Fareed’s Take on Trump-Kim Singapore Summit

June 17, 2018

Fareed’s Take on Trump-Kim Singapore Summit:

“U.S. weakens its 70-year alliance with South Korea.”

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria


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“America will remain the world’s dominant power in the 21st century only if it is the dominant Pacific power,” the late Lee Kuan Yew often said to me. Lee, the founder of modern Singapore and one of the smartest strategic minds I have ever encountered, spoke about this issue late in life, as he worried about the breakdown of the stability that had allowed for the extraordinary global growth of the past half-century. The key, he was certain, was deep U.S. engagement in Asia, which was quickly becoming the center of global economics and power. Alas, President Trump appears to be doing everything he can to violate Lee’s dictum.

The media got it wrong. The real headline of the Trump-Kim summit — ironically held in Singapore, the city-state that Lee built — should have been: “U.S. weakens its 70-year alliance with South Korea.” The most striking elements of Trump’s initiative were not simply that he lavished praise on North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, but also that he announced the cancellation of military exercises with South Korea, adopting North Korea’s own rhetoric by calling them “provocative.”

The President must have missed his briefing. In fact, it is North Korea that provokes and threatens South Korea, as it has done since it first invaded the South in 1950. North Korea is thought to have about 1 million active-duty troops, almost twice as many as the South, and it has constructed perhaps as many as 20 tunnels to possibly mount a surprise invasion. North Korea also has more than 6,000 pieces of artillery that can reach South Korea, including some whose range is so long that they endanger 32.5 million people, more than half the country’s population, according to a study by the Rand Corp. The Defense Department estimated in 2006 that if North Korea opened artillery fire on the South, 250,000 people would be killed in Seoul alone, the Rand study notes. Of course, about a decade later, North Korea now has up to 60 nuclear bombs, complete with the missiles to deliver them. South Korea’s “war games” with the United States are necessary defensive exercises undertaken in the shadow of an aggressive adversary.

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President Donald Trump takes South  Korea for granted

Even worse, Trump signaled that he would like to end the U.S. troop presence in South Korea. He is wrong that this would save money, unless he plans to demobilize the troops — which would mean cutting the United States’ active-duty forces, the opposite of his policy. Since South Korea covers almost half the costs of U.S. troops stationed there, moving them to, say, Georgia would not be cheaper. But that’s beside the point. Through bitter experience, the United States has found that it is much better to have troops ready, battle-trained and with knowledge of the local geography rather than keeping them all in the United States, only to be sent abroad when trouble breaks out.

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A few commentators have pointed out that the big winner of the Singapore summit was the great power that was not even there: China. That’s exactly right. Consider what China has always wanted. First, the stabilization of North Korea. Until recently, there was much talk of the impending implosion of the North Korean regime. For China, this would be a nightmare, since unification would take place on South Korean terms. This would mean a large democratic state allied with Washington, housing U.S. troops right on China’s border. That nightmare looks unlikely now that the United States is promising security guarantees for North Korea and dangling aid and investment.

China’s second great desire has been to rid Asia of U.S. troops, especially from the mainland. Trump appears inclined to do this as well. After the Cold War, many Asian countries got nervous that the United States would withdraw from Asia, leaving its allies to the tender mercies of a rising China. To assure them otherwise, Joseph Nye, a top Defense Department official in the Clinton administration, formulated a report and initiative that committed the United States to maintain a forward troop presence in Asia of about 100,000. Were Trump to follow through on his impulse to withdraw troops from South Korea, the United States would fall far below that threshold.

For China, the Trump administration has been the gift that keeps on giving. Trump began his term in office by pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was created by a group of U.S. allies to stand as an alternative to the Chinese market. The partnership was a bulwark against Chinese power that could have proved attractive to other Asian countries. Now the rules of the road are being written in Asia, and they are being written in Mandarin.

Lee was right. The long game for the United States over the next few decades is how to handle the rise of China. And right now, we are quitting the field.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

For Democrats, the tide is still against them

June 11, 2018

For Democrats, the tide is still against them

by Dr, Fareed Zakaria


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What’s Happening, Nancy–Less Talk, More Action Please

With their successes this week in the California primaries, Democrats are increasingly optimistic about their prospects for the midterm elections. But they should take note of the bigger picture when it comes to left-right politics these days. Over the past decade, the center-left has been devastated electorally across the West. Unless Democrats face up to this reality and devise a strategy to reverse this tidal wave of defeat, they might find themselves surprised one more time this November.

