Macron’s German Challenge, What America Should Attempt in Syria

Emmanuel Macron Alexis Tsipras Angela Merkel
French president Emmanuel Macron, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and German chancellor Angela Merkel speak during a NATO summit in Brussels, May 25, 2017 (NATO)

Eric Maurice writes in EUobserver that French president Emmanuel Macron’s biggest challenges comes from Berlin, where Angela Merkel and her conservative party are skeptical of plans to create a European Monetary Fund and establish a European deposit insurance scheme to protect savers:

Although the two plans were initiated by the EU before Macron took them, their rejection would signal a clear rebuttal of the French president’s more ambitious proposals for the longer term.

Merkel hasn’t ruled out a European Monetary Fund, but — like the Dutch and other deficit hawks in the north of Europe — she wants it to be an “intergovernmental”, as opposed to an EU-led, institution.

Germany isn’t in favor of creating a eurozone budget and finance minister either.

I predicted in September that these would be the most difficult items on Macron’s wishlist, but other things are still doable: harmonizing corporate tax rates and asylum procedures, creating an EU military intervention force, reforming the Common Agricultural Policy. Read more “Macron’s German Challenge, What America Should Attempt in Syria”

Americans Want Voting Reform, Analysis of Trump’s Attack on Syria

A Voice of the People poll has found majority support in the United States for introducing ranked-choice voting.

Also known as instant runoff, it would allow Americans to vote for third-party candidates without wasting their votes. Maine is the first state to consider it.

Another way to break up the Democratic-Republican duopoly would be to consolidate congressional districts.

I would support either. The two-party system has polarized Americans. We see in Europe that multiparty democracies are better at managing tensions. Read more “Americans Want Voting Reform, Analysis of Trump’s Attack on Syria”

Please Don’t Worry About World War III

American EA-18G Growler jet
An American EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft prepares to launch from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush on deployment in the Mediterranean Sea, June 9, 2017 (USN/Matt Matlage)

It’s been a while.

As balances become clearer, life is better sorted and all that jazz, I find myself pulled, like the United States in the Middle East, back to the fray.

As it happens, I’ve found I can — and in some ways, must — do an update there and again on Geopolitics Made Super. The point of this blog remains the same — to take something in the headlines, something that is oft-Googled, and break it down to the basic geopolitical building blocks what creates behavior. If you want the hardcore angle, please do see my work over at Stratfor — who does not, by the way, represent or endorse what I write here. This remains a personal blog, in which I hope that those who stumble upon it are given the basics necessary to understand the world just beyond the headlines. The rest of you nerds who come by, I hope you have a good time.

So what have I been up to? Well, being part of the concerted push this week against the notion that we are going to fight World War III has been a big part of it.

We’re not. Not over Syria. I mean, it’s possible. But so is a meteor. So is the Second Coming. And since you probably don’t spend much time worrying about those, you shouldn’t worry about World War III either. But let’s delve into why. Read more “Please Don’t Worry About World War III”

Airstrikes in Syria, Explained

American EA-18G Growler jet
An American EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft prepares to launch from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush on deployment in the Mediterranean Sea, June 9, 2017 (USN/Matt Matlage)

Britain, France and the United States attacked three targets in Syria last night in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack by Bashar al-Assad:

  1. A scientific research center in the Damascus area.
  2. A chemical weapons storage site west of Homs, which Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford said was “the primary location of Syrian sarin … production equipment.”
  3. A chemical weapons equipment storage facility and command post close to the second target.

American defense secretary James Mattis called Friday’s attack a “one-time shot” and emphasized that the strikes weren’t aimed at Assad’s protector, Russia.

President Donald Trump, however, singled out Iran and Russia for their support of Assad.

“What kind of nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?” he asked. “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.” Read more “Airstrikes in Syria, Explained”

Italy’s Democrats Split, EU Victory for Macron, Doubts About Syria Strikes

Italy’s Democrats are split on whether to negotiate with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

At a party meeting on Tuesday, former ministers Dario Franceschini and Andrea Orlando argued for coalition talks.

The alternative, a Five Star government with the xenophobic (Northern) League, would make Italy look “like Hungary,” Franceschini said.

However, centrists loyal to the outgoing leader, Matteo Renzi, reject a deal.

Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio has said it is time to “bury the hatchet”. His talks with the League have not been going well. But the Five Stars still call for overturning Renzi’s signature labor reforms, which made it easier for firms to fire and hire workers. Read more “Italy’s Democrats Split, EU Victory for Macron, Doubts About Syria Strikes”

Orbán’s Rebellion, Liberal Democracy and Trump’s War in Syria

Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is likely to win reelection on Sunday. The Washington Post has a good story about the rebellion the EU faces in Central Europe. For more on the political trends Orbán embodies, read:

  • Jan-Werner Müller: We are doing Orbán a great favor by accepting him as any kind of democrat. It is democracy itself — and not just liberalism — that is under attack in his country.
  • Tom Nuttall: Orbán’s depiction of himself as an illiberal democrat is largely window-dressing. Were his pollsters to discover that voters were no longer animated by immigration, he would manufacture a different foe. Orbán’s ideologues assemble theoretical scaffolding to justify the channelling of state resources to favored businessmen under the rubric of “economic patriotism”. The EU harbors not an illiberal democracy, but a semi-autocratic kleptocracy in which loyalty offers the quickest route to riches.
  • Dani Rodrik: Liberal democracy is being undermined by a tendency to emphasize “liberal” at the expense of “democracy.” The European Union represents the apogee of this tendency: the delegation of policy to technocratic bodies.
  • Philip Stephens: The West misread the collapse of Soviet communism. It was not, after all, the end of history. Happy assumptions about the permanent hegemony of laissez-faire capitalism and the historical inevitability of liberal democracy were rooted in a hubris that invited nemesis. For all that, the end of the Cold War did produce a big idea. Now, as we are daily reminded by Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, it is being swapped for a very bad idea. Read more “Orbán’s Rebellion, Liberal Democracy and Trump’s War in Syria”

Trump Gives Putin What He Wants, Pulls Support from Syrian Rebels

Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron
Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France inspect an honor guard in Paris, July 13 (Elysée/Soazig de la Moissonniere)

Donald Trump has given Vladimir Putin a win in Syria by withdrawing America’s support from the rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad.

The Washington Post reports that Trump made his decision a month ago, before he met Putin at the G20 in Hamburg.

Russia and the United States seemed on the verge of a confrontation at the time. America had shot down a regime fighter jet that was attacking its allies in Syria. Russia responded by suspending a military hotline with the United States.

It supports Assad, calling him a bulwark against terrorism. Read more “Trump Gives Putin What He Wants, Pulls Support from Syrian Rebels”

Chemical Weapons in Syria Would Cross Red Line: Macron

France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, has warned that his country could strike unilaterally if more poison gas is used in the Syrian conflict.

“If chemical weapons are used on the ground and we know how to find out their provenance, France will launch strikes to destroy the chemical weapons stocks,” he told European newspapers this week.

Macron came to power last month by defeating the Russia-friendly Marine Le Pen in the presidential election. He won a parliamentary majority this month. Read more “Chemical Weapons in Syria Would Cross Red Line: Macron”

Why America and Russia Are Closer to Confrontation in Syria

American F-35 fighter jets
Four American F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fly over the amphibious assault ship USS America in the Pacific Ocean, November 20, 2016 (USN/Andy Wolfe)

Russia has suspended a military hotline it maintained with the United States to avoid clashes in Syria and warned that it may shoot down any “flying objects” west of the River Euphrates.

The escalation comes after an American fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane on Sunday that was attacking rebel ground forces supported by the United States in the vicinity of the Tabqa Dam.

The Western-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a secular and largely Kurdish opposition group, has wrestled control of the dam and the nearby town of Tabqa from the self-proclaimed Islamic State after a months-long battle. American special forces were reportedly involved in one assault in January.

It is unclear why the Syrians targeted the SDF. Bashar Assad’s regime has largely ignored rebels east of the Euphrates since the start of the uprising against him six years ago. Read more “Why America and Russia Are Closer to Confrontation in Syria”

Bashar Assad’s Big Push to Recover His Eastern Border

Bashar al-Assad hadn’t had control of his Iraqi frontier for years. It’s a major headache; it’s allowed Sunni rebels to supply themselves from Anbar, a favorable route for Gulf states hoping to keep the war going.

It’s also allowed the Islamic State to slide supplies from its shrinking Iraqi domains to its shrunken Syrian ones.

The Islamic State famously demolished the literal border wall between the two countries. That was right after they blitzed across it to capture Mosul in June 2014.

Now Assad’s Iranian and Iraqi allies are hoping to rebuild the border and thereby secure the regime they’ve fought so hard to preserve.

From Reuters:

Syrian rebels say the United States and its allies are sending them more arms to try to fend off a new push into the southeast by Iran-backed militias aiming to open an overland supply route between Iraq and Syria.

The stakes are high as Iran seeks to secure its influence from Tehran to Beirut in a “Shiite crescent” of Iranian influence through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, where Sunni Arab states have lost out in power struggles with Iran.

The Iraqi-Syrian border already has a checkered history of security. It’s a long, sparse landscape full of Bedouin and smugglers used to crossing it at will. The Americans, for all their efforts, could not secure it during the occupation of Iraq from 2003-11. When the civil war began in Syria in 2011, it made sense that these wildlands would be some of the first to slip from government control. Read more “Bashar Assad’s Big Push to Recover His Eastern Border”