RealClearWorld Articles

A Napoleonic President and L'Affaire Comey

Robert Zaretsky - May 24, 2017


“It’s worse than a crime; it’s a blunder.”

Perhaps no line better captures U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. Of course, it is now the task of special counsel Robert Mueller to decide whether Trump’s action constitutes a crime. As to whether it was a blunder, Joseph Fouche -- the man who coined the phrase -- would have no doubt. No individual better grasped than did Fouché the weaknesses, but also strengths, of working under a ruler as indifferent to political norms as he was to the wellbeing of his subjects.

How could he not? It was under Napoleon Bonaparte that Fouche served as head of the Ministry of Police, an institution that in certain respects anticipates our own Federal Bureau of Investigation. (Not coincidentally, the man who brought the FBI into being in 1908, Attorney General Charles Joseph Bonaparte, was the great grandnephew of Old Boney.) It may well be that the dynamic between the emperor and his minister, as well as their respective destinies, also anticipates that found between the president and former FBI director, and their own destinies.

Like Napoleon, Fouche was a child of the French Revolution, deeply marked by its ideals and energy. He first made his reputation during the Terror when Parisian authorities tasked him to quell counterrevolutionary forces. Fouche led a provincial campaign of “pacification” that earned him the title, long before Klaus Barbie, of the “Butcher of Lyon.” Following Robespierre’s fall, he navigated between the reefs of unbound revolution and reaction so expertly that Napoleon, upon coming to power in 1799, named him minister of police.

Manchester, Political Upheaval, and the Desertion of the Global Left

Peter Zeihan - May 24, 2017


A terror attack in the United Kingdom May 23 killed at least 22, and injured dozens more. As the attack targeted a youth pop concert, a high proportion of the deaths were among children and teenagers. United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May immediately cancelled all her ruling Tory Party’s campaign events — national elections are June 8 — so her government could focus on the crisis. The country’s other parties quickly followed suit.

As of yesterday, the Tories had this election locked up to the degree that a generational shift in UK politics was in the offing. If the polls are accurate, the Tories would have eaten deeply into the holdings of other parties not just in England, but in Wales and Scotland as well. Ongoing Brexit talks have justified and energized the Brits separate-and-superior mindset, and Theresa May has been using that energy to reshape the UK political space. That means, among other things, the British Labour party moving into the political wilderness, the de facto absorption of the anti-EU UK Independence party into the Tories, the Liberal Democrats’ return to the fringes of British power, and the evisceration of the Scottish National Party’s stronghold on Scottish politics and an end (for now) of talk of Scottish independence.

That was before the attack.

Between the rally-round-the-flag effect of terror attacks and the fact that the ruling Tories are the law-and-order party, the UK is now on the cusp of a complete overhaul. Barring some truly unprecedented revelations that bring down May and the entirety of the Conservative leadership, the Tories will walk away from the June elections with the strongest showing of perhaps the last century. In the election’s wake, Labour will not simply be weak, it will be gone and it is unlikely to come back in a meaningful way.

Trump Meets Macron

Martin Quencez - May 24, 2017


On Thursday May 25, Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump will meet for the first time to “exchange opinions.” Expectations and curiosity around this lunch are high, not only in France but in the whole transatlantic realm, as the new French candidate has been critical of some of Trump's first decisions and the two presidents’ political views seem to have little in common. However, the spirit of French–American relations is particularly high after years of close and productive cooperation on defense and security issues, and shared strategic interests are expected to guide the conversation.

What’s on the Table

The U.S. president is said to have been very impressed by the rapid success of his French counterpart, and this meeting will first and foremost be the opportunity to create a personal link between them. For Emmanuel Macron, this is another test that he can handle the most important diplomatic situations despite his lack of experience. In terms of content, Donald Trump is likely to focus on the question of defense spending, as he did during his phone calls with President François Hollande until now. Indeed, France currently spends 1.7 percent of its GDP on defense, and the United States will continue to push for further efforts. The two leaders will also discuss the fight against ISIS and Islamist terrorist groups in the Middle East and North Africa — a key priority for both countries — and additional issues of concern for the French side such as immigration and U.S. financial support to the UN.