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When you tally their representation in Congress, state legislatures and governorships, the Democrats are nearly at their lowest point in 100 years. But they are not alone. David Miliband (pic above), Britain’s former Foreign Secretary, observed in 2011 that the year before, the Labour Party had received its second-worst electoral result in nearly a century. In Sweden during the same year, Miliband noted, the Social Democrats fared worse than they had since 1911. In Germany, in 2009, the once-dominant Social Democrats had their worst showing since the Federal Republic was created in 1949. In France, for the establishment left, recent results had been worse than any time since 1969. Things have changed a bit since 2011, though mostly for the worse.

The situation is even more puzzling when you consider the backdrop. Ten years after the beginning of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression — a global financial crisis caused in large part by the recklessness of the private sector — the parties that have been punished are largely on the left, and those rewarded are largely on the right. Why?

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Professor Sheri Berman at Bernard College

To answer this question, a group of scholars published an excellent book last fall titled, “Why the Left Loses: The Decline of the Centre-Left in Comparative Perspective.” In her foreword, Sheri Berman, a professor at Barnard College, points out that the answers cluster around three factors.

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“Personalities matter in politics.”–Dr. Fareed Zakaria

The first is leaders. Personalities matter in politics. Think of the differences between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in their abilities to inspire followers and communicate effectively. Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, recently pointed out to me that the only center-left leader of a major Western country is Canada’s Justin Trudeau. It’s not an accident that Trudeau is charismatic and stirred voters with his “sunny ways” message. French President Emmanuel Macron, who might be considered center-left, has demonstrated similar talents. Consider, by contrast, Britain’s Labour Party, which has been led now for two cycles by men utterly unappealing to mainstream Britons.

But leadership cannot be the main explanation, because the phenomenon of left-wing defeat is too widespread. It can’t be that the left everywhere simultaneously found itself led by bad politicians. Berman’s second factor is the nature of the economic systems of the post-World War II era, with large unionized workforces, manufacturing sectors, regulated economies and safety nets. This social market economy — prevalent even in the United States — was largely created by the left. (The right went along with programs like Social Security and Medicare, but only grudgingly and after the fact.) Thus, Berman argues, when this whole system found itself threatened by globalization and information technology, and then cracked by the financial crisis, it was the left that found itself most at a loss as to how to respond politically. (In the United States, at least the right could disingenuously and somewhat illogically claim that if only pure free markets had been in place, the crisis would never have happened.) Leftists damaged themselves further, in my view, by immediately turning on themselves, with many claiming they should never have embraced markets in the first place. It is worth noting that the so-called neoliberals — free traders such as Bill Clinton, Blair and Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder — actually won election after election, and it is their left-wing successors who keep losing.

Berman’s third factor is more directly ideological. And here, I think, the left confronts its greatest challenge. Throughout the world, politics has shifted from core issues of economics to those of identity. Perhaps this is because of the rise of a mass middle class. Perhaps it is because the left and right do not have dramatically different programs — certainly compared with 50 years ago, when many on the left wanted to nationalize industry and many on the right wanted no social safety net at all. But for whatever reason, people today are moved by issues of race, religion, ethnicity, gender and identity. And on those issues, the left faces a dilemma. It cannot celebrate identity and diversity without triggering a backlash among the older, whiter population.

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Berman summed up the challenge to me in a conversation. “The left has always been about a hopeful vision of the future, one in which everyone prospers.” But when a large part of the public is fearful and pessimistic — and nostalgic for a world gone by — offering hope becomes a hard sell.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Foreign Policy: Donald Trump impulsively blows up the North Korea Summit in Singapore

May 25, 2018

Foreign Policy: Donald Trump impulsively blows up the North Korea Summit in Singapore


President Trump. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
May 24 at 2:23 PM


PRESIDENT TRUMP’S abrupt cancellation of a summit with North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un had the same air of hasty, strategy-free improvisation that has characterized his handling of the diplomatic opening all along. Mr. Trump agreed to the summit in March without requiring any action by the North Korean ruler, or even a clear statement of his intentions. He then proceeded to hype the wildly unrealistic possibility that the regime would quickly disarm; he minted a medal to commemorate the upcoming meeting and encouraged talk that he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.

