On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adopted a new strategy for managing Israel’s diplomatic relations with the West. Long in the making and increasingly urgent, Israel’s new strategy is very simple. Foreign governments can either treat Israel in accordance with international diplomatic norms of behavior, or they can continue to discriminate against Israel.
If they act in accordance to international diplomatic norms, Israel will respond in like fashion. If they choose instead to discriminate against Israel and treat it in a manner no other democratic state is treated, Israel will abandon diplomatic convention and treat foreign governments as domestic critics.
On Monday, after his repeated requests for Germany’s visiting Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel to cancel his plans to meet with Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem, Netanyahu gave Gabriel an ultimatum. Gabriel could meet with Netanyahu, or he could meet with Breaking the Silence.
Gabriel refused to cancel his meeting with Breaking the Silence. So Netanyahu canceled their meeting.
“The future has already arrived,” sci-fi writer William Gibson famously quipped, “it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” Few in the United States noticed when a freight train arrived in London in January 2017, completing a 7,500 mile journey from China, yet this train, its route an echo of the ancient Silk Road, just may have offered a glimpse of the future.
China is already the world’s largest trading nation, with some $3.9 trillion in two-way trade in 2016. The European Union, with its $17 trillion economy, roughly the size of that of the United States, looms large in China’s ambitious but still inchoate vision of connecting both ends of the Eurasian landmass with a 21st century version of the old Silk Road. And to the degree the United States retreats from the post-World War II multilateral system it created, the China-EU relationship could influence the balance of the emerging polycentric order.
Donald Trump’s “America First” posture, his cheerleading of Brexit, and his swift rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership spurred Europe and Asia to rapidly scramble in pursuit of multilateral deals to offset the U.S. retreat. In a letter to leaders of the 27 EU member states earlier this year, European Council President Donald Tusk described Trump, along with an assertive China and an aggressive Russia, as one of three external threats to Europe’s future. Tusk argued that “[w]e should use the change in the trade strategy of the U.S. to the EU's advantage by intensifying our talks with interested partners, while defending our interests at the same time.”
The United States ($579 billion), the European Union ($529 billion), and Japan ($300 billion) are China’s top three bilateral trading partners. China’s predatory industrial policies and various tactics to limit goods and investment in competitive sectors like IT or automobiles with tariffs are leading European governments to rethink trade and investment policies with regard to China. But the allure of Chinese investment sets European states competing for renminbi.
The days of cooperative climate change action in Washington and Beijing were short-lived.
After decades of friction in the climate arena, the United States and China spent the last three years of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s second term in office building a partnership that caught even close observers by surprise. In a March 2016 joint presidential statement, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping declared climate change a “pillar of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship” and committed to ratifying the lauded Paris Agreement. The countries were by then drawing on more than two years of bilateral agreements on clean energy and emissions reduction targets, along with subnational agreements between cities, states, and provinces to bolster technical cooperation in areas ranging from carbon pricing to clean energy to sustainable urban infrastructure.
This cooperation reversed a history of recriminations and posturing that long defined the Sino-American climate change relationship. China would often emphasize its continuing poverty challenges, development needs, and relative lack of historical culpability for the climate problem, while the United States trotted out the common refrain that holding negotiations is well and good, but ultimately pointless if China fails to reduce emissions in internationally verifiable ways. For years, this divide between Beijing and Washington stubbornly persisted.
The Obama-Xi rapprochement was significant because it moved past these arguments and looked for opportunities in a nascent global climate regime based on voluntary commitments by all countries regardless of development levels. This played to the preferences of both China and the United States to chart their own paths without feeling overly constrained by international accords. It also dovetailed with China’s growing determination to solve its domestic pollution crisis, and with a realization in both capitals that clean energy was an economic growth sector.
American policy toward China depends heavily on whether national security leaders view China as ascendant relative to the United States. Though U.S. policymakers often assume that Washington will soon be eclipsed by Beijing, in truth the United States is widening the wealth gap with China, as the Chinese economy continues to flounder. This fact is frequently obscured, however, in large part because of Beijing’s successful military modernization as compared to America’s decimated global combat power. Indeed, despite the fact that it is falling even further behind the United States economically, China has managed to change Asia’s balance of power.
