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January 10, 2019

Stay Tuned: The Fate of the World in 2019 (with Ian Bremmer)

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Ian Bremmer is the president and founder of Eurasia Group, a political risk analysis and consulting firm. He’s a foreign affairs columnist and editor-at-large at Time, and a global research professor at NYU. He’s written nine books, most recently Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism. Bremmer speaks with Preet about Eurasia’s annual report anticipating the top risks facing the globe in 2019.

Plus, Preet’s thoughts on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s plan to resign and the redaction fail in Manafort’s defense memo.

Mentioned on this episode of Stay Tuned:

–       Eurasia Group Top Risks 2019 report

–       The United States and Mexico assistance program to reduce migration from Central America

–       Former Stay Tuned guest Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act banned from Saudi Arabia

–       Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria

–       National Security Adviser John Bolton’s alternative Syria plan

–       The future of The Trans-Pacific Partnership

–       Defining globalism

And to visit the CAFE shop, head to shop.cafe.com 

This interview was taped on 1/8/19.

Do you have a question for Preet? Tweet them to @PreetBharara with the hashtag #askpreet, email [email protected]m, or call 699-247-7338 and leave a voicemail.

The Fate of the World in 2019 (with Ian Bremmer)

Air date: 1/10/19

Preet Bharara:

Ian Bremmer, welcome to the show.

Ian Bremmer:

Very happy to be with you.

Preet Bharara:

Happy New Year.

Ian Bremmer:

Happy New Year.

Preet Bharara:

You have been in the business of assessing risk globally for 120 years. How long?

Ian Bremmer:

21 years.

Preet Bharara:

21 years.

Ian Bremmer:

Since I started at the company. 1998, yeah.

Preet Bharara:

Before we get to this report, is it a report? Do you call it a report?

Ian Bremmer:

I guess we call it, yeah.

Preet Bharara:

This annual report that comes out at the beginning of year-

Ian Bremmer:

Annual thing, yeah.

Preet Bharara:

… that you’ve been doing for, as you said, hundreds of years called Top Risks. This one, I think it’s well-named, Top Risks 2019.

Ian Bremmer:

It seemed like the right way to go. The Aussies, as you see, went with 2018 again, which seemed wrong.

Preet Bharara:

Although I might want to ask you, Top Risks 2022?

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

Then that would be very cool if you could assess those risks.

Ian Bremmer:

We can do that. Sure.

Preet Bharara:

But let me ask you the first sort of very fundamental question. Are we all going to die?

Ian Bremmer:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

Okay. That’s all we got, folks. We’re done with the shows.

Ian Bremmer:

Of course we’re all going to die. I mean you know.

Preet Bharara:

I know. I didn’t mean eventually.

Ian Bremmer:

I tweeted about that right at New Year. I said, “Thank you to all of my followers and to the 1.5% of you that aren’t going to be here to see 2020, I hope that you enjoy this last year.”

Preet Bharara:

That’s very heartwarming.

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Preet Bharara:

You’re a very gentle man.

Ian Bremmer:

I care about people.

Preet Bharara:

I care about you, Ian.

Ian Bremmer:

Really? I’ve always felt that.

Preet Bharara:

Before we get to the risks, and you have a lot of stuff in this report from the Eurasia Group about China, about cyber, about European populism, about Mexico, about Brexit, so many things. But first I want to ask you, how do you go about thinking about risk and global risk and whether things will be up or down and what the effects will be on the global economy, on individual nations’ economies, because obviously you’re very smart and you have lots of very smart people. You put together this narrative and you make these predictions. You make these assessments of how things are going. What the hell is that based on?

Ian Bremmer:

I mean the first thing is the incentive structure has to be right. We actually will leave this report on the front of our homepage for the whole damn year. At the end of the year, the last update that I write for everyone will be to repost this and go back through and actually assess how we’ve done. All the analysts know that. So it can’t be seen by them as an exercise in, “Hey, let’s just come up with a bunch of cool stuff, and who cares next week?” It can’t be that.

Ian Bremmer:

Also we start this in September when people come back from their summer breaks and the rest. It’s a process of fairly serious discipline. We take all the analysts from all the different offices all around the world. I mean the firm has almost 200 people, so I mean it’s a pretty significant thing. We beat on each other. There’s a lot of different expertise around the world and they don’t always see the world, surprise surprise, in the same way. I think that as you’ve done this for … Malcolm Gladwell says, “You do something for 10,000 hours, eventually you get pretty good at it or there’s something seriously wrong with you.”

Ian Bremmer:

21 years of running Eurasia Group, at some point you start actually being able to differentiate signal from noise, do pattern recognition.

Preet Bharara:

So can you predict the weather now?

Ian Bremmer:

No, no. But we can predict the geopolitical weather and what we see happening is geopolitical climate change. I mean this is the kind of environment where it’s very obvious that most of the things that are happening in the world geopolitically are trending badly and none of them are really urgent. They’re not going to blow up tomorrow. But anyone that follows this stuff has to know it’s not sustainable. Anyone that follows this has to know that we’re heading for seriously rough seas ahead.

