All posts filed under: Foreign Policy

Making the World Safe for Autocracy

Hong Kong has long ceased to fit the description given it by an envoy of Queen Victoria as a “barren rock.” Since British gunboats secured its jagged shore in the Opium Wars, it has transformed into a vibrant commercial outpost and a premier international metropolis. After nearly two centuries, the city now has new claimants as colonial overlords, who will undoubtedly wreck the special achievements of the crown colony and set new standards of ruination and decline. Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” form of government autonomy received a lethal blow earlier this year when the annual session of China’s rubber-stamp legislature passed new national security laws that effectively prohibited dissent in the enclave. The draconian national security legislation allowed Beijing to bypass the territory’s own parliament and crack down on any activity it deems seditious. Hong Kong’s liberal culture and independent judiciary quickly began to suffocate under the weight of China’s rapacious interference. The Chinese Communist Party is now looking to crush the remnants of the old order. Beijing has announced that it will impose …

What Happened to America’s Soft Power?

For most Americans, the majority of whom will never leave North America, the issue of the US’s image abroad is an issue of tenuous concern at best. The notion that the US’s image abroad has a palpable effect on the efforts of the Central Intelligence Agency to penetrate the inner circles of our foreign adversaries is not something they take into consideration. Perhaps they should. As a former CIA case officer, I was truly alarmed to see a recent Pew poll headlined US Image Plummets Internationally. As the poll notes, “the share of the public with a favorable view of the U.S. is as low as it has been at any point since the Center began polling on this topic nearly two decades ago.” Some of the low standing can be attributed to the perception that the US has handled the COVID crisis poorly. But as much or more is that President Donald Trump is widely despised by our putative allies. The US Department of Defense has a concept, “Preparing the battlefield.” Before the first …

The End of the Islamic Republic of Iran?

The recent explosion in Beirut was like the most recent episode in a tragic decline. Beirut used to be known as Paris in the Levant and the bride of Middle Eastern cities. It was once beautiful, cultured, and exotic. No longer. Last year, hyperinflation, shortages of food and energy, unaccountable government, and a steady erosion of social liberties combined to ignite widespread protests. The protestors only demand: That Iran get out of their country. A New York Times investigative team found that the explosion had been the result of negligence—a rot inside the government. Those protests coincided with protests in Iraq, which also demanded an end to Iran interference, and in Iran itself, where protestors demanded that Iran stop meddling in Lebanon and Iraq. In neighboring Syria, half a million died between 2011 and 2016, and millions more were displaced. There are signs of life in Syria, but no sign of living. Everything Iran touches dies, and its regime extends its malign influence wherever it can. The civil war devastating Yemen began when the Iran-backed Houthis …

Will Workers’ Wages Ever Go Up Again?

Self-employment, temporary employment, on-call work, home-based work, and telecommuting are becoming more common. In some countries, such as Australia, nearly half of the workforce falls into one of these categories. The growth in these types of employment opportunities is often attributed to the rise in app-based gig employers like Uber or Lyft. The employment contract signed by those working in the gig economy is very different from what workers in goods-producing industries had come to expect during most of the postwar era. Back then, for example, you knew when you were working. There were regularly defined work hours (normally 40 hours a week, assigned at a fixed time). These days, your gig employer practises just-in-time labour, putting you on perpetual standby. The company will call you when they need you, thanks. And they might need you for only 10 to 15 hours in a week. And don’t count on receiving much in the way of the non-wage benefits unions negotiated for most industrial workers in America. Get sick or need dental work as a part-time …

Saudi Arabia: The Pragmatic Case for Constructive Engagement

There’s a compelling case that the US and UK should completely cut ties with one of the world’s most repressive regimes that institutionalizes the second-class status of women, outlaws any religion other than Islam and practices “kafala”—a system where migrant workers are relegated to a status that is often not much superior to slavery. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is a country that in the 21st century hosts public beheadings and crucifixions for “crimes” such as blasphemy, apostasy, and sorcery. Dissidents can be indefinitely imprisoned and are routinely tortured for even the most constructive of criticisms. It’s often argued that the West’s close relationship with the Kingdom makes a mockery of the freedom and democracy we claim to stand for. When it became apparent that the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul was most likely ordered by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) himself, Germany, Denmark, and Finland announced that they would cancel all exports of military equipment to the country. Other European nations such as Norway, the Netherlands, Austria, and Sweden …

