The Burn Bag Newsletter: April 13th

Biden Sets a Date, Peru Sets a Slate, and Ecuador Chooses its Fate. Plus: New Ideas in Foreign Policy.

Welcome to The Burn Bag Newsletter. This week, we focus on elections in Ecuador and Peru, Biden’s upcoming announcement regarding American troops in Afghanistan, and some exciting new ideas in foreign policy and international engagement.

First, make sure to check out this week’s episode of The Burn Bag Podcast on nuclear weapons and denuclearization with Dr. Kennette Benedict.

Listen here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

On this episode of The Burn Bag, we speak with Dr. Kennette Benedict, current Senior Advisor to and former Executive Director and Publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, about nuclear weapons, the real potential for denuclearization, and the geopolitical policy challenges surrounding the “world’s most dangerous technology.”

You can check out more of Dr. Benedict’s work here.

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The Regional Readout: The Americas

North America

Biden to Announce U.S. Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan by 9/11

It was reported today that President Biden intends to withdraw the last American troops from Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks this year. This withdrawal timeline, to be announced tomorrow, marks a departure from the May 1st deadline previously negotiated by the Trump administration and the Taliban. Previously, the Biden administration had made clear that it believed the May 1st deadline would be “hard to meet.”

The withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 American troops is reported to be unconditional:

Not everyone is happy about such a commitment:

While support for unilaterally withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan is one of few truly bipartisan positions on Capitol Hill, so is its opposition. In fact, while ending “endless wars” is often touted as uniquely popular among American voters, the reality of public opinion is mixed. As such, it remains to be seen how the electorate — and our global partners, with their own 7,000 troops in Afghanistan — will respond to Biden’s announcement.

South America

Elections Across South America Sink and Strengthen the Left

Countries across South America held legislative, gubernatorial, and presidential elections this past week. In a rebuke of Ecuador’s former authoritarian president Rafael Correa, conservative ex-banker Guillermo Lasso defeated leftist Andrés Arauz — Correa’s hand-picked successor — to become Ecuador’s next president. While Arauz courted rivals on the left, particularly Indigenous voters in the newly powerful Pachakutik party, fracturing within the leftist electorate, distaste for Correa’s lasting influence, and a high number of blank ballots signaling disapproval of both candidates likely combined to create the conditions necessary for Lasso to win.

In Peru, the presidential runoff is set between Marxist schoolteacher and union leader Pedro Castillo and far-right Keiko Fujimori, daughter and scion of former authoritarian President Alberto Fujimori’s (currently imprisoned for crimes against humanity) political brand.

Castillo, who led the first round of voting with 19.1%, draws his support from Peru’s countryside, has pledge to nationalize the mining industry, and supports a shakeup of the country’s business-friendly status quo.

Left-wing populists across Central America seemed to rally around Castillo:

If she loses, this will be the third presidential runoff lost in a row by Fujimori, whose father’s legacy remains extremely divisive. Nevertheless, Castillo’s relative anonymity and radical agenda could combine to deliver the presidency to the would-be authoritarian in the June runoff.

The world is a big place and we can’t cover it all. What did we miss? Let us know what you’re interested in reading more about at or in the comments below.

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New Ideas

The New Concert of Powers, Richard N. Haass and Charles A. Kupchan, Foreign Affairs

Haass and and Kupchan make the case for a new kind of international institution — one marked by, well, its general lack of institutional guardrails. A 21st century international concert of nations would be a loosely-structured gaggle of regional powers characterized by its injection of agile principles into geopolitics, focusing on consultation and negotiation, rejecting the rigid bureaucracy of such existing structures as the U.N., and avoiding a world cleanly (and dangerously) divided by allegiances to either the United States and China.

Skeptical? So are we. This piece is worth your time.

The Sullivan Model, Elise Labott, Foreign Policy

A profile of Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s National Security Advisor, and an introduction to his vision for a foreign policy that asks: how will this decision affect the American middle class?

To hear more, check out this forum organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: A U.S. Foreign Policy for the Middle Class