Time for Trump to Close Some Deals. Can He Do it?

In 2016, Donald Trump sold himself to American voters as the master dealmaker. The author of The Art of the Deal promised that by bringing the hardnosed tactics of a New York real estate tycoon onto the world stage, he – alone – could solve some of Washington's most intractable foreign-policy problems. With the 2020 election approaching, his approval ratings low, and fresh signs the US economy might soon falter, the clock is ticking: Can he deliver?


Here's a look at four big deals that he might (not) be able to pull off in time.

China – Over the weekend, Trump appeared to concede "second thoughts" on tariff war escalation with China, and he now says that Xi Jinping, chastened by an economic slowdown in his own country, wants to talk. But, as Ian Bremmer asked six months ago, why would Xi offer concessions that fundamentally change China's economic model when he knows he might get a new US president in 17 months.

North Korea – North Korea has test-fired 15 ballistic missiles since May and six in the past four weeks alone. That's Kim Jong-un's way of demanding attention. The North Korean strongman needs a deal that can boost the DPRK's economy, but not badly enough to surrender the nuclear program that he believes guarantees his survival. Without that concession, what sort of agreement is possible?

USMCA – Here's a deal Trump thought he'd already made. The US-Mexico-Canada update to the North American Free Trade Agreement has been signed by all three governments. The obstacle here is at home: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has little interest in giving Trump a political victory by bringing USMCA to a ratification vote in the House of Representatives. If she won't give him a win in 2019, she probably won't be any softer in an election year.

Iran – Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made a surprise appearance at the G7 Summit in France last weekend, and though Trump didn't comment, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that President Trump "would not set preconditions" if Iran wants to talk about the nuclear deal that Trump walked out of in 2017. Trump would love to go into the election with an Iran deal that's even stricter than the one Obama signed in 2015. But will Iranians accept the terms Trump says he wants? Probably not. In fact, Zarif's trip shows Tehran is more interested in pressing Europe for help than in offering concessions to (a potentially outgoing) Trump.

The bottom line: Donald Trump loves to throw punches, and his most loyal supporters are content to see their man fight. But closing one or two of these "big deals" might help persuade more independent-minded voters that he can, in fact, be an effective president. As we get closer to the 2020 election, will his interlocutors, foreign and domestic, gain confidence that they can just wait him out?

Last week, in Fulton, WI, together with election officials from the state of Wisconsin and the election technology company VotingWorks, Microsoft piloted ElectionGuard in an actual election for the first time.

As voters in Fulton cast ballots in a primary election for Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates, the official count was tallied using paper ballots as usual. However, ElectionGuard also provided an encrypted digital tally of the vote that enabled voters to confirm their votes have been counted and not altered. The pilot is one step in a deliberate and careful process to get ElectionGuard right before it's used more broadly across the country.

Read more about the process at Microsoft On The Issues.

The risk of a major technology blow-up between the US and Europe is growing. A few weeks ago, we wrote about how the European Union wanted to boost its "technological sovereignty" by tightening its oversight of Big Tech and promoting its own alternatives to big US and Chinese firms in areas like cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her top digital officials unveiled their first concrete proposals for regulating AI, and pledged to invest billions of euros to turn Europe into a data superpower.

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Communal violence in Delhi: Over the past few days, India's capital city has seen its deadliest communal violence in decades. This week's surge in mob violence began as a standoff between protesters against a new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against India's Muslims and the law's Hindu nationalist defenders. Clashes between Hindu and Muslim mobs in majority-Muslim neighborhoods in northeast Delhi have killed at least 11 people, both Muslim and Hindu, since Sunday. We're watching to see how Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government responds – Delhi's police force reports to federal, rather than local, officials.

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Ian Bremmer's perspective on what's happening in geopolitics:

What are the takeaways from President Trump's visit to India?

No trade deal, in part because Modi is less popular and he's less willing to focus on economic liberalization. It's about nationalism right now. Hard to get that done. But the India US defense relationship continues to get more robust. In part, those are concerns about China and Russia.

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27,000: The Emir of Qatar has decreed a $27,000 fine and up to five years in prison for anyone who publishes, posts, or repost content that aims to "harm the national interest" or "stir up public opinion." No word on whether the Doha-based Al-Jazeera network, long a ferocious and incisive critic of other Arab governments, will be held to the same standard.

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