April 21, 2016 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads – Assuring Our Allies

US President Barack Obama (C) and Saudi King Salman (R) walk together following their meeting at Erga Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Obama landed in Saudi Arabia this week with little fanfare. His arrival comes at a time of mounting tension and distrust between the United States and Saudi Arabia—caused by a thaw in US-Iranian relations, as well as accusations of Saudi complicity in 9/11, and recent comments critical of Saudi Arabia by Obama. But there’s a deeper issue here. For Saudis, it’s unclear that the United States is willing or able to be the guarantor of security in the region. It’s Obama’s job to assure them otherwise. 

The story is much the same around the world. Look at the Asia-Pacific, where America’s Asian allies have expressed doubts over US reliability, and where, last week, Defense Secretary Ash Carter attempted to reassure them through new military agreements with India and the Philippines. Likewise, consider Europe. The continent’s problems—from Russian aggression and Islamic extremism to Brexit and the migrant crisis—demand a more robust US presence and a stronger transatlantic alliance. As Obama visits Europe this week, he will need to articulate a clear vision for the role America will play in resolving these problems. 

This week’s reads illustrate the changing landscape of America’s alliances, and provide a glimpse of how they may evolve or dissolve in the face of new challenges. 


An Old Alliance Faces New Pressures as Obama Heads to Saudi Arabia

Michael D. Shear / The New York Times

In anticipation of President Obama’s visit to Riyadh, Shear examines how recent events have complicated the long-standing alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Historically, Washington and Riyadh have exchanged intelligence and military equipment for oil, but the thaw in American-Iranian relations and Obama’s recent remarks in The Atlantic have placed strain on the mutual desire for regional stability. 

In South China Sea Visit, US Defense Chief Flexes Military Muscle

Michael S. Schmidt / The New York Times

During his six-day visit to Asia, Defense Secretary Ash Carter verbally solidified military ties with several of China’s neighbors who are more wary of making alliances with Beijing than with Washington. By improving military infrastructures in both India and the Philippines, the US is challenging China’s controversial expansion in the South China Sea. While Secretary Carter denied trying to provoke Beijing, analysts argue whether Washington will get a desirable result.

Obama Has Ignored Our European Allies for Too Long

Jim Hoagland / The Washington Post

Hoagland argues President Obama’s comments about “free rider” allies in his interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg may present difficulties when he conducts farewell visits to Britain and Germany later this month. Instead, the United States should be doing more to help its allies, in the EU and elsewhere, in order to continue America’s noble mission of keeping historic regional low.

What’s Obama’s European Legacy?


Ten politicians, analysts, and writers (myself included) weigh in on Obama’s 8-year relationship with the Old Continent.


Bob Gates Unpacks Obama’s Foreign Policy, and Offers Advice to the Next President

David Ignatius / The Washington Post 

Ignatius presents former defense secretary Bob Gates’ thoughts on President Obama’s controversial decision not to use military force in Syria and his overall hesitancy to put more boots on the ground in the Middle East. Gates argues, “The way things get done communicates reluctance to assert American power,” and this presents an inaccurate depiction of the president’s authority on foreign policy. Gates cautions this view of President Obama may result in an overzealous successor who over-compensates on military force. 

Europe has Yet to Face Moral Reckoning Over Migrants 

Alex Barker / Financial Times  

The mass migration of refugees fleeing to Europe, disrupting EU border security, has finally begun to subside. Barker argues ineptitude is to blame for EU countries detaining hundreds of thousands of refugees in pitiful conditions. The recent papal visit to Greece may remind Europeans of a long overdue moral reckoning regarding refugee policy. 

The Unpredictable New Voice of Saudi Oil

Anjli Raval, David Sheppard, and Neil Hume / The Financial Times

After last week’s OPEC meeting in Doha ended with more doubts than resolutions, analysts are considering the role Saudi Arabia and its deputy crown prince will play on global oil prices. The Saudis’ attempt to negotiate a higher output level suggests Riyadh is basing its oil policy on global politics rather than economic interest. As Saudi Arabia reasserts its place in the oil industry, Iran’s refusal to cap oil production has the potential to escalate tensions in the region.

A New Map for America

Parag Khanna / The New York Times

In the face of economic stagnation in smaller American cities, Khanna proposes a remapping of the United States into seven super-regions, which he claims already exist. His ‘United City-States of America’ resembles other countries, such as China, Italy, and the United Kingdom, which have restructured their internal borders. By promoting decision-making across state lines and supporting regional partnerships, the economic potential of this reimagined nation could help America retain its top spot on the world stage.


Can Liberals Frack?

Gary Sernovitz / The New York Times 

Although liberals are traditionally associated with the anti-fracking movement, Sernovitz argues the American shale revolution is compatible with left-leaning beliefs. While it can have negative impacts on the environment, fracking has led to lower American carbon-emissions, declining inequality, and prevented petrostates, including Russia and Iran, from reaping hundreds of billions of dollars from the oil industry. Instead of banning it outright, liberals should reexamine the cost-benefit analysis of fracking. 

How Politicians Poisoned Statistics

Tim Hartford / Financial Times

Citing several recent incidents of politicians misusing statistics for political gain, Hartford distinguishes between manipulating data with some truth and outright lying. History demonstrates that flashy statistical displays will garner greater public reaction than raw data, but oftentimes the truth is more complicated than can fit in a Tweet or on a campaign poster. 


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