Modern diplomatic practice as we know it today has evolved from a generous history of traditions, protocols and narratives. While the United States (US) president Donald Trump is a new face in the diplomatic community, he has already built a reputation for being largely unpredictable thus the twist in the possibility of formal diplomatic roundtable discussions between these countries happening is feasible in the near future.
While the winter Olympic games in Pyeonchang, South Korea may have provided a soft takeoff for the possibility of the talks holding following high level delegation from both North Korea (DPRK) in person of Kim’s sister Kim Yo-Jong and the United States vice president Mike Pence both in official capacity; Kim Jon Un unnaounced and hurried trip to China who is DPRK’s biggest market show a sign at these crucial moment that China wants a fair share of the ‘deal’ and will use its economic, geographical, and strategic influence over DPRK to influence negotiation and inturn give China upgraded shots at negotiations for concessions from the US or to merely score a mark for being sidelined in the early process.
Unlike China that has a relative offer to the US, DPRK is at a disadvantage on the table with the US except for longstanding threats of a “mutually assured destruction” thus making the game (negotiation) adopt a zero-sum approach. More so, hurried attempts by long time US diplomatic foe Russia’s attempt to influence the talks are emerging following DPRK’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho’s visit to Moscow this April and an acceptance of a reciprocal visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the coming days all in a bid to ensure their interests are protected in these conversations
As conversations between the US and DPRK started becoming official and passing through the State Department and DPRK’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs despite being sworn enemies at all fronts in decades past, these two countries have actually kept in constant touch through back channels which involved both states secret service officials (Central Intelligence Unit for the US and General Reconnaissance Bureau for the DPRK) and the “New York Channel” which involve using permanent representatives of both countries to the UN. The channels have been effective in negotiating issues like hostage release, prisoners swap, extradition etc. especially when these acts are state funded most notably the 1968 USS Pueblo seizure by DPRK on its territorial waters. More to this is the recent revelationof new CIA chief Pompeo secretly meeting with Kim Jong Un.
As official channels open for talks, it will be about a location with historic and futuristic characteristics of neutrality and favourability for both sides with Sweden, Mongolia and Switzerland making proposals to host. While not much is known of Mongolia’s relevance to the talks, and Kim being partially raised in Switzerland, Sweden may emerge the stand alone contender due to its long standing ties to DPRK and its role of conducting consular responsibilities for US citizens in DPRK.
In summary, the use of back channels such as these is almost as old as diplomacy itself but becoming more prominent in our era of constant rivalry; despite admitably having its own forthcomings, historical agreements have been made and crises prevented through these channels. For the US – DPRK talks, the dialogue would certainly involved the “New York Channel” most notably through US Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun and Pak Song Il, a senior DPRK diplomat at the United Nations.
Throughout the history of the United States, presidents have brought forward their own security strategies in order to promote effectiveness and dissuasiveness in foreign policy. As circumstances alter rapidly in the world isolationism and activism have been two fundamental instruments in U.S. foreign policy.
President Donald Trump delivers a speech on national security, Monday, Dec. 18, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Many of previous presidents conducted isolationist policies such as George Washington, and many of others have conducted activist policies in foreign policy such as George W. Bush. Mr. Obama could be seen as the last implementer of some form of isolationism. On the other hand, in the recent years, rising rivalry conspicuously began to be argued in domestic affairs and seen as a critical problem for American leadership. So, it seems that, Trump’s administration does not want to ignore the risk toward the worldwide dominance of U.S.
Critics Over Obama’s Administration
When Mr. Obama’s presidency taken in hand, it’s obvious that during his era, national security strategies of U.S. were much more inclining towards ”Soft Power’‘ in an effort to appease Anti-Americanism. According to some, Obama’s presidency has prevailed reversing negative considerations toward U.S. In other respects, current president Trump is been exerting his boldness by enhancing the sense of ”Making America Great Again”.
As President Trump addressed in his national security strategy speech, he brought to the fore front the notion of ”America First”. This stands as intrinsic part of his doctrine. Also in the newly decided Security Strategy, preserving American citizens’ rights are depicted as a sworn duty of the U.S. Government. Many people see Obama’s presidency as an era of deterioration of America’s dominance meanwhile others favor his policies. Allegedly, his policies have enhanced Russian influence especially in Syria and even in the Black Sea in parallel with the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Therefore, it is not so hard for many to advocate Trump’s policies. During his campaign, he had showed his eagerness to convert foreign policy from Isolationism into the Activism.
As he stated numerous times, it is the right time for America to consider effective transformation in many fields such as economy, health care system (cancellation of Obamacare) and so on. According to many Republicans, predecessor’s mistakes in both domestic and foreign affairs, overwhelmingly coerces U.S. to handle with current and forthcoming circumstances. Let’s look into Trump’s commitments in his security strategy.
Dwelling on Facts
It is a striking point that during the announcement of the Security Strategy, Mr. Trump labeled Russia and China as ”Rival” powers. Also he added that they are willing to shake US dominance utterly. That could be a correct indication with many aspects. United States is the world’s leading state on military spending with approximately $600 billion (it has been decided to be increased by $80 billion) whilst Russia and China have around $200 billion combined. It is a well-known fact, Russia and China are about to increase their military and economic strength in parallel with their regional and global goals in the future.
Especially since 2015, Russian naval production is been increasing tremendously. Only within 2017, in parallel with the Russian Naval Doctrine ratified by Vladimir Putin and published in 20 July 2017, Russians aimed to include around 30 new modern warships to their naval forces in order to gear up the capacity to challenge with the U.S. dominance in the seas. Yet, U.S. Naval Forces has worldwide impact thanks to its active 11 Aircraft Carriers while Russia and China combined only have 2 Aircraft carriers in service.
Putin, Rogozin and Shoigu discuss the new Naval Doctrine of Russia
Education, Economy and R&D
For a nation, almost all of the success comes from educational development and innovation rate of communities. When U.S. education system observed, the knowledge generation looks better than any other country. United States has 18 universities in the best 50 in the overalls meanwhile China has 6 and Russia has none (Lomonosov Moscow State University has the highest ranking in Russia, 95th). This is not the only comparison. Also most of the world innovative companies are located in the Silicon Valley.
Eventually, the development in education will reflect the economic capability and a substantial element on economic growth based on technology and innovation. When the data is observed, U.S. expenditure on Research&Development seems around $480 million in PPP. This is the highest expenditure on R&D all around the world. Chinese expenditure to R&D seems around $370 million. This is the second biggest amount after U.S. and numbers clearly demonstrates that U.S. leadership is still continuing in many fields. However, China’s growth of potential has been gaining momentum every year thanks to its high labor force with around 1.40 billion population (2017) and governments correct tax regulations towards Foreign Direct Investors.
