This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Photo: APA/Jim Lo Scalzo)

Evangelicals and Trump – lessons from the Nixon era

Randall J. Stephens

The Conversation

More than 81% of the US’s protestant evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. A year and a half into his presidency, they seem as dedicated to him as ever – and just as ready to make excuses for his decidedly un-Christian misdeeds.

Many Christian rightists, among them “family values” foghorn James Dobson, consider Trump a “baby Christian”. His lewd and predatory comments about women are simply the mark of a very imperfect man. Any of his actions, no matter how debased or inhumane, are dismissed or approved by the faithful.

On June 14 the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, used scripture to back up Trump’s cruel policies on refugees, which are currently tearing families apart along the southern border. Now, through the alchemy of political tribalism, the former casino owner, who once starred in a softcore porn film and who confessed on the radio to multiple affairs, is a Man of God who speaks his mind with confidence, however deep his ignorance. (Read more)

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This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Trump’s Iran Decision Sends North Korea a Signal. Was It the Right One?

Motoko Rich

New York Times

In announcing his decision to exit the Iran nuclear accord, President Trump said he also wanted to send a signal about the kind of hard bargain he plans to drive with another longtime American adversary, North Korea.

Many analysts in Asia greeted the move with skepticism, however, saying it would instead jeopardize the goals of a planned summit meeting between Mr. Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

By withdrawing from the Iran deal, analysts said, Mr. Trump has proved the United States to be an untrustworthy negotiating partner that cannot be counted on to honor any agreement.

“Only a fool would trust the US to keep its word in a rogue state nuke deal now,” Robert E. Kelly, a professor of political science at Pusan National University in South Korea, wrote on Twitter. (Read more)


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This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

Image result for korean summit

Don’t let the Korea summit hype fool you. We’ve been here before.

Max Boot

Washington Post

The meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea was acclaimed as “historic.” The two leaders hugged, “smiled broadly, shook each other’s hand vigorously and toasted each other with glasses of champagne.” Reporters noted that the “opening formalities seemed surprisingly relaxed, exceeding the expectations of many people, including perhaps those of the principals themselves. The South Korean leader said we must “proceed together on a path of reconciliation and cooperation.” The North Korean leader replied that “you will not be disappointed.”

Sound familiar? It should, because the news coverage of the 2000 meeting between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang parallels the euphoria over Friday’s meeting in Panmunjom between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s son. If anything, the 2000 meeting produced more tangible results: Not only declarations about ending the Korean War and uniting the two countries, but also concrete steps toward creating a joint South Korean-North Korean industrial park in Kaesong , allow South Korean tourists to visit the North, and to reunify families long divided by the demilitarized zone. Between 1998 and 2008, South Korea provided some $8 billion in economic assistance to North Korea in the hope that all of this aid would create a kinder, gentler regime. Kim Dae-jung won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts. (Read more)

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This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy


(Image: © AP)

Putin support for Assad paints Russia into a dangerous corner (£)

Kathrin Hille

Financial Times 

Four months ago, Vladimir Putin appeared in firm control of the agenda in Syria: Moscow’s military intervention, the Russian president confidently declared, had accomplished its aim of crushing Isis and all parties needed to move on to a political resolution. But the US-led missile strikes on Syria have underlined the risks Moscow’s staunch support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad carries, as it pushes Russia into an increasingly dangerous corner and is damaging Moscow’s broader interests, diplomats say. “They cast themselves as the protector of Syria’s sovereignty, the fighters against western schemes to push for regime change and partition that country, but they risk becoming partners with Assad in being international outlaws,” said a diplomat from a European country whose government is usually seen as Russia-friendly. “They are beginning to look like a pariah state, and more and more they are behaving like one.”

In aftermath of the suspected gas attack in Douma that killed dozens of people, US president Donald Trump made a point of criticising Mr Putin, saying Russia, along with Iran, was responsible for backing Mr Assad, while warning there would be a “big price to pay”. (Read more)

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This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, March 22, 2013.

(Photo: AFP)

Has a New Cold War Really Begun? (£)

Odd Arne Westad

Foreign Affairs

For about four years now, since Russia’s occupation of Crimea and China’s launch of the Belt and Road Initiative, there has been much speculation about whether another Cold War between East and West is coming. In the last month alone, headlines have proclaimed that “The New Cold War Is Here,” heralded “Putin’s New Cold War,” and warned that “Trump Is Preparing for a New Cold War.” But are we really returning to the past? Contemporary politics is full of false analogies, and the return of the Cold War seems to be one of them.

