Mar 22, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🏀 Happy Friday!

1 big thing: Under Trump, the U.S. loses its global lead

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The United States is no longer driving the conversation on some of the biggest issues facing the world, both short- and long-term. Instead, foreign nations are making the decisions, Axios editor-in-chief Nicholas Johnston writes:

  • Why it matters: America is losing its position as the global arbiter for international norms — from airline safety to online privacy to the response to climate change. It's a trend that predates President Trump, but it's accelerating now — and it makes Americans beholden to the decisions of foreigners.

Driving the news: The Boeing 737 MAX wasn't grounded last week because the U.S. took the lead. It was because the EU, China, and many other countries acted first, rattled by two plane crashes under similar circumstances.

  • The U.S. response "undermined American credibility as the pacesetter for global aircraft standards, while potentially ushering in an era in which international regulators — particularly those in China and Europe — assert growing clout," as the Washington Post put it.

And the U.S. is having trouble persuading other countries to follow its lead — especially on the Trump administration's efforts to block Huawei and other Chinese telecommunications equipment from being used in 5G.

  • Global trust in U.S. leadership is near record lows, according to Gallup; 31% percent of people worldwide surveyed last year said they approve of U.S. leadership, lower than Germany and China.

So on some of most consequential issues that will shape the world this century, the U.S. is taking a back seat, like privacy, foreign investment, climate and finance.

Our thought bubble, via a sentiment Axios World editor David Lawler says he's hearing more often: When countries take action around the world, their first thought used to be, "What will Washington think?" China's goal is to make them think about Beijing just as quickly, if not before.

The bottom line from Eurasia Group and GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer (punctuation his):

this didn’t start with trump (remember obama’s "assad must go" and "russia must leave ukraine"), but it's sped up dramatically with his america first-style unilateralism, weakening us-led institutions that had already been eroding through neglect. the geopolitical balance in the world is changing fast; american perceptions of those changes, not so much.

Share this story.

2. Tough times in farm country

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

America's farmers are living through the worst economic crisis in almost 30 years, driven by low commodity prices, trade war pressures and record flooding, Axios markets reporter Courtenay Brown writes.

  • Why it matters: U.S. farms are being ravaged by trends that are upending economies and regions around the world. That may make this heartland downturn different from ones before it.

The booming economy isn't touching all corners of the country, and farmers in particular are facing a very different economic reality than the strong economic growth and low unemployment rates elsewhere.

  • Downturns in farming are normal and almost expected. Trump's trade war, cutting demand for commodities from foreign buyers, has made this time more painful — despite $7.7 billion in Agriculture Department aid.
  • Extreme weather, like the record flooding in the Midwest, adds uncertainty.
3. First look: Artifact of feud between Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush
Courtesy Twelve

The chill between First Ladies Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush was no secret.

But Susan Page found fascinating new evidence for a biography, "The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty," out April 2 from Twelve.

  • The document shown above is being shared for the first time with Axios.
  • It's the draft guest list for one of the biggest social events of the Reagan presidency — the White House dinner during a 1985 royal visit by Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
  • The dinner included "superstars of film, television, ballet, music, sports, science, the arts and New York society," the N.Y. Times reported.
  • But Page, USA Today's D.C. bureau chief, reports that Nancy Reagan personally struck Vice President George H.W. Bush and his wife from the guest list.

Page interviewed more than 100 people for the book, including both Presidents Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, President Clinton and Hillary Clinton, as well as numerous other family members, friends, and colleagues. 

  • Page met with Barbara Bush five times, talked with her for hours, and was given rare permission to read all of her diaries, which go back to 1948. 
  • Her final entry was 12 days before her death, one year ago at age 92. 

In "The Matriarch," Page tells about the time a hippo appeared ready to charge the former first lady while she was on a photo safari with two granddaughters, private equity titan David Rubenstein and a few others in Kenya. 

  • While the Secret Service debated whether to move Mrs. Bush out of the way, she stood her ground.
  • "I think she thought she could out intimidate the hippopotamus," Rubenstein recalls. (Indeed, the hippo retreated.)

At the end of their first interview, Barbara Bush suggested a title for Page's biography: "The Fat Lady Sings Again."

4. Pics du jour: Mueller madness
Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

Above: Special Counsel Robert Mueller arrives at his office building yesterday.

Below: Attorney General William Barr leaves his home in McLean, Va.

Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AP
5. Richard Haass: Mideast diplomacy in the age of Twitter
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his official residence in Jerusalem yesterday. (Amir Cohen/Pool via AP)

CFR President Richard Haass, author of "A World in Disarray," gives Axios his Smart Brevity on President Trump's abrupt declaration yesterday that the U.S. should recognize Israel's sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights:

It was another day of diplomacy in the age of Twitter, with @realDonaldTrump tweeting: "After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!"

