August 3, 2017 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads - Why You Should Go Halfway Around the World


I have just returned from a three-week trip to New Zealand and Australia. A change of pace and place can do wonders for your perspective. This is especially true when the day-to-day news commands so much of our attention and, all too often, our concern. I thoroughly recommend visiting these two beautiful countries if you have the opportunity. Fireworks over the Sydney Opera House are a sight not to be missed. The trip with my family has reinforced my long-standing belief that the best way to understand the world is to get out and see it for yourself.

On the long flight back to the States I caught up on some of the reading from while I was away. I thought I would share a few of the articles here. They cover a range of topics, but each takes a big-picture view of this particular moment in our nation and our world. I hope they serve as the second best way to broaden your perspective, short of an actual vacation halfway around the world.

We are now ramping up our work at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs for the fall. In the coming days we will announce many of the speakers and lectures we have planned. In the meantime, do not hesitate to send me an email. I am always happy to hear from you.

Inside the Secret Plan to Stop Vladimir Putin’s US Election Plot

Massimo Calabresi/TIME

In this cover story in TIME, Massimo Calabresi reviews a previously undisclosed 15-page plan by the Obama administration to counter Russian attempts at meddling in the 2016 election. The story unfolds like a spy thriller, made all the more concerning because it is real. It is clear in hindsight that, as Calabresi writes, “the abiding goal of the Russian operation against the 2016 presidential election was, in the words of the U.S. intelligence community, ‘to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process.’” The unsettling conclusion from this essay is that Moscow may very well have succeeded, at least in some respects.

Brezhnev's Secret Pledge to 'Do Everything We Can' to Reelect Gerald Ford

Jan M. Lodal/The Atlantic

The author of this essay in the Atlantic discovered a shocking secret message. A scrap of paper recovered from an ashtray recounted verbatim a conversation between the Russian leader and the Republican candidate for president in which the former promises to help the latter win the next election. “We for our part will do everything we can to make that happen,” the Russian leader said. It was not 2016, however. It was 1975. The candidate was Gerald Ford and the Russian leader was Leonid Brezhnev. It is a fascinating story on its own, as well as a reminder that, as Jan M. Lodal explains, “Given the continuity over the years of Russia’s covert-action methods, it is of little surprise to see Russia doing in 2016 what Brezhnev offered to do in 1975.”

North Korea’s Nuclear Arms Sustain Drive for ‘Final Victory’

Max Fisher/The New York Times

We are used to hearing about North Korea in bits. They launch a rocket. It does or does not work. In this essay for the New York Times, Max Fisher takes a step back, asking the important question, “What does North Korea want?” In further developing its nuclear capabilities, Pyongyang might simply be seeking to strengthen its hand in future negotiations with Seoul and Washington. However, North Korean leaders might instead be looking to achieve what has been described as the “final victory,” a more worrying prospect that would see South Korea fall under the North’s rule.

Say Hello to a Post-America World

Fareed Zakaria/The Washington Post

“Your country has gone crazy,” a Nigerian man recently told Fareed Zakaria, echoing the sentiments of others watching Washington from abroad. But the latest bout of anti-Americanism is not simply antipathy toward the current president. Something bigger is happening. The long-shaky European Union is showing new signs of stability. Canada has noted that the United States seems unwilling to carry its global weight any longer. And China is increasingly seen as the top global economic power. As the United States fumbles through its own problems, Zakaria’s coinage, the “post-American World,” is taking shape even more quickly than he imagined.

Seven Charts That Show How the Developed World Is Losing Its Edge

Martin Wolf/Financial Times

Few people could sum up the state of the world economy in seven charts. Martin Wolf does it masterfully in this Financial Times essay. He explains how and why the global economy is shifting toward Asia and away from the United States and Europe. High-income countries no longer hold the economic sway they used to. When population, technology, and productivity are taken into account, the resulting essay by Wolf on the seismic changes in the world economy is as good as you are likely to get in just over a thousand words.

The Trump White House’s War Within

Susan B. Glasser/Politico Magazine

Like his predecessor, President Trump has been faced early in his administration with what to do about Afghanistan. “We are not winning in Afghanistan,” Defense Secretary James Mattis told Congress recently, and the president seems to have absorbed this message. As the White House decides in the coming weeks whether to increase or decrease the number of US troops in America’s longest war, this report from Susan B. Glasser in Politico Magazine reveals how the debate is driven as much by strong and sharply divided personalities as it is by strategy.

Angela Merkel Is Forced to Take Center Stage

Stefan Wagstyl/Financial Times

The German chancellor is “leading from the middle,” a phrase that invokes the much-derided phrase that President Obama was “leading from behind.” Yet for Angela Merkel it is working. “Merkel has become the one figure capable of nudging the rest of the world into action, however uncomfortable this role might sometimes be for her or her country,” Stefan Wagstyl writes in the Financial Times. The new US president has made the German chancellor uneasy, he writes, especially when it comes to protectionist threats, sharp demands on NATO members, and rejection of the Paris climate accord.

Why the Scariest Nuclear Threat May be Coming from Inside the White House

Michael Lewis/Vanity Fair

The author who made statistics and complex derivatives into the gripping, character-driven tales Moneyball and The Big Short trains his eye on another unlikely topic: the US Department of Energy. Michael Lewis does a superb job in this essay of making the case that the D.O.E., which oversees everything from nuclear weapons to the electrical grid, is monumentally undervalued in public perception. He also makes the case through a series of interviews that the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration was a haphazard and dangerous mess. Furthermore, the Trump administration’s planned budget cuts to the department only make things worse, Lewis writes.

New Challenge to U.S. Power: Chinese Exceptionalism

Te-Ping Chen and Josh Chin/Wall Street Journal

Last year nearly 330,000 students from China studied in the United States, the most from any one nation and roughly double the number from the country with the next most students. In the past, many Chinese students would want to stay in America, seeing the United States as a land of opportunity. No more. This article in the Wall Street Journal reports that 80 percent are now choosing to return home, seeing China, not America, as the site on which to stake their dreams. “Among people in my generation, there aren’t many of us now who think we should totally study the West,” says one 34-year-old interviewee from China who studied at Cambridge and Harvard. “To them, China is already a great country,” he added.

How I Lost My 25-year Battle Against Corporate Claptrap

Lucy Kellaway/Financial Times

For a quarter century, Lucy Kellaway has been taking the business world to task for nonsensical corporate speak. “The business world is divided into two kinds of people. There are those who talk tosh (the majority) and those who do not,” she writes in this, one of her last columns for the paper. Finally giving in to the ubiquity of corporate jargon, she offers here a tongue-in-cheek guide to the eight rules of mastering business speak, or as she calls it, “guff.” Think of it as the opposite of George Orwell’s famous rules for effective writing. It’s also worth noting that Kellaway is leaving the Financial Times to teach high school. Learn more about her next endeavor in her recent TED talk


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.


| By Ian Klaus

Did the UNSG Say “Revolution”?

While there is nothing convenient about 2020, the upcoming Pritzker Forum on Global Cities has been helpfully anticipated by a series of publications that speak to the high stakes currently in play in cities around the world and the urgent need - from the perspective of both efficacy and equity - to adapt governance practices.

| By Laurence Ralph, Thomas Abt, Brian Hanson

Deep Dish: Police Reform Lessons from Around the World

Princeton University’s Laurence Ralph and the Council on Criminal Justice’s Thomas Abt join Deep Dish to explain why police brutality is not a uniquely American phenomenon and argue the strongest examples of successful police reform come from outside the United States.