MEL GURTOV – It won’t be long before winter descends on Europe. Before it does, most European countries must address the question of how long and how well they will be able to handle decoupling from Russian energy.
MEL GURTOV – To stop global warming at 1.5°C, all sectors of the global economy, from energy and transport to buildings and food, must change dramatically and rapidly, and new technologies, including hydrogen fuel and carbon capture and storage will be needed.
MEL GURTOV – During World War II, US sailors were warned: Loose lips sink ships. A similar warning should have gone out to all US officials in recent days—and the President should have been the first to acknowledge that the warning included him. Because thanks to loose lips in Washington, the US is contributing to Vladimir Putin’s propaganda, and possibly still worse, to a direct confrontation with Moscow.
MEL GURTOV – In just the past few years, we have witnessed mass violence directed at innocent people in many places: China’s Xinjiang province, the Saudi-led war in Yemen, the Myanmar (Burma) junta’s atrocities against the Muslim Rohingya, and of course Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Each of these episodes has its distinctive characteristics, but they all violate international law and our common humanity. None of them can be excused by arguments based on state sovereignty, national security, historical analogy, or the sins of others past and present.
MEL GURTOV – Cobalt is a valuable mineral that is the subject of intense international competition. Not a new subject: In past times copper, uranium, and rare earth metals have had center stage. Recall the controversy over â€œblood diamondsâ€â€”diamond mining that helped fund civil wars in Africa. More recently we have lithium in Bolivia, where Chinese, American, and other countriesâ€™ firms are seeking to gain the upper hand on a mineral that is vital in electrical products. Thereâ€™s still another battle, this one over cobalt, which is also an essential mineral in cell phones but especially in electric car batteries.
MEL GURTOV – Despite the best efforts of the Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu to disrupt the nuclear talks with Iran by attacking Iranâ€™s nuclear computer network, the news out of Geneva is that a new agreement is close to being signed. It has been a very rough road to get thereâ€”a road worth recalling because among that agreementâ€™s accomplishments will be resumption of multilateral diplomacy with the US at the table.
MEL GURTOV – As the Biden administration settles in, letâ€™s pause to take stock of where American politics now stands. Itâ€™s not a pretty picture, but it has the potential for improvement.
MEL GURTOV – The predominant direction of a progressive US president should be toward â€œMaking America Safe for the World.â€ That means focusing on domestic problems rather than on foreign policy crusading, relying on diplomacy before making threats and imposing sanctions, redefining the national interest with an eye toward real friends and urgent issues, and finding common ground with adversaries, starting with China, while remaining faithful to our ideals.
MEL GURTOV – A complete overhaul of the political system is impossible because the system itself is rotting at the foundations and immune to fundamental change. Addressing the structural problems has to begin somewhere, and the voting system seems like that place.
MEL GURTOV – In the next several weeks, President-elect Joe Biden will be preoccupied with creating a 100-day action agenda. It might be called “Operation Renewal.” Here are top-10 choices, in no particular order.
MEL GURTOV – Commentators evidently desperate for good news are touting the Israel-United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreement as a welcome path to Middle East peace. The agreement trades Israelâ€™s promise not to annex portions of the West Bank for the UAEâ€™s recognition of Israel. One conservative writer for the Washington Post actually thinks Trumpâ€™s role in helping bring the agreement about makes him a Nobel Prize candidate. But hold on.
MEL GURTOV – The President of the United States is a criminal. Iâ€™m not referring to the twenty-odd investigations of him currently underway for violations of the Constitution, obstruction of justice, and collaboration with the Russian election attack, among other misdeeds. No, Iâ€™m referring to his and his administrationâ€™s intentional and reckless pursuit of national policies that condemn American and the worldâ€™s citizens to environmental destruction and the end of life as we know it.
MEL GURTOV – Donald Trump and his minions are the chief threats to Americaâ€™sâ€”and for that matter, the worldâ€™sâ€”real security.
MEL GURTOV – The trade war with China that Trump so confidently predicted would result in a great new deal now threatens to become a permanent feature of US-China relations. Why that is likely may have less to do with the specific trade issues in dispute than with the vastly different negotiating styles and operating principles of the two countriesâ€™ leaderships.
