Opinion

The Great Debate

from Ian Bremmer:

Obama isn’t the only one with a passive-aggressive foreign policy

 China's President Xi speaks during his meeting with U.S. President Obama, on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit, in The Hague

America and China are the world’s two major powers, with the largest economies and militaries. The stakes are high for them to practice what they preach on foreign policy: their words and actions influence the global economy, as well as the behavior of allies and enemies.

The problem: Xi Jinping and Barack Obama want to have their foreign policy cake and eat it, too. For both leaders, international engagement isn’t top of mind: they want to downplay their global leadership roles in order to focus on more pressing concerns at home.

But at the same time, they have certain priorities that they’re willing to pursue unilaterally and aggressively abroad. This inconsistency gets them both in hot water. It leaves other countries guessing, it undermines global collaboration, and it allows crises like Ukraine and Iraq to burn hotter, for longer, more often.

The closest thing that Obama has to a foreign policy doctrine is the consistent lack thereof. In his recent speech at West Point, he argued against engaging in conflicts that are not core interests. He emphasized buy-in from a coalition of other partners and the use of the military option only as a last resort. “Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail,” he said.

A soldier carries an anti-U.S. drone booklet as people chant slogans against U.S. drone strikes outside the Yemeni House of Representatives in SanaaBut when it comes to unconventional engagement, Obama hasn’t hesitated to wield the hammer; in fact, he’s been more assertive than his predecessor by a long shot. It’s estimated that thousands of people have died at the hands of drone strikes on his watch; these strikes have consistently breached the territorial sovereignty of other countries.

from John Lloyd:

If Prince Charles becomes King Charles, will his kingdom leave him?

Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall Camilla arrive for the second day of the Royal Ascot horse racing festival at Ascot, southern England

Could Prince Charles finally get his crown? And if he does, could it mean the end of the United Kingdom?

Abdication in favor of the younger generation seems to be something of a trend in Europe -- if two cases can be considered a trend. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated last year so that her son, Willem-Alexander, could bring some youth and vitality to the largely ceremonial role.

More recently, King Juan Carlos, widely credited with having assisted the end of the Franco dictatorship in Spain in 1975 and with puncturing a rather feeble coup attempt in 1981, vacated the throne in favor of his son, Felipe. The announcement was followed by large demonstrations calling for an end to the monarchy entirely, with Cayo Lara, leader of the United Left Coalition, quoted as saying, "We are not subjects, we are citizens."

US-Iran relations: When history isn’t history after all

STUDENTS MARCH TO GATES OF TEHRAN UNIVERSITY AFTER NATIONAL STUDENT'S DAY RALLY.

I learned what a trickster history can be 20 years ago at Hanoi airport. After everything the United States gave and lost in Vietnam while trying to keep it safe from Communism, who would have thought you would find the lion lying down with the lamb at a business convention? But there it was, capitalism in capital letters, a billboard advertising VIETNAMERICA EXPO!

Who won that war again?

Things like that change how you understand the world — if only by teaching you to wonder about even those things you think you know for an absolute fact.

It happened again last weekend. I read something that laid waste one of the most common assumptions of Cold War history: that an expert 1953 CIA covert operation in Iran overthrew a democratically elected prime minister to put the shah back back in control of his country. Ray Takeyh, an Iranian-American historian and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues persuasively in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs that President Dwight Eisenhower’s CIA did not actually bring down Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh after all.

Sending Benghazi suspect to Gitmo would be obstruction of justice

The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames during a protest

Within hours of the Pentagon’s announcement that the key suspect in the Benghazi attack on the U.S. mission had been apprehended, the usual suspects came out to denounce the Obama administration.

“Ahmed Abu Khattalah should be held at Guantanamo as a potential enemy combatant,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) immediately Tweeted on Tuesday.

“A non-U.S. citizen who committed a crime outside of the United States in what can only be defined as an act of terror tantamount more to a war than a criminal-code violation puts me in the camp of arguing for a noncivilian court trial,” Representative Trey Gowdy  (R-S.C.), the former prosecutor who is leading a House investigation into the Benghazi attack, told the New York Times.

Today’s South is boldly moving backward

mahurin for bishop

We used to call it the “New South.” That was the era after Reconstruction and before the Civil Rights laws — when the states of the old Confederacy seemed most determined to preserve a social and economic order that encouraged low-wage industrialization as they fought to maintain Jim Crow.

