Good Riddance to 2018


December 23, 2018

Good Riddance to 2018

Those who oppose democracy, the rule of law, and multilateralism have had a good year. But there have also been signs suggesting that those who uphold these principles have not lost the will to fight back.

MADRID – Sadly, 2018 will not be remembered as a year of political and diplomatic success. Though the international order had already begun to erode in 2017, the global political environment became downright chaotic, combustible, and hostile this year. That is no coincidence, as these are perhaps the three adjectives that best describe the United States under President Donald Trump.

Since January 2018, when the Trump administration announced tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, the year has been marked by an escalating “trade war,” waged primarily – but not exclusively – by the US against China. The ongoing tariff disputes have seriously undermined the World Trade Organization and deepened mutual distrust in Sino-American relations.

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For its part, China this year eliminated presidential term limits, raising fears that President Xi Jinping’s so-called new era will end the period of collective leadership ushered in by Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, which were themselves a corrective to Mao’s cult of personality. This move could also herald a further deviation from Deng’s trademark foreign-policy restraint.

Similarly, Russian President Vladimir Putin was reelected in March, to no one’s surprise. Under Putin, Russia has been re-emerging as a geopolitical force. And yet, its economy is essentially stagnant, owing in part to its excessive dependence on hydrocarbons. In the absence of growth, Putin has relied on foreign policy to shore up his domestic popularity.

For example, Putin’s campaign press secretary welcomed the British government’s response to the nerve-agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal, because it may have mobilized Putin’s supporters in the run-up to the presidential election. And the Kremlin’s recent decision to blockade Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov may also have been designed to boost Putin’s domestic approval rating, among other goals. The danger now is that both the US and Russia will cease to implement the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, posing a new and acute threat to Europe in particular.

 

Meanwhile, the Middle East has continued to serve as a battlefield for some of the world’s most violent conflicts. Though the Islamic State (ISIS) has continued to lose ground, it is far from defeated – contrary to what Trump has claimed – and the death toll in Syria’s civil war continues to climb. Likewise, the humanitarian calamity in Yemen has deepened, though negotiations that ran aground in 2016 have at least resumed and made some progress. In Afghanistan, what is widely regarded as the longest-running war in US history continues, and it is estimated that the Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since their government was overthrown in 2001.

Despite some recent developments in the aforementioned conflicts, the underpinnings of the Trump administration’s general strategy in the Middle East remained intact in 2018. The US has reaffirmed its support for the axis of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, which it regards as a bulwark against Iran. In May, the Trump administration moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. That same month, it abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and announced an abusive re-imposition of extraterritorial sanctions, which reflects the increasing .

Moreover, by siding with the Saudi government over his own intelligence agencies in the of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October, Trump has made clear that opposing Iran and purchasing US arms is one of the quickest ways to his heart. The result of his broad approach to the Middle East has been to empower military hardliners throughout the region. In fact, Israel and Iran this year engaged in their first-ever direct military encounter.

 

Trump has also contributed, in one way or another, to the advance of populism around the world in 2018. In Latin America, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro have shown that “populism” can encompass diverse ideologies. While both claim to speak for “the people” against “the elites,” the leftist AMLO was elected partly as a rebuke to Trump, whereas Bolsonaro embraces a Trump-like brand of right-wing nationalism, and enjoys the support of many Brazilian elites.

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Trump has also contributed, in one way or another, to the advance of populism around the world in 2018. In Latin America, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro have shown that “populism” can encompass diverse ideologies. While both claim to speak for “the people” against “the elites,” the leftist AMLO was elected partly as a rebuke to Trump, whereas Bolsonaro embraces a Trump-like brand of right-wing nationalism, and enjoys the support of many Brazilian elites.

The Russian philosopher Aleksandr Dugin, often regarded as one of the Kremlin’s main ideologues, argues that “populism should unite right-wing values with socialism, social justice, and anti-capitalism.” This “integral populism,” he believes, is perfectly illustrated by Italy’s current governing coalition, which comprises the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the nationalist League party.

