Fareed: Are we at ‘peak America’?

Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN's Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team.
 
November 30, 2018

Are we at "peak America"?

"American retreat will not produce a better world. It will be messier and uglier," writes Fareed in his latest column for The Washington Post.
 
As the G20 meets, "the United States still stands at the center of the world." But what's around the corner?
 
"[T]he global economy looks as if it's at 'peak America.' US stocks have outperformed the rest of the world this decade," but "that sort of trend rarely lasts." The recovery is "due for a downturn," with an aging US population poised to exacerbate it.
 
As the US peaks, China rises as "the largest trading partner of major economies in Latin America, Africa and Asia." China's economic initiatives are "creating… a string of allies and dependencies. It has expanded its control over the South China Sea in ways that neither the Obama administration nor the Trump administration has been able to block." Current Trump policies stem from "a Fortress America mentality that seeks less engagement with the world, politically and economically."
 
For example, US withdrawal from brokering in the Middle East has only left a power vacuum in which "Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are all jockeying for influence." Meanwhile, the US is essentially "encouraging the Saudis' reckless behavior," "resulting in the world's gravest humanitarian crisis, the war in Yemen, where 12 million people are on the verge of famine."
 
The US must "bolster the international institutions and norms" to preserve both stability and "American interests and values," Fareed argues. As to China, the US must develop a "subtle" strategy "that forces Beijing to remain enmeshed… with the international community. China recognizes this and tries hard to free itself from multilateral groups."
 
But, Fareed observes, "nothing animates the Trump administration more than its opposition to multilateralism of any kind. And so, as the world gets more chaotic, the forces that could provide order are being eroded."  
 
 "China simply watches quietly and pockets the gains."

For more, watch GPS LIVE this Sunday at 10am EST on CNN.
  • Also Sunday, at 9pm EST on CNN and CNNi, watch the premiere of Presidents Under Fire: The History of Impeachment. Fareed hosts a special look at why and how impeachment has been used historically and whether America's democracy can survive "impeachment fever."

Trump in the "G-Zero" world

President Trump's visit to the G20 "is likely to be something between a waste of time and a disaster," argues Fred Kaplan for Slate. This is in part due to the G20's disorganization and "mishmash agenda, with no binding resolutions attached."

"But to the extent that things turn disastrous, the problem lies with Trump," writes Kaplan. "Even something as unwieldy as the G-20 can be molded to good ends through shrewd strategy and adroit diplomacy," as "[i]nternational politics has become a more complex game."

"We live in a 'G-Zero' world… of collapsed power blocs, where no one state (or alliance of states) is able to shape events globally across a wide range of issues."
 
"Trump has cards to play, but he knows nothing about interests—neither his own country's nor the other countries'... Worse still, he doesn't think he needs to know about them."
 
"The one thing Trump might accomplish this weekend is averting a trade war with China. This could be the summit's banner headline, depending on the outcome of a one-on-one meeting, scheduled for Saturday, with Xi. If the meeting goes well and Trump assents to holding additional talks, rather than imposing steeper tariffs on Chinese goods, he will only be averting a crisis that he created."

Trump: "Battles sometimes make great friendships."

This morning, as the G20 summit in Buenos Aires was getting started, the US, Mexico, and Canada finally signed a new "NAFTA"—the trilateral trade agreement rebranded as the USMCA. "Battles sometimes make great friendships," said President Trump. (CBC) While Trump expressed confidence that the deal would readily pass through Congress, both sides of the aisle are voicing their opposition—Democrats against the USMCA's unenforceable labor standards and Republicans against its enforcement of anti-discrimination standards and limits on free trade. (Politico)

Mexico's Transformation Starts Tomorrow

This morning's "new NAFTA" may have been signed by Mexican President Peña Nieto, but its future in Mexico rests with Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who will become president December 1.
 
Tomorrow, "Obrador's self-proclaimed Fourth Transformation begins. Yet instead of kicking off a positive transformational change, the new president's personalistic mission looks to end years of hard-fought institutional gains," writes Shannon K. O'Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations for Bloomberg Opinion.
 
"Over the last three decades Mexico has changed. What was once a closed commodity-driven economy is now open, globally competitive and dominated by manufacturing… [Mexico] has seen extreme poverty fall to 2.5 percent, infant mortality cut to a third, average lifespans rise by a decade, and the number of years children stay in school grow by half. Politically, decades of one-party rule ended in competitive if at times messy democracy."
 
Of course, "Power still matters too much. And rule of law in particular remains weak." "NAFTA helped open up Mexico to international markets, but it did little to take on [the country's] monopolies and oligopolies." Nevertheless, Mexico now has "a diverse and increasingly independent private sector… and incipient but growing political checks and balances."
 
But, O'Neil writes, the so-called Fourth Transformation "looks to roll back the institutional gains so important to Mexico's transformation, as López Obrador—a leader obsessed with his place in history—pushes a return to the more personalistic approach of the past." He "is sweeping away years of legal precedents and norms… And by continuing his criticism of the press and dismissing civil society, he seeks to undermine these democratic voices and backstops."
 
"Debt levels and interest rates are already rising. Investor sentiment is beginning to sour… And the Mexican voters' voice is weakening... Yes, the Fourth Transformation will bring change to Mexico, but tragically it looks to go in the wrong direction, making it less democratic, less inclusive and less safe."
 

Galactic Garbage

Meet Astroscale, the Singapore-based start-up working towards a sustainable future—in space.

Astroscale is officially set to launch a galactic garbage collector early next year, reports Peter Guest for Nikkei Asian Review, using "a powerful array of electromagnets" to pull dead satellites back down to earth, before they can become hazardous space waste.
 
Why is this so necessary? Over 5,000 launches have been made in the last 50 years of space travel. Only about 5% of the objects left in space are "intact, operational satellites," posing a huge risk: a collision with debris could "disable or even shatter a satellite or spacecraft."
 
That's a risk for the growing industry of space, where over 6000 small satellites are expected to launch in the next decade, "providing internet access in the remotest regions of the world… [and] helping humans to navigate their cities, seas and airspace."
 
How much money will be involved in space? Morgan Stanley predicts that "the global space industry will grow from $350 billion revenues today to more than $1.1 trillion in 2040… driven mostly by an exponential increase in demand for data."
 
In other words, galactic garbage will have serious consequences for earthlings.
 
Astroscale joins the ranks of start-ups taking on major environmental hazards, like The Ocean Cleanup, which is tackling the notorious Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We introduced you to that U-shaped garbage collector on a GPS show back in May. See an update on that work here. (CNN)
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