Dr. Fareed on DAVOS without America


January 28, 2019

Dr. Fareed on DAVOS without America

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The atmosphere at the 2019 World Economic Forum reflects the global picture perhaps more genuinely than in years past, and the painting is not very pretty. The mood here is subdued, cautious and apprehensive. There’s not much talk of a global slowdown, but no one is confident about a growth story, either. There is no great global political crisis, yet people speak in worried tones about the state of democracy, open societies and the international order”. — Dr.Fareed Zakaria

A Davos without America mirrors a world without America: The United States has withdrawn from the world.

DAVOS, Switzerland

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/1/24/a-davos-without-america-mirrors-a-world-without-america

The atmosphere at the 2019 World Economic Forum reflects the global picture perhaps more genuinely than in years past, and the painting is not very pretty. The mood here is subdued, cautious and apprehensive. There’s not much talk of a global slowdown, but no one is confident about a growth story, either. There is no great global political crisis, yet people speak in worried tones about the state of democracy, open societies and the international order.

The White House scrapped the official U.S. delegation’s trip to this year’s conference — an outgrowth of President Trump’s spat with Congress — providing a perfect metaphor for the broader outlook: The United States has withdrawn from the world.

Meanwhile, Europe is distracted, divided and despondent. Of the continent’s three major leaders, only one, Germany’s lame-duck Chancellor Angela Merkel, even showed up. British Prime Minister Theresa May did not attend because of turmoil over Brexit. French President Emmanuel Macron chose not to come because he faces ongoing populist protests from the right and left. In this environment, there is a gaping absence of leadership in Davos from the usual defenders of liberal democracy and the rules-based international system.

This does not mean that any new global leaders have stepped into the void. Contrary to some speculation, China is playing a more muted role at the forum than in the past. It sent a respected statesman, Vice President Wang Qishan, with an anodyne message aiming to reassure the world that Beijing seeks “win-win” solutions and global cooperation. This probably reflects the reality that — politically and economically — China faces its own challenges at home, with slowing growth and President Xi Jinping trying to tighten his grip over China’s vast society. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces a tougher-than-expected fight in upcoming national elections, so he didn’t show up, either.

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It is not really the dawn of dictators, few of whom came, perhaps a reflection of the fact that global norms and fora like Davos still do not celebrate strongmen. Although Western democracies may be flagging, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan hold a much weaker hand than most people realize. They, too, along with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, stayed home. Jair Bolsonaro, the new president of Brazil, did attend and gave a much-anticipated speech, but it was barely six minutes long — and was received with decidedly mixed reviews.

The one area of consistent optimism among the attendees remains technology. Executives from multinational corporations such as Novartis and Cargill spoke about the next great technological opportunity — leveraging artificial intelligence to make their companies far more efficient and productive. This is a trend that they see as inexorable, forcing them to adapt or watch the competition grow. Executives and experts alike foresee that another layer of white-collar jobs could be at risk — those involving routine analytic skills. But chief executives here voiced optimism that it will all work out.

Businessmen and executives are more openly pessimistic about trade. They worry that a U.S.-China trade war could spill over across the world. Whether it happens, it seems clear that the great expansion of globalization is over. For the past 15 years, there has been no significant forward movement on trade, and many minor setbacks. This hasn’t yet translated into large-scale protectionism and tariff wars, but it is a new stagnancy.

If the West is divided, so are other regions. Almost no Arab leaders showed up to last weekend’s Arab League meeting in Beirut, relegating the summit to even greater irrelevance than usual. Latin America is now split between leaders such as the right-wing Bolsonaro and the new leftist president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

The leaders of several smaller countries (all of whom insisted on staying off the record) described the world as adrift and lacking in any collective purpose, with only voices about narrow self-interest and conflict being heard. “When the Americans are engaged, we have a sense of direction,” one of them said to me. “We might disagree on some points, but at least there is a larger conversation, some efforts at cooperation. Now the only energy is negative — worries about retreat, trade wars. That’s not a world in which it is easy for us to move forward. We are all stuck.”