Also, there are many reasons for investors to choose China. Towards the end of the 20th Century, China has started the liberalisation process and trying to entice foreign firms by making circumstances convenient for them. China would get ahead of the U.S. economy in the forthcoming decades. In addition to this, China’s lead on global economy is ”inevitable” to some. Donald Trump’s nascent tax reform could be seen as kind of an attempt of clawing back the financial advantage from the hands of China. The reform includes decreasing percentage of taxation in case of firms moving back to U.S.
A Sworn Component to Soft Power: Culture
After all of those facts taken in hand, let’s take a look at the issue from a different perspective. The importance of China in economic and also we could add military field, has been increasing sharply. Yet, these are not the only competitive fields. Also, culture is such a key instrument on rising influence. Also, it is a significant advantage that U.S. holds the world’s biggest and effective cultural tool called Hollywood. The U.S. culture is able to stretch and spread its existence. This is another reality that needs to be taken into account by rivalry candidates. The Hollywood is in the forefront in the cinema sector across the world and that accelerates spread of US identity.
This way, U.S. identity obtains a vital chance to embrace with the people with another identity. Accessibility is a superior necessity to a nation. Throughout the world, almost all sectors are being dominated by American firms. If the rivals are willing to gain leverage in any field, than the success requires an efficient mobilization backed up by a long-term planning.
KFC and McDonald’s signs in Xiamen, China. Photo: sly06 / Flickr Creative Commons
As a conclusion, it is not rational for rising rival powers to acquire head to head capacity in worldwide sphere in a short period. The huge potential of the east would be worth pondering in following decades. A well utilization of potential in the long-term could have an impact upon roles.
Mustafa Aydogan is currently working on topics related to Russian Eurasianism and Middle East. He has a Bachelor degree from Bahcesehir University Istanbul and he is keen on pursuing an academic career in the future.
Donald Trump was widely condemned in the media again last week, and rightfully so, for using the phrase, “shithole countries”, to refer to Haiti, El Salvador, and countries in Africa. As we approach the one-year anniversary of Mr. Trump’s administration on January 20th, it is astounding to reflect on the sheer amount of media coverage he has received, spanning from the turbulent implementation of the Muslim ban, to the Russia investigation, and increasingly worrying assertiveness with North Korea.
Alarmism over Trump is ironically a greater long-term threat to democracy than anything Trump has done during his first year in office
The level of alarm in the international affairs community has been palpable. Every single cover of Foreign Affairs magazine from November 2016 to December 2017 featured either Trump or an implicit connection between his presidency and the instability of the international system.
But has all of this constantly alert coverage been constructive in achieving its goal: to prevent any permanent damage to our liberal democratic norms and institutions?
Alarmism and Democracy
Trumpism will exist in the United States, and around the world, long after Trump has left the Oval Office. Therefore, it is important that we know how to combat it. We need to know where the line is—when should we criticize something that is truly harmful to democratic norms and institutions and when does it cross over into alarmist rhetoric?
In my view, the level of alarmism toward Trump’s presidency is unsettling. It is refreshing to see several left-leaning commentators becoming increasingly vocal on the problem of Trump hysteria, most notably Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution and Jason Willick of the Wall Street Journal. In a PBS piece from last October, Hamid argues that alarmism over Trump is ironically a greater long-term threat to democracy than anything Trump has done during his first year in office. The basic premise of their argument is a classic “boy who cried wolf.” Should we witness the actual erosion of democracy, Willick writes that “false howling about autocracy will have crippled [our] ability to respond to [the] real thing.”
Maintenance of Status quo
Despite tough campaign rhetoric, Trump’s foreign policy has largely been characterized by the maintenance of the status quo.
Let me be clear—I am a Never Trumper. Donald Trump is narcissistic, inflammatory, xenophobic, dismissive of expert opinion, and prone to authoritarian tendencies. These are just a few qualities that render him a terrible President and a poor leader of the liberal international order. I strongly disagree with his worldview and most of his policy decisions, including the Muslim ban, the decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the Jerusalem embassy move, and his soft stance on the Charlottesville riots and other events that have empowered white supremacists who promote hateful and intolerant opinions. At times, the incompetence of his administration has been laughable, best illustrated by Sean Spicer’s weekly gaffes during his short tenure as Press Secretary.
However, other elements of Trump’s tenure have been surprisingly conventional. The GOP tax bill and the nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch, while obviously objectionable to Democrats, was exactly what would normally be expected from a traditional Republican presidency. Many important officials, such as John Kelly and James Mattis, are qualified and adequately rational. Steve Bannon, a prominent member of the alt-right and probably Trump’s most extreme advisor, was ousted from the White House in mid-August.
Despite tough campaign rhetoric, Trump’s foreign policy has largely been characterized by the maintenance of the status quo. The most notable oddity has been tough talk on Kim Jong Un, however, I am skeptical that Twitter exchanges really constitute a significant shift in US policy towards North Korea. The war in Afghanistan and the bombing campaign against the Islamic State has mostly marked a continuation of policy under the Obama administration. At the time of writing, both NAFTA and the Iran Nuclear Deal remain in place. And it appears that NATO is not as obsolete as Mr. Trump initially thought.
Checks and Balances are working
This leads to the point made by Hamid, Willick, and others: as bad as Trump’s first year was, it could have been much, much worse. Checks and balances are working. For example, judicial review of the Muslim ban resulted in the implementation of a much scaled-back version that was constitutionally valid. Trump has also failed to repeal Obamacare or make progress on the border wall, in a Republican-controlled Congress no less. Considering the entirety of this first year, lamenting the disintegration of liberal democracy in the United States is premature at best, and far more akin to sensationalism, aggrandizement, and fear-mongering.
What is “Bad”, What is “Good”, and What is “Anti-Democratic”
Liberal orthodoxy has sought to label every single thing Trump does as both “bad” and “anti-democratic”. Shadi Hamid has emphasized the importance of distinguishing between bad policies and un-democratic ones. Immigration is a perfect example. As Damir Marusic writes in his work on populism for the The American Interest, immigration is a political issue. I personally believe there are several merits of a progressive immigration policy, both moral and economic. But to label anti-immigration views as un-democratic is misguided and inaccurate. Mr. Trump was elected by the American people due in large part to his policy stance on immigration. It may be terrible policy, with adverse consequences for the United States and other countries, but it certainly is not un-democratic. Fiscal policy is another example—there are many valid arguments against the new Republican tax bill, but how exactly does the fulfillment of a standard GOP election promise constitute an attack on democracy?