Preet Bharara:

When you say we, do you mean Americans? Do you mean everyone in the world?

Ian Bremmer:

I mean the world, because it’s a global report. But yeah. I guess I also do. I think the US is more resilient than just about anyone and, as a consequence, one of the reasons why it’s going to get so bad globally is because the consequences of many of the big geopolitical dangers will be felt more acutely by others in the world than by Americans with power. And yet, we’re the ones that have the most capacity to do something about it. So the incentives there really aren’t aligned.

Preet Bharara:

When you say bad things will happen, that’s a broad subject. That’s a big boat you’re talking about. Do you mean war? Do you mean recession? Do you mean other kinds of international conflict? Do you mean pestilence? I mean what kinds of things are you most worried about?

Ian Bremmer:

Locusts is what I first focused on. I mean because when I hear-

Preet Bharara:

When you say locusts-

Ian Bremmer:

… pestilence, I think locusts. It’s just more of a biblical term. I know your religious background.

Preet Bharara:

It’s the most popular pestilence.

Ian Bremmer:

So I figured that that was where you were going. No, look, I mean if you asked me what it really means I don’t know. If you look at the last two major shocks that were like bolts from the blue that hit the world, the 2008 financial crisis and 9/11, the interesting thing about both of those as a political scientist is that the United States responded to them by coming together, and not only that, but our allies came together with us. Not only that, but even people that weren’t aligned with us, the Russians supported us after 9/11. The Chinese supported us to try to get out of the 2008 financial crisis.

Ian Bremmer:

There was extraordinary resilience and harmonization from the global system in responding to shock. Now, I do not have any idea what and when the next major bolt from the blue is going to be. Is it going to be Ebola spreads from the DRC, which David Miliband is very deeply concerned about right now? Is it going to be the next major cyber attack, like what the Russians did against Ukraine, that spreads out beyond that and suddenly causes hundreds of billions of dollars of damage? Is it a major terrorist attack again? Or perhaps most likely, is it the next major economic downturn?

Ian Bremmer:

But what I know is that the geopolitical environment means that the response to that crisis is going to be very deeply dysfunctional. It’s going to be blamesmanship. It’s going to be fragmentation. It’s going to be very deeply dangerous.

Preet Bharara:

Now, why is that different now than … Isn’t that always the case, people like to blame other people?

Ian Bremmer:

Well, given what I just said about 9/11 and 2008, the answer is not so much. I mean no, people like to blame other people, but people also respond and get in gear when crisis comes. They rally around leaders. You see the best from them. But there’s so much more fragmentation geopolitically. The major relationships in the world have all deteriorated so badly, all of them, US-Russia, US-China, Transatlantic, within Europe, within the Middle East. Literally all of those major international relationships have deteriorated significantly over the last 20 years.

Ian Bremmer:

That sped up over the last several. That’s a real problem. Furthermore, inside our countries, the legitimacy of our political institutions has eroded. Support for established political leaders has eroded, not just in the United States, but with the exception of Japan, I would argue across pretty much every advanced industrial economy. So yeah, those two trends exacerbated by technology and social media and the filter bubble and things you talk about all the time, that’s what’s really led to the change.

Preet Bharara:

Suppose there’s no big shock, bolt, like you described it, as we had with 9/11 or as we had with the financial crisis. Are we still on enough of a downward spiral in terms of relationships being ripped asunder and deterioration in belief in our political institutions that if there’s no change and no reversion back, that we’re still in a bad slope?

Ian Bremmer:

We are in a bad slope. I mean though is that 2019 does not feel like a particularly bad year for political risk. In other words, with a global economy that’s expected to grow near 4% and the markets that are largely resilient to downturn, still a fair amount of stimulus in the system, still I mean unemployment going up to 3.9% because we’re actually having more people come back into the market, so those people are getting hired and they’re starting to get retrained, which is particularly important, older Americans coming back in the market that didn’t know what the hell they were going to do.

Ian Bremmer:

Now companies are hiring them and training them for a 2019 economy. That’s a really good thing. So I mean clearly I don’t think 2019 is where we have the wheels fall off. But the long-term trends that I mentioned of the institutions and the leadership eroding, of the alliances and institutions globally eroding, and the rise of populism and nationalism, yeah, that’s pretty clearly heading on a decisively negative trajectory over the coming years. I wish we could say this is just a matter of Trump is one term and then he’s out and it all gets fixed. There’s no way. It’s not about Trump.

Preet Bharara:

How do you take into account in your assessments of where we’re going as a country and as a world the things that you can’t know, the unexpected risks? Do you factor that in or you just sort of make your assessments and figure out the resiliency of those institutions to withstand something like, I don’t know, an asteroid strike or an earthquake? How do you factor in those things that are not knowable?

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah, I mean a risk report is, and the work that we do generally as political scientists is not about crystal ball gazing. It’s not about saying, “Oh yeah. We know that Putin is going to choose this person as his successor.” That’s unknowable. Even the Brexit outcome, you’re talking about scenarios and percentages. What you really want to do is talk about resilience and stability, the ability to respond to shocks as they occur, and all the propensity of an individual system to create its own shocks because of the kind of system it is.