In October, Italy’s government instigated a conflict with the European Union (which has fortunately subsided) by proposing a budget that defied EU fiscal rules. Italy’s leaders justified their policies in the name of an outdated interpretation of “sovereignty,” one similar to that of the United Kingdom’s Brexiteers, whose haphazardness has left the UK’s future shrouded in uncertainty.

There were a few positive developments in 2018. Certainly, the easing of tensions between the US and North Korea, and the even deeper rapprochement between North and South Korea, should be welcomed. Much credit belongs to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who used the occasion of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang to reach out to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Trump’s subsequent turn toward diplomacy – which led to his historic summit with Kim – should also be applauded, though his administration has yet to achieve anything more than symbolic progress toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

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The result of the US midterm elections was also good news. Democratic control of the House of Representatives means that, from January 2019, there will be more checks on Trump’s policies. And there have been welcome developments in the Republican-controlled Senate, where a recent resolution condemning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Khashoggi, and another to end US support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen, passed with bipartisan support.

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In Europe, the prospects for 2019 will depend primarily on three factors: Brexit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron’s push for EU reform, and the European Parliament election in May. In each case, one hopes that the supporters of democracy, the rule of law, European integration, and multilateralism will prevail.

Those who oppose these principles have had a rather good year. But they would be mistaken to think that those who uphold them have lost the will – and the ability – to cultivate a spirit of cooperation and harmony.

*Javier Solana was EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary-General of NATO, and Foreign Minister of Spain. He is currently President of the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics, Distinguished Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Europe.

 

 

We once trusted too much in inevitable progress. We got World War I.


November 11, 2018

We once trusted too much in inevitable progress. We got World War I.

by Fareed Zakaria

ttps://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/11/8/we-once-trusted-too-much-in-inevitable-progress-we-got-world-war-i

Britain's Queen Elizabeth attends the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018.

 

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and senior members of the royal family attended a Festival of Remembrance on Saturday to commemorate all those who lost their lives in conflict, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.

When confronting bad news these days, many tend to assume that it’s just a bump on the road and that things will work out. President Barack Obama was fond of invoking the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assertion that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Yet could we be wrong in assuming that, despite some backsliding here and there, forward movement is inexorable?

On Sunday — at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the largest and bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen. World War I marked a turning point in human history — the end of four massive European empires, the rise of Soviet communism and the entry of the United States into global-power politics. But perhaps its most significant intellectual legacy was the end of the idea of inevitable progress.

In 1914, before the war began, people had lived through a world much like ours, defined by heady economic growth, technological revolutions and increasing globalization. The result was that it was widely believed that ugly trend lines, when they appeared, were temporary, to be overwhelmed by the onward march of progress. In 1909, Norman Angell wrote a book explaining that war between the major powers was so costly as to be unimaginable. “The Great Illusion” became an international bestseller, and Angell became a cult celebrity (and was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize). Just a few years after the book was published, a generation of Europeans was destroyed in the carnage of war.

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https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/03/world-war-i-american-isolationism-turned-intervention-1917/

Could we be similarly complacent today? There are serious statesmen who believe so. During a recent interview, French President Emmanuel Macron explained, “In a Europe that is divided by fears, nationalist assertion and the consequences of the economic crisis, we see almost methodically the rearticulation of everything that dominated the life of Europe from post-World War I to the 1929 [economic] crisis.” And, during an address earlier this year to the European Parliament, Macron said, “I don’t want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers that has forgotten its own past.” As historian Christopher Clark wrote in his book “The Sleepwalkers,” the statesmen of 1914 stumbled into a gruesome world war without ever realizing the magnitude or dangers of their isolated, incremental decisions — or non-decisions. Macron is not simply talking; he has organized a Paris Peace Forum of more than 60 world leaders, set to begin this Sunday, to try to combat the dangers of rising nationalism and eroding global cooperation. Continue reading

Philippine Defense Cooperation with Russia: A Wake-up Call for the United States?


October 25, 2018

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Asia Pacific Bulletin No. 444

Philippine Defense Cooperation with Russia: A Wake-up Call for the United States?

