Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?
Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?
Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.
Both sides are probably correct on this. So the Democrats can use this as an opportunity to keep the Jan. 6 in the media and to keep Republicans connected to the riot at the Capitol. The Republicans, in turn, are going to use this to try to expand the scope and talk about all kinds of things that are really beyond strictly focusing on Jan. 6. So, it seems unlikely there's going to be a lot of real value that comes out of this commission, but you do have members like Liz Cheney who will be participating, who say they want to get to the bottom of what happened beyond President Trump's involvement.
Progress on a bipartisan infrastructure bill, is that really possible?
So this week, the Senate actually voted down, moving to proceed to a bipartisan infrastructure bill. And strangely, that may be the first sign that the bipartisan infrastructure bill could actually happen. Republicans voted against moving to the bill, opening debate on it, because they didn't have the text yet and they say it wasn't ready. The vote lost; it didn't get the 60 votes needed to proceed. But the 22 members, Republicans and Democrats, who are working on a bipartisan compromise, since the vote happened, have said they've made significant progress and are planning to try again early next week.They need to try to cut a deal over the weekend and produce legislative text, and in the legislative text is where you're going to find a lot of things that could potentially trip up this bill. Because no other members have seen what's in this yet, there could be policy riders that people don't like, and the scores that come out of the Congressional scorekeepers telling everybody how much money to spend and how much revenue it raises may not add up. So there's still a lot that can go wrong between now and next week, but strangely, this negative vote was the first step towards actually getting something done this year on infrastructure.
In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.
Today we are taking our Red Pen, first time we're doing this, through recent op-ed by veteran columnist and best-selling author David Brooks of The New York Times.
The title of the piece is "The American Identity Crisis," and it focuses on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Coming to a theater not so near you real soon. And how it represents a double standard that Brooks believes America is experiencing—protecting liberal and progressive values at home (and many would argue with that point alone by the way) while abandoning allies in Afghanistan and doing little to stop the rise of autocrats elsewhere.
Let's get out the Red Pen.
First, Brooks laments that in, quote, "Iraq and Afghanistan, America lost faith in itself and its global role—like a pitcher who has been shelled and no longer has confidence in his own stuff."
That's right, but I'd argue the roots of this lost confidence go back a lot further. It was after the Vietnam War that Americans seriously began to question their ability to transform the world. And let's also remember the deaths of American soldiers in Somalia back in 1993, reinforced that sentiment: President Bill Clinton was so shell-shocked that he refused to intervene in Rwanda during that country's genocide.
Next, Brooks writes that the "two-decade strategy of taking the fight to the terrorists, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, has meant that global terrorism is no longer seen as a major concern in daily American life."
I'd say it's no longer seen that way because it's no longer a daily concern in terms of actions taken at home. US intelligence and law enforcement officials have spent vast sums over the past 20 years in the United States and on borders to protect the American people. If anything, US interventions abroad have made Americans less safe, not more: Exhibit A, destabilizing Iraq fostered the rise of the Islamic State, which continues to wreak havoc in and beyond the Middle East.
Brooks also writes that there's "a strong possibility" that the US withdraw from Afghanistan "will produce a strategic setback and a humanitarian disaster."
Yes, a humanitarian disaster if the Taliban does take over, and I think that's likely—women and ethnic minorities will suffer. But that was already looking pretty likely—in fact, the Biden policy review expected that the Taliban was likely to take over the course of the Biden administration, absent a troop surge, and nobody thought that that was politically feasible. And a strategic setback for the United States? Well, that's a harder one to argue. I mean, a Taliban-led Afghanistan might be a thorn in Biden's side but it's not going to derail his top foreign policy priority by far, which is managing over surging China. And on that issue, by the way, that's a key reason that Beijing wants the Americans to stay in Afghanistan because the Chinese government knows that they're going to end up supporting the Taliban government while facing blow back from regional warlords in Afghanistan. That doesn't work.
You still with me? I've got a couple more points to go and still have a little red ink. Brooks writes that the United States is competing against countries like China and Russia "in an economic, cultural, intellectual, and political contest all at once—A struggle between the forces of progressive modernity and reaction."
Now, if values are so important to US foreign policy, why is Washington on such good terms with Egypt or Saudi Arabia, whose positions on LGBTQ and women's rights are anything but progressive. Some in the United States do want to advance liberal values the world over, but the US doesn't have either the capacity or the inclination to do so everywhere. Plus, the struggle between the United States and China, and with Russia to a lesser extent, is less about exporting culture than about shaping the global order.
