It is difficult enough to keep track of family schedules, local news and domestic politics. Attempting to keep informed on the status of other countries is beyond the capabilities of most of us. Unless one is blessed with entirely too much free time and an insatiable appetite for reading the Economist, the Financial Times and the daily postings of Foreign Affairs. What follows is my short summary of where other select countries stand in this summer of 2019.
- Economically, Russia is a one-trick pony with oil and gas production. Vladimir Putin has mastered the art of the authoritarian regime, with limited democracy, by instilling a sense of patriotism through propaganda based on Russian history and myth. Military adventurism against countries with Russian speaking populations and in Syria have helped Putin remain popular. This approach is wearing thin as living conditions have not improved.
- While China appears to be faltering in the short term with riots in Hong Kong and at an economic disadvantage in the face of U.S. tariffs, these wounds are superficial. American leaders think in terms of the next election cycle, the Chinese plan in terms of multiple decades. China is well-positioned to challenge the United States for hegemony in Asia and eventually beyond.
- Great Britain:
- Following the referendum vote to leave the European Union, Great Britain has faced its greatest challenge since WWII. The popular vote to leave was contrary to what the established political elites thought was best for the country. The government has been unable to agree on the conditions for leaving. Two conservative prime ministers have resigned, and Boris Johnson, a political jokester who favors “leave” at any cost, is well positioned to take control. The next deadline with the EU to finalize terms is in October. The three possible outcomes: soft leave with a deal signed; hard leave with no agreement; and another referendum to possibly reverse the decision to leave; each are fraught with economic and political landmines.
- Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France in 2017. It appeared that his country had escaped the right wing populism that was washing over Europe. Macron championed rational economic reforms with unions, pensions and other cost-saving measures. The goodwill disappeared when a proposed tax on gasoline led to the “yellow vest” demonstrations that lasted for months. Macron has regained control of the streets, but not widened his political appeal, after showing his authoritarian stripes in permitting deadly police weapons like flash-ball guns and dispersal grenades against the demonstrators. The political choice in France is now between authoritarian neoliberalism and nationalist populism.
- Mexico needs the new trade agreement negotiated with Trump and Canada (USMCA) to pass Congress. This helps explain Mexican cooperation with the president in addressing the flow of refugees flowing from Central America to the U.S. border. As the border patrols from both countries change diapers and make baloney sandwiches, it is open season for the flow of drugs to the north and cash/guns to the south.
- Venezuela, Cuba:
- American foreign policy is directed against these two socialist countries while other nations to our south, below Mexico, are ignored. An American supported coup in Venezuela failed to topple Nicolas Maduro. Economic embargoes remain in place against both countries. Cuba depends on oil from Venezuela, but all exports are in shambles, resulting in severe deprivations to both local populations.
- On July 15, 2016, an unsuccessful coup was attempted in Turkey against state institutions, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan used this event to jail and purge hundreds of thousands of his detractors from the military, civil service and higher education. In addition, he has sought to cozy up to Russia and ignore his European allies, while becoming more authoritarian. This somber picture began to change when his scheme to annul the election of a popular, more liberal opponent to become the mayor of Istanbul failed after a second election on June 23. Shoots of democracy are beginning to reappear in Turkey, and the currency is recovering from a 40% drop in value.
- On the outside Israel appears to be in the best position since its creation. The most important Israeli ally, the U.S. has moved its embassy to Jerusalem and recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Many Arab countries are no longer calling for Israel’s destruction as they have common cause against Iran. Iran, Israel’s mortal enemy, is in an economic tailspin because of U.S. sanctions. But none of these positive developments will solve a more desperate Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, or a more desperate Palestinian population from starting a new wave of violence, or address the multitude of domestic problems facing Israel.
For more background on any of these countries (or others), the best up-to-date analysis can be found at the Economist.com, on numerous podcasts and blogs and, of course, Wikipedia.
Gary Stout is a Washington attorney.