By Anna Patricia L. Saberon

Since the election of President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, the Philippines has pursued an independent foreign policy aimed at gaining distance from the United States. President Duterte has called upon China and Russia for assistance in the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), much to the dislike of Washington. It must not be forgotten that the Philippines and the United States have a long-standing military alliance, established in various agreements: the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), Military Assistance Agreement, Visiting Forces Agreement, Cooperative Threat Reduction Agreement, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, to name a few. Despite these US-Philippines agreements, and the perceived warm connection between President Duterte and US President Donald Trump, the Philippines is undeniably turning to its northern neighbors for defense cooperation.

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In May 2017, President Duterte went to Russia for an official visit and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Later in October, the Philippines signed an agreement with Russia on Defense and Technical Cooperation. The document contained provisions on various areas of military and technical cooperation such as research, production support, as well as possible exchange of experts and training of personnel for joint programs. Manila and Moscow also signed a contract for the Philippines’ procurement of defense articles from Rosoboronexport, a Russian state-owned company. Additionally, Russia supplied small arms and army trucks to the Philippines.<

Presidents Duterte and Putin also met at the sidelines of the APEC Summit held in Vietnam in November 2017. The two leaders discussed possible cooperation on military and economic concerns including Russian counter-terrorism training for Filipino soldiers, construction of a ship repair facility for Russian vessels passing through the Philippines, and the Russian donation of weapons in Marawi City.It seems that things are going well between the two governments as evidenced by the increased number of visits by high-level officials. In September, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana visited Russia and inspected various military equipment showcased in the International Military-Technical Forum ARMY 2018 show in Moscow.

In the words of Philippine Ambassador to Russia Carlos Sorreta, “Russia is willing to provide brand new equipment customized to the specific needs of the Philippines, at favorable financial terms, with reasonable delivery times, full after sales service, necessary training and without political conditionalities or limitations.” The Philippines is in dire need of modern military equipment and has been struggling to procure new equipment for many years now. Russia’s recognition of the Philippines’ military needs, including battle plans and tactics, allows the AFP to maximize their use.

Amidst these new developments, we hear US officials voicing statements that the Philippines’ military purchase deals with Russia will not be helpful to the US-Philippines alliance. According to US Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall Schriver, “choosing another supplier like Russia will be an opportunity cost that will affect interoperability.” He added that the United States can be a better partner than the Russians can be to the Philippines. To summarize his sentiments, the Philippines ultimately will not benefit from greater defense ties with Russia.

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President Duterte subsequently revealed that he received a letter from three top US officials: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The letter insists on the significance of Philippine procurement of US military equipment, “exemplifying our continuing commitment to the breadth and the strength of our alliance.”

Perhaps without publicly admitting it, the US leadership is bothered by how the Philippines is no longer a ‘follower’ of US Foreign Policy. For decades, the Philippines sourced military equipment from the United States and now the Duterte Administration has been turning away from Washington. This is largely because previous sales from the United States were of used arms and equipment and following certain conditionalities that frustrated many Philippine authorities including military personnel.

In the new US National Security Strategy, mention was made that “in Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Thailand remain important allies and markets for Americans.” The Trump Administration is pushing for the US Indo-Pacific Strategy, with the aim of including India in regional cooperation and a larger leadership role of Japan. It is important to mention here that Diego Garcia, an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, has been operating as a military base with American and British forces since the 1970s.

Analyzing the statements and policies of US officials over the years, one comes to the conclusion that the United States wants to be the major, if not the sole, supplier of military equipment to the Philippines. The Philippines became a receiver of used/decommissioned equipment from the United States (e.g. BRP Gregorio del Pilar, BRP Ramon Alcaraz and BRP Andres Bonifacio – all naval vessels currently under the roster of the Philippine Navy). This equipment was made available as an Excess Defense Article under the US Defense Department’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency. While the United States has its own reasons for doing so, the outcome is Philippine military dependence on the United States. Instead of actually contributing to the strength and modernization of the Philippine military, Washington had a role in the decades-long weakness of the AFP. That is not to say that the Philippines is blameless for its own neglect of defense modernization, but the Philippine-US alliance is supposed to help strengthen the AFP, not weaken it. While previous Philippine Presidents were complacent and were hesitant to display defiance against the United States, President Duterte is not. He stands firm in his belief that the United States failed to give the Philippines what it needed and consequently he has deepened defense relations with Russia.

