"Tell me how this ends" is a familiar presidential refrain. U.S. President Barack Obama used it often throughout his administration to justify his policy of restraint in the Middle East, troubled by the second- and third-order effects of deepening any intervention to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State. The next U.S. president will have to make the same solicitation next year. By then, Mosul will likely have been wrested away from the militant group. But the question of whether to widen the scope of the United States' activities in Syria — from counterterrorism to taking down the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad — will loom as large as ever.
Perhaps a more instructive question to lead with is, "How did this begin?" When planning for the future, a president must be as conscious of the past as he or she is gripped by the present. This does not mean fixating on voting records over the Iraq war or on contemporary leaders such as al Assad or former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. To understand the current map of the Middle East beyond the battle for Mosul, we must reach back nearly a century to an epic diplomatic showdown in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The Fight for Turkish Redemption
In 1922, Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk dispatched his foreign minister, Mustafa Ismet Pasha, to Lausanne to save the fledgling Turkish republic from the jaws of voracious European colonialists. Two years earlier, the Treaty of Sevres had dismembered the Ottoman Empire, ceding big chunks of territory to the leading Allied powers along with the Greeks, Armenians and Kurds. Deeply traumatized, Turkey — under the nationalist command of Ataturk — was determined to return to the negotiating table, not as supplicant but as Europe's equal, to re-carve its post-colonial boundaries in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. Though the country regained control of Anatolia and the strategic straits through the deal, Turkey left some critical unfinished business at Lausanne: the former Ottoman vilayet of Mosul.
A series of shocking revelations has damaged, perhaps fatally, a candidate’s campaign for the nation’s highest office. Recorded transcripts reveal that he insulted federal judges and mocked the physically handicapped, as well as questioned the loyalty of Muslim citizens and the credibility of former lovers. No less disturbingly, the transcripts portray a candidate indifferent to the immense responsibilities he holds as his party’s standard-bearer -- a party, moreover, reeling in the wake of these revelations -- and unable to rise above the personal and petty. His polling numbers, fading prior to the revelations, are now tanking.
All that is missing is the candidate exclaiming on his Twitter account: Triste! In a remarkable reiteration of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, French President Francois Hollande’s hopes to win a second term in France have been shattered by the publication of remarks he had made, over the course of his presidency, to two journalists from the French newspaper Le Monde. Hollande’s table talk with Gérard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme points not just to the decline and fall of a certain idea of the French presidency, but also to the transformation of politics in both our two countries.
Last week’s publication of Davet and Lhomme’s book, “A President Should Not Say That,” has stunned French observers across the political spectrum. In nearly 700 pages of conversations about his experience in the Elysée, Hollande’s remarks rarely rise above the unexceptional and uninspiring. But they all too frequently sink well below. In his bald assertion that “no one can doubt there is a problem with Islam,” and his identification of the veil with female subjugation, France’s Socialist president echoes the same reactionary language as the country’s extremist Front National. In his accusation that the nation’s judiciary is filled with “cowards” who “pretend to be virtuous,” Hollande questioned the integrity of the one state institution that still has the public’s respect.
Hollande even tapped into our Trumpian era of post-fact politics in his insistence that, in a controversial exchange with his former partner Valerie Trierweiler, he had never mocked the poor as “les sans-dents,” or toothless ones. (Trierweiler immediately retweeted the message in which Hollande had done precisely that.) For good measure, Hollande disparaged one group that Trump would never dare: professional football (as in soccer) players. Describing the lot of them as “poorly educated kids who have become fabulously wealthy stars,” he noted that what they required more than physical training was “musculature de cerveau,” or brain training.
The U.S. election is less than a month away. With so much focus on the large gap between the rich and the poor in this year’s race, a slightly altered version of James Carville’s 1992 mantra captures the election quite well: "It's the inequality, stupid."
