RealClearWorld Articles

Uzbekistan in the Starting Blocks

James Durso - October 16, 2017

Uzbekistan gained independence in September 1991, but it finally entered the post-Soviet era on December 4, 2016 with the election as president of longtime Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

Mirziyoyev is no upstart. He spent 13 years as prime minister, and in his new role he is moving quickly to address long-standing issues such as border and water disputes with surrounding countries, currency convertibility, and human rights.

Islam Karimov had held power since the fall of the Soviet Union. His death in August 2016 was not immediately announced, allowing time for power-transition negotiations, which circumvented the Constitution when the designated successor, the Chairman of the Senate, declined the office because of his lack of experience. Mirziyoyev was then named acting president by the parliament and chaired the committee organizing Karimov’s funeral -- a clear signal he would be elevated to the highest office.

The transition negotiations were a domestic iteration of what will likely be a policy of balancing actors inside and outside the country. Mirziyoyev quickly sidelined a competitor -- Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov, whom the West had favored -- but as his leadership plays out, he must ensure that regional clans, prominent businessmen, and the National Security Service are onboard with his policies and personnel changes.

Interpreting the Fall of Islamic State Governance

Aaron Zelin - October 16, 2017

According to a field commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the last Islamic State (IS) holdouts will lose control of Raqqa, the group's self-proclaimed capital, by sometime in the third week of October. Alongside the fall of Mosul, the IS stronghold in Iraq, this development marks a second collapse of governance for the jihadists.

Reflecting this failure, for the first time since IS began systematizing its governance capabilities in late 2013 and early 2014, the group's media apparatus has not, for roughly a month, released any material related to governing, social services, or dawa (proselytizing and outreach activities). The most sophisticated system of jihadist governance ever established thus appears to be dwindling to nothing. All the same, it is worth noting that the media silence may not indicate the absolute cessation of IS governance -- indeed, the group is likely engaging in basic governance in certain areas along the Iraq-Syria border -- but instead the further erosion of its media apparatus.


Preceding the recent bid for jihadist governance was an earlier, more limited attempt that lasted from around 2006 to 2009 by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), as the group was then called. Governance in name only, it occurred just in Iraq and had mainly a law-and-order emphasis rather than one encompassing comprehensive services. Moreover, it relied mainly on hisba-like (moral policing) activities. This attempt was temporarily quashed by the U.S. troop surge and the sahwa (awakening) movement among Sunni tribesmen.

The Self-Defeating Sovereignty Obsession

Stewart Patrick - October 16, 2017

Donald Trump’s “America First” policy is an international extension of his approach to business and personal relationships. It is narcissistic, narrow-minded, and transactional, driven by one overriding impulse: “What’s in it for me?” At the core of this worldview is a determination to defend American sovereignty against any commitments that might dilute U.S. independence or freedom of action. Absent is any conception of an international community, much less any aspiration to lead it. The president’s foreign policy abdicates America’s historical role. In an era of global challenges, it is doomed to failure.

Amid presidential tweetstorms and administration chaos, it is easy to lose sight of the core conviction that animates Trump’s foreign policy. The president believes that the liberal world order which the United States crafted no longer works for Americans. Wherever he looks, Trump sees an America hemmed in by international organizations and exploited by conniving countries seeking to hamstring its freedoms and freeload on its efforts. Placing America “first” means regaining control of U.S. sovereignty, so that the United States can once more advance its own prosperity and security.

Trump’s focus on American sovereignty was clear the day he declared his candidacy, promising to build a “great, great wall” along the nation’s border with Mexico. It was also apparent when the president quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an act that Stephen Bannon, Trump’s strategic advisor at the time, declared would “let our sovereignty come back to ourselves.” It likewise informed administration decisions to slash funding for the United Nations, place a moratorium on new multilateral treaties, threaten to ignore the World Trade Organization, and repudiate the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The apotheosis of Trump’s sovereigntism came last month, in his maiden speech to the U.N. General Assembly. The president invoked the word “sovereignty” no fewer than 21 times. It was a remarkable performance for a U.S. leader. Since 1945, Republican and Democratic presidents have championed internationalism. They have nurtured multilateral institutions out of enlightened self-interest, aware that these bodies underpin a rule-bound world order, provide material benefits to the United States, and accentuate the legitimacy of U.S. global leadership. 