The new defense cooperation between the Philippines and Russia represents a wake-up call for the United States. No longer the ‘little brother’ of the US, no longer dependent on US foreign policy decisions, no longer pleased with leftovers, spare/used equipment from the United States, and no longer naïve; the Philippines is out to pursue an independent foreign policy. Washington should bear in mind that neglecting the Philippines has repercussions. If indeed it is true that the United States is a strong ally of the Philippines, then it seems that a few mistakes have been made: a) refusing to give priority to the Philippines and b) failure in preparation as they did not anticipate that the Philippines would turn to its neighbors, in particular China and Russia.

For the Philippines, the future is not with the United States alone, but with multiple partner countries — most notably its neighbors. The Philippines-Russia defense cooperation will bring to the Philippines modernized military equipment, military training, and the pronounced assurance that defense partners make each other stronger.

Anna Saberon teaches Philosophy and International Relations at Ateneo de Naga University in the Philippines. She can be contacted at asaberon@gbox.adnu.edu.ph.

Henry Kissinger: ‘We are in a very, very grave period’


July 31, 2018

Henry Kissinger: ‘We are in a very, very grave period’

The grand consigliere of American diplomacy talks about Putin, the new world order — and the meaning of Trump

https://www.ft.com/content/926a66b0-8b49-11e8-bf9e-8771d5404543

by Edward Luce July 20, 2018

Dr Henry A. Kissinger–The Metternich of Contemporary Foreign Policy

It was not hard to entice Henry Kissinger to meet for lunch. Though he is 95, and moves very slowly, the grand consigliere of American diplomacy is keen to talk. He hops on and off planes to see the likes of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping with as much zeal as when he played the global chess game as Richard Nixon’s diplomatic maestro. He loves to be in the thick of things. Persuading him to say what he actually thinks is another matter.

Kissinger is to geopolitical clarity what Alan Greenspan was to monetary communication — an oracle whose insight is matched only by his indecipherability. It is my mission to push him out of his comfort zone. I want to know what he really thinks of Donald Trump.

The timing is perfect. We are having lunch the day after Trump met Putin in Helsinki — a summit that America’s foreign-policy establishment believes will go down as a low point in US diplomacy. Trump had done the unthinkable by endorsing Putin’s protestations of innocence of electoral sabotage over the word of America’s intelligence agencies. Later today Trump will unconvincingly try to undo what he said in Helsinki by insisting he meant “wouldn’t” instead of “would”. But it is too late for that. The New York Daily News has the screaming headline: “Open Treason” next to a cartoon of Trump shooting Uncle Sam in the head while holding Putin’s hand. There could be no better moment to jolt Kissinger off his Delphic perch.

I arrive with a minute or two to spare. Kissinger is already seated. He cuts a gnomish figure at a corner table in a half-empty dining room. A large walking cane is propped against the side wall. (He tore a ligament a few years ago.) “Forgive me if I don’t get up,” says Kissinger in his gravelly German accent. We are at the Jubilee, a cosy French restaurant just around the corner from Kissinger’s Midtown Manhattan apartment. It is only a few blocks from Kissinger Associates, the geopolitical consultancy that charges clients princely sums to hear what I assume are his unvarnished thoughts. My only inducement is a nice lunch. When we order, Kissinger checks whether he is my guest.

“Ah yes,” he says, chortling after I insist he is. “Otherwise that would be corruption.” He eats here often. “I had dinner here just last night with my daughter,” he says. On two or three occasions, someone comes over to shake his hand.

“I am the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN,” says one. “Who?” says Kissinger. “Ukraine,” the diplomat replies. “We think very highly of you.”

