4 big international stories of 2016

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In this presidential election year, international issues sometimes took a backseat. But violence continued in the Middle East and Ukraine, and populism continued to gain strength in Europe. And by mid-summer, talk of Russia started to dominate campaign headlines — something that hasn’t stopped.

We look at four of the year’s biggest international stories and the Contributors pieces that touched upon them.


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The conflict in Syria started in 2011 and is still ongoing. While never out of the news, the fall of formerly rebel-held Aleppo to government forces has the country once again in the headlines.

Throughout 2016, a number of our contributors wrote about the situation in Syria. In February, Cornell University Professor Mostafa Minawi wrote “The war in Syria is not a civil war,” but “a truly global war in what looks like an increasingly lawless conflict.”

{mosads}In May, Emory University Professor Dabney P. Evans, together with Lara S. Martin of Emory’s Center for Humanitarian Emergencies (of which Evans is director), wrote “Doctors are dying in Syria,” detailing the number of attacks against hospitals in the war-torn country.

In September, writing about a U.S.-Russia agreement on Syria, Pepperdine University Professor Andrew L. Peek argued that “Kerry’s peace deal just made Syria worse,” noting that “Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace deal with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reversed nearly five decades of U.S. foreign policy.”

The cease-fire, however, didn’t last.


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In December 2014, the U.S. and Cuba announced that diplomatic relations would be normalized, leading to the opening of embassies in 2015. President Obama then visited Cuba in May 2016, the first president to do so since the 1920s.

Contributor Alfredo Estrada, editor of LATINO Magazine, remarked in “Obama’s not-so-excellent adventure in Cuba” that the president’s speech in Havana was “classic Obama, long on poetic inspiration but short on practical solutions.” Later, after Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro died in November, Estrada noted in “After Castro’s death, too many have a case of ‘Fidelitis’” that too many in the media seemingly glorified the former Cuban president.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, noted that “Castro wound up being right about US role in Latin America,” though, arguing that “Most of the world admires Castro and Cuba as having accomplished something heroic by standing up to a bullying empire of immense power.”


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In January — well before most Americans had heard the slang term for the U.K’s June referendum on whether to leave the European Union — contributor Desmond Lachman, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wondered if 2016 would be “The year of the ‘Brexit’?” Lachman argued that “A decision to leave the EU would have devastating long-run consequences for both the United Kingdom and the European Union.”

Seeing a link between a vote for Brexit and a possible Donald Trump victory in November, Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, explained “How ‘Brexit’ would inflame populism abroad — and here in the US.” Marshall argued that “a victory for Brexit would be a setback for liberal and progressive values now under attack across Europe and the United States.”

Britain did indeed vote to leave the EU.


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Relations between the U.S. and Russia have been poor since Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and further incursions into eastern Ukraine. But the country became an important campaign issue given Trump’s various statements praising Russian President Vladimir Putin and the ties his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had to the deposed pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.

Agnia Grigas, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, argued in August that “Trump’s views on Ukraine are straight from the Kremlin,” writing that “While the inaccuracies in Trump’s statements may seem inconsequential … myths and facts matter in rhetoric of political candidates because they can be the basis of future policies of the administration.”

After Trump’s victory, and talk of Russian manipulation of leaked emails intensified, cybersecurity expert Ira Winkler explained “How we know Russia, not a guy in Jersey, hacked the DNC,” writing that “Perhaps the president-elect should accept more intelligence briefings, so he understands Russia’s extensive hacking capability, as well as the extensive surveillance capabilities of U.S. intelligence agencies.”

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