Here are the main events in Politics that occurred this week:
1. Major Protests Break Out in Iran
On December 28, a series of protest broke out in several Iranian cities in response to the poor economic situation within the country (which has only gotten worse since the imposition of new sanctions on Iran by the Trump Administration). Despite the initial focus of the protests on solely economic issues, they soon morphed into a wider expression of dissatisfaction with the current status-quo within the country. The demands of the protesters have varied from simply asking for reforms within the current political structure of Iran, to regime change and the reinstallation of the long-since deposed Pahlavi Monarchy into power. Thus far, the Iranian government has had a mixed reaction to the protests. For example, President Hassan Rouhani urged the government to more adequately address the demands of the Iranian citizens, but urged against violence and rage against the system, noting that such actions will only inflame the situation within the country and reduce the chances for any changes to the governmental system. Additionally, the Iranian government, while not using excessive force against the protestors, has shut down internet access and access to social media sources such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for fear that such venues will increase the spread of the protests.
The international community has had a somewhat mixed reaction to the protests in Iran. Countries such as Israel, Canada, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and the UK have all expressed solidarity with the protestors and cautioned the Iranian government against using excessive force to suppress the protests. Additionally, US President Donald Trump has used the protests as another opportunity to critique the Iranian government and call for the overthrow of the current Iranian government. In a Twitter message on December 30, Trump declared that “Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including the right to express themselves. The world is watching!#IranProtests.” On the other hand, countries such as Russia and China stated that the protests in Iran are solely an internal manner to be dealt with by the Iranian government and that any intervention on behalf of the protesters will only inflame the situation. Despite the supposed spontaneous nature of the protests against the Iranian government, it is widely speculated that hostile foreign powers such as the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have played a major role in stirring up tensions within Iran and hope that such efforts will result in the collapse of the current Iranian government and allow all three countries to turn Iran into one of their “vassal states”.
2. President Trump Proposes Ambitious Infrastructure Bill
Fresh off of the successful passage of his tax reform bill, President Donald Trump has reportedly turned his eye to infrastructure. The Trump Administration plans to introduce a plan in January to repair and renovate the country’s aging and ailing roads, airports, bridges, and transitions. President Trump has repeatedly pledged to restore America’s infrastructure system on both the campaign trail as well as in office. His past as a famous real estate developer gave credibility to boasts that he would restore the crumbling infrastructure of a country that was literally “falling apart.” Since the 1990s, federal infrastructure spending has declined drastically, reaching a 30-year low in 2015. The decline in federal investment infrastructure has put the US in a distinct disadvantage with emerging countries such as Japan, South Korea, Russia, China, India, and Mexico, thus negatively impacting the global competitiveness of the US.
The Trump Administration’s infrastructure plan calls for at least $200 billion in federal spending on infrastructure projects over the next 10 years, with a goal of attracting at least an additional $800 billion in financing from state and local governments along with private partnerships. Additionally, the proposals include a provision that all projects will include American-produced materials, which many in the administration see as a way to further stimulate the economy and create thousands of new, decent-paying jobs. Overall, the reaction to the Trump Administrations infrastructure has been mixed, with a surprising level of support coming from the Democratic Party. For example, Senator Bernie Sanders has expressed a willingness to work with the Administration on the proposal, as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. On the other hand, Republicans such as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are lukewarm at best towards the plan, claiming that it will lead to a higher federal budget deficit and force Congressional Republicans to table their proposals to increase defense spending and reform the entitlement system. Overall, it seems highly likely that the Trump Administration’s infrastructure bill will pass due to its strong popularity amongst the American people and the need for infrastructure improvements within the country.
3. North Korea’s Kim Jong-un “Open to Dialogue” with South Korea
On December 30, North Korean President Kim Jong-un announced that he is “open to dialogue” with South Korea in the New Year, but has warned the US that he has a “nuclear button” on his desk to use if threatened. In a televised New Year’s speech, Kim said improving ties between the North and South is an “urgent issue”. “It’s a grave matter to which the entire Korean nation needs to put its efforts towards resolving,” he further said. South Korea’s presidential office welcomed Kim’s speech, which included a proposal to send North Korean athletes to Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. South Korean Presidential spokesperson Park Soo-Hyun said that “We welcome that Kim expressed willingness to send a delegation and proposed talks as he acknowledged the need for improvement in inter-Korean ties.”
Despite the countries recent overtures towards negotiations and dialogue, Kim Jong-un announced that his country will continue to focus on “mass producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment” in 2018 and beyond. Additionally, Kim Jong-un repeated earlier claims that the entire US is now within range of all of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Responding to Kim’s comments, US President Donald Trump said “we’ll see, we’ll see” at his New Year’s Eve celebration, held at his Mar-a-Lago residence, in Florida. It can be argued that North Korea’s sudden change in actions can be attributed to two recent developments. The first one being the imposition of a fresh round of sanctions against North Korea by the US Security Council. The second development that may have had an impact of North Korea’s change in behavior is the increased willingness of Russia and China to work with the US to settle the long-standing disputes between both countries. On the other hand, some also argue that North Korea is either hoping to drive a wedge between the US and South Korea over the issue of peace negotiations or is trying to buy some time to improve its nuclear capabilities.