Kissinger’s face lights up.

“Ah Ukraine,” he says. “I am a strong supporter.”

Geopolitics weighs heavily on Kissinger. As the co-architect of the cold war rapprochement with China and détente with the Soviet Union, Kissinger now surveys a world in which China and Russia are both challenging the US world order, often in concert with each other.

But the doyen of cold war diplomacy is as interested in the future as he is in the past. This year Kissinger wrote a terrifying piece on artificial intelligence for The Atlantic Monthly, in which he compared humanity today to the Incas before the arrival of smallpox and the Spanish. He urged the creation of a presidential commission on AI. “If we do not start this effort soon, before long we shall discover that we started too late,” he concluded.

This summer Kissinger is working from home on a book about great statesmen and women (there is a chapter on Margaret Thatcher). He has just finished a section on Nixon, the president whom he served — uniquely — both as secretary of state and national security adviser. It is 25,000 words long and Kissinger is toying whether to publish it separately as a short book. He worries it will backfire. “It might bring all the contestants out of their foxholes again,” he says. Do you mean that it could provoke comparisons between Watergate and Trump’s Russia investigation, I ask. “That is my fear,” he replies. Before I have a chance to follow up, Kissinger switches to Thatcher. “She was a magnificent partner,” he says. “I am a believer in the special relationship because I think America needs a psychological balance and this is a natural one based on history — not just on contributions.”

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Our starters arrive. Kissinger has a plate of chicken liver pâté, which he consumes with gusto. He has tucked his napkin bib-style into his upper shirt. I want to talk about Trump. Kissinger is keen to stay on Britain. I ask him about Lord Carrington (pic above), the former British Foreign Secretary, who resigned in 1982 to carry responsibility for failing to stop Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands, and who died, aged 99, this month. On the day of Carrington’s death, Boris Johnson, the most recent British Foreign Secretary, quit with very different motives. You could say the first resigned with honour and the second with dishonour.

“I loved Lord Carrington,” says Kissinger with feeling. “I never went to England without seeing him.” In all their years of friendship, Carrington did not once complain about having to resign, says Kissinger. “He said to me: ‘What is the point of assuming responsibility if you then whisper to your friends that you are not really responsible?’ I don’t think we have that quality any more because for that you need a tradition that you take for granted and we no longer can.” Johnson certainly doesn’t embody it, I suggest. “I don’t think Carrington thought much of Johnson,” Kissinger replies.

What did Kissinger make of the Helsinki summit? His answer is halting.

I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretences

“It was a meeting that had to take place. I have advocated it for several years. It has been submerged by American domestic issues. It is certainly a missed opportunity. But I think one has to come back to something. Look at Syria and Ukraine. It’s a unique characteristic of Russia that upheaval in almost any part of the world affects it, gives it an opportunity and is also perceived by it as a threat. Those upheavals will continue. I fear they will accelerate.”

Kissinger embarks on a disquisition about Russia’s “almost mystical” tolerance for suffering. His key point is that the west wrongly assumed in the years before Putin annexed Crimea that Russia would adopt the west’s rules-based order. NATO misread Russia’s deep-seated craving for respect. “The mistake NATO has made is to think that there is a sort of historic evolution that will march across Eurasia and not to understand that somewhere on that march it will encounter something very different to a Westphalian [western idea of a state] entity. And for Russia this is a challenge to its identity.” Do you mean that we provoked Putin, I ask.

“I do not think Putin is a character like Hitler,” Kissinger replies. “He comes out of Dostoyevsky.”

Our main courses arrive. Kissinger has ordered branzino on a bed of green vegetables. He barely touches the dish. “No, but it was very good,” he says later when the waitress offers to pack it into a box. By contrast, I eat most of my Dover sole and Brussels sprouts. We are both drinking Badoit sparkling water, which Kissinger has specifically requested. I sense I am losing my battle to get him on to Trump — or failing to detect his hidden message. Is he saying we are underestimating Trump — that, in fact, Trump may be doing us the unacknowledged service of calming the Russian bear? Again, there is a pause before Kissinger answers.