The trend of liberal orthodoxy is harmful to the Left’s credibility and likely does far more damage than it is trying to prevent. When we immediately label dissenting views as not worthy of inclusion in the democratic debate, we empower the very populists and their supporters that we are trying to discredit. For example, a concerning trend in recent years has been the restriction of conservative guest speakers on university campuses. Restricting their platform to speak is counter-productive. Let them speak—then use reason and logic to discredit their ideas. By silencing their ability to raise their views, we play into the populist crusade against “political correctness” that President Trump effectively uses as a rallying point for his base.
Furthermore, we need to address the fiction that everything Trump does is “bad”. While I admit that there are few good things to choose from, not everything Trump does is objectively bad. The April 2017 military strike on a Syrian air base in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons demonstrated a long-overdue enforcement of the so-called “red line” established by former-President Barack Obama. It was a small step but at least it signalled a potential departure from the passivity of the Obama administration, which contributed to the severity of the Syrian conflict. The point is that we must be cautious about letting our contempt for Trump blind our analytical objectivity and refrain from indiscriminately condemning Trump’s actions simply because it’s Trump.
Frankly, I understand and acknowledge that most Trump critics are well-meaning. And observers should continue to criticize—where it is warranted. But hysterical and hyperbolic statements on the decline of American democracy and Western liberalism are both inaccurate and counter-productive. Frivolous calls for impeachment and predictions of impending tyranny do far more to undermine faith in American institutions than anything Trump has done since January 20th, 2017.
It calls to mind a famous remark made by an officer in the Vietnam War: “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
Trumpism will exist in the United States, and around the world, long after Trump has left the Oval Office. Therefore, it is important that we know how to combat it. We need to know where the line is—when should we criticize something that is truly harmful to democratic norms and institutions and when does it cross over into alarmist rhetoric? Be intellectually honest with yourself—evaluate policies on their merit, or their lack thereof, rather than a knee-jerk reaction based on the man implementing them. Be vigilant in deciding whether an action requires condemnation. Criticize the things that matter. If anything, the last year has been a testament to the strength of American democracy and the stability of world order. We can, and must, save the village without burning it to the ground.
About the Author :
Colby Georgsen is a law student at the University of Ottawa. His interest areas include comparative politics, foreign affairs, international law, and armed conflict. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Calgary and has international experience working and studying in Washington, D.C. and Lille, France.
In the early 1990’s, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori started a process of free-market reforms after strong tensions among the former President Alan Garcia and the US government and International Financial Institutions as well. Fujimori’s political and economic reforms reconfigured the structure of Peruvian economy under many of the principles of the so-called Washington Consensus.
These reforms pursued to integrate the country into the international economy, to put an end to a 10 year long armed conflict against domestic terrorist groups, reduce the State intervention in national economic and social affairs, and establishing a system of self-regulating supply, demand, and pricing mechanisms as well.
Peru’s 1990’s reforms coincide with a favourable trend to open-market policies in Latin America, in a moment when around the hemisphere appeared new and great expectations about the creation of a ‘neo-regionalist’ model of integration under free-trade patterns. As we already mentioned, some milestones in this direction were the creation of MERCOSUR in 1991, as well as the CAN and the WTO in 1994.
However, unlike other countries like Chile or Argentina that were in the middle of their own democratic transition processes, Fujimori consolidated his authoritarian government after the dissolution of the Peruvian Congress in 1992 and the elaboration of a new Constitution in 1993. The concentration of power by the President in the early 1990’s, helped him to promote his reforms freely without major resistance from opposition parties, trade unions or civil society actors.
Figure 1: President Alberto Fujimori announcing the dissolution of the Peruvian Congress, as well as the intervention by the Executive Branch in all major institutions, like the Judiciary, the Ombudsman, and the Tribunal of Constitutional Guarantees (1992). Source: América TV.
Fujimori opened all sectors of the Peruvian economy to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and lifted restrictions on remittances of profits, dividends, royalties, access to domestic credit, and acquisition of supplies and technology abroad. In addition, the government offered tax-stability packages for foreign investors for terms of ten to fifteen years and implemented wide-ranging privatization programs that offered international investors investment opportunities; eliminating competition from state-owned and domestic firms that enjoyed clientelistic or material advantages. However, it is important to point that the privatization process was Fujimori’s authoritarian project keystone. Under the argument of the need to create a business-favourable environment, Fujimori sold most of Peru’s strategic assets and undervalued State-led companies guided only by short-term considerations, without a coherent strategy. After selling 68% of electricity, 35% of agriculture, 90% of mining companies, 85.5% of manufacture industry and 68% of Hydrocarbons, Fujimori’s government obtained USD 9,221 million. However, from the overall amount obtained by privatizations, only USD 6,445 million entered into the public coffers. That money was used to buy military machines, the payment of the external debt (forbidden by Peruvian Law), and for clientelistic social spending in order to gain domestic support.
After Fujimori’s fall in 2000, the Peruvian market-oriented reform process was ‘deepened’ through the signing of a Free Trade Agreement with the United States, where various issues relating to state intervention in the economy, property rights and governance were included. We identify four reasons about why Peru decided to engage in a bilateral negotiation with the US instead of operating through multilateral organizations like the WTO or the Andean Community:
At the global level, the stagnation of the post-Uruguay Round negotiations, which initially proposed the total liberalization of World trade. The failure of the WTO summit in Seattle (1999) and the long agony of the Doha Round were the main global reasons of why countries pursued less ambitious and more regional-focused agreements.
The failure of the United States to obtain consensus in Latin America to create a free-market space that encompasses all the Western Hemisphere (except Cuba). Designed as an ‘expansion’ of NAFTA, the so-called Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), seek to promote an unified set of rules in issues like tariff reduction, barriers and access to markets, trade of goods and services, FDI, privatizations, agriculture, intellectual property rights, subsidies, antidumping measures, free competition and resolution of disputes. The potential capacities of such trade area would encompass a population of at least 800 million people and a GDP of USD 8.5 billion. Nevertheless, due to internal resistances coming from the US and the Latin governments (for different reasons), the agreement would never been signed. In the US, the Congress opposed to authorize President George W. Bush to use the ‘fast-track’ mechanism for trade negotiations without a previous surveillance and approval by the House and the Senate. In Latin America, the left-interventionist group of countries (Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador) with the support of Brazil and Argentina, criticized the US intentions to establish a FTA while keeping at the same time protectionist measures due to ‘domestic politics concerns’, like antidumping measures, agriculture subsidies, President Bush’s lack of interest on environmental issues, as well as the ‘democratic clause’ of the draft proposed by the US with the objective to exclude Cuba from the agreement. Finally, the FTAA was definitively rejected in the 2005 Mar Del Plata Summit of the Americas, when the deadline for the signing of the agreement was settled.
Figure 2: Former Presidents from Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela in the Cumbre de los Pueblos in Mar del Plata, Argentina. (2005). Source: Telesur.