MEL GURTOV – Trump has authorized the dispatch of 1500 additional troops to the Middle East and the sale of several billion dollars in â€œprecision-guidedâ€ weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The arms sale is being made without Congressional authorization or consultation, on the argument (made by Pompeo) that an â€œextreme emergencyâ€ eliminates the legal requirement to make the case to Congress. But there is no emergency.
MEL GURTOV – This US policy of regime change in Iran is absolutely inexcusable: It is aggressive and baseless, oblivious to diplomacy, and guaranteed to cause untold hardship and chaos for the people of the region.
MEL GURTOV – Trump was correct to describe denuclearization last June as a lengthy â€œprocessâ€ that one summit meeting could not achieve. However, the second summit, in Hanoi at the end of February 2019, again showed that personal diplomacy divorced from an engagement process that incorporates flexibility and give-and-take raises the risk of failure.
MEL GURTOV – There are no winners, here or abroad, in Trumpâ€™s decision to withdraw troops from Syria. But there are important losers: innocent lives and prospects for peace. However remote a political settlement in Syria and Afghanistan might have been before, it is even more remote now. With the US largely out of the picture, incentives for adversariesâ€”Syria and Russia in Syria, the Taliban in Afghanistanâ€”to negotiate war-ending or at least violence-reduction agreements are now gone. Civil war is likely to gain intensity. Civilian casualties and refugee numbers will rise substantially. A new regional war is possible. The defeat of peace should be the focus of criticsâ€™ concern.
MEL GURTOV – Americaâ€™s China problem is no longer about â€œmanaging Chinaâ€™s rise.â€ It is about finding ways to more deeply engage China on common problems, such as climate change and energy, while also establishing rules of the road to avoid military confrontations in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait.
MEL GURTOV – Every world leader who shrinks from directly addressing climate change through public and international policy is, to my mind, guilty of a crime against humanity. A harsh judgment? As I read scientistsâ€™ reports about just how fast the polar ice caps are melting, how quickly seas are rising, and how temperatures worldwide are making new records, I conclude that worsening environmental conditions are outrunning both scientific predictions and the ability to act in time. Inaction in such dire circumstances is inexcusable, and should be punishable, on behalf of humanity.
MEL GURTOV – Were it not for the source, it would hardly be news to learn that the United States canâ€™t take care of its most needyâ€”that it may be the richest country, but it is also increasingly, appallingly, unequal in how its wealth and opportunities are shared. When the various dimensions of human security are examined, critics have long noted that the US falls short, whether in treatment of children, poverty rates, income gaps between rich and poor, or even life expectancy. All this has been amply documented in annual reports of the United Nations Development Programme.
MEL GURTOV – Whatever substantive agreements were reached took place between Trump and Kim alone, without any top advisers. And hereâ€™s where the trouble begins: the contrary claims that are bound to emerge about who promised what.
MEL GURTOV – Protect innocent civilians, gain the removal from Syria of as many occupying forces as possible, let Assad learn what it means to be dependent on Russiaâ€”these are all that is left of a Syria policy.
MEL GURTOV – With the appointments of Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and John Bolton as national security adviser, Donald Trump has signaled his preparedness by the May 12 deadline to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and ramp up pressure on North Korea if it refuses to denuclearize. The two moves would have interactive consequences.
MEL GURTOV – In the aftermath of the â€œKorean springâ€ at the Winter Games, some observers waxed euphoric over the potential for direct US-North Korea talks. The apparent breakthrough at the Games in North-South dialogue occasioned by Kim Jong-unâ€™s sister, Kim Yu-jong, and South Koreaâ€™s President Moon Jae-in had put Vice President Mike Pence in an embarrassing positionâ€”odd man out as Moon and Ms. Kim discussed a summit meeting while Pence sat on his hands. Pence tried to recover by indicating as he left South Korea that talks with the North might actually be possibleâ€”a concession that gave the appearance of a US decision to fall in line with the South Korean view. But has the US position on how to deal with North Korea actually changed?