These military trend lines contribute to the dominant perception in American policy circles that China is on an inevitable path to overtake the United States economically and become Asia’s principal power. Without a doubt, surpassing the United States in Asia is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aspiration. But while he inherited a China far wealthier and more powerful than it had been in decades, China’s economy is in the process of stagnating, and Beijing’s economic approach shows no signs of changing.
The idea that the 21st century would be defined by a “power transition” from American to Chinese dominance is not unreasonable. After all, China experienced dizzyingly high growth in the 1980s, ‘90s, and into the early 21st century as its economy was reforming along free market lines. This phenomenal growth made an understandable impression on American observers of China -- in no small part because of its association with a military modernization that is now bearing fruit. When a regional military balance changes, the actual economic numbers seem to matter less.
In a 2005 speech before the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, former World Bank President Robert Zoellick famously called upon the Chinese government to become a responsible stakeholder in the global system, and to work with other international powers to maintain stability and security around the world. One can assume that when Zoellick delivered his speech on that fall day in New York, there was no doubt in his mind -- nor in the minds of most American leaders and policymakers -- that the United States was in fact the responsible stakeholder in the international system, and that China was not.
However, last year’s election of Donald Trump has spurred a remarkable reversal in global perceptions of the United States and China. President Trump has loudly proclaimed that he will pursue unilateralist “America First” policies, and he has also threatened to withdraw the United States from the World Trade Organization. In a 2016 interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Trump said, "[W]e’re going to renegotiate or we’re going to pull out. These trade deals are a disaster. The World Trade Organization is a disaster." By contrast, after the two brilliant speeches delivered by Chinese President Xi Jinping in Davos and in Geneva in January 2017, China has projected itself as a defender of the prevailing multilateral order. Zoellick would not be able to deliver his 2005 speech in 2017. The roles have reversed.
Clinton's Subtle Warning
This need not and should not have happened. As a power that is, by the president’s own admission, in relative decline, it is increasingly in the national interest of the United States to strengthen multilateral rules and processes. Articulating this truth in a visionary 2003 speech at Yale University, Former President Bill Clinton said:
The populist Right that seems to be rising throughout the advanced world has two goals. One, obviously, is to win office. But the second, which can be achieved short of actually taking power, is simply to replace the center-right. Marine Le Pen will almost certainly lose to Emmanuel Macron in a few weeks’ time. She and her supporters can count it as a victory, however, that there will be no center-right candidate in the second round of France’s presidential election for the first time since Charles de Gaulle founded the Fifth Republic.
The Left has been undergoing a shakeup of its own. Macron represents a tendency toward the pro-market center that bears some comparison with the direction in which Bill Clinton and Tony Blair took the Democrats and Labour in the 1990s. But unlike Clinton and Blair, Macron does not lead an established party. He was formerly a finance minister in the Socialist Party government of Prime Minister Manuel Valls. In picking a nominee earlier this year to succeed the disastrous incumbent Socialist president, François Hollande, the party ultimately faced a choice between the center-left Valls and a left-wing candidate, Benoît Hamon. Hamon won, but so deep is the disaffection with the Socialists that another, independent leftist, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, outperformed him in Sunday’s first-round general election.
The hard Left can take comfort in the thought that the votes for Mélenchon and Hamon together exceeded those for Macron. But this only means that the French Left’s civil war—like the backbiting between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters in the Democratic Party, or between Jeremy Corbyn and his Blairite critics in the Labour Party—will continue.
As different as France, Britain and the United States may be, the similarity of ideological struggles within—as well as between—the Left and Right in all three countries suggests a profound realignment in the politics of the West. Yet where the Right is concerned, the nature of that realignment is all too often misunderstood. There is more than one kind of right-wing populism, and the kind associated with France’s National Front has so far been the least successful. The country’s traditional center-right might even chalk up its failure to get a candidate into the second-round election as a mere fluke—though this would be dangerously overconfident.
Donald Trump’s election has not heralded a new phase in U.S.-China relations.
