Why Iran and Saudi Arabia making nice is a very big deal
“Saudi Arabia and Iran restarted diplomatic relations after seven years of high tensions and violent exchanges between them. Within two months, they will reopen embassies and have both pledged “respect for the sovereignty of states and noninterference in their internal affairs.” The two countries have been engaged in a proxy war in Yemen over the past eight years that has calmed down until recently, and have been on opposite sides of conflicts throughout the Middle East, in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. While normalization may not mean a cessation of violence throughout the region, the pause in outright hostilities between the two should be welcomed by all. The breakthrough builds on several years of talks in Iraq and Oman.”
“That China played a role shows where global power is shifting — and a meaningful change in how Chinese President Xi Jinping conducts Middle East policy. Thus far, Beijing has been cautious in taking an active role there; this diplomacy, while significant, doesn’t mean China is trying to displace the US security role in the Middle East, Freeman explained. Instead, China is “trying to produce a peaceful, international environment there, in which you can do business,” he told me.”
“China is the largest trading partner of the Gulf and most of the Middle East, and it has a real stake in an easing of tensions. Looking ahead, Saudi Arabia made a strategic choice here and elsewhere — it’s looking to join the BRICS grouping of developing countries and take on observer status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
“It indicates that the kingdom wants to focus on domestic economic development over geopolitical conflicts at present, particularly as conflicts in Syria and Yemen settle into stalemate and Iran’s leaders are preoccupied by domestic unrest,” says Andrew Leber, a political scientist focused on Saudi Arabia at Tulane University.”
China is ghosting the United States
“Secretary of State Antony Blinken wants to reschedule his date with China. Beijing is giving him the cold shoulder.
The Biden administration called off Blinken’s planned trip to Beijing in February after a Chinese spy balloon traversed U.S. skies, but has since been trying to restart high-level talks. That includes rescheduling the Blinken visit, and setting up other trips by top U.S. officials and a phone call between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, a current U.S. official and a former State Department official said.
But China is rebuffing the U.S. efforts”
“China also is pressing back particularly hard on the proposals for a Xi-Biden call.”
Economic Security: U.S. and Korean Perspectives
U.N. calls for Russia to leave Ukraine
“The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday adopted a resolution calling for Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine, almost exactly one year after it invaded the neighboring country.
In the 193-member body, 141 members voted in support of the resolution, exceeding the two-thirds threshold needed to pass.
even members — Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua, Russia and Syria — voted against the resolution. Thirty-two members abstained, including China, India, Iran and South Africa.
The nonbinding resolution, which is largely symbolic, calls for Russia to halt its attack on Ukraine and to withdraw its troops from the region, as well as for a lasting peace.”
Biden gets chance to redefine World Bank role
“The Biden administration is about to undertake one of its most complicated international initiatives, installing a new leader at the World Bank who can steer the organization toward a sweeping climate change agenda.
Bank President David Malpass’s abrupt announcement that he will step down from his post a year early opens the way for President Joe Biden to choose someone who embraces the new goal of fundamentally overhauling the bank’s work to focus more on climate and other global challenges.”
You ain’t no middleman: EU and NATO slam China’s bid to be a Ukraine peacemaker
“Central and Eastern European countries, the most vocal supporters of arming Ukraine further, are equally dismissive of Beijing’s rhetoric.
“China’s plan is vague and does not offer solutions,” Ivana Karásková, who heads the China Observers in Central and Eastern Europe think tank based in Prague. “The plan calls on Russia and Ukraine to deal with the issue themselves, which would only benefit Russia; China continues to oppose what it calls unilateral sanctions and asks for the sanctions to be approved by the UN Security Council — well, given the fact that the aggressor is a permanent UNSC member with a veto right, this claim is beyond ridiculous.””
The US’s empty commitment to a two-state solution
“The US policy does not take into account how entrenched the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem has become. Israeli settlement growth in the West Bank has made a viable Palestinian state all but impossible. The US-led talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization have been on hiatus since President Barack Obama’s second term, and even at the time, there was little hope that they would amount to much. And Arab states like Morocco, UAE, and Bahrain have abandoned Palestinians, as they normalize relations with the State of Israel and eliminate any incentives for negotiations toward a Palestinian state.
Even establishment voices like former Ambassador Martin Indyk, who served as Obama’s Middle East envoy and is now a fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, acknowledge that a one-state reality has set in.
To be fair, figuring out a new policy toward Israel and Palestine is no easy task. The US has come to be so dependent on Israel as a close security partner in the Middle East that it seemingly has overlooked its transgressions. Moreover, US politicians are reluctant to overhaul its approach and rankle influential domestic constituencies in the process.
But no good policy can rest on an outdated understanding of the facts on the ground. Clinging to a two-state solution that many leading Middle East experts do not view as workable is counterproductive and cedes US leadership. A commitment to a Palestinian state in name only cheapens and undermines its very possibility and boxes out the development of more practical policies that meet the moment. It leaves the US with few options in taking a leadership role in a place that’s central to US national interests and security.”
