Why can't the US seem to focus on the Asia-Pacific region instead of the Middle East?
In November 2011, President Barack Obama laid out his vision for America’s expanded role in the Asia-Pacific region, which soon became known as the "pivot to Asia.” American foreign policy, Obama announced, would be shifting its focus away from costly wars in the Middle East and towards strengthening partnerships in the Asia-Pacific to curb a rising China. In short, America’s 21st-century foreign policy would be pointed firmly to the East.
Fast-forward to 2023, and America’s “Pivot to Asia” is a little more complicated. The Israel-Hamas conflict, which could quite easily spiral into a larger regional war with the US and Iran, is only the latest example. And though not in the Middle East, the war in Ukraine remains one of the biggest and most expensive US foreign policy priorities. This is not, in short, the 21st-century foreign policy vision that President Obama had in mind.
And yet, if you talk to any American national security official, they’ll tell you that China’s rise remains Washington’s main national security challenge – after all, America’s biggest global rival is also one of its largest trade partners. That’s just one of the many reasons that President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met at the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Forum in San Francisco last month.
If the US is ever going to fully “pivot to Asia,” they must bring Japan along for the ride.
So, will 2024 be the year that the United States government makes good on decade-old pivot-to-Asia promise?
Watch the upcoming episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer on US public television (check local listings) and at gzeromedia.com/gzeroworld.
As the Israel-Hamas war rages in Gaza, the Israeli government and the UN are locked in an escalating feud of their own. Israel has accused the UN of anti-Israel bias in the past, but the tensions have reached new heights in recent days. Here’s what’s going on:
Sexual violence on Oct. 7. Israel says the UN didn’t speak up quickly enough in response to harrowing accounts of sexual violence committed by Hamas against Israeli women and girls during the Oct. 7 attack. Hamas denies the allegations of rape and gender-based violence, but there’s a mounting body of evidence to back up the accusations – including photos and gruesome testimony from witnesses and first responders that points to widespread acts of sexual assault and genital mutilation.
UN chief António Guterres, along with the UN bodies responsible for women’s issues, human rights, and UNICEF, have all issued statements in recent days expressing alarm at the accounts of sexual violence and calling for investigations into the allegations. Israel’s view? Too little, too late.
“Sadly, the very international bodies that are supposedly the defenders of all women showed that when it comes to Israelis, indifference is acceptable,” Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, said Monday on a UN panel. “Their silence has been deafening,” Erdan said.
Prominent women in the US – including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ex-Meta executive Sheryl Sandberg, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) – attended the panel and echoed this criticism. President Joe Biden also called on international organizations to “forcefully condemn the sexual violence of Hamas terrorists without equivocation.”
A UN commission investigating war crimes committed in the Israel-Hamas conflict has said it will also focus on the sexual violence allegations, but the Israeli government has refused to cooperate with the probe – accusing the commission of prejudice against Israel.
Article 99. Meanwhile, with concerns rising over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Guterres on Wednesday for the first time took the rare step of invoking Article 99 of the UN charter, which says the UN chief “may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”
Citing extreme concerns over the situation in Gaza, the UN chief urged the UN Security Council to avert a “catastrophe” by implementing a humanitarian cease-fire.
Israel, which has called on Guterres to resign in recent weeks over allegations he isn’t critical enough of Hamas, hasn’t taken kindly to this move. Its UN ambassador said the action was further evidence of the UN’s bias against Israel, adding that Guterres hit a “new moral low.”
What’s next? The UNSC is set to meet on Friday to be briefed by Guterres on the Gaza war. The UAE, one of 15 members of the UNSC, has asked for a vote on a draft resolution endorsing an immediate humanitarian cease-fire. That said, the US, which has veto power as a permanent member of the UNSC, is likely to spike the resolution. Deputy US Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood has signaled the US doesn’t back any actions by the UNSC at the moment.
Sorry to be a spoiler here, but: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is going to win this weekend’s election, and it won’t be close.
During his decade in power, the ex-general has unleashed a ferocious crackdown on civil society, crushed the political opposition, and empowered his military pals to keep control over the commanding heights of the economy.
He is now running against three regime-approved opponents whose names you will never need to know because they do not stand a chance. The slogan “Sisi ra’isi!” (“Sisi is my president!” in Arabic) will carry the day.
Still, there is one big question: What will turnout be? After all, elections in dictatorships aren’t about choice and accountability, but they are about gauging the regime’s ability to mobilize support for itself. After several years of grinding economic crisis — the Egyptian pound has shed half its value over the past 18 months, causing inflation to soar — disillusionment with Sisi is thought to be growing.
And that matters because after the election, Sisi faces big challenges. One, of course, is to manage any spillover from the situation next door in Gaza. On this score, he is well positioned — he is a military man, after all, who cuts a strong figure on national security.
But he also has to make deeply unpopular economic moves. The heavily indebted country secured an IMF bailout last year, but the fund has paused the program until Sisi accelerates privatizations (which will anger his military buddies), cuts spending, and lets the currency weaken further (which will stoke already-high inflation, angering everyone).
Before pulling those teeth, Sisi will want to at least have the appearance of being firmly in control of a narrative – and a bureaucracy – that can prod people to the polls. In fact, he moved the election date up by a year for precisely this reason, experts say.
The upshot: Ignore the other candidates, watch for turnout, and buckle up for what comes after.
Just days after the Swedish foreign minister said he was confident his country would join NATO “within weeks,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has thrown up another roadblock.
If you’re counting, the process has now dragged on for more than 18 months, as Turkey and Hungary are the two NATO member holdouts blocking Sweden’s formal accession to the alliance.
Erdoğan says that while he’s “done his duty” by asking lawmakers to greenlight Sweden’s entry, he now expects Washington to reward him by approving his long-coveted purchase of US-made F-16 fighter jets. The Turkish president’s idea is that both processes should occur “simultaneously.”
But the US Congress doesn’t share that idea. Lawmakers in Washington won’t sign off on the F-16 sale “until Sweden is let into NATO,” according to Eurasia Group US Director Clayton Allen. And Erdoğan’s recent statements in support of Hamas and sanctions-busting trade with Russia will “make that even thornier,” he says.
Still, Erdoğan’s game isn’t to block Sweden indefinitely, but rather to engage in “diplomatic grandstanding and bazaar bargaining”, says Emre Peker, Europe analyst at Eurasia Group.
The inflection point, says Peker, will be Turkish local elections scheduled for next March. If Erdoğan detects political advantage in chastising the US and wagging his finger at NATO allies still, he can have his lawmakers withhold approval for Sweden until after that vote, if he likes.
Either way, that timeline would – in theory – make it possible to see Swedish meatballs on the menu at the NATO summit in Washington in July, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the alliance.
Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week on World In :60.
Why is Biden's handling of the Israel-Hamas war hurting his reelection bid?
Well, look, there is virtually no position he can take on Israel and not alienate a significant piece of his own support base in the United States. He is presently stapled to the Netanyahu government and policy, which is really antagonizing more than 50% of committed Democrats, people who say they're going to vote for Biden. On the other hand, strongly pro-Israel Biden, Israel being America's most important ally in the Middle East, is seen as soft on that policy vis-a-vis the Republicans. The only way this is a winning issue for Biden is if it's no longer anywhere close to the headlines when the election hits.
Does France have a terrorism problem?
Well, sure they do, and they also have a radical Islamic extremist problem, and we've seen most recently that someone, a French national but is sworn allegiance with ISIS, knifed and killed one tourist next to the Eiffel Tower, injured a couple others. What they don't have is a major gun violence problem. If this guy had an assault weapon, probably would've killed a couple dozen.
Are Venezuela and Guyana on the brink of war?
I think the answer to that is no, but certainly we're going to hear a lot about major tensions. And the reason for that is because President Nicolás Maduro, who is very far from being a Democrat, his economy has been driven by him and his predecessor, Chávez, into a ditch. He has virtually no support domestically, and the opposition really, really wants to take power. And there has been a lot of pressure, including from the United States, carrots and sticks economically, to move forward on an election. Problem being that Maduro doesn't want to have a free and fair election, and he needs to find a way to rally support. And one thing he can do is Guyana, piece of Guyana, which the Venezuelans claim as their own, is one of the very few things that the Venezuelan people actually agree with Maduro on. So he decided to host a referendum, which the people strongly support, and they say, "We want to take that piece of territory." Now, supporting it and actually taking it are two very different things. First, because the Americans would strongly oppose. The Brazilians would strongly oppose, and you'd see a lot of sticks as a consequence of that against an economy that can't really afford them. But also, China is a partial owner of the massive oil find that is just offshore this territory in Guyana, and they are the only friend that spends real money with the Venezuelans right now. So I think this is a lot of bluff and a lot of bluster, but nonetheless, it's going to drive some headlines as maybe, maybe people worry about violence and another war in another part of the world.
- Israel-Hamas war: Biden's second foreign policy crisis ›
- Venezuela and Guyana border dispute ›
- Maduro’s weapon of mass distraction ›
- Venezuelan vote puts the neighbors on edge ›
- The Democrats post some wins – but continue to worry about 2024 ›
- Biden's 2024 prospects slip even as Democrats make gains ›
- Biden's 2024 election vulnerabilities and strengths ›
Vladimir Putin is on the move Wednesday, visiting Saudi Arabia and the UAE before returning home to host Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi in Moscow a day later.
The context: The Gulf monarchies have largely bucked Western pressure to isolate Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Iran, meanwhile, is a crucial supplier of drones and other arms for Putin’s war.
What’s on the agenda?
First, oil. Russia and the wider OPEC+ group of leading producers agreed last week to cut output by more than 2 million barrels daily to prop up prices as concerns about a sluggish global economy weigh on demand for oil. After a muted market reaction, Moscow on Tuesday proposed even more cuts. Saudi Arabia and Russia are the top two producers in the OPEC+ group – for any strategies to have credibility with the market, Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman need to be on the same page.
Second, Ukraine. With Western support for Ukraine looking shakier, Putin doubtless wants to lobby Saudi Arabia on his vision of what a settlement might look like. Recall that in August Riyadh hosted a 40-country Ukraine peace summit – and Russia wasn’t invited.
Third, Gaza. As we explained last month, a little Middle East instability suits Putin just fine – it distracts attention from Ukraine, complicates life for the US, and could even open avenues for Russia to heroically mediate, given its ties to both Israel and Hamas.
But with Putin’s forces deeply enmeshed in Syria, a wider regional war that draws in Iran and Syria could be a nightmare for him. As Israel trades crossborder shots with Lebanon-based Hezbollah while US forces see growing tit-for-tats with other Iran-backed militias in the region, Putin will want to understand exactly where the red lines are for Riyadh and Tehran.
As Israel’s offensive against Hamas expands in southern Gaza, the UN is warning of “apocalyptic” conditions.
Earlier in the conflict Israel had urged Palestinians to evacuate to Southern Gaza as the IDF pounded targets in and around Gaza City in the north.
But on Tuesday, Israel confirmed its forces had reached the heart of Khan Younis, the largest city in southern Gaza, characterizing the day as the most intense yet since the start of the ground operation. The WHO’s representative in Gaza, Richard Peeperkorn, said conditions are getting “worse by the hour.”
Now Palestinians in Southern Gaza have been ordered to evacuate by Israel, but it’s not clear where they can go.
“Nowhere is safe,” says Martin Griffiths, the UN emergency relief chief, “not hospitals, not shelters, not refugee camps.”
In the face of such criticism, Israel’s foreign minister revoked the visa of the UN humanitarian coordinator, citing the “bias of the UN.”
The Israeli government says it's doing what it can to avoid civilian casualties, while also accusing Hamas of endangering civilians by operating out of heavily populated areas.
In addition to taking steps such as dropping leaflets urging people to evacuate areas impacted by the offensive, the Israeli military has also created an online map it says helps direct civilians to safer areas. But it’s unclear whether this is a reliable option for Palestinians seeking refuge, given there is limited access to internet and electricity in Gaza. The map has reportedly generated both confusion and anger in the territory.
Both Israel and Egypt, which lies across the Rafah border crossing, have declined to accept any refugees. The war, which has reportedly killed nearly 16,000 in Gaza, has so far displaced roughly 1.9 million people in the enclave – over 80% of the population.
Following the cessation of a short-lived truce last week, rising international pressure – including calls from the US for more to be done to protect civilians – has done little to reduce the scope and scale of Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza.
“The pulverizing of Gaza now ranks amongst the worst assaults on any civilian population in our time and age,” says Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
It is, he says, “a total failure of our shared humanity.”