U.S. midterm elections. The prevailing wisdom is that Democrats will take back the House and the Republicans will retain the Senate, at least according to the polls. Polls, of course, can miss the mark, as can the analysts who interpret them. But if the U.S. does, in fact, emerge from the vote with a split government, issues such as the U.S. trade war, U.S.-Russia relations and the management of its own economy could well hang in the balance. The U.S. being the U.S., what happens here affects the rest of the world. It’s important, however, to keep things in perspective. When we talk about a “U.S. strategy,” it’s a gross oversimplification. U.S. political power is extremely diffused, and the internal constraints that weigh on the executive branch become heavier with a hostile Congress. The president can govern only so much by executive order. To be sure, election results can reduce Washington’s options for pursuing its strategy, especially if opportunistic foreign powers smell blood in the water. But over the long term, U.S. strategy tends to withstand the vagaries of domestic politics.
The U.S. braces for change on the Korean Peninsula. On Monday, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, said that progress in the nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang would force the Pentagon to make some “uncomfortable” changes to U.S. military posture on the peninsula. Dunford also said the Pentagon would happily do what’s deemed necessary by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is set to meet with his North Korean counterpart Thursday. Meanwhile, the outgoing commander of U.S. troops in South Korea, Gen. Vincent Brooks, said the U.S. supports early steps by the two Koreas to disarm parts of their border, including a no-fly zone that went into effect last week. The context for these comments is the disagreement between Washington and Seoul over several concessions South Korea has made to the North despite apparent U.S. opposition. The underlying reality is that neither the U.S. nor South Korea is going to get much of what it wants from Pyongyang if joint U.S.-South Korean forces remain capable of launching a sudden invasion. Only when the U.S. begins to seriously consider scaling back its presence will we know that the nuclear talks have gotten serious.
The EU submits a Brexit deal. And yet a deal remains elusive. According to the Times of London, Brussels is preparing to offer the U.K. an “independent mechanism” that would allow London to end a temporary customs arrangement that accounts for the border issue between Ireland and Northern Ireland. British Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly told her Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar, that the U.K. needs to win the right to unilaterally withdraw from the customs deal whenever it sees fit to secure enough backing from hard-line Tories and her coalition partners in the Democratic Unionist Party for a Brexit deal. But now it’s the EU that’s struggling to maintain a united front in the negotiations. For example, Vardakar, who staunchly opposes the return of border checks on the divided island, flatly rejected the compromise, leading the EU’s chief negotiator to pour cold water on hopes that a breakthrough was imminent. At this point, there’s no mystery left about the hand either side is playing. It’s just a matter of which side is willing to blink.
- Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan said Beijing is willing to open new trade talks with the U.S.
- U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will hold talks with their Chinese counterparts in Washington on Friday.
- The Kremlin says U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet briefly in Paris on Nov. 11.
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said resumed joint patrols involving the U.S. and Syrian Kurds are “unacceptable” and will create “serious troubles.”
- Erdogan also criticized U.S. sanctions on Iran.
- U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said even more sanctions on Iran are forthcoming.
- Senior Russian and Iranian diplomats held talks on Syria in Moscow.
- The U.N. Security Council is reviewing a proposal to lift sanctions on Eritrea in light of its rapprochement with Ethiopia.
- Saudi Arabia began work on its first nuclear research reactor.
- French authorities arrested six people, reportedly members of far-right political groups, in connection with an alleged plot to attack French President Emmanuel Macron.
- The U.K. is set to open a joint military training base in Oman, becoming just the latest power to establish a foothold in this strategically valuable country.