At the regional level, there was a profound disagreement among the CAN country members due to ideological and economic reasons. In parallel with the FTAA negotiations, the Bush government was also trying to pursue less ambitious, but more geographically focused agreements with the already existent integration organizations, like the CAN. While excluding Venezuela due to President Bush’s sour relations with President Hugo Chávez’s, the US tried to establish an Andean Free Trade Agreement with Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador. Because of the interest by Peru and Colombia to negotiate with the US directly without caring about the concerns of their Andean partners (Especially about biodiversity, environment and labour issues), the Venezuelan government declared ‘the death of CAN’, and asked to leave the organization in 2006.
Figure 3: US President George W. Bush and Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo in Lima, Peru. (2002). Source: Peru.com
At the domestic level, the export-oriented Peruvian economy was experiencing a slow, but uninterrupted recession process since 1998. Furthermore, the lack of juridical and political stability did not create incentives to attract new FDI; and a not-reliable instrument regulated the trade regime with Peru’s most important partner: the Andean Trade Preferences Drug Enforcement Act (ATPDEA). Even if this agreement gave most Peruvian products a preferential access to the US market without tariffs, it was not a reliable instrument to attract FDI. The ATPDEA needed to be renewed each 3 years, and it was conditioned to Peru’s support of the US War on Drugs in the region. Of course, the American Congress was able to deny a renewal if they feel that Peru was not ‘keeping its compromises’; not only in the drug fighting but also in other non-narcotics issues like intellectual property rights.
About the Author :
By: Anthony Medina Rivas Plata
Peruvian. Master in Public Policy by Erasmus University Rotterdam and the University of York. He currently works as Director of International Cooperation at the Institute of Andean Political Studies.
Groucho Marx famously quoted in 1954 on a radio show; ‘speak when you are angry—and you will make the best speech you’ll ever regret’. Looking at society today in the United States with the rise in violence and discontent it is easy to see that today’s generation is not heeding Marx’s advice.
There are a plethora of things to be angry about today; unemployment, housing market, rising cost of education, healthcare, continuation of warfare etc. With those serious issues, it brings to question why someone would become hotheaded on something as asinine as inability to join the US Army, when they themselves did not want to enlist. Current president Donald Trump tweeted on July 26th, 2017 to America ‘After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you’.
There was an obvious outrage from American citizens. However, it is interesting to note two points. The first being that President Trump wants to reinstate a previous policy that former president Obama had reversed. The second point is that Twitter is not indicative of policy. Trump tweeted something, he did not sign an executive order, yet. Fiscally speaking he is attempting to save the U.S. government between $2.4 Million to $8.4 Million. Granted, that barely scratches the surface of the $49.3 Billion spent on Military healthcare in 2014, effectively less than one percent.
Why the outrage? There are copious amounts of people that the U.S. military will not allow to enlist. Patriotic citizens with cysts cannot join the military. No Diabetic is allowed to serve their nation, no are those individuals that do not meet a specific weight, age, or height requirement. Where are the people protesting and raging against the establishment? Men that are missing both of their testicles or that have undescended ones cannot enlist. Women shorter than 58 inches tall, or anyone over 80 inches cannot proudly serve their nation, where is the outrage? Why is it that one issue is raised above all others? In a nation that as of June 2017 has a 4.4% unemployment rate and in 2016 had 564,708 people without homes and teetering on 1.4 million veterans at risk of homelessness does that one issue make your blood boil more than anything else?
It Political Science there is a school of thought on the definition of power. Robert Dahl’s theory essentially is that if you have two people A and B. If A possess the ability to control B than A has power. D.D. Raphael states that power is ‘the ability to make other people do what one wants them to do.’
Wikipedia states that ‘In social science and politics, power is the ability to influence or outright control the behavior of people.’ Though Donald Trump may be disliked by hordes of Americans currently, one has to understand that he is intelligent and knows what outcries will come from his Tweets and statements. Essentially, those that protest and run to the streets are giving President Trump power over them. There is a system devised to petition the administration. You can contact your representatives, even the White House to attempt to change policy.
Before the current outcry of ‘unfair’, there was recently another blood boiling issue in the United States, restrooms. The issue basically was that some people identify as another gender. The end result in one case is that Target issued a statement saying they are spending $20 million on single stall bathrooms. Interestingly enough, no one argues over which bathroom they are allowed to use on a plane.
Ultimately, it is a constitutionally protected right to speak your mind. However, there is a difference between speaking your mind thoughtfully, and using profanity and threats. Victor Hugo is famously quoted as saying, ‘strong and bitter words indicate a weak cause.’ In lieu of being a keyboard tough guy, take a meaningful stance with a clear mind. Speak your words, rally your comrades and have a peaceful protest. There is enough violence and hate spreading across the United States, enough to make people consider how United America really is.
Anger breeds hate, and hate eats the individual up inside and can cause serious health issues beyond high blood pressure. Hate can cause stress which can lead to a heart attack. There is quote attributed to Buddha which beautifully illustrates this point, ‘you will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger’. It is find to get angry from time to time, just don’t act while you are still seeing red.
Why Russian Resets Keep Failing? Geopolitical rivalries do not end because of handshakes or smiling photo ops.
This Article was written by Ryan Bohl for Geopolitics Made Super , Young Diplomats’ Partner. The original article is available here.
In short, if it wasn’t one thing, it would have been another.
It didn’t have to have to be a gas attack. It could have been a stray Russian shell in some Ukrainian city, a dead exiled opposition leader on the streets of a Western capital city, a major hacking attack against a critical American target, a crucial NATO ally “flipped” by a Russian disinformation campaign or a released set of Trump e-mails.
It could have been Donald Trump waking up one day to realize the Russians aren’t interested in destroying the Islamic State so long as IS distracts the Americans and grinds down anti-Assad rebels.
It could have been when Trump tried to rally Moscow to support a new round of sanctions or military threats against North Korea.
Perhaps Trump’s bromance might have ended with a shooting incident over Finnish skies or maybe he’d have changed his mind if Russian troops showed up in Libya to prop up Moscow’s increasingly favorited local strongman, Khalifa Haftar.
The fact is, on a long enough timeline, he would have changed his mind or faced an all-out revolt from his cabinet, his generals and his party.
The furor surrounding Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s alleged influence over the airstrikes last week is therefore overblown. Presume then that they did not exist and that Steve Bannon continued to whisper pro-Russian lullabies in the president’s ear, even as critical NATO allies like the United States, France, Canada and Germany clamored for action.
How long until the next incident? How long could Trump have kept ignoring his spy and military chiefs because Steve Bannon and his alt-right supporters said to?