Ian Bremmer:

So a Trump administration necessarily creates more internal shocks. I mean the incompetence of a President Trump in his inability to respond to challenges and threats growing around him, in fact, his propensity to make them worse, for example, the Mueller investigation and others around him, that creates more sense of endogenous shock inside the United States. You got to factor that in too. But are we looking at what the next bolt from the blue is going to be? No, it’s not that. It’s not about that.

Preet Bharara:

How important are individual leaders like Trump, like Macron, like Merkel who you say, given the fact that Macron has a 23% approval in France? Merkel is in the process of a transitional phase out. Why does it make so much difference that there’s one person in charge of a country even as significant as France or Germany? How much of a difference does that make?

Ian Bremmer:

I think it’s very notable that the three leaders you mentioned are all leaders of consolidated democracies that have rule of law. They have free press. They have strong checks and balances internally and politically. They have deep bureaucracies, even if not deep states. So the limitations on what those individual leaders can accomplish, as well as their term limits, are very severe constraints on their importance to be able to reshape the political system in their interest.

Ian Bremmer:

If you would ask how important is an individual leader like Erdogan, where suddenly he shoots down a Russian plane and what had been a good relationship becomes literally a relationship on the precipice of war within 48 hours. Now that is a dramatic change. If you ask me how important is an individual leader like Xi Jinping, who has consolidated more power since any leader like Mao, enormously important. Putin, enormously important. But Trump is a guy. He’s one guy. Most of the stuff that Trump tries to do fails. It fails in part because he’s the-

Preet Bharara:

You don’t think we’re going to build a wall?

Ian Bremmer:

No. Do you think we’re going to build a wall?

Preet Bharara:

Is Mexico going to pay for it?

Ian Bremmer:

Mexico’s not going to pay for it. It’s interesting-

Preet Bharara:

Is that in your report, that Mexico is not going to pay for this?

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah, of course. I mean I think the idea that the Americans and the Mexicans are working together to actually send more money to Central America to try to create conditions that will make it more conducive for refugees not to try to leave is a pretty constructive thing that has happened under the Trump Administration that not many people talk about. Because the wall is much sexier, even though it is not going to happen. I mean Trump tweets very effectively. For CNN, this is a never-ending plane crash. He is the gift that keeps on giving to ratings, and I get it.

Ian Bremmer:

I mean if I am trying to focus audience engagement for CNN, MSNBC, I have to cover Trump all the time. But if you ask me, does that in any way relate to the policies that are being passed in the United States and the policies that are not being passed in the United States, the answer is no. We’re talking about two completely different countries.

Preet Bharara:

If there were no Twitter, what would be different?

Ian Bremmer:

Trump wouldn’t be president.

Preet Bharara:

You think literally but for Twitter he’s not president?

Ian Bremmer:

Maybe Twitter and Facebook. I think that if you look at Bolsonaro in Brazil, the new president, if you look at Trump in the United States, if you look at the success that the Communists and the National Front had in France almost not allowing Macron to get into the second round, the alternatives for Deutschland in Germany, definitely Salvini and the League, Instagram for them was more important in Italy. I think that social media has facilitated these populists and nationalists in ways that were completely unknown even five years ago.

Ian Bremmer:

I think that this is the single biggest surprise, the thing that just none of us expected five years ago was how-

Preet Bharara:

That we would have a president who in realtime could talk to not just his 30 or 40 million followers, but literally all 300 million Americans because of the pickup in the press when he wakes up in the morning and has a crazy thought in his head.

Ian Bremmer:

That’s right. His ability to create and shape a never-ending narrative. And not just Trump, again, many of these-

Preet Bharara:

And ever-changing. And ever-changing.

Ian Bremmer:

Across the world this is happening is really … Remember, 10 years ago when we were talking about technology, even five years ago we were talking technology. We’re talking about the Arab Spring. We’re talking about the ability of individuals to bring down authoritarian governments because of their smartphones, because of their Internet. Suddenly with surveillance and big data and social media companies, it’s all about the ability of a small number of populist leaders to bring like for like together, create the opportunities for them to control the system.

Preet Bharara:

So you think there’s a perversion now of the sort of high-minded idea of social media and that on balance now, platforms like Twitter, Facebook are better for the formation of autocratic governments or better for the overthrow of autocratic governments?

Ian Bremmer:

I think that with your one million followers, you are a nascent dictator.

Preet Bharara:

I don’t know about nascent.

Ian Bremmer:

I know. I’m not sure about nascent.

Preet Bharara:

I boss a lot of people around.

Ian Bremmer:

Let’s spend some time on this. No, I do believe that-

Preet Bharara:

Am I in here as a risk to the country?

Ian Bremmer:

No. You didn’t make it this year, but next year I think you could breach the top 10.

Preet Bharara:

So do you blame the Trump presidency more on Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, or Jim Comey?

Ian Bremmer:

No. I mean I guess I would probably say Dorsey at the end of the day. I really would. I mean I think the fact that-

Preet Bharara:

Are we making news?

