But if the test of Europe’s unity feels like a test for liberal democracy, it’s a mistake to see it only in those terms. It is also a struggle of nations against empire, of the Continent’s smaller countries against German mastery and Northern European interests, in which populist parties are being elected to resist policies the center sought to impose upon the periphery without a vote. And the liberal aspect of the European system wouldn’t be under such strain if the imperial aspect hadn’t been exploited unwisely by leaders in the empire’s German core.
This disastrous imperial dynamic was first manifest in the fiscal policy imposed on Southern Europe in the wake of the Great Recession — a policy that manifestly made more sense for Germany’s economy than for Italy’s or Spain’s or Greece’s, even as it was confidently presented by German bankers as a hardheaded necessity that no merely national government could be permitted to reject.
Then the same dynamic repeated itself on immigration, when Angela Merkel took it upon herself to make migration policy for the Continent, in atonement for Germany’s racist past and in the hopes of revitalizing its aging society. The resistance from other Europeans to her open door to refugees and migrants, the refusal to let the German chancellor and her admirers determine immigration policy, is one reason among many that populists won the Brexit referendum and find themselves on the cusp of power in Italy — and it’s the major reason that populist parties rule today in Budapest and Warsaw.
Memo to the President on Saudi Arabia
he comes from the poorest wing of the ruling family; his father was only governor of Riyadh and was known for being uncorrupted. As a result, M.B.S. grew up with a lot of resentment and disdain for his lazy cousins, who got obscenely rich, along with the big merchants close to them. His anti-corruption campaign was meant to stem the tide of graft, but it also had elements of revenge, and a power and money grab.
.. At the same time, we need to tell M.B.S.: You can be an effective king, with real legitimacy, or you can buy yachts, chateaus and Leonardo da Vincis like your cousins — but you can’t do both. He has to understand he’s becoming an important figure on the world stage, and he needs to cultivate the same reputation his father has — clean, modest, conciliatory.
.. On the management side, M.B.S.’s team is too small and contains a couple of minister-bullies close to him who are in way over their heads, and who bring out his worst instincts and offer terrible advice — some of which led to his failed overreaches in Yemen, Lebanon and Qatar. And while M.B.S. is a creative reformer, he has a fierce temper. Most of his ministers are afraid to challenge him or give him the candid, caring advice he needs.
.. Rex Tillerson is not respected in Riyadh, we have no permanent assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, and no ambassador. Are you nuts? You need to appoint a James Baker or Dave Petraeus as your special envoy to the Arab Gulf who can help M.B.S. defuse Yemen, end the feuds with neighbors, and focus all his energies on building a Saudi Arabia that is thriving at home and admired by its neighbors. That’s the best bulwark against Iranian expansion.
.. If M.B.S. chases Iran everywhere, Tehran will sap all his strength; it will be death by a thousand cuts. We need to be in his ear regularly with someone he respects, and not just leave him to “the boys’ club” — your son-in-law or other young testosterone-fueled Sunni Arab princes in the Gulf.
.. it is more vital than ever that we continue to model the rule of law, respect for institutions, tolerance and pluralism. A special U.S. envoy to Saudi Arabia is necessary now, but keeping America a special example is even more important.