Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reviews a military honor guard during a welcome ceremony, in Ankara, Turkey, June 22, 2022 (AP photo by Burhan Ozbilici).

U.S. President Joe Biden’s recently announced trip to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has sparked a great deal of comment and no small amount of controversy. At issue is whether a U.S. president who loudly condemned Riyadh’s human rights record during his 2020 election campaign should be instrumental in helping Saudi Arabia cast off the pariah status it has labored under since its state-sponsored murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Upon taking office, Biden talked about reorienting U.S.-Saudi relations to put greater emphasis on human rights, and he has refused to meet with the kingdom’s de facto […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shake hands during a welcome ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, June 22, 2022 (AP photo by Burhan Ozbilici).

Many optimists in the Middle East as well as in Washington have argued for some time that governments in the region will find new ways to embrace diplomacy and cooperate among themselves if foreign powers like the United States take a backseat and reduce their footprint in the region. In recent years, the region has seen a sustained round of diplomacy as well as conflict—two major themes that have been a frequent subject of this newsletter. The causes of conflict come from both within and outside the region. Unlike in other parts of the world where the great powers reduced […]

U.S. President Joe Biden hosts a meeting with heads of state and government at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, June 10, 2022 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

The U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas wrapped up in Los Angeles on June 10 with decidedly mixed results. After a run-up to the summit dominated by discussions over who would attend, the event itself was a flurry of activity by hundreds of government, business and civil society participants. Those who care about outcomes were left to sort through five official accords, a slew of side agreements and several U.S. government announcements. In making sense of the summit’s outcomes, three overarching themes become clear. First, dysfunctional relations between the U.S. and many regional governments continue to hobble U.S. diplomacy in the Americas. […]

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at Al Salam Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 24, 2019 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

U.S. President Joe Biden’s “reset” of Washington’s approach to the Middle East increasingly looks like a continuation of the policies of his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, with an added measure of piety and evasion about what’s really driving the administration’s decision-making process. But an unwitting admission might have come last week when a White House reporter asked Biden why he changed his mind about meeting Saudi Arabia’s once-blacklisted de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, known as MBS. “The commitments from the Saudis don’t relate to anything having to do with energy,” Biden responded, despite the fact that […]

Protesters shout anti-U.S. slogans during a protest condemning President Joe Biden's decision on frozen Afghan assets in Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 15, 2022 (AP photo by Hussein Malla).

On Feb. 11, U.S. President Joe Biden issued an executive order that proposed a plan for the $7 billion of frozen Afghan reserves that have been locked up in U.S. financial institutions since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August. Half was to be placed in a trust that would benefit the Afghan people, with the rest remaining frozen until a U.S. court rules as to whether it could be used to settle the Taliban’s legal debts with the families of 9/11 victims. The president did not determine whether that latter portion could in fact be used for 9/11 reparations—but […]

Just before the White House launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, or IPEF, in Tokyo last month, Taro Kono, the former Japanese foreign and defense minister, offered a blunt recommendation: Deriding the IPEF as the “Indo-Pacific Economic whatever,” Kono urged the U.S. to “forget” it and rejoin the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP. During his press conference with U.S. President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida welcomed the IPEF but echoed Kono’s advice, stressing the strategic significance of a U.S. return to the CPTPP, which is essentially the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact that then-President Barack Obama effectively […]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the U.S. Congress by video to plead for support, March 16, 2022.

On the first day of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, amid the cacophony of war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he heard the “sound of a new Iron Curtain” falling across Europe. That message resounded loudly in Washington and across Europe, where ever since the West has framed the war in ideological terms: Autocratic Russia, they explain, is waging a brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine, because the latter aspired to follow the Western model of liberal democracy. As such, the world must help Ukraine to defend itself—or risk imperiling the entire “free world.” This strategic narrative has been very effective in mobilizing the United […]

Students at the China Executive Leadership Academy listen to a classroom lecture in Jinggangshan, Jiangxi province, April 9, 2021.