On Thursday, in apparent response to hyperbolic but entirely unsurprising comments by a North Korean official, Mr. Trump released a loosely worded letter canceling the summit because of the “tremendous anger and open hostility” in the statement. The announcement blindsided the government of South Korea, which had brokered the talks: “We are attempting to make sense of what, precisely, President Trump means,” a spokesman said. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump blurted at a White House appearance that “it’s possible” the summit could still take place on the planned date of June 12, while simultaneously warning that “our military . . . is ready if necessary.”

Never has such chaos attended the public behavior of a U.S. President on a matter of such gravity: Both Mr. Trump and the North Koreans alluded to the possibility of nuclear war. Appearing before Congress, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was unable to offer an answer when asked what the U.S. strategy would now be. North Korea, meanwhile, had hours earlier made a show of blowing up mountain tunnels it has used to conduct nuclear tests — an action suggesting that until Mr. Trump’s statement, it remained willing to move forward.

White House officials said the North Korean statement that Mr. Trump reacted to was merely the last straw in a series of negative actions. North Korea canceled a planned meeting with South Korea last week and failed to answer U.S. inquiries about summit planning. But Pyongyang was responding, at least in part, to U.S. rhetoric. Mr. Trump and other officials had alluded to the history of Libya, which gave up its nuclear program and later was subjected to a NATO bombing campaign that led to the overthrow and murder of ruler Maummar Gaddafi. North Korea could “end like the Libya model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal,” Vice President Pence said Monday. That led Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui to deride Mr. Pence as “ignorant and stupid” and threaten a “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown” — overheated rhetoric that is familiar to anyone who has studied the North Korean regime.

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Mr. Trump has not. On the contrary, until this week he appeared oblivious to increasingly clear indications that Mr. Kim had no intention of quickly surrendering his nuclear arsenal. Rather, North Korea appeared interested only in a multistage process in which denuclearization would be a vague and long-term goal, and the regime would be rewarded for every step forward. That is how previous deals with North Korea have been structured. Such a process carries obvious risks, but the administration should have been willing to carefully explore what Mr. Kim was prepared to do. Instead Mr. Trump has impulsively blown up the process — with potential consequences that he and his administration have not bothered to calculate.

Malaysia’s leader is eyeing a rigged reelection–The Washington Post

May 8, 2018

Malaysia’s leader is eyeing a rigged reelection. Trump will probably congratulate him.

President Trump with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in Washington in September 2017. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER Najib Razak has some problems that might seem familiar to some in Washington. He gained office despite losing the popular vote. He has been unable to shake investigations on corruption charges despite firing a top law-enforcement official. His party has splintered over his leadership. Now, on May 9, he must face voters again.

Mr. Najib’s solution? Launch a campaign under the slogan “Make my country great.” Redraw election districts so they are heavily tilted toward his party’s candidates. Adopt a budget-busting policy of handing out cash to likely supporters. Last but not least: Pass a new law banning “fake news,” and use it to silence critical media and to threaten the arrest of the opposition’s leader.

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The betting in Kuala Lumpur is that all this will lead to Mr. Najib’s claiming a new mandate after Wednesday’s vote. President Trump, who favored the Malaysian leader with a White House visit last year, is unlikely to raise objections. That’s unfortunate, as Mr.­ Najib’s corrupt and increasingly authoritarian rule is leading his nation away from the United States.

Among those investigating Mr. Najib’s corruption is the U.S. Justice Department, which has alleged that the prime minister and close associates diverted $4.5 billion from a government investment fund. Justice is seeking to seize $1.7 billion in assets connected to the fraud and alleges that $730 million of the funds were deposited in bank accounts controlled by Mr. Najib. The Prime Minister denies wrongdoing but fired the Malaysian Attorney General who was investigating the charges.

Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the coalition that outpolled the ruling party in the 2013 election, meanwhile was jailed on trumped-up sodomy charges. Still very popular, Mr. Anwar will not be released until after the election. But his party has formed an unlikely alliance with Mr. Najib’s predecessor as Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, who broke with Mr. Najib following the corruption allegations.

Not content with gerrymandered districts — which, according to one calculation, could allow the ruling party to win a parliamentary majority with as little as 16 percent of the vote — the government has hounded the opposition with dirty tricks. New regulations effectively banned local candidates from using Mr. Mahathir’s name on posters or campaigning with him. His party was suspended for allegedly failing to file paperwork. Authorities are now threatening to prosecute Mr. Mahathir under the fake-news law.