Ian Bremmer:

We might be making news.

Preet Bharara:

I’m looking at the smarter people.

Ian Bremmer:

I mean, look, I can say this, Twitter’s not a client so I mean I’m not breaching any confidentiality.

Preet Bharara:

Are you violating the terms of your-

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah. I’m probably violating my terms of service. If you no longer can follow me at @IanBremmer, that means that I violated the terms of service. I don’t think that when Twitter got started that they actually believed that they’d make most of their coin off of bots and trolls and illicit accounts. But the fact that that now is the case means they have a business model that requires them to support something that is a perversion of democracy.

Preet Bharara:

But it was supposed to be the case that technology like this could not be barred from countries that are trying to suppress speech. Now you find that people are going door to door in China to make sure that people don’t have, and in Saudi Arabia, not have bad content on their phones. You have a prior guest of the show, the comedian Hasan Minhaj, who had his new series, Patriot Act, that’s great and Netflix-

Ian Bremmer:

Banned from Saudi Arabia.

Preet Bharara:

Banned from Saudi Arabia.

Ian Bremmer:

Just banned from Saudi Arabia.

Preet Bharara:

So it seems a reversal of what the trend was expected to be, that proliferation of cell phones and the Internet that should be difficult for people not to have access to so they could have access to information and speech of all sorts and also engage in speech is not really panning out.

Ian Bremmer:

That’s because it’s no longer about the great firewall of China. It’s not about keeping information out. It’s about shaping information. It’s shaping the narrative. It’s determining what people are talking about. That is much more powerful, the creation of fake news, the steering of people towards memes that you find important for them had become vastly more powerful than the censorship that we discussed five or 10 years ago.

Preet Bharara:

Right. It’s less about censorship and more about confusing the truth. That’s right.

Ian Bremmer:

You probably know, on my Twitter feed I mean my pinned tweet basically says, “If you’re not following people you don’t like, you’re doing it wrong. I’m here to help.” It’s kind of the antithesis of the Twitter game.

Preet Bharara:

That’s why I follow you, Ian. I appreciate it.

Ian Bremmer:

It’s very mutual.

Preet Bharara:

I follow lots of people I don’t like. Although in the New Year, as I age and I realize life is short, there are a couple of people who I’ve dropped.

Ian Bremmer:

Who have you dropped?

Preet Bharara:

I’m not going to say.

Ian Bremmer:

Oh come on, one or two.

Preet Bharara:

I don’t want to give them platforms.

Ian Bremmer:

Why not?

Preet Bharara:

Because some people are just overly nasty and terrible and awful.

Ian Bremmer:

Are they people you agree with ideologically?

Preet Bharara:

No. No, no, no.

Ian Bremmer:

See. See, that’s part of the problem.

Preet Bharara:

No, but I follow a lot of people-

Ian Bremmer:

Because there are some people that are ideologically aligned with you that are probably equally nasty.

Preet Bharara:

True. You want to name some of those people? Look, you’re going to go in on Twitter. You might as well.

Ian Bremmer:

I’ll go in.

Preet Bharara:

I followed Alex Jones for a while because I thought that he’s so odious and so awful and so terrible that some part of me thought, “I should know that there’s that kind of hatred out there.” I’ve always thought that it was important to have some sense of what the nasty is so that you can think of better arguments to make to people who might be followers of those people. But there comes a point when you see some things that are so nasty and horrible, I’ve gotten my fill. I don’t need to see that anymore.

Ian Bremmer:

I get that. I get that. I think it has evolved. I mean I used to follow Milo Yiannopoulos, who I found incredibly articulate, an enormous pain in the ass, and also pretty hateful. But I actually thought he was the kind of person that you should sort of listen to to know what he’s saying. I think he has been barred from Twitter, but I think if he hadn’t been barred from Twitter I probably would have stopped following him more recently just because I think it’s becoming more damaging. I mean I used to never block anyone from my account ever. More recently, I have actually blocked a few, very few, obvious anonymous Russian trolls.

Preet Bharara:

Just the anonymous Russian trolls.

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

I want to read something from the opening of your report which strikes me, because it’s a thing that we’ve been focused on on the podcast and in other work that I’ve been doing with the Brennan Center, this idea of norms and values. You say, “Geopolitical cycles are slow-moving.” You say, “Norms and values need to develop to become accepted and to shape institutions and societies over time. Once in place, they’re sticky. So barring bad luck, et cetera, et cetera, it takes years, even decades to knock down a geopolitical order.”

Preet Bharara:

I understand what you’re saying about norms being sticky. That’s not exactly the impression that a lot of people have about institutional, Constitutional norms in America under Trump. They seem a little less sticky. They seem a little more quickly able to be cast aside. How do you assess the domestic situation with respect to those norms?

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah. I am still a strong believer that perhaps the most important takeaway from two years of Trump thus far is that his ability to actually damage American institutions is surprisingly limited. Now, some of that is because Trump is more incompetent than he is authoritarian or corrupt. So his-

Preet Bharara:

They’re not mutually exclusive.