Trump is less important than the system he commands
Woodrow Wilson tried to impose a liberal international order with America’s great armies; he was stymied by the American Senate.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt couldn’t convince his fellow Americans of the threat of Axis militarism until the Japanese proved his point.
Dwight D. Eisenhower famously (perhaps too famously these days) warned of the military-industrial complex while building the military-industrial infrastructure it needed to fight the Cold War.
Jimmy Carter was going to let human rights lead America’s way; he was repaid for that with an Iranian hostage crisis.
George W. Bush was staunchly against nation building; he ended up trying to build two.
Barack Obama called Iraq “the dumb war”; before he left power, he had already sent troops back to fight over once conquered territory.
In each case, national interest overrode the personal interests of each president. Obama desperately wanted to leave Iraq to its own devices, but the Islamic State invasion in June 2014 threatened something much bigger than his moral principles. George W. Bush wanted to focus on “compassionate conservatism”, using a proto-“America First” foreign policy to preserve power; 9/11 put paid to that. Reach back into history, find a president’s inaugural speech and see shattered dreams of a cleaner, less brutish foreign policy.
Thus it is interest that keeps tripping up the utopian geopolitical dreams of each new president. And let us be fair to President Trump: while his hopes for a Russian reset may have involved quiet business deals for himself and his family, the reality is we would all benefit from a Russo-American alliance. It would secure Europe, which with its nuclear arsenals remains the world’s most potentially dangerous continent. It would allow a united Euro-American front to focus on reordering Asia, the Middle East and Africa, regions that desperately need a superpower’s attention to bring about a more permanent peace.
But there can be no reset with Vladimir Putin, nor with the Russia he leads. Trump had to learn that the hard way.
A depressing history of Russian resets
Franklin Roosevelt tried first. In 1933, FDR led negotiations to recognize the Soviet Union. He spent much of the 1930s trying to justify this to his citizens, who saw communist subversion as a genuine threat. He was particularly burned by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; only in 1941, with the German invasion, did Roosevelt manage to get Americans back on his side for the duration of the war.
Roosevelt famously called mass murderer Josef Stalin “Uncle Joe” and believed the Soviet leader would help build a safer Europe. We know now Stalin’s idea of peace was Soviet control of the continent.
In 1946-47 Soviet troops installed communist satellites throughout Eastern Europe. But many Americans wanted to see these actions through the prism of personality: it was Stalin’s fault, went the thinking, and so when he died, so too would Soviet oppression. Nikita Khrushchev’s rise to power in 1953 and his anti-Stalin inaugural speech heartened these Russophiles. President Eisenhower gave voice to that faction in his 1953 Chance for Peace speech:
So the new Soviet leadership now has a precious opportunity to awaken, with the rest of the world, to the point of peril reached and to help turn the tide of history. Will it do this? We do not yet know. Recent statements and gestures of Soviet leaders give some evidence that they may recognize this critical moment. We welcome every honest act of peace.
But Khrushchev crushed the Hungarian rising in 1956 just as thoroughly as Stalin. It was not leader personality that created Soviet aggression and oppression; it was the Soviet system itself. There would be no reset during the Cold War.
This led to a period of realistic, though dangerous, relations with the USSR. Soviet power was based on expansionism or the appearance of it. US power was based on containment of Soviet influence. The Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan Administrations never doubted this basic tenet of Cold War geopolitics.
George H.W. Bush thus got the first chance for a true reset when the Soviet Union fell. It worked, for a time — first Bush, then Bill Clinton, enjoyed something of warm relations with Russia’s first democratic president, Boris Yeltsin. But the end of the Cold War had switched geopolitical polarities. US power increasingly became based on expansionism, or at least its appearance. Russian power was based on containment of American influence and power.
Thus the US under Clinton and both Bushes led a NATO surge eastward. They saw the end goal as Moscow itself: a Russo-American alliance, an end to Europe’s security dilemma. But while DC saw security and cooperation, Russia’s elites saw conquest.
This mismatch of perception led to a bizarre media narrative. When Vladimir Putin took power in 1999, one of his first acts was to crush the Chechen rising, just as Khrushchev had hammered Hungary in 1956 and Leonid Brezhnev had smashed Prague in 1968.
Unlike Khrushchev and Brezhnev, the Chechen War did not inspire widespread horror in the West. Western elites, both political and media, largely ignored the war and its portents for the future. For them, the curve of history was toward NATO, the European Union and American power. Having won the Cold War, they felt assured of success.
Even the relatively clean Kosovo crisis got unfair media treatment. When Russian troops took Pristina’s airport, it led to a showdown between US and Russian troops. “I’m not going to start World War III for you,” General Michael Jackson, the British commander, told the NATO supreme commander, General Wesley Clark, who ordered him to retake the airport. Yet Westerners neither ducked nor covered; the story was a two-minute sound bite at best.
Then Clinton gave way to Bush, who infamously looked Putin in the eye:
I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul. He’s a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country and I appreciate very much the frank dialogue and that’s the beginning of a very constructive relationship.
It was by then an ingrained American tradition: presuming Russia saw the world as America did, that a Kremlin president would behave like a White House one. By the end of Bush’s second term, his administration had learned their lesson.
First, Moscow refused to authorize Bush’s invasion of Iraq, seeing Iraq as a potential Middle Eastern client just as it saw Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
Then, Russia invaded the Republic of Georgia in 2008, ending Georgia’s bid to join NATO and forcing the Georgian army to rush out of Iraq and return to a losing war.
These lessons were not passed on to the next president. Obama came in promising yet another reset. Obama believed the problem had not been Russian interest, or Vladimir Putin, but President Bush: change the personality and the geopolitics would shift.
Obama, like Bush, was wrong.
Putin armed the Assad regime as the civil war began in 2011, then hoodwinked the White House when Assad gassed his own people in August 2013. To put the nail in the coffin, Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014. The Obama Administration finally understood: Russia was a rival, not a friend. Like Bush, it took a full presidential term to reach that conclusion.
Yet that did not stop Mr Trump from trying again. Despite the obvious, Trump once more believed that the problem was the American president and not the underlying geopolitical situation.
It was immature criticism, of course: Trump would sway from hitting Obama as weak and then go on to say he’d been too tough on Putin. That had everything to do with America’s broken and increasingly irrational presidential primary system, which did a terrible job of screening candidates this cycle. But in attacking Obama — and not recognizing how national interest propelled behavior — Trump was walking in the well-trodden footsteps of Roosevelt, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama.
Trump’s blatant conflicts of interest slowed this realization. Russia had, after all, tried to influence the election in his favor. He had extensive business dealings with Russians and his base wanted an “America First” policy that would ignore human-rights violations unless Americans were killed. Trump saw ground for cooperation against the Islamic State; Russian propaganda made the Russian campaign in Syria seem more effective than it actually was.
