Think tanks are a wonderful and often overlooked source of garnering perspective on world events. Some, such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute or our own Fraser Institute are ideological hack factories posing as legitimate think tanks but there are others - Chatham House, Brookings, the Carnegie Endowment, the International Institute for Strategic Studies and more that are balanced and a rich source of insight into today's and tomorrow's events.
With seismic events now unfolding, particularly this week in Washington, it's a fine time for a stroll down Think Tank boulevard.
Let's begin with my favourite, the venerable Chatham House, more properly known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. A couple of items of interest. Chatham House director, Dr. Robin Niblett, writes of "The Demise of Anglo-American Economic Leadership."
Niblett writes it may be game over for the era of neoliberalism ushered in by Reagan, Thatcher (and Mulroney), what he calls "the Anglo-Saxon model." Many of us will be open to that idea but it begs the question of just what will take its place and what sort of "place" will there be for us in that place? Uncertainty ensues.
More recently, Dr. Niblett wrote on "Liberalism in Retreat," exploring how, with democracy in decline, liberal democracies must find ways to co-exist with their ideological foes.
Over at the exquisitely American, Brookings Institute, Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy pose the question "What makes Putin tick, and what the West should do."
They write of three camps - those who underestimate Putin and those who overestimate Putin and a good many who do both.
"...Vladimir Putin needs to be taken seriously. He will make good on every promise or threat—if Putin says he will do something, then he is prepared to do it; and he will find a way of doing it, using every method at his disposal."
Doesn't that make you thank your lucky stars we've got Trump in the ring with Putin?
Over at Carnegie, Amr Hamzawy, examines the aftermath of the Arab Spring concluding the region has returned to square one. He argues the Arab world must forge a new social contract with its people.
Meanwhile, Carnegie senior fellow, Karim Sadjapour, explains why Trump is the favourite of fellow autocrats (and worse) everywhere.
"Trump’s most well-documented foreign enthusiast is Vladimir Putin, whom he has implied is a stronger leader than Obama. Putin has reciprocated, calling Trump “lively” and “talented” and “the absolute leader in the presidential race.” Former CIA chief Mike Morell called Trump an “unwitting agent” of Putin, and 17 U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Russian cyber hackers have attempted to tilt the election in Trump’s direction. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Americans hoped Russia could emerge as an economically prosperous, socially tolerant democracy. Putin not only helped thwart attempts to make Russia more like America, but he found in Trump an opportunity to make America more like Russia."
Sadjapour ends with this chilling observation:
"Donald Trump is a third-generation American who never experienced life without freedom and privilege, running on a campaign projecting power rather than principles."
At the Council on Foreign Relations, there's a reprint taken from The Diplomat arguing that Trump may drive Japan and China closer together.
"Beijing has almost as many reasons to be concerned as Tokyo. An America weakened by a tweeter-in-chief with no attachment to U.S. core alliances and the international liberal order built by previous American administrations is good news for Xi Jinping. But enormous tariffs on Chinese goods, a national security advisor (Michael Flynn) who thinks China supports the Islamic State, and a president who seems regret that nuclear bombs aren’t used is not what the Communist Party of China (CPC) wants. Even if on balance Trump is likely to undermine America’s relative power in the world, there’s a significant risk that in doing so he could seriously hurt the interests of the Party in a negative sum game."
At the IISS, Nigel Inkster, director of future conflict and cyber security, takes a look at what may develop in the weeks and months ahead.
While Putin’s Russia may welcome the prospect of a less fraught relationship with the US, it is far from obvious that a deal can be reached. A bigger worry may be what happens if efforts to yet again ‘push the reset button’ with Russia come to naught, as they may well do.
Meanwhile Beijing, though concerned about Trump’s suggestion that the One China policy may be up for negotiation, is keeping its powder dry and waiting to see what Trump actually does. At the same time, China is adroitly seeking to position itself as the prime guarantor of free trade and global leadership, a message President Xi Jinping will be looking to promote during his forthcoming visit to Davos. It remains to be seen, however, whether Xi can transcend the default Chinese Communist Party language to present a vision that resonates and carries conviction with the wider world.
The long and the short of it? No one is sure what to make of Trump. Opinions vary widely, perhaps wildly. One point of consensus. If it comes to horsetrading between Trump and Putin, it won't be Putin who goes home with empty pockets. Trump may, however, be sent packing with the trappings of victory for domestic consumption.
Great, just great.