Managing The Trump Phenomenon with Prudence


June 17, 2017

Managing The Trump Phenomenon with Prudence

by Jorge G. Castañeda

https://www.project-syndicate.org/columnist/jorge-g–casta-eda

Professor Jorge G. Castaneda was Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 2000-2003, after joining with his ideological opponent, President Vicente Fox, to create the country’s first democratic government. He is currently Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University, and is the author of The Latin American Left After the Cold War and Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara.

Trump’s domestic opponents should be careful what they wish for, and America’s allies should try to find a way to engage with his administration more effectively. Like it or not, the world’s best option is to ensure that the next three and a half years are as successful – or at least as resistant to disaster – as possible.–Jorge G. Castaneda

The world’s view of US President Donald Trump’s administration is changing for the worse. In fact, the chaos and controversy that have marked Trump’s short time in office have deepened doubts, both inside and outside the United States, about whether his presidency will even survive its entire four-year term.

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Europe’s perspective was articulated most clearly by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. After a contentious NATO summit and a discordant G7 meeting, she concluded that the US, under Trump, can no longer be viewed as a reliable partner. “The times in which we could rely fully on others,” she stated pointedly, “are somewhat over.”

Merkel’s statements were driven partly by disagreement between Trump and Europe on climate change, trade, NATO (particularly Article 5, its collective defense clause, which Trump refused to endorse), and relations with Russia. But disagreement on such issues reflects divisions within Trump’s own administration, raising questions about who, if anybody, is actually in charge.

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White House Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks, chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon and policy adviser Stephen Miller | Getty

Consider Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement. The move was advocated by Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and his speechwriter, Stephen Miller. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner – both of whom are official White House advisers – also may not have supported withdrawal from the accord, despite Tillerson’s public defense of his boss’s decision.

Trade is another internally disputed issue. Bannon opposes the existing order of global openness, as does Peter Navarro, who heads the White House National Trade Council. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross supports open trade, but not without reservation. Similarly, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer would prefer bare-knuckle negotiations to disruption, though he is already in a spat with Ross.

On NATO and Russia, Tillerson has echoed Trump in pressuring the Alliance’s European members to increase their defense spending. But he has also taken a harder line on Russia than Trump, calling for a strong and united approach by the US and Europe. While National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster agrees with Tillerson in theory, turf battles between the two posts’ occupants – a time-honored tradition – have already begun.

Such infighting has raised concerns far beyond Europe. As one Latin American foreign minister told me recently, “Apparently everybody is fighting with everybody over everything.” Add to that the investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia, as well as the administration’s plummeting approval ratings, and it is easy to understand why some are doubting whether they should bother to engage with Trump at all. Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto has postponed meeting with Trump indefinitely, and other countries, too, are placing ties with the US on hold.

With a premature end to Trump’s presidency becoming less farfetched by the day, it is worth asking how it could come about. There are three possibilities.

The first and best-known route is impeachment: a majority in the House of Representatives would indict Trump for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and a two-thirds majority in the Senate would convict him, removing him from power. Such an outcome – which would require the support of 20 Republican representatives and 18 Republican senators, plus all Democrats in both houses – remains highly unlikely. But everything could change if the investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion with Trump’s campaign reveals a smoking gun.

The second option, per Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, would require the vice president and the cabinet or Congress to declare the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” This seems even more unlikely than impeachment, unless some of Trump’s behavior – like his middle-of-the-night tweets or private rants against his aides (most recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions) – clearly indicates neurological dysfunction or psychopathology.

The third option, which some have called the “Nixonian solution,” is the most intriguing. In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned before Congress could vote to impeach him. Weeks later, Nixon’s successor Gerald Ford granted him a full and unconditional pardon for all possible crimes.

In Trump’s case, such a resignation could be spurred by the desire for a similar pardon. While Trump cannot be indicted on criminal charges while president, he can be prosecuted for illegal behavior after he leaves office.

Moreover, both Kushner, who has been accused of attempting to set up a back channel for secure communication between the White House and the Kremlin, and Ivanka would be subject to prosecution if they were found to have engaged in illegal communications or activities with Russian agents or officials. Trump’s two eldest sons, who run his business empire, may also be liable for misdeeds. If this threat becomes salient, Trump may prefer to resign and secure a pardon for all involved, rather than endure an impeachment process that may well end with him losing the presidency anyway.

