While the specifics of the deal that US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad is negotiating with the Taliban remain obscured, its emerging outline raises serious concern about the prospects for failure in its application.  A flawed agreement risks the collapse of Afghanistan into chaos, the return of the oppressive Taliban Emirate, and the growth of the Islamist terrorist threat to Western security and values.

One side negotiating against a deadline is at a severe disadvantage when the other is not, and Ambassador Khalilzad has been operating under extremely complex conditions. But an agreement which fails to open the way to peace for Afghanistan will be a defeat for US leadership and values, and sacrifice US and Afghan interests in stability and security in that troubled region.    

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China’s commerce ministry announced on August 23 that it would be imposing additional tariffs on $75 billion of US goods in retaliation for the tariffs unveiled by US President Donald J. Trump on August 1.

The Chinese decision would see tariff increases of 5 to 10 percent on 5,078 US products including soybeans and crude oil. The changes are scheduled to take effect in line with Trump’s August tariffs on September 1 and December 15. On August 1, Trump announced new tariffs  on previously unaffected Chinese goods totaling $300 billion, meaning that virtually all Chinese goods shipped to the United States would be hit by US tariffs.

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US President Donald J. Trump’s flirtation with a purchase of Greenland got ugly on August 20 when he tweeted that he was putting off his planned state visit to Denmark because Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen wouldn’t discuss the sale. The president triggered this blow up with an ally, a democracy that had sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq in solidarity with the United States. That same day, the president again urged that Vladimir Putin’s Russia be brought back into the Group of Eight (G8), from which it was expelled in 2014 when it invaded and annexed territory of its neighbor Ukraine.

There are many levels of wrong with this, starting with the president’s arbitrary picking of a fight over something, a purchase of Greenland, that most Americans had considered a summertime whimsy. But it’s worse than peevishness or bullying; this episode reveals a dark vision of the national interest that, if implemented, will undo the grand strategy which, as the saying goes, made America great.

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Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced his resignation on August 20 just before his deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, was set to trigger a vote of no confidence in their government. Conte’s decision also spells the end for the alliance between his Five Star Movement and Salvini’s Lega (League) party, which formed the current government in June 2018.

Fissures in the unsteady alliance between the two parties emerged in August when Salvini, who also serves as interior minister, called for snap elections following a dispute between the two governing parties over plans for a new high-speed rail line between Turin and the French city of Lyon. The results of the European elections in May also stressed the partnership, as Salvini’s League performed nearly seventeen points better than the Five Star Movement, despite being the junior coalition partner. The League continues to lead opinion polls and could unseat their coalition partners if new elections were held.

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Hong Kong has been gripped by a brave protest movement sparked by Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s proposed Extradition Bill, which, though suspended, has yet to be withdrawn. Though protestors have moderate and measured requests, they have been met with the flagrantly irresponsible use of riot control devices such as tear gas in the Kwai Fong metro station. Police have turned a virtual blind eye to attacks on the press and protestors alike in Yuen Long. The protestors’ persistence has called into question whether Beijing might employ force to end the protests, envisioning another Tiananmen Square crackdown, and how Washington should potentially respond.

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Since the conclusion of its civil war in 1996, Guatemala has struggled to root out corruption within its public institutions. After prompting by human rights organizations, in December 2006 the United Nations (UN) and the administration of President Oscar Berger finalized terms for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG). Despite the successes of this exemplary anti-corruption initiative, tensions between the CICIG and Guatemalan political elites prompted Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales to not extend the commission’s term past its September 3, 2019 expiration date. The election of former prison director Alejandro Giammettei, a vocal CICIG opponent, as the nation’s next president on August 11, 2019 further cemented the UN initiative’s fate. Without a doubt CICIG’s impending departure is a notable blow for regional corruption crusaders. As result of CICIG, however, civil society in Latin America is more determined than ever before to pursue political accountability and champion the fight to address impunity.

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With the flurry of investor attention in the world of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) impact funds and socially responsible business, the climate-friendly and environmental aspects are front and center. The other facets of ESG—the social and governance elements—are slightly more nebulous, however, and are sometimes forgotten amidst the great green gold rush.

One clear example is the focus on diversity and, specifically, increasing the participation of women in senior corporate management and board governance. Yet, just as there are accusations of “greenwashing” in climate finance, the championing of women can often be viewed as just lip service. To put it bluntly, companies may strategically highlight their token female executive among their top ranks but fail to make much substantive or sustainable change beyond what’s in their marketing material.

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Months-long demonstrations in Hong Kong escalated on August 13, when riot police and protestors clashed in Hong Kong’s international airport. Demonstrators began occupying the airport on August 9, the latest move in a protest campaign that began in June. The violent encounters between protestors and riot police could spark a crackdown by Chinese authorities, Atlantic Council resident senior fellow Robert A. Manning said, adding that “this will not end well.”

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Recently, US President Donald J. Trump announced that the United States would apply a 10 percent tariff to $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, adding to already existing tariffs. In retaliation, China devalued its currency, prompting the US Treasury Department to officially label China as a currency manipulator. Behind the fiery rhetoric from both camps, China posted its lowest economic growth numbers in twenty-seven years and the US Federal Reserve cut interest rates for the first time since the Great Recession, despite low unemployment and reasonable growth.

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The Russo-German Nord Stream gas pipeline projects—Nord Stream I, completed in 2011, and Nord Stream II scheduled to be completed around the end of 2019—are bad projects because they increase European dependence on Russian gas in general, and especially because they give the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin the option of delivering gas to Germany while bypassing other European countries. Putin’s Russia has a track record of using gas exports as political pressure, for example, against Ukraine in the years leading up to Putin’s attack on that country in 2014 and has threatened to do the same to Central European countries, including those in the European Union. Given this, and their long experience on the receiving end of Kremlin ambitions, the Ukrainians, Poles, and Baltic countries are understandably skeptical about energy projects that would extend Putin’s ability to pressure them while simultaneously keeping German gas customers satisfied, which is what Nord Stream gives the Putin regime greater capacity to do.  

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