Jan 30, 2020

Axios World

Happy Thursday World readers. Thanks for joining me for tonight’s 1,656-word (6-minute) journey.

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1 big thing: How impeachment shapes foreign policy

Kissinger and Trump- two men who know a thing or two about impeachment. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Historical analyses of President Trump's impeachment will note that it coincided with a tumultuous four months in U.S. foreign policy.

  • Trump sparked a conflagration in Syria by pulling troops away from the Turkish border, ordered the elimination of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, took out Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani at the risk of war with Iran, and made trade peace with China, at least temporarily.
  • He also finalized a deal to replace NAFTA and presented a plan for Middle East peace.

Between the lines: It’s impossible to evaluate exactly if and how impeachment affected Trump's calculus along the way — but it certainly affected his predecessors.

Richard Nixon withdrew almost entirely from foreign policy as impeachment closed in, historian Timothy Naftali writes in Foreign Affairs, delegating arms control negotiations and “shuttle diplomacy” in the Middle East almost entirely to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

  • Nixon slept through a meeting called urgently by Kissinger in response to a possible Soviet intervention in Egypt. After the “smoking gun” tape, bad news from Vietnam was brought to Kissinger’s desk, not Nixon’s.
  • Powers like China and the USSR didn’t test Nixon, Naftali writes, in part because they genuinely hoped he’d survive.
  • The challenges came instead from "revisionist powers" like Turkey, and from domestic opponents of his detente policy.
  • Nixon, meanwhile, pushed Kissinger to deliver a win that would allow for an overseas victory lap.

Bill Clinton also wanted a win during impeachment — in particular, a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians — but he leaned into his role as commander in chief rather than pulling back.

  • Bruce Riedel, now at Brookings, was advising Clinton on various foreign policy crises at the time. He refutes claims that impeachment factored into Clinton's decision to bomb Iraq, but notes that “impeachment was a constant presence.”
  • “I would be briefing the president on the diplomatic and military situation while his lawyers waited outside the Oval Office to discuss the House proceedings. We were frequently jostling for the president’s attention and time,” he writes.
  • The juggling act included Clinton authorizing strikes he hoped would take out Osama bin Laden the same week he admitted to having an affair with Monica Lewinsky.
  • Clinton was worried both about foreign speculation that he was weakened and domestic claims he was overcompensating to show he wasn’t, Naftali notes. Dennis Ross, Clinton’s Middle East envoy, later said he felt pressure to deliver a peace deal quickly as Clinton's presidency seemed in the balance.

The big picture: Past impeachment sagas have raised questions about the collision of foreign policy and domestic politics. Trump has never really drawn a distinction between the two.

Flashback: Impeachment got underway as Trump was in New York for the UN General Assembly. He met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and revealed a partial transcript of the call that launched the scandal.

  • It could end as soon as tomorrow. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be in Kiev, assuring Zelensky that — despite the political chaos and his own dismissive comments — Trump stands by Ukraine.
2. Coronavirus tracker: Getting out of China
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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkinsthe CDC and China’s NHC; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The State Department has placed U.S. diplomatic staff and their families in China on "authorized departure," meaning they are permitted to evacuate the country amid the coronavirus outbreak, Axios’ Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian scoops.

  • Approximately 210 U.S. citizens were evacuated Wednesday from Wuhan, where the outbreak began and has spread most widely.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization today declared the outbreak a global health crisis, its highest threat level.

  • There are at least 8,000 confirmed cases in China resulting in at least 171 deaths. There are six confirmed cases in the U.S., including the first person-to-person transmission.
  • The new strain of coronavirus has reached every region in mainland China and infected more people in China than the 2002–2003 SARS epidemic.
  • Flights are being canceled, a cruise ship has been sequestered, and Australia plans to send citizens evacuated from Wuhan to a detention center on Christmas Island, 1,000 miles offshore

The big picture: The collision of urbanization, population growth and the rapid movement of people and goods across borders is heightening global pandemic risk, Axios’ Erica Pandey writes.

  • "Travel times have rapidly decreased," says Amesh Adalja, an emerging infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins. "Viruses can now spread at the speed of a jet rather than a steamliner."
  • On top of that, growing populations and movement to cities are forming mega-metros — like Wuhan — where masses of people in close quarters make it easier for diseases to spread, he says.

Go deeper

Bonus: Spy suspects in high places

Two news flashes from the past few days...

  1. Federal prosecutors have charged Charles Lieber, chair of the Harvard University chemistry department, with lying about funds he obtained through a Chinese government recruitment program. Go deeper.
  2. "Authorities in Berlin suspect [longtime diplomat Gerhard] Sabathil — who is in a relationship with a Chinese academic — of spying for China’s intelligence agency." Go deeper
3. Trump peace plan: Israel slows annexation push

Trump and Netanyahu at the White House, Jan. 28. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

The Trump administration and the Israeli government appeared aligned in the hours following President Trump’s peace plan rollout — Israel could annex territory granted under President Trump’s peace plan within days.

Why it matters: Annexing Israeli settlements and the West Bank’s Jordan Valley would be steps of enormous consequences for peace with Jordan (which staunchly opposes annexation), for security in the Palestinian Territories, and for Israel’s upcoming election.