President Trump has gone from saying China cannot be allowed to continue to “rape” the United States to tweeting about how he plans to offer Beijing a trade deal in return for solving the North Korea problem. Trump did not label China a currency manipulator as he had promised to do, and the U.S. president accepted the “One China” policy despite prior intimations that he would not. U.S. activity in the South China Sea is not appreciably different to what it was under former President Barack Obama’s administration. Trump’s about-face is rooted in both countries’ imperatives and constraints. The United States and China have a cooperative and at times contentious relationship. This is because of geopolitics and does not depend on who sits in the Oval Office.
The Phases of PRC-U.S. Relations
Since Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, U.S.-China relations have moved through three distinct phases. The first phase lasted from 1949 to 1972. The main feature of the relationship was that the United States and China were on opposite sides of the Cold War. The second phase lasted from 1972 to 1991 and amounted to a complete reversal. China feared the Soviet Union, and the United States was reeling from the Vietnam War. The two countries solidified a more cooperative relationship grounded in a shared geopolitical interest in limiting Soviet power. The third phase began with the Soviet Union’s fall in 1991 and continues to the present. This phase has two defining features. The first is economic interdependence. The second is the absence of the Soviet Union as a common enemy and the re-emergence of opposing interests.
PARIS (AP) -- France's political mainstream, shut out of the presidency by an angry electorate, united on Monday to call on voters to back centrist Emmanuel Macron and reject Marine Le Pen's populist nationalism.
Politicians on the moderate left and right, including the Socialist and Republicans party losers in Sunday's first-round vote, maneuvered to block Le Pen's path to power in the May 7 runoff.
Voters narrowed the presidential field from 11 to two. France's presidential election is widely seen as a litmus test for the populist wave that last year prompted Britain to vote to leave the European Union and U.S. voters to elect Donald Trump president.
The defeated far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon, pointedly refused to back Macron, and Le Pen's National Front is hoping to do the once unthinkable and peel away voters historically opposed to a party long tainted by racism and anti-Semitism.
With inflation rampant and many basic goods in short supply, Venezuelans are furious at their government. Violence at protests in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, turned deadly, and the country is in a deep political and economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. And this is much more than a sudden collapse: Venezuela was set on this disastrous course nearly a decade ago.
In December 2006, the then-president, Hugo Chávez, won re-election by a hefty margin. Emboldened by his mandate, he proposed to abolish the constitution’s presidential term limits, which would allow him to run for re-election indefinitely. He put his proposal to the country in a referendum – and lost, albeit narrowly. Visibly furious, he cursed his opponents on TV and publicly threatened supporters who abstained.
But Chávez shouldn’t have been shocked. After being re-elected, his government dramatically cut several popular social programmes; his popularity duly went into decline, and his charisma, divisive language and strange TV show, Aló Presidente!, weren’t enough to reverse the trend. Without a dependable supply of petro-dollars, his socialist revolution was grinding to a halt.
Chávez refused to accept defeat. His government still controlled parliament, and a second referendum was duly approved for February 2009. This time framed as a “constitutional review”, it invited Venezuelans to abolish term limits not only for the presidency, but for all elected public offices. The party machinery was financially “gelled” to get all interests as invested as possible in the outcome, Chávez won.
SYDNEY (AP) -- As tensions rose on the Korean peninsula, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who has President Donald Trump's trust but little diplomatic experience to go with it, became the top American official headed to the region after North Korea again failed to successfully launch a ballistic missile.
Days later, the mild-mannered former governor stood along the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea and stared back at soldiers from the North. In Australia, Pence's mission was to soothe any lingering hurt stemming from a tense telephone conversation Trump had with the prime minister in January.
A 10-day swing through four Pacific Rim nations is offering evidence that Pence has become one of Trump's chief emissaries on the world stage, patching up relations, reassuring allies still wondering about Trump's unpredictable ways and diving into international crises like North Korea.
Pence's trip was planned weeks ago. But it dropped him in South Korea just in time to deliver North Korea a stern warning from the U.S.: that "all options are on the table" when it comes to curbing the North's nuclear ambitions, and that the Trump administration will seek support from its allies to pressure Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
Today, Sunday, April 23, French voters go to the polls in the first round of the presidential election. The stakes are high and the election has been very chaotic. The top four candidates in the field are separated in polls by a handful of points, with surveys picking up high numbers of undecideds. Three of the top four candidates -- Jean-Luc Melenchon, Marine Le Pen, and Emmanuel Macron -- represent parties outside the mainstream of French politics. The other candidate, Francois Fillon, has been mired in scandal since early this year. All four have a realistic chance of being among the top two vote-getters, who will then square off in a second round on May 7.
