Note: This is the first installment of a five-part summer mailbag series responding to reader questions. You can find the second part here, the third part here, and the fourth part here. Some of the questions that follow have been slightly edited for clarity. If you have questions you want answered, ask them in the comments section below or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and look out for future AMAs.
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Is Pelosi's trip to Taiwan a mistake? (Billy P)
Absolutely. The Chinese were very public and very consistent in their warnings. But Pelosi decided to go anyway for legacy-building reasons, forcing (or giving cover for?) Xi to retaliate lest he lose face before he's able to secure his third term. We've already seen live-fire military exercises and missile tests going over Taiwan through Taiwanese airspace. Beyond that, there have been sanctions already on over a hundred Taiwanese companies that provide food to China, and on Pelosi herself. They've suspended cooperation with the U.S. on climate and halted military-to-military talks. I do think that the Chinese, given their economic challenges right now, are not looking for a massive crisis. The odds of direct military confrontation are vanishingly small. But this is going to significantly deteriorate relations between the two most powerful countries in the world, and inadvertent escalation is clearly possible in that environment.
In a hypothetical conflict over Taiwan, will the United States fully commit its forces to a fight against China or only provide proxy support like it did with Ukraine? (Hinson F)
That’s the big question. China certainly has reason to worry that the U.S.—and Asian allies—would commit forces. And given the enormous challenge of mounting an amphibious assault, I don’t see this as more than hypothetical in the near future. Yes, even given all the conflict over the past days.
China's rhetoric is more aggressive than its actions. Why is this so and which one reflects the real goals of the country? (Aldo M)
China’s real goals are revisionist and ambitious. They are partly a reaction to what they see as U.S. attempts to contain them. But they are generational goals, a matter of decades rather than years. And China’s leadership is risk averse. They act incrementally, “crossing the river by feeling the stones.” Their overriding goal is ensuring domestic political stability at all costs.
Grain is flowing from Ukrainian ports again. Do you think a decoupling of the conflict's intensity from the food security emergency is possible before winter? (Chris A)
The first grain ship only just left Ukraine on Monday. That's welcome news but it'll take months (if not years) for export levels to normalize. Exporters have had trouble securing shipping insurance and finding willing crews, and it remains to be seen whether Russia will hold up its end of the deal. Even if they didn't kill the agreement, the Russian missile strikes on the port of Odesa and the killing of grain exporter Oleksiy Vadatursky were hardly positive signs for implementation. So food security will remain a big challenge for months, and an escalation of the war could certainly make the issue worse. The good (yet still bad) news is we have probably already passed peak food prices due to global recession fears.
UK intelligence says Russia is about to run out of steam in a few weeks. What do you think Russia will do after it runs out of steam? (Nart M)
There'd be a pause of some kind—Putin might even call it a ceasefire—but no doubt it'd be geared toward rearming and preparing for new military action. I should say that our military analysts still see offensive momentum on the part of the Russians over the next few months, even if it is slowing. Exhaustion will come eventually, but not necessarily as imminently as UK intelligence predicts.
Why is the Global South almost neutral or pro-Russia in the Russia-Ukraine conflict? (Prakash R)
Developed countries have historically been at best indifferent to (and at worst a cause of) much bigger crises in the developing world. So it’s hard to blame the Global South for being skeptical of high-minded appeals to common values and human rights when it comes to war between two relatively rich, “white,” European countries. Plus, they blame the US and Europe for spiraling commodity prices and tightening financial conditions, which are hitting their economies severely even though they had no say in sanctions. Meanwhile, Russia has valuable resources that it can sell to them for cheap at a time when budgets are tight and the West is not providing much help. Developing countries are wary of endorsing efforts to unilaterally make Russia into a global pariah…because if they can do that to Russia, what hope is there for them if Washington decides it’s their turn? The bottom line is there’s a massive trust gap between developed and developing countries on the back of growing inequality and Western hypocrisy—and the consequences extend beyond the Russia-Ukraine war.
What will Europe's gas situation be this winter? Will Russia cut off supplies entirely? (Carlos L)
I'll be surprised if the Russians are still exporting significant gas to Europe come winter. It's their point of maximum leverage: cutting off flows would increase domestic opposition to sanctions across Europe and deal a 2-3% hit to EU GDP. That’s going to hurt, no question, but keep in mind Europe will be in a much stronger position a year from now. Russia's leverage will be gone, and European support for Ukraine is unlikely to break down over a hard winter after holding together for seven rounds of sanctions (and unanimously accepting Ukraine as a candidate EU member).
Do you think the U.S. has the political will/courage to indict or convict Trump on crimes he (probably) committed? What will be the political consequences? (Janet B)
I doubt it. Personally, I support legal consequences if the justice department legitimately thinks there’s a case for conviction. Nobody is above the law, and impeachment—the constitutional remedy for presidential malfeasance—is broken. That said, it’s very hard to criminally indict a former president for actions committed while in office, let alone to imagine a jury of his peers convicting him. And doing so could backfire, making Trump more popular and setting a precedent for future AGs to criminalize politics. To be sure, Trump's actions went far beyond normal politics, but the Jan 6 committee has already been effective at weakening him.