But while Trump’s opponents might like to remove him from power, any of these scenarios could be highly damaging to the US and the rest of the world. American participation, if not leadership, is indispensable to international cooperation in areas like global trade, climate action, and responses to all manner of crises, whether natural, humanitarian, or nuclear. Moreover, Trump’s isolationism doesn’t imply US irrelevance or passivity; a distracted or disrupted America could be much worse.

Given this, Trump’s domestic opponents should be careful what they wish for, and America’s allies should try to find a way to engage with his administration more effectively. Like it or not, the world’s best option is to ensure that the next three and a half years are as successful – or at least as resistant to disaster – as possible.

A Tribute to a Common Soldier and Patriot on Memorial Day


May 24, 2017

A Tribute to a Common Soldier and Patriot on Memorial Day

Received by e-mail

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I trust an ordinary solider  who puts his life on the line in defence of our country  and the Malaysian on main street who irks an honest living than a politician who promises and breaks them at a moment’s notice, and a Malaysian Prime Minister who steals RM2.6 billion from our Treasury and calls that stolen money a donation from a Saudi Prince. I despise idiots around him who try to defend him. What is worse is that that Prime Minister gets away with it. Honor cannot be bought with money; it is earned by sacrifice, sweat and toil. In the ordinary Malaysian soldier and patriot honor resides.– Din Merican

There are several incorrect versions of this poem circulating the web; below you’ll find the original text.


For years the poem has been broadcast nationally every Memorial Day on American radio. The American Legion has posted it throughout their many branches, the Australian Legion included it in their video tribute, Victory in the Pacific. In 2009, the Royal British Legion sought and gained permission to use Just a Common Soldier as part of its annual Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal campaign.  On July 4, 2008 it was carved into marble for an American Veteran’s Memorial at West Point.

 
 
 For a Soldier Died Today (with Tony Lo Bianco)
UST A COMMON SOLDIER
(A Soldier Died Today)
by A. Lawrence Vaincourt

He was getting  old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.
And tho’ sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,

All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.

But we’ll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,
And the world’s a little poorer, for a soldier died today.
 
He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,
And the world won’t note his passing, though a soldier died today.
 
When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.
 
Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?
 

A politician’s stipend and the style in which he lives

Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.

While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,

Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.

 
It’s so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,
That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.
 
Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?
 
He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier’s part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.
 
If we cannot do him honor while he’s here to hear the praise,
Then at least let’s give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.

 

100 Days of Trump Gubberish


April 29, 2017

NY Times Editorial: 100 Days of Trump Gubberish

It was fitting that President Trump closed out his first 100 days in another bumbling attack on Obamacare, trying and failing to jam a bill through the House this week that had no chance of passing the Senate, just to create the illusion of action.

The sorry saga of health care under this president bears all the Trumpian hallmarks that Americans are learning to expect: the dishonest campaign promise (“health care for everyone”); the clownish attempts to write a bill; the miniaturization of Paul Ryan (remember that guy?); the rivalrous White House confederation of Bannonite anarchists and glittering cosmopolites; the dearth of nonwhites and nonmales at the table; the absence of any strategy and of any vision beyond “winning.”

All that’s needed to complete the Trump pattern is the insultingly obvious effort by the president’s kin to cash in. A health care summit meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, maybe…

READ ON:

A Normative Approach to Preventing Cyberwarfare


March 14, 2017

A Normative Approach to Preventing Cyberwarfare

by Joseph Nye@www.project-syndicate.org

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CAMBRIDGE – A series of episodes in recent years – including Russia’s cyber interventions to skew the United States’ 2016 presidential election toward Donald Trump, the anonymous cyber-attacks that disrupted Ukraine’s electricity system in 2015, and the “Stuxnet” virus that destroyed a thousand Iranian centrifuges – has fueled growing concern about conflict in cyberspace. At last month’s Munich Security Conference, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders announced the formation of a new non-governmental Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace to supplement the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE).

The GGE’s reports in 2010, 2013, and 2015 helped to set the negotiating agenda for cybersecurity, and the most recent identified a set of norms that have been endorsed by the UN General Assembly. But, despite this initial success, the GGE has limitations. The participants are technically advisers to the UN Secretary-General rather than fully empowered national negotiators. Although the number of participants has increased from the original 15 to 25, most countries do not have a voice.But there is a larger question lurking behind the GGE: Can norms really limit state behavior?

