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Given the state of U.S.-China relations these days, most observers had low expectations for Thursday’s call between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping. The list of issues causing tensions is long, and the areas for cooperation have narrowed. Unsurprisingly, then, the call resembled a conversation from the terminal stage of a bad romance.

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The coronavirus pandemic and other global challenges have highlighted the importance of addressing the fractures and failures within the U.S. agencies tasked with implementing the Global Fragility Act. A good place to start is by applying some of the act’s components to the United States’ own institutions and programming.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, center, leads a rally condemning the economic sanctions imposed by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump on Venezuela, in Caracas, Venezuela, Aug. 10, 2019 (AP photo by Ariana Cubillos).

Lately, energy companies have been acting as if U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry are likely to end soon. Last month, two U.S. investment firms—Gramercy Funds Management and Atmos Global Energy—formed a joint venture with the Venezuela-based Inelectra Group to engage in oil and gas exploration. The ownership of Citgo’s refineries in the country were a key point of contention for several years between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his opposition, but the U.S. oil giant’s management has nevertheless said it would accept crude exported from Venezuela if sanctions are indeed lifted. Their apparent belief that sanctions will be lifted is a […]

U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a working session with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Al Salman Royal Palace, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

U.S. President Joe Biden’s “summer of diplomacy” continued last week, this time with stops in the Middle East, where he visited two long-term U.S. regional partners, Israel and Saudi Arabia. But unlike recent stops in the German Alps for the annual G-7 meeting or in Madrid for the NATO leaders’ summit, Biden’s meetings in Riyadh, in particular, generated a great deal of criticism and even opprobrium. Ahead of the trip, critics had warned that visiting Saudi Arabia went directly against Biden’s campaign promise to no longer give the kingdom a “blank check” when it comes to its human rights record. […]

U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid address the media following their meeting in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

U.S. President Joe Biden made his first presidential trip to the Middle East this week, stopping in Israel for a three-day visit that was refreshingly uncontroversial, before heading on to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that has raised hackles in Washington since it was announced several weeks ago. The contrasting atmospherics of the two legs of Biden’s trip serve to underscore how much has changed in the region in recent years, but also paradoxically how much has stayed the same. Coming a year after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, […]

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump and then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold up hats reading “Donald and Shinzo, Make Alliance Even Greater” in Kawagoe, Japan, Nov. 5, 2017 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

The assassination of Abe Shinzo last week left the world in shock. As Japan’s longest-serving prime minister—having held office from 2006 to 2007 and again from 2012 until 2020—Abe left an indelible and controversial impact on Japanese politics and policy. This was particularly the case in foreign policy. Though he was never able to successfully revise Japan’s pacifist postwar constitution, he did move Japan along the path toward becoming a “normal country,” that is, one able to pursue its interests through all available means, including military force. But one of Abe’s greatest accomplishments, at least in the realm of international […]

President Joe Biden walks to the Oval Office of the White House after stepping off Marine One, June 13, 2022, in Washington (AP photo by Patrick Semansky).

I had planned this week to write about my impressions of Beirut from my first visit there in more than three years. But I’ll save that for next week’s newsletter, because U.S. President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to the Middle East is screaming out for corrective analysis. The problem with the trip is not so much the fact of its occurrence, but the framing of its purpose by U.S. officials, which appears to be based on an outmoded understanding of how foreign influence works in the region’s functional but eroding system of states. Biden is scheduled to make stops in […]

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Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health rolled back half a century of federally protected reproductive rights and reverted the authority to regulate abortion to the states. The ruling was celebrated by anti-abortion advocates and met with outrage from reproductive justice supporters. At the international level, it has been condemned by United Nations human rights officials and U.S. allies alike. It has also become a propaganda tool for U.S. enemies: The Taliban referred to the ruling to point out U.S. hypocrisy on women’s rights and argue that the sanctions against them should be […]

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at a news conference to discuss the USMCA trade agreement, Dec. 10, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington (AP Photo by Andrew Harnik).

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, which entered into force on July 1, 2020, contains some of the most innovative trade standards in any free trade agreement to date. Negotiated under the Trump administration, USMCA passed the U.S. Congress with widespread bipartisan support, gained the approval of the AFL-CIO—the largest U.S. trade union—and could become a template in negotiations for other trade deals. Yet, since then, the U.S. has retreated from pursuing further free trade agreements, or FTAs, whether under former President Donald Trump, who was hostile to them, or his successor, President Joe Biden, who has historically viewed them more […]