Although the two men have run and won their elections with radically different political platforms, especially on globalization and liberal values, the continuity of French–American defense cooperation will certainly help find common grounds. The nomination of Jean-Yves Le Drian, who was particularly appreciated in DC as the French minister of defense, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the symbol of this continuity. For France, the objective is to remain to be perceived as the most able and willing partner of the United States on defense issues. The French operations in the Sahel and Mali, as well as its active participation in the coalition against ISIS and its fight against terrorism at home will strengthen Macron’s credibility vis-à-vis Trump. This will be necessary to overshadow the fact that the French president has been rather timid on defense spending so far. Indeed, his program plans a steady but limited increase of the defense budget to reach the 2 percent goal only by 2025, which had been read in some transatlantic circles as a sign that he does not take this issue seriously enough. 

After Manchester, It Is Right to Ask Why This Keeps Happening

Andy Price - May 24, 2017


After the horror of the Manchester Arena attack, the 2017 general election campaign has been paused, on the agreement of all parties, as the UK tries to come to terms with a terrorist incident. And rightly so: this is not the time for party politics. The Conversation

But politics as such cannot be stopped so easily, turned on or off on demand. There is, at times like these, a desperate need for political leadership, for a sense of direction to be given to a nation faced with uncertainty. This role falls to the sitting prime minister, first and foremost, and as such, Theresa May took to the steps of Downing Street to address the nation directly.

Credit where it is due: this is no easy task. After a gruelling couple of days in the election campaign, where the pressure must be immense, May suddenly had to switch to non-partisan stateswoman, and genuinely elevate the national interest above party interest.

In her statement, May largely did this. She told us that in the all-too-lengthy cannon of terrorist atrocities, this was particularly heinous, standing out from the rest “for its appalling, sickening cowardice, deliberately targeting innocent, defenceless children and young people”. She told us that we would in the coming days “struggle to comprehend the warped and twisted mind that sees a room packed with young children not as a scene to cherish but as an opportunity for carnage”.

Trump and Europe: The NASCAR Summit?

Jeremy Shapiro - May 24, 2017


Donald Trump arrives this week in Europe for his first visit as U.S. president. The visit has a certain NASCAR quality to it: Everybody claims they are interested in the outcome, but most really show up to see the fiery crashes. And at the scheduled meeting of NATO leaders, a volatile Trump could easily careen the car of state into the guardrail and cause an epic 28-car pile-up. But it is more likely that the Europeans will appeal to Trump’s ego, and he will return the favor with effusive charm. Trump will give an ordinary speech, make various extravagant promises, and the meeting will pass with neither incident nor substance. Everyone but the journalists will go home happy.

Regardless of that non-event, serious questions about the Trump administration should persist for Europe. Four endless months into his tenure, a few points about his presidency have already become abundantly clear to reasonably attentive European observers:

  • Trump is more of a clown than an ideologue -- he is basically uninterested in most aspects of policy and in any case incapable of carrying through complex policy initiatives such as health care or immigration. 
  • He is more of a bully than a savvy negotiator -- he has backed down or given up on almost everything so far including declaring China a currency manipulator, dumping the Iran deal, and getting Mexico to pay for the wall. Like most bullies, he gives up easily when actually challenged. Finally, he is more of egotist than a strategist. 
  • He values symbolic “quick win” actions like bombing Syria that make him look decisive more than he cares for consistency or coherence. His policy therefore changes at the speed of a tweet.

All of this means that the essence of Trump’s policy is its incoherence and unpredictability. Nonetheless, in Europe, many policymakers have a certain complacency about his presidency. They note that the nastier elements of his campaign rhetoric -- the hostility toward NATO, the indifference to the European Union, and the support for populist forces in Europe -- have largely disappeared.  

To their relief, Trump has put into a place a foreign policy team that fits well within the bounds of normal Republican parameters. Beneath the daily tumult of Trump-induced chaos, people like Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley are working assiduously to reassure allies and to fashion a foreign policy that, while distinct from that of former U.S. President Barack Obama, is hardly revolutionary. In stark opposition to candidate Trump, his administration’s foreign policy seeks to continue American leadership in the world, and indeed signals greater involvement in the Middle East and a greater willingness overall to commit American power to regional stability around the world. 

British Politicians Suspend Election Campaign After Manchester Attack

Deutsche Welle - May 23, 2017


Early on Tuesday morning, about four hours after the explosion that shook Manchester Arena following an Ariana Grande concert, British Prime Minister Theresa May released a statement condemning the "terrorist attack."

