Morning Brief

Michael Bloomberg Prepares to Shake Up the 2020 Presidential Race

His curveball candidacy could enliven the fight for the center.

Then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, right, meets with Shanghai Communist Party Secretary Yu Zhengsheng at the Radisson Hotel in Shanghai on Dec. 12, 2007.
Then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, right, meets with Shanghai Communist Party Secretary Yu Zhengsheng at the Radisson Hotel in Shanghai on Dec. 12, 2007. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Michael Bloomberg’s potential curveball candidacy could enliven the fight for the center ahead of next year’s U.S. presidential election, Iran faces criticism for preventing a weapons inspector from leaving the country, and the warlord Bosco Ntaganda receives a 30-year sentence for carrying out war crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Bloomberg’s Views

Billionaire businessman Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and one of the wealthiest people in the world, is preparing to enter the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, the New York Times reported Thursday. He has begun filing paperwork and placing calls to prominent Democrats, but has not yet formally announced his candidacy.

Bloomberg has twice before mulled a run before backing off. But he’s never before moved this far along in the process.

“I have my reservations about the people running and their campaigning, the promises they’re making that they can’t fulfill, and their willingness to admit what is possible and what isn’t and their inconsistency from day to day,” he said last month during an appearance on CBS News.

Bloomberg is often described as a centrist and a fiscal conservative with liberal views on gun control and a slate of social issues. He first assumed office as mayor of New York City in 2002 as a Republican, but switched his affiliation to independent during his second term. He served through 2013 after a successful push to extend the city’s mayoral term limits.

Where does he stand on foreign policy? As mayor of New York City—which surpasses many countries in population, wealth, and resources—Bloomberg worked on a range of international issues, from trade to counterterrorism in the wake of 9/11. During a 2007 trip to China, he criticized Chinese infringement of U.S. intellectual property laws. In recent years, diplomacy at the city level has come to play an increasing role in international relations.

“Everything about Bloomberg’s experience as a financial and media executive suggests that as president he would be far more concerned with the stewardship of international markets than American power projection,” Thomas Meaney argued in a 2016 essay for Foreign Policy. “Bloomberg’s worldview runs counter to the U.S. foreign-policy establishment and its assumption that American power and global capitalism are mutually supporting forces.”

Click here to see where the declared Democratic candidates for the 2020 nomination stand on key foreign-policy issues.

Battle of the billionaires? A clear frontrunner has yet to emerge in the fight for the Democratic nomination, and Bloomberg could throw the outcome even further into question. His candidacy would also likely inflame ongoing tensions over the role of billionaires in U.S. politics.

President Donald Trump is a billionaire, according to Forbes and Bloomberg, and he ran in 2016 in part on his credentials as a businessman. In contrast, former Vice President Joe Biden, with whom Bloomberg would be competing for space in the center, was once the poorest member of the U.S. Senate. But on the campaign trail, Biden has not gone after the super rich. “I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble,” he said last year. “I get in trouble with my party when I say wealthy Americans are just as patriotic as poor folks.”

Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, representing the progressive wing of the party, have staked out a much more bellicose position. “I don’t think that billionaires should exist,” Sanders said in September. After the news about Bloomberg’s possible candidacy emerged, Warren tweeted a link to her online tax calculator for billionaires.

Bloomberg is not the only billionaire who has considered facing Trump. Starbucks founder Howard Schultz attempted a campaign earlier this year but dropped out after failing to attract much support, and Tom Steyer, a hedge fund billionaire, entered the race in July, running as a critic of “the corporate stranglehold on democracy.” He is polling at less than 1 percent.

What We’re Following Today

U.S. State Department to scrap Ukraine envoy post. Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, was the first senior official to step down amid the House of Representatives’ Trump impeachment inquiry. Now, the State Department appears to be discontinuing the post—likely because it’s hard-pressed to find someone who wants to fill the role. While not surprising, the move sends a signal that the impeachment probe has already left a lasting impact on U.S. policy toward Ukraine, Foreign Policy’s Amy Mackinnon and Robbie Gramer report.

Are Washington and Beijing ready to roll back tariffs? The United States and China took a tentative half step Thursday toward an interim deal with would relieve bilateral trade tensions. They reportedly agreed that an initial deal, if one can be reached, would ratchet down certain tariffs. Such an accord is far from a sure bet: Earlier this year, a proposed deal fell apart, and sources inside the Trump administration have cast doubts on Trump’s commitment to reducing tariffs as part of an early-stage agreement.

Why did Iran detain a U.N. nuclear inspector? The International Atomic Energy Agency and several Western countries have condemned Iran for preventing one of the U.N. watchdog’s nuclear inspectors from leaving the country last week. (Iran confirmed Wednesday that she was blocked from entering its main uranium enrichment facility.) The incident unfolded as Iran continued to abandon its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal. Meanwhile, the United States and Israel are increasing pressure on European signatories to back away from the agreement.

Bolivian mayor kidnapped and assaulted. Anti-government protesters in the Bolivian town of Vinto kidnapped a pro-government mayor, Patricia Arce, sprayed her with paint, forcibly cut her hair, and ordered her to sign a resignation letter. The attackers accused the mayor of orchestrating pro-government demonstrations. In addition to kidnapping her, they smashed windows and set fires at city hall. Arce was eventually rescued by police.

Keep an Eye On

Since Trump announced a U.S. withdrawal from Syria, experts have been questioning the credibility and legality of the deployment of hundreds of U.S. troops to guard oil fields there. “The actual mission and authority under which our forces are operating in northeastern Syria right now is growing increasingly tenuous,” Melissa Dalton, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Foreign Policy’s Lara Seligman. “Following the latest withdrawal and the whiplash of reinserting, by what credibility can we continue to be there?” The United States has come under criticism for doubling down on the oil fields while withdrawing forces from areas held but Kurdish partner forces, leaving them to face Turkish incursions.

Hong Kong student protests turn violent after classmate’s death. Students at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology ransacked cafeterias and a campus Starbucks outlet and vandalized the university president’s residence and a Bank of China branch on Friday following the news that a classmate, Chow Tsz-lok, had died. Chow fell from a parking structure during police operations against protesters and suffered brain injuries. The students have called on the university’s president to speak out against police violence.

Santiago and Washington are in talks to co-host a January APEC summit in the United States, a U.S. official told Reuters. Chile dropped plans to host the summit itself amid a repressive crackdown against ongoing protests. No final decision about relocating the summit has been made yet.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, handed down its longest-ever sentence, 30 years, in a historic decision Thursday, after finding warlord Bosco Ntaganda guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2002 and 2003. Known as “the Terminator,” Ntaganda was convicted of using child soldiers, rape, and perpetrating sexual slavery.

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Odds and Ends

China has introduced new measures to control the time that children under 18 spend playing video games, including a curfew between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. Minors are to be limited to 90 minutes per day during the school week.

Siri, the virtual assistant the comes installed on Apple iPhones, briefly began referring to Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president, as a dictator, appearing to take the side of anti-government protesters as political tensions mount. After Reuters asked about it, Siri went back to saying “president.”

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

Benjamin Soloway is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @bsoloway

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