“I don’t want to talk too much about Trump because at some point I should do it in a more coherent way than this,” Kissinger replies. But you are being coherent, I protest. Please don’t stop. There is another pregnant silence. “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretences. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he knows this, or that he is considering any great alternative. It could just be an accident.”

By now Kissinger has abandoned his halfhearted stabs at the fish. I know he has briefed Trump. He has also met Putin on 17 occasions. He reports the contents of those meetings to Washington, he tells me. I try a different tack. To whom does Trump compare in history, I ask. This also fails to do the trick. Kissinger goes off on a tour d’horizon of the health of European diplomacy. He can find no leader who excites him, with the possible exception of France’s Emmanuel Macron. “I can’t yet say he’s effective because he’s just started but I like his style,” says Kissinger. “Among other European statesmen, Angela Merkel is very local. I like her personally and I respect her but she’s not a transcendent figure.”

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Which diplomatic brain would he compare in today’s US establishment to himself, say, or the late Zbigniew Brzezinski (pic with Dr. Kissinger) — his former sparring partner, who also served as national security adviser? The mention of Brzezinski triggers something. “When Zbig died, which was a great surprise, I wrote to his wife that no death has moved me quite as much as his,” Kissinger says, again with evident feeling. “Zbig was almost unique in my generation. We both considered ideas about the world order to be the key problem of our time. How could we create it? We had somewhat different ideas. But for both of us, we were above all concerned to raise diplomacy to that level of influence.” Who is asking those questions today, I ask. “There is no debate today,” Kissinger replies. “It is something we need to have.”

I cannot shake the feeling that Kissinger is trying to tell me something but that I am too literal to interpret it. Like a blindfolded darts player, I try a number of different throws. What would Germany become if Trump pulled America out of NATO? Kissinger likes that question but declines to give odds as to its likelihood. “In the 1940s, the European leaders had a clear sense of direction,” he says. “Right now they mostly just want to avoid trouble.” They are not doing a very good job of it, I interrupt. “That’s true,” says Kissinger with a cryptic smile. “One eminent German recently told me that he always used to translate tension with America as a way to move away from America but now he finds himself more afraid of a world without America.” So could Trump be shocking the rest of the west to stand on its own feet, I ask. “It would be ironic if that emerged out of the Trump era,” Kissinger replies. “But it is not impossible.”

The alternative, Kissinger adds, is not appealing. A divided Atlantic would turn Europe into “an appendage of Eurasia”, which would be at the mercy of a China that wants to restore its historic role as the Middle Kingdom and be “the principal adviser to all humanity”. It sounds as though Kissinger believes China is on track to achieve its goal. America, meanwhile, would become a geopolitical island, flanked by two giant oceans and without a rules-based order to uphold. Such an America would have to imitate Victorian Britain but without the habit of mind to keep the rest of the world divided — as Britain did with the European continent.

Kissinger is more circumspect on AI — a subject, he concedes, with which he is still grappling. But he is troubled by the unknown consequences of autonomous warfare — a world in which machines are required to take ethical decisions. “All I can do in the few years left of me is to raise these issues,” he says. “I don’t pretend to have the answers.”

I have little idea how Kissinger will take my next question. Is power an aphrodisiac? “What was the word?” Kissinger asks. “Aphrodisiac,” I repeat. I am quoting the famous Kissinger line that he made in the heyday of his career when he was still a single man. In the late 1960s and early 1970s he was as much known for his racy dating calendar as for affairs of state. “I would certainly say that being able to make decisions has a dimension that you don’t have in ordinary life,” Kissinger replies with the hint of a smile. That was a subtle answer, I tell him. “I did say that,” he replies. “But when I say these things they’re more intended to establish your cleverness than your life’s purpose. And it’s true to some extent. It is based on observation.”

By now we are on to the coffee. Mine is a double espresso. Kissinger has mint tea. I decide to take a final stab at the bullseye. We have been talking for almost two hours. If there is one recurring criticism of Kissinger, I tell him, it is that he goes to great lengths to preserve access to people in power at the expense of not speaking plainly in public. Isn’t now — of all moments — the right one to burn a bridge or two? Kissinger looks crestfallen.