Inequality divides the United States. In 2015, the top 5 percent of Americans earned about 16 times more than the bottom 10 percent. There has been some recent positive news on closing the income gap from the Census Bureau, indicating that the median household income rose by 5.2 percent between 2014 and 2015. This was the first increase since 2007 and the largest one-year gain on record. Income gains were stronger for those at the lower end of the income distribution. But another look at the data offers a much more sobering perspective. Accounting for inflation, the average American is bringing home 2.4 percent less than in 1999. The adjusted incomes of poorer households have been stagnant for even longer -- approximately 40 years -- while households near the top of the income scale have seen their living standards rise.
But income inequality divides the country in more ways than the rift between the haves and have-nots shown by these figures. The importance ascribed to the topic and the solutions prescribed by the presidential candidates are yet another aspect of how the topic of inequality divides Americans.
The big issue of the 2016 campaign
U.S. President Barack Obama told an interviewer recently that the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria “haunts me constantly” -- and well it should. Hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced, and still no end to the conflict is in sight. Even one year ago American military power still might have intervened decisively, without engaging America in another land war. Thousands of Syrian lives might have been saved.
Obama’s geopolitical strategy is also going badly. What once seemed a hopeless stalemate between what remains of the regime of Bashar Assad and various anti-Assad forces changed dramatically when Russian air power entered the war.
The turn against American influence began not yesterday but in fact three years ago, amid what seemed at least to Obama to be a successful turn of events.
Red lines and bad bets
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden went on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday and said the U.S. was sending a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Biden’s words come a little over a week after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security released a joint statement that said the United States was “confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” The statement also said that the hacks must have been ordered from Russia’s “senior-most” officials and were “intended to interfere with the US election process.”
The NBC interviewer likened it to the U.S. throwing a “high hard one.” It’s October in the United States, and for our non-American readers or those who are not sports enthusiasts, that means it’s the season for baseball metaphors. When a batter is standing too close to home plate, the pitcher might throw the ball – a “high hard one” – toward their chin to make them back off. If he’s doing it right, the pitcher won’t actually hit the opponent with the ball. Then one of three things can happen. The batter can back off the plate and the game continues. The batter can resume exactly what he was doing before and the game continues. Or the batter can resume exactly what he was doing before and the pitcher can follow up the warning shot by actually hitting the batter, resulting in a brawl on the field.
The second scenario is what we’re dealing with here. The first thing to note in Biden’s comment is that it isn’t even really a threat, though Biden certainly puffed himself up and made the comment seem bigger than it actually was. From his inability to control his grin before he even answered the question to his tough guy explanation that the message will be sent “at the time of our choosing and under circumstances that have the greatest impact,” Biden must have known he was going to elicit a panicked response from the media. But all Biden really did was send a message about a future message the U.S. is going to send to Putin at an inopportune moment that no one but Putin will ever know about. For all we know, it’ll be a really strongly worded email.
All of which begs the question – what can the U.S. do to Russia to send this message? The answer to that question is relatively little right now. President Barack Obama and Biden only have a few more months left in office, and they aren’t about to challenge Russia in a meaningful way on the eve of a U.S. election. Though the U.S. publicly touts its disgust of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, it isn’t about to challenge the Russians in Syria over Assad. Ukraine is at best (for the U.S.) a stalemate right now. It’s a far more important issue to Russia than it is to the United States, and while the U.S. isn’t about to back off, it’s also not about to up the ante. On Russia’s periphery, the two sides are dancing around each other, with various hyped up reports of drills and military readiness, but that’s more smoke and mirrors.
The fight to liberate Mosul has begun. In fact, it began with a new round of U.S.-led air strikes before the Iraqi announcement that the various elements of Iraqi ground forces were ready to engage. It will be one of the most critical elements of the U.S. military effort to defeat terrorism and violent Islamist extremism, as well as help determine the success of future U.S. efforts to bring some elements of stability to an increasingly more unstable Middle East.
