Today’s Essential Foreign Affairs Reads
Here are some interesting stories from the weekend and the morning of today, Monday, March 27:
What America Stood For. Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor from 2014 to 2017, defends the liberal democratic order, arguing that whether the leaders of other countries support or oppose the post-World War II rules-based system, they point to whatever is happening in the United States to justify their own policies (for example, Cambodia justifying attacking journalists by pointing to Trump’s views on “fake news”). Malinowski alleges that “traditionally, U.S. presidents have used their farewell addresses to bolster this [internationalist] vision,” but surely this line of thought omits the wisdom of Washington’s non-alignment, Theodore Roosevelt’s hard-nosed realism, and Eisenhower’s wariness of the military-industrial complex.
American Funding and Pakistan. According to The Diplomat, the proposed cuts to the State Department are likely to dissolve several offices that foster closer ties with Pakistan, including the Office of the Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Additionally, the United States will not sell Pakistan F-16s. According to the article, “with American aid already declining steadily for the past several years, any further cuts could push Pakistan further away from the United States. The country would consequently embed itself more firmly in the Chinese camp as Beijing courts significant influence through record-breaking investment, which has reinvigorated the Pakistani economy. Russia may also choose to capitalize on this scenario as a suitable contingency, as its own relationship with India suffers due to the sustained loss of lucrative arms deals to American firms amid a phase of rapid confidence-building between Washington and New Delhi.” But is this really a problem for the U.S.? Does America, at this point, really have an interest in sinking so much money in Pakistan, with little tangible benefit? Even if the result is Pakistan’s drift toward closer relations with China and Russia, the United States would be able to benefit from closer relations with India, a country with 10 times as many people and economic resources as Pakistan.
What if Saudi Arabia was poor? L. Burton Brender explores the potential consequences of lower oil prices on the geopolitics of the Middle East. Without Saudi Arabian wealth to organize and egg-on its neighboring Sunni Arab states, might the region benefit from the greater stability that would come from greater engagement with Iran, both by the United States, and the Arab states? On the other hand, the author notes that “it is unclear whether this [Iranian dominance of the region] would ultimately be a good or a bad thing, from an American perspective.” I’m not so sure, myself. It is important to accommodate Iran’s legitimate aspirations in the region, based on its history and geography. But at the same time, as any scholar of the 1814-15 Congress of Vienna, such as Henry Kissinger, can attest, it’s important to have a healthy balance of power in any region. In Europe, this prevented a general war for almost a century, up to 1914. So, for there to be a stable Middle East that keeps all parties happy, Saudi Arabia, as well as other states like Israel, Egypt and Turkey need to balance each other, and Iran.
Hosni Mubarak is released from jail in Egypt. As reported by Al Monitor, the former president of Egypt, who fell during the Arab Spring in 2011, is now out of jail, and free to go about his business, as are his sons, who are assumed to have political ambitions. While it is unclear if the Mubarak family is planning a comeback, although they still have some support, it is certainly evident that the Arab Spring has come a full circle, having essentially failed almost everywhere except Tunisia. Syria, Libya, and Yemen are completely wrecked. This goes to show that the path to development, stability, and prosperity in the Middle East is not through democratization, as advocated by both former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, but enlightened despotism. Note how the Arab monarchies that have allowed some controlled liberalism, along with economic development, such as Morocco, Jordan, and the Emirate of Dubai, have prospered and remained stable. Too many people in the West have forgotten the roots of its political thought: that liberalism (i.e. greater personal freedoms, and rule of law, and markets) is the precursor to democracy (if that is even necessary, as it is a means, not an end), because it takes a while for institutions and attitudes to take hold. Of course, contrasting Russia and China post-1989 is the biggest evidence in favor of this line of thought.
This country has more pyramids than Egypt, but you wouldn’t know it. The study of ancient history and the classics is important, particularly for our readers, because it helps us understand what is eternal and true about human nature, and thus relevant to the modern human condition; we look to the wisdom of the past for lessons for the present. That being said, I also have a passion for archaeology and antiquity, and strongly believe in preserving and investigating ancient ruins and records, in order to preserve our cultural heritage, for we at TAC are about taking the best from the past. On that note, it is interesting to know that Sudan, a country not known for its tourism, has more pyramids than Egypt. While many of these pyramids were built by various Egyptian dynasties which ruled northern Sudan, many were also built by the Nubians, an indigenous civilization south of ancient Egypt, though they are not as well-studied. This goes to show that there are many more mysteries about the past awaiting exploration and discovery.