Oct 18, 2019

Axios World

Welcome back to Axios World. We're zipping around the world tonight in 1,617 words (6 minutes).

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1 big thing: American diplomacy crumbling under Trump

McKinley arrives to testify before House investigators. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Some of America's most seasoned diplomats are warning that President Trump is wounding American diplomacy so severely that it could take generations to heal.

Why it matters: “One of our sources of power as the United States of America is that we have the deepest and broadest bench when you go into any negotiation,” says Wendy Sherman, who served in top State Department roles in the Obama administration. “When you hollow out the State Department, when you diminish diplomacy, you are taking away an essential tool of power of the United States.”

Driving the news: Michael McKinley, a veteran diplomat who resigned last week as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s senior adviser, told House investigators yesterday that he was “disturbed” by the administration's efforts to convince Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.

  • “I was convinced that this would also have a serious impact on foreign service morale and the integrity of our work overseas,” McKinley said, per the Washington Post. He resigned in part to protest Marie Yovanovitch’s ouster as ambassador to Ukraine.
  • Yovanovitch, also a career diplomat, testified last week that she’d been removed based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.” Those included associates of Rudy Giuliani.
  • George Kent, another senior State Department official whose role includes overseeing Ukraine policy, testified that he’d been cut out of the loop.
  • Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, was in the loop. According to testimony from Trump's former Russia adviser, Fiona Hill, he was pursuing a shadow foreign policy aimed at benefiting Trump politically.

What they’re saying: Bill Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment and a revered former diplomat, writes in Foreign Affairs this week that he has “never seen an attack on diplomacy as damaging … as the one now underway.”

  • Trump’s actions, Burns argues, “distort diplomatic practice and decapitate the American interest.” Pompeo, he writes, is “derelict in his duty.”
  • Burns notes that there are virtually no career diplomats in the State Department's top roles, while one-fifth of ambassadorships are vacant. Applications to join the foreign service have also fallen sharply.

Between the lines: Sherman says it’s remarkable for the likes of Burns, McKinley and Yovanovitch to speak out so publicly.

  • “They have faithfully implemented the policies of multiple presidents even when they disagreed with those policies,” she says. “But those presidents were not asking them to act out a political agenda, in terms of an election campaign.”
  • Many diplomats have left or have been forced out, she says. Those who remain are viewed with suspicion, as Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney made clear today.

Repeatedly calling McKinley by the wrong name, Mulvaney urged him to “get over” his concerns about political influence in foreign policy.

“What you're seeing now, I believe, is a group of mostly career bureaucrats who are saying, 'I don't like President Trump's politics so I'm going to participate in this witch hunt that they're undertaking on the Hill.'"
— Mick Mulvaney

The bottom line: "Institutions like the foreign service don't turn on a dime,” Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, tells me. “They're generational."

  • “Even if some future administration made the revival of the diplomatic corps a priority, it would take years if not decades."

Expert Voices: Ukraine scandal deepens crisis roiling State Department

2. Middle East: Trump meets Erdogan's demands

Smoke on the Syrian-Turkish border, near Tal Tamr. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty

President Trump proclaimed today a “great day for civilization” after negotiations in Turkey led to the declaration by Vice President Pence of a 120-hour (five-day) ceasefire in Northern Syria, which is to become permanent if its conditions are met.

Details: The ceasefire would hand Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan exactly what he invaded Syria to gain: a “buffer zone” inside Syria’s borders, cleared of Kurdish fighters.

  • “Even Pentagon officials were mystified about where tens of thousands of displaced Kurds would go,” per the NYT.
  • Brett McGurk, Trump’s former ISIS envoy, says the deal is “not implementable.” He tweeted: “The U.S. just ratified Turkey’s plan to effectively extend its border 30km into Syria with no ability to meaningfully influence facts on the ground.”
  • But while the U.S. Congress and allies in Europe seek to impose costs on Erdogan for his invasion of Syria, Trump praised him today as “a hell of a leader.”
    • A letter in which Trump urged Erdogan not to be a “tough guy” — and which Turkish sources tell the BBC Erdogan threw away — seems to have been forgotten.
    • Pence said that the U.S. would not implement additional sanctions on Turkey and would revoke existing ones once a permanent ceasefire takes effect.

Trump’s view: “I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path. People have been trying to make this “Deal” for many years. Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to ALL!”

The critics’ view, summed up by Sen. Tim Kaine: “Trump is once again giving Erdogan exactly what he wants at the expense of American security interests.”

3. Europe: Boris gets his deal. Now, the hard part

The man with the deal. Photo: WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Boris Johnson has done what seemed unthinkable just a week ago — struck a Brexit deal with the European Union.

Where things stand: The deal announced today in Brussels is a major breakthrough for the U.K. prime minister, but it only gets him as far as his predecessor managed.

  • Theresa May reached a deal remarkably similar to Johnson's, except on the crucial issue of Northern Ireland. She suffered three thumping Parliamentary defeats before stepping down.

