February 10, 2023
Welcome to Home & Away. Here at home the week was dominated by the State of the Union, as in the speech, which turned out to be better than the state of the union, as in the United States. The latter is suffering from the hangover of Covid-19 and is unhappily contending with inflation, crime, drugs, problems at the southern border, and more. The country is deeply divided along multiple fault lines, cranky about the present, and pessimistic about the future.
President Biden’s speech, to its credit, included something of a civics lesson. The president began with several grace notes, reaching out to the Republican leadership in the House and Senate and extolling bipartisanship. Some of the rhetoric was very good. “Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict gets us nowhere" was one memorable line.
Two years after January 6, it was also good to hear a president declare "There is no place for political violence in America.” And I especially liked “Democracy must not be a partisan issue. It must be an American issue...We must see each other not as enemies, but as fellow Americans. We are a good people, the only nation in the world built on an idea."
Obviously, putting any of this into practice won’t be easy, as the shouting and catcalls from some of the Republican back-benchers made clear. (That their doing so may well have improved Biden’s political fortunes was a nice irony.) And beyond the moment, it was satisfying and reassuring alike to see some of the themes central to The Bill of Obligations, including remaining civil, rejecting violence, promoting the common good, and putting country first, echoed in the speech. I have a strong sense the moment is ripe for strengthening our democracy, especially when it comes to expanding participation in national service and introducing civics into more of our classrooms.
As for Away, I thought the president was wise not to offer up red meat on the Chinese balloon incident, as the goal should be to get beyond it and reschedule the secretary of state’s visit so that the biggest issues, including making sure that differences over Taiwan do not trigger conflict and reining in Chinese support for Russia, can be addressed. But the incident served to remind us that Xi’s China is growing more capable in many spheres (no pun intended) and assertive (even brazen) and that bilateral mechanisms for managing crises are sorely lacking.
The fallout also illustrates how interwoven the Home and Away are with respect to an issue like China: Just the other day, the House unanimously passed a resolution condemning China’s violation of U.S. sovereignty. As investigations into this incident commence, it will become increasingly difficult for the administration to carry out a balanced much less nuanced policy toward China lest it appear weak and make itself politically vulnerable in the run-up to the 2024 election.
The other international story I want to focus on is the earthquake that has reportedly claimed more than twenty thousand lives in Syria and Turkey. The strong impulse is to provide humanitarian help, but in the case of Syria doing so will prove difficult given the messy political and dangerous security situation on the ground. It will be difficult to ensure that aid reaches those it is meant for, especially when the immediate crisis gives way to longer-term recovery.
There are different challenges when it comes to Turkey. There the situation will be complicated by the likelihood that President Erdogan, someone I have long described as an ally in the technical sense but anything but a partner in reality, will seek to exploit the crisis to prop up his political fortunes as Turkey nears its next election in May. This is not an argument against helping Turkey and its people, but simply an attempt to underscore the need to make sure help provided is used as intended and to be critical if as seems all too likely Erdogan cracks down on any criticism of his government’s preparations for and handling of the crisis.
One bright spot amidst the tragedy are Greek government efforts to assist Turkish authorities as they search for survivors. Such assistance might have an impact on many needy men, women, and children in Turkey and increase the odds that one day in the future the often-strained relations between these two neighbors could improve.
Otherwise, I continue to be busy promoting the book when I am not consumed with my day job of overseeing what takes place here at the CFR. You might want to tune in tune in on Sunday to Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN, where in addition to talking about the themes of the book, I will be with David Miliband to discuss the aftermath of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria as well as post-balloon relations with China. In the meantime, here's an article, podcast interviews, broadcasts, and other discussions from the past week.
In the news
Friday, February 3, 2023: Seattle’s Morning News on KIRO-FM, Meet The Press NOW on NBC NEWS NOW, CNN The Lead with Jake Tapper,
Monday, February 6, 2023: MSNBC Morning Joe, Colorado's Morning News on KOA-AM
Tuesday, February 7, 2023: MSNBC Way Too Early, Morning Rush on Scripps News
Wednesday, February 8, 2023: “Central Time” on Wisconsin Public Radio
Thursday, February 9, 2023: “Afternoon Drive" on WTOP-FM, "Studio Tulsa" on KWGS-FM, "Conversations with Jeff Schechtman" on Napa Broadcasting Radio