MEL GURTOV – President Obamaâ€™s engagement with Cuba was one of his administrationâ€™s success stories. The policy shift was based on the entirely realistic as well as humanitarian assessment that permanent estrangement deepens enmity, isolates two peoples and separates families, reduces opportunities for improvement in the quality of life in Cuba, inhibits the two-way flow of information, and prevents cooperation on common problems. But the Trump administration, pressed by Senators Marco Rubio and Robert Menendez, is still fighting the Cold War, as evidenced by Trumpâ€™s disengagement order the week of June 20.
MEL GURTOV – Now, just below the radar, the US military is engaged in an ever-increasing number of â€œadvise-and-assistâ€ missions, supplemented by major arms deals and CIA-run drone strikes, that commit the US to long-term intervention in Africa and the Middle East. And Donald Trump, unlike Barack Obama, is happy to cede operational controlâ€”to â€œlet the war fighters fight the war,â€ as Stephen Bannon told CNN.
MEL GURTOV – As Donald Trump prepared to meet Xi Jinping, his administration was going down the old road of believing it can pressure China to solve the North Korea nuclear weapons problemâ€”or face a US-initiated trade war.
MEL GURTOV – As had been widely expected, the Permanent Court of Arbitration under the UN Convention on he Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ruled on July 12 in favor of the Philippinesâ€™ suit to declare Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea (SCS) illegal. On every particular, the court found that Chinaâ€™s claimsâ€”defined by the so-called â€œnine-dash lineâ€â€” to an expansive maritime zone and its undersea resources are illegal, and therefore that its land reclamation and construction projects in the islands encroach on the Philippinesâ€™ exclusive economic zone. Though the ruling did not extend to the issue of sovereignty over the SCS islands, it clarified the boundary dispute. The ruling also found China guilty of harming the marine environment by building artificial islands, of illegally interfering with Filipinosâ€™ fishing and oil exploration, and â€œaggravatingâ€ the dispute with the Philippines by its construction activities.
MEL GURTOV – Will the real China please stand up? In the US media, most stories about China raise questions that amount to threat-mongering. How can Chinaâ€™s â€œaggressivenessâ€ in the South China Sea be stopped? Is China forming a new alliance with Putinâ€™s Russia? Has China hacked its way into the most sensitive US industrial and military secrets? Is China on the verge of displacing the West from Africa and even Latin America? Are the Chinese about to become a military rival of the US in terms of naval and air power?
MEL GURTOV – How should we evaluate Obamaâ€™s foreign policy record? Right-wing critics will of course excoriate Obama for all the usual thingsâ€”weakness against adversaries like Russia and China, negotiating with instead of subverting Cuba and Iran, eviscerating the US military, undermining relations with Israel. On the left, Obama is already being cast as another liberal leader whose actions failed to deliver on his promises, from Guantanamo to the Middle East. Historians will have plenty of things to quarrel about, but we need not wait.
MEL GURTOV – One of the many tools at the disposal of multinational corporations (MNCs) for maximizing profits and undermining state sovereignty is moving operations to low-tax countries. Global companies do not simply â€œgo abroadâ€; they shift capital, as well as labor and technology, to wherever the advantages are greatest. This reality of globalization is well known, and it is matched by the similar behavior of powerful, wealthy individuals, including present and former top government officials. Like the MNCs, wealthy individuals are not content to make tons of money at home if they can make even more by finding tax shelters abroad, where their money is completely hidden from public view. Itâ€™s what the One Percent do.
MEL GURTOV – North Korea is on a military tear. How and when any of the weapons the North claims to have might actually be operational is open to speculation. What does seem clear is that Kim Jong-un is pressing his weapons specialists to produce a reliable deterrent that will force the issue of direct talks with the U.S.
MEL GURTOV – The longstanding US approach to North Koreaâ€™s nuclear weapons is way off the mark. The Obama administrationâ€™s strategy of â€œstrategic patienceâ€ shows little attention to North Korean motivations. The US insistence that no change in policy is conceivable unless and until North Korea agrees to denuclearize ensures continuing tension, the danger of a disastrous miscalculation, and more and better North Korean nuclear weapons. The immediate focus of US policy should be on trust building.
