Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN's Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Chris Good
Dec. 3, 2019

A Tale of Two Impeachment Reports

The release of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment report made plain President Trump’s alleged sin: He had, as the report put it, “subverted U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine and undermined our national security in favor of two politically motivated investigations that would help his presidential reelection campaign.”

Though Democrats have been levying that charge for weeks, a few surprises did emerge: As Yahoo News investigative reporter Michael Isikoff pointed out, the report includes Vice President Mike Pence among a group of senior administration officials who were “either knowledgeable of or active participants” in Trump’s alleged scheme (along with Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney, and Rick Perry); Politico’s Natasha Bertrand, meanwhile, noted phone records tying committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes to Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his indicted associate Lev Parnas.
But Republicans had their say, too: In a complementary report, they claimed the “evidence presented does not prove any of these Democrat allegations” that Trump abused his power to seek investigations—echoing what Republicans, too, have said in live hearings. Trump’s concerns about Ukraine, in the GOP view, were legitimate. Calling this GOP rejoinder “shameless,” The New Yorker’s John Cassidy sums up their argument skeptically: “Not only has Trump done nothing wrong, he’s an anti-corruption crusader.”

Why Iran’s Protests Are Different

“Iran has experienced periods of civil unrest before,” Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Monavar Khalaj report in the Financial Times. “But eyewitnesses said the latest demonstrations quickly became riots that were more violent than anything Iran had experienced since its revolution in 1979.”
That could spell a new kind of trouble for the regime. As Ray Takeyh wrote for Politico Magazine earlier this month (after a Nov. 15 doubling of gas prices set off the unrest), while the 2009 “Green Revolution” featured “predominantly middle-class Iranians protest[ing] fraud in the presidential election,” today's protests are being led by the working class. That's a problem for Iran's leaders, as Takeyh puts it, because the “hard-liners’ last pillar of support was thought to be the working class that they relentlessly venerate from their podiums.”
In an editorial, The Guardian pins the unrest on America’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear accord and subsequent sanctions—which “dashed many people’s last hope” for a better economy—and it calls on Europe to help. But Iran may be reluctant to look outward: Hardliners have pushed a self-reliant “resistance economy,” and they’ve won out over calls for integration and global trade, Takeyh writes. The Nov. 15 fuel hike was a step toward their inward-looking model. In Takeyh’s view, that model is unlikely to succeed (Iran’s oil-reliant economy is unlikely to start churning out manufactured goods, he writes), and the politics are dire: “As with the last days of the shah in the late 1970s, the Islamist ruling elite today seem oblivious to all that is crumbling around them.”

How Long Will the US Economy Hang On?

The US economy is still in its longest expansion since World War II, and Noah Smith writes for Bloomberg that it continues to defy the odds. All the warning signs are there: The brief inversion of bond yields, drops in business and household investment, and worrisome signs from markets all point toward a recession. And yet, unemployment remains low, and the economy keeps growing, albeit at a low rate of 2%.
One wonders how long that will last. It’s possible, Smith writes, that problems in the rest of the world (like slowdowns in China, Germany, and South Korea, as well as protests in Latin America, the Middle East, and Hong Kong, for instance) could help the US avoid a downturn by driving investment toward America’s relatively safe harbors. In that case, the “respite might be temporary, or lead to bad debts that would cause a larger recession down the road,” Smith writes, “but it could stave off recession long enough to help Trump win re-election, an event that could alter the trajectory of American politics and society in ways both small and large.”

China: The New Leader in Diplomacy?

Add diplomacy to the list of measures on which China is catching up to and overtaking America. China has surpassed the US in total diplomacy by the numbers, Bonnie Bley writes for Foreign Affairs, “boasting 276 diplomatic posts—including embassies, consulates, and permanent missions to international organizations. The United States’ network, meanwhile, stands at 273, down one post since 2017.” As the Trump administration steps back, prioritizing other tools like economic sanctions, China has plodded ahead, Bley writes. “Where once the United States enjoyed global diplomatic primacy, the playing field is now leveling.”
Nearly even with the US in total embassies, “China is unmatched in its number of consulates, with 96 compared to the United States’ 88. Whereas embassies reflect political power, consulates reflect economic power,” which China has focused on spreading. The US still leads in the number of foreign diplomatic missions that it hosts: 61 countries have 342 embassies and consulates in the US (not counting missions to the UN in New York), while China’s 256 is a “distant second.”

Lebanon Wants to End Its ‘Ponzi Scheme’

While they won’t allow low-dollar account-holders to withdraw more than $300 at a time, “Lebanese banks have been promising—and paying out—exorbitant interest rates to big depositors from the interest earned on the money they have lent out to the state,” Lina Mounzer writes in a New York Times op-ed. “The economy is effectively a giant Ponzi scheme.”
Herself a victim of a bank manager’s insults, Mounzer poses these indignities as emblematic of a larger problem in Lebanon, where sectarian elites enjoy political and economic power. The economy is on the verge of collapse: Salaries are being cut, many businesses have stopped accepting cards, and Mounzer and her husband have pulled their savings in dollars—reminded, each time they exchange it on the black market, how far the Lebanese lira has fallen. But the situation is fueling “wildly optimistic” protests in the streets, Mounzer writes: Desperation is being “replaced with a sense of collective responsibility to expose and change the inequalities of the system we allow to regulate our lives,” as Lebanon’s demonstrators seek to replace the “Ponzi scheme” with a fairer system.
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