December 6, 2018 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads: The Foreign Policy Genius of George H.W. Bush

 

Mac Destler and I write about how George H.W. Bush changed the national security policy process forever, originally published in Foreign Affairs:

 

George H. W. Bush entered the presidency better prepared to lead the United States’ relations with the world than any U.S. president before or since. Like Richard Nixon, Bush had served in Congress and as vice president for two full terms. But he had also been the United States’ envoy to China and director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

 

That experience allowed him to reimagine the way the U.S. government created and implemented its foreign policy. Together with his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, Bush fashioned a national security process that maximized internal cooperation and avoided the kind of conflict among senior officials that had tarnished the Nixon, Carter, and Reagan administrations.

 

That process has stood the test of time. Every president after Bush has embraced the formal process that Bush set out in a memorandum on his first day in office, and every national security adviser has explicitly sought to model his or her tenure on Scowcroft’s example. None, however, has lived up to the brilliance of Bush and Scowcroft.

 

Make sure to read the entire article in Foreign Affairs.

 

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments. If you haven't already, please click here to subscribe to This Week's Reads.

 

George H.W. Bush Valued Expertise, Prudence in Navigating a World on Fire

David E. Hoffman / The Washington Post

David Hoffman's piece memorializing President George H.W. Bush takes care to emphasize Bush's guardianship, stewardship, and penchant for careful, light-touch, and often secretive maneuvering of US foreign policy. Never one to crow or take bold risks, Bush managed the brutality of Tiananmen Square, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and the collapse of the Soviet Union with careful prudence. In a case in point, Hoffman recounts Bush's desire to pursue Saddam Hussein into Iraq and depose him. Even though Bush told his diary "we need Saddam out," once the US objective to drive Iraq out of Kuwait had been met, he left Hussein's rule intact, lamenting to his diary "Hitler is alive, indeed, Hitler is still in office."

 

The US-Saudi Partnership Is Vital

Mike Pompeo / The Wall Street Journal

While refusing to condone Jamal Khashoggi's murder, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo makes the case for the current US policy toward Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Saudi kingdom "is a powerful force for peace in the Middle East," he writes, working to secure Iraq's democracy, manage refugee flows from Syria, and combat Iran's influence in the region. The war in Yemen, he writes, is part of Ridyah's efforts to root out Iran's influence, which is attempting to create a "Hezbollah-like" entity on the Arabian Peninsula through its sponsorship of the Houthi rebels. US support for Saudi Arabia's war is the "correct" approach, writes Pompeo, to protect allies like Israel, maintain an important front in the war on terror, and contain Iran's regional ambitions.

 

The Khashoggi Killing Had Roots in a Cutthroat Saudi Family Feud

David Ignatius / The Washington Post

In a chilling and stranger-than-fiction retelling, David Ignatius shares the grim tale of an intra-Saudi rivalry which has fed the brutal paranoia of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). As MBS claims the levers of his Kingdom's power, he's become increasingly anxious and aggressive toward his perceived enemies, including several members of the Abdullah clan within the House of Saud, and, fatefully, journalist Jamal Khashoggi. "The brutal paranoia of MBS’s royal court in Riyadh recalls Baghdad in the days of Saddam Hussein. The spotlight cast by Khashoggi’s killing gives Saudi Arabia, and the United States, a last chance to check a slide toward Hussein-like despotism from overwhelming the region," writes Ignatius.

 

Rethinking Saudi Arabia

Karen Elliott House / The Wall Street Journal

Karen Elliott House, author of "On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines--and Future," outlines the monumental changes in the Middle East since the US began its alliance with Saudi Arabia in 1943. The new realities, House writes, are cause for a reevaluation of the US-Saudi relationship. The core elements necessary for a strong alliance—common values, common strategic interests, and mutually beneficial transactional ties—no longer exist with enough force to justify the current importance Washington has placed on Riyadh. Therefore, instead of "outsourcing US decisions in the region to Riyadh, President Trump and the new Congress would be wiser to help the Saudi leadership get its own house in order."