And finally, Brooks says "to fight Trumpian authoritarianism at home, we have to fight the more venomous brands of authoritarianism that thrive around the world. That means staying on the field."
Now the United States should remain an active player in global affairs, I certainly agree with that. But "staying on the field" does not equal military intervention. Should the United States send forces into Myanmar as the country edges closer to becoming a failed state? I mean, how about Haiti, right in American backyard, following the president's assassination in his home. The United States can't afford to use military force whenever something goes wrong all over the world. There are plenty of ways to advance democracy—such as sending humanitarian aid and establishing cultural changes—without becoming the world's sheriff. Given how Afghanistan, Iraq, and other recent US military interventions have turned out, these soft power tools deserve a lot more attention.
So there you have it. That's your Red Pen for today. We'll see you again soon. In the meantime, stay cool in the dog days of summer. Moose told me to let you know that. Be good. Talk to you soon.
American power was indisputable in the 20th Century. The US helped win two World Wars, developed a resilient economy, and in 1991 emerged from the Cold War as the sole global superpower. But today the country is facing unprecedented polarization. Its behavior in recent decades has left many asking: Has the US become less of a blueprint for success, and more of an example of what NOT to do in the world?
Headlines about police brutality, a botched COVID response, daily mass shootings: America isn't living up to its status as a "shining city upon a hill." Ian Bremmer examines the question: has the American Century come to an end?
Watch the episode: Is American democracy in danger?
When a government fails on disaster response, Stanford University historian Niall Ferguson says we often point the finger at the wrong person: the president — even if he's Donald Trump — instead of the mid-level bureaucrats who're actually responsible for most decisions. "When people are inclined to blame the person at the top, on closer inspection the point of failure is not there," Ferguson tells Ian Bremmer in the upcoming episode of GZERO World. Check local listings to watch on US public television.
Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:
What will be the effects on the politics of Germany after the immense flooding?
Well, it's really been a catastrophe, nearly 200 people dead in Germany alone. First effect, naturally, questions about the competence of the government, has enough been done? And secondly, climate issues will be much more in forefront of the election campaign.
What are the details of the green package that was unveiled by the European Commission the other day?
Details, there are many. But there are two pillars of it. The first is the radical enlargement and strengthening of the ETS, the Emissions Trading System, to include housing and include transport. That's a fairly firm mission. Secondly is what is called a carbon border adjustment mechanism. That is a carbon tax on imports from countries that are less stringent on climate. Both of these are fairly significant measures. There will be a lot of debate both inside Europe and around the world about the effects that they will have, but if Europe is going to achieve the 55% reduction by 2030, that has been promised and is necessary, ain't much of an alternative.
Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:
The US, NATO, and the EU have all condemned China for its hack of Microsoft Exchange servers. What happens next?
Now, the joint statement sends a strong signal, but there are operational steps that need to be clarified. Firstly, why was it possible to hack Microsoft servers at all and how to close the gaps to make software more resilient? Additionally, governments making statements condemning China or others are well-advised to attach consequences to such attributions. Sanctions of the economic, financial or immigration type, as well as restrictions on state-owned enterprises, should all be on the table. Certainly, clear criteria need to be there with regard to responsible behavior and the application of international law in cyberspace.
What do we know about the Pegasus spyware leak?
Now, on the one hand, we have known about the toxic surveillance and spyware market for over a decade. But the Pegasus Project provides new and important insights into the targets of Israeli spyware company NSO Group. It is impossible to consider those targets, journalists, human rights defenders, politicians, even President Macron, to be suspects of terror or crime. But that is how NSO defends the sales of intelligence-grade technology around the world, including to the rulers of Saudi Arabia with their dismal record of human rights violations. So it is now crystal clear that claims stating that these spyware systems are for targeted and controlled purposes are false and that the spyware and surveillance sector is out of control. I can only hope that democratic governments will draw a line and stop this market from running out of control even further once and for all.
Former US Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes argues that one of the biggest issues in American political discourse at the moment is the lack of regulation on social media platforms. Americans believe fake news, not because they are all crazy, but because this information is being effectively presented to them as though it is fact. Biden should work with Big Tech to regulate social media, Rhodes tells Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, because the situation is worsening. "Part of what's different is the way in which social media and technology has literally made it possible for a very large chunk of this country to live in an alternative reality."
Watch the episode: Is American democracy in danger?