Ian Bremmer:

They’re not. Of course they’re not. But I’m saying that I mean, look, if you look at his authoritarianism and the fact is he had Steve Bannon, he had Seb Gorka, he had Mike Flynn. Those guys are all gone. Most of the people around him, there’s some that are venal. There are some that are loyal. There are some that are just really bad. But you don’t have a cadre of would-be authoritarians around Trump. Trump’s ability to maintain focus on what authoritarianism would mean for expanding executive power just isn’t consistent, in my view.

Preet Bharara:

Is it possible to be an authoritarian if you don’t have a deep thinking process about authoritarianism and an ideology and a philosophy?

Ian Bremmer:

I think you have to be more capable. I think for example, I mean even character is a problem here. If Trump actually really believed in a religion or could pretend he did, if his family actually loved him and he loved them back, I mean things like that I think would make it easier for him to emote and lead as an authoritarian than he clearly can. His corruption, I mean yes, look at all of these things that he does that are most obviously corrupt more than any president in history. And yet, they’re kind of penny ante. I mean we’re not talking about Indian military development or Brazilian infrastructure or Russian metals and energy.

Ian Bremmer:

We’re talking about a casino. We’re talking about a condo building in Moscow. So I mean ultimately, the most defining characteristic of Trump is frankly how incapable he is both emotionally and, in many ways, intellectually to occupy the office. While that drives people insane, it doesn’t actually do very much from a policy perspective.

Preet Bharara:

But that’s kind of crazy. I get what you’re saying, that in an environment in which you’re worried about someone being evil and nefarious and corrupt that, hey, it’s going to be difficult for him to do his corrupt things because he’s so incompetent and he surrounds himself with incompetent people. So even the travel ban doesn’t really fully work-

Ian Bremmer:

Exactly.

Preet Bharara:

… because they did it wrong. People have said about Donald Trump, when other people write his speeches it’s harder to find the lie because other people are better at deception and putting those words into Donald Trump’s mouth-

Ian Bremmer:

Than he is, exactly.

Preet Bharara:

But if we weren’t in this moment where you’re concerned about this other aspect of Donald Trump, it seems crazy to say that one thing that’s protecting America and protecting policy and keeping us safe and keeping the norms intact is that the leader of the free world, the president of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief, is incompetent.

Ian Bremmer:

Look, that is not the only thing I’m saying. The other things, other many things that I would be saying is that we have rule of law in the United States and it works. We have an independent judiciary in the United States and it works.

Preet Bharara:

The press too.

Ian Bremmer:

We have a free media in the United States and it works less well than it used to, but it still works, and investigative journalism is very significant. We have hundreds of thousands of people that are pretty patriotic, that are hardworking and not very well-paid that show up every day to be in the US government. You know what? When they see something they don’t like, they slow roll it or they leak.

Preet Bharara:

You’re talking about the deep state?

Ian Bremmer:

I would call it the deep bureaucracy.

Preet Bharara:

But you know they’re not getting paid now.

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah. They’re going to get paid. They’re presently furloughed. But I mean it’s not like they’re not going to get that money. By the way, I don’t think that’s acceptable. But for the purpose of accuracy, let’s not say they’re not getting paid.

Preet Bharara:

Federal workers, send your emails.

Ian Bremmer:

Yes. To Ian Bremmer.

Preet Bharara:

Ian Bremmer.

Ian Bremmer:

You can do that.

Preet Bharara:

That’s two Ms.

Ian Bremmer:

Yes. Two Ms.

Preet Bharara:

Well, let’s talk about one thing that the administration has done recently and assess it in terms of importance, risk, incompetence-

Ian Bremmer:

By the way, let’s be clear that this is the first time in the history of the firm that the United States domestically has made the list.

Preet Bharara:

Right. So let’s talk about this one thing that the administration has done recently and see if you have a view on it and assess it in terms of risk, importance, whether it’s a product of incompetence or whatnot, and what’s going to happen. That is the president waking up one day and deciding reportedly after a conversation with someone you’ve mentioned, the president of Turkey, President Erdogan, that he was going to withdraw all our troops out of Syria and he was going to do it in 30 days. It caused kind of a conflagration within the government. People got very upset.

Preet Bharara:

Other people who have been more sycophantic about the president got a little bit of backbone for a minute and a half and said some things, Lindsey Graham included, and then we had the one person who many folks thought was the adult in the room, and you hear that phrase a lot about people in this government, but the Secretary of Defense, General Mattis resigns. Brett McGurk, the special envoy, resigns.

Ian Bremmer:

Resigns.

Preet Bharara:

Now, Erdogan-

Ian Bremmer:

Brett, of course, was going to resign a month later.

Preet Bharara:

Sometime later.

Ian Bremmer:

A month and a half later, again, for accuracy.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah, yeah, of course. So everyone’s up in arms. You have the defense secretary resigning and writing this letter saying that he disagreed with various basic fundamental principles of how you go about defending the country and engaging in alliances with our allies. Now even though it looks like that decision was made after a conversation with Erdogan that must have made him very happy, Erdogan’s now upset because now it looks like, based on what John Bolton has said-

Ian Bremmer:

National security advisor, right?