There is no way to know how hard the fight will be or how determined ISIS is to hold the city. Estimates of its force size are surprisingly low, and rarely exceed 4,500 actual fighters. At the same time, it has had months to prepare, and has shown all too clearly how willing it is to sacrifice its fighters in suicide attacks and battle of attrition when it chooses to do so. It is also all too willing to use civilians as shields and tools of war. It also has to consider how easily it can hold its positions in Syria, and retain the loyalty of its fighters if it does not turn Mosul into as long a battle as possible. Falling back does not offer much security given its loss of any secure route through Turkey, and a successful Iraqi advance that includes both Mosul and the rest of Ninewa will further contain any ability to get new volunteers, money, and supplies.
At the same time, “winning” in Mosul is likely to be highly relative and presents major challenges in terms of Iraqi unity. All the various elements of Iraqi forces have different goals and objectives. This is why the United States has already spent so much time quietly persuading the Kurds to help without trying to acquire new territory, pushing Iraqi central government forces to take over the main military effort, creating at least some local Sunni militia elements and limiting the role of the Shi’ite militias. Iraq’s central government and the United States face almost as much of a threat from their “allies” as from ISIS—keeping them from turning on each other and from trying to exploit the victory over ISIS to their own advantage at the expense of Iraqi unity is at best going to be a “close run thing.”
Every major faction involved in fighting ISIS has its own priorities and conflicting goals. The former Sunni governor of Ninewa—the province of which Mosul is part—wants to make it an Arab Sunni enclave. The Kurds—which are divided against each other—have their own ambitions and talk about independence. The Iraqi Army remains weak and uncertain, and the police are all too ineffective and divided along sectarian and tribal lines. Some of the Shi’ite militias have mistreated Sunni Arab civilians in past operations and are extremists in their own right.
A park close to the European Parliament in Brussels has been given a face-lift, if that is the right term. Apart from being spruced up, the area now contains new sculptures in the form of twelve ostriches. And yes, the ostriches have their heads stuck in the sand. If Europe as well as the United States weren’t suffering such a malaise as they are today, the symbolism of these birds wouldn’t matter.
But three recent events only confirm how the West continues to duck fundamental issues in ways that will leave it weaker and increasingly unable to project itself politically, socially, and economically.
The first event was the decision by the United States to cut off talks with Russia on trying to end the war in Syria. John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, who was in Brussels on October 4, tried to defend his country’s role in Syria. In a speech hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, he decried Russia’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Moscow’s relentless bombing of civilian targets, and the way Syrian government forces were using barrel bombs and chlorine gas against their opponents.
What Kerry omitted, hardly surprisingly, was how the United States in particular had crossed its own so-called redlines when it came to Syria. U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision not to intervene, despite saying in August 2012 that any use of chemical weapons would be a redline the United States would not tolerate, gave Russia and other players a free hand to play out their cynical geostrategic interests in that wretched country.
Uzbekistan is arguably the most strategic country in Central Asia. With 31 million people living within its borders, it is the region's most populous country and the only one that shares a border with each of the four other Central Asian nations. Uzbekistan contains the majority of the Fergana Valley, Central Asia's agricultural heartland, and is a major producer, exporter and transit state of natural gas flowing to Russia and China.
Today, Uzbekistan is all the more important for the unprecedented power transition underway there. Prior to his death in early September, President Islam Karimov had ruled Uzbekistan since 1989. During his time in office, Karimov oversaw the country's transition to independence from the Soviet Union. He built its political, economic and security structures and set the course for Tashkent's domestic and foreign policy. Though the late president died without a clear succession plan in place, Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev stepped in as interim leader after Karimov's death. Mirziyoyev is likely to assume the presidency officially following an election in December, and he has called for a continuation of Karimov's policies. But the winds of change blowing across Central Asia could bring more than just a new leader to Uzbekistan.