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Most experts agree that a global cyberspace treaty currently would be politically impossible (though Russia and China have made such proposals at the UN). But, beyond formal treaties, normative constraints on states also include codes of conduct, conventional state practices, and widely shared expectations of proper behavior among a group (which create a common law). In scope, these constraints can vary from global, to plurilateral, to bilateral. So what can history tell us about the effectiveness of normative policy instruments?

In the decade after Hiroshima, tactical nuclear weapons were widely regarded as “normal” weapons, and the US military incorporated nuclear artillery, atomic land mines, and nuclear anti-aircraft weapons into its deployed forces. In 1954 and 1955, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told President Dwight Eisenhower that the defense of Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam and of offshore islands near Taiwan would require the use of nuclear weapons (Eisenhower rejected the advice).

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Nobel Laureate Economist Thomas Schelling

Over time, the development of an informal norm of non-use of nuclear weapons changed this. The Nobel laureate economist Thomas Schelling argued that the development of the norm of non-use of nuclear weapons was one of the most important aspects of arms control over the past 70 years, and it has had an inhibiting effect on decision-makers. But for new nuclear states like North Korea, one cannot be sure that the costs of violating the taboo would be perceived as outweighing the benefits.

Similarly, a taboo against using poisonous gases in warfare developed after World War I, and the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibited the use of chemical and biological weapons. Two treaties in the 1970s prohibited the production and stockpiling of such weapons, creating a cost not only for their use, but also for their very possession.

Verification provisions for the Biological Weapons Convention are weak (merely reporting to the UN Security Council), and such taboos did not prevent the Soviet Union from continuing to possess and develop biological weapons in the 1970s. Similarly, the Chemical Weapons Convention did not stop either Saddam Hussein or Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons against their own citizens.

Nonetheless, both treaties have shaped how others perceive such actions. Such perceptions contributed to the justification of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to the international dismantling of most Syrian weapons in 2014. With 173 countries having ratified the Biological Warfare Convention, states that wish to develop such weapons must do so secretly, and face widespread international condemnation if evidence of their activities becomes known.

Normative taboos may also become relevant in the cyber realm, though here the difference between a weapon and a non-weapon depends on intent, and it would be difficult to forbid – and impossible to prohibit reliably – the design, possession, or even implantation for espionage of particular computer programs. In that sense, efforts to prevent cyber conflict cannot be like the nuclear arms control that developed during the Cold War, which involved elaborate treaties and detailed verification protocols.

A more fruitful approach to normative controls on cyberwarfare may be to establish a taboo not against weapons but against targets. The US has promoted the view that the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), which prohibit deliberate attacks on civilians, applies in cyberspace. Accordingly, the US has proposed that, rather than pledging “no first use” of cyber weapons, countries should pledge not to use cyber weapons against civilian facilities in peacetime.

This approach to norms has been adopted by the GGE. The taboo would be reinforced by confidence-building measures such as promises of forensic assistance and non-interference with the workings of Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs).

The GGE report of July 2015 focused on restraining attacks on certain civilian targets, rather than proscribing particular code. At the September 2015 summit between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the two leaders agreed to establish an expert commission to study the GGE proposal. Subsequently, the GGE report was endorsed by the leaders of the G20 and referred to the UN General Assembly.

The attack on the Ukrainian power system occurred in December 2015, shortly after the submission of the GGE report, and in 2016, Russia did not treat the US election process as protected civilian infrastructure. The development of normative controls on cyber weapons remains a slow – and, at this point, incomplete – process.

Bilateral and Regional Implications of the U.S.-Philippine Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement


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Number 365 | December 21, 2016

ANALYSIS

Bilateral and Regional Implications of the U.S.-Philippine Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement

By Renato De Castro

On April 28, 2014, then Philippine Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin and U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) a few hours before President Barack Obama’s arrival in the Philippines. The signing of the EDCA sent a strong diplomatic signal to Beijing that it would have to take account of an American military presence in the Philippines if it chose to unilaterally change the status quo in the South China Sea. More significantly, a rotational U.S. military presence was expected to strengthen the Philippines’ determination to uphold its territorial claims vis-à-vis China in the South China Sea dispute backed by American resolve and credibility to honor its defense commitment to the Philippines.

