Leaders pose for pictures during the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China September 4, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
After a short summer break, “This Week’s Reads” is back, shining a light on some of the more interesting and insightful recent articles from around the web. It’s been a busy summer, so rather than cover only the past week, I wanted to round up some of my favorite pieces from the last couple of months and share some brief thoughts.
Let’s start in the United States. As I’ve written before, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton give voters entirely distinct choices for the upcoming presidential election. However, as some authors (noted below) have pointed out, the dividing lines this November aren’t necessarily between liberals and conservatives but rather between nationalists and globalists—between worldviews of closedness and openness. This new dynamic helps explain why issues such as trade and immigration have become third rails of this election season.
Looking beyond the United States, China was in the spotlight this summer as it hosted the G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzou. The summit was mostly viewed as a success, but in the host country worrying trends are emerging. First, China has driven tensions higher in the South China Sea, where it has ignored The Hague’s ruling in July that China’s territorial claims have no legal basis. Second, Chinese president Xi Jinping has made a series of power grabs to consolidate his leadership and suppress dissent. Third, on a number of issues, starting with North Korea, Beijing seems to be more intent on taking a position in opposition to the United States than on finding common ground to respond to collective dangers. Put together, these trends paint a bleak picture of Chinese foreign and domestic policy to come.
The Middle East, too, made news over the summer. Unfortunately, few headlines were positive. In Turkey, an attempted coup emboldened President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies, and thousands of military officers, journalists, judges, and others have since been arrested. Meanwhile, the violence of the Syrian civil war has continued unabated, and in its wake, the biggest refugee crisis in history is continuing to unfold. For perhaps the best account to date of how and why the Middle East unraveled, read “Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart” from The New York Times.
I’ll look forward to sharing more stories and analyses with you in the year ahead and encourage you to connect with me and the Council on Global Affairs on social media. We would love to know what you’re reading!
Jonathan Haidt, The American Interest
In examining “what on earth is going on in Western democracies,” Haidt explores “nationalists” and “globalists” and begins by showing how globalization and rising prosperity have “changed the values and behavior of the urban elite, leading them to talk and act in ways that unwittingly activate authoritarian tendencies in a subset of the nationalists.” Haidt shows how those who dismiss the impact of immigration in particular are misunderstanding the “general human need to live in a stable and coherent moral order.” Haidt’s use of moral psychology to analyze the impact of globalization brings added dimension to our election-year discussion of populism.
In watching July’s Republic and Democratic conventions, the Economist concluded that there is a “new political faultline: not between left and right, but between open and closed.” This new paradigm is not unique to the United States, as Europe too is awash in politicians arguing “that the world is a nasty, threatening place, and that wise nations should build walls to keep it out.” Yet the wall-builders would leave the world poorer and more dangerous, the Economist argues, so those on the “open” side must counter with arguments that appeal to voters and acknowledge “where globalization needs work.”
Continuing on this theme, the Economist explores how issues such as immigration, trade, and cultural change are upending the traditional left-right political framework. In Poland, the same government that expresses concern about Muslim refugees is also railing against banks—an example of a “drawbridge up” authoritarian populism whose leaders say the country is in crisis and outsiders are to blame. This message appeals to voters who are confronting economic dislocation and demographic change, so those who want to keep the “drawbridge down” should devise policies that spread the benefits of globalization more widely, the Economist argues.
Steve Clemons/The Atlantic
Clemons dissects Vice President Biden’s impact on foreign-policy making as the Obama administration winds to a close. Biden may very well be the nation’s first “personality realist,” Clemons explains, noting Biden’s emphasis on establishing personal relationships with key world leaders. The Biden Doctrine has three other major components: 1) don’t use force unless it counts and is sustainable; 2) shore up and strengthen alliances; and 3) have a sense of perspective and think about proportional responses to threats. Yet it is this “personality realism” that represents the Vice President’s biggest contribution.
Tom Mitchell/Financial Times
In less than four years, President Xi has placed his Communist party front and center in spheres, such as economic policy, that were previously delegated to the State Council and its ministries. His boldness appears motivated by two convictions: that China’s economy is poised at a “make-or-break” moment and that only a reformed party can steer the country through the treacherous rapids ahead. His rapid consolidation of military and economic power since assuming office has disrupted the pecking order across China’s government, putting party officials at negotiating and governing tables previously relegated to central or local governments.
Charles Clover/Financial Times
The People’s Liberation Army has undergone a root-and-branch overhaul under President Xi. He has made the military central to his presidency and the main pillar of his personal authority. By overhauling the PLA and purging hundreds of established senior officers, he’s reformed it under his direct command in a way not even seen when Mao or Deng Xiaoping led the country. His goal is to have a military capable of challenging the United States by 2030, reforms that are unlikely to make China’s neighbors sleep any easier—with fears of a looming confrontation in the South and East China Seas.
Tom Mitchell/Financial Times
Critics fear the erosion of civic freedoms in China is denying space for grievances to be aired. The chill that has descended across Chinese civil society, especially over the past 12 months, has become one of the defining aspects of President Xi’s presidency, alongside his own rapid consolidation of power over the party, government, and military. He has tightened the screws on civil dissent, branding advocates of civil society as the biggest threats to state security. Many argue that Xi’s far-reaching crackdown on civil society is short-sighted, dangerous, and ultimately suggests that the regime is fundamentally weak and insecure, not strong and confident.
Scott Anderson/The New York Times Magazine
In a massive undertaking, The New York Times Magazine produced an entire issue dedicated to one story: how the Arab world fell apart. The product of 18 months of reporting, the five-part issue uses six deeply researched human lives to progress chronologically through the history of the Middle East’s artificial, and failing, states. Beginning at the end of World War I and ending with the rise of ISIS and the Syrian refugee crisis, the masterful piece of journalism powerfully brings the consequences of far-flung conflicts home.