Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN's Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Chris Good
Oct. 21, 2019

Will the US Have to Return to Syria?

In defending his Syrian withdrawal, President Trump has argued for ending foreign entanglements, but has he simply ensured that US troops will return to Syria in the future? As Elias Yousif writes for Newsweek, that’s often what happens when America decides it’s had enough of a conflict. In 2003, the US sacrificed gains in Afghanistan by pivoting to an invasion of Iraq; as the Taliban grew stronger, America became more deeply mired in the first post-9/11 war. In Iraq, America’s exit under President Obama allowed ISIS to emerge and drew the US back in.

“Though the sentiment may seem admirable, the decision actually typifies the very legacy of politically convenient but short-sighted policy choices that have kept the US mired in ‘forever wars’ and all but ensures American soldiers will again find themselves in the Syrian desert, but with fewer friends to call on,” Yousif writes.

In a scathing New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof hones in on Trump’s call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: “By failing to prepare for a phone call with Turkey’s leader, and then allowing himself to be manipulated, Trump undid years of work in the Middle East,” Kristof writes. “What he has done in Syria is not foreign policy. It is vandalism.”

Not So Great for Russia and Iran, After All?

President Trump’s critics have called the withdrawal a gift to Russia and Iran, but it may not benefit either so cleanly.

With the US leaving, Dmitri Trenin argues in the Financial Times, Russia will inherit more responsibility to solve Syria’s problems, like the handling of ISIS fighters held by Kurdish-led forces. Russia is on a quest for Middle East influence, broadly—it has quietly deepened ties with neighboring Iraq, Anna Borschevskaya writes for The American Interest, via to weapons sales and an oil development contract—but while Russia gains influence where the US pulls back, ownership of Syria’s quandary is less desirable. “Moscow is learning that the reward for success is a whole new set of problems,” Trenin writes.

Iran, too, may be less gleeful than Trump’s critics assume: In The Wall Street Journal, Ray Takeyh writes that once the US is gone, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may be tempted to seize more territory, a potential overstep that would require more help from Tehran. A formidable regional presence, Turkey is bound to gain more power, while ISIS may return—both bad outcomes for Iran. “[T]he notion that the pullout empowers Tehran is belied by its leaders’ expressions of anxiety,” Takeyh writes. “The Middle East rarely offers a respite to ambitious nations, even Iran.”

China’s NBA Overreach 

The China-NBA kerfuffle may signal that foreign companies need to get more sensitive to China’s red lines, as Edward Tse argues in the South China Morning Post, but it also could be an instance of China's overreach in pressuring foreigners. While some US companies have fallen in line with Beijing (Apple, for instance, removed an app Hong Kong’s protesters used to map police activity), the reaction to an NBA general manager’s tweet laid bare Beijing’s political “hubris,” Minxin Pei writes for Project Syndicate. The relationship between China and the NBA had been a paragon of cultural exchange, and risking it was a strategic blunder that, Pei guesses, “was more than likely taken by a party apparatchik eager to curry favor with CPC superiors.”

In that sense, the affair reveals a problem for Beijing, in Pei’s view: Internal pressure will lead party officials to make strategic errors, as they seek to toe the party line. That will mean more instances like this one, which will alienate the West and make it easier “for the US to assemble a broad coalition to contain [China’s] power and ambitions.”

Should Palestinians Embrace a One-State Solution?

The “two-state solution” is dead, Yousef Munayyer argues in Foreign Affairs, and years of international dithering, Palestinian commitment to a flawed peace process, and Israeli settlement construction have killed it. With settlements having expanded into Palestinian territories, it’s just not possible to split off a Palestinian state, he argues.

What, then, are Palestinians to pursue? Munayyer makes a simple suggestion: Equal rights and a new constitution. The current situation, he argues, is untenable: Among the 13 million people residing in Israel’s extended territory, roughly 3 million are Palestinian Arabs living under military occupation without voting rights, 2 million face discrimination within Israel’s borders, and another 2 million live in the blockaded Gaza Strip. This “version of apartheid will eventually be recognized for what it is, and then Israel’s true options will be clear: move to one state with equal rights or become a pariah,” he argues. Palestinians’ best option, Munayyer writes, is to accept a future under Israel, relinquish their demands for statehood, and instead push for equal treatment in a single state.

Maybe Populism Isn’t So Bad, After All

The populist wave has generated consternation the world over, but in a Foreign Policy essay adapted from their recent book, The Narrow Corridor: States Societies, and the Fate of Liberty, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson argue that in America, at least, the age of Trump could lead to a healthy rebound of democratic institutions. The last time inequality fed a conflagration of populism, in the 1890s, it was the left-wing populist People’s Party that took center stage, offering a mix of anti-immigration rhetoric, leftist economics, and criticism of wealthy capitalists. Instead of tearing the country apart, that populist wave morphed into the progressive movement, which built a broad coalition to gain power. Under Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson, the country’s institutions were reformed—direct election of senators and the federal income tax, for instance, were adopted—and ultimately strengthened. Out of the populist fervor, democratic institutions improved; Acemoglu and Robinson seem to hope the same happens now.
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