The news that defined 2021 — Analysis
Global upheaval continued in 2020 at an alarming pace, with new leaders appearing in the US and EU. There are also troubling Covid-19 variants, and there is a continuing culture war. Here’s some of the biggest stories of the year.
Biden is in charge of America divided
Conducting his campaign largely virtually from the confines of his Delaware basement, Joe Biden promised voters a return to the staid ‘normality’ that characterized Washington, DC in the pre-Trump era. While Biden’s message won out, his inauguration in January did little to heal the political gulf between red and blue America.
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Donald Trump’s supporters and others were accusing Democrats of electoral fraud. Biden was sworn two weeks later after protestors rioted in Capitol Hill, January 6. He immediately signed a flurry of executive orders in his first 100 days – more than his three most recent predecessors combined, mostly aimed at undoing Trump’s signature policies. Trump’s border wall, the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and the US’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement were all reversed with the stroke of a pen.
Biden’s repeated characterization of the Capitol rioters as “domestic terrorists”He also issued vaccine mandates, further hurting his already low approval ratings among conservatives. He saw a decline in his popularity among Americans of all political parties as the year went on. This was largely because of rampant inflation, rising prices, and other factors attributed to his multitrillion-dollar spending programs.
Afghanistan is retaken by the Taliban
Abroad, Biden’s most serious foreign policy challenge involved withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan, a process initiated by Trump a year earlier. Biden set September 11 as the withdrawal date, four months after Trump and the Taliban had agreed to May’s pullout date.
The Taliban launched an extensive offensive against the US, capturing the Afghan National Army, which was being trained and funded by the US, with several thousand US soldiers still present in Afghanistan. After capturing Kabul, militants had taken control of the city by August. The US then began to leave behind billions of dollars worth of equipment and weapons, before rushing out of Hamid Karzai International Airport.
With hordes Afghans attacking the runways to try and escape, and with suicide bombers attempting to kill 13 American troops, as well as dozens of civilians at the airport, the withdrawal turned chaotic. In retaliation for the suicide bombing, Ashraf Ghani, the US-backed government, fled.
READ MORE: Drone strike that killed children to go unpunished – Pentagon
The Taliban promised that it would rule with more moderation than during its previous tenure in power, in 1990s. This comes after nearly two decades of occupation and war. But the Taliban is reportedly back at its word and accused of execution of former Afghan security personnel and issuing strict rules about everything from music and headscarves.
Merkel’s era is over
Social Democrat Olaf Scholz became Germany’s new chancellor in December, bringing to an end 16 uninterrupted years of rule by Angela Merkel. Throughout four terms, Merkel’s conservative bloc stayed in power through alliances with either the Social Democrats or the Free Democrats, but in 2018, the veteran chancellor announced that she would not seek a fifth.
Merkel oversaw some pivotal moments in Germany and Europe’s history. In 2015, she received heavy criticism for opening Germany’s borders to more than a million migrants, a move that spurred the rise of the right-wing Alternative For Germany (AfD) in the polls. She was an early proponent of reducing Europe’s reliance on Russian gas imports, yet criticized US sanctions against Moscow and oversaw the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.
Scholz’s government is less friendly toward Moscow, and has stalled certification of Nord Stream 2. Berlin expelled Russian diplomats for the assassination of a Chechen separatist, who applied to asylum in Germany. Russia denied having any role in it.
At home, Scholz has amped up coronavirus restrictions, backing Merkel’s lockdown for unvaccinated people and promising to bring mandatory vaccination to a parliamentary vote. Scholz described mandatory vaccinations as “a necessity.” “legally permissible and morally right.”
AUKUS agreement leads to standoff among Western allies
AUKUS was first announced in September. The pact allows the UK and US to assist Australia with the acquisition of nuclear submarines. The trilateral deal will also add Tomahawk cruise missiles and Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles to Australia’s arsenal, and will see Australia collaborate with the US on hypersonic weapons – a technology that the US has fallen behind Russia in developing.
Widely seen as a response to China’s continued ascent to superpower status, the pact has not just angered Beijing – with the Chinese government accusing its members of harboring a “cold-war mentality” – but also France.
France and Australia had signed a $90billion contract prior to this deal. Canberra’s unilateral cancellation of this contract was described by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as a “stab in the back,” and the country’s ambassadors to the US and Australia were recalled.
French President Emanuel Macron has long been a proponent of lessening Europe’s reliance on the US for its security, and in the wake of the AUKUS deal, he called on his fellow EU leaders to “stop being naive”To build “the power and capacity to defend ourselves.”