A win by Mr. Najib will do more than reward his ugly tactics. It will likely increase Malaysia’s internal polarization: The Prime Minister has catered to Malay nationalism with xenophobic slogans and attacks on Christians and ethnic Chinese. It will propel Malaysia closer to China, which is happy to tolerate Mr. Najib’s authoritarianism and has taken advantage of Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from a trans-Pacific trade treaty that would have bound the United States closer to Malaysia. A president pursuing U.S. interests would be seeking to isolate Mr. Najib. Instead, if he pulls off his rigged reelection, Mr. Najib can probably count on Mr. Trump’s congratulations.

Is Malaysia about to follow the path of Erdogan’s Turkey?

May 7, 2018

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GE-14: Fellow Malaysians, before you go to the polls on May 9, please read

Is Malaysia about to follow the path of Erdogan’s Turkey?

Joshua Kurlantzick is a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister and candidate for the opposition Alliance Of Hope, Mahathir Mohamad, waves to his supporters during an election campaign rally in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Thursday. (Stringer/Reuters)

Malaysians will go to the polls on May 9 in the first national elections since 2013. Last time, the opposition coalition, headed by Anwar Ibrahim, came close to defeating the ruling coalition, which has dominated Malaysian politics since independence. The opposition actually won a majority of the popular vote, but massive gerrymandering, among other factors, ensured the opposition got only a minority of seats in Parliament.

Compared to five years ago, the electoral environment today in Malaysia might seem, on its face, to be even more favorable to opposition parties. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has presided over years of corruption scandals, most notably the problems in the massive 1MDB state fund, which is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice as well as countries in Southeast Asia, Australia and Europe. Malaysia’s economy grew by more than 5 percent last year, but working-class people face income stagnation, and the country still suffers from the flight of talented young people, who see that high-paying jobs are much easier to find in states like Singapore and Australia. Najib also implemented an unpopular tax three years ago.

Yet Najib and his allies are likely poised for victory, although the vote could be close. The ruling coalition has used even dirtier tricks to assure a victory than it did the last time around. It has gerrymandered districts even more than usual to favor pro-government rural voters, and has held the election while Anwar Ibrahim remains in jail on dubious sodomy charges; Najib could win without winning the popular vote. Najib has helped to break off the Parti Islam se Malaysia, or PAS party, from the opposition alliance, and he is likely to use the PAS as a wedge to bring down opposition vote totals. Meanwhile, with Anwar in prison, the opposition is led by 92-year-old former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, hardly the person to present a forward-looking Malaysia to young voters.

Najib could lose. He and his coalition tried to depress opposition turnout by scheduling the vote on a work day – but public pressure prompted him to make May 9 a public holiday. This switch could help the opposition. And even at his advanced age Mahathir remains a force on the stump, and has said that, if he wins, he will eventually step aside for Anwar.

But if he wins, Najib looks set to potentially transform Malaysia, which has been a semi-authoritarian state with some degree of the rule of law, into an more illiberal, politically Islamicized autocracy. Najib’s parliament recently passed an anti-fake news law that seems designed to quash discussion of politics and generally chill free speech. The ruling coalition also has overseen, in recent years, a broad crackdown on freedom of expression, jailing civil society activists and writers on sedition and other charges. The government has overseen the shuttering of “The Malaysian Insider,” one of the most independent news sites.

With a victory in the election, Najib would be poised to rule at least until 2023. Such a triumph – and likely congratulations from other regional leaders and President Trump, who welcomed Najib warmly to Washington last year and has praised “elections” in Egypt and Russia – would almost certainly embolden the prime minister.

Najib has made no pretense of picking a successor, and might leave all options open in the manner of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Russian President Vladimir Putin, a tool that increases the leader’s power. Even before the election, Najib also has started to build up his cult of personality, purging other powerful people in the ruling coalition and surrounding himself with sycophants. He might also have more leverage to rein in Malaysia’s sultans, royal rulers of Malaysian states who are constitutional monarchs but who have been critical of Najib’s mishandling of government funds.

After a win, Najib also likely would continue passing out large government handouts to civil servants and other pro-government groups, while increasingly portraying the budget decisions as personal gifts from Najib – a strategy already used by elected autocrats such as Cambodia’s Hun Sen and Erdogan to make budgets look like personal patronage. (In the run-up to the election, Najib announced a new handout to civil servants.)

The demonization of minority groups would probably increase, too. Like many other illiberal populists, Najib, who presents himself internationally as a moderate, tolerant leader, has in recent years focused his rhetoric within Malaysia on “others,” targeting groups he identifies as outsiders. In recent years he has focused his rhetorical aim on the ethnic Chinese and other minorities, portraying himself as a defender of Malay Muslim heartland values. After a big election victory – and especially if, as expected, the vast majority of ethnic Chinese vote for the opposition – Najib could unleash even more poisonous rhetoric.