But the underlying situation did not change. The US is expansionist, in both influence and alliance. Russia is trying to contain that expansionism. It is the Cold War in reverse.
Trump came to power promising to end that expansionism. It was only a matter of time before he realized that to give ground to anyone else would threaten American interests. Those states that are not a threat to the US are already within its system: from NATO in Europe to the Organization of American States in the Americas to the US alliances in Pacific.
This leaves precious little geopolitical space on the map for ambitious powers.
India is not currently so headstrong. Hence the reason it can work with the United States, despite America’s long friendship with its archrival, Pakistan. Neither is Brazil, another potential great power of the twenty-first century. Even Turkey, whose authoritarian turn alarms NATO democrats, is not seeking to push up against American power just yet.
Russia, on the other hand, must push back. It’s current system — even its present borders — may not survive the changes that would come with a permanent US alliance. But it can only push back in places the United States cares deeply about. This is the recipe for conflict.
No one goes down unless they’re forced to
Geopolitical rivalries do not end because of handshakes or smiling photo ops. They end because they must.
France and Britain closed ranks after hundreds of year of brutal war to face a rising Germany; France, Britain and Germany were forced into alliance by the Soviet threat.
The Cold War did not end merely because Mikhail Gorbachev botched reform and Soviet troops refused to shoot Soviet citizens; it also ended because the United States had bled a rusting Red Army in Afghanistan and outspent it on nuclear weapons.
Thus the dream of uniting Russia and America in alliance will take far more than a personality switch. Even if Putin is removed from power, only a seismic internal geopolitical change within Russia will prevent a return to conflict with the West.
George Friedman wrote about this in the book that helped inspire this blog, The Next 100 Years. In it, Friedman, from 2008, writes:
The United States in particular tends to first underestimate and then overestimate enemies. By the middle of the 2010s, the United States will again be obsessed with Russia. There is an interesting process to observe here. The United States swings between moods but actually, as we have seen, executes a very consistent and rational foreign policy. In this case, the United States will move to its manic state but will focus on keeping Russia tied in knots without going to war.
[But] the causes that ignited this confrontation — and the Cold War before it — will impose the same outcome as the Cold War, this time with less effort for the United States… Russia broke in 1917 and again in 1991. And the country’s military will collapse once more shortly after 2020.
If true, the United States will have an opportunity in the 2020s to build a permanent alliance with the shattered remnants of Russia.
If not, it will doom America to another cycle of geopolitical competition and violence with Moscow in some other decade of the twenty-first century.
After summarising the East, let´s complete our global analysis with a focus on the West
The famous Institution created after WWII faced much criticism during the Afghan and Syrian conflicts. The UN was criticized for its passiveness and its dependence on the five permanent members (USA, France, UK, China and Russia). On January 1st, the Portuguese politician and diplomat António Guterres becomes United Nations Secretary General, replacing South Korean Ban Ki-Moon. Is this a new turn for the role of the UN in International Relations?
Former US President Barack Obama tried to achieve everything he could during his last days of Presidency at the White House. Obama was very well known for his partnership with Vice President Biden. On January 12th, President Barack Obama gave a surprise award presentation to Vice President Joe Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The partnership was one of the closest in American history, illustrated by this video:
Now as there has been a lot of talk about climate recently, let’s evaluate the consequences of the new Trump climate´s policy on the world. It could be devastating for our Earth.Our climate is not getting better, and could be even worse with Donald Trump. On January 18th, both NASA and NOAA announced that 2016 was the hottest year on record, surpassing the previous record set in 2015, which itself topped a record set in 2014.
We’ll say this next fact quickly since you’ve probably heard a lot about it. But just to remind you, this wasn´t just a bad dream, but real life:
On January 20th, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America and Mike Pence as the 48th Vice President
Trump has already done his worst at the White House in a single month: attacking women’s rights, stigmatisation of immigrants, and financial affairs. Young Diplomats summarised what he’s been up to in these articles:
And after the election, a lot of protest…On January 21st, more than 2 million people protested worldwide in the ‘Women’s March’ against Donald Trump, with 500,000 marching in Washington D.C. Bernie Sanders and Senator Warren were leading the protest and are ready to lead the rebellion.
Aside from that, a funny but possibly somewhat tragic fact: the most expensive house on sale in the US is worth no less than $250 million and is on the market in Bel Air, Los Angeles. We could make hundreds of schools with that money instead…
Donald Trump is on a roll and wants the whole world to fear America. On January 27th, the new President issued an executive order banning travel to the US for 7 predominantly Muslim countries and suspending admission for refugees. How long will he stay in power? His first month of Presidency has seemed ridiculous. It is highly probable that the next months will be calmer. Trump is trying to get attention. How will he respond to academic protests and protests of the people?
Canada: Trudeau seducing the whole world
Trudeau is trying to seduce the entire world. And it’s working. After numerous visits around the world, Trudeau managed to get the new treaty between Canada and Europe for free trade and economic partnership signed. He might not have liked shaking hands with Trump though:
More seriously, on January 29th, Canada witnessed an attack on a Mosque in Quebec, killing 6 and injuring 17 innocents, the shooter being a French-Canadian student. Tension is at its peak in Europe and North-America between white people and people of colour. The elections this year in France and Germany will be crucial for European immigration policy.
The Trump Show is like a never-ending joke. On January 31st, President Trump fired Attorney General Sally Yates after she instructed Justice Department officials not to defend Trump’s travel ban. More scandals are likely to come, since Trump seems to have a lot of conflicting interest between his business (now delegated to his sons) and his life as President.
Brexit: On February 21st British MPs voted in favour of the European Union Bill, allowing the government to begin Brexit. It is certainly over for Great Britain, outside of the common market. Theresa May is now facing the greatest challenge of all: how to make the UK great again without any friends?
Feb 6: Longest-ever commercial flight route lands in Auckland from Doha, taking 16 hours and 23 minutes
Feb 9: 59th Grammy Awards: Adele wins Best Song “Hello” and Best Album “25”
Feb 12: North Korea conducts a solid fuel ballistic missile test from Banghyon air base
Next important politic deadlines
France enters the final straight of the process to elect a new President, who will replace incumbent François Hollande. The first round of voting will take place on April 23, featuring National Front leader Marine Le Pen and Les Republicains’ François Fillon.
Local elections will take place in Britain at the beginning of the month, the first major vote since the country elected to leave the EU in June 2016.
President Donald Trump, less than 100 days in office, caught the world off guard when he ordered the military to fire 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles in a targeted military strike on a Syrian air base April 6, in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack on civilians in rebel-held Idlib province two days before.
As allies express cautious approval of the US airstrike in Syria, the United States says its targeted action does not signal a broader shift to military regime change.
