Opinion

Ian Bremmer

In search of self-aware diplomacy

Ian Bremmer
Nov 26, 2013 16:11 UTC

In 2005, Karen Hughes became George W. Bush’s undersecretary of public diplomacy. Her charge, both poorly defined and ill-timed, was to improve America’s international image in the years after the country had launched two wars. Other countries will side with us and do what we want if only we better explain our point of view, the thinking went, and make them see us as we see ourselves. By the time Hughes left office in 2007, international opinion of the U.S. was no higher than it was when she arrived, according to polls.

And yet, this kind of if-we-say-it-clearly-enough-they-will-listen diplomacy is not exclusive to the Bush administration. It has carried over into the Obama White House. So when an Obama administration official says that Washington welcomes a “strong, responsible, and prosperous China” that plays a “constructive” role in regional and global institutions, Chinese officials are left to wonder who gets to decide what the words “responsible” and “constructive” mean for China’s foreign policy. Responsible and constructive for whom?

And when senior U.S. officials describe their relationship with Iran as “marked by open hostilities since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran,” they are insulting the intelligence of the men they’ve been negotiating with. From the Iranian perspective, bad relations with the U.S. didn’t begin in 1979. They started back in 1953, when Kermit Roosevelt Jr., grandson of Teddy, led a CIA-backed coup to remove an Iranian prime minister — proving that Americans would violate Iran’s sovereignty to ensure its favored politician ruled the country.

This dissonance between what’s presented and what’s perceived is a problem, especially in a new world order that lacks order. More than ever, the U.S. needs help and cooperation from other countries to manage challenges like Syria, Libya, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership — but its diplomacy is outdated. Americans have never been willing to understand how their actions are received by others and to accept the consequences of those actions. The country was once powerful enough to get away with that myopia. It’s not anymore.

Take, for example, the repeated suggestion that China become a “responsible stakeholder” in international politics, a phrase made famous by then-Deputy Secretary of State (later World Bank President) Robert Zoellick during the Bush years. The Obama administration has embraced this view — but Beijing sees itself differently. Beijing wants international institutions capable of seeing the world from a Chinese point of view. It feels like it’s in a different position than the U.S., still radically poor per capita and therefore not responsible for expensive heavy-lifting in the world at large, as we saw last week with its meager response to Typhoon Haiyan. When the U.S. demands that China behave like the superpower it’s becoming, it fails to recognize how China regards itself.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Nov 25, 2013 18:54 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political-risk junkie — presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections by tweeting at us via @EurasiaGroup or @ianbremmer.

America should not try to keep its shale gas to itself – Bill Richardson

Russia uses energy as a tool of its foreign policy. America should too.

The year of leading from behind – The Economist

What happens when Mexico’s reforms “begin to hurt the powerful interests they are aimed at?”

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Nov 18, 2013 21:40 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political-risk junkie — presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections by tweeting at us via @EurasiaGroup or @ianbremmer.

Saudi Arabia’s Shadow War” – David Kenner, Foreign Policy

Is Saudi Arabia enlisting Pakistan to train Syrian rebels?

A little local difficulty” – The Economist

In its attempt to keep unwanted stories out of the news, China has begun to create headlines of its own for cracking down on foreign journalism in the country.

India to beat US in number of Internet users: report” – Times of India

A recent report estimates that India will overtake the US to become the world’s second largest internet base within eight months.

Making sense of China’s meager typhoon aid

Ian Bremmer
Nov 14, 2013 22:18 UTC

Faced with a devastating typhoon a mere 700 miles away, Chinese President Xi Jinping this week pledged financial support for the Philippines, as did nearly every other industrialized nation. Australia offered $30 million; the Europeans $11 million; the United Arab Emirates promised $10 million. China offered $100,000.

The media backlash was immediate. Within days, an embarrassed Beijing upped its pledge to $1.6 million. That’s still less than a sixth of the total offered by Japan, China’s main regional rival. In 2010, China overtook Japan as the second-biggest economy in the world.

What gives — or doesn’t give, as the case may be? Why is an economy so big, a government so willing to invest abroad, and a country so eager to win favor in the region stiffing a neighbor in need? Because China is still a new enough power that it has no tradition of shelling out helpings of foreign aid — and because the Philippines is not China’s favorite country at the moment.

An optimist’s view of the White House

Ian Bremmer
Nov 8, 2013 18:07 UTC

What will the White House screw up next? Democrats have watched as one calamity after another has befallen what was once the most promising Democratic administration since John F. Kennedy’s. Obamacare, the NSA, Syria, heck, even the administration’s campaign foibles are back in the news with the publication of the new tell-all book Double Down.

Yet all is not lost. The Obama administration has not exactly bungled its way through five years of power. Until this year, in fact, Republicans were complaining that the press had been too kind towards Obama. With all the dour news, it is worthwhile to take stock of all the good things for which Obama can take credit. Bear in mind, some of these successes may not have been Obama’s ideal objective — but the end results are victories regardless. These are the top eight achievements that not even Edward Snowden can take away, in descending order of importance.

1. An economy that still exists

When Barack Obama took office, the unemployment rate was steadily rising — it would hit 10 percent in October of 2009 — and catastrophe beckoned. But by effectively wielding George W. Bush’s TARP program, passing a stimulus of his own, bailing out the automotive industry, and resisting the urge to nationalize the country’s banking sector, Obama was able to keep the crisis from swallowing a country and his presidency. Regardless of which particular policies may have been the secret sauce, surviving the worst financial crisis in decades happened on Obama’s watch.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Nov 7, 2013 17:12 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political-risk junkie — presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections by tweeting at us via @EurasiaGroup or @ianbremmer.

India, Myanmar, Thailand trilateral highway may start soon” – 

Chinese reform is coming, but not the political kind

Ian Bremmer
Nov 1, 2013 16:00 UTC

In a western democracy like the United States, we assume that the best time for a leader to accomplish something is in the first year of his first term. The election has just ended, the opposition is still scattered, and the legislative mandate is intact. Everybody still talks about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first 100 Days for a reason.

In authoritarian governments, like China’s, it’s supposed to be different. Steering such a large bureaucracy takes time, as all the moving pieces catch up with one another. What matters is minimizing risk surrounding the transfer of power, and then engaging in a slow buildup of consensus. And yet, Xi Jinping is proving the conventional wisdom wrong. After just six months at the helm, Xi is already clearly on track to accomplish far more than his predecessor Hu Jintao.

The constellation of China’s leadership left Xi Jinping with more room to maneuver upon taking office: the Politburo Standing Committee, the top brass in China’s government, was consolidated from nine members to seven. Over the next few months, Xi built up a track record of successful reforms. He has worked at overhauling the banking system and shaking out its bad loans. Through his anti-corruption efforts, he has increased the accountability for the leaders of state-owned enterprises and provincial leaders. He improved product safety and the environment by changing the reward structure for the people in charge and implementing air pollution regulations. We’ve also seen the establishment of a free trade zone in Shanghai.

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