Why Mess With the U.S. Auto Industry's Success?

Duncan Wood - October 16, 2017

Since the economic crisis of 2008-2009, the U.S. auto industry has been on a tear. Despite the claims of the Trump administration, there are 1 million more cars per year built in the United States now than in 1993. The United States has never before seen such extraordinary automotive production, and the industry has not been this competitive against foreign imports since the 1960s. Between 2009 and 2016, more than 276,000 automotive jobs have been added in the United States (a jump of 41.6% percent), jobs with generous salaries and benefits. Auto-parts producers have also benefited as service providers, as vehicle sales have risen to record levels. 

What made this transformation possible? In part it was due to changes demanded by the government in exchange for bailing out the industry, and in part to the opportunity seized by the industry to modernize practices that had held back its competitiveness. But a major factor in the automotive renaissance in America has been the role played by the integrated production system incorporating suppliers and plants in Mexico and Canada, and across the world.

The North American Free Trade Agreement currently requires that 62.5 percent of the value of a car sold in the three markets must have originated in the region for it to qualify for tariff-free entry. This means that critical components such as body work, steering columns, and engines are fabricated in different parts of the NAFTA region, the final vehicle is assembled in any one of those countries, and so long as 62.5 percent of the value originated in the region, it can be sold as a NAFTA car. This spurs cross-industry efficiencies and synergies, and it helps form long-term productive relationships. Workers in all three countries depend on the productivity of their counterparts in other parts of the regional supply chain to preserve their jobs. The remaining 37.5 percent of content that comes from outside the region allows companies to lower their costs and to price their vehicles more competitively. This means that consumers in all three countries benefit from cheaper, higher quality vehicles than would otherwise be possible. 

And yet the Trump administration is unhappy with the current configuration of the North American auto sector and has repeatedly attacked the $54 billion deficit in the auto industry. To address the perceived problem in the auto trade, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer have put forward changes to existing NAFTA rules that put these efficiencies, productivity, and relationships in jeopardy. 

Joint UK-France-Germany Statement on Iran Deal

UK Prime Minister's Office - October 13, 2017

Czech Election: Another Blow to the EU?

Janusz Bugajski - October 12, 2017

Parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic on Oct. 20-21 could deal a double blow to the EU project. The next Czech government is likely to be a populist coalition that will hamper democratic practices and leave the country more vulnerable to Russian efforts to further divide the European Union.

The ruling pro-EU Czech Social Democratic Party has been in persistent conflict with an openly pro-Russian President, Miloš Zeman, and the populist Action of Dissatisfied Citizens, or ANO, movement led by wealthy Czech oligarch Andrej Babiš. ANO is unabashedly euroskeptic, resists further European integration, and opposes various EU policies, including the economic sanctions imposed on Russia for invading Ukraine.

During the past year, support for the Social Democrats has fallen under 15 percent despite the relatively respectable performance of the Czech economy. The ANO movement outperformed the Social Democrats in several key regional elections in October 2016 with a focus on national identity and opposition to immigration. In recent opinion polls, it registered a double-digit lead over the Social Democrats and looks on track to lead any new coalition government.

ANO has no clear ideology but plays on populist themes to gain power. Similar to the ruling parties in both Hungary and Poland, it is less concerned about democratic checks and balances and more focused on restoring national sovereignty, which it alleges is under threat from Brussels. This can steer the country toward a more centralized and statist capitalist system that favors loyal oligarchs. The rule of law in the Czech Republic is already failing to meet EU standards because of high-level political interference in the judicial process that often targets political opponents. This is likely to worsen under an ANO-led government.

From the Desk of Donald Trump to Xi Jinping: Let's Make a Deal

Joseph Bosco - October 12, 2017

Hello President Xi.  

I know you appreciate me calling you that and treating you as a fellow president even though I was actually elected by the American people and you were appointed by other Communist dictators. 