The Syrian Battlefield
“Years of previous attempts at changing [President Bashar al-] Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically,” Trump said April 6 at a news conference in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, announcing that he had ordered what he called a targeted military strike. “As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.”
Administration officials said the strikes showed Trump was willing to take decisive action, but they were limited to retaliation for using chemical weapons and did not signal a broader shift in US policy toward military intervention to overthrow the Assad regime.
“This clearly indicates the president is willing to take decisive action when called for,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told journalists traveling with Trump for his summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping April 6. “The use of prohibited chemical weapons, which violates a number of international norms and violates existing agreements, called for this type of … kinetic military response.”
“I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or our posture relative to our military activities in Syria today,” Tillerson said. “There’s been no change in that status. But I think it does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line … in the most heinous of ways.”
The Pentagon and National Security Council said Shayrat airfield, the targeted facility, was used to store chemical weapons and is believed to be the base from which Syrian air force planes had taken off to conduct the April 4 chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed more than 80 people, many of them children.
“It was aimed at this particular airfield for a reason, because we could trace this murderous attack back to that facility,” national security adviser Gen. H. R. McMaster told journalists at a press conference with Tillerson in Florida April 6.
“I think what it does communicate is a big shift … in Assad’s calculus … because this is … the first time that the United States has taken direct military action against that regime or the regime of his father,” McMaster said.
“The U.S. intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement to the press April 7. “The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.”
Minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield
The Pentagon said it had notified Russian forces in advance of the action to minimize the risk of killing Russian or Syrian personnel. “U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield,” Davis said.
Russia, acknowledging that the Pentagon had indeed informed it in advance of the planned military action to avoid Russian casualties, nevertheless criticized the US action on Friday as breaching Syria’s sovereignty.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “considers the US strikes against Syria an act of aggression against a sovereign country violating the norms of international law, and under a trumped-up pretext at that,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists April 7. “Washington’s move substantially impairs Russian-US relations, which are in a deplorable state as it is.”
It is not clear, however, if the griping was largely face-saving posturing. Russia said Friday that it had suspended deconfliction channels with Washington, set up to avoid air collisions over Syria, as a result of the US action, but the Pentagon said it continued to use the channel Friday. Tillerson, due to travel to Moscow April 11-12, had called his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, April 6 to discuss the situation, the State Department said.
Arsenal of ChemicalWeapons
Tillerson said that Russia had not lived up to its 2013 agreement to ensure that the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons arsenal was fully destroyed.
“The Russian government entered into agreements whereby Russia would locate these weapons, they would secure the weapons, they would destroy the weapons and that they would act as the guarantor that these weapons would no longer be present in Syria,” Tillerson said. “Clearly, Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on that commitment from 2013.”
Tillerson concluded, “So either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of that agreement.”
Iran also condemned the US cruise missile strikes against its Syrian ally, while the Syrian regime blasted the US action as “unjust and arrogant aggression.”
Such condemnation was strikingly isolated, as European nations, Israel, Turkey, Jordan, Gulf states and Canada broadly praised Trump’s action, considering it proportional and justified.
“In words and actions, President Trump sent a strong and clear response: The use of chemical weapons is unacceptable,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu April 7. “Israel fully and unequivocally supports the president’s decision and hopes the clear message will reverberate not only in Damascus but also in Tehran, Pyongyang and other places.”
“US strikes show needed resolve against barbaric chemical attacks,” European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted April 7. He said the European Union “will work with the US to end brutality in Syria.”
The US action was “limited and appropriate,” said British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon. “We fully support this strike,” Fallon told the BBC April 7. “We have been in close contact with the US over the last couple of days and they believe they have exhausted all possible diplomatic and peaceful ways of dealing with the regime’s use of chemical weapons. They want to try to prevent future chemical attacks.”
The US missile strikes show that chemical weapons attacks on civilians won’t go unpunished, Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said April 7, urging that Syrian safe zones be established.
Even as the United States deliberately targeted Assad assets for the first time in the six-year conflict, Tillerson said the US military priority in Syria is still to fight the Islamic State, and he anticipates continuing to work through the Geneva process to try to reach a broader political resolution of the civil war.
“Overall, the situation in Syria is one where our approach today and our policy today is first to defeat [IS],” Tillerson said. “There is a large coalition of international players and allies who are involved in the future resolution in Syria.”
The United States is focused on planning to defeat IS and “begin to stabilize areas of Syria … through cease-fire agreements between the Syrian regime forces and opposition forces … [and] begin to restore some normalcy to them,” he said.
“In the midst of that, through the Geneva process, we will start a political process to resolve Syria’s future in terms of its governance structure,” Tillerson said. “And that ultimately, in our view, will lead to a resolution of Bashar al-Assad’s departure.”
The narrow purpose of the retaliatory strikes against Assad’s use of chemical weapons was reflected in congressional notification. Several members said they were informed by the administration of the impending action only just before or after the strikes were underway, reflecting their understanding, they said, that this was not the start of a major war without their authorization.
Congress largely applauded the strikes as a “proportional response” to the suspected chemical attack but demanded to be included going forward. The full Senate is scheduled to receive a briefing before leaving for its two-day Easter break on April 7, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
In an April 7 letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., demanded that the lower chamber immediately be called back into session to debate a war authorization.
“The President’s action and any response demands that we immediately do our duty,” Pelosi wrote. “Congress must live up to its constitutional responsibility to debate an Authorization of the Use of Military Force against a sovereign nation.”
Just hours earlier, Pelosi had released a statement saying the strike “appears to be a proportional response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., likewise issued a statement, saying, “Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do.” He added, “It is incumbent on the Trump administration to come up with a strategy and consult with Congress before implementing it.”
The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., also applauded the strikes but demanded to weigh in if a longer-term or larger operation is under consideration. “As we move forward, it will be important for the administration to engage with Congress and clearly communicate its full strategy to the American people,” Corker said in a statement.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate in the 2016 election and the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations panel on the Near East, was one of the lone voices to decry the decision to act without Congress.
“I voted for military action against Syria in 2013 when Donald Trump was advocating that America turn its back on Assad’s atrocities,” Kaine said in a statement. “Congress will work with the President, but his failure to seek Congressional approval is unlawful.”
A few others by contrast called for an immediate ramp-up.
“Building on tonight’s credible first step, we must finally learn the lessons of history and ensure that tactical success leads to strategic progress,” Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a joint statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “That means following through with a new, comprehensive strategy in coordination with our allies and partners to end the conflict in Syria. The first measure in such a strategy must be to take Assad’s air force — which is responsible not just for the latest chemical weapons attack, but countless atrocities against the Syrian people — completely out of the fight. We must also bolster support for the vetted Syrian opposition and establish safe zones to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis.”