 

After a Hiatus, China Accelerates Cyberspying Efforts to Obtain US Technology

David E. Sanger and Steven Lee Myers / The New York Times

President Barack Obama struck a deal with China's President Xi Jinping to end China's practice of breaking into American corporate, military, and government computer systems—the first arms-control agreement of its kind for cyberspace. However, David Sanger and Steven Myers write, Chinese hacking has picked back up, following Obama's departure and increased trade tension between the United States and China. President Trump's administration is trying to crack down on cyberattacks, but ultimately many cyber perpetrators reside in China and out of reach of US law enforcement officials.

 

The US, China and Wall Street’s New Man in the Middle

Tom Mitchell and James Politi / Financial Times

An in-depth profile in the Financial Times explores the influences of a new generation of China whisperers: Henry Paulson, the former US Treasury secretary and Goldman Sachs chief executive; Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York; and, the most prominent, Stephen Schwarzman, who has longstanding commercial interests in China and a close personal relationship with President Trump. The "Big Read" article details how Schwarzman has acted as an intermediary between China and the United States, often to the chagrin of White House adviser Peter Navarro and US trade representative Robert Lighthizer, the administration's leading China hawks. The question now is whether Schwarzman and his pro-China Wall Street compatriots' backchannels can counteract the official efforts of Lighthizer and Navarro.

 

Money and Muscle Pave China’s Way to Global Power

Peter S. Goodman and Jane Perlez / The New York Times

China is using its vast new wealth to reclaim national and global greatness, and it is doing so according to its own rules, write Peter Goodman and Jane Perlez in the latest installment of The New York Times' series on China. Unlike the institutions and structures in the US-led order, China's investments have no liberal values attached, but plenty of strings, they say. China will gladly bankroll autocrats who control strategic real estate, but it will also claim control over a Sri Lankan port that failed to pay back Chinese loans, and these investments lead to strategic hard-power gains. To demonstrate the extent of China's growing influence, Goodman's and Perlez's in-depth and photo-rich interactive takes readers on a tour of China's geopolitical investments around the world.

 

The Trouble with Hitler Analogies

Zachary Karabell / The Wall Street Journal

"The only thing worse than forgetting history is using it badly, responding to echoes of the past with actions that fuel today’s fires rather than douse them." Dr. Zachary Karabell cautions against using the rhetoric of fascist resistance and Hitler analogies to address today's political challenges. While history may serve as a guide, he writes, doing so takes hard work and careful analysis. "Nowhere do we see today anything like the nationalist war fever of 1914 or the totalitarian states of the 1930s," which would indicate a need to act decisively in the face of today's modern populists. Indeed, he says, these historic analogies may cause further damage, like when fear of a Hitler-like Saddam Hussein launched a war of choice in Iraq that resulted in devastating repercussions for the Middle East.

 

A European Goes to Trump’s Washington

Ivan Krastev / The New York Times

"This may be hard for Europeans to swallow, but it’s the message I am bringing back with me from Washington. The post-Trump world will not be the pre-Trump world." Ivan Krastev reasons that President Trump's presidency has ushered in an era in which Americans have lost confidence in their exceptionalism and indispensability, and that rivalry with China has become the organizing principle of American foreign policy. These irreversible, bipartisan trends mean that Europeans need to admit their future relationship with the United States will be defined by China, regardless of who occupies the US presidency.

 

The Race to Dam the Himalayas

Sunil S. Amrith / The New York Times

The Himalayas are on track to be one of the world's most heavily dammed regions. While these water infrastructure projects promise food production and energy generation, they carry great risk. Geopolitically, uncoordinated dam building becomes a zero-sum game between the 16 countries along the Himalayan rivers. Ecologically, biodiversity and hundreds of square miles of forest will be submerged or damaged. And natural hazards, like earthquake collapses or breaches from flood bursts, threaten devastating disaster. "Faced with the prospect of catastrophic climate change," writes Sunil Amrith, author of "Unruly Waters," a history of how water has shaped South Asia, "we need to better understand the benefits and dangers of 20th-century ideas about harnessing great rivers before damming even more of them."

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