"We are working to establish the full details of what is being treated by the police as an appalling terrorist attack. All our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those who have been affected."

Earlier, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn reacted to the "terrible incident" on Twitter, saying his "thoughts are with all those affected." He later posted a longer statement.

The two leaders spoke on Tuesday and had agreed to suspend their election campaigns "until further notice” following the attacks. National elections are scheduled in Britain for June 8.

Roger Moore Had Prouder Achievements Than Playing James Bond

Robert Barr & Jill Lawless - May 23, 2017


LONDON (AP) -- Sir Roger Moore saw more to life than a well-mixed martini.

"I felt small, insignificant and rather ashamed that I had traveled so much making films and ignored what was going on around me," he would say years after starring in seven James Bond movies and upon accepting a role that his friend Audrey Hepburn inspired him to take on, goodwill ambassador for UNICEF.

Moore, who died Tuesday at age 89, didn't seem to take Bond that seriously even while playing him. Burdened with following Sean Connery as Agent 007, Moore kept it light, using a wry, amused tone and perpetually arched eyebrow as if he had landed on the set by accident. Connery embodied for millions the role of Bond as the suave drinker, womanizer and disposer of evil. Moore didn't so much inhabit the character as look upon him with disbelief.

"To me, the Bond situations are so ridiculous, so outrageous," he once said. "I mean, this man is supposed to be a spy and yet, everybody knows he's a spy. Every bartender in the world offers him martinis that are shaken, not stirred. What kind of serious spy is recognized everywhere he goes? It's outrageous. So you have to treat the humor outrageously as well."

An America That Speaks Mandarin

Jeff Wang - May 22, 2017


Before U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping sat down for dinner at Mar-a-Largo on April 6, Arabella, Trump’s 5-year-old granddaughter, was brought out to greet the Chinese guest. Her mother, Ivanka Trump, noted to the Chinese president that “this is to make you feel at home.” Thorny discussions on the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and an imbalanced trillion-dollar bilateral trade, to name just two, awaited. So one can imagine it came as a welcome relief to Xi to hear the first granddaughter recite familiar tunes and texts in his native tongue.

Arabella was confident; she sang in front of the Chinese first lady, an accomplished soprano. She recited text from the classical Chinese book of Sanzijing -- which began with the proclamation that “all are born with goodness,” counter to probably what the majority of the room believed on the matter of “original sin.” She was able to pull this off with a powerful tool, her mastery of the audience’s native language, in this case Mandarin, and she signaled respect and relatability. Sasha Obama had similarly practiced her Chinese with then-President Hu Jintao back in 2011, when she was 9 years old.

As Xi and Trump dug into their caesar salads, more than 1,200 educators from every corner of the United States were gathered in Houston for the 10th National Chinese Language Conference. George H.W. Bush, a native Houstonian and the 41st U.S. president, told attendees in a letter that, “your mission of educating the next generation of global citizens as to the importance of speaking Mandarin in order to enhance our U.S. bilateral relations abroad is more important today than ever before.” Another former president, George W. Bush, also told this audience that “learning a language -- somebody else’s language -- is a kind gesture. It’s a gesture of interest and is a fundamental way to reach out to somebody and say, 'I care about you.’”

Coincidence aside, never before had three American presidents expressed the power of learning Mandarin simultaneously. China and the United States have often disagreed on geopolitics, the flow of trade and investment, and their self-perceived roles on the global stage. Few would have predicted that within the space of a generation, China would come to contribute roughly one-third of global economic growth and would lift millions of people out of poverty. Yet fewer would have imagined, say, President Nixon’s daughter or President Reagan’s son showing off their Mandarin skills as their fathers brokered diplomacy with Chinese leaders.

Why Does Russia Still Favor China, Its More Powerful Partner?

Stephen Blank - May 22, 2017


Bobo Lo's new Lowy Institute Paper on Russo-Chinese relations dazzles with the brilliance, clarity of thought, precision, and vigour we have come to expect from his work. This essay should be required reading for those who would seek to plumb the depths of this critical relationship and of Russian and Chinese foreign policies.

