 2018 compared to 2017.