Saudi Arabia, Iran: If you can't beat 'em
Also: the US, Ukraine, Russia, El Salvador, and Senegal.
In addition to our daily risk monitoring brief, the team behind Geopolitical Dispatch also provides advice, risk audits, scenario planning, executive masterclasses and board briefings among other services. Click here to get in touch.
SAUDI ARABIA. IRAN. If you can’t beat ‘em
It won’t be US reprisals alone that dismantle Tehran’s proxy network.
Some 85 strikes in Syria and Iraq and 36 in Yemen would be "the beginning, not the end", the White House said Sunday. A Saudi minister received Syria's ambassador Sunday, days after Riyadh returned its own diplomats to Damascus.
INTELLIGENCE. The weekend’s largely symbolic US reprisals against Iran-backed targets have brought the White House domestic reprieve. Yet they will unlikely serve as a durable deterrent against Tehran or its network, which has exploited Washington’s relative absence in the region. Riyadh, the Gulf’s biggest US ally, sees the dilemma and is trying a different approach. Beside low-key peace talks with the Houthis, it is now engaging Iran’s allies in the Levant.
FOR BUSINESS. Riyadh's contact with its former foes comes alongside furtive attempts at a deal to recognise Israel. Still, any such normalisation would require a solution on Hamas and a Palestinian state, which Benjamin Netanyahu seems in no hurry to agree. Antony Blinken is this week in the region for the fifth time since the war began. He won’t want US diplomacy undercut by Saudi Arabia, but ultimately Riyadh’s approach may come to serve Western interests.
Geopolitical Strategy is the advisory firm behind Geopolitical Dispatch. Our partners are former diplomats with vast experience in international affairs, risk management, and public affairs. We help businesses and investors to understand geopolitical developments and their impacts with clarity and concision.
UNITED STATES. Biden his time
The president will hope the economic recovery continues.
Joe Biden won 96% of votes in Saturday's South Carolina primary. A Quinnipiac poll Wednesday showed Biden leading Donald Trump by six points. The US created 353,000 new jobs in January, confounding market expectations Friday.
INTELLIGENCE. Joe Biden has seemingly ended talk of a party challenger, but he faces an uphill campaign. Quinnipiac has received much attention, but an NBC poll on Sunday showed Trump ahead five points and leading on the economy. GOP strategists will, either way, focus eyes on the border, where a Congressional deal seems distant and Republican states are joining Texas in a federal standoff. Florida said Thursday it would send 1,000 personnel.
FOR BUSINESS. A states' rights clash over Texas's border barrier may be red meat for the Republican base but could prove a turnoff to independents. Further, the broken status quo provides momentum for Trump and a distraction to his legal woes and his party's abortion stance. The economy’s strength has so far failed to materialise into support for Biden, but rising consumer confidence could suggest a delayed turnaround (assuming there isn’t a recession).
UKRAINE. RUSSIA. Hard reset
Zelensky hints at major changes, but they won’t come easy.
Ukraine needed a leadership "reset" broader than personnel changes in the military, Ukraine's president said Sunday. Any decision to sack army chief Valery Zaluzhny was up to Volodymyr Zelensky, the White House said Saturday.
INTELLIGENCE. With Kyiv’s leadership ructions out in the open, rumours are spreading of other developments to come, including a government relocation to Lviv, which would be protected by Polish air defences, and the arrival of NATO expeditionary forces. Both seem improbable, but a lot of improbable things have already happened. Zelensky is maintaining a brave face. He visited the front line on Sunday. The EU has promised another tranche of military aid.
FOR BUSINESS. Europe is shouldering more of the burden in Ukraine as the US concentrates on the Middle East and wrangles a spending deal. The Senate on Sunday unveiled its $118 billion border package, which would send $60 billion to Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel. But the House has said it will instead propose a $17.6 billion standalone deal for Israel. The Senate proposal looks unlikely to pass, with tepid border authorities and high daily migrant limits.
Emailed each weekday at 5am Eastern (9am GMT), Geopolitical Dispatch goes beyond the news to outline the implications. With the brevity of a media digest, but the depth of an intelligence assessment, Geopolitical Dispatch gives you the strategic framing and situational awareness to stay ahead in a changing world.
EL SALVADOR. Saviour complex
A millennial caudillo is re-elected.
President Nayib Bukele won a landslide victory on Sunday. Dubbed the "world's coolest dictator" due to policies ranging from a war on crime to bitcoin investments, Bukele is El Salvador’s first president to be re-elected in almost a century.
INTELLIGENCE. Bukele’s crackdown on gangs and youth appeal has led to record approval ratings despite declining civil liberties and a worsening economy. His unconventional approach in a region more used to left-wing populism has given hope to fellow travellers, such as Argentina’s Javier Milei, who scored his own victory on Friday when the lower house approved an omnibus reform bill that, subject to further talks, will allow him to overhaul the economy.
FOR BUSINESS. Bukele’s victory will also excite crypto enthusiasts. But El Salvador’s adoption of Bitcoin as legal tender has been less popular than its adoption of mass incarceration. El Salvador is negotiating a $1.3 billion IMF loan and has failed to see meaningful crypto investment since Bukele announced a 'Bitcoin City' in 2021. Just 12% of Salvadorians use Bitcoin. Only the Central African Republic has passed similar laws (which it repealed last April).
SENEGAL. Taking the Macky
Problems in the gateway to the Sahel.
Police fired tear gas on protesters Sunday after President Macky Sall announced a delay to elections scheduled for 25 February. After several opposition candidates had been banned, civil society leaders called it an "institutional coup".
INTELLIGENCE. Under Sall’s increasingly autocratic leadership, Senegal has hovered at the edge of instability for months, threatening to follow its neighbours in the Sahel, which have shed democracy in a series of coups since 2021. Senegal is more developed than these landlocked states, and more important for Western interests. It hasn’t had a coup attempt since 1962. But it has also never delayed an election. More protests are expected this week.
FOR BUSINESS. France and the US urged Sall to set a new date. Both have an important military relationship with Dakar.Senegal is a key regional headquarters and transportation hub too (though this has also been exploited by gangs shipping South American cocaine). BP is developing an offshore LNG project on Senegal’s maritime boundary with Mauritania, another fragile democracy that sentenced its former president to a five-year jail term in December.