Anyway, I'm calling you about some serious business you and I need to resolve on North Korea and Taiwan — what the experts call two of Asia's most dangerous flash points, but what I like to see as a couple of opportunities for us to become known as the Peace Presidents. We could absolutely get a Nobel Prize or two, and this time it would be for accomplishing something great, unlike that phony prize given to Barack Obama before he accomplished anything at all, although later he left us with his disastrous Iran nuclear surrender agreement. No way I'll agree to something like that for North Korea, believe me.

So here's the deal I have in mind. I know your big 19th Party Congress is coming up soon. (Lucky you! I have to deal with our Congress every year.) And I know you want to strengthen your hold on power while achieving something historic for your personal legacy. Well, here's good advice from someone who knows how to succeed by doing the completely unexpected.

Washington Cannot Redo the Iran Deal By Itself

Jamsheed Choksy & Carol Choksy - October 12, 2017

Decertification of the deal on Iran’s nuclear program, renewed sanctions, and a new proposal will not work if undertaken unilaterally by the United States.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), negotiated between the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council  -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China -- plus Germany, the European Union, and Iran, was formally adopted on Oct. 18, 2015. Despite the JCPOA’s stature as an international agreement, the U.S. Congress in May 2015 had already placed a domestic U.S. restriction upon any such deal -- the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. So in addition to the U.S. president having to waive sanctions against Iran anew every 120 days, Congress under INARA can impose new sanctions if and when a president concludes that the JCPOA is no longer in the U.S. national interest and therefore decertifies the deal.

Both as candidate and as president, Donald Trump has regularly denounced the JCPOA as a bad deal. The foreign policy and military wings of his government do acknowledge privately that Iran is in compliance with the nuclear agreement. However, President Trump believes the Islamic Republic is not living up to the spirit of the agreement, citing its missile program and its involvement with terrorism. The Trump administration asserts publicly that the Iran is not complying fully with the multilateral nuclear deal, justifying decertification as a prelude to seeking a better deal.

Indeed Iran’s ambitions seem to go well beyond the acquisition of an atomic bomb. The country endeavors to acquire hydrogen power and other weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles, military technology transfers, and political influence around the world.

Kurdistan Deserves U.S. Support. Here Is Why

Francis Rooney - October 10, 2017

With 72 percent turnout and a 93 percent affirmative vote in a referendum on independence in September, there is little doubt that the people of Iraqi Kurdistan seek freedom from the Republic of Iraq. Last week’s vote in the autonomous region was overwhelming and showed that the country’s Kurds are deeply invested in a quest for self-determination reminiscent of our own more than 200 years ago. Yet the U.S. response was terse. The State Department said that Kurdistan’s independence would impede the effort to defeat ISIS, despite the fact that we are fighting side by side with these same Kurds and that they have proven to be a well-organized, effective force.

Given our own tradition and the recent history of Iraq and Kurdistan, we should at least consider the potential strategic advantages of Kurdish independence.

First consider that a stable and diverse nation in Iraq may be unachievable. Iraq was arbitrarily created by the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916; British and French diplomats drew its boundaries to serve their own postwar interests with little respect for the history and nature of the peoples they lumped together. The country is therefore comprised of large communities of both of the principal schismatic Islamic sects, Sunnis and Shiites. It also contains a sizable community of Kurds. These groups are in a constant state of enmity and conflict which appears to be intractable.

Asserting that an independent Kurdistan would impede efforts to defeat radical Islam depreciates the Kurds' current contributions to that very cause and seems to excessively defer to the Iraqi government. A strong and independent Kurdistan might actually strengthen our efforts by reinforcing the role of the Peshmerga, the Kurdish fighting force, as a full-fledged participant in the coalition opposing the Islamic State.

America's Autopilot Wars

Andrew Bacevich - October 8, 2017

Global Growth: Choppy Forecasts, Smooth Sailing

John Edwards - October 8, 2017

It's been tough for those writing the IMF's World Economic Outlook in recent years. 'Is the Tide Rising?', the report asked in 2014, only to conclude later that same year that 'Legacies, Clouds and Uncertainties' still surrounded the global outlook.

