GZERO Media logo

Kurds Today, Taiwan Tomorrow?

Kurds Today, Taiwan Tomorrow?

On Friday, we detailed the main arguments for and against President Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from a pocket of northern Syria where their presence had protected Washington's Kurdish allies against an attack from Turkey. We then asked Signal readers to let us know what they thought.


As expected, readers sent us thought-provoking responses. The two points we saw most often:

  • Whatever the merits of Trump's broader case for pullback, badly coordinated execution has opened the way for a humanitarian catastrophe and damaged US credibility.

But there's a larger question here about the changing US role in the world and the challenges that future presidents will face. Forget about Obama and Trump for a moment to look at that bigger picture.

A few thoughts…

Are US alliances out of date? Washington's current web of alliances (whether with NATO partners, Japan, South Korea or others) was woven largely during the Cold War, when the American public was more likely than now to support expensive, open-ended commitments to conflicts far from home and before the balance of power had shifted away from clear American dominance. Today, no American younger than 34 is old enough to remember the Cold War, and the assumptions many had about "indispensable America" and the nation's "responsibility to lead."

The end of the Cold War promised a "peace dividend" and a commitment from Washington to invest more at home. And while the attacks of 9/11 temporarily persuaded many Americans that a more interventionist foreign policy was necessary, particularly in the Middle East, the long and inconclusive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq soured public opinion on a long-term US commitment to that region.

Now turn to Asia. In addition to Japan and South Korea, US officials say Taiwan is an important US ally. Washington hasn't formally recognized the self-governing island as an independent nation since 1979, though growing friction with China has some Americans working to change that. In the meantime, Washington continues to provide Taiwan with financial and military aid to protect it against any potential encroachment by China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province that must be reincorporated.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Sunday that, "anyone attempting to split China in any part of the country will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones." He said this chiefly about Hong Kong, where we're now in the third month of large-scale protests against Beijing's rule, but he'd certainly apply this formula to Taiwan, where President Tsai Ing-wen, an outspoken critic of Beijing, is expected to win re-election in January. China may well respond with tough sanctions and even military pressure.

What if China tests Taiwan? There's no sign that China is preparing to invade Taiwan any time soon, if ever. But as China grows stronger and more willing to assert its strength, and as confusion grows over the durability of US commitments to long-time allies, a future US president may be faced with a question much tougher than the one Trump faced in Syria:

Are you prepared to walk away from a decades-long democratic ally under intense pressure from an authoritarian rival? Or will you push back against China and hope that, if push comes to shove, the US public is willing to pay the price of defending Taiwan?

Bottom line: This dilemma is the natural consequence of fidelity to alliances formed at a time when the world's balance of power and public attitudes in the United States were very different than they are today. Trump's Syria decision, consequential though it's been for so many people, pales before the choices that await Trump's successors.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

More Show less

"There needs to be a dramatic and deep reduction in the amount of debt on the poorest countries. That's clear." As the world's poorest nations struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, World Bank President David Malpass argues that freeing them of much of their debt will be key. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Listen: Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on our podcast.

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

More Show less
The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal