A WARNING FOR PUTIN

After some weekend downtime in Scotland, Trump will head to Helsinki for a summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The big news from the first leg of Trump’s travels this week was his insistence that NATO allies not only meet current defense spending targets but double them in coming years. Trump warned that failure to step up would persuade the US to “go it alone.” Not surprisingly, the question left hanging is whether this threat implied the US might withdraw from NATO altogether.


That’s the backdrop for this meeting of the US and Russian presidents. But as you watch media coverage of their interactions, read accounts of what was said, endure detailed expert analysis of their body language, and consider speculation of what it all means, bear in mind that conversations between governments, particularly when one of them is a genuine democracy, are never simply about the interaction of leaders.

Congress will have its say, particularly on sanctions and US membership in NATO. With that in mind, consider the message the US Senate sent to NATO allies, Trump, and Putin this week in the form of a non-binding resolution that passed by a wide margin.

The message for NATO: The US Senate reaffirms “the commitment of the United States to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance as a community of freedom, peace, security, and shared values…” It also reaffirms “the ironclad commitment of the United States to its obligations under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty to the collective self-defense of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance.”

The further warning for Putin: The Senate resolution called on Trump to “urgently prioritize the completion of a comprehensive, whole-of-government strategy to counter malign activities of Russia that seek to undermine faith in democratic institutions in the United States and around the world." Remember too that sanctions relief for Russia requires congressional approval.

The Senate Vote: 97-2.

The bottom line: It’s hard enough to get 97 US senators to agree to name a post office after an astronaut. This is a loud, clear, bipartisan signal that, at least on the subjects of NATO and Russia, the president of the United States does not speak for the government of the United States.

The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace launched in 2018 with the commitment of signatories to stand up to cyber threats like election interference, attacks on critical infrastructure, and supply chain vulnerabilities. Last week, on the first anniversary of the call, the number of signatories has nearly tripled to more than 1,000 and now includes 74 nations; more than 350 international, civil society and public sector organizations; and more than 600 private sector entities. These commitments to the Paris Call from around the world demonstrate a widespread, global, multi-stakeholder consensus about acceptable behavior in cyberspace.

Read More at Microsoft On The Issues.

In recent years, Republicans have come to dominate most of the state legislatures in the US. Ironically, it was during the Obama-era that the GOP made major headway in states that had long been considered safely blue. State legislatures are now redder than they've been in nearly a century, and in most parts of the country, one party holds all the levers of power. For the first time since 1914, there's only one split legislature in the entire country: Minnesota. To be sure, some state races are bucking the trend: Kentucky and Louisiana, both deep-red states, recently elected Democratic governors. Here's a look at how Democratic and Republican control of state legislatures has evolved over the past four decades.

Forty years ago, Islamic extremists angry at the Saudi government's experiments with social liberalization laid siege to the Grand Mosque of Mecca, the holiest site in Islam.

The attack came on the heels of the Iranian revolution across the Gulf, putting the House of Saud and its American backers in a precarious spot. Tehran had challenged Saudi Arabia's Islamic legitimacy from without, while jihadists were now doing the same from within. For a few days it seemed as though the world's most important oil producer – and the custodian of Islam's holiest places – might be in danger of collapse.

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Forty years ago today, dozens of bearded gunmen stormed the holiest site in Islam, the Grand Mosque at Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.

They held the complex for two weeks before a French-trained Saudi force rooted them out, but the fallout from the attack went on to shape the modern Middle East in ways that are still with us today: in the scourge of transnational jihadism and the deepening rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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What changes now that the U.S. softened its position on Israeli settlements?

Well, I mean, not a lot. I mean, keep in mind that this is also the administration that moved the embassy to Jerusalem, from Tel Aviv. Everyone said that was going to be a massive problem. Ultimately, not many people cared. Same thing with recognition of Golan Heights for Israel. This is just one more give from the Americans to the Israelis in the context of a region that doesn't care as much as they used to about Israel - Palestine.

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