The Jan. 6 committee has hurt Trump's chances of securing the Republican Party nomination for the 2024 election.Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
Will Donald Trump run for president again? If so, will he succeed? (Jason H)
He’s (almost certainly) running. Given his age, the growing likelihood of an open primary, and the near 50/50 nature of the race, I’d lean against him winning. But it’s certainly plausible.
What realistic executive actions can POTUS take to fight the climate crisis and not get tied up in court forever? (Joseph A)
He could declare a climate emergency and ban U.S. energy exports. But that would lead to higher gas prices at the pump—a bridge too far politically ahead of the midterms. And anything Biden does by executive order can be undone by the next president. The U.S. federal government has limited credibility on climate change, for structural reasons. (The Inflation Reduction Act containing $369bn in climate and energy funding is a welcome exception.) Thankfully there are other actors, both in the U.S. (states, cities, corporates, banks, NGOs…) and globally (the EU), that can drive climate action.
Turkey announced that they intend to buy Russian oil with lira. China is already purchasing coal and oil in renminbi. Will the U.S. dollar be able to retain its position as global reserve currency in 2023? (Scott C)
Not only will it be able to retain it in 2023, it'll also do so in 2024 and 2025. Just look at how much money investors are piling into USD assets right now. Even if there's some erosion at the edges, there's just no foreseeable alternative to the dollar as global reserve currency or safe haven asset. I wrote more about why here.
What would European policymakers do if inflation drives public dissatisfaction with the cost of living and they have to choose between fighting inflation and preventing a sovereign debt crisis in Italy/Spain? (Icarus S)
The European Central Bank will continue to raise interest rates to bring down inflation (as they did last week) at the same time as it buys substantial amounts of Spanish/Italian/Greek/periphery bonds to suppress spreads and limit financial fragmentation within the eurozone—as empowered by its new Transmission Protection Instrument. I don’t see opposition to bond-buying succeeding or the ECB changing course and easing rates.
Who is most likely to be elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss? (Guy C)
It's pretty close, but right now I'd have to say Truss. Sunak is more competent, did well at the Thursday debate, and has a better chance of beating Labor at the 2024 general election. But Truss is the more effective populist, the bookmakers’ favorite, and has been leading in the polls. She’s also Boris Johnson’s pick and has picked up a number of cabinet endorsements, even though she's campaigned pretty openly as the change candidate. Still, a lot of Tory members remain undecided, so the race is still open.
What’s going to happen in Italy now that Draghi is gone? (Roders)
There will be a snap election in September. A far-right, Euroskeptic coalition led by Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy party will take over. Draghi’s economic reforms will be stopped, and public spending will increase. Relations with Europe will worsen, putting the Recovery Fund money as well as ECB bond-buying at risk and complicating Italy’s financial situation. Russia policy won’t change much, though, as the Brothers have been consistently very pro-NATO and anti-Russia, toeing the EU line on sanctions and support for Kyiv.
Is Pakistan, the 5th largest country in the world population-wise, the next Sri Lanka? (Rafey S)
It could well be. They only have enough foreign currency reserves for one month’s worth of current external payments, and the Pakistani rupee sunk by 13% just in the last month. Inflation has soared. They’re very close to defaulting. And with economic collapse will come political and social turmoil. Sadly, there’s also plenty of other candidates among emerging markets given worsening global financial conditions, rising energy and food prices, poor domestic governance, and high indebtedness: Egypt, El Salvador, Tunisia, Ghana, Turkey...
What, at this point, is the UN Security Council for? (David G)
Talking. That’s about it. The Security Council can’t get anything done because Russia, which much of the West considers a criminal state, has a permanent veto—not because of its size and power, but because the Soviet Union was one of the victors in World War II. Meanwhile, Germany and Japan—the two large economies most committed to multilateralism, the rule of law, and the values of the UN Charter—can’t be brought in because they lost 77 years ago.
Under what circumstances do you envision UN Security Council reform being possible? (Alexander G)
G7 countries would need to set up a new parallel structure without Russia but with Germany, Japan, and possibly India. The problem is China will never go along with that. Unless, that is, a big enough crisis—bigger than the pandemic and climate change—forces them to.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? (Rick R)
I can! That's why I'm in NYC. 😊
What's the most relevant change of opinion you've had this century? (Leonardo P)
I (and many others) used to think that advances in technology would make authoritarian regimes more vulnerable and less stable than democracies, by diffusing power and making it harder for autocrats to control information and communication. Now I’m not so sure. In fact, technology might actually bolster despots and give them a new means to exert power over citizens. I hope that’s not the case, but it’s plausible.
Why do fools fall in love? (Mark B)
Everyone deserves some joy.
Why Do Fools Fall In Lovewww.youtube.com
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