This, then, is the post-American world. Not one marked by Chinese dominance or Asian arrogance. Not an outright anti-American one, but one in which many yearn for a greater U.S. presence. One in which countries are freelancing, narrowly pursuing their own interests, and hoping that the framework of international order remains reasonably stable. But with no one actively shoring up the international system, the great question remains: In a world without leaders, will that system over time weaken and eventually crumble?

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

 

 

Trump has conjured a crisis out of thin air. That should worry us all.


January 16, 2019

Trump has conjured a crisis out of thin air. That should worry us all.

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

ttps://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/1/10/trump-has-conjured-a-crisis-out-of-thin-air-that-should-worry-us-all

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Watching the struggle over funding for a border wall, I am struck by the way in which, in one sense, President Trump has already achieved success. He has been able to conjure up a crisis out of thin air, elevate this manufactured emergency to national attention, paralyze the government and perhaps even invoke warlike authority and bypass Congress. He may still fail, but it should worry us that a president — any president — can do what Trump has done.

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Let’s be clear: There is no crisis. The number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has been declining for a decade. The number of people caught trying to sneak across the southern border has been on a downward trend for almost 20 years and is lower than it was in 1973.

As has often been pointed out, far more people are coming to the U.S. legally and then overstaying their visas than are crossing the southern border illegally. But it’s important to put these numbers in context. More than 52 million foreigners entered the U.S. legally in fiscal year 2017. Of this cohort, 98.7 percent left on time and in accordance with their visas. A large portion of those remaining left after a brief overstay, and the best government estimate is that maybe 0.8 percent of those who entered the country in 2017 had stayed on by mid-2018.

As for terrorism, the Cato Institute has found that, from 1975 to 2017, “there have been zero people murdered or injured in terror attacks committed by illegal border crossers on U.S. soil.”

As for drugs, the greatest danger comes from fentanyl and fentanyl-like substances, which are at the heart of the opioid crisis. Most of this comes from China, either shipped directly to the United States or smuggled through Canada or Mexico. Trump has addressed the root of this problem by pressing the Chinese government to crack down on fentanyl exports, a far more effective strategy than building a physical barrier along the Mexican border.

Even the Drug Enforcement Administration acknowledged in a report last year that while the southern border is the conduit for most of the heroin entering the United States, the drug typically comes through legal points of entry, hidden in cars or mixed in with other goods in tractor-trailers. In other words, a wall would do little to stanch the flow.

And yet, the power of the presidency is such that Trump has been able to place this issue center-stage, shut down the government, force television networks to run an error-ridden, scaremongering Oval Office address, and now perhaps invoke emergency powers. This sounds like something that would be done by Presidents Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, not the head of the world’s leading constitutional republic.

When the U.S. government has created this sense of emergency and crisis in the past, it has almost always been to frighten people, expand presidential powers and muzzle opposition. From the Alien and Sedition Acts to the Red Scare to warnings about Saddam Hussein’s arsenal, the United States has experienced periods of paranoia and foolishness. We look back on them and recognize that the problems were not nearly as grave, the enemy was not nearly as strong and the United States was actually far more secure. The actions taken — suspending civil rights, interning U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent, taking the nation to war — were almost always terrible mistakes, often with disastrous long-term consequences.

And yet, presidential powers have kept expanding. Modern media culture has made it easier for presidents to set the agenda, because the White House is a central and perpetual point of focus and now receives far more attention than it ever had. Trump has managed to use this reality and turn good news into bad, turn security into danger and almost single-handedly fabricate a national crisis where there is none.

This whole episode highlights a problem that has become apparent in these past two years. The U.S. president has too many powers, formal and informal. This was not intended by the founders, who made Congress the dominant branch of government, and it is not how the country has been governed for much of its history. But over the past nine decades, the presidency has grown in formal and informal authority.

I have been an advocate of a strong executive for most of my life. I don’t much like how Congress operates. I now realize that my views were premised on the assumption that the president would operate within the bounds of laws, norms and ethics. I now believe that an urgent task for the next few years is for Congress to write laws that explicitly limit and check the powers of the president. I would take polarization over Putinism any day.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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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

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/6/14/this-should-have-been-the-real-headline-of-the-trump-kim-summit

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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

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/6/8/for-democrats-the-tide-is-still-against-them

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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

 https://www.washingtonpost.com

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.