“I take that seriously and a lot of people, good friends of mine, have been urging this on me,” he says eventually. “It could happen at some point in time.” There is no time like the present, I say with a nervous laugh.

“It is clear the direction I am going in,” he replies. “Is it clear to you?” Sort of, I reply. You are worried about the future. However, you believe there is a non-trivial chance that Trump could accidentally scare us into reinventing the rules-based order that we used to take for granted. Is that a fair summary?

“I think we are in a very, very grave period for the world,” Kissinger replies. “I have conducted innumerable summit meetings, so they didn’t learn this one [Helsinki] from me.”

It is clear he will not elaborate further. I ask him which period he would liken to today. Kissinger talks about his experience as a freshly minted citizen in US uniform serving in the second world war. He also reminisces about what brought the young German refugee to these shores in the first place. After Germany marched into Austria in 1938, Jews in Kissinger’s home town were told to stay indoors. His parents left for America when they could. “There was a curfew and German soldiers everywhere,” he says. “It was a traumatic experience that has never left me.” His reminiscence is carefully chosen.

Something like a biblical storm has descended since we sat down. One umbrella literally flew past the window. I help Kissinger through the soaking whiplash to his car. The driver takes his other arm. He is unsteady. I realise that I have been ungraciously interrogating a man almost twice my age. “Dr Kissinger has been looking forward to this lunch for days,” says the server after I return to borrow an umbrella. That is nice, I think — though I fear my Trump questions may have depressed his appetite.

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Edward Luce is the FT’s US national editor and author of ‘The Retreat of Western Liberalism’

The Trump Administration Struggles to Defend Its Unruly Foreign Policy


July 29, 2018

The Trump Administration Struggles to Defend Its Unruly Foreign Policy

 

The first hint of a turbulent day in U.S. foreign policy appeared in a one-sentence statement distributed by e-mail on Wednesday afternoon. Just a week after President Trump invited the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to a second summit, in Washington, this fall, the White House announced that the meeting was being postponed.

“The President believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over, so we’ve agreed that it will be after the first of the year,” the national-security adviser, John Bolton, said in a statement.

The Administration had faced scathing criticism from both Republicans and Democrats over the invitation, especially when details are still scant over what happened at the first summit, in Helsinki, on July 16th. The proposed Putin visit to the Oval Office would also have been on the eve of the high-stakes U.S. midterm elections, in which the Russians are reportedly meddling again. Last week, the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, warned of “ongoing, pervasive efforts” by the Russians “to undermine our democracy.”

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Messy Trump at work

More broadly, questions have grown since Helsinki—and other recent Trump summits with North Korea, the G-7 economic allies, and the twenty-eight other NATO nations—about Trump’s unruly U.S. foreign policy. The optics in Washington are not good.

Minutes after the Bolton statement, Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chastised President Trump during a hearing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The President had “appeared submissive and deferential” alongside Putin, Corker said. He has deliberately “used false information to turn public opinion” against the NATO military alliance, a cornerstone of U.S. security. In meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Corker said the President had legitimized “one of the most ruthless leaders on the planet.” He had also taken to issuing “off-the-cuff” challenges to basic principles of the global order. For months, Trump has been “antagonizing our friends and placating those who clearly wish us ill.” The Helsinki summit is “perhaps the most troubling example of this emerging reality,” he said.

“From where we sit,” Corker, who is retiring, added, “it appears that, in a ready-fire-aim fashion, the White House is waking up every morning and making it up as they go.” America’s top lawmakers, he warned, “are filled with serious doubts” about the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. He appealed to Pompeo, saying, “Help convince us that those at the White House know what they are doing,” and “I can’t say it more forcefully. We really need a clear understanding as to what is going on.”