The Passing of the Second Imperial Age

In the half-millennium of modern European imperialism, from the Spanish and Portuguese in the 16th century to the withdrawing roar of the British and French empires in the 20th, there was one truth on which all of these powers, often at war with each other, could agree. That was, land which could be designated terra nullius (“no-one’s land”) could be taken—indeed, had to be taken—by one of the powers, or another power would get it. So empires conquered large swathes of territory in Africa, India, the Middle East, South-East Asia, North America, and Australasia, most of which was regarded as unoccupied. They did so in pursuit of precious metals and stones, for settlement and defence (of other lands already seized), for points of supply to their ships, in order to demonstrate their power, and—the most cited reason in polite society, even more polite if put into French—for the mission civilatrice or the mission religieuse. That last of these—the obligation to deliver Christianity to uncivilised heathens—is sometimes dismissed as merely the hypocrisy of pious icing layered over …

The Room Where It Happened—A Review

A review of The Room Where It Happened—A White House Memoir by John Bolton, Simon and Schuster (June 2020), 592 pages. Donald Trump’s White House is fast approaching the end of its first term. Meanwhile, the consequences of the administration’s early insouciance about the onset of COVID-19 are manifest across a country experiencing a ferocious new surge in cases. The US President offers his leadership to those who would scrap the sheltering and distancing rules, characterising them as the imposition of a despised bureaucracy—evidence, as one protestor put it, of a “Communist dictatorship.” Trump is, in most moods, fond of Communist dictators, as China’s Xi Jinping and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un have been pleased to discover. The head of his National Security Council (NSC) from April 2018 until September last year, John Bolton, fears and hates them. These two men, both in their early 70s, were yoked together for 18 months, a period that ended in predictable acrimony, and which has now produced a memoir from Bolton. Several books have already sought to illuminate the malign …

Do We Really Want a New Cold War?

Fear has been making some pretty foolish policy decisions in the last few months. In the US, the decision of several state governments to move patients infected with COVID-19 into nursing homes probably takes the prize, but a close runner-up would be Congress’s CARES act, which misguidedly paid the unemployed to stay unemployed. Trillions have been allocated to remediate the damage done by shuttering non-essential schools and businesses, but relatively little of that Niagara of dollars has made its way downstream to the small businesses and schools that have been most harmed by the lockdowns. As usual, our solons have been trying to crack a walnut with a sledgehammer. Fear has been giving no wiser advice on foreign policy. Politicians and commentators left and right have been competing to march us into a new Cold War. Hold the Chinese responsible! Sue them! Impound their US bank accounts! Uproot all our supply chains that pass through China! Show China who is boss in the South China Sea! Send Chinese students back to China before they can …

Cold War Now or Hot War Later

One might have expected the COVID-19 crisis to produce an inflection point at which agreement was finally reached about the menace presented by China’s regime. However, more than a few political figures and intellectuals remain unconvinced. Writing in Reason, Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, announces that “there is no China crisis.” Against the gathering consensus that China’s brand of authoritarian capitalism and aggressive nationalism poses a genuine threat to the American interests and security, Drezner serenely reassures his readers that it is “hysterical” to believe that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) possesses the power or the will to challenge and subvert the international system. Is this true? Drezner readily concedes that the old Washington consensus—the notion that engagement would spur China’s transformation from ruthless dictatorship to responsible liberal stakeholder in the international order—was erroneous. Although globalization (the integration of world markets for commodities, labor, and capital) has raised living standards throughout the world, including in China, there is scant evidence of political progress in Beijing. To the contrary, General Secretary …

Will There Be a New Cold War with China? A Reply to Niall Ferguson

The end of the Cold War was a heady time in the West. Francis Fukuyama’s essay “The End of History?”—which argued that the world was witnessing the “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism”—was published in the National Interest a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. US President George H.W. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were touting the possibility of a “peace dividend,” in which billions of dollars could be shifted from defense budgets to domestic projects. The number of nuclear weapons in the world dropped precipitously after peaking in the mid-1980s, and the threat of nuclear war seemed dimmer than it had been in decades. There are countless ways in which the post-Cold War era hasn’t lived up to expectations. The global recession in the late 2000s and rising income inequality have undermined faith in open markets and democratic institutions, authoritarian demagogues have risen to power on both sides of the Atlantic, and as the novel coronavirus pandemic ravages the global economy, we could be heading for yet another recession …