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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Are US alliances out of date?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.

Microsoft released a new annual report, called the Digital Defense Report, covering cybersecurity trends from the past year. This report makes it clear that threat actors have rapidly increased in sophistication over the past year, using techniques that make them harder to spot and that threaten even the savviest targets. For example, nation-state actors are engaging in new reconnaissance techniques that increase their chances of compromising high-value targets, criminal groups targeting businesses have moved their infrastructure to the cloud to hide among legitimate services, and attackers have developed new ways to scour the internet for systems vulnerable to ransomware. Given the leap in attack sophistication in the past year, it is more important than ever that steps are taken to establish new rules of the road for cyberspace: that all organizations, whether government agencies or businesses, invest in people and technology to help stop attacks; and that people focus on the basics, including regular application of security updates, comprehensive backup policies, and, especially, enabling multi-factor authentication. Microsoft summarized some of the most important insights in this year's report, including related suggestions for people and businesses.

Read the whole post and report at Microsoft On The Issues.

On Tuesday night, you can finally watch Trump and Biden tangle on the debate stage. But you TOO can go head to head on debate night .. with your fellow US politics junkies.

Print out GZERO's handy debate BINGO cards and get ready to rumble. There are four different cards so that each player may have a unique board. Every time one of the candidates says one of these words or terms, X it on your card. First player to get five across wins. And if you really want to jazz it up, you can mark each of your words by taking a swig of your drink, or doing five burpees, or donating to your favorite charity or political candidate. Whatever gets you tipsy, in shape, or motivated, get the bingo cards here. It's fight night!

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GZERO Media, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group, today hosted its second virtual town hall on the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine and the challenges of its distribution.

The panel was moderated by New York Times science and health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli and featured Gates Foundation's Deputy Director of Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Lynda Stuart; Eurasia Group's Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director of Energy, Climate & Resources; Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman; and Gayle E. Smith, the president & CEO of ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Watch the full video above.

How was it that after decades of infighting, European nations were able to come together so quickly on an economic pandemic relief package? "I'm tempted to say because of COVID-19…because the triggering factor for the crisis was not the banks…not the bad behavior of some policy-makers somewhere in the region. It was actually this teeny tiny little virus..." European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde tells Ian Bremmer how a microscopic virus spurred the greatest show of international unity in years.


Watch the episode: Christine Lagarde, Leading Europe's United Economic Pandemic Response

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

First of all, what is going on in the Caucuses?

Well, it's a war. You'd never know it from following American press, because of course, we're only talking about Trump and the elections. But Armenia and Azerbaijan are actively fighting each other. Over 100 are dead so far, including civilians. There is a lot of fog of war misinformation going on. Reuters piece that seems that there are some mercenaries, including Syrian mercenaries on the ground that were in Azerbaijan that were paid for by Turkey. The Armenians, as of today, are claiming that Turkish fighter jet downed an Armenian war plane. Ankara is saying, no, they didn't. The Iranians are being accused of transferring military equipment to Armenia. The Iranians are saying, no, they didn't.

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