Preet Bharara:

Right. We’re not withdrawing our troops within 30 days and we’re imposing conditions on Turkey before we withdraw our troops. What is going on?

Ian Bremmer:

Trump’s also walked it back somewhat. What’s the question? What do you really want me to answer here?

Preet Bharara:

I want to know what the hell is going on?

Ian Bremmer:

In terms of?

Preet Bharara:

In terms of Donald Trump deciding to do something that a lot of people … I mean I guess it’s a way of … It occurred to me while you were making the point you were making that his own incompetence and the structure of institutions saves us from his bad decision making, so that at the end of the day, we don’t have the worst result. Look, a lot of people think we should be bringing our troops out of lots of places where we have forever wars. But nobody likes that happening on a whim without consultation and without an assessment of the consequences and the risks and bringing your allies along.

Ian Bremmer:

Let me give you a bunch of counter examples first and then I’ll answer Syria.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah.

Ian Bremmer:

Okay. One counter example, Paris Climate Accord, Trump pulls out but he can’t actually pull out until January of 2021 which means he has to win a second term for him to be able to effectuate that. A whole bunch of American CEOs and governors and mayors are sticking by the terms anyway. Even Bolsonaro in Brazil, who campaigned saying he’s going to pull out, is actually staying in, and Paris Climate Accord is staying in place. Trumps pulls out of the Iranian nuclear deal unilaterally. Everyone else, including the Iranians, despite the fact that the Iranians are going to take a big economic hit are sticking with the deal hoping that Trump only makes it to one term.

Ian Bremmer:

Even Trump’s secretary of state privately admits that if we don’t make it to two terms that the deal’s going to be back in place. The next American president will go back to it. You look at NAFTA. We say we’re going to blow it up. We end up doing a deal after a lot of sturm und drang that looks a lot like the old NAFTA that’s probably going to go through Congress and it’ll be just fine. We look at the Chinese and we say we’re going to beat them up and we put some tariffs on. But now we’ve got good engagement with the Chinese at the top level and Trump’s going to try to find a way to do a deal.

Ian Bremmer:

Look at the North Koreans, fire and fury. And then now we’re going to have a second summit even though there’s no nuclearization. I can keep going. Even TPP, which is the withdrawal was probably the biggest, stupid thing that Trump has done internationally as he became president. All the rest of the countries have actually gotten into it. The next American president could probably rejoin, and the Japanese and others would be happy.

Preet Bharara:

And by TPP you’re referring to?

Ian Bremmer:

The Transpacific Partnership, the major economic trade deal that would have been 40% of global GDP if the Americans had joined. Very important in terms of how you try to deal with China as a rising competitor developing alternative trade architecture. So I’ve just given you a wide horizon of international things that the media has gotten insane about because comparatively incompetent Trump has done really stupid things. And yet the actual impact of those stupid things on what he has tried to accomplish, and we haven’t even talked about the wall that he can’t build that Mexico’s not going to pay for, haven’t even talked about that, suddenly not as big of a deal as everyone’s talked about.

Ian Bremmer:

Now, again, I understand the incentives in the media for everything that Trump says to be a constant, “Oh my God,” situation, as Rachel Maddow would say, and that drives money and drives eyeballs. But you and I are not in the business of doing that. So that’s why we’re having this conversation.

Preet Bharara:

I try to drive ears.

Ian Bremmer:

You try to drive ears, but you’re not willing to do stupid to drive ears. You’re not willing to do ideology to drive ears. That’s important. At least not in the ones that I’ve heard, maybe in the other ones you’re sneaky about it. But now, let me-

Preet Bharara:

I just want the truth, Ian.

Ian Bremmer:

Everyone says that. But we’re going to be better than that. Syria, you want me to answer you on Syria.

Preet Bharara:

But before that-

Ian Bremmer:

Do you accept what I just said then?

Preet Bharara:

I think you make a lot of interesting points. The question is, because you’re not saying that it’s a good situation and you’re not saying-

Ian Bremmer:

No.

Preet Bharara:

… that these examples of conduct are good. It sounds like partly what you’re saying is with respect to the particular dumb thing that he has tried to accomplish, it has been difficult for him to accomplish that particular dumb thing, whether it’s withdrawal from a particular accord or building a wall or whatever else. But there still is a cost, and a serious one, over time to these things happening again and again and again because it causes a change in the world order over time.

Ian Bremmer:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Preet Bharara:

It’s like if somebody’s trying to rip you off and they’re important to you in your business or somewhere else and they keep failing at it, at some point you lose all trust in that person. Sometimes you might need to work together with other people. When your allies stop thinking that they can believe the word of the president of the United States, that’s a huge problem and causes risk in a way that maybe we can’t foresee right now.

Ian Bremmer:

No question that that had been deteriorating for sometime before Trump. Assad must go, redline on Syria. Russians must leave Ukraine. North Koreans must denuclearize. I’m not just talking about Obama. I’m talking well before that. American influence globally has been deteriorating for a long time, for decades, certainly after 9/11, the forever war in Iraq, certainly after 2008 and shaken in beliefs in underpinnings of American capitalist system. I mean we’ve been losing a lot of influence and the rise of China has been a significant problem.