The world according to Donald Trump is very dark indeed. The American economy has tanked. Mexico has sent a horde of criminals over the border to steal jobs and rape women. The Islamic State, cofounded by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, is taking over the globe. “Our country’s going to hell,” he declared during the Republican primaries. It’s “like medieval times,” he suggested during the second presidential debate. “We haven’t seen anything like this, the carnage all over the world.”
For Trump, it’s not morning in America, it’s just a few seconds before midnight on the doomsday clock. Although his campaign doggedly continues to promise a new beginning for the country, the candidate and his advisers are sending out a very different message: the end is nigh. These Cassandras all agree that, although Obama’s two terms were no walk in the park, the stakes in 2016 are world-destroyingly higher. If Clinton is elected, the future could be, as conservative political operatives Dick Morris and Eileen McGann titled their recent book, Armageddon.
Presidential challengers often paint a grim picture of the world of the incumbent, overstating the case for dramatic effect. Ever the showman, Trump has no compunction about repeatedly going way over the top, calling the U.S. military a “disaster” because it’s supposedly underfunded and the United States a “third-world country” thanks to its precipitous economic decline. Trump talks as if he were the hybrid offspring of Karl Marx and Ann Coulter.
Trumpworld, however, is a photographic negative of statistical reality. The U.S. economy has been on an upswing for the last several years (though its benefits have been anything but evenly distributed). Nationally, violent crime is on the decline (though murder rates are soaring in some cities like Chicago). The Obama administration averted war with Iran and negotiated a détente with Cuba (though it continues to wage war in other parts of the world and has maintained sky-high Pentagon spending). If the Obama years are hardly beyond criticism, they are hardly beneath contempt either.
In dispensing with what one of his senior aides called the “reality-based community,” George W. Bush’s administration attempted to create an alternative, on-the-ground reality, particularly through the direct exercise of American military power -- and we know how well that turned out. Trump seems to have even less interest in the “reality-based community.” He’s evidently convinced that the sheer power of his own bluster, even without the firepower of that military, should be sufficient to alter our world. After all, didn’t it win him a loyal following on TV and -- to the disbelief of politicians and media commentators everywhere -- the Republican presidential nomination?
When the European heads of state and government meet at the European Council later this month and discuss the European Union’s trade policy, it will be very hard to gloss over one obvious fact: European trade policy lies in shambles. There is little hope to rescue the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States, an arrangement once envisioned to be a ground-breaking agreement between the world’s two largest economic blocs. Public protests against TTIP also seem close to bringing down the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and it is uncertain whether even this deal, which was not thought to be controversial, will be ratified.
The damage goes beyond single trade agreements. The past year and a half have damaged the European Commission’s influence over trade issues. While the European Commission‘s legal powers to negotiate comprehensive international trade agreements were increased as recently as 2009 with the Lisbon Treaty, Europe’s executive body seems now to enjoy less clout than ever before to push these agreements through.
How did we get here?
Part of the blame clearly lies with the European Commission. The Commission failed to see that it has long become a political actor. It can no longer behave as if it were a mere body of technocrats.
One of the many strange things about the current U.S. election is that the fight on foreign policy is over whether or not to accept the reality that the world has changed since Madeline Albright coined the term “indispensable nation” as secretary of state 18 years ago.
America and its global role have been redefined during those 18 years; we are no longer the indispensable nation, we are the indispensable partner, and there is a big philosophical difference between those two ideas. The indispensable nation -- like the individual entrepreneur, i.e. Donald Trump -- takes independent risks to protect its own status. The indispensable partner leads and takes risks to protect the stability of its network – the new joint ventured world -- and to grow that network.
The joint ventured world is synonymous with the business concept of joint ventures -- pragmatic partnerships in which companies (sometimes rivals) jointly undertake an investment for mutual profit, each contributing assets and sharing risks. The joint ventured world springs from the globalized economic interdependence of countries, altering the traditional concept of sovereignty.