Image result for Senator Bob Menendez

Senator Bob Menendez

Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee, chimed in that—ten days after the Helsinki summit—U.S. lawmakers had heard more about what happened in the private session between Trump and Putin from Russian statements than from White House briefings. “We don’t know what the truth is, because nobody else was in the room where it happened,” the New Jersey Democrat said. In three hours of grilling, Pompeo repeatedly claimed that the President had fully briefed him. But he offered few insights and sidestepped straightforward questions about exactly what Trump and Putin discussed.

The White House appears to be scrambling to prove it has a coherent foreign policy. An hour before Pompeo testified on the Hill, the State Department issued the “Crimea Declaration.” The United States, it pronounced, will not recognize Russia’s strategic annexation of Crimea, in 2014, after its invasion of Ukraine. Citing the United Nations charter, dating back seven decades, the State Department noted, “No country can change the borders of another by force.”

That statement contradicts what Trump has repeatedly suggested since his first run for public office, in 2016. At the G-7 summit last month, in Canada, he reportedly said the majority of Crimea’s residents “would rather be with Russia.”

The Administration is also gyrating on Russian election interference in the United States. On Sunday night, the President tweeted that claims of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election are “all a big hoax”—dismissing the unanimous findings of U.S. intelligence agencies and Coats’s statement last week. On Wednesday, in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Pompeo insisted that Trump fully accepts intelligence reports of Russian interference in 2016. He has “a complete and proper understanding of what happened,” Pompeo said. “I know—I briefed him on it for over a year,” when he headed the C.I.A.

Now America’s top diplomat, Pompeo claimed that the Administration had taken a “staggering” array of punitive actions against Russia, including the expulsion of sixty Russian spies, closing Russian consulates, and the sale of defensive military material to Ukraine. The President is “well aware of the challenges that Russia poses” today, Pompeo said. (Neither the Secretary nor the State Department speechwriters caught the erroneous reference in his opening statement to more than two hundred U.S. sanctions imposed “on Russian entities and individuals in the Trump Administration.”)

The Administration’s attempt to appear tougher on Putin may, in fact, be a response to Russian reticence. On Tuesday, the Kremlin showed tepid interest in the invitation to a second summit. “It seems to me that, for now, it would be right to wait for the dust to settle before having a businesslike discussion of all issues,” Putin’s foreign-policy adviser, Yury Ushakov, told the news agency Interfax. “But not now.”

Russia is not the only Trump foreign-policy issue facing questions. On Wednesday, Pompeo engaged in testy exchanges with several senators on issues ranging from Syria to arms-control treaties. The Administration is struggling, in particular, to prove that its bold decision to meet with the North Korean leader in Singapore last month is leading to progress. So far, there is still no formal agreement on what “denuclearization” actually means. Pressed on whether North Korea is still advancing its nuclear capabilities, Pompeo refused to answer the question—or say publicly that Pyongyang has at least frozen its weapons program. The Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey charged that that there is “no verifiable evidence” that North Korea is keeping its promise.

“I am afraid that, at this point, the United States, the Trump Administration, is being taken for a ride,” Markey said. Pompeo, who has travelled to Pyongyang three times since Easter to take the lead on diplomacy, shot back, “Fear not, senator.” But he offered little detail to counter reports of White House frustration with North Korea’s stalling tactics.

“After nearly three hours, here is my takeaway,” Menendez said at the end of the session. “This Administration is increasingly not transparent. It’s not transparent as to what takes place at these summits . . . I really don’t believe, Mr. Secretary, you know what happened during the President’s two-plus-hour conversation with President Putin. And I really don’t know much more about the summit after sitting here for three hours than I did before.”

The Administration did make tentative progress on Wednesday to avert a trade war with America’s closest allies in Europe. In a surprise development, Trump and the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced new negotiations on trade barriers and a pledge, for now, to defer new tariffs. “While we are working on this, we will not go against the spirit of this agreement unless either party terminates the negotiation,” Trump said at a hastily organized appearance with Juncker.

Like the nuclear talks with North Korea and the summitry with Putin, however, the agreement with the European Commission on tariffs contains a big idea but is still short on details—with tough negotiations ahead. The Administration has yet to ink a final deal to resolve any major issue.

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