At its peak, the Cold War was a global system of countries centered on the United States and the Soviet Union. It did not determine everything that was going on in the world of international affairs, but it influenced most things. At its core was an ideological contest between capitalism and socialism that had been going on throughout the twentieth century, with each side fervently dedicated to its system of economics and governance. It was a bipolar system of total victory or total defeat, in which neither of the main protagonists could envisage a lasting compromise with the other. The Cold War was intense, categorical, and highly dangerous: strategic nuclear weapons systems were intended to destroy the superpower opponent, even at a cost of devastating half the world. (Read more)

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This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Image: Tass/Getty Images)

The Russian election and the rise of Putin’s young technocrats (£)

Financial Times

Whenever Anton Alikhanov looks up from his desk in the governor’s office in Kaliningrad, he sees a bright green A4 folder hanging on the wall. President Vladimir Putin brought the file, bursting with petitions he received from Kaliningrad residents, during his first visit in August to the Russian enclave since appointing Mr Alikhanov to run it.

“It hangs there, framed and under glass, as a reminder of the essence of our job,” he says. “Work — that’s the green folder.”

For Mr Alikhanov, it makes sense to project a single-minded focus on the tasks set by the president. Upon his appointment as Russia’s youngest-ever provincial chief at the age of 30 in October 2016, he joined the breed of fresh-faced new administrators Mr Putin is installing to prepare the country for an eventual political transition, when the president finally decides to stand down. (Read more)


Slovakia journalist: Prime Minister Fico replaced amid scandal


Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico has resigned after the murder of a journalist sparked a political scandal.

President Andrej Kiska said he would ask Deputy Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini to form a new government.

Mr Fico had offered to resign on Wednesday if the ruling coalition was allowed to finish its term.

The death of reporter Jan Kuciak has shone a spotlight on corruption in Slovakia, prompting nationwide protests. (Read more)


Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach

Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison

The Guardian

The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in one of the tech giant’s biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.

A whistleblower has revealed to the Observer how Cambridge Analytica – a company owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and headed at the time by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon – used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements.

Christopher Wylie, who worked with a Cambridge University academic to obtain the data, told the Observer: “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.” (Read more)


May to consider ‘next steps’ after Russia expels 23 British diplomats (£)

Thomas Conlin and Sebastian Mann

The Times

Theresa May has said that the UK and its allies will “consider our next steps” after Russia moved to expel 23 British diplomats amid an escalating row over the nerve agent attack on a former spy and his daughter.

The prime minister insisted that the tit-for-tat reaction to her measures after the use of a chemical weapon on Sergei and Yulia Skripal did not “change the facts” and that she regarded Russia as responsible.

Speaking at the Conservative Spring Forum, Mrs May said the government had “anticipated” a similar response to her action earlier this week to expel 23 Russian diplomats from London.

She said: “In light of their previous behaviour we anticipated a response of this kind and we will consider our next steps in the coming days alongside our allies and partners. (Read more)


Human Rights Are Not Enough

Samuel Moyn

The Nation

In 1981, the playwright Zdena Tominová, on an extended visit to the West from her home in communist Czechoslovakia, traveled to Dublin to give a lecture. A critic of her country’s political regime, she was the spokesperson for Charter 77, one of the first dissident organizations to turn human rights into an international rallying cry.

Tominová, however, surprised the crowd. She explained that, growing up as a beneficiary of the state’s communist policies, she felt grateful for the ideals of her youth and their politics of material equality. “All of a sudden,” she remembered of the leveling of classes she witnessed as a child, “I was not underprivileged and could do everything.” This was striking, coming from a woman who’d seen the suppression of the Prague Spring reforms in 1968 and who’d had her head pounded into the pavement for her membership in Charter 77. (Read more)

This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Photo: Korean Central News Agency)

President Trump’s North Korea Gamble

Nicholas Kristof

New York Times

It’s infinitely better that North Korea and the United States exchange words rather than missiles.

