An Alliance the West Ignores at Its Peril

Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN's Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Jason Miks.

August 9, 2018

An Alliance the West Ignores at Its Peril

Russia has dismissed new US sanctions over the poisoning in Britain of Sergei Skripal and his daughter as "the theater of absurd" and Washington as an "unpredictable" power. Jamil Anderlini suggests in the Financial Times that Moscow may already have found an ally more to its liking. It's an alliance the West ignores at its peril.
 
"While heavily lopsided—Russia's economy is about one-tenth the size of China's—the countries' economic relationship is critical for both sides," Anderlini writes.
 
"But even more significant than their economic entanglement is the military relationship between the neighbors. On his first trip abroad in his new role in April, Wei Fenghe, China's defense minister, visited Moscow with a very direct message: 'The Chinese side has come to show Americans the close ties between the armed forces of China and Russia,' he told his counterpart…"
 
"Again, this is not just friendly rhetoric. Until recently, Chinese naval vessels had not strayed from the country's coastline for centuries, but today its warships conduct regular joint exercises with Russia from the Sea of Japan to the Mediterranean."
 

Why Iran Won't Talk to Trump (Yet)

Europe, China and Russia are unlikely to be able to save the Iran nuclear deal from newly imposed US sanctions, Vali Nasr suggests for The Atlantic. But even though talking with Trump might not be futile for Iran, it will still be a hard sell at home.

"In Tehran, rival factions openly jockey for power and influence. The nuclear deal was a victory for moderates; its demise has favored conservative hard-liners," Nasr writes.

"Iran's rulers cannot afford to enter talks looking like they were duped by America in the first nuclear deal, and then bullied into negotiating for a second one. [President Hassan] Rouhani's conservative rivals made that point clear, quickly rejecting Trump's offer. Meanwhile, Iran's moderates, conservatives, clerics, and security chiefs fear a comeback by Iran's former populist and anticlerical president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose supporters among the urban and rural poor have taken to the streets in recent months."

Why Trump Two-Steps

Fareed dubbed it the Donald Trump two-step in a recent Take—blistering threats followed by a climb down. Anatole Kaletsky suggests for Project Syndicate we are likely to see it with China, too. Why? Because politically, at least, it seems to work.
 
"Trump surely understands that applying 25% tariffs to Chinese-made consumer goods would be wildly unpopular with US voters. But he also knows that merely threatening tariffs can give the impression of 'being tough on China' and of fighting for American jobs. Once he has reaped sufficient political benefit from this aggressive messaging, he can 'force' China back to the negotiating table by quietly suggesting a diplomatic US retreat from its unrealistic demands," Kaletsky writes.
 
"Such U-turns, far from hurting Trump politically, have been a consistent feature of his rise to power. Throughout his career, Trump has understood that appearances matter more than reality—and nowhere more so than in modern US politics. Policy zig-zags allow Trump to win support by making unrealistic promises and then to win again by 'pragmatically' recognizing reality."

Moscow Finds a New Mark

With its economy in long-term decline, Russia is seeking out new places to utilize its "diplomatic, economic and military tools to prospect for political influence and new markets," writes Jack Losh for Newsweek. It may already have found its next mark.
 
"As the Trump administration reduces America's diplomatic and military footprint, Putin's vision for Africa expands. Moscow seeks to become a major security partner to counter international isolation, to combat a growing jihadi threat and to profit from the continent's natural resources. There's potential to increase its naval foothold and foster support among leaders there for its global actions," Losh writes.
 
"Moscow is seeking to establish more footholds—particularly among old allies of the Soviet Union—and create a crescent of influence stretching from the Sahara to the south…Having emerged from civil war to become one of the region's more politically stable countries, Angola is a prime target for Russia's expansion. Angola's substantial gas and oil fields are a lure to state-owned Russian companies (particularly as the EU looks for non-Russian new energy sources)."
 

What Bibi and Trump Have in Common

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump might have very different personalities, but as leaders they share something important, writes Anshel Pfeffer for The Spectator.

Both have "an uncanny ability to connect on almost a metaphysical level with the fears and resentments of their voters. Even though neither of them, having been born into privileged families, have shared any of their supporters' hardships, they relate to their phobias," Pfeffer writes.
 
Netanyahu "has grasped better than anyone else that in the era of Trump and Putin, personal relationships based on joint strategic interests trump liberal values and traditional diplomacy…He has understood that this is a time when traditional by-the-book leaders like Germany's Angela Merkel have lost much of their influence, and instead Netanyahu has focused his attention on power-players like India's Narendra Modi and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. These are the people Trump respects."
 

The Other Fight Over Gaza

An exchange of fire between Israel and Hamas militants on Wednesday prompted "warnings over the risks of escalation amid efforts to achieve a long-term ceasefire agreement," CNN reports. There will probably be plenty more to come, suggests Avi Issacharoff for the Times of Israel. Both sides appear more interested in fighting their own PR battles than finding a solution.
 
"[T]hat is how both sides are presently conducting themselves: First of all by thinking about how their actions affect public opinion, and only then about their communities' actual plights," Issacharoff writes.

"It is more important to Hamas to market its image as a 'resistance' organization—while its leaders abroad stay mainly at luxurious apartments and hotels."

"For the Israeli government, it is more important to promote the nation-state law than to bring about an actual solution in the south."

 

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