Erdoğan’s Political Play in Syria

For Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the military push into Syria is about domestic politics, Gönül Tol writes for Foreign Affairs. At the outset of Syria’s war, Erdoğan welcomed refugees and supported Syria’s opposition, out of declared compassion and kinship with fellow Sunnis. As Turkey ended up hosting 3.6 million refugees, that policy began to strain Turkey’s south—and to cost Erdoğan at the ballot box. “Once the self-proclaimed magnanimous patron of all Sunnis, Erdoğan now wants the refugees to go home,” Tol writes. He now hopes to a create a “safe zone” to house them along the border, to be filled with Turkish-built housing, including soccer fields—an expensive project that would nonetheless solve “a major domestic headache.” As Erdoğan’s military advances on Kurdish-led forces, he sees his grip on power in the balance—meaning criticism from US senators isn’t likely to change his mind.

With the US pulling back, Bilal Baloch writes for Foreign Policy that Syria’s power balance will be reshuffled. Turkey, Iran, and Russia had worked together toward settling the civil war, Baloch writes, but deeper divisions are likely to emerge between them, as they jockey for power. Ultimately, the war will only drag on longer as a result, he concludes.

The Trade War Is the World’s Top Economic Problem

Chinese and US flags flutter near the Bund, Shanghai, before US trade delegation meet their Chinese counterparts for talks in July. Photo: Reuters

As US and Chinese negotiators resume trade talks, some see their failure to reach a deal as the world’s premier economic problem. “The world’s economy is not in great shape,” the South China Morning Post writes in an editorial, noting that central bankers in the EU, US, and China are all lowering rates to stave off a downturn. Amid all this stimulus, the paper writes, “the biggest uncertainties remain the US-China trade war and its fallout.”

US-China tensions have been seen as a large-scale drag since Trump first announced steel and aluminum tariffs in spring 2018—the International Monetary Fund began listing US and Chinese tariffs as red flags soon after, including them on a list that typically features Brexit, climate change, and other risks—and Bloomberg’s Ferdinando Giugliano agrees the trade war is now the foremost economic concern under anyone’s control. Trade liberalization is a near-surefire way to spur growth, he writes, and amid dips in US and EU manufacturing (a sector that responds to trade woes), the global downturn “risks being long lasting in the absence of a truce,” he writes.

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China: The World’s AI Influencer

Toward digital power over states

China has gained notoriety for developing artificial-intelligence technology and infamy for putting it to use for surveillance, mainly in the form of facial recognition. And it’s been exporting AI-driven surveillance technology at a rapid clip, Thomas A. Campbell of the firm FutureGrasp points out in a blog post for The Atlantic Council, noting 64 countries that use some form of AI-driven surveillance technology bought from China, a list that includes both developed countries in Western Europe and developing ones in Africa, Latin America, and Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. Especially given that 53 of those countries lack government-backed AI policy initiatives, Campbell warns that China will wield soft power through its digital exports and collect data from around the world.

It’s possible America has taken notice. As The Economist writes, this week the US blacklisted eight companies at the leading edge of China’s AI industry, in retaliation for China’s repression of Muslims in its West, who have borne the brunt of China’s surveillance-tech ambitions.

Americans Still Want Allies

President Trump poses for a photo with China's President Xi Jinping before their bilateral meeting during the Group of 20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 29. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

That’s the finding of a Chicago Council on Global Affairs survey, Robert Zoellick points out in a Washington Post column: US alliances with Japan, Germany, and South Korea were supported by a majority of respondents, as were US leadership in foreign affairs and cooperation with China. Which seems to suggest American citizens, at least, favor overseas engagement—an apparent rejection of President Trump’s inward-looking foreign policy. “Trump’s successor will need to build upon this underlying sentiment,” Zoellick writes, suggesting a few starting points: treating North American neighbors as friends, standing up for the rule of law, and offering incentives for green development instead of imposing tariffs.

Then again, as Philip Stephens writes in the Financial Times, the US had been stepping back from the world stage since before Trump arrived—President Obama “understood this when he sought to recast US leadership as that of a convening power”—and it may continue to do so after Trump is gone.

Putin in the Wilderness

Things have changed fundamentally for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Nikolai Petrov writes in the latest issue of Chatham House’s The World Today. Putin and his elite supporters faced a choice after the 2008 financial crisis, Petrov writes: Liberalize economically, or seek a tighter grip on power at the expense of economic health. They chose the latter, and now Putin finds himself in a “legitimacy trap,” facing the ire of citizens who protested before September’s local elections, the resentment of regional elites who don’t like his influence, and a lack of foreign-policy options to stir up public support. September’s elections, in which Putin’s supporters lost votes and the opposition organized itself successfully, showed his control is slipping, Petrov concludes.

“Until 2018 he was able to exert full control over [elections]. This will never be so again. In 2019 the Kremlin showed weakness,” Petrov writes. “The most significant conclusion we can draw from this is that the regime will not survive Putin, though Putin will survive the regime.”

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