This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

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(Image: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The Unconstrained Presidency (£)

James Goldgeier and Elizabeth N. Saunders

Foreign Affairs

In the age of Donald Trump, it often feels as though one individual has the power to chart the United States’ course in the world all by himself. Since taking office as U.S. president, Trump has made a series of unilateral decisions with enormous consequences. He walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris agreement on climate change, and the Iran nuclear deal. He imposed tariffs on Canada, China, Mexico, and the European Union. In June, he single-handedly upended the G-7 summit by insulting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and withdrawing the United States from the group’s joint communiqué. In July, his European travels produced more diplomatic fireworks, with a NATO summit in Brussels that raised questions about his commitment to the organization—before his deferential press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Each choice has brought howls of outrage—but little real pushback. Congress, for example, has proved unable to block the president from starting a trade war with China and with U.S. allies. For all of Trump’s talk of a shadowy “deep state” bent on undermining his every move, the U.S. government’s vast bureaucracy has watched as the president has dragged his feet on a plan to deter Russian election interference. Even the United States’ closest allies have been unable to talk Trump out of damaging and potentially withdrawing from institutions of the liberal international order that the country has led for decades. How can a political system vaunted for its checks and balances allow one person to act so freely? (Read more)

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Britain’s Populist Revolt

Matthew Goodwin

Quilette

More than two years have passed since Britain voted for Brexit. Ever since that moment, the vote to leave the European Union has routinely been framed as an aberration; a radical departure from ‘normal’ life. Countless journalists, scholars, and celebrities have lined up to offer their diagnosis of what caused this apparent moment of madness among the electorate. Russia-backed social media accounts. Shady big tech firms like Cambridge Analytica. Austerity. The malign influence of populist ‘Brexiteers’ like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. The Brexit campaign exceeding its legal spending limit. Or a much-debated claim, written on the side of a bus, that Brexit would allow Britain to redirect its millions of pounds worth of contributions to the EU into its own creaking health service. Typical is a recent piece by a (British) columnist in the New York Times who argues: “Britain is in this mess principally because the Brexiteers—led largely by Mr. Johnson—sold the country a series of lies in the lead up to the June 2016 referendum.”

Britain has produced a Brexit debate that is utterly dry, sterile, and completely lacking in imagination. Much of the commentary has shared three features: an exclusive focus on incredibly short-term factors that apparently proved decisive; a clear and concerted attempt to try and delegitimize the result by implying that either voters were duped or that the Leave campaign was crooked; and absolutely no engagement whatsoever with the growing pile of evidence that we now have on why people actually voted for Brexit. Far from staging an irrational outburst, most Leavers shared a clear and coherent outlook and had formed their views long before the campaign even began. (Read more)

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Turkey’s homemade currency crisis has truly global implications

Clemens Hoffman and Can Cemgil

The Conversation

Turkey’s recently reelected president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is blaming the sudden and dramatic decline of the Turkish lira on an international conspiracy, variously railing against an “economic war” and a “currency plot”. On the surface, this looks like a reaction to US president Trump’s steel and aluminium sanctions, which are ostensibly designed to press Turkey to release American pastor Andrew Brunson, who is in custody on terrorism charges.

But Turkey’s financial crisis has not been caused by its refusal to release an evangelical pastor. The US’s new sanctions have merely inflamed a crisis that’s been a long time coming. And while Turkey’s woes are mostly homemade, they are nevertheless embedded in a fragile global political economy – meaning there is a serious risk of contagion. This is therefore not the time to merely point fingers at the structural deficiencies of Turkey’s political economy; Turkey is just the proverbial canary in the coal mine. This is a local manifestation of global problems and an indication of looming ones as well. (Read more)

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Latin American countries selling out their sovereignty to Russia, China

Martin Arostegui

The Washington Times

A Chinese space force in Argentina, Russian control of Venezuelan gas and South American armies equipped with the latest Chinese and Russian hardware. Until recently, it might have sounded like the plot of a geopolitical thriller in a region once considered America’s backyard.But this is what Defense Secretary James N. Mattis faced on his visit this week to several South American nations, where economic and military posturing by Beijing and Moscow has been on the rise for the past decade.

The whole reason Mr. Mattis made the trip was to try to “recover lost territory in Latin America,” said one foreign ministry official in Argentina, where the U.S. defense secretary stopped Wednesday. “Chinese and Russian influence grew during years in which the U.S. largely abandoned the region,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his sensitive post coordinating security policies with Washington and other international powers.

Analysts say Chinese loans in recent years have allowed authoritarian leaders to consolidate power in Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, and have separately generated corruption scandals that brought down the presidents of Ecuador and Argentina. (Read more)

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Matteo Salvini may find it hard to blame the EU for the Genoa bridge collapse

Sofia Lotto Persio

New Statesman

Rescuers are still searching under the rubble of a collapsed viaduct in the Italian city of Genoa to find any survivors, but a very Italian polemic has inevitably already started.

The tragedy struck on Tuesday, when a portion of the Morandi highway bridge collapsed in the middle of the day under torrential rain, causing the death of at least 39 people.

While authorities have begun investigating the incident as manslaughter and “culpable disaster,” interior minister Matteo Salvini was already framing the collapse in terms of EU shortcomings.

“Should there be any are European constraints that prevent us from spending money to secure the schools where our children go or the highways on which our workers travel — we will put in front of everything and everyone the security of the Italians” he told the press in a message shared on his social media platforms on Tuesday, ensuring maximum reach.

Salvini had also previously published a statement promising to find the culprits, “with names and surnames,” and make them “pay, pay everything and pay dearly” — perhaps naively thinking that only a handful of people could shoulder the blame for a calamity of such proportions in a country like Italy. (Read more)

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