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

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(Image: Tyler Hicks)

The Tragedy of Saudi Arabia’s War

Declan Walsh

New York Times

CHEST HEAVING AND EYES FLUTTERING, the 3-year-old boy lay silently on a hospital bed in the highland town of Hajjah, a bag of bones fighting for breath.

His father, Ali al-Hajaji, stood anxiously over him. Mr. Hajaji had already lost one son three weeks earlier to the epidemic of hunger sweeping across Yemen. Now he feared that a second was slipping away.

It wasn’t for a lack of food in the area: The stores outside the hospital gate were filled with goods and the markets were bustling. But Mr. Hajaji couldn’t afford any of it because prices were rising too fast.

“I can barely buy a piece of stale bread,” he said. “That’s why my children are dying before my eyes.” (Read more)

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

(Image: Cliff Owen/AP)

For Jamal Khashoggi, There Is No Robert Mueller

Robin Wright

The New Yorker

For those of us who knew Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia’s announcement—tweeted in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Riyadh time—is infuriating. It confirmed Khashoggi’s death—a “painful outcome,” it said—and blithely reversed the kingdom’s repeated and insistent lies that he had safely walked out of the consulate in Istanbul shortly after he entered it, on October 2nd. Sixteen days later, the Saudis said that they need another month to investigate his death, which would conveniently time the release of their findings to the aftermath of a pivotal midterm election in the United States. Incredibly, the Saudi Foreign Ministry, which is in charge of the consulate in Turkey, offered no explanation of where Khashoggi’s body might be, even though its employees were among the last to see the dissident Washington Postcolumnist alive.

The most suspect development, though, is that the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman—the autocratic, thirty-three-year-old royal most widely implicated, directly or indirectly, in Khashoggi’s disappearance—will play a role in the review. The three branches of government involved in the problem—the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the Saudi security services—are all under his control anyway. (Read more)

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

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The Vatican and China: An Ideological Struggle

The Guardian

Every power in the world must now come to terms with China’s rise to superpower status; last week it was the turn of the Vatican, a global soft superpower. An opaque and ambiguous agreement seems to have resolved decades of diplomatic stalemate over the appointment of bishops for China’s 12 million Catholics, although that figure, too, is shrouded in uncertainty. The Chinese authorities have for decades demanded that they, and not some foreign power, should choose their country’s religious leaders; the Vatican has for just as long resisted. Now it appears that the pope will recover the power to choose bishops, but only from a shortlist nominated by the government.

The agreement enraged those who feel that there can be no compromise with the Beijing government. An unknown number of priests and bishops, perhaps 12, are still detained in China, and some are believed to have died in prison. This agreement does nothing for them. On the other hand, it does not involve full diplomatic relations between Beijing and Rome, which would require the Vatican to give up its recognition of Taiwan. (Read more)

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

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(Image: REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily)

Iraq’s new president taps Adel Abdul Mahdi to form government 

Fazel Hawramy

Al-Monitor

The battle inside and outside the Iraqi parliament was fierce and bitter, but by the evening of Oct. 2, Barham Salih had managed to pull off one of the biggest electoral feats in recent Iraqi history by putting his faith in Iraqi parliamentarians to elect a new president. That night, the overwhelming majority of parliament members, 219 out of 329 total, voted to install Salih, a Kurd who believes in the territorial integrity of Iraq and who has vowed to work for all Iraqis.

Since 2003, the Iraqi presidency has been reserved for a Kurd, the parliament speakership for a Sunni and the premiership for a Shiite. Although Salih’s election has generally been welcomed among Iraqis, including the Kurds, his victory marked an escalation in tense relations between Iraq’s two dominant Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), already at odds over the governing of Iraqi Kurdistan and related socioeconomic issues. (Read more)

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

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Christine Blasey Ford, Brett Kavanaugh, and the Death of Dignity in Politics

Masha Gessen

New Yorker

The subject of the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings was dignity. Christine Blasey Ford detailed an assault on her dignity that has haunted her for most of her life. (“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” the psychology professor said, “the uproarious laughter between the two . . . I was underneath one of them while the two laughed, two friends having a really good time with one another.”) Conversely, Brett Kavanaugh and his defenders, most prominently Senator Lindsey Graham, cast Ford’s accusation and the hearing itself as an attack on Kavanaugh’s dignity: the shouting, hectoring, crying, and Graham’s explicit refusal even to consider the subject of the hearing communicated that they saw any challenge as an offense. For the rest of us, the spectacle of the hearing, and the vote that followed, became a death watch for dignity in politics.

There are at least two ways in which the concept of dignity is key to our understanding of politics. There is the dignity that participation in the political process affords each citizen. Having a voice, being heard, and exercising political agency are all component parts of dignity. I have written about the concept of the “feminization of politics,” which foregrounds restoring dignity to those who are not often heard: women, poor people, black and brown people, disabled people, and many others. Several new democratic movements, such as municipalism in Spain and elsewhere, or the process-based parties in Scandinavia, place the public hearing of people’s stories and opinions at the center of their political work. When people are cast out of the political community—when they become stateless or lose their right to vote, or are simply marginalized to the point of becoming inaudible—they suffer the loss of dignity. (Read more)

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

Iran likely to divide Trump from allies at UN gathering

Nahal Toosi, David M. Herszenhorn and Matthew Karnitschnig

Politico

Donald Trump sees next week’s main session of the United Nations General Assembly as a chance to condemn Iran for spreading what he’s called “chaos and terror” through the Middle East.