PAS, the conservative Islamist party that is apparently splintering the opposition, also might prod Najib to allow the broader use of sharia courts, and to pass other measures speeding up the Islamicization of Malaysian society. And by 2023, Malaysia might look a lot less than a country leading a global “Movement of Moderates,” as Najib portrays the country, and more like yet another illiberal, autocratic cult of personality.

Trump is right on China-US Trade

April 9, 2018

Trump is right on China-US Trade

by  Dr. Fareed Zakaria


Ever since the resignation of top advisers Gary Cohn and H.R. McMaster, it does seem as if the Trump White House has gotten more chaotic, if that is possible. But amid the noise and tumult, including the alarming tweets about Amazon and Mexico, let’s be honest — on one big, fundamental point, President Trump is right: China is a trade cheat.

Many of the Trump administration’s economic documents have been laughably sketchy and amateurish. But the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s report to Congress on China’s compliance with global trading rules is an exception worth reading. In measured prose and great detail, it lays out the many ways that China has failed to enact promised economic reforms and backtracked on others, and uses formal and informal means to block foreign firms from competing in China’s market. It points out correctly that in recent years, the Chinese government has increased its intervention in the economy, particularly taking aim at foreign companies. All of this directly contradicts Beijing’s commitments when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.

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President Donald Trump’s Trade Policy: Getting Tough on China

Whether one accepts the trade representative’s conclusion that “the United States erred in supporting China’s entry into the WTO,” it is clear that the expectation that China would continue to liberalize its markets after its entry has proved to be mistaken.

Washington approached China’s entry into the world trading system no differently from that of other countries that joined in the mid-20th century. As countries were admitted, the free world (especially the United States) opened its markets to the new entrants, and those countries in turn lowered barriers to their markets. That’s how it went with such nations as Japan, South Korea and Singapore. But there were two notable factors about these countries: They were relatively small compared with the size of the global economy, and they also lived under the American security umbrella. Both factors meant that Washington and the West had considerable leverage over these new entrants. Singapore had 2.2 million people and a gross domestic product of $19 billion when it joined the GATT (the precursor to the WTO), while South Korea had 30 million people and a GDP of $41 billion. Japan was larger, with 90 million people and a GDP of under $800 billion. (All GDP figures are adjusted for inflation.)

And then came China, with 1.3 billion people and a GDP of $2.4 trillion when it joined the WTO in 2001. That was almost a fifth of the U.S. economy. The Chinese seemed to recognize that once they were in the system, the size of their market would ensure that every country would vie for access, and this would give them the ability to cheat without much fear of reprisal. Moreover, Beijing was never dependent on Washington for its security. It had fought a war against American troops in the 1950s with some success and had grown into a great power in its own right.

The scale and speed of China’s integration into the world trading system made it a seismic event. The distinguished economist David Autor, along with two colleagues, has published study after study on the impact of the so-called China Shock. They conclude that about a quarter of all manufacturing jobs lost in the United States between 1990 and 2007 could be explained by the deluge of Chinese imports. Nothing on this scale had happened before.

Look at the Chinese economy today. It has managed to block or curb the world’s most advanced and successful technology companies, from Google to Facebook to Amazon. Foreign banks often have to operate with local partners who add zero value — essentially a tax on foreign companies. Foreign manufacturers are forced to share their technology with local partners who then systematically reverse engineer some of the same products and compete against their partners. And then there is cybertheft. The most extensive cyberwarfare waged by a foreign power against the United States is done not by Russia but by China. The targets are American companies, whose secrets and intellectual property are then shared with Chinese competitors.

China is not alone. Countries such as India and Brazil are also trade cheats. In fact, the last series of world trade talks, the Doha Round, was killed by obstructionism from Brazil and India, in tandem with China. Today the greatest threat to the open world economy comes from these large countries that have chosen to maintain mixed economies, refuse to liberalize much more and have enough power to hold firm.

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The Trump administration may not have chosen the wisest course forward — focusing on steel, slapping on tariffs, alienating key allies, working outside the WTO — but its frustration is understandable. Previous administrations exerted pressure privately, worked within the system and tried to get allies on board, with limited results. Getting tough on China is a case where I am willing to give Trump’s unconventional methods a try. Nothing else has worked.