 The 21st Century Philippine-U.S. Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA)

This is not a new security treaty; it is merely an updated version of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. This executive agreement serves as a framework by which the Philippines and the U.S. can develop their individual and collective defense capabilities. This goal is accomplished through the rotational deployment of American forces in Philippine bases. Although the EDCA allows American forces to utilize facilities owned and controlled by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine base commander has unrestricted access to these locations. Likewise, American-built or American-improved infrastructure inside these installations can be used by the AFP. Furthermore, any construction and other activities within the Philippine bases require the consent of the host country through the Mutual Defense Board (MDB) and Security Engagement Board (SEB). More importantly, the EDCA is designed to minimize domestic opposition to U.S. military presence in the country by explicitly affirming Philippine sovereignty and providing a legal framework for increased American rotational presence rather than the re-establishment of permanent bases, which remains a sensitive issue among Filipinos.

The EDCA also proved advantageous to the AFP. With its small and obsolete naval force and an almost non-existent air force, the Philippine military benefits from the regular and short-term visits of U.S. forces that conduct military training as well as humanitarian and disaster response operations. Logistically, the U.S. construction of vital military facilities, infrastructure upgrades (such as hangers, air defense surveillance radar systems, ground based air defense systems, and naval operating bases), and the storage and prepositioning of defense equipment in agreed locations can lower the cost of the force and training modernization programs since the buildings and equipment can be shared and utilized jointly by American and Philippine Armed Forces.

The implementation of EDCA augurs well for the Philippine military. Philippines Air Force (PAF) fighter pilots can train with their American counter-parts at the five airbases that are part of the agreement. The PAF can also use facilities that American forces will improve or build inside its facilities. In addition, the Obama Administration has requested US$50 million from the U.S. Congress to fund the Maritime Security Initiative in Southeast Asia. The lion’s share of the funds in the first year will go to the AFP’s capability building program. It is expected that there will be allocations for the purchase of equipment to monitor activities and movements in the South China Sea.

Regional Security Implications

During the Sixth Annual Bilateral Security Dialogue (BSD) between the U.S. and the Philippines in Washington D.C. on March 18, 2016, it was announced that American forces will be allowed access to the following AFP bases: Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan; Basa Air Base and Fort Magsaysay in Luzon; Lumbia Air Base in northern Mindanao; and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.

With EDCA’s implementation, the United States enhances the rotational presence of its forward-deployed forces, improves existing facilities, and pre-positions supplies and equipment in five agreed-upon locations. In the long-term, the effects of EDCA will go beyond the modernization of the Philippines’ military and increased inter-operability between the armed forces of the two allies. The EDCA will have two far-reaching strategic/diplomatic implications. First, a rotational U.S. military presence will strengthen the Philippines’ resolve to uphold its territorial claims in the South China Sea and test American credibility in honoring its defense commitment to the country. Second, the use of air and naval infrastructure in the Philippines will facilitate a rapid and massive deployment of American forces in case armed clashes erupt in potential flash points such as the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and in the Taiwan Strait.

Since the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, the USAF has sought arrangements for the rotational deployments of its aircraft and personnel in the Philippines. This arrangement entails infrastructural improvements to keep facilities “warm,” enabling the rapid start of operations in the event of a crisis. American access to the aforementioned five operationally flexible Philippine bases addresses this need. It also thwarts China’s plan of preventing U.S. forces from operating in the disputed South China Sea.

Conclusion

Currently, there is small unit of USAF aircraft and personnel deployed in the Philippines.  Only time will tell whether this small USAF formation will become an effective forward-deployed force that can deter China’s expansion in the South China Sea. This will depend largely on how President Rodrigo Duterte would tolerate China’s expansion into the Philippines’ maritime domain, and the importance of his country’s long-standing alliance with the U.S. Recently, however, President Duterte has expressed critical comments toward the alliance. He announced that he wants the withdrawal of 107 American troops from Mindanao, saying that he was only maintaining them against possible attacks by Muslim militants. He declared that the Philippines would stop patrolling the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea with the U.S. Navy to avoid provoking China. In early October, he also announced that the U.S.-Philippine Philbex joint amphibious exercise would be the last during his four-year term.

On November 7, 2016, despite his earlier rhetoric against the U.S. and the alliance, President Duterte suddenly gave his consent for the conduct of a joint U.S.-Philippine military exercise and for the implementation of the EDCA. His decision to continue joint U.S.-Philippine military exercises and to implement the EDCA will be conveyed to the MDB later this month. However, it is still too early to guess President Duterte’s future executive decisions toward the implementation of the EDCA in particular, and the alliance in general. The AFP’s recommendations to conduct joint exercises between U.S. and Philippine forces and the implementation of EDCA will not only affect Philippine national security interests but also the regional balance of power.

