May 9, 2018 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads – Walking Away from Iran Deal Won’t Get Trump a Better Deal. With Iran or North Korea

Donald Trump ran for office saying he was the best deal maker for America. Yesterday, he announced that he was walking away from the Iran nuclear agreement arguing he could get a better deal than the one Barack Obama struck in 2015. He may well have been right. A better deal was in the offing, but by withdrawing from the current agreement he made getting it that much more unlikely.

Trump’s decision effectively torpedoed the effort of key European allies to try and improve on the deal, leaving them increasingly convinced that their views no longer matter in Washington. It also further destabilizes the Middle East, as Iran and its neighbors again worry about who will try and get the bomb first. And it sends an unmistakable message to North Korea that any deal it signs with this administration can be undone by the next. None of that adds up to the win Trump so clearly craves.

Trump never liked the Iran deal—an “insane” agreement that he has called “the worst deal ever.” Last year, he repeatedly said he wanted to withdraw from the agreement. And this January he declared he would do so this month unless the European parties to the agreement were willing to negotiate a better one.

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Libya as a Model for Disarmament? North Korea May See It Very Differently

Peter Baker / The New York Times

Kim Jong-un and his father built a nuclear arsenal for the very purpose of ensuring the security of their state against the kind of intervention that happened in Libya, Baker writes. Around 15 years ago, Libya’s despotic leader Muammar Gaddafi made a deal with the Bush administration to denuclearize. Then, in 2011, President Obama and European allies launched military action against Gaddafi to prevent him from murdering civilians during the Arab Spring. A few months later, the deposed leader of Libya met his demise after getting dragged out of hiding in a drainage pipe, beaten, and shot in the head. Baker posits that it’s unlikely Gaddafi would have given up his nuclear weapons program if he had known what was to come, and the US and Europe wouldn’t have used force against a nuclear-armed country. Thus, when President Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, looks to Libya as a model for nuclear negotiations with North Korea, it’s important to keep in mind that Kim Jong-un is looking at what happened to Gaddafi.

The US and China Are Finally Having It Out

Thomas L. Friedman / The New York Times

At high-level talks between the US and China this month, trade is just the tip of the iceberg. To Friedman, it’s clear that what’s going on is, “…nothing less than a struggle to redefine the rules governing the economic and power relations of the world’s oldest and newest superpowers.” Friedman goes on to explain how the US and China got to this pivotal moment in “three acts,” beginning with Cold War rivalries, followed by China’s shift toward capitalism, and capped off by “Made in China 2025,” China’s plan to dominate 10 next-generation industries. “Don’t let the fact that Trump is leading the charge distract from the vital importance of the US, Europe, and China all agreeing on the same rules for 2025–before it’s really too late,” Friedman warns.

The Afghan War Isn’t Being Won, Says New Pentagon Audit

R. Jeffrey Smith / Foreign Policy

The latest quarterly report published by John Sopko, the Congressionally appointed special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, conflicts with the optimism projected by senior US military officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, who stated in March, “We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan.” Smith puts forth some of the most telling statistics from the 262-page report in a bulleted list, but to further the distillation process: The Afghan economy is down, number of bombs dropped is up, suicide attacks are up, insurgency levels are up, two decades of US relief and reconstruction investment aren’t working, and widespread corruption continues to plague the country.

How the Beijing Elite Sees the World

Martin Wolf / The Financial Times

Wolf recounts several propositions made at a dialogue he participated in with foreign scholars, journalists, academics, business people, and top Chinese officials organized by Tsinghua University. Among the propositions are that China needs strong central rule, Western models are discredited, China does not want to run the world, and US goal­s in the trade talks are incomprehensible. Wolf’s last point is that this will be a testing year­–determining whether China and the US will have a complex and fraught relationship over the long run. He quotes one participant: “If it goes in the right direction, it will be fine; If it goes in the wrong direction, it will be earth-shaking.”

