Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Jason Miks. — April 12, 2017
Why U.S., Russia Can’t Get Along: Aron
“Even in a presidency marked by unpredictability, the head-spinning shift from coziness to confrontation has left Washington and other capitals with a case of geopolitical whiplash,” writes Peter Baker in the New York Times. “The prospects of improving Russian-American relations were already slim given the atmosphere of suspicion stemming from Kremlin meddling in last year’s election, but the détente once envisioned by Mr. Trump has instead deteriorated into the latest cold war.”
Tensions nothing new. Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, emails Global Briefing that the deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations is neither particularly recent nor surprising.
“The process precedes the Trump election, with the expulsion of Russian diplomats by President Obama in the waning days of his administration. The worsening was somewhat mitigated by Donald Trump’s sympathetic campaign rhetoric, but his rather ill-informed pronouncements were no more effective in bridging the widening substantive chasm in U.S.-Russian relations than Secretary Kerry’s insistent, and eventually pathetic, efforts at U.S.-Russian ‘cooperation.’
“The reason for the gap is as simple as it is difficult to correct: a divergence in the foreign policy goals of two countries. President Vladimir Putin has sharply turned to a militarized patriotism inside the country, and an aggressive foreign policy outside, as the mainstay of his regime’s popular support and legitimacy. In the absence of economic growth and widespread revulsion over government corruption, ‘defending the Motherland’ and ‘standing up to the United States,’ whether in Ukraine or Syria, has proven a winning propaganda narrative and a means of national consolidation in the run up to Putin’s re-election in 2018.”
Does Ahmadinejad Have a Chance?
Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has registered to run in Iran’s presidential elections in May, despite having been advised not to do so by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Don’t count him out. Payam Mohseni, director of the Iran Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, emails Global Briefing that Ahmadinejad’s entry is a genuine surprise, and that just registering could be seen as an act of defiance.
“Ahmadinejad’s popularity with the masses should not be discounted, and he would be a genuine rival to President Rouhani if the Guardian Council allows his candidacy,” Mohseni says, adding that the move is significant for two other reasons.
“First, it reflects the fragmentation of the conservative umbrella and the continued wildcard status of Ahmadinejad’s faction in that camp.
“But his candidacy also reflects the fact that the debate over the succession to the Supreme Leadership is complicating things. Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative candidate who announced he is running in the presidential election, is also rumored to be in line for the position of Supreme Leader. So if Ahmadinejad runs, it would be a blow to Raisi’s chances in the elections and also his candidacy for the Supreme Leadership.”
Don’t Despair Over Democracy
The widespread pessimism over the perceived erosion of democracy around the world is premature, argue Thomas Carothers and Richard Youngs in Foreign Affairs. Democracy might be on the back foot, but especially outside the West, the gloom is overstated.
“Those who despair the future of democracy tend to focus on a select set of highly visible negative developments — especially the searing failure of the Arab Spring and the rise of illiberal populism in Europe and the United States,” they argue.
“Yet in other important regions the picture is different. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index scores for Asia and Africa show a modest improvement over the last decade. Indeed, the quality of democracy has improved in places such as Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, the Ivory Coast, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, and Ukraine in spite of the serious problems they have faced. In Latin America, the illiberal populist wave in the early 2000s is receding. Colombia and Nepal have both brokered peace accords with rebel movements, ending decades of civil war…”
In Former East Germany, the Kids Are All…Gone
If East Germany were still a country, it would be the oldest in the world. That should be a warning for Germany as a whole — which should in turn be a warning to other rich Western nations, The Economist argues.
“Despite an influx of 1.2 million refugees over the past two years, Germany’s population faces near-irreversible decline,” The Economist says. “According to predictions from the U.N. in 2015, two in five Germans will be over 60 by 2050 and Europe’s oldest country will have shrunk to 75 million from 82 million. Since the 1970s, more Germans have been dying than are born. Fewer births and longer lives are a problem for most rich countries. But the consequences are more acute for Germany, where birth rates are lower than in Britain and France.”