To complicate matters, last week's terrorist attack will be on voters' minds, and it happened too late for polls, which were blacked out from Friday, to digest.
Polling stations close at 7 p.m. French time in most places, and at 8 p.m. in big cities. Here is what to read to keep updated.
Background: Read all articles on France published and linked at RealClearWorld.
PARIS (AP) -- An attacker with an automatic weapon opened fire on police on Paris' iconic Champs-Elysees Thursday night, killing one officer and seriously wounding two others before police shot and killed him.
Paris police spokeswoman Johanna Primevert told The Associated Press that the attacker targeted officers guarding the area near the Franklin Roosevelt subway station at the center of the shopping avenue popular with tourists. She said he appeared to be acting alone.
Police and soldiers sealed off the area, ordering tourists back into their hotels and blocking people from approaching the scene.
The Paris prosecutor's office said counterterrorism investigators are involved in the probe. Two police officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation, said the attacker had been flagged as an extremist. They had no other details about him.
Long a nation proud of its exceptionalism, France has of late had more than its fair share of exceptional political events. With mere days remaining before the first round of the presidential election, the four leading candidates all stand a solid chance to make the second-round run-off. This situation, French commentators remind us, is “inédit,” or unprecedented in the nearly 60-year history of the Fifth Republic. No less inédit is that three of the four candidates -- Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Luc Mélenchon -- do not represent the country’s traditional political parties. (As for the fourth, François Fillon, he represents a conservative party deeply splintered over their candidate’s apparent belief that parliamentary perks include enriching one’s family.)
Most inédit of all, however, is that neither Le Pen (the leader of the extreme right-wing Front National) nor the centrist candidate Macron (who has never before run for office and leads his own movement, En Marche!) are, well, not all that inédit. At least, that is, when compared to Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of La France insoumise (Defiant France).
A tight political pocket
According to an Ipsos-Sofra poll taken on April 12-13, 20 percent of French voters now support Mélenchon. This not only leaves his Socialist competitor, Benoît Hamon, in the dust at 7.5 percent, but it also places him ahead of Fillon, who in the wake of what has been the Penelopegate scandal seems to have settled at 19 percent. As for Macron and Le Pen, they continue to battle for the lead, but the stamina for both candidates seems to be waning, though it remains to be seen how an apparent terrorist attack on the Champs-Elysees will affect the mood. From earlier claims of 24-25 percent of the electorate, they both have faltered for now, with each hovering at around 22 percent. The four candidates, Le Monde concludes, are bundled so tightly they could all fit in “the same pocket handkerchief.”
Seventy-one years ago, Great Britain and the United States signed the 1946 UKUSA Agreement -- an unprecedented intelligence alliance that quickly incorporated Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Thus the Five Eyes intelligence community was born. The partnership -- based on mutual trust and the realization that intelligence sharing could provide huge national advantages -- came of age in the Cold War as an alliance spanning the globe to meet the political and military threat posed by the Soviet Union. It found renewed purpose after 9/11, combating transnational terrorist networks and supporting the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout its history, the Five Eyes alliance allowed its members to pool their complementary capabilities for mutual benefit.
But the alliance may now be facing its greatest challenge -- precisely because it no longer faces a single predominant threat. The intelligence communities of all five nations must now contend with self-radicalized terrorists at home, master an entire new domain of cyber threats, and remain ahead of Russia and China. And the Five Eyes must do all this while recruiting and retaining the best staff, allaying concerns over civil liberties, and managing the wavering political will for international cooperation. Can the Five Eyes partnership survive in this environment while minimizing painful trade-offs and capability cutbacks?
What’s old is new again
The Five Eyes alliance faces a range of challenges that is unprecedented in breadth.
YOKOSUKA, Japan (AP) -- From the wind-swept deck of a massive aircraft carrier, Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday warned North Korea not to test the resolve of the U.S. military, promising it would make an "overwhelming and effective" response to any use of conventional or nuclear weapons.