But many key U.S. allies will likely use the global forum to present Trump himself as a threat to world peace.

The result could be an unusually combative gathering at an annual forum meant to promote harmony among world leaders.

“It’s not going to be a pleasant conversation,” predicted Ilan Berman, senior vice president of the conservative American Foreign Policy Council. (Read more)

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

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The Crisis Next Time: What We Should Have Learned From 2008

Carmen Reinhart and Vincent Reinhart

Foreign Affairs

At the turn of this century, most economists in the developed world believed that major economic disasters were a thing of the past, or at least relegated to volatile emerging markets. Financial systems in rich countries, the thinking went, were too sophisticated to simply collapse. Markets were capable of regulating themselves. Policymakers had tamed the business cycle. Recessions would remain short, shallow, and rare.

Seven years later, house prices across the United States fell sharply, undercutting the value of complicated financial instruments that used real estate as collateral—and setting off a chain of consequences that brought on the most catastrophic global economic collapse since the Great Depression. Over the course of 2008, banks, mortgage lenders, and insurers failed. Lending dried up. The contagion spread farther and faster than almost anyone expected. By 2009, economies making up three-quarters of global GDP were shrinking. A decade on, most of these economies have recovered, but the process has been slow and painful, and much of the damage has proved lasting. (Read more)

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E.U. parliament votes to punish Hungary for backsliding on democracy

Michael Birnbaum and Griff Witte

The Washington Post

European lawmakers voted Wednesday to initiate sanctions proceedings against the Hungarian government for what they said was backsliding on democracy, an extraordinary censure for a nation that was once a beacon of post-Communist transformation.

The measure, which required a two-thirds supermajority of the European Parliament to pass, declared there was a “clear risk of serious breach” of European values by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. It was the first step in a process that could ultimately strip Hungary of its voice in decision-making in the European Union.

The decision creates head winds for Orban’s ambitious quest to remake the continent in his model of “illiberal democracy” — a bloc that would be closer to Russia, less open to migration, and less concerned about independent judiciaries, a free press and minority rights. (Read more)

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International Criminal Court plays important role in global rule of law

Catherine Powell

The Hill

This week, White House national security adviser John Bolton slammed the International Criminal Court in the latest shot across the bow the Trump administration has taken against multilateral institutions. However, Bolton’s attack on the ICC is particularly shortsighted. As I have written before, it is in the United States interest, in our interest in national and international security, to support this court.

Even before joining the Trump administration, Bolton penned a piece in the Wall Street Journal that the United States should welcome the opportunity to “strangle the ICC in its cradle” or at least to tell the ICC Prosecutor that “you are dead to us.” As Bush administration legal adviser John Bellinger confirms, Bolton led the charge during George W. Bush’s first term to oppose the fledgling court, including by “unsigning” the Rome Statute that created the ICC and bullying U.S. allies into signing more than one hundred Article 98 agreements promising not to surrender American officials to the court. However, the Bush administration’s hostility to the court began to evaporate, as officials soon began to recognize that many of the most important U.S. allies were members of the ICC and that the court could serve American policy goals. (Read more)

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The Case Against Doing Nothing on North Korea

Victor D. Cha and Abraham M. Denmark

Bloomberg

Barely three months after they met in Singapore, President Donald Trump says he’s happy to sit down again with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. One might justifiably ask why, given how little the North has conceded since their last tete-a-tete. There is room to make tangible progress, however, if the U.S. first rethinks its negotiating strategy.

Talks between the U.S. and North Korea have foundered in part because of a fundamental contradiction in worldviews. It’s impossible for the U.S. to imagine establishing a peaceful, normal relationship with the North until Kim has completely and verifiably dismantled his nuclear program. For North Korea, it’s impossible to imagine denuclearizing until its relationship with the U.S. is peaceful and normal. So long as these issues are linked, and so long as leaders in Washington and Pyongyang continue to cling to their particular understanding of how they’re linked, even another Trump-Kim summit is likely to produce little. (Read more)

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The Oslo Accords Are Dead, but There Is Still a Path to Peace

Daniel Levy

Foreign Policy

Twenty-five years ago, U.S. President Bill Clinton presided over a famous handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat on the South Lawn of the White House as they signed the Oslo Accords. Those accords, initiated at secret Norwegian-hosted talks between Israeli academics and PLO officials, set an agenda and a five-year timetable for a full peace deal that would initially allow limited Palestinian self-governance in parts of the occupied territories and entailed mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO.

These days, that historic moment is mostly forgotten as Israelis and Palestinians hurl familiar accusations at the other side in order to vindicate their current positions. In some quarters, there is an occasional whiff of nostalgia for an opportunity missed. But finger-pointing or rose-tinted memories of that September day miss the significance of the occasion. In today’s grim reality, what matters most is understanding how the Oslo breakthrough became possible in the first place. (Read more)