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

Mike Pompeo addresses students at the American University in Cairo.

(Image: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AP)

In the Middle East, Is Trump the Anti-Obama or Obama 2.0?

Uri Friedman

The Atlantic

During a visit on Thursday to the nerve center of the Arab world, Mike Pompeo declared that reports of America’s departure from the Middle East under Donald Trump had been greatly exaggerated, and that it was Barack Obama who had abandoned the region—to devastating effect.

And yet the irony is that while the conduct of Obama and Trump in the Middle East couldn’t be more different, they’ve in fact ended up engaged in the same struggle: to extract the United States from the Mideast morass.

The U.S. secretary of state accused Obama—who 10 years ago in Cairo famously sought “a new beginning” between the United States and a billion-plus Muslims—of grossly underestimating radical Islamist ideology, willfully ignoring the dangers of the Iranian regime, and mistakenly perceiving the United States as a “force for what ails the Middle East.” This, he argued in a speech at the American University in Cairo, harmed hundreds of millions of people across the region and the world as isis “raped and pillaged and murdered,” Iran “spread its cancerous influence,” and the Syrian government “unleashed terror” by gassing its people, all in the face of American timidity. (Read more)

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

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Iraq’s Post-ISIS Campaign of Revenge

Ben Taub

The New Yorker

A September morning in Baghdad. Traffic halted at checkpoints and roadblocks as bureaucrats filed behind blast walls and the temperature climbed to a hundred and fifteen degrees. At the Central Criminal Court, a guard ran his baton along the bars of a small cell holding dozens of terrorism suspects awaiting trial. They were crammed on a wooden bench and on the floor, a sweaty tangle of limbs and dejected expressions. Many were sick or injured—covered in scabies, their joints twisted and their bones cracked. Iraqi prisons have a uniform code—different colors for pretrial suspects, convicts, and those on death row—but several who had not yet seen a judge or a lawyer were already dressed as if they had been sentenced to death.

Down the hall, the aroma of Nescafé and cigarettes filled a windowless room, where defense lawyers sat on couches, balancing stacks of paper on their laps. Most were staring at their phones; others sat in silence, arms crossed, eyes closed. In terrorism cases, lawyers are usually denied access to their clients until the hearing begins. (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

(Image: Melina Mara/Getty)

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

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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)

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

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Europe Is Making Its Migration Problem Worse (£)

Loren B. Landau, Caroline Wanjiku Kihato and Hannah Postel

Foreign Affairs

Three years after the apex of the European refugee crisis, the European Union’s immigration and refugee policy is still in utter disarray. In July, Greek officials warned that they were unable to cope with the tens of thousands of migrants held on islands in the Aegean Sea. Italy’s new right-wing government has taken to turning rescue ships with hundreds of refugees away from its ports, leaving them adrift in the Mediterranean in search of a friendly harbor. Spain offered to take in one of the ships stuck in limbo, but soon thereafter turned away a second one.

Behind the scenes, however, European leaders have been working in concert to prevent a new upsurge in arrivals, especially from sub-Saharan Africa. Their strategy: helping would-be migrants before they ever set out for Europe by pumping money and technical aid into the states along Africa’s main migrant corridors. The idea, as an agreement hashed out at a summit in Brussels this June put it, is to generate “substantial socio-economic transformation” so people no longer want to leave for a better life. Yet the EU’s plans ignore the fact that economic development in low-income countries does not reduce migration; it encourages it. Faced with this reality, the EU will increasingly have to rely on payoffs to smugglers, autocratic regimes, and militias to curb the flow of migrants—worsening the instability that has pushed many to leave in the first place. (Read more)

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

(AFP/Getty)

Zimbabwe’s military takeover fits the narrative of its patriarch

David Pilling

FT

When a man in green fatigues comes on state television and says, “We wish to make it clear that this is not a military takeover of government”, you can be pretty sure of one thing: a military coup is in full swing. In Zimbabwe, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, that is precisely what happened. Yet this may not be a classic coup d’état. Africa is now a continent where old-fashioned military takeovers are seen as passé and countries like to present themselves as having at least a veneer of constitutional democracy. (Read more)

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Is the Saudi Purge Really About Corruption?

Andrew Leber and Christopher Carothers

Foreign Affairs

Earlier this month, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) dramatically arrested 11 princes and dozens of other wealthy businessmen and high officials under the guise of fighting corruption, a move that has provoked a minor avalanche of speculation among foreign analysts. The arrests have nothing to do with corruption or everything to do with it; they are about consolidating power or a sign of power consolidated; they are the beginning of a new era of transparency and accountability or further evidence of unchecked power at the height of the Saudi government. (Read more)

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The Secret Correspondence Between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks

Julia Ioffe

The Atlantic

Just before the stroke of midnight on September 20, 2016, at the height of last year’s presidential election, the WikiLeaks Twitter account sent a private direct message to Donald Trump Jr., the Republican nominee’s oldest son and campaign surrogate. “A PAC run anti-Trump site putintrump.org is about to launch,” WikiLeaks wrote. “The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?” (The site, which has since become a joint project with Mother Jones, was founded by Rob Glaser, a tech entrepreneur, and was funded by Progress for USA Political Action Committee.)

The next morning, about 12 hours later, Trump Jr. responded to WikiLeaks. “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around,” he wrote on September 21, 2016. “Thanks.” (Read more)

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Saad Hariri, Lebanon PM, in France for crisis talks

BBC News

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has arrived in France for talks on a crisis sparked by his resignation.

He quit unexpectedly two weeks ago during a visit to Saudi Arabia, but his resignation has not been accepted.

Mr Hariri denied being held in Riyadh against his will, amid speculation the Saudis had forced him to quit as part of a regional power struggle with Iran.

Lebanon’s president said on Saturday that Mr Hariri had told him he would be back in the country by Wednesday.

President Michel Aoun said on Twitter that Mr Hariri had told him by telephone that he would return for independence day celebrations. (Read more)

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Israel Is Growing Increasingly Worried About the Trump Administration

Brian Katulis and Yoram Schweitzer

Foreign Policy

Israel’s reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump’s Iran speech last month was best summed up by a former senior official we recently met in Tel Aviv: “It sounds very nice, and I like it very much, but what’s next?”

What we heard last month in Israel on Iran was less focused on the fate of the nuclear deal and more concerned about glaring gaps in U.S. strategy to deter Iran’s destabilizing actions and support for terrorist groups in the wider Middle East.

If and how the Trump administration addresses these gaps in its regional strategy will have implications for America’s security and its allies for years to come — and what we heard in Israel is a growing worry that Trump lacks any operable plan at all on Iran. (Read more)