Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN's Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Chris Good
January 15, 2020

Stranger Than Fiction

The Ukraine scandal had already cast an odd light on US foreign policy, but things have only gotten stranger with the House’s release of documents from indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas. Handwritten notes include lines like “go to D.C. with package,” and former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko appeared to offer damaging information in exchange for the removal of then-US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch—but perhaps most disturbing are Parnas’s discussions with GOP congressional candidate Robert Hyde (a new entrant into the drama) of surveilling Yovanovitch, which included knowledge of her whereabouts and, eerily, that her phone and computer were off.
In a Washington Post column, Jennifer Rubin writes that “[t]his is unprecedented and should be deeply disturbing to all U.S. diplomats,” asking whether the impeachment evidence could get any worse for President Trump. (The answer is yes, she writes, given that Trump has blocked the provision of documents and testimony.)
Another tidbit may be important, Rubin suggests: In a letter to Ukrainian then-President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky, Giuliani introduced himself as acting on President Trump’s personal behalf. (In a separate Post op-ed, former Obama acting solicitor general Neal Katyal and former Justice Department lawyer Joshua Geltzer argue that undermines Trump’s defense that he withheld aid out of official concern about Ukrainian corruption.) Regardless, Rubin predicts, it’s now more likely Trump’s Senate impeachment trial will involve witnesses and new information.

A Trade Deal Is in Place, but So Is a New Age of Tariffs

Now that President Trump has inked a “phase one” trade deal with China, the Peterson Institute for International Economics writes that despite the easing of tensions, an era of high tariffs is here to stay.
Before the full details of the deal were released, the group wrote in December that based on its broad strokes, tariffs would still cover “nearly two thirds of all US imports from China” and that an “important implication of the phase one deal is that US tariffs on imports from China are the new normal,” noting the total tariff burden on Chinese goods has grown from 3% before the trade war to 19.3% under the deal:

On the bright side, while the trade war has stoked concerns of an across-the-board US-China “decoupling,” flows of students, tourists, and labor between the two countries remain high, the group points out.

For Putin, Why Now?

After Russian President Vladimir Putin prompted the resignation of his government by floating new rules that would give more power the prime minister—which would be beneficial if he assumes that role after his presidential term limit expires in 2024—Dasha Afanasieva writes for Reuters that the moment was opportune.
The last time Putin conserved power, retaking the presidency in 2012 after a respite as prime minister, protests followed. Now, as Russia’s economy lags, its citizens could grow “even less receptive to games of politico-musical chairs.” Putin’s “strongman strategy of using foreign affairs to shore up domestic support has a shelf life,” while problems loom at home: Russia hasn’t managed to reform its health or education systems, and budgetary needs forced Putin’s unpopular raising of the retirement age, Afanasieva writes. “All the more reason for Putin to act now.”

Can Iran Maintain Influence After War?

Iran’s leaders are facing turmoil at home—enmeshed in waves of protest, the country “lunges from crisis to crisis, as the ranks of the discontented grow,” The Economist writes—but the International Institute for Strategic Studies identifies a longer-term challenge to Iran’s regional strength.
Iran’s allies and proxies have been successful in Syria and Yemen, IISS writes in the first chapter of a November publication entitled “Iran’s Networks of Influence in the Middle East” (now readable online)—but as those conflicts wind down, Iran will be “challenged to produce the resources required to sustain post-conflict reconstruction. Failure to do so could easily erode Iran’s influence at the expense of external powers,” the group writes. “Tehran’s execution of its military doctrine has won it unprecedented regional influence during periods of equally unprecedented conflict. Whether this doctrine can deliver substantive returns in times of peace, as it did in Lebanon, will be tested in Syria and elsewhere.”
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