February 21, 2018

The Dish | February 21, 2018

By Julianne Smith and Jim Townsend

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February 21, 2018

  • “I’m Counting on You to Be Brave:” That was Senator John McCain’s message to the participants at this year’s Munich Security Conference. McCain, undergoing treatment for cancer, wasn’t able to lead the congressional delegation to Munich. Instead, he sent a message with his wife Cindy who was there to accept the Ewald Von Kleist Award in his absence. Unfortunately, “brave” wasn’t the word that came to mind during the dozens of speeches this year. Nor was the word “bold.” If you came looking for a call to action, you left empty-handed. With Merkel and Macron MIA, all eyes were on Theresa May. But May chose to focus on Brexit, missing a chance to chart a way forward for the ailing transatlantic partnership. The US delegation didn’t fare much better. Secretary Mattis opted to sit in the audience instead of joining his French and German counterparts on stage. McMaster gave a solid speech on the administration’s foreign policy priorities but was immediately upstaged by his boss who hours later tweeted a correction on McMaster’s statement that “the evidence of a Russian effort to interfere in the election is now incontrovertible.” Needless to say, the conference ended in disappointment; disappointment the conversations in Munich lacked purpose and any sense of urgency; disappointment that Europe and the United States seem unprepared to do much more than defend the status quo; and disappointment that so few of us were, in the words of John McCain, brave.
  • Munich Top 40 Hits: The Munich Security Conference put together short video clips of the major speakers and events of the Conference. If you’ve never been, or want to catch yourself on camera, take a look. Below are just some of the greatest hits from this year’s MSC speeches, tweets or journalism:


    • EU Vegetarians: German FM Gabriel calls for the ‪#EU to have a common power projection ability. “As the only vegetarian, we will have a hard time in a world of carnivores.” 
    • Lavrov Calling it in: “Lavrov speech this year was remarkably lacking substance, restating known positions, policies and complaints and not offering initiatives...” @camille_grand. “Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov seethes with bitterness and insecurity about his country’s fall from grace…” @RNicholasBurns
    • Back to the Future: “After years of encouraging European nations to work together to provide more of their own defense, the United States is having second thoughts, driven by concerns about NATO and possible protectionism in defense industries. The new American skepticism has been the big surprise of the high-level security conference held this past week in Munich.” Steven Erlanger, The New York Times
    • The Leitmotif of this Year’s MSC: “Von der Leyen's comments at the Munich Security Conference, which were echoed by French Defense Minister Florence Parly, came amid a deepening rift in the transatlantic alliance between the United States and Europe that helped underpin the post-World War II global order. […] It was one of the most forceful recent European rejoinders to Trump’s global spending priorities. In the 13 months since Trump took office, Europe has moved to boost defense spending, but also to improve its ability to fight alone without the support of the United States, if need be.” Michael Birnbaum and Griff Witte, Washington Post
    • “For decades, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have used the Munich Security Conference to underscore their everlasting commitment to joint security. But Trump’s repeated criticism of European defense spending as too modest, coupled with what many Europeans consider a belligerent U.S. foreign policy has fueled a deepening estrangement. […] Though Europe remains dependent on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — and by extension the U.S. — for security, persistent tensions with Washington have convinced many European officials that they need to prepare for a future security infrastructure without Washington.”
      Politico, Matthew Karnitschnig
    • From MSC Headquarters: On my way home from ‪#MSC2018 - and even more worried than before. When people who don't spend much time with world politics ask whether it is as bad as the media say I now respond: No, it's actually worse. @TobiasBunde (tweet thread)
    • And then there is this: Finally, from Eliot Cohen in The Atlantic writing about the Munich Security Conference: “What has happened here is the same phenomenon that explains so many of the ills of the last couple of decades: the algae-like bloom of elites and their simultaneous loss of substance.”
  • You Only Vote Once: The consequences of Brexit have been many and varied – on Friday it resulted in an unprecedented public meeting between Alex Younger, Bruno Kahl and Bernard Ernie – the spy chiefs in charge of the UK’s MI6, Germany's BND and France's DGSE respectively. They met, amongst other we presume still secret matters,to call for continued co- operation and information sharing on international terrorism, cyber-attacks and other threats. In Munich that call was followed up by UK Prime Minister May setting out her desire for an even bigger strategic partnership – with ongoing close cooperation in foreign policy, defense, law enforcement and criminal matters. Such steps are practical and sensible. But many of the hardline advocates of Brexit are neither practical nor sensible. May was clear in her response to questioning from Ischinger and others that there wouldn't be another vote or a change of heart, so in this area at least the Dish hopes that a bespoke deal can be done. It would be rather sad if the next James Bond film was just two hours of him stuck at passport control.
  • Hail Mary in Turkey: Last week, as US and Turkish forces eyed each other around Manbij in northern Syria, the Administration flooded the zone in Turkey: Tillerson flew to Ankara with a team for urgent meetings with President Erdogan and Turkish counterparts and Mattis met with his Turkish MoD counterpart on the margins of the NATO Defense Ministerial in Brussels. A joint statement issued by US-Turkish officials Friday didn’t have the specifics one would have hoped from such an important meeting. The only deliverable being flaunted was the launch of a “results-oriented mechanism” to continue talks in March. Explaining what is at stake, Brookings’ Amanda Sloat has written an important piece laying out the options for navigating the “grey zone” with an ally that is increasingly sounding like a frenemy.
  • From our America’s Desk: Kislyak of Humanity: The news from Parkland, Florida earlier last Wednesday was sickening. Just as they did after the mass shooting in Las Vegas in October, by Thursday Russian social media accounts started promoting hyper-partisan content and conspiracies, with no aim apart from trying to widen divides between Americans. Nothing could be so cynical or morally bankrupt as trying to exploit the deaths of children. The current Russian regime could not fall further into disgrace. Russian Ambassador Kislyak weaseled under questioning from Nicholas Burns on the issue of cyber in Munich. The Dish hopes that people keep pressing him, and all other representatives of the Russian Government on this matter.
  • Aka AKK: Until the World Cup begins, speculation about who will follow Merkel is the topic most talked about over Pils--even before her government takes office.  Merkel first came to prominence as the General Secretary of the CDU 18 years ago and rode that office to the top. With the recent appointment of the new CDU General Secretary, tongues are wagging. As tweeted by Constanze Stelzenmüller: “Introducing the new General Secretary of the CDU: Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, aka “AKK”—because that’s a mouthful even for Germans ‪#Ishouldknow” Let’s see if history repeats itself. 
  • Chou de Bruxelles: Going live today will be a brand-new episode of our podcast Brussels Sprouts. This week, Jim and Julie are joined by French Director General for International Relations and Strategy, Philippe Errera, who outlines the French approach to the upcoming NATO summit and the burden sharing debate. More so, they explore the leadership of President Macron in shaping French military capabilities and European security strategy, including PESCO and his European Intervention Initiative.  

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