The fallout from the AUKUS agreement is an indication that Europe might not be as open to being a partner, with Merkel and Macron agreeing to sign an investment treaty for Beijing in December 2020. “transatlantic alliance”As the Biden administration in Washington had hoped, against China
Covid-19 mutations pose new challenges
In late 2020, the first coronavirus strain to be identified was in India. The Delta virus became the predominant one by the middle of 2021. Delta was more transmissible that the Alpha variant, which spread in Wuhan (China) in the early 2020s. This did not cause any changes in the containment policies around the globe. Still, the most effective tools for defeating Delta were masking, distancing, vaccination, and many countries in the northern part of the hemisphere experienced fewer cases, hospitalizations, or deaths in the summer.
All these precautions failed to reduce the rate of cases rising in fall. This was compounded when Omicron, a South African variant, was discovered in November. Omicron, which is thought to be more transmissible than other variants of the Omicron gene, has caused panic around the world.
However, it has thus far led to far lower rates of hospitalization and death than previous strains, with most accounts describing symptoms – if they present at all – as mild to moderate. Omicron has been used by governments around the globe to promote new vaccine booster shots and lockdown measures.
Russia submits proposals to NATO
Amid a historic low point in relations between Moscow and the West, Russia earlier this month proposed a list of security guarantees to the US and NATO, aimed at peacefully settling military disputes between Russia and the Western alliance. These treaties would restrict NATO’s expansion in former Warsaw Pact countries and prevent troops from being stationed near the Russian border.
The security proposals come at a critical time, with the US claiming Russian President Vladimir Putin may be planning an invasion of Ukraine – something Moscow repeatedly denied. While Russia did withdraw thousands of troops from territory close to the Ukrainian border, there was still concern about their presence. Some Washingtonians even called for nuclear warfare.
Although the White House claims it will, “never” agree to some of Russia’s proposals, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has insisted that any European country is free to join the alliance, sources in Washington say the US is “ready to engage in diplomacy”As early as January, talks could begin with Moscow. If the US follows through with these claims, talks could lead to a welcomed thaw of US-Russia relations. Putin stated to Russian TV last week, that Moscow would determine its response on the basis of these claims if they do not succeed. “proposals from our military experts.”Stoltenberg is offering to organize a summit in Russia with Russia’s participation on January 12.
Space exploration goes private
After becoming the first private company to send humans into orbit in 2020, SpaceX continued checking off a list of ‘firsts’ in 2021. Elon Musk’s company sent a record 143 satellites into space on a single mission in January, and launched the first crewed flight of a reused space capsule in April. It launched its first ever all-civil crew to orbit in September.
The private space exploration sector has gotten crowded in the US in recent years, with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin both competing to lower the cost of spaceflight. Both Branson and Bezos were both in orbital space within weeks of one another this summer.
Spaceflight in Russia is still controlled by the state, even though NASA appears to be taking a back seat in America to the private sector. Roscosmos, the country’s space agency, launched the first-ever professional film crew into space in October to shoot a feature film in zero-gravity. With RT covering the event, the crew spent twelve days on the International Space Station (ISS).
Roscosmos’ head Dmitry Rogozin, shortly after the mission ended, announced that a Russian-built space station would be used as a prototype to the aging ISS. This project is being withdrawn by Russia in 2025 because of economic sanctions from Washington.
The limits of Wokeism
The spread of ‘woke’ ideology through all aspects of society seemed to reach its zenith in 2020, with Black Lives Matter protests reaching all corners of the Western world, and all manner of “problematic”Monuments and statues falling in the US, UK. Even the US’ military-industrial megacorporations preached the gospel of “intersectionality” “white privilege”to their employees.
The march to waking consciousness met some setbacks 2021. In the US, the work of journalist Chris Rufo to expose the teaching of ‘critical race theory’ in schools led to an outcry from parents. Such type of outcry is considered to be the key in the electoral victory of Glenn Youngkin – a Republican who promised to ban its teaching if elected – in Virginia’s gubernatorial election in November. A month later, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis introduced the ‘Stop Woke Act’, a piece of legislation that would give parents the power to sue educators teaching critical race theory to their kids in schools.
Even nominally liberal leaders outside the USA are tired of US-style wakefulness. French President Emmanuel Macron declared this summer that American-imported food was not good for France. “woke culture”Is “racializing”France, and more division between minorities. In October, he attacked the European Commission for bowing to him. “nonsense”The commission issued a rejected language guide that advised officials to avoid offensive terms, such as “holiday season”Instead of “Christmas,”You can also swap between gendered terms, “man-made” “ladies and gentlemen”Alternatives that are gender neutral