The world is starting to solve its own problems -- with or without Trump
Posted June 23
It's been a blistering week in London, with little shade from the sun or the news.
Our current cycle of topical events -- from Britain's terror attacks to the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, from teetering domestic politics to political uncertainty further afield -- the flow of news feels as relentless as I can remember for a good while.
Not all the news has been full-blown breaking news.
This week, Britain began its long journey to exiting the European Union -- the first time the European project constructed after World War II has ever downsized.
Everyone knew it was coming, but its impact is suddenly more unsettling as negotiations get real.
Some news has been more unexpected, such as a US warship hitting a civilian container vessel in Japanese waters, killing seven US servicemen.
But then we were back to terror attacks. Starting Monday in London, then one in Paris barely 12 hours later, then another in Brussels 24 hours after that and in Flint, Michigan, the day after.
So much news, so frequent the attacks, the dial is shifting from terror being unexpected to how we respond to it being the new normal.
But one of the most shocking aspects in all of this is how quickly we got used to all this news.
The upshot is that we are in living in fragile, unpredictable times.
I'm not saying one careless stumble breaks all the crockery; rather we must expect some damaged kitchenware as we move along.
In part, that crockery is vulnerable because the global bubble wrap with which American political engagement protected the world is suddenly all but gone.
Indeed, there is so much internal commotion in Washington, the world is tuning out.
As US politics descend into a dizzying array of investigations that become increasingly complicated for an international audience to follow, the questions surrounding the chaos have left President Donald Trump with his hands tied and the rest of the world shrugging.
Until the White House starts making sense again, we'll have to get used to dealing with our own problems by ourselves.
Meanwhile, the news keeps coming.
In Saudi Arabia, the promotion this week of King Salman's son to crown prince solidifies his already significant power in the region.
This move comes as tensions with Iran (that he actively stokes) and a war in Yemen (that he started) become threatening clouds on the near horizon.
And then there's the diplomatic crisis in Qatar, where the Saudis and their regional allies have cut all ties to Doha, which the Saudis have accused of funding terrorism, among other things. Judging by the list of demands just sent to Qatar, the situation is showing no sign of ending anytime soon.
Qatar claims it is under siege from the Saudis and their Gulf allies. It has taken to stocking supermarket shelves with supplies from Iran. The Saudis say they are merely isolating Qatar.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is tinkering at the edges of the crisis, but he is late to the party and hardly being heard among the regional din.
Whatever the semantics, serious tensions that didn't exist a few weeks ago are rising.
At the same time, the United States has shot down its first Syrian air force jet, ratcheting up tensions with Bashar al-Assad's sponsors at the Kremlin.
You get the picture: The weather isn't the only thing that could do with cooling down.
North Korea, on everyone's lips these days, has upped its tempo of provocative missile launches this year, making even the potential end of the world feel more normal. Yet this week the North Koreans outdid themselves. Otto Warmbier, an American student they had locked up for allegedly stealing a banner, returned home so brutalized his poor family barely received him before he was pronounced dead.
Early in his presidency, Trump had talked tough about North Korea. He still vents angrily, but the head of steam he had been building has turned out to be only hot air.
The White House is not responsible for all the world's ills -- nor should it be expected to turn global doctor and bring the planet back to full health -- but its absence from the trauma room is becoming increasingly apparent.
There are a lot of loose ends, ends that previous administrations sought to suture down.
For a while, Trump's missile strike on Assad's chemical warfare unit in April appeared to presage a serious engagement in Syria -- potentially political involvement, too.
But in the months since, political engagement has been absent. Military muscle is taking over from where diplomacy once led the way.
Diplomacy's absence appears to have led to this week's shooting down of a Russian-made Syrian fighter jet near US-backed Syrian forces in Raqqa. Unsurprisingly, this did little to ease US relations with Russia.
In turn, drawing Russia's ire in Syria seems to have precipitated a new rash of close calls by Russian aircraft on US military assets as well as apparent provocations of NATO airspace by Russian aircraft.
As with Afghanistan, where Trump has handed over military decisions to his generals, his Syria policy is beginning to look as if absent of political direction. Military logic is dictating each move.
This is not the political pursuit of peace, which had always been the Obama mantra.
It could be significant that this news plateau comes so soon after Trump's first overseas trip as President: Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank, Rome, Brussels and finally Sicily.
Trump was wowed by the Saudis -- he said as much at the time. But could it be he misread the warm welcome for a red carpet, rather than a regional power play that subsequent events -- Qatar and the new crown prince -- suggest?
And in Brussels where he met with NATO allies, what Trump may have seen as a snub -- Emmanuel Macron embracing Angela Merkel before him -- could turn out to be the Europeans deciding to get on with their own business by themselves.
If this is so, the G7 in Sicily cemented the rift: Trump appeared on another planet to his global partners.
But even in Europe, things are not terribly clear. Theresa May's electoral shock came just before Macron consolidated his surprise presidency with even more surprising gains in the French parliamentary elections.
That both results seemed unthinkable just a few months ago underscores the tilt from the normal news cycle to everything suddenly feeling wobbly.
The fast pace of news is carving out fresh global lines of power. A new balance is emerging as Europe knuckles down to Brexit battles and the Middle East prepares for a new generation of leadership -- all sans America doing anything significant to stake a claim in the future.