Yet President Trump’s decision to meet Kim Jong-un strikes me as a dangerous gamble and a bad idea. I’m afraid that North Korea may be playing Trump, and that in turn Trump may be playing us.

I fear that Trump is being played because at the outset, apparently in exchange for nothing clear-cut, he has agreed to give North Korea what it has long craved: the respect and legitimacy that comes from the North Korean leader standing as an equal beside the American president. And I worry that we in the media and the public are being played because this is a way for Trump to change the subject from a Russia investigation and a porn actress to himself as Great Peacemaker. (Read more)


Brexit break-up custody battle focuses on border

Jennifer O’Leary


The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is increasingly the focus of a political “custody battle” as part of the Brexit divorce negotiations.

But while the focus is on the divorce settlement, the emotional fallout can be trickier to navigate.

“Progress was being made in terms of building a slightly more shared identity in society,” Matthew O’Toole told BBC Spotlight.

But, he added, the Brexit vote had “kind of forced people back”.

The former Downing Street press adviser for David Cameron and Theresa May said Brexit has magnified identity politics in Northern Ireland.

“In many ways we are still kind of fighting the battles of the 17th century Williamite War in Northern Ireland – obviously every summer people march to commemorate those wars and then other people are offended by it and don’t like it. (Read more)


UK fears Kremlin involvement in Russian spy case

Financial Times

Investigators are intensifying efforts to identify the mysterious substance that poisoned former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia as fears grow that they may have been the victims of a state-sponsored attack.

The 66-year-old former colonel in Russia’s GRU, the military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter remain in a critical condition in hospital in Salisbury after being found unconscious on a bench near the Maltings shopping centre on Sunday.

UK government officials said there was a working assumption that the pair were targets of the FSB, Russia’s intelligence service, but cautioned that the police and security services were still waiting for the results of toxicology tests being carried out at the Ministry of Defence laboratory at Porton Down.

The UK’s counter terrorism force has taken over the investigation from local police and Amber Rudd, home secretary, is due to chair a meeting of Cobra, the government’s emergency response committee, on Wednesday morning.

Boris Johnson, foreign secretary, said on Tuesday that Britain would respond “robustly” if the investigation found that Russia was responsible. (Read more)


“It’s Raining Rockets”: Deadly New Syrian-Russian Assault Kills Hundreds in Eastern Ghouta

Two weeks ago, Mouaz Khaboutily, a Syrian photographer who works with an anti-government group, called me from the rebel-controlled Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta. Khaboutily had sheltered in a bunker as Syrian and Russian forces launched an offensive to retake the enclave of nearly four hundred thousand people. During what he hoped was a pause in the fighting, he risked a trip to the street in order to find Internet access and see if the U.N. Security Council had brokered a ceasefire. “I’d be a liar if I said this is not dangerous,” the twenty-eight-year-old told me over WhatsApp. As he stood on the street, warplanes began flying overhead. After two minutes, we agreed that he should hang up and find shelter. The warplanes had dropped bombs four times while he was on the phone—one, he estimated, was just two hundred yards away.

In the last two weeks, one thousand and forty-two people, including about a hundred and fifty-six children, have been killed in eastern Ghouta, in what human-rights groups fear is a final, all-out offensive to retake one of the few remaining rebel-held enclaves in the country. Bombings by Syrian and Russian planes have been indiscriminate, killing civilians, levelling homes, and destroying medical facilities. Bashar al-Assad’s regime—with the full support of Vladimir Putin and the Russian military—have flouted calls for a complete ceasefire. (Read more)


Why Pakistan has troops in Saudi Arabia – and what it means for the Middle East

Umer Karim

The Conversation

Pakistan recently announced that it will send military personnel to Saudi Arabia. The details of the deployment remain elusive, but a composite brigade of the Pakistani military will reportedly fulfil advisory and training roles. It seems Islamabad and Riyadh’s longstanding relationship is getting stronger – so what are the implications?

First of all, Pakistani troops have been deployed in the Saudi kingdom before. Pakistani military engagement started when its special services participated in the operation to eliminate fundamentalist elements that seized the Grand Mosque in Makkah in 1979. Afterwards, tens of thousands of Pakistani troops remained in Saudi Arabia during the Iran-Iraq war. Most were recalled after the war ended in 1988 – but a smaller contingent stayed on. (Read more)