Foreign Affairs

Obama and the Limits of ‘Fact-Based’ Foreign Policy

Shadi Hamid: “The very notion of ‘facts’ has been demeaned by Republicans, and most of all by Team Donald Trump. As Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes put it, ‘There’s no such thing, unfortunately anymore, as facts.’ In response, Democrats have doubled down on their tendency to wield facts as cudgels, demonstrating their righteousness in the process. It would be a loss, though, if this came to be seen as merely another partisan schism. As it turns out, Obama’s foreign-policy legacy can offer an important window into whether facts—and being ‘reality-based’—are quite as critical to real-world policy success as we might like to think.”

“I, or any critic of Obama’s foreign policy, could sit with an Obama administration official, and, even if we agreed on all the facts and specifics of a particular country or conflict, it wouldn’t matter much. Divergences in how people interpret Obama’s legacy have much more to do with fundamentally different starting assumptions about America’s role in the world and even human nature—in other words, the very reasons why we do what we do. In fact, looking back at my own meetings with officials during the Obama era, rarely do I ever recall hearing something and thinking to myself that I had just heard some gross error of fact. This is why I found such meetings so frustrating and circular: The only things we disagreed on were the most important.”

Is Trump’s Tariff Plan Constitutional?

Rebecca Kysar: “…the path to imposing tariffs — along with taxes and other revenue-generating measures — clearly begins with Congress, and in particular the House, through the Origination Clause. When presidents have raised (or lowered) tariffs in the past, they have tended to do so using explicit, if sometimes wide-ranging, authority from Congress.”

“True, tariffs are no longer used to raise money, but to protect domestic industries, and to punish foreign ones. But they unquestionably still produce revenue. And while tariffs on imports are aimed at foreigners, they affect domestic industries that use or compete with imports; they can also have an enormous impact on the overall economy by raising consumer prices. Allowing the executive to circumvent the House to enact otherwise unfavorable tax policies that affect Americans is what the clause is designed to avoid — that those furthest removed from the people have the ability to tax them.”

“America First” and Global Conflict Next

Nouriel Roubini: “Trump… may pursue populist, anti-globalization, and protectionist policies that hinder trade and restrict the movement of labor and capital. And he has cast doubt on existing US security guarantees by suggesting that he will force America’s allies to pay for more of their own defense. If Trump is serious about putting ‘America first,’ his administration will shift US geopolitical strategy toward isolationism and unilateralism, pursuing only the national interests of the homeland.”

“When the US pursued similar policies in the 1920s and 1930s, it helped sow the seeds of World War II. Protectionism – starting with the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which affected thousands of imported goods – triggered retaliatory trade and currency wars that worsened the Great Depression. More important, American isolationism – based on a false belief that the US was safely protected by two oceans – allowed Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to wage aggressive war and threaten the entire world. With the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the US was finally forced to take its head out of the sand.”

“Today, too, a US turn to isolationism and the pursuit of strictly US national interests may eventually lead to a global conflict.”

How a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem Could Actually Jump-Start the Peace Process

Martin Indyk: “Previous administrations have left negotiations over the status of Jerusalem to last because of their complexity and sensitivity. But if the disruption-oriented Trump administration is intent on moving the embassy, it could try to use the move to jump-start the moribund peace process. Although the status of Jerusalem is a deeply thorny issue, a rational compromise is imaginable: the undivided city could become the shared capital of the Israeli state and its Palestinian counterpart, with the Jewish and Arab suburbs under the sovereignty of their respective state. Jerusalem’s Old City could be governed by a special administration that ensures religious authorities continue to oversee their respective holy sites.”

Trump’s Unrealpolitik 

Shlomo Ben-Ami: “Some in the United States have praised President-elect Donald Trump for his supposed realism. He will do what is right for America, they argue, without getting caught up in thorny moral dilemmas, or letting himself be carried away by some grand sense of responsibility for the rest of the world. By acting with the shrewd pragmatism of a businessman, he will make America stronger and more prosperous.”

“This view is, to be frank, delusional.”

“…immorality is neither desirable nor a necessary feature of realism. (Thucydides himself was an ethical realist.) And there is little to suggest that Trump has any of the other realist qualities that his supporters see. How could anyone expect the proudly unpredictable and deeply uninformed Trump to execute grand strategic designs, such as the Realpolitik recommended by Harvard’s Niall Ferguson, Henry Kissinger’s biographer, following the election?”

The World Today Looks Ominously Like It Did Before World War I

Washington Post: “To some, it looks ominously like another moment in history — the period leading up to World War I, which marked the end of a multi-decade expansion in global ties that many call the first era of globalization.”

“In a recent report, Josh Feinman, the chief global economist for Deutsche Asset Management, says that the world could see a substantial backsliding to globalization in decades to come. After all, he writes, we have seen it happen before, in the years of chaos and isolationism that encompassed the First and Second World Wars and the Great Depression.”

“As before World War I, the second great wave of globalization led to a surge in immigration and increasing inequality in some countries, which likely helped to trigger the current backlash.”