What to watch: Johnson hopes to fare better on Saturday, when he'll bring his plan up for a vote.

  • It'll be the first Saturday session since the Falklands War in the 1980s — necessitated by a law that says Johnson must seek to extend the Brexit deadline beyond Halloween if he doesn't have a deal in place by Oct. 19.
  • He currently lacks a Parliamentary majority, and one allied party, Northern Ireland's DUP, opposes his deal.
  • With the DUP's 10 votes against him, an analysis from the Cicero Group political consultancy puts Johnson five votes short in a "base case" scenario. And that's assuming euroskeptic Conservatives hold their noses and back Johnson.

The bottom line: Johnson needs to convince enough MPs that it really is his deal or "no deal." Either way, it will be a dramatic weekend in Westminster.

4. Data du jour: Russians nostalgic for the USSR

The good old days. Photo: Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

More than 6-in-10 Russians consider it a "great misfortune that the Soviet Union no longer exists," according to a new Pew survey.

  • That's 13 points higher than in 2011. And while that sentiment is highest (71%) among those who lived most of their lives in the USSR, half of 18- to 34-year-olds agree.

The big picture: The survey reveals far more nostalgia for the Soviet Union in Russia than elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

  • Just 22% in Russia say ordinary people have benefited from the changes since 1991, while 57% say life is worse than it was under communism.
  • Of eight former Soviet bloc countries surveyed, only Russians are growing more convinced that the economic situation was better under communism.
  • Two-thirds are dissatisfied with how democracy functions in Russia. However, strikingly small percentages of Russians say it's important that the media, opposition parties and civil society operate freely.
  • Just 40% of Russians say it's important to have regular elections. Of 16 other countries surveyed, the next lowest number is 57%, in Lithuania.

Between the lines: Vladimir Putin has played on nostalgia for the Soviet Union. But given he's been in power for 20 years, much of the dissatisfaction reflects on him.

5. Two big ideas on the U.S.-China rivalry

Looking skyward in Beijing. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Foreign policy experts Kurt Campbell and Jake Sullivan joined Michael Morrell this week on the Intelligence Matters podcast. I found myself returning to two key ideas after listening to their discussion on China.

Idea #1: Convincing China we're here to stay

  • Cold War strategists, Campbell argues, were convinced "contradictions in the system would bring the Soviet Union down." That won't be the case for China, he says.
  • "I actually think that the real challenge in U.S.-China relations is to convince the Chinese through actions that the reverse is not the case. Because a lot of what animates Chinese thinking is the idea of American decline."
  • "There have been expectations after the Vietnam War, after the Korean War, after the Cold War, after the global economic crisis that the United States was on the way out of the region."
  • That hasn't happened, Campbell says, but China expects it to someday.

Idea #2: Unified against China and for ... what?

  • "There is something unifying about a competitor the size and throw-weight of China," Sullivan says. That "forward propulsion" could push the U.S. to improve its education system or its democracy. But it might not.
"I do think we should look to the China challenge as a mobilizing force. On the other hand, if we turn China into the defining evil of our time for decades to come, that will be self-defeating."
— Jake Sullivan

Go deeper: Sullivan and Campbell's excellent Foreign Affairs piece on this topic

6. 1 fun thing: Rudy is everywhere

Morning in Montevideo. Photo: Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images

I thought I'd left Washington far behind when I landed last fall in Montevideo, Uruguay. As it turned out, a much more famous American was already in town: Rudy Giuliani.

  • This was mid-Mueller probe and Giuliani was already Trump's personal lawyer. His visit, though, was tied to Uruguay's presidential race.
  • An opposition candidate brought in the former New York mayor to emphasize his "tough on crime" credentials. Using the "Giuliani method," the ultimately unsuccessful candidate planned to clean up the streets.
  • I only learned about this because my host in Uruguay — occasional Axios World contributor Martín Aguirre — interviewed Giuliani the morning I arrived.

Why it matters: I have no reason to believe Giuliani’s visit was in any way connected to Trump, or had any impact on U.S. foreign policy. But as I read about his efforts to pressure the Ukrainians, or lobby for the extradition of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, I find myself wondering where else he's popped up around the world.

7. Stories we're watching

British royals (William and Kate) in Chitral, Pakistan. Photo: Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage

  1. Russia's Syria win
  2. U.S. hits Iran with cyberattack following Saudi oil bombings
  3. Obama endorses Trudeau ahead of Canada's election
  4. Trump to reinstate aid to Central American nations
  5. Hong Kong leader suspends key speech, jeered by lawmakers
  6. In photos: Unrest in Barcelona after Spain jails Catalan separatists
  7. Trump's trade war has reversed the world's growth story


"[Ron] Vara was Navarro’s 'alter ego,' an 'everyman character' who dispenses cutesy business aphorisms as well as dire warnings about Chinese food."
— From a Chronicle of Higher Education report, which found that Peter Navarro, Trump's trade adviser, invented an expert cited frequently in his books. One clue: "Ron Vara" is an anagram of "Navarro."