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Elections in Europe, Biden’s choice, who I’m voting for, and more: Your questions, answered

Elections in Europe, Biden’s choice, who I’m voting for, and more: Your questions, answered

As the weather heats up here on the East Coast, it’s that time of the year again when I take your best questions on everything political, geopolitical, and personal. Want to know what I think about Biden vs. Trump? The war in Gaza? Cats vs. dogs? The meaning of life? Kendrick vs. Drake? Nothing is off-limits.

Over the weekend, you flooded my inbox with hundreds (!) of excellent questions spanning all continents and cutting through the most pressing issues of our time. From the US debate fallout to the political shifts in Europe to tensions in the Middle East and Asia, your curiosity is impressively wide-ranging.

So grab your favorite summer beverage and let’s dive into this first batch of questions (some of which have been slightly edited for clarity). If you don’t see yours below, don’t worry – it may be coming in the next couple of weeks. As always, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Threads, and be sure to send me your questions here for future mailbags.

With Keir Starmer looking almost certain to win the UK election, will relations with Europe improve under his leadership?

Starmer has spent the past year hard at work building a strong relationship with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – soon to be reelected to another five-year term at Europe’s helm – in the hopes of resetting ties with the EU by massively expanding foreign policy cooperation. In the near term, he plans to propose a wide-ranging UK-EU security pact as well as bilateral defense agreements with Germany and France. Longer term, he wants to return to something akin to a customs union in all but name. This will be much easier to do if the now centrist-dominated Labour gets a large majority that sets the party up for a solid decade in power, as looks likely.

What implications will arise for the EU if Le Pen wins big in France?

Marine Le Pen did win big; the only remaining question is whether she’ll be able to win a governing majority this Sunday, putting her and Jordan Bardella’s government on a direct collision course with Brussels. They’d withhold part of France’s financial contribution to the EU budget. They’d subsidize French business and agriculture in ways that would violate the single market’s rules. They’d abolish President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform and execute a fiscal policy that would completely overrun the EU’s fiscal rules. They’d crack down on migration in ways that would infringe on the European Convention on Human Rights. And then there’s Ukraine, whose EU membership they’d oppose. They’d also block any new major aid packages to Ukraine requiring national parliamentary approval.

By the way, Le Pen doesn’t need to win a majority to undermine Europe and Ukraine. Even in a hung parliament scenario – my current base case – the far right would prevent Macron from being able to fix France’s finances, lead Europe, and support Ukraine, at a time when Trump looks increasingly likely to come back to power. The G-Zero just keeps getting stronger and stronger …

What do you think about the presidential elections in Iran now that there are two candidates heading to the second round?

It’s not surprising that the first round failed to produce a clear winner given the divided conservative field, though it is notable just how few people voted (39%, the lowest turnout of any presidential election in Iran’s history). A majority of Iranians consider the regime to be illegitimate and see elections as sham affairs. This will continue to be true no matter who wins tomorrow’s low-turnout runoff between the (relative) reformist Masoud Pezeshkian and the arch-hardliner Saeed Jalili, where Jalili has a slight edge.

How likely is an Israeli invasion of Lebanon?

If by invasion you mean an IDF ground incursion into Lebanese territory, I think that’s quite likely, especially as Israel’s Rafah offensive comes to an end. After all, nearly 100,000 Israelis continue to be displaced from their homes along Israel’s northern border, evacuated in response to Hezbollah rocket attacks since Oct. 7. Returning them before the start of the school year in September is a political imperative for the Israeli leadership, but that can’t be done without first degrading Hezbollah’s capabilities, pushing back their forces beyond the Litani River, and convincing them to stand down their missile attacks.

The key questions in my mind are how limited the Israeli operation and Hezbollah’s response to it would be. Israeli military leaders say they intend only for a short and targeted blitzkrieg to reestablish deterrence and create a buffer zone in the border area, which seems reasonable. But the potential for miscalculation is high (remember Israel’s Damascus strike?). An escalatory spiral with Hezbollah would pose a much more serious threat to Israeli security (and US troops, and regional/global stability) than the war with Hamas given the difference in capabilities and Iranian support between the two proxy groups.

Is a conflict between China and the Philippines more likely than between China and Taiwan?