What’s New and What’s Not in the U.N. Resolution on Israeli Settlements

“None of this—the determination of ‘occupation,’ the inclusion of East Jerusalem, the U.S. abstention—was actually new. But two things were: the involvement of Donald Trump, not yet in office, in the process of tabling the resolution; and the sense that this was not merely a condemnation of Israeli settlements, nor an attempt to promote a two-state solution, but an attempt to prevent the worst of the no-solution reality,” Natan Sachs writes for the Brookings Institution.

“If there was any doubt—and there wasn’t—the Security Council again made clear its view on the legality of Israel’s settlements.”

“The U.S. abstention—the focus of a great deal of personal rage against Obama by Netanyahu and others—was not new either… until this latest resolution, Obama had been the only president not to let a resolution critical of Israeli policy pass in the Security Council.”

“Two things changed, quite dramatically, however. First, a new player entered the fray: the U.S. president-elect… Second: there is a new belief among the world powers, and many on the ground, that time is fast running out on the viability of a two-state solution.”

When Leaders Are True to Their Lies

Ricardo Hausmann: “What does the Venezuelan domestic payments crisis have in common with the death of the North American Free Trade Agreement, announced by Wilbur Ross, US President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to be the next US Secretary of Commerce? These two seemingly disparate events are linked by the odd relationship with the truth that both Trump and the Chavista regime seem to share.”

“All governments lie. A few believe their own lies. But things get dangerous when they act in order to be true to their lies. That is the trap into which Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government has fallen, and it seems to be the logic behind the decision articulated by Ross to withdraw from NAFTA.”

A WHO-Backed Ebola Vaccine Is Showing a 100% Success Rate

Quartz: “The next time Ebola strikes, Africa, and everywhere else, will be better prepared.”

“Findings from tests of rVSV-ZEBOV, a trial vaccine, show a 100% protection rate with thousands of people tested in Guinea all confirmed as virus-free within 10 days. The World Health Organization, which led the trial, says the vaccine could be available for mass use by 2018.”

“The possibility of an Ebola vaccine is a major leap for Africans at risk of the disease following a devastating outbreak mainly in three West African countries which started in 2014. Though now controlled, World Bank estimates put the cost of the outbreak’s economic impact at more than $3 billion in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia—the worst affected countries.”

Taiwan Deserves Better Than Trump’s Drive-By

Rob Cox: “Sure, Taiwan gained a flicker of national pride from Trump’s shout-out. For Tsai, it may have helped shore up her sagging popularity for a moment. But it’s hard to see how this $500 billion-plus economy will benefit from its brief dalliance with America’s Tweeter-in-chief.”

“Taiwan deserves better. The island is a model for the region – and its far larger rival 110 miles across the water. And though its economy has slowed in recent years, its people enjoy an enviable quality of life. Its GDP per capita on a purchasing power parity basis is some $47,000, higher even than in the United Kingdom, France or Canada. It’s an example of what’s possible when democracy and free markets flourish in Asia… Though it was not perfect, the One China status quo allowed Taiwan to manage its business and security while Beijing could pretend it didn’t matter.”

“But the longer-term negative effects of the call will become apparent in coming months. China can further restrict tourism. It can pry away some of the few remaining countries that still formally recognize Taiwan, such as Panama. As Moody’s recently warned, it can also exert pressure on other nations in the region to restrict trade or commerce with Taipei. Most painful, and not without a cost to its own interests, China can hit Taiwanese capital on the mainland.”

Trump’s Pick for Secretary of State Argued Against One of the President-Elect’s Biggest Promises

Washington Post: “Trump denounced the TPP, President Obama’s signature deal, as a ‘potential disaster.’ He argued it was a terrible deal for American workers and said he would withdraw the United States from the deal on his first day in office. Republican congressional leaders have said they are unwilling to bring the deal to a vote in Obama’s remaining months in office, meaning the TPP is almost certainly dead.”

“Tillerson has maintained a very different stance. In a speech he gave to the Asia Society Global Forum on June 13, 2013, Tillerson talked about his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he said would provide the open markets that would allow the United States and countries in Asia and elsewhere to grow and progress.”

“‘We must embrace the free flow of energy, capital, and human talent across oceans and borders,’ Tillerson told the crowd.”

A Bipartisan Foreign Policy for the Trump Presidency

“As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department’s operations and foreign assistance, I’m hopeful my congressional colleagues and I can work constructively with the President-elect to advance the United States as a force for good, a force for stability, and a leader in the world,” Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) writes for Democracy Journal.

“First, we must restructure the tools of U.S. development finance in a way that makes us more competitive with our geopolitical rivals. Second, we must develop a strategy to prevent fragile states from descending into crisis. Third, we must redefine the legal underpinning for the war against ISIL, Al Qaeda, and other jihadist extremist groups by debating and passing a new Authorization for Use of Military Force. Fourth, we must better position the United States to address the root causes of terrorism by streamlining and empowering our government agencies and working with partners in the Muslim world to undermine extremist ideology. Finally, we should pursue ‘muscular multilateralism’ based on targeted engagement, strong cooperation with our allies, and coordination with our rivals to realize progress in areas of mutual interest. This includes working with our partners to prepare for pandemics, uphold international law, and support nuclear nonproliferation.”