Coming in just under the wire, here’s your Foreign Telegram for March 2023. In an extremely busy month for international affairs, four stories stood out. In the realm of political protest, France and Israel have been in constant uproar over controversial government plans. In France, President Macron has pushed a hike in the retirement age, while in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition seeks changes to the nation’s judiciary. The other overarching topic in March 2023 was diplomacy, particularly of Asian countries outside of Asia. China has had a busy month, brokering a surprise rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia – sidelining the US – and doubling down on its “no limits partnership” with Russia with a state visit to Moscow. Japan, China’s primary regional rival, also expanded its diplomatic reach this month, with visits to India and, more importantly, Ukraine. The blocs of the 21st century are forming as we speak.
Tune in for detailed analysis of all four of these key geopolitical events. Take a break from the hectic pace of domestic affairs with a Foreign Telegram.
Apparently, some members of the United States Senate need a refresher on why we have military presence in Japan.
Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, was at one point a very serious man who cared more about doing his job than he did about his online reputation. His background is impressive: he’s a lawyer, a former clerk for the Supreme Court, and a member of the Senate for over a decade. Back in the halcyon days of 2016, he refused to support the candidacy of Donald Trump out of principle. His legal mind is quite astute, and he has been considered for the Supreme Court by many conservatives. Suffice it to say, Lee has earned a reputation for seriousness and mental acuity. Well, at least until recently.
Since the waning days of the Trump administration, Lee has become more of a Twitter troll and MAGA opportunist than a US Senator, tweeting under the handle @BasedMikeLee (for the uninitiated, ‘based’ is online right-wing lingo for cool/badass). Just last night, he put out a series of tweets that caught my attention. In the thread starting with the tweet below, Senator Lee questions the necessity and prudence of our military commitment to Japan.
The China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia has shuffled the deck in the Middle East, cutting the US out of the pot.
Over the weekend, in a surprising development to most Middle East watchers, China brokered a deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore some bilateral ties between the Islamic powers after seven years without them. The agreement was a very basic one, with the two countries agreeing in principle to exchange ambassadors within two months, reactivating a security cooperation agreement, and restoring some economic and cultural exchanges. This is the first formal rapprochement between the Islamic Republic and the Kingdom since 2016, when the Saudis executed a prominent Shia cleric, sparking violent protests at its embassy in Tehran and precipitating the break in relations. Since that split, the underlying conflict between the two states on either side of the Persian Gulf has rapidly escalated, with Iran taking the aggressive lead. Its proxies in Yemen, the Houthis, have attacked Riyadh directly, while Iran itself has launched cruise missiles at Saudi energy infrastructure, crippling a major refinery for weeks back in 2019.
Given this recent history, the fact that any kind of deal was struck shows that key changes are occurring in Middle Eastern politics. The agreement, basic as it was, did not force Iran to cease its aid of international terrorists or non-state proxies, even those which target the Kingdom; this was a conciliatory move on behalf of the Saudis towards the Iranians. This step towards normalization of relations without addressing some of the proverbial elephants in the room – the malign regional activities of Iran, the Shia-Sunni dispute, relations with Israel – fits well within the Chinese diplomatic playbook, as does the language of the agreement. In the text, both Iran and Saudi Arabia agree to the principles of “respect for the sovereignty of states and noninterference in their internal affairs,” a classic Chinese formulation that Beijing uses to ignore human rights abuses abroad and gloss over its own at home. There are a wide variety of implications and impacts from this diplomatic coup for China, both in the Middle East region and further afield.
The Russian war in Ukraine has been going on for over a year now, with hundreds of thousands of casualties on each side. What has happened over the past 12 months of conflict? Where does the war stand now? What will happen next? What lessons can we take away from this conflict? Those questions and more are answered in this episode of the Rational Policy podcast, commemorating and recapping a year of warfare.
It’s that time of the month again – time for another Foreign Telegram! February 2023, although a short month, has been chock-full of international events and news. In this Telegram, we detail three of the biggest stories of the month: the Chinese spy balloon, the devastating earthquake in Turkey/Syria, and the South African military exercises with China and Russia. Listen in for the information, analysis, and history you need to make sense of the world today.