In the near term, yes. Tensions have been rising steadily between Beijing and Manila under Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s tenure over the fate of the Sierra Madre, a ship home to a small contingent of Filipino marines that has served as a symbolic outpost of Philippine sovereignty since it was run aground in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in 1999. Chinese coast guard vessels have repeatedly interdicted Philippine efforts to deliver reconstruction materials to the rusting ship to prevent it from sinking. We’ve already seen some small incidents leading to injured Filipino servicemen, so it’s probably only a matter of time before a direct showdown between the two navies causes casualties. The conflict between China and Taiwan runs deeper and is infinitely more consequential for global peace and prosperity … but that makes both sides much more careful in managing it.

Can BRICS be a game-changer?

As an expanding grouping of some of the most powerful developing countries, you can see how BRICS could aspire to eventually become a counterweight to the US-led G7 and West. But there are a few reasons why they’re not.

The first is that India, which is on track to be the world’s largest economy by 2028 and is the presumptive leader of the Global South, is absolutely trying to build a strong bridge with the West in opposition to China. Second, the fact that the Gulf states are strategically/militarily aligned with the US (against archnemesis and fellow BRICS member Iran) even if they are increasingly doing business with China also undermines the bloc. And third, the fact that China itself is not really a member of the Global South but rather is the leading creditor of most of these countries and is embroiled in all sorts of trade wars and sovereignty disputes with them weakens the case for Chinese leadership of the bloc and makes institutional coherence and consensus a reach.

All that said, I think BRICS is a low-stakes forum for these countries to meet and talk about common grievances that the US and the West should pay at least slightly more attention to.

What do you see as the best way forward for the Democrats right now?

If I thought that Biden’s debate performance, as disastrous as it was, had been a blip that could be well managed going forward, I’d probably tell the president to stay in the race because on balance I think it’s too late to change horses without doing significant damage to the party’s odds. Alas, I don’t believe Biden just had one bad night. I’ve certainly had the sense that this has been going on for a while from a lot of the recent meetings he’s attended with foreign leaders like the G7 in Italy. And I think it is likely that this is going to get worse over time.

To the extent that is true, and with the election still five months away – which is a long time for a lot to happen – I think the party and ultimately the nation would be better off if the president were to step aside. That means Vice President Kamala Harris becomes the nominee – I don’t see an open convention as desirable or plausible.

Are you still voting for Biden, someone we all acknowledge is mentally unfit for office?

I would under no circumstances vote for Trump. I’ve made this clear on many occasions. His personal corruption, authoritarianism, and incompetence make him the most unfit political leader I’ve ever encountered in the United States (and yes, I felt this way when he was a Democrat, too). His efforts to disrupt a free and fair transition of power are the ultimate disqualifier in my eyes, more significant than any others (skill, age, health, politics, policy, you name it). If Biden is the other candidate – and I’d prefer he wasn’t – I’ll swallow my publicly stated reservations and vote for him as the much lesser of two bad, but not equivalent, options.

What does the Supreme Court’s immunity decision mean for Trump and the future of presidential power?

For Trump, it means the Jan. 6 federal election interference case is pretty much a dead letter, punted until after the election if Biden wins and buried if Trump does. For presidential power, the decision’s failure to set a clear standard for “official” vs. “unofficial” acts – SCOTUS ruled the president is immune for the former but not the latter – spells trouble, as future presidents could be broadly incented to claim that everything they do while in office, no matter how obviously criminal, treasonous, or corrupt, counts as “official” and therefore is immune from prosecution. Justice Sonia Sotomayor believes that’s a possibility and she said so in her dissent, in quite colorful terms. Not all jurists accept that view, but nonetheless, this is a very significant decision by the court.

Do you feel forced to balance real opinions with “establishment-friendly” opinions to continue to have access?

I don’t think so. I work very hard to check my feelings at the door whenever I have to write or talk about a person I like who has made a bad decision (and vice versa, but praising an “adversary” is cheaper/more rewarding than criticizing a “friend”).

I’d like to think that most global leaders engage with me because they know I’m not looking for money, government contracts, or cushy ambassadorships and therefore understand that I’m being honest with them even when they don’t want to hear it. I can’t say everyone always feels that way, but I think that’s generally the case. I do think many of the people that I’m closest to – like Chris Coons and Mitt Romney in the US or Antonio Guterres and Christine Lagarde on the global stage – happen to be fundamentally decent people who are also most appreciative of that kind of balls-and-strikes perspective.


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