What was then distinctive about the South had almost as much to do with economic inequality as racial segregation. Between roughly 1877 and 1965, the region was marked by low-wages, little government, short lives and lousy health — not just for African-Americans but for white workers and farmers.

Volkswagen employees work on the assembly line of the 2012 VW Passat in Chattanooga TennesseeThe Civil Rights revolution and the rise of an economically dynamic Sun Belt in the 1970s and ‘80s seemed to end that oppressive and insular era. The Research Triangle in North Carolina, for example, has more in common with California’s Silicon Valley than with Rust Belt manufacturing. The distinctive American region known as the South had truly begun to vanish.

from Breakingviews:

China Macau tolerance won’t last forever

By Rob Cox

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Spreadsheets with astonishing forecasts can only tell so much about China’s economic miracle. The sole path to believing, or at least comprehending, the scale of the country’s development is to see it. And so it is with any attempt to grasp Macau’s transformation from a Portuguese trading outpost to the Middle Kingdom’s gambling and entertainment hub.

Each year, this territory of about 30 square km a one-hour ferry ride from Hong Kong creates the equivalent of one new Las Vegas in gross gambling revenue. Millions of Chinese mainlanders aspire to visit - not just high-rollers but regular punters and even families. Macau will occupy an important role in China’s cultural and economic future. What’s questionable is whether investors will ever access Macau’s riches to the degree once deemed possible.

from Stories I’d like to see:

Whither Cantor and setting the price on a cure

U.S. House Majority Leader Cantor gestures as he talks about his defeat in his Virginia Republican primary election during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington

1. An Eric Cantor sweepstakes:

Who’s going to hire the soon-to-be unemployed but highly marketable Representative Eric Cantor (R-Va.)?

He’s got a law degree, a world-class Washington Rolodex and the kind of visibility that should make him a client magnet for K Street’s law firms and lobbying and public policy shops.

Or will he go to a think tank? That path might be more complicated because the most likely home for a conservative heavyweight, the Heritage Foundation, seems to have veered so far right that it might be awkward to welcome a guy just beaten by a candidate who attacked him from the right.

What’s Bergdahl worth? Everything.

Achilles triumphe _in_Corfu_Achilleion

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is finally back on U.S. soil, having landed on Friday. Five Taliban members enjoy newfound, if curtailed, freedom in Qatar. Time magazine features Bergdahl on the cover, and, speaking for many, ask “Is He Worth it?”

It’s a question that challenges the seminal premise of all war narratives. The “worth” of an individual soldier is not the issue. Bringing back those who fight for you, alive or dead, has been a central understanding of the rules of war for millennia — and is the basis for many of the most powerful scenes in literature.

Consider The Iliad, Homer’s ur-war narrative, which remains one of the most terrifyingly real depictions of the politics of war. Complicated prisoner exchanges open and close this epic tale of the decade-long war between the Greeks and the Trojans.

from Breakingviews:

Gazprom/Ukraine dispute is proxy for Putin’s whims

By Pierre Briançon 

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Europe has long been used to the perennial drama of “Ukraine versus Gazprom,” but this year’s version is not your run-of-the-mill gas price dispute. Making good on a longstanding threat, Gazprom has said it will deliver gas to Ukraine only if it has been pre-paid. This comes after the Russian energy group failed to settle a dispute with Naftogaz, its Kiev-backed counterpart, over what it claims are more than $4 billion of overdue bills.

As summer nears, the decision will have limited immediate consequences on Europe’s energy supplies. Gazprom says it will continue to provide gas to the rest of the continent and has the means to bypass Ukraine. The two sides may be headed to international arbitration – by far the best way to settle the dispute. Gazprom has some grounds for feeling that it has been too patient with its Ukrainian client.

Obama’s impossible choices on Iraq

Volunteers who have joined the Iraqi Army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants, chant slogans in Baghdad

Iraq was a bold U.S. experiment in nation-building. It turned out to be a flop.

That’s what we’re learning as we watch what the United States achieved there evaporate after nine years of war, after nearly 4,500 Americans were killed, 32,000 wounded and $800 billion in U.S. taxpayer money spent.

When George W. Bush first ran for president in 2000, he expressed contempt for nation-building. It was a point he made in rally after rally. “I’m worried about the fact I’m running against a man,” Bush said, “who uses ‘military’ and ‘nation-building’ in the same sentence.”

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