Pence, dressed in a green military jacket, said aboard the hulking USS Ronald Reagan that President Donald Trump's administration would continue to "work diligently" with allies like Japan, China and other global powers to apply economic and diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang. But he told the sailors, "as all of you know, readiness is the key."
"The United States of America will always seek peace but under President Trump, the shield stands guard and the sword stands ready," Pence told 2,500 sailors wearing blue fatigues and Naval baseball caps on a sunny, windy morning aboard the carrier at the U.S. Yokosuka naval base in Tokyo Bay.
"Those who would challenge our resolve or readiness should know, we will defeat any attack and meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective American response," Pence said.
When the French presidential elections begin on April 23, the world will be watching closely.
Polls are tightening up, but Marine Le Pen, of the far-right National Front (FN) Party, seems likely to get through to the second, runoff ballot on May 10. Will the xenophobic populism that brought Brexit to the U.K. and Donald Trump to the White House claim the Elysée Palace, too?
Le Pen’s expected advance has been one of the few constants in a campaign marked by surprising, dispiriting twists. To a historian of French colonialism like me, one of the most revealing is the renewed debate over the memory and teaching of the colonial past. The candidates’ positions on this issue can be seen as a revealing barometer of French attitudes toward immigration, race and multiculturalism today.
At its height in the 1930s, the French empire encompassed some 60 million colonial subjects, from the Caribbean to Southeast Asia. But after decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s, the French relegated imperial racism, slavery and colonialism to the “historical back burner.” The eruption of the history wars finally broke this public silence in the mid-1990s.
No, this result was not achieved legitimately. No one who arrests opposition supporters, bans their opponents' election campaign events and silences journalists can claim democratic legitimacy.
This is precisely how Recep Tayyip Erdogan behaved - and yet, according to official statements, he still only won by a small margin. Consequently, the referendum on the Turkish president's future powers is not the outcome of a free consultation of opinion, but the enforced takeover of a democratic state.
Free decision for voters in Germany
The situation in Germany, however, is different. Around 1.5 million Turkish citizens living here were entitled to vote in the referendum, and these voters had free access to information. All the important parties held campaign events; freedom of opinion was not constrained; no one who criticized the future autocrat had to worry about ending up in prison.
LONDON (AP) -- In a shock announcement, Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday called for an early general election to be held June 8 to seek a strong mandate as she negotiates Britain's exit from the European Union.
Standing outside 10 Downing Street, May said she would ask the House of Commons on Wednesday to back her call for an election, just two years after the last vote and three years before the next scheduled date in May 2020.
She said that since Britons voted to leave the EU in June, the country had come together, but politicians had not. She said the political divisions "risk our ability to make a success of Brexit."
At present, May's governing Conservatives have a small majority, with 330 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons. May said that "our opponents believe that because the government's majority is so small, our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course" on leaving the EU.
PANMUNJOM, South Korea (AP) -- In a trip full of Cold War symbolism, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence traveled to the tense zone dividing North and South Korea and warned Pyongyang that after years of testing the U.S. and South Korea with its nuclear ambitions, "the era of strategic patience is over."
Pence made an unannounced visit to the Demilitarized Zone Monday at the start of his 10-day trip to Asia in a U.S. show of force that allowed the vice president to gaze at North Korean soldiers from afar and stare directly across a border marked by razor wire. As the brown bomber jacket-clad vice president was briefed near the military demarcation line, two North Korean soldiers watched from a short distance away, one taking multiple photographs of the American visitor.
Pence told reporters near the DMZ that President Donald Trump was hopeful China would use its "extraordinary levers" to pressure the North to abandon its weapons program, a day after the North's failed missile test launch. But Pence expressed impatience with the unwillingness of the regime to move toward ridding itself of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
Pointing to the quarter-century since the United States first confronted North Korea over its attempts to build nuclear weapons, the vice president said a period of patience had followed.
The Political Advantages of a U.S.-U.K. Trade Deal
By Christopher Smart
A U.S.-UK trade agreement would bring little probable benefit to the American economy, although the benefits to a certain Donald Trump could be huge.
Given how tough it is to secure Congress’ approval of trade deals, it is overwhelmingly in America’s interest to muster limited political capital around a path to expanding trade with the much larger markets of the European Union.