Foreign Policy Blogs

The Week Ahead: 28 January-3 February 2018

Trump’s State of the Union. Turkey intensifies operations in Syria. Merkel mends her coalition. All this in The Week Ahead.


UNITED STATES: Trump’s State of the Union:

  • President Trump will present his State of the Union Address to Congress this Tuesday, following a rough week that included a government shutdown, controversy in Davos, and revelations that he tried to fire special counsel Robert Muller. Given the numerous issues facing Congress right now, it is unlikely that Trump’s speech will bring forth any new legislative priorities, though it may prove a useful distraction for the press and Republican leadership.
  • Should the President lay out an immigration platform agreeable to Congressional Democrats, this could become an important speech for both resolving the fate of 700,000 Dreamers in the United States as well as initiating a more stable budget vote. Additionally, should the president mention infrastructure and discuss it beyond broad platitudes, he may be able to jump start negotiations on a major infrastructure bill ahead of midterm elections this November.

GRI Take: Don’t expect any radical new policies from Trump’s State of the Union Speech as the current budget crisis occupies most of his attention. However, if Trump announces reforms for DACA recipients, he has the potential to bolster his own popularity and hasten the end of the Congressional budget showdown.


TURKEY: Turkey’s Operation ‘Olive Branch’ escalates as hundreds return injured:

  • This week, the Turkish military’s Operation Olive Branch is likely to escalate as Turkey seeks to eradicate Syrian Kurdish forces from the area of Afrin. U.S. support for the Syrian Kurds has long angered Turkey, as Turkey views the Syrian Kurds as an extension of the U.S. designated terror group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and a threat to its internal safety. Efforts to deescalate fell flat, as both Trump and Erdogan came away from last week’s phone call with a radically different understanding of the situation.
  • The escalation also follows reports that as many as 130 members of Turkey’s armed forces returned injured from Olive Branch. If Turkey had thought this to be an easy fight, it is in for a surprise. It will be difficult for Turkey to quickly eradicate the YPG, given their fighting experience, well-trained and equipped forces, and U.S. support. Adding further complications to this matter, the Syrian government has threatened to shoot down any Turkish plane it finds in its territory. This could limit the Turkish military’s ability to provide air cover or engage in less casualty-heavy military tactics in its fight to eliminate the YPG (People’s Protection Units).

GRI Take: Turkey will escalate operation ‘Olive Branch’ in the coming week, promising more schisms with its international allies. Its NATO allies, especially the U.S., oppose the operation, further alienating Turkey from the organization and its regional priorities.


GERMANY: Merkel looks to wrap up coalition talks this weekend, following tense negotiations between SPD and CDU/CSU:

  • This Sunday, representatives from Angela Merkel’s CDU are expected to finalize an agreement to continue the grand coalition between her party and the Social Democrats (SPD), following intense opposition from several quarters of the SPD. There remain several major sticking points, particularly on immigration, that the two parties need to first hammer out. However, both have reached the conclusion that continuing to draw out talks will only further damage German public perception of both parties.
  • Both the SPD and CDU have major motivations for holding a harder line in negotiations that will make any governing arrangement difficult. For the SPD, there is a consensus that the party’s close link to Angela Merkel’s previous government has negatively impacted their popularity across Germany. The party thus faces pressure to exert major concessions from the CDU. On the CDU side, any concession to the social democratic wing of the German spectrum could be viewed as an opportunity for the far-right political party Alternative for Germany (AfD) to gain voters from the center-right.
  • The shape of the final coalition largely hinges on the actions of the AfD. As the 3rd largest political party in the Bundestag and largest outside government, the far right AfD will act as the largest voice of opposition to the CDU/SPD coalition. This could create strain for the coalition partners even after they enter into government as the rightward leaning CDU and left-leaning SPD attempt to reconcile their priorities while protecting their base from being poached by the AfD.

GRI Take: Merkel will get her coalition; however, in order to be effective over the long term, one of the two ruling parties will have to soften their stance on their platform policies.

This article was originally published on Global Risk Insights.