Lo is certainly right to say that the most dynamic factor in this relationship is the growing imbalance in aggregated power between Russia and China, whereby China is outstripping Russia in most if not all indices of power and capability. He argues that this dynamism and the consequences that ensue from it are placing the relationship under ever-increasing stress. Thus he sees it as a tactical rather than principled relationship or partnership, and dismisses, as do most writers, the idea of an actual alliance appearing anytime soon.

However, despite the many virtues and scintillating insights, the essay fails to answer why, if there is a power asymmetry (and most assuredly there is), the relationship has been a durable feature of world affairs for the last 25 years. Neither does his assessment explain why leaders like China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi repeatedly state that bilateral relations between them have reached 'a historic maximum', are stronger than they ever have been and are based on mutual interests and not external factors like a shared antipathy to the US. Certainly those statements are not just pro forma utterances or words spoken purely for purposes of politeness or domestic consumption. If the irritants and divergences in this relationship are as strong and widespread as Lo suggests, then its continuation is a mystery, as it would appear to be of decreasing utility or benefit to both states.

In accordance with Wang Yi's statement, some authors who have written on this relationship (including this author) argue that it has become or is on the verge of becoming an alliance. Russia has frequently openly solicited one, and there are Russian analysts who clearly believe that an alliance is possible and maybe even desirable. There are Chinese analysts like Yan Xuetong who openly call for it. Moreover, as Wang Yi suggests, the basis for this alliance increasingly is the similarity in political structure and self-presentation or self-representation of the Chinese and Russian state to foreign and domestic audiences. Furthermore, over the years a solid network of bilateral or intergovernmental contacts, regular meetings, and agreements has grown, giving this relationship a considerable degree of institutional and legal solidarity. In the military sphere, as Marcin Kaczmarski pointed out back in 2008:

Trump to Test Waters for Achieving Mideast Peace

Jonathan Lemire & Julie Pace - May 22, 2017


TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) -- President Donald Trump opened his first visit to Israel Monday, an early visit by a president to a longtime Middle East ally and one aimed at testing the waters for jumpstarting the region's dormant peace process.

Trump flew in from Saudi Arabia, where he basked in a lavish welcome from the kingdom's royal family, and received a similarly warm welcome in Tel Aviv. In brief remarks during an airport ceremony, the president said he had come "to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and the state of Israel" and that his visit with Arab leaders gave him "new hope" for peace in the region.

"We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people," Trump said.

Trump received a warm welcome in Tel Aviv after becoming the first U.S. president to include Israel on his maiden overseas trip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Trump "a true friend" to Israel and sounded hopeful notes about the president's role in the Middle East peace process.

Guarding the Guards at the CIA

George Friedman - May 22, 2017


Over the weekend, The New York Times published a report detailing the discovery and systematic degradation of the U.S. espionage network in China from 2010 to 2012. The report cites 10 officials, former and current, who describe the penetration of the network and speculate on the reason for its failure. Some claim there was a Chinese mole in the CIA. Others claim that lines of communication between assets and the agency had been breached.

The timing of the report is as interesting as the content itself. CIA officials, after all, have already been accused of leaking information designed to weaken President Donald Trump. And now, not only have a handful of officials revealed a massive intelligence failure, but they have done so, apparently in concert, five years after it happened.

One explanation is that a faction in the CIA means to weaken the agency’s credibility by revealing the failure. (I have no evidence for this, but then again, evidence to substantiate charges is optional in Washington.) This would, in effect, undermine the credibility of those claiming to know about secret Russian plots. “You claim to know about them, but you are actually not very good at intelligence,” or so the argument would go.

A Tough Question

Searching for Beijing in the Old Borscht Belt

Kevin Sullivan - May 18, 2017


MONTICELLO, N.Y. -- The cause of death, according to the scuttlebutt at the Miss Monticello Diner, was drugs, and the mournful mood that snowy spring morning in Sullivan County, New York, befit the affair at the funeral home next door. As the funeral procession for 30-year-old Courtney Price formed along Broadway in downtown Monticello, it was difficult to disregard the many boarded-up buildings and for-sale signs lining this once bustling village in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains.

Once the jewel of the so-called borscht belt, the string of summertime resorts and bungalow colonies that stretched across the Catskills for the better part of a century, this community located about a hundred miles north of Manhattan for years catered to a predominantly Jewish clientele. The resorts served as the early stomping grounds for numerous artists, musicians, and comedians, and each summer drew millions of vacationers and tourists.