Discussions in Washington and Beijing about U.S.-China decoupling, both potential and actual, often focus on diplomacy, technology and trade. But while the growing tensions between the two strategic rivals are most visible in these areas, decoupling is also taking place in other, often-overlooked dimensions of the relationship, including in the academic and intellectual realm. In late May, China’s Ministry of Education and the Chinese Communist Party’s Propaganda Department jointly released an action plan to develop a distinctly Chinese approach to the academic disciplines of philosophy and the social sciences in China’s higher education. A report in the state-run People’s Daily newspaper explained that the plan […]

Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou speaks during a press conference at the Executive Tower in Montevideo, Uruguay, April 7, 2021 (AP photo by Matilde Campodonico).

In the run-up to the troubled ninth Summit of the Americas taking place this week in Los Angeles, Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou, whose center-right government has been one of the most consistently aligned with U.S. policies in the region, strongly criticized the Biden administration, asserting that it lacks a vision for Latin America and mistakenly sees the hemisphere’s diverse countries as all having the same problems and needs. Lacalle Pou’s candid remarks demonstrate the principled consistency of a government that is often overlooked by, but increasingly important to Washington, at a time when Latin American governments are increasingly turning to partners that are […]

President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at Akasaka Palace, in Tokyo, May 23, 2022 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

In an age of rapid news cycles, when controversies often emerge and fade away in hours, if not days, U.S. President Joe Biden’s declaration in late May that the United States would defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China might seem like ancient history. But given the weightiness of the topic, recent calls for creating a “Pacific NATO” and the heightened focus in recent months on a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan similar to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the remarks, which caused quite a stir at the time, warrant a second look. At a joint press conference with Japanese […]

A demonstrator shouts slogans during a protest asking for immigration reform, ahead of the Summit of the Americas, June 7, 2022, in Los Angeles (AP photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez).

Wedged between highways and railroads, on a barren stretch of moldy concrete and sickly palm trees in Sao Paulo, sits the headquarters of the Latin American Parliament, or Parlatino, designed by famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. Created in 1964, the Parlatino was modeled on the European Parliament as a legislative body that would drive the integration of Latin American and the Caribbean around their unique regional and hemispheric interests. Today, though, the Parlatino is irrelevant, detached from national and even regional policy debates—just one of a succession of Latin American efforts to create a body to coordinate the hemisphere’s interests […]

Seized firearms that were destined for the Los Zetas drug trafficking organization in Mexico are seen at a news conference, Feb. 8, 2012, in San Antonio. (AP photo by Eric Gay).

The United States is the indisputable mass shooting capital of the world. But in the wake of the recent horrifying incidents in Buffalo, Uvalde, Tulsa and over 230 other communities in 2022, it is worth recalling that the U.S. not only has the highest rate of gun deaths and gun possession among wealthy countries. It is also the world’s preeminent arms merchant. In fact, the U.S. is responsible for more than 40 percent of all reported arms exports globally over the past five years. About half of U.S. sales between 2017 and 2021 were directed to clients in the Middle East, with the rest scattered across more than 100 countries, including many with a record of serious human rights violations. The […]

Ukrainian refugees wait near the U.S. border, April 4, 2022, in Tijuana, Mexico (AP photo by Gregory Bull).

The images from Poland earlier this year were inspiring: As refugees began to cross Ukraine’s western border, Polish citizens poured out of their homes to receive them. They set up soup kitchens at the border and established caravans to shuttle refugees to train stations. They opened their homes and beds to families passing through, and as the days went on, a stream of international grassroots volunteers showed up to support the relief effort. As the weeks passed, however, many Poles began asking, Where is the national government in all this? Some were angry that the Polish government took credit for their grassroots […]

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a ceremony, in Ankara, Turkey on May 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Turkey is nominally a close military and political ally of the United States and other NATO countries, as well as an important economic partner to the European Union. But reading headlines in recent months and years, one wonders how close the Turkish government really feels to its western partners. Under President Erdogan, Turkey has waged war against Kurdish allies of the United States in Syria and Iraq, and supported militias associated with al-Qaida, Hamas and other Islamic extremists. It has also developed a somewhat close relationship with Russia, even buying a Russian air defense system despite strident opposition from the […]