  • The president’s tweet calls for a change in U.S. policy toward the Golan Heights but does not actually declare it.

There are many reasons for the president not to turn his tweet into policy.  It would all but eliminate what little chance exists for peace between Israel and either the Palestinians or Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia. 

  • Coming on the heels of the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, it would eliminate any remaining ability of the Trump administration to act as an honest broker.  
  • A change in U.S. policy would not change the situation on the ground or improve Israeli security.  Israel already occupies the Golan Heights, and there is no reason for it to give up an inch of it in the absence of a Syrian government prepared to live in peace with Israel. 
  • The only effect of a new U.S. policy then would be to increase the isolation of both Israel and the U.S.

The president's tweet is presumably meant to bolster his political standing as well as Bibi Netanyahu's in the run-up to the April 9 Israeli elections.

  • But it would come at a steep cost to Israel, as UN Resolution 242 has been the foundation of at times fruitful efforts to broker peace between Israelis and Arabs for more than half a century. 
  • The resolution asserts the right of every country in the region to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.
  • This is precisely what Israel and the U.S. have sought since Israel’s creation in 1948.   
6. To understand the future of Silicon Valley, cross the Atlantic
Courtesy The Economist

Today’s tech giants "are accused not just of capturing huge rents and stifling competition, but also of worse sins, such as destabilizing democracy (through misinformation) and abusing individual rights (by invading privacy)," The Economist writes in its lead editorial:

  • "As AI takes off, demand for information is exploding, making data a new and valuable resource. Yet vital questions remain: who controls the data? How should the profits be distributed?"

"The idea of the [European Union] taking the lead on these questions will seem bizarre to many executives who view it as an entrepreneurial wasteland and the spiritual home of bureaucracy."

  • "In fact, Europe has clout and new ideas." (See today's lead item!)
7. National conversation: Privilege and parenting

A view of USC's campus, one of the schools targeted by wealthy parents in the scheme. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

"Wealthy parents have been going to great lengths to help their kids get into elite universities for years. But [the college admissions cheating scandal] in the helicopter-parenting era indicates a willingness to go to greater extremes," writes the Los Angeles Times' Benjamin Oreskes.

  • Parenting experts "say the win-at-all-costs attitude can have a pernicious effect on a child. When they try to clear the way for their children’s success, parents are essentially saying to their kids that they can’t do it on their own, a stance that may block the path to successful adulthood."

The bottom line: Author and teacher Jessica Lahey told the Times, "When we do too much for our kids, and we tell them what to do every step of the way, they never build up a tolerance for frustration. ... The problem is that kids who can’t be frustrated don’t learn as well."

8. AI’s uneasy coming of age

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

For the first six decades of AI's development, the biggest question facing researchers was whether their inventions would work at all. Now, the field has entered a new stage of introspection as its effects on society — both positive and damaging — reverberate outside the lab, writes Axios' Kaveh Waddell.

  • What's happening: As the tech world reels from a hailstorm of crises around privacy, disinformation and monopoly — many stemming from decisions made 30 years ago — there's a sense among AI experts that this is a rare chance to get a weighty new development right, this time from the start.

Driving the news: Stanford trotted out some of the biggest guns in AI to celebrate the birth of its new Institute for Human-Centered AI on Monday.

  • The institute's co-director, John Etchemendy, told reporters that technologists had to learn from their "naive" attitude during the internet's early days: "We all imagined that it would allow everybody to have a voice, it would bring everybody together — you know, kumbaya. What has in fact happened is just frightening."
9. Stat du jour

"Just over half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 — 51 percent of them — said they do not have a steady romantic partner, according to data from the General Social Survey released this week," writes the Washington Post.

  • "That 2018 figure is up significantly from 33 percent in 2004 — the lowest figure since the question was first asked in 1986 — and up slightly from 45 percent in 2016."
  • "The shift has helped drive singledom to a record high among the overall public, among whom 35 percent say they have no steady partner, but only up slightly from 33 percent in 2016 and 2014."
10. 1 fun thing
Photo: Kristen Blush/Carmen Martinez via AP

The stoic, 74-year-old Robert Mueller has become a folk figure, AP's Claire Galofaro reports:

  • You can buy Mueller paintings, prayer candles, valentines and ornaments. A necklace, earrings, keychains. A stuffed toy of Mueller in a Superman outfit, cross-stitch patterns, baby onesies — even a wall-hanging of his haircut.
  • Alicia Barnett of Kansas City, Kansas, named her new chocolate lab after Mueller: "He gives me reassurance that all is not lost. ... I admire his mystique. I admire that I haven't heard his voice."

Why it matters: For devoted Democrats, Mueller, a registered Republican, "represents calm in the face of a storm, quiet in a city of bombast."

Mike Allen