From the farmers who first flocked here in the early 20th century grew household names like Kutsher and Grossinger, founding fathers of the many hundreds of hotels and resorts that sprouted up and sustained an economy for decades. Entertainers like Sid Caesar and Buddy Hackett made their bones in the belt, as did Mel Brooks and Jerry Seinfeld, and it was here where Fyvush Finkel and Danny Kaye honed their skills and tummled their way to notoriety.

Athletes worked, rested, and played at the resorts during the summertime. High school basketball star Wilt Chamberlain worked as a bellboy at Kutsher's Country Club and played for the resort's basketball team, coached by none other than Red Auerbach. Boxing greats Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali trained here, and baseball legend and avid golfer Mickey Mantle enjoyed hitting the local greens.

Let's Celebrate Our Foreign Policy Success in Colombia

Peter Schecter - May 18, 2017


Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos arrives in Washington this week for his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. Despite the somber state of affairs around the world, on the Oval Office’s docket will be what is arguably America's greatest foreign policy success in recent history. 

"Foreign policy success" is a phrase we see too rarely. Among the list of failed interventions, refugee crises, adversarial relationships, and instabilities plaguing the world, Colombia is a poster child of success.  And while success is said to have many fathers, this achievement has a well-defined lineage: the Colombian people and a bipartisan determination in the United States to stand by them. 

The story of Plan Colombia begins in in the mid-1990s, with the country in the midst of a debilitating multi-front war against powerful narco-mafias and insurgent rebel groups. For over a decade, Colombian governments alternated between a determination to fight and failed offers to negotiate with rebels. The U.S. government responded with a comprehensive, long-term military, development, and institutional assistance plan. Requiring annual renewal, Plan Colombia, with its low cost and high payoff, prospered through three U.S. administrations. 

To get a sense of that payoff, just look at Colombia today. Its once-flailing economy is now among the region's strongest and is on track for accession to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Insecurity has fallen dramatically. Take as a bellwether Medellín: long the world's most violent city, it was selected by the Wall Street Journal as the world’s most innovative in 2013. The country’s middle class has grown steadily over the past two decades, resulting in better education, health, and social services. The homicide rate has been slashed by two-thirds. A seemingly endless civil war has ended, and we helped make it all possible for less than 2 percent of what we spent in Iraq.

The Future of the Venezuelan Crisis

Allison Fedirka - May 17, 2017


In our 2017 forecast, we predicted that Venezuela’s government would not survive the year. Throughout 2016, the administration of President Nicolas Maduro faced political gridlock and nationwide protests that seemed to be reaching a critical point, and the problem has not subsided. For more than a month now, large-scale protests against the government have taken place across the country nearly every day. The death toll continues to rise as protests show no sign of stopping. As the crisis continues to escalate, we look at the constraints and imperatives of the different actors to determine how the situation could unfold in the months ahead.

Chances of External Intervention

Despite media speculation, foreign intervention either in support of the government or of the opposition is not a viable way to end this crisis. The political costs associated with any type of external intervention, including military action, a trade embargo and broad sanctions, are extremely high. Of all the countries that could intervene on behalf of the opposition, the United States is by far the most capable. But the United States’ current strategy is to let countries handle crises within their own regions rather than inserting itself in affairs extraneous to its interests. Washington has more immediate concerns to deal with – Venezuela is relatively low on its radar.

International organizations could also intervene, but they lack the capability or political will to do so. Groups such as the Union of South American Nations International, the Organization of American States and the Common Market of the South, or Mercosur, do not have organized, joint security forces, and they have limited means of influencing the behavior of their member states. But more important, Venezuela’s relationship with these groups is ambiguous: Caracas announced its intention to leave the Organization of American States and is currently suspended from Mercosur.

Macron and the Uprooting of France

Matthew Del Santo - May 17, 2017


For months the world has waited with bated breath for Emmanuel Macron to save France, Europe and democracy by succeeding in his outwardly improbable campaign to become the next French president. Now that he has, it is time to ask: what, with the 'Far Right' duly slain, does he actually have a mandate for?

A great many things separated Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, not the least the vexed question of the European Union.

His En Marche! 'party' is presented as a shake-up of the establishment. But as far as French policy in Europe is concerned, what Macron has been elected to do is maintain the status quo. There will be no deviation from the course France has been on since the Treaties of Lisbon (2007) and Maastricht (1992).