Bibi’s Infomercial for the Iran Deal

Jeffrey Lewis / Foreign Policy

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “dog and pony show” about Iran’s pre-2003 nuclear weapons program contained no new revelations and was aimed directly at President Trump as the latter weighed his decision on the Iran deal, Lewis argues. Netanyahu “colored in the lines” a bit, but for those who supported the JCPOA, there was nothing in his presentation that would change one’s understanding of Iran’s remaining nuclear program today. “Yes, Iran lied about its pre-2003 nuclear weapons ambitions. That’s precisely why we shouldn’t remove the extraordinary restrictions placed upon it,” Lewis concludes.

Tickling Trump: World Leaders Use Flattery to Influence America

Edward Luce / The Financial Times

President Xi hosted President Trump for a lavish dinner and personal tour of the Forbidden City; President Moon said Trump deserves a Nobel Prize; and Prime Minister Abe gave the avid golfer a bag of golden clubs. Clearly, world leaders have decided that with Trump, “flattery gets you everywhere–the more outrageous the better.” But does it? Luce points out that although President Macron laid on the charm during the Bastille Day parades in July and his state visit to Washington last month, he left with nothing–Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement and the Iran deal. “As Mr. Trump’s closest relationships show, loyalty is a one-way street,” Luce writes.

Trade War Looms as US and China Take Hardline Stance

Shawn Donnan / The Financial Times

Hopes of averting a trade war between the US and China dwindled after it became clear in discussions last week that both sides were taking hardlines stances, according to Donnan. The Trump administration is insisting that China cut its $337 billion-a-year trade surplus with the US by almost two-thirds, along with other demands. Beijing wants the US to stop treating China as a market economy within the World Trade Organization and drop bans and controls on high-tech Chinese products. Donnan quotes Eswar Prasad, a US-based China expert with close ties to Chinese economic policymakers: “These meetings could end up going into the books as a formalization of hostilities rather than as the basis for a negotiation settlement.”

Reluctant Stakeholder: Why China’s Highly Strategic Brand of Revisionism is More Challenging than Washington Thinks

Evan A. Feigenbaum / Macro Polo

Feigenbaum outlines six important things Washington is missing when it assesses China’s distinction as a revisionist power. Among his contentions are that it’s tough to critique another country’s obvious revisionism when you’re a revisionist yourself; China’s emergence has been disruptive, but not revolutionary; and China has leveraged pan-Asian ideas that others actually invented first. “The fact is, China is going to continue proposing initiatives like the Belt and Road. So the US needs to get off its back foot and onto the initiative,” Feigenbaum concludes.

Is China a Colonial Power?

James A. Millward / The New York Times

Millward questions if China, with its “One Belt, One Road” initiative, is presenting a new model of development to a world that could use one, or just a new form of colonialism. For example, Sri Lanka has agreed to lease its port in Hambantota to China for 99 years to pay back the $8 billion it owes Chinese state-run enterprises for infrastructure construction. Millward points out that this is precisely the term for which the port of Hong Kong was leased by the Qing to the British in 1898, epitomizing colonialism. Still, he cautions that the world should evaluate One Belt, One Road’s projects individually and hold them to the goal that the broader initiative has set for itself: “to build a better future modeled on an idealized past.”

Old Deals to Limit Nuclear Weapons Are Fraying. They May Not Be Repaired

The Economist

“It seems a long time since Barack Obama’s Prague speech, in which he talked about working towards a world free of nuclear weapons.” The Economist article states both President Trump and Vladimir Putin revel in a form of nuclear braggadocio that would have been anathema to their predecessors. Arms control, most recently brought to light in the cases of Iran and North Korea, is an extraordinary valuable tool that the nuclear powers risk losing through a mix of complacency, neglect, and malice. “If Mr. Trump pulls America out of the deal the other parties will try to save it. But the blow, not just to the Iran deal but to any future attempts at multilateral arms control, could be fatal.”


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