About the Author

Dr. Renato Cruz De Castro is a professor (on sabbatical leave) in the International Studies Department, De La Salle University, Manila, and holds the Charles Lui Chi Keung Professorial Chair in China Studies.  He is currently the U.S.-ASEAN Fulbright Initiative Researcher from the Philippines based in the East-West Center in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at renato.dccastro@dlsu.edu.p

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

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US Foreign Policy: A distracted America in a dangerous world


October 19.2016

US Foreign Policy

A distracted America in a dangerous world

The next three months will be a perilous time from Mosul to the South China Sea

by Gideon Rachman

https://www.ft.com

The assault on the Iraqi city of Mosul that began this week underlines the fact that the next three months will be a perilous period in international politics. Fighting is intensifying in the Middle East. Tensions are rising between Russia and the west. And relations between China and its Asian neighbours are getting edgier. All this is happening while the US is diverted by the Trump-Clinton melodrama and the transition to a new president.

 

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For Russia and China — two countries that are openly unhappy with the US-dominated world order — a distracted America will look like an opportunity. Both Moscow and Beijing regard Hillary Clinton with suspicion and believe that her probable arrival in the Oval Office would herald a more hawkish US foreign policy. They may be tempted to act swiftly, before she has a chance to settle into the White House.

A temporarily preoccupied America might not matter much in normal times. But big and dangerous decisions are looming. In the Middle East, the bombardment of Aleppo by Russian and Syrian government forces has led to a near-breakdown in relations between Moscow and the west. Without a common diplomatic project to hold them together, the two sides may slide into outright confrontation in Syria. Further sanctions on Russia are in the offing and the west’s military options are also being reviewed.

President Vladimir Putin may calculate that a US administration that has refused to take military action against the Assad regime since 2011 is unlikely to reverse course in President Barack Obama’s last few months in office. But if the Russians push too hard, they could miscalculate and provoke an American reaction. That is particularly the case because the Obama administration is angered by Russian cyber warfare, aimed at influencing the US presidential election. Joe Biden, the vice-president, has already signalled that America intends to retaliate in cyber space.

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Even without a worsening of the situation in Syria, fighting in the Middle East will intensify in the coming weeks. The Iraqi government, backed by the air power of a US-led coalition, has begun a major push to retake Mosul from Isis. With one eye on his legacy and another on the presidential election, Mr Obama would be delighted to notch up a significant victory against Isis in the coming weeks.

Going on the offensive in Iraq, rather than Syria, is also more attractive for America because there is less chance of an accidental clash with the Russians. A successful US-backed assault on Mosul could also counteract the impression of American weakness in the Middle East. But the comparisons between Mosul and Aleppo are also a warning. There are more than 1m civilians living in and around Mosul who could be caught up in the fighting. The battle for the city could also lead to a clash between the Turkish and Iraqi governments, both nominally American allies.

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Who is Right–One Shoe Fits all?

The Russians may also feel that the next few months offer an opportunity in eastern Europe and Ukraine, with the EU distracted by Brexit and the run-up to the French presidential election. Moscow had hoped that, by now, the EU would have eased the economic sanctions that were imposed in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Instead, the west has collectively strengthened its stance by moving more Nato troops into the Baltic states that border Russia. In response, the Russians have moved nuclear-capable missiles into Kaliningrad, a Russian territorial enclave that lies between Lithuania and Poland. Russia’s nuclear posturing is clearly intended to unnerve but it is dangerous for all that.

The Chinese government is more controlled and ambiguous in its belligerence than Moscow. Nevertheless, Beijing’s actions in recent months have set the nerves of its neighbours on edge. The Chinese were enraged by an international tribunal’s ruling in July that Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea are largely specious. Since then the official media in Beijing has become ever more ferocious, berating and threatening otherwise friendly countries such as Singapore, South Korea and Australia for following America’s line on security issues. The Japanese say that they have seen a recent increase in Chinese activity in the disputed waters of the East China Sea.

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As Mr Obama prepares to pack his bags in the White House, he may look back wryly at the foreign-policy goals that he set eight years ago.

There was to be a “reset” that would lead to better relations with Russia. There would also be a new and closer working relationship with China. And there would be an end to war in the Middle East. None of those policies has come to fruition. Instead, Mr Obama will be fortunate if he can negotiate his last three months in office without presiding over a major international crisis.

gideon.rachman@ft.com