The next year there were 'Cross Currents', and then 'Uneven Growth'. In 2016 the team declared that things had been 'Too Slow for Too Long'. It wasn't till April of this year that the global economy was thought to be 'Gaining Momentum', a trend cheered on mid-year with a 'Firming Recovery'. When it releases its next set of forecasts, timed to coincide with the IMF and World Bank meetings in Washington next week, the IMF may well conclude that the world economy is picking up – an announcement pre-empted in OECD forecasts two weeks ago.

Despite the mood swings among forecasters over the last three or four years, the actual pace of global growth has barely changed. World growth in 2014 was 3.5%. The following year on IMF numbers it was 3.4%, then 3.2%. In its June forecast the IMF expected global growth this year would be 3.5% again. The 'Firming Recovery', it turns out, means moving from 3.2% growth to 3.5% growth – recoveries used to have more bounce. While forecaster moods have been volatile, growth overall has been pretty consistent – and pretty good.

The US expansion is a case in point. It is surely among the least-noticed economic phenomenon of our time. Just short of 100 months since it began in June 2009, the current US economic expansion is already the third-longest since World War II. If all goes well it will be the second-longest expansion by this time next year, and the longest by this time the year after that.

What Are the Limits to Belarus's Sovereignty?

Grigory Ioffe - October 6, 2017

The joint Russian-Belarusian Zapad 2017 war games, which ran during September 14–20, inspired a wide-ranging debate about the nature and geopolitical realities of Belarusian statehood and independence.

Thus, according to the Belarusian military analyst Alexander Alesin, the Kremlin had evinced utmost irritation with Minsk because, even though Moscow had long insisted on the offensive character of the exercises, Belarus had nevertheless invited several international observers, especially those from Ukraine, without coordination with Russia. Consequently, both President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu did not visit Belarus during the drill, and the Russian military commanders did not stay for a ceremonial meal right after the event (Naviny, September 26).

Artyom Shraibman, a political commentator for, opines, on the other hand, that during Zapad 2017, Belarus was twice shown the limits of its sovereignty. In the first instance, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) kidnapped a Ukrainian citizen who came to Gomel, Belarus (see EDM, September 12). And in the second instance, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced shortly after the beginning of the Zapad drills—and contrary to a detailed plan—that it was about to transfer a tank army to Belarus. While the Belarusian MoD disavowed this announcement, it clearly did not anticipate or understand what its Russian ally had in mind in the first place. In both cases, Shraibman argues, Moscow evinced extreme carelessness regarding Belarus’s image in the eyes of the West. This did not justify the Baltic States’ loud apprehensions, he suggests, but it did compromise Minsk’s guarantees that no attack on these countries would come from Belarusian soil (, September 21).

Yauheni Preiherman, the director of research at the Liberal Club, a unique Minsk-based institution with ties to both international donor agencies and the Belarusian government, objects to Shraibman’s perspective on Belarus’s sovereignty. He calls the Zapad 2017 war games an event that bored everyone to death and cheers the fact that it is over. To Preiherman, the FSB’s capture of a Ukrainian citizen from Belarus need not be interpreted as any evidence of a limitation of Belarus’s sovereignty since spy agencies routinely engage in such activities across the world. Rather, the occurrence testifies to a “cynical and cruel” fight between Russia and Ukraine. Did the bugging of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone by the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) limit Germany’s sovereignty, he asks (, September 23). While some might give an affirmative answer to this seemingly rhetorical question by Preiherman, what is more important is that it actually lays bare the so-called notion of “attribute substitution,” a phenomenon studied by social psychology. Specifically, displeasure over limitations to sovereignty may be a spontaneous self-deception since few countries in the world exercise unlimited freedom of action to begin with. The true, if latent, displeasure may, in fact, be about which outside power limits one’s sovereignty rather than about the limitation of sovereignty itself.

The Case For Constitutional Reform in Poland

Bruce Ackerman - October 3, 2017

NEW HAVEN: Suppose, just for a moment, that Jaroslaw Kazcynski, the powerful boss of Poland's Law and Justice Party, fails in his authoritarian assault on democracy. Instead, his blatant power-grabs provoke a popular response reminiscent of the 1980s, a grassroots movement organizing citizen committees and public protests culminating in a sweeping repudiation of the Kazcynski regime at the polls – similar to the humiliating loss suffered by the Jaruzelski regime in June 1989.