When I was a teenager, I had to drive my older brother to downtown Phoenix. He couldn’t drive himself; he’d made a series of poor life choices, so it fell to me, the relatively responsible one, to ferry him about. The Global History of the Alt-Right
As we drove, he ranted to me about blacks, Mexicans, and Jews, using all the tried and true tropes of the traditional white supremacist right – tossing in, for my “education,” that the Bible had given blacks over to whites as slave-animals. When we pulled up to our destination, a Mexican guy was hanging out on the Phoenix equivalent of a stoop; my brother would have to pass by the guy. I asked him, in that teenaged point blank manner, what he thought of the man.
“Oh no,” my brother replied. “He’s one of the good ones.” Switching off from racist extraordinaire, he proceeded to carry out his errand and have a light, polite chat with the very man who’s race he’d spent much of our journey together trashing.
It was my first encounter with the double-think that would swirl to become the Alt-Right.
The Alt-Right defined
The Alt-Right is a brand-new lexicon that came of age during the final months of the U.S. presidential campaign in 2016. The term itself is traceable to 2008. As written in Salon:
In 2008, conservative political philosopher Paul Gottfried was the first to use the term “alternative right,” describing it as a dissident far-right ideology that rejected mainstream conservatism.
Yet the intellectual force, not to mention the personalities, of the Alt-Right are considerably older: it pulls threads from old school fascism, 19th-century nativism, slavery-produced white supremacy, Goldwater conservatism, and 1970s-style disillusionment. It is also not a uniquely American phenomenon: Alt-Right forces have bubbled and gurgled throughout the rest of the world since the 1970s.
Today, versions of the Alt-Right are global. Virtually every developed country has at least one Alt-Right political party: even idyllic New Zealand has New Zealand First, an anti-immigration party. The English Alt-Right, head by the UK Independence Party, helped force Britain out of the European Union, and has since pushed its Conservative Party further right.
The populist Finn’s Party in Finland has surged to heights it’s never enjoyed before; the Alt-Right-leaning Sweden Democrats Sweden Democrats are fighting against more refugees. Critically, in the Netherlands, France, and Germany, Alt-Right parties are growing to become not fringe but mainstream political phenomena. As the Dutch prepare to vote on March 15th, Geert Wilders, once a political pariah for his extreme Rightist views, is leading in the polls. Marine Le Pen, another Alt-Right force, has spent decades hoping to reach the political popularity she now enjoys.
How did we get here? And what does it say about the international system that produced this force?
The Alt-Right: “Westerners” only
The basic Left-Right divide begins in the French Revolution, when Right-wing forces supported the monarchy and Left-wing forces wanted to introduce Enlightened government through a republic. Depending on how hard they believed, their views could be quite violent.
Since then, Leftist forces have sought change: Rightist forces sought to slow or even reverse it. The Alt-Right builds on the conservatism and Rightist impulses of Europe and the United States. We should step back and look at those modern roots.
Western conservatives used to represent industrial, imperial/royal, and nationalist interests. They built the great empires of the late 19th century; their Christian zeal sent missionaries worldwide as their gunboats shelled native peoples into submission. They also managed to squabble their way into World War I, which completely discredited their royal factions and weakened their imperial ones.
But they kept hold of their industrial and nationalist ideologies until World War II exhausted those as well. Inspired by Allied propaganda, conservatism retooled itself as the ultimate arbiter of freedom, mostly via economic choice. On the western side of the Iron Curtain, it came to represent zealous anti-Communism (especially offended by Soviet godlessness), anti-statism (conflating Keynesian economics with Soviet central planning, which was a nicely dishonest way to start a movement), and cultural nationalism. That last part was a fine needle to thread: cultural nationalism could be contrasted with the Soviet boogeyman, which was trying to refashion the many subjects of the Soviet empire into a single cultural entity. But it could go too far: millions had lived through Axis cultural atrocities.
They did not want to be seen allied to the old fascist survivors of the war, who lurked beneath the political surface. Fear of division in the face of the Soviet menace kept the public from gambling on anything but safe bets: the atomic bombing of Japan was too recent, and the many duck-and-cover drills of the 1950s and 60s hammered in the reality of nuclear annihilation.
How the National Front made the Alt-Right template
In 1972, just shy of the 30 year anniversary of the liberation of Paris from the Nazis, Jean-Marie LePen founded the progenitor of the modern Alt-Right: the National Party. Planks of tough law-and-order, cultural and economic protectionism, and anti-immigration held together a coalition of French voters angered by the changes they were seeing in their country. Many of these changes were self-inflicted: France’s stubborn war in Algeria brought the first big wave of African migrants to the continent, producing a subnationality mainstream France could not figure out how to assimilate. Conflicts between die-hard colonialists and the rest of French society led to a wave of bombings in the 60s and the collapse of the Fourth Republic; old school Vichy Fascists found more mainstream allies willing to overlook their past faults in the pursuit of French national glory in Africa.
The National Front became the archetype of the Alt-Right political party: claiming to protect “Western” civilization from both its own decadence (often by alluding that Jews were corroding it from within) and from evil outside forces (like Islam and Communism), the National Front built a shaky base of French voters initially too spread out to have any national effect.
The 1970s coincided with a marked shift in conservatives throughout the West. Most went hard for the neoliberalism of Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher, who produced the conservative ideology only recently upended by the Alt-Right. But some split off: rather than seeing tax cuts and free trade as opportunities to get rich, they saw them as opening doors to new, increasingly different foreigners.
It’s important to note they did not reconstitute with out-and-out old school fascists or racists, who also tried, and failed, to reinvent themselves in this period. Skinhead culture was appropriated by fascists hoping for a more modern edge; it fell flat when they refused to stop Seig Heiling. The Ku Klux Klan appointed a supposedly nicer, better-looking leader, David Duke, to wow cameras, but his traditionally vile worldview could not be hidden under any sugarcoating.
As Reagan and Thatcher dominated conservatism, the budding Alt-Right could move nowhere. Too easily lumped in with neo-Nazis and fascists, and with too much at stake in the Cold War, the National Front and those like it went nowhere.
The ground shifts: Sunni supremacism, neoliberal corruption, revitalized Russia, and generational change.
Around 2000, the geopolitical understanding of the post-Cold War world began to shudder and break apart. Sunni supremacism began to violently lash out at Western powers long used to dominating the Middle East’s resources and states; Russia started a slow rise out of its post-Soviet collapse; neoliberalism as an economic ideology began to rust, and the generation that fought World War II began to die in large numbers.
All four combined to create an environment perfect for the Alt-Right.
Sunni supremacism provoked more and more Western thinkers and voters to conflate Islam with violence. Despite the best efforts of leaders like George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and Barack