  • It would also be the centerpiece of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legacy, says Axios contributor Barak Ravid. 

The message has changed. 

  • Jared Kushner told GZERO Media that annexations should happen only after the election, once Israel has formed its next government.
  • Netanyahu’s spokesperson deleted a tweet announcing a Cabinet vote on annexation this Sunday.
  • U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said a joint U.S.-Israeli committee would have to evaluate annexation plans — just a day after he’d told reporters Israel could annex as soon as it had domestic approval.

It’s unclear how exactly the message got so muddled.

  • U.S. officials tell Barak they were clear from the beginning that Netanyahu should not annex territory right away.
  • Netanyahu’s aides, though, say they thought they had the green light. 

Go deeper

4. Trump peace plan II: The other side of the wall

A wall separates East Jerusalem (left) and Palestinian city Abu Dis (right). Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

The proposed capital of a future Palestinian state is just one reason why Palestinian officials and activists oppose President Trump's peace plan.

Why it matters: Palestinian negotiators have long demanded a capital in East Jerusalem. In unveiling his plan, Trump said the capital would be in "eastern Jerusalem." In fact, it's just outside the Old City in the Palestinian town of Abu Dis, writes Axios' Rashaan Ayesh.

  • Trump's plan states: "Jerusalem will remain the sovereign capital of the State of Israel, and it should remain an undivided city."
  • Abu Dis is a "relatively featureless urban sprawl" separated from East Jerusalem by a border wall, Reuters writes. It lacks any of the religious significance or cultural depth of Jerusalem.

Zoom out: Palestinians around the world were quick to reject Trump's plan, which they played no role in crafting.

  • Omar Baddar, the deputy director of the Arab American Institute, told Axios the plan was "predictably preposterous."

Zoom in: "Palestinians in Abu Dis have been cut off from Jerusalem neighborhoods to the west by a high concrete wall that Israel built to stop suicide bombers and gunmen entering the city," Reuters notes.

  • "Students at a nearby university have used the wall as a backdrop to project movies during warm summer nights when they sit outside."
  • "The White House document accompanying the U.S. plan’s release said the barrier should 'serve as a border between the capitals of the two parties.'"
5. Africa news roundup
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Data: Amnesty International; Map: Kerrie Vila/Axios

1. A verdict three years in the making came down this week in Abuja, Nigeria: The suspect in a high-profile murder case was guilty of killing her husband and would be put to death by hanging.

  • Nigeria rarely carries out executions, and the case has led to a debate over whether the death penalty should be abolished, per the Washington Post.

2. Civil rights groups in Kenya are challenging a plan to use a biometric system to track the identities of all citizens.

  • New identity numbers will be used in schools, hospitals, voting and even when buying a cellphone, per the NY Times.
  • "In preparation, nearly 40 million Kenyans have already had their fingerprints and faces scanned by a new biometric system that ramped up last spring."
  • "But millions of ethnic, racial and religious minorities ... are running into obstacles and facing additional scrutiny."

3. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, today made the case for a continued U.S. military presence in Africa ahead of expected troop cuts.

  • In a Senate hearing, he called on other European countries to help France maintain security in the Sahel. France has called on the U.S. to stay put, as have U.S. senators from both parties.
  • Meanwhile, "Russia is steadily expanding its military influence across Africa by increasing arms sales, security agreements and training programs for unstable countries or autocratic leaders," the NY Times reports.

4. Encircled by South Africa and home to 2 million people, Lesotho has recently made a rare foray into international headlines.

  • Prime Minister Thomas Thabane tendered his resignation after being sought for questioning in connection with the murder of his second wife.
  • She was reportedly drawing out their divorce to retain her status as first lady. The current first lady is now on the run.
6. Europe: Bye-bye Britain

Brussels lit up to say farewell to the U.K. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images

1,317 days after voting to leave the EU, the U.K. will formally depart on Friday.

  • The European Parliament bid adieu with an emotional rendition of "Auld Lang Syne."
  • The U.K. will remain under EU law until a transition period expires at the end of this year, and it will work desperately to wrap up a trade deal by then.
  • Pompeo cheered on Britain's exit during a stop in London today, but he also expressed his disappointment with the U.K.'s decision to allow China's Huawei into its 5G telecom networks.

Why it matters: For the U.S., that decision showed there are clear limitations to its sway over a key ally.

  • For Brexit Britain, it previewed the pain of being trapped between your most important friend and the world's biggest market.

Go deeper: Huawei's trial by "what if"

7. Stories we're watching

Shopping warily in Macau. Photo: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

  1. Misinformation about coronavirus is spreading fast
  2. China looms large in Apple's earnings report
  3. In photos: Deadly floods in Brazil
  4. U.S. suicide rate highest among wealthy nations
  5. Argentina's unusual bond market
  6. Why India needs cheap batteries
  7. Netanyahu surrenders immunity, faces corruption trial


"One guy’s dealing with impeachment, another with an indictment, and Abbas is 85 years old."
— Dimitri Diliani, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council. He's not particularly optimistic about Middle East peace