In 1848, when England was at the height of its global power, British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston said in a speech to Parliament that Britain had “no eternal allies and no perpetual enemies, our interests are eternal and perpetual.” Palmerston’s words have been used over the last 168 years as one of the definitive statements on how the singular power can maneuver to protects its interest around the world.
Whoever occupies the White House next, he or she will inherit one of the most complex and brutal crises in the world: the war in Syria.
With Syrian President Bashar Assad and his allies Russia and Iran dug in, neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump has articulated a comprehensive or realistic proposal that would address the multiple strands of the conflict.
The civil war, complicated by the occupation of key areas by the Islamic State group and a number of other extremist groups, has already further unsteadied the already unstable Middle East and spread outward, along with millions of refugees, around the globe.
Clinton pointed out during Sunday's debate that she, as America's chief diplomat, had pushed for a more robust response in Syria.
Russia has dominated the U.S. foreign policy discussion in recent weeks, and it has been an international issue making headlines throughout the U.S. presidential election campaign. With its actions in Syria and Ukraine, its probing of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture, and its apparent interference in the U.S. campaign, Russia has certainly got Washington’s attention – which it clearly wants. However, this has only succeeded in making Russia the number one nuisance in the eyes of the United States, not the respected global peer President Vladimir Putin wants it to be.
Russia longs for a multipolar world in which it is a major player with its spheres of privileged influence. It also wants to be accepted as an unavoidable power for addressing global issues, effectively having the ability to check any U.S. foreign policy initiatives. And Putin’s actions show he wants the United States to recognize Russia as its equal in Europe.
As far as U.S. foreign policy is concerned, though, geopolitics is a table with many seats. Russia will continue to be only one of several priorities for the next administration. Even if, as one observer puts it, “Putin’s message is that Russia will start acting as an equal, whether or not the U.S. wants to treat it as one,” overestimating the Russian challenge would be as mistaken as underestimating it. Unlike during the Cold War, Russia cannot be a binary geopolitical adversary for the United States; rather it is a major spoiler to be dealt with. Its ability to spoil has certainly encouraged Putin to take high-risk actions in places like Syria, Georgia, and Ukraine. But Russia’s success is more measured by its ability to undermine U.S. goals in these theaters, rather than that to directly confront the United States.
There is no doubt that Russia’s behavior poses a threat to Eastern Europe and has changed the American security calculus in the region. (The same might be true in the Middle East.) It has driven the United States back to a more active security presence in Europe, perhaps at some cost to the more important matter of dealing with the long-term challenges posed by China’s rise in Asia and globally. But this still does not add up to making Russia a primary, sole global adversary as the U.S. election rhetoric may suggest.
He won battles after he died, as was said about the Spanish Cid. Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize five days after losing the plebiscite in which a majority of Colombians rejected the accords signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
What happened? Probably, the final decision was made several weeks ago by the members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. That Santos would win the plebiscite by a wide margin was deemed a sure thing, and the prize would reinforce his moral authority.
On Monday, Oct. 3, when the word that Santos had failed reached Oslo, it was too late to revoke the selection. Everything was ready and rolling. After all, Alfred Nobel's last will and testament stated that the prize would go to whoever had fought for peace “more or better.” According to the Colombians' verdict, Santos had not done it so well, but he had spent several years in the effort.
Nevertheless, the awarding of the Nobel Prize comes at a strange moment. President Santos does not understand that the peace accords were annulled by the sovereign decision of the Colombian people. The plebiscite asked them if they approved or rejected the pacts reached in the 297-page document and, against every prediction, they rejected them. Those accords no longer exist, except as experience with which to begin a new negotiation from scratch.