MEL GURTOV – How long must a so-called ally be tolerated and coddled, with mountains of arms, when its actions contradict US policy and violate international norms? Indefinitely, since access to oil, support of Israel, and reliance on the authoritarian Middle East monarchies have been staples of US policy for many decades. Yet wouldnâ€™t it be worth considering that the violence and deprivations of human rights in the Middle East might be alleviated by US adherence to a different set of priorities: social justice, environmental protection (with a focus on water), accountable and transparent governance, and demilitarization through substantial reductions of armaments and arms transfers?
MEL GURTOV – The Paris accord gives us something to celebrateâ€”a serious undertaking by virtually every country, rich or poor, to commit to reducing carbon emissions such that our warming planet does not rise another 2 degrees Celsius, and if possible no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The hope is that the combination of global commitments, technological advances, and business investments will literally turn the tide on climate change. But of course the devil is in the details, and in each countryâ€™s politics.
MEL GURTOV – The contrast between Obama the engager and Obama the warrior is striking. US arms exports to authoritarian regimes such as Pakistanâ€™s, just one element of military aid, continue to rise even as we celebrate the Presidentâ€™s initiatives with Iran and Cuba.
MEL GURTOV – Several developments in China over the past few weeks have shown us a country quite different from the one often portrayed by outsidersâ€”an emerging superpower, with global economic reach and ambitions to challenge American predominance, at least in Asia. The real China, the one most familiar to its citizens, faces serious, long-term problems at home. Therefore, President Obama can either press China hard on currency valuation, human rights, and cyberhacking, or he can engage in a dialogue of equals and pursue common ground on climate change, Iran, the South China Sea dispute, and North Korea. In choosing the latter course, Obama would be recognizing that Xi is plagued by domestic problems largely of his own making. US pressure on him now would not only be strongly resented; it would be quite counterproductive. Let the Chinese people determine the fate of what Xi Jinping calls the â€œChina dream.â€
MEL GURTOV – The dynamics of how the American taxpayer is endlessly tapped to provide massive and unnecessary funds for the US military is explained. Gurtov is not writing about the core military requests for defense of the U.S., but rather the corruption and global adventurism that places US personnel in harms way, and cheats the U.S. itself out of funds needed for the well being of our people.
MEL GURTOV – One of the predictable outcomes of any US effort to reset relations with an adversary is that allies start whining about their vulnerability and demanding some sort of compensation for it. Thus, no sooner was the nuclear deal with Iran concluded than the Israelis, Saudis, and other Middle East partners criticize it as representing abandonment and emboldening Iran to become a stronger meddler in neighborsâ€™ affairs. All sorts of dire predictions about horrendous consequences are already on record, clearly intended to influence the Obama administration to give these folks something for their painâ€”like money, arms (both of which they get in abundance), and especially new commitments.
MEL GURTOV – On January 17 the New York Times reported that, to appease environmentalists, the Obama administration would â€œban drilling in portions of the Arctic Oceanâ€™s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.â€ But in return, Republicans and the oil and gas industry got federal approval to drill in a large swath of the Atlantic Ocean, a move that I believe risks another BP-type disaster.
MEL GURTOV – The long-running, multi-party dispute over control of islets in the South China Sea (SCS) is worsening both in rhetoric and provocative activity. Meeting in late May at the Shangri-La Dialogue on regional security, U.S. and Chinese defense officials sparred over responsibility for the increased tension, though they stopped short of issuing threats. In fact, all sides to the dispute say they want to avoid violence, prefer a diplomatic resolution, and support freedom of navigation.
MEL GURTOV – In an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times on August 8, President Obama stressed that the US was only fighting the Islamic State (IS, or ISIS) in Iraq as a partner, not as Iraqâ€™s or the Kurdsâ€™ air force. Obama claims his officials are reminding everyone, â€œWe will be your partners, but we are not going to do it for you. Weâ€™re not sending a bunch of US troops back on the ground to keep a lid on things.â€ Now, less than three weeks later, the strategic picture has changed, and emphases on â€œpartnershipsâ€ have faded while the US military complex advances largely on its own.