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A Western War of Words - And Worldviews

A Western War of Words - And Worldviews

Last weekend, world leaders, security experts, and business executives flocked to the Hotel Bayrischer Hof in Munich for the 55th annual Munich Security Conference. What's the Munich Security Conference? Think of it a bit like Davos, but with policymakers in dark suits rather than billionaires in Gore-Tex.


The backdrop to this year's gathering was the sense of a deepening divide between the Trump administration and Washington's traditional European allies. Back-to-back speeches from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Vice President Mike Pence threw that estrangement into stark relief.

Here's a quick breakdown on some of the most important rifts:

On the Middle East: Pence said "the time has come" for America's European allies to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join the US "as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region, and the world the peace, security, and freedom they deserve." He also defended the US's decision to withdraw its troops from Syria as a "change in tactics, not a change in mission." But the campaign-style speech got a chilly reception from the Munich crowd. Merkel questioned the wisdom of scrapping the nuclear deal, rather than using it as leverage to get Iran to shutter its ballistic missile program and cut support for proxy fighters in Yemen and Syria. She suggested that the US withdrawal from Syria might only end up strengthening Iran and Russia. Her overriding message: real allies should sit down and talk about these tough problems before taking unilateral action.

On trade: The usually cautious Merkel directly criticized the Trump administration's threat to use national security concerns as a pretext to slap import tariffs on European cars. "Look: we are proud of our cars," said Merkel. Pointing out that South Carolina is home to one of the largest BMW factories in the world, the German chancellor said, "if these cars…are suddenly a threat to the national security of the United States of America, that shocks us."

On China: Pence made clear that the US intends to continue to play hardball with China on trade, intellectual property theft, and Beijing's technology and industrial policies. Fine, said Merkel, but in an implicit dig at Trump's more unilateral approach, she countered that multilateralism and cooperation between allies – painstaking though they may be – offer the best chance to grapple with China's rise. You can't, she said, "think that you can solve all things on your own."

Hey Joe! Mike Pence wasn't the only American making waves at Munich. A record-sized US delegation also included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leading members of the US defense and foreign policy establishment, many of whose views are closer to Merkel's than those of Pence or his boss. Former US Vice President and possible 2020 contender Joe Biden, attending in an unofficial capacity, attracted attention with a strongly pro-NATO speech in which he told anxious allies that "This too shall pass. We will be back."

Really? Tempting as it might be for the Europeans to pin their hopes on waiting for a change of administration in 2020, it's a risky strategy. Merkel is on her way out – but Trump might not be.

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Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

UNGA Livestream