‘Something Was Badly Wrong’: When Washington Realized Russia Was Actually Invading Ukraine
“Daleep Singh, deputy national security adviser for international economics, National Security Council, White House: We thought we had quelled his appetite for territory by meeting him in Geneva and trying to address some of the strategic concerns he’d been raising, but then here we were again, with an even larger force.”
“Gen. Mark Milley: It’s 30 days after the exit from Afghanistan. Some people said that the invasion of Ukraine was a result of the withdrawal. I don’t agree. It’s obvious the invasion was planned before the fall of Afghanistan.”
“Bill Burns: [While I was in Moscow,] I was talking to [Putin] on a secure phone. It was a strange conversation. He was in Sochi — this was the height of yet another wave of Covid, Moscow itself was under a curfew — so he was isolating himself. The conversation was pretty straightforward. I laid out what the president had asked me to lay out to him. His response was a lot of what I had heard before from him about his convictions about Ukraine, and in many ways, his cockiness about Russia’s ability to enforce its will on Ukraine. His senior advisers were pretty consistent as well. Not all of them were intimately familiar with his own decision-making, so at least one or two of them were a little bit surprised with what I laid out to them because the circle of advisers had gotten so small.”
“Bill Burns: My own impression, based on interactions with him over the years, was a lot of this had to do with his own fixation on controlling Ukraine. He was convincing himself that strategically the window was closing on his opportunity to control Ukraine.”
“Bill Burns: His conviction was that without controlling Ukraine and its choices, it’s not possible for Russia to be a great power and have this sphere of influence that he believes is essential. And it’s not possible for him to be a great Russian leader without accomplishing that.”
“Wally Adeyemo: The diplomacy between the president and the secretary getting people aligned on sanctions before Russia invaded was probably the biggest difference between this time and Crimea in terms of our ability to act quickly and effectively — things that we were unable to do back then.”
“Gen. Paul Nakasone: We sent a [U.S. Cyber Command] team forward, and they land in Kyiv on the fourth of December. Within a day or two, the leader calls back, and she tells my Cyber National Mission Force commander, her boss, “We’re not coming home for a while. In fact, send more people.” We sent our largest “hunt forward” package into Kyiv. That stays there for a little over 70 days. What is a “hunt forward” operation? A hunt forward operation is focused at the partner’s request to look at a series of networks — we identify malware, tradecraft and anomalous behavior in those networks that point us to adversaries and allow the partner — in this case, Ukraine — to strengthen those networks.
The interesting thing that she — the team leader — said: “They’re really serious about this.” This is the third time that we had been back in Ukraine, and there was just a different feeling in terms of how Ukraine was approaching it. When we provided information, they were moving on it, correcting the vulnerability, and looking for more.”
“Amb. Michael Carpenter: We thought, “OK, if there’s a crisis of European security, then let’s talk about it. Let’s identify the Russian concerns and see if there’s a way that we can address them through diplomacy.” Poland assumed the chairperson-ship of the OSCE on January 1, 2022, and so I immediately went to go visit with the Polish Foreign Minister to talk about the diplomatic angle. He was very receptive, and subsequently launched a process called the renewed European Security Dialogue. Russia basically refused to engage, and that’s when it became increasingly clear the Kremlin really had no interest in diplomacy all along. It was bent on war.
All of its alleged concerns — everything that it was putting out there in the public domain — was really a smokescreen. They turned their backs completely on the diplomacy that we were proposing at the OSCE, the diplomacy that was being proposed on behalf of NATO and then also bilaterally what we were discussing with the Russians. There was nothing to offer them, because they didn’t even want to talk.”
“Bill Burns: I saw Zelenskyy in the middle of January to lay out the most recent intelligence we had about Russian planning for the invasion, which by that point had sharpened its focus to come straight across the Belarus frontier — just a relatively short drive from Kyiv — to take Kyiv, decapitate the regime and establish a pro-Russian government there. With some fair amount of detail, including, for example, the Russian intent to seize an airport northwest of Kyiv called Hostomel, and use that as a platform to bring in airborne forces as well to accelerate the seizure of Kyiv.”
“Antony Blinken: I saw Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva in late January, the 21st, because we were determined to exhaust every diplomatic avenue. It was incredibly blustery in Geneva — I’ve never seen Lake Geneva more agitated in my life, like an ocean with a major storm setting in. I alluded to that and said, “You know, we have a responsibility to see if we can calm the seas — calm the lake.” Lavrov was uncharacteristically focused on his talking points, and there wasn’t much extemporaneous give and take, which is not usually the case with him.
I wanted to see if there was some final way of breaking through and suggested we spend some time alone after the meeting with our teams. We sat in chairs about a foot from each other. I asked him, “Tell me, what are you trying to do? What is actually going on here? Is this really about your purported security concerns? Or is this about something theological, which is Putin’s conviction that Ukraine is not an independent state and has to be subsumed into Russia? If it’s the former, if this is genuinely from your perspective about security concerns that Russia has, well we owe it to try to talk about those and our own profound security concerns about what Russia is doing, because we need to avert a war. But if it’s about the latter, if this is about this profoundly misplaced view that Ukraine is not its own country, and you’re determined to subsume it into Russia, well, there’s nothing to talk about.” He couldn’t or wouldn’t give me a straight answer.”