Some have called it a soft 'coup'. Little more than a quarter of voters are actually enthusiastic about the kind of socially and economically liberal future Macron stands for. Patriotic, socially conservative voters have struggled to forgive him for his campaign assertion that there is 'no such thing as French culture, only a culture in France. And it is diverse.' Alone among the first round's four top-polling candidates, Macron is an out-and-out Obama-esque liberal globalist.

Can Rouhani Pull Off a Win in Iran?

Saeid Golkar & Dina Smeltz - May 16, 2017


Despite a recent IranPoll survey that has led some observers to question the chances of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s re-election, he is likely to prevail in Iran's May 19 election, a contest that is shaping up to be one of the most important elections in the history of the Islamic Republic. We believe Rouhani is poised to win because of his favorable economic program, openness to Iran's civil society, relationships with the United States and other international partners, and his current political position compared to the alternative candidates. 

The Contenders

Three front-runners have emerged in Iran's presidential election: Hassan Rouhani, Ebrahimi Raisi, and Mohammad Ghalibaf. Rouhani is the incumbent president who helped to negotiate the nuclear deal. He is a cleric who represents the moderate or reform wing of Iranian politics. Raisi and Ghalibaf represent the hard-line or conservative faction of Iranian politics. Raisi is a conservative cleric, a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the custodian of both the wealthiest charitable foundation in Iran and the Muslim world, Astan Quds Razavi, and the Imam Reza shrine. Ghalibaf is the mayor of Tehran, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guard, and the former head of the Iranian police. 

Rouhani Is the Only One with an Economic Plan beyond Handouts 

China and Africa: Changing the Narrative in 2017

Aubrey Hruby - May 15, 2017


The much-discussed and controversial China-Africa relationship has evolved greatly over the past few years, but common perceptions have not kept pace with changing realities. China has become Africa’s largest and fastest-growing trading partner, pledging $60 billion-worth of funding to the continent in 2015. It has been cast as an exploitative “neo-colonial” business partner over the past two decades -- one with little interest in forging genuine win-win deals with African nations. This view has some merit given the opaque, government-to-government nature of China’s relationship with the continent. There are, however, indications that China and African countries are developing commercial ties that are more balanced, diversified, and beneficial to both regions. China and the African continent collectively contain a third of the global population and have recorded the fastest growth rates in the world over the past 15 years.

Roots of the Relationship

Loans or grants from Chinese government agencies to African counterparts have traditionally outweighed foreign direct investment, comprising more than $86 billion between 2000 and 2014 and nearly $18 billion in 2013 alone, according to the China Africa Research Initiative. African governments typically agree to long-term concessionary loans from the Export Import Bank of China to fund major infrastructure projects such as the $500 million seaport at Kribi in Cameroon, and the $1 billion-plus railway between Addis Ababa and Djibouti. They do so because other sources of financing are lacking or are too slow to meet immediate infrastructure needs. The loans are tied to the use of Chinese contractors on the projects and offices of companies such as the China Communications Construction Company and the China Railway Construction Corporation, and others have sprung up in dozens of African countries.  

The capital flows behind this system of infrastructure financing are regularly grouped into general discussion of investment in African markets, often resulting in illogical comparisons between U.S., European, and Chinese forms of investment in the region. The behind-closed-doors, government-to-government approach of the Chinese state entities lacks transparency and often feeds corruption, and it has therefore been criticized for compromising the expected economic and social benefits of such deals for African countries. Wenjie Chen, an economist in the African Department of the International Monetary Fund, has found that China’s commercial engagement is uncorrelated with rule of law in African markets: “Whereas Western investment favors the better governance environments. Chinese investment in strong and weak governance environments is about the same, but its share of foreign investment is higher in the weak governance states.”

The NBA’s Outsize Impact on China

Ford Carson - May 12, 2017


Established in 2008 with an initial evaluation of $2.3 billion and an estimated annual revenue exceeding $150 million, NBA China’s eye-popping numbers demonstrate the power of basketball as means of cultural exchange between the United States and China.

“NBA basketball is clearly the most popular sports league in the country,” NBA China’s Chief Executive David Shoemaker said to the New York Times in 2012. “[NBA China] is a cash-flowing and fast-growing company at present.”