For many years, Afghanistan was stuck in a stalemate: the Taliban were not losing and the Afghan government was not winning. Judging from the daily reports coming from Afghanistan, especially during this past year, one can’t help but infer that the Taliban are now on a winning streak. Part of this shift is a result of the NATO drawdown, since Afghan security forces on their own are not able to counter the jihadist insurgents. Since the United States is not going to deploy the forces needed to reverse this trend, we have to begin considering a scenario in which the Taliban could overwhelm the Afghan state.
On Oct. 8, the commander of U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, along with Afghanistan’s defense minister, Gen. Abdullah Habibi, and interior minister, Taj Mohammed Jahid visited Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. Nicholson reportedly said that Afghan security forces supported by NATO troops foiled Taliban attempts to gain control of large cities in various provinces. But this visit comes at a time when the Taliban have taken control of half of the 14 districts in Helmand and the jihadist movement enjoys a great degree of influence in the remaining seven. The provincial capital faces the possibility of falling to the insurgents, who are attacking from at least three directions.
The situation in Helmand is understandable – considering that it is a major part of the Taliban’s core turf in the south. As we explained in our Sept. 15 Deep Dive the Afghan security forces are struggling against Taliban militiamen across the country and in areas dominated by ethnic minorities (Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Turkmen, etc). Last week, Taliban fighters seized control of many parts of the northern city of Kunduz for the second time in almost a year and according to the latest reports they have not been fully dislodged from the city. Even pushing them out of the city wouldn’t be considered a huge success because the Taliban control much of the province, also called Kunduz.
The Taliban have actually been gaining ground in many provinces that share a border with Central Asian nations. On the same day that Nicholson visited Helmand, dozens of Afghan security forces surrendered to the Taliban at a base in the Morichaq area of Bala Murghab district in Badghis province, near the border with Turkmenistan. According to reports, the Taliban are eyeing the southwestern province of Farah (along the border with Iran) where there has been an increase in fighting. In another noteworthy development, Afghanistan’s private TV channel Shamshad reported on Oct. 6 that the Taliban have managed to penetrate the Hazara Shiite community in Bamyan province, where they have established a branch.
After the Syrian cities of Manbij and Jarabulus were recently liberated from the Islamic State, observers began to focus on al-Bab, the last major IS-held town west of its proclaimed capital in Raqqa. Several actors are within striking distance of the city, so who will try to conquer it first? According to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Syrian rebels should free al-Bab with the help of the Turkish army, which is already inside Syria only thirty kilometers away. But military developments on the ground suggest a different scenario. On October 3, the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) took Arima, an IS stronghold on the road from Manbij only twenty kilometers east of al-Bab, while other SDF units have advanced to twenty kilometers west of the city. Meanwhile, the Syrian army is only ten kilometers south.
AL-BAB DURING THE WAR
In 2011, around 100,000 people lived in the al-Bab area. The city has not suffered from much combat during the war, making it a good destination for refugees from other parts of Aleppo province. Today, it has a Sunni Arab majority population with a Kurdish minority. As with most other parts of the province, the Assad regime's administrative personnel and police forces left the city in spring 2012 and rebel forces took over. In January 2014, IS seized al-Bab and has controlled it ever since.
Given the city's prewar history, a significant portion of the population may well sympathize with the Islamic State's radical credo; beginning in 2003, for example, many al-Bab youths went to Iraq to fight American troops. More recently, the group has faced less local opposition in al-Bab than it did in Manbij, where protests against IS conscription efforts in November 2015 provoked a cycle of rebellion and strong repression.
On the night of July 1, five gunmen stormed into the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and took hostages. The attack, which claimed 24 innocent lives, was the largest terrorist attack in Bangladesh’s history. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on his recent visit to Bangladesh, terrorists “have no respect for national boundaries, no concern for the rights of others, no regard for the rule of law, and they do not embody the values of the people of Bangladesh or the United States.”
Terrorism is not new to Bangladesh nor is the government’s concerted effort to thwart it. For three years, the country has witnessed spasmodic attacks on freethinkers, religious minorities, and foreigners. Both al-Qaeda affiliates and the Islamic State group have taken credit for these horrific acts, though until July the threat had largely come from within, not from the outside.
