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Are US alliances out of date?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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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