Sanger: China is the story

WESTON - It was a night at the playhouse, but instead of theater, the audience was treated to expertise and knowledge about world affairs.

New York Times reporter and chief Washington correspondent David Sanger shared his thoughts about the world and what's happening in it last Sunday night. His annual lecture, moderated by Weston Playhouse chair emeritus Wayne Granquist, is a fundraiser for the theater company.

Sanger started his talk saying most of the events currently happening in the world - the tensions in Ukraine, the battle in Gaza, Syria, ISIS in Iraq and Iran's nuclear capabilities - are not necessarily history changing events.

"This instability is not truly historical in that it will not necessarily change the way the world works," he said. "The exception to that rule may be the one conflict that I've said has gotten the least attention in the past few months, which is China's effort to redraw its sphere of influence."

China, he said, is trying to assert their dominance in the South China Sea and prove they are a rising power, as opposed to Russia, where the situation in Ukraine shows they are a declining power. However, Russia still has 1,500 nuclear weapons and still can assert influence, he said.

But for now, while the world is seeing many flare-ups of violence and unrest, they are not going to necessarily change history, he said. What's happening in China however, could. While working on his first book, Sanger said an aide in the Obama administration said what President Obama will be remembered by in 25 years is how he handled the rise of China.

After some general remarks on the global condition by Sanger, Granquist opened the gathering to questions from to the audience. Audience members queried Sanger on subjects ranging from foreign policy, to the upcoming 2016 presidential election, and how to best read the news.

One man asked Sanger a question regarding how states were divided in the Middle East following World War I.

"Are we at a place now where having multi-ethnic, multi-party states, democracies ... Is that still a realistic option for the world," he asked. "Or are we heading back to a different time or is that as serious an issue as China?"

China, Sanger said, is important because it involves many different elements important to the United States, not just our economic health, but also national security and others. The Middle East, he said, with borders drawn mostly by the British, are currently being erased.

"To me the remarkable thing is not that they are being erased, but that they lasted for 100 years," he said. "When you look at where many of those borders were cut ... they were cut with no regard to this set of tensions. And we've seen these tensions flare up every time a dictator has fallen, one of those vacuums gets created."

Sanger said he doesn't think these borders are sustainable. He said a current tenet in the United States is that Iraq needs to stay in its current borders, however the reason for that belief he said was not persuasive. He mentioned different groups in the country, ISIS, the Kurds, vying for their creation of their own states. The era of dealing with states within certain borders is over and national security policy has not yet caught up, he said.

Moving to domestic policy, an audience member asked who Sanger believed would be the Democratic and Republican nominees for president in 2016. Sanger said he expected in 2008 that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee, which was entirely wrong and why he spends his time covering national security.

"I would say that it's the overwhelming McKeever, Andrew 08/20/2014 change that she's going to run again," he said. "And if you look at the polling right now, she's got a significant lead. I also think that significant lead would diminish very quickly when you get into a real race against a real opponent."

He said the Republicans have a hard decision to make. The lesson they learned in the last election is they have to learn how to appeal to a multitude of groups: Younger voters, minorities voters, especially Latinos. So far, they haven't made much progress due to divisions within the party.

"It's the nature of the party that the more conservative wings all control the nomination process and you spend the general election trying to bring the candidate back to the middle," he said. "And that didn't work in the case of Governor Romney. So they're back in the same spot."

Granquist asked if Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky, would be the nominee. As a politician, Sanger said Paul is untested in a national campaign.

"What made President Obama so remarkable is in his first national campaign, he sort of hit it just right," he said. "Most people in their first national campaign, and usually in their second one as well, make a huge number of errors along the way ... So there's always a tension for both parties between a fresh face and an experienced candidate."

Sanger, who has been a correspondent for The Times for the past 30 years, has been a member of two teams of writers from The Times who have won the Pulitzer Prize, one of the highest and most prestigious honors bestowed for writing and journalism in the U.S. He is also the author of two books centering on the foreign policy challenges that have confronted the Obama administrations since 2009, and maintains a residence in Weston.


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