At the moment this is a hypothetical scenario. It is up to the Polish people to determine whether the spirit of Solidarity remains a living force in the life of the nation. But serious democrats in the rest of the world should do what they can to promote this hopeful turn in Polish affairs. Most obviously, it is past time for the European Union to cut off economic assistance to the regime’s assault on foundational democratic principles.

And perhaps constitutional theorists can also make a contribution. Polish intellectuals and activists are focusing energies on organizing an effective opposition movement and have little time to consider the fundamental constitutional issues raised by the crisis.

But constitutional reforms are essential and my suggestions follow. After all, even if Poles do manage to repudiate Kazcynski’s Law and Justice Party at the 2019 parliamentary elections, there is no guarantee that another authoritarian movement won’t renew the assault on democratic government.

Argentine Probe Closes In

Toby Dershowitz - October 2, 2017

A 400-page report submitted Sept. 22 by Argentine police investigators to that nation’s courts found what many people instinctively knew: that special prosecutor Alberto Nisman was murdered in January 2015, and that he did not commit suicide the day before he was to present evidence to the Argentine Congress that then-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had attempted to cover up Iran’s role in the country’s largest terrorist attack in history. 

While the police report lays to rest many questions, important ones remain in the broader case, which is far from closed and which the courts will have to determine.   

The report’s findings open the door to address not only who killed Nisman, but at whose behest and why. After all, many observers believe it was not his body that was the target, but the body of evidence he exposed about Iran’s role in terrorism in the Western Hemisphere, and about Kirchner’s alleged attempt to cover up Iran’s part in the July 18, 1994 bombing of the AMIA, a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.   

The report came as INTERPOL’s General Assembly convened in China. Nisman’s exhaustive investigation found that senior Iranian officials had planned and coordinated the bombing of the AMIA.  In 2007, INTERPOL issued red notices – the equivalent of arrest warrants -- for the Iranian officials. Iran has repeatedly but unsuccessfully attempted various schemes to get the red notices lifted.  In August of this year, at the request of the Argentine government, sources tell me that INTERPOL extended five notices that were due to expire in late 2017. 

The Global War of 2030

Alfred McCoy - October 2, 2017

[This piece has been adapted and expanded from Alfred W. McCoy’s new book, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power.]

For the past 50 years, American leaders have been supremely confident that they could suffer military setbacks in places like Cuba or Vietnam without having their system of global hegemony, backed by the world’s wealthiest economy and finest military, affected. The country was, after all, the planet’s “indispensible nation,” as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright proclaimed in 1998 (and other presidents and politicians have insisted ever since). The U.S. enjoyed a greater “disparity of power” over its would-be rivals than any empire ever, Yale historian Paul Kennedy announced in 2002. Certainly, it would remain “the sole superpower for decades to come,” Foreign Affairs magazine assured us just last year. During the 2016 campaign, candidate Donald Trump promised his supporters that “we’re gonna win with military... we are gonna win so much you may even get tired of winning.” In August, while announcing his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, Trump reassured the nation: “In every generation, we have faced down evil, and we have always prevailed.” In this fast-changing world, only one thing was certain: when it really counted, the United States could never lose.

No longer.

The Trump White House may still be basking in the glow of America’s global supremacy but, just across the Potomac, the Pentagon has formed a more realistic view of its fading military superiority. In June, the Defense Department issued a major report titled on Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World, finding that the U.S. military “no longer enjoys an unassailable position versus state competitors,” and “it no longer can... automatically generate consistent and sustained local military superiority at range.” This sober assessment led the Pentagon’s top strategists to “the jarring realization that ‘we can lose.’” Increasingly, Pentagon planners find, the “self-image of a matchless global leader” provides a “flawed foun­dation for forward-looking defense strategy... under post-primacy conditions.” This Pentagon report also warned that, like Russia, China is “engaged in a deliberate program to demonstrate the limits of U.S. authority”; hence, Beijing’s bid for “Pacific primacy” and its “campaign to expand its control over the South China Sea.”