“Emily Horne: We decided Jake was going to go out to the podium with [White House spokesperson] Jen [Psaki] the next day and do a couple of things: One, was going to make very, very clear that any American or dual nationals in Ukraine needed to get out immediately and that the calvary would not come to rescue Americans after an invasion has begun. That was certainly a lesson learned from Afghanistan: You can’t over-message that, and you have to be extremely clear, even at the risk of causing a little bit of panic. The Ukrainians were not terribly happy about that message, but we absolutely did not have a choice, given what we were seeing. The new phrase that Jake deployed on that February 11 press conference was “We are in a window where an invasion could begin at any time.””
“Gen. Mark Milley: I know that was a huge lot of diplomacy. There’s a lot of effort being done by Secretary Austin, Secretary Blinken, Jake Sullivan, myself, the president himself, to try to dissuade Russia from doing this and to warn them if they did it these will be likely consequences.
Derek Chollet: There have been multiple attempts — not just by us. There were other countries, the French, the Germans, others were engaging Putin. No one was getting anywhere.”
“Antony Blinken: The invasion didn’t take place for another week, precisely because we were able to call Putin out publicly. The fact that we were able to continue to declassify information, call him out at the Security Council, have the president use the ultimate bully pulpit to call him out — that put them a little bit off the timeline that we had seen.”
“Jake Sullivan: This was uncharted territory — the idea that there would be a major land war in Europe, with all of the ripple effects that that could cause, that felt like an enormous weight on me, on the whole team, most especially on the president. It was extremely hard to sleep.”
“Gen. Mark Milley: The Ukrainians, at the very end — probably about two weeks prior — really begin to mobilize their country into a nation at arms. They really got into full swing, where you started seeing all the men — and a lot of the women — learning how to use weapons, mines, hand grenades, explosives and all that stuff. Then you also saw a significant mobilization of Ukrainian people into the army — reservists — and you saw the disposition of the Ukrainian forces to begin to change into their wartime locations.
There was a large evacuation of civilians out of what was expected to be the frontline areas, a real flurry of diplomatic activity, and then also decisions made by the international community — most countries pulled out their embassies out of Kyiv. That’s a big, big decision. When you start seeing stuff like that happening, you start realizing that war is getting close.”
“Matthew Miller: There is sometimes this unrealistic sense that America can wave a magic wand and control the world. That’s just not true. We don’t have magic wands.”
“Colin Kahl: Sometimes people say, “Well, if you were going to give them this stuff, why didn’t you give them all at the beginning?” And the reality is, as a matter of dollars and logistics, we couldn’t. We’ve given $27 billion of security assistance. We didn’t have $27 billion at the beginning of the war. As a matter of actual and bureaucratic physics, you have to prioritize. What the secretary has been ruthless about is, “What does Ukraine need right now for the fight?” In the initial phases of the conflict, that was anti-armor, man-portable and short-range air defense systems, and artillery and ammunition for their Soviet legacy systems, and more Soviet legacy air defense systems. We poured in the Javelins and the Stingers and scoured our own stocks from the Cold War for Soviet era ammunition and stuff we swept up around the globe.”
“Gen. Mark Milley: People don’t think about war — even today. When I say to people, “There have been 35,000 or 40,000 innocent Ukrainians killed in this war, a third of their economy has been destroyed, an estimated 7 million internally-displaced persons, and another 7 million refugees out of a pre-war population of 45 million — you’re looking at 30 to 40 percent of that country displaced out of houses.” People sit there and go: “Oh?””
The Surprising Reason Europe Came Together Against Putin
“Jérôme Piodi, a French Eurocrat who has spent more than a decade in public administration in the European Parliament and in related Parisian ministries, said the key factor in making progress in Europe is a common understanding of complex ideas. “Until very recently, access to instantaneous translation of speech and ideas was reserved to a certain kind of elite — the kind who could spend money to pay translators,” Piodi said.
Europe has more than 200 native languages and mutually incomprehensible dialects. All of its 24 official languages are highly developed, each with its own media, textbooks, movies and language academies. These languages, and their use in schools, workplaces and families, define a country’s identity.
But we’re now living, for the first time, in an era where everyone in Europe — from politicians to cab drivers — can understand one another. It’s true that previously, diplomats could communicate through translators and, typically, in English. Now, ordinary Europeans can understand one another, instantly and accurately, and because of the compulsive lure of social media — and Twitter’s decision to automatically translate every tweet — Europeans can and do talk to each other all day long. Talking to Ukrainians, and hearing directly from them, has hardened public support for sanctions and weapons transfers in the EU, despite Russian threats and soaring energy prices. Eurobarometer polling shows that 74 percent of EU citizens back the bloc’s support for Kyiv.”
“Google Translate isn’t the complete explanation for the newfound European unity, of course, but it’s an underappreciated part of the story.
“It’s had a huge effect on people and their ability to share ideas on social media,” Piodi says. “Twitter is a small window on the world; Google Translate made the window bigger.””