Ian Bremmer:

Trump’s presidency speeds that problem up. Trump’s presidency makes more leaders more quickly hedge away from the United States as an example that they would want to follow, as a leader that they would want to engage with, as an ally that they would feel committed to. That is clearly true. Trump is worse for that. Now, on Syria, since you asked about Syria. We’re talking about 2000 American special forces on the ground. Assad has won. He has displaced 11,000 Syrians, half of his population, 5000 are refugees. 600,000 are dead. He won the war.

Ian Bremmer:

He won the war because the Russians and the Iranians in particular, the Turks to a lesser degree, are the ones with skin in the game. They’re the ones that care about the outcomes. The Americans, we said a lot of things. We don’t care. Our willingness to do anything that was going to prevent those ridiculous atrocities to human beings was virtually zero. The same is true for the Europeans. So as a consequence of that, we lost the war in Syria. The Russians, the Iranians, and Assad has won. Now that fact that Donald Trump has said he wants to take 2000 troops out and didn’t bother to talk to his head of joint chiefs beforehand or call his allies about it, that’s a pretty broken process.

Ian Bremmer:

That’s a really stupid thing. That’s very different from suddenly saying that, “Oh my God, suddenly we’re losing the war in Syria because of Trump.” One further thing, when we talk about process, let’s remember that the reason the Americans were on the ground in Syria was because we were fighting a war against ISIS. The arguments that have been used by the foreign policy establishment and elite to say we’ve got to defend the Kurds, we’ve got humanitarian issues. The Russians are going to have a vacuum. We need leverage for the political outcomes. None of those things were ever approved by Congress, ever, as a reason for American special forces on the ground.

Ian Bremmer:

By the way, I think that none of them were going to make a difference. The only thing, aside from process, aside from the fact that our allies are losing their beliefs in us, the one thing we are going to lose is 2000 smart men and women on the ground who are eyes and ears for intelligence gathering, which we need in terms of fighting Hezbollah, which we need in terms of understanding what the Iranians are doing in the region, which we need in terms of ISIS. Taking those 2000 troops out will be a significant hit to the American ability to continue to have that intel that we won’t get in any other way.

Preet Bharara:

When do you think they’re going to come out?

Ian Bremmer:

I don’t think it’s within 30 days.

Preet Bharara:

I mean do you think they could still be there in a year?

Ian Bremmer:

It’s possible. I do think that the likelihood that those 2000 troops leave in the next six to 12 months is probably more than 50%.

Preet Bharara:

Even though the president of the United States himself, who says he keeps to his promises, said they’re coming out in 30 days?

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah. He says a lot of things. He changes his mind and his base doesn’t care. He doesn’t get punished for it. So I mean, again, that feels like a question that you’re not really asking me. That feels like a question that you-

Preet Bharara:

I don’t know what that means.

Ian Bremmer:

You know that both of us know the answer to.

Preet Bharara:

Here’s what I’m struggling with.

Ian Bremmer:

Which part?

Preet Bharara:

No, just overall.

Ian Bremmer:

Okay.

Preet Bharara:

Let me take a step back.

Ian Bremmer:

But I want to ask you about this.

Preet Bharara:

Okay. All right. I know you interview people too.

Ian Bremmer:

No. Because how many times do you and I see people that are interviewing folks asking questions that they know that everybody, including the audience, knows the answer to but they want the gotcha moment?

Preet Bharara:

Oh no. I don’t believe in gotcha moments. What I’m trying to get at, and you and I have talked about this, we know each other. The audience should know this. At conferences-

Ian Bremmer:

We’re even friends.

Preet Bharara:

Even friends.

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah, even friends.

Preet Bharara:

At conferences and other places where this subject is discussed, and I actually don’t know the proper answer to this. Because on the one hand, you say things like, and there’s a lot of truth to what you say, that at the end of the day, the worst aspirations that Donald Trump may have and the undercutting of institutions and everything else in this litany of examples you gave, it was very heartwarming, those things don’t come to pass. So it’s not good. It’s a problem. But the country will stand, and it’s not so terrible.

Preet Bharara:

And on the other hand, there are people who I also understand and believe and respect, and I’m sort of in the middle, who say people are not sounding the alarm enough. People should be using the word treason. We’re like the frog in the water that’s boiling and doesn’t realize how bad it’s becoming because the frog is not shot in the head, that famous analogy and metaphor that everyone likes to use. They say what happens when you take the optimistic view a little bit is that things get normalized. Lots of smart academics say the path to real autocracy happens because of complacency on the part of people who say, “Well, it’s not so bad. It’s not so bad. He was stymied here. He was stymied there.”

Preet Bharara:

And then before you know it, these people say, and they’re intelligent and smart also, before you know it, our freedoms have been taken away. Terrible things have happened, and we’re on a very, very terrible downward path. I mean despots have been elected before they become despots. Look at Erdogan. I know that the institutions are different in Turkey. It’s not like the United States of America. But I’m having a problem trying to understand how the public and individual citizens within the public, how alarmed and upset and active they should be, given those two poles of concern.

