Strongarm Leaders Make for Strange Bedfellows

(Bloomberg) -- In an age of strongman leaders, it’s getting harder to balance “values-based” foreign policies with the need for allies.

Expectations are high that a court in Turkey could release the American Evangelical Pastor Andrew Brunson today, ending a case that has led to the U.S. imposing sanctions on Ankara, a NATO ally.

Still, Brunson has already been under arrest for two years and his freedom is not guaranteed. He is on trial as a terrorist, accused on sparse evidence of a conspiracy to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Now, U.S. legislators are threatening to penalize another core U.S. ally in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia.

Republican Senator Bob Corker warned of “significant sanctions” against the Kingdom’s highest leaders over the disappearance – and feared murder – of Washington Post columnist Jamal Kashoggi, who entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 and was not seen leaving again. President Donald Trump has been more cautious, saying he’d oppose sanctions that jeopardize U.S.-Saudi arms sales.

Both cases highlight the way in which leaders such as Erdogan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are crushing dissent and free speech with a disregard for Western opinion that’s more difficult to imagine in the past.

Strongarm Leaders Make for Strange Bedfellows

Not there yet | A Brexit deal is gradually emerging from the negotiating rooms of Brussels, but that won’t be the end of it. EU diplomats predict U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May can only get the parliamentary backing she needs if she’s seen to have a fight. Get ready, they say, for fireworks and a long night at a summit on Oct. 17. Ian Wishart’s report on the leaders’ last gathering in September shows how things can go wrong very quickly.

No currency manipulation | U.S. Treasury Department staff have thrown cold water on one of Trump’s key complaints about China – that it’s manipulating its currency. As Saleha Mohsin and Jenny Leonard report, if Secretary Steven Mnuchin accepts the conclusion that Beijing isn’t managing the yuan – and he may reject it – it could avert an escalation of the U.S.-China trade war and ease anxiety for emerging markets.

Russian plea | Russia’s urging Germany and France to break ranks with the U.S. and help rebuild Syria so refugees can go home, a senior official says. But as Henry Meyer and Arne Delfs report, that’s met a cold response in Berlin and Paris, which are insisting on a transition away from Bashar al-Assad’s rule. Despite recapturing much of his nation’s territory with the help of Russia and Iran, Assad doesn’t have resources to reconstruct his war-shattered country with U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in control of the oil-rich northeast.

Strongarm Leaders Make for Strange Bedfellows

Go to bed | If you’re planning to stay up all night to find out which party wins the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 6, think again. An unusually large number of close contests in states notorious for a slow count mean the final outcome out for the Democrats’ bid to end Republican control of the House and possibly the Senate won’t be known for days.

Saving grace | Trump’s bashing of the World Trade Organization for allegedly siding with China and his threat to abandon the traffic cop of global commerce may help accelerate reform of the body, Shawn Donnan and Bryce Baschuk write. With the EU and Canada publishing blueprints to improve the organization and the U.S. president accepting the recent rewrite of the Nafta trade deal, some officials hope for a near-term resolution of the WTO debate.

And finally … Hours after rapper Kanye West held court in the Oval Office during a cheerfully raucous session with Trump, another celebrity who came to Washington yesterday mused about how to find a new leader. Speaking to Bloomberg News, Robert De Niro said, “you need somebody strong that can beat him at his own game.”

Strongarm Leaders Make for Strange Bedfellows

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