With 300 million Chinese playing basketball in 2012 alone, many have called it the country’s “national sport” to underscore the same near-religiosity seen in America in regard to football. For example, as first pointed out by the New York Times, despite a time shift that coincided NBA games with the Chinese morning rush in 2002, regular season games frequently enjoyed a viewership of 10 million or more in China.

Basketball has seen an unprecedented rise in popularity in the country since 1987, when Commissioner David Stern began selling NBA game footage to the Chinese all-sports television channel China Central Television (CCTV) in exchange for advertising revenue. The investment paid off -- its estimated fan base is now somewhere in the ballpark of 450 million people -- and, within a few years, other American companies began purchasing advertising space to reach previously untapped Chinese consumers.

How U.S. Meddling in the Bosnia Conflict Changed the Face of NATO

Ted Galen Carpenter - May 12, 2017


Miscalculations and outright blunders abound in U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Some mistakes are obvious in retrospect and should have been at the time, most notably Washington’s elective war in Iraq and its devastating impact on Middle East stability. Only the Dick Cheneys of the world still contend that the Bush administration’s regime-change crusade was anything other than a calamity.

However, there have been other, less apparent, mistakes that produced highly negative outcomes. One of those blunders was U.S. policy toward the civil war in Bosnia during the mid-1990s. America’s entanglement in the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia was unfortunate on two levels. It was a missed opportunity in the vastly changed post–Cold War security environment for the United States to off-load responsibility for a subregional problem onto the European members of NATO. The way Washington ultimately handled the Bosnia conflict also created an unhealthy precedent. It transformed NATO from a purely defensive alliance designed to deter or repel an attack on its members into an organization with an offensive orientation. Specifically, in Bosnia the alliance projected military power against an insurgent movement and secessionist government that had not attacked or even threatened a NATO member.

As Yugoslavia began to unravel in the early 1990s, George H. W. Bush’s administration seemed inclined to let the leading European powers manage the situation. And those powers, especially Britain, France and Germany, did take some initiative, including working to get the feuding ethnic factions in the newly minted country of Bosnia-Herzegovina to work out a peaceful political solution. The centerpiece of that effort, orchestrated by the European Union, was the Vance-Owen plan, named for former British foreign secretary David Owen and former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.

Yet even at that early stage, U.S. officials found it difficult to resist the temptation to meddle. The new Clinton administration spurned the Vance-Owen plan, and it sent subtle signals to Bosnia’s president—and the leader of the country’s Muslim faction—Alija Izetbegović to resist provisions of that plan. Emboldened, Izetbegovic then spurned the initiative, and the three-sided armed struggle among Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs intensified.

China’s Economic Reforms Have Hit a Wall

Scott Kennedy - May 11, 2017


By almost any measure, China’s economic performance over the past four decades is as impressive as the Great Wall is long. Since the late 1970s, the People’s Republic of China has grown faster for longer than any country in history -- ever. But just as the Great Wall wasn’t as effective as popularly imagined, the foundation of China’s economy is weak. Because of China’s sheer size and its integration into global production networks, one thing is for certain: as China’s economy goes, so goes the world’s. Furthermore, the dangers of an malfunctioning Chinese economy are monumental, not just for China but for the United States and everyone else.

An Unsustainable Model

From the late 1970s until 2010 China averaged more than nine percent real growth, but growth has fallen considerably since, coming in at 6.7 percent for all of 2016. More troubling than the country’s dive in growth is its collapse in productivity. All of China’s growth now is achieved through mobilizing more money and labor, not improvements in human capital or technology. It now takes three times as much capital to generate a single unit of economic growth as it did in 2008. The result is an explosion of debt that now accounts for at least 280 percent of GDP, and could break through the 300 percent mark by year’s end.

China has three strategies to arrest this trend. The first is to shrink the size of the old economy by reducing capacity in heavy industrial sectors dominated by lethargic state-owned enterprises, including steel and aluminum. The second is to expand the new economy by supporting high value-added services and advanced technologies. And the third is to reform local government fiscal systems while tightening regulation of new financial instruments such as wealth management products. The headline figures do reflect economic restructuring; services now count for more than half of the economy, high-tech manufacturing is expanding rapidly, and the issuance of new credit is slowing. But despite these efforts, productivity is still flagging.