Ian Bremmer:

It does sound like you are talking about your spectrum of people on one side and people on the other side. That spectrum only includes people that can’t stand Trump, the entire spectrum. It does not include people who actually think that Trump reflects something that needs to happen in this country.

Preet Bharara:

Correct.

Ian Bremmer:

I think that’s a problem. In other words, I think that there’s a deeper problem than who Donald Trump is, which is how could a system like the United States get to the point where so many Americans either thought that they should vote for him or thought that it didn’t matter. They didn’t need to vote because nothing they could do would change the lies that they were being told by the elites in the system.

Preet Bharara:

You’re saying they’re howling at a symptom-

Ian Bremmer:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

… without thinking deeply about the root cause.

Ian Bremmer:

That’s exactly right, and which I see happening not just on the United States, but in UK with Brexit and across Europe and pretty much every developed economy in the world except Japan, for reasons that are very clearly unique to Japan, no immigration, shrinking population, very few adults on social media, no military involved in wars abroad, so very specific.

Preet Bharara:

Japan is just different.

Ian Bremmer:

Japan is different.

Preet Bharara:

It’s like Florida.

Ian Bremmer:

It is like Florida in a better way, no alligators-

Preet Bharara:

Hanging chads.

Ian Bremmer:

No people running around naked in convenience stores with weapons. I mean that doesn’t happen in Japan.

Preet Bharara:

People in Florida-

Ian Bremmer:

You have pay for that in Japan.

Preet Bharara:

… it’s Ian Bremmer, with two Ms.

Ian Bremmer:

I thought you were going to say people in Japan, it’s Ian Bremmer with two Ms.

Preet Bharara:

You’ve insulted a lot of people and things.

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah, but not that are listening to this podcast, so we’re okay.

Preet Bharara:

I’m sending this to Florida.

Ian Bremmer:

You are a bastard, you know that?

Preet Bharara:

I’m totally going to send this to Florida.

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah. But the answer to your question, I mean in terms of what does it mean, these people that say this is treasonous behavior? I am less willing to talk just about Trump’s treasonous behavior because I believe that people like myself have been complicit over the past decades in allowing us to get to the point where people want to vote for crazy protest things. People want to break the system. I think we need as a country to spend more time focusing on that or the next time around we’re going to get someone like Trump who’s competent, someone like Trump who’s capable, which is much more dangerous to us.

Ian Bremmer:

I think we should focus on that. I don’t think the media’s focused on that. I think instead there is this incredible screaming match going around of treason and fake news, treason and fake news, which I don’t think actually gets us anywhere. I’d much rather have a conversation about what’s really happening. I think that’s more useful.

Preet Bharara:

What’s a globalist?

Ian Bremmer:

A globalist is someone who believes that the system of open borders, free trade, or I should say comparatively open borders, comparatively free trade, and the United States with allies providing the services of a global sheriff for marshal and global security, that that is the best system for citizens in your country to support. That’s a globalist. A globalist is very different than someone that thinks globalization is a good thing, because globalization clearly has succeeded as a system.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. So the reason I asked for a definition is because people use these terms and then they take sides with respect to something by assuming that everyone is talking about the same thing. So when a guy like Steve Bannon, who was and perhaps is in Trump’s orbit, rails against globalization what is he saying?

Ian Bremmer:

He’s railing against the party of Davos. He’s railing against-

Preet Bharara:

Elitism.

Ian Bremmer:

… all of these individual elites, the mainstream media, the academics, political leaders of establishment parties, the heads of businesses and financial institutions who profited-

Preet Bharara:

He’s not really railing at the thing that you were describing.

Ian Bremmer:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

It’s a different kind of thing.

Ian Bremmer:

Yes. He’s profited. Now, to be fair, Steve Bannon also occasionally couches these things in more ethno-national terms and certainly among members of the alt-right, people have used globalism to mean bastard intelligentsia Illuminati Jew. That is not the way globalism has historically been used. It’s certainly not the way that I think that intelligent members of society should use it. I don’t think you should cede the term globalism to people who want to make it an evil nefarious slur.

Preet Bharara:

Right. In the same way of people who are of a particular ideological persuasion don’t cede the word liberal.

Ian Bremmer:

Right. That’s right. Exactly. Or people railing against homosexuals called them queer and then we had the development of Queer Nation and they owned that term themselves. That struck me as a much more healthy way to go about it.

Preet Bharara:

So I’m glad that at the end of your report you say we will all live forever.

Ian Bremmer:

I do not say that.

Preet Bharara:

No.

Ian Bremmer:

That is a different report.

Preet Bharara:

That’s what I took from it.

Ian Bremmer:

Well, that’s too bad.

Preet Bharara:

Ian Bremmer, thank you for being with us.

Ian Bremmer:

Dude, my pleasure. Happy New Year.

Preet Bharara:

Happy New Year.

STAY TUNED WITH PREET

Stay Tuned: The Fate of the World in 2019 (with Ian Bremmer)

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