September 6, 2018 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads: Summer Rewind

In August, I took a hiatus from This Week’s Reads to focus on my upcoming book that will be released in October. Of course, the pressing global issues of our time–from Brexit to climate change, North Korea to immigration–experienced no complementary interlude. Below is a compilation of mostly long-form articles from the past month that are worth perusing. The topics they touch upon will, undoubtedly, remain relevant through the changing seasons ahead.

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Theresa May’s Impossible Choice

Sam Knight / The New Yorker

July 30, 2018

“With Brexit looming, the Prime Minister is battling Trump, Europe, and her own party,” Knight writes. Since the referendum, Knight continues, the central task in British politics has been to try to square two conflicting demands: to respect the democratic impulse of Brexit while limiting the economic consequences. May, however, never developed a theological conviction, either way, about the European Union, thus, when formal Brexit negotiations with the EU began last June, “…ministers and officials bemoaned the absence of a leader’s voice.” Knight writes that, this summer, “I watched her move among a rancorous House of Commons, a divided Cabinet, and a recalcitrant EU. At the same time, Trump marauded, destabilizing the international order into which Britain is about to reemerge, alone.”

Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change

Nathaniel Rich / The New York Times

August 1, 2018

Rich weaves a narrative about the 10-year period from 1979 to 1989, when humankind had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis. He posits that everything we understand about global warming was understood in 1979, and within the following decade, “The world’s major powers came within several signatures of endorsing a binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions–far closer than we’ve come since.” This two-part article tracks the efforts of a small group of American scientists, activists, and politicians to raise the alarm and stave off catastrophe, writes Jake Silverstein in the introduction, it will come as a revelation to many readers–an agonizing revelation­­–to understand how thoroughly they grasped the problem and how close they came to solving it.

Can Mexico Be Saved?

Denise Dresser / Foreign Affairs

August 15, 2018

Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s promise to shake up the status quo appealed to a restive population eager for regime change, Dresser writes. But addressing Mexico’s pernicious mix of “truncated democracy and crony capitalism” will require substantive reform, and so far, according to Dresser, the president elect’s policy positions have been vague, and his team is unknown and untested. “A polarized Mexico is now caught between two forces: anger at those who have governed so badly and fear of those who have just been elected,” Dresser writes.

Who Is Winning the War in Afghanistan? Depends on Which One?

Rod Nordland / The New York Times

August 18, 2018

Veteran Afghanistan reporter Rod Nordland details the confusion, misdirection, and conflicting narratives swirling about after a bloody Taliban assault on the city of Ghazni­ that killed 155 police and soldiers, 60 to 70 civilians, and 430 insurgents–a macabre snapshot of a war that has dragged on for 17 years. Nordland balances the scales on who is winning, exposes the probable inaccuracy of Afghan government-controlled data on the conflict, and paints a rather dismal picture of the chances for peace, despite recent successful ceasefires. “Two wars are convulsing Afghanistan, the war of blood and guts, and the war of truth and lies. Both have been amazing casualties at a remarkable rate recently,” Nordland writes.

John McCain’s Final Letter to America

Olivia Paschal / The Atlantic

August 27, 2018

Senator John McCain’s final words to the American public came in the form of a letter read aloud by his former campaign manager Rick Davis, two days after McCain’s passing. In it he expresses his gratitude for the privilege of serving his country in uniform and in public office, and imparts his feelings about what America is at its best: “We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down; when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.”

Behind the Chaos of Washington’s Korea Policy

Daniel Sneider / Tokyo Business Today

August 27, 2018

A certain order can be found amidst the suspense of President Trump’s “will-they-or-won’t-they” relationship with Kim Jong-un, which came to a head in late August when Trump, via Twitter, cancelled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang for high-level talks, according to Sneider. The foundation of this order is, “…a profoundly skeptical view of the possibility of achieving final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea,” by officials dealing with the negotiations. The second consensus is, “…deep concern that the South Korean government of Moon Jae-in…is no longer bound by the need to move in tight coordination with Washington,” and that the alliance may be in jeopardy. “Beneath the chaos, emanating mostly from the Oval Office, a four-sided containment policy exists–containment of North Korea, of South Korea’s Moon administration, of China, and most of all, containment of Donald Trump,” Sneider writes.

The Biggest Legacy of the Financial Crisis Is the Trump Presidency

Joshua Green / Bloomberg Businessweek

August 30, 2018

According to Green, neither President Obama nor his Treasury Secretary at the time, Timothy Geithner, grasped the full scale of the public’s wrath over the financial crisis–including the mergers, bailouts, and Fed lifelines that brought it to an end–and how long that resentment would endure. “What was surreal about this period was not Obama’s conviction that growth was a magical elixir that would set everything right,” Green writes. “It was his belief that achieving it required him to protect, rather than punish, those who’d driven the economy into the ground.” And while the, “…day-to-day drama of bank failures and bailouts eventually faded from the headlines,” the political and societal effects of the disruption never went away. “The critical massing of conditions that led to Donald Trump had their genesis in the backlash,” Green writes.

Grassroots Leaders Provide the Best Hope to a Troubled World

The Economist / Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

August 30, 2018

Zeid, who up until September 1 was the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights–the first Asian, Muslim, and Arab to serve in the role–laments the lack of moral courage in many of today’s global leaders and politicians. “In consequence, too many summits and conferences held between states are tortured affairs that lack profundity but are full of jargon and tiresome clichés that are, in a word, meaningless.” He recalls some of the suffering around the world that he has either witnessed first-hand or which was conveyed to him by victims, saying that it, “…reflects a massive dereliction of duty to serve, by those who exercise sovereignty on behalf of their people.” Thus, Zeid’s hope for the future rests on community leaders and social movements who are willing to die in defense of human rights.

How Trump Radicalized ICE

Franklin Foer / The Atlantic

September 1, 2018

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, was created after 9/11 as part of the Department of Homeland Security. According to Foer, “…it’s assembly could be generously described as higgledy-piggledy,” and that “ICE is the clearest example of where such muddied, heavily politicized policy making can lead.” When it was created, ICE employed just over 2,700 deportation officers–that workforce has since doubled, and the organization’s ambitions have ballooned. For example, a provision of an immigration law signed by President Clinton in 1996 gave ICE the power to deputize police to enforce federal immigration laws. After President Trump signed an executive order allowing ICE to detain essentially any undocumented immigrant it encounters, Foer writes, the Gwinnett County police department in Georgia responded enthusiastically; During the first fourth months of Trump’s presidency, they rounded up and transferred 284 percent more undocumented immigrants from local jails to ICE custody.


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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.


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