Just before the July tragedy, Bangladeshi authorities launched an unprecedented campaign to combat terrorism within its borders. As part of this effort, the governing Awami League, backed by the pro-liberation 14-party alliance, initiated a plan to pinpoint terrorist suspects and to undermine their ideological justifications for violence.
Since early summer, security forces have arrested several dozen potentially dangerous militants, including members of banned organizations like Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Hizb ut-Tahrir, Ansarullah Bangla Team, Ansar al-Islam, Harkat-ul-Jihad, and Allaher Dal. Security forces also arrested leaders of Jama’atul Mujahideen, Ansarullah Bangla Team, and Islami Chhatra Shibir. These crucial arrests have visibly weakened the most threatening organizations in Bangladesh.
Donald and Hillary Take a No-First-Use Pledge on Relevant Information
You may have missed it. Perhaps you dozed off. Or wandered into the kitchen to grab a snack. Or by that point in the proceedings were checking out Seinfeld reruns. During the latter part of the much hyped but excruciating-to-watch first presidential debate, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt posed a seemingly straightforward but cunningly devised question. His purpose was to test whether the candidates understood the essentials of nuclear strategy.
A moderator given to plain speaking might have said this: "Explain why the United States keeps such a large arsenal of nuclear weapons and when you might consider using those weapons."
What Holt actually said was: “On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation's longstanding policy on first use. Do you support the current policy?”
The European Union's future has been up for debate since the Continent's economic crisis began nearly a decade ago. But questions about the bloc's path have multiplied in recent years as Greece came close to quitting the eurozone and the United Kingdom voted to relinquish its EU membership for good. "The bloc's demise is not a matter of if, but when," Euroskeptics insisted, to which their Europhile peers replied, "The union is irreversible."
Yet like all political creations, the European Union is a momentary construction in the vast expanse of history. One day it will disappear, to be replaced by other entities, or it will continue in name only, looking and operating far differently from the European Union of today. It is impossible to know exactly when this transformation will happen or just how long the process will take. There are some clues, however, as to how the new Europe will come about and, perhaps even more important, what the agent of change will be. If anything, the Continent's current crisis is a stark reminder that despite decades of attempts to weaken it, the nation-state remains the most powerful political unit in the European Union. And as it emerges from the rubble of the Continent's latest experiment in integration, it will play a crucial role in charting Europe's course forward.
A Union That's Anything but Uniform
Not all EU members are created equal. Losing a member that belongs to the eurozone, for example, poses a much bigger threat to the rest of the system than the departure of one that does not. The prospect of Greece quitting the currency area in 2015 was probably more frightening to France and Germany than Britain's decision to leave the bloc a year later. To be sure, both events would have serious consequences for the European Union, but a Grexit would have immediately shaken the financial foundation of the entire eurozone. The consequences of the Brexit, however, will be more gradual.
The Crisis of Interdependence
The year 2008 is appearing to be a defining moment in history, like 1991, 1945, and 1929. It is a generational shift in the way the world works.
In 2008, the global economy underwent a massive shift away from extremely high growth that started in 1982. Part of the problem was simply the financial chicanery and miscalculations of the subprime crisis. But there was a deeper crisis. An economic boom creates vast inefficiencies, as huge amounts of surplus cash flow into the hands of people who don’t spend that money on food, clothing, and shelter, but rather invest it to make more money. Most of the time this works, as the investment, with decisions made by individuals rather than the state, generates wealth and jobs.
But toward the end of a cycle, two things happen. Opportunities for quality investment decline and productivity falls. The early advances that drove innovations (railroads, radio, the personal computer) lose their explosive growth capacity as they turn from game-changers into commodities with trivial value. At that point, the opportunities for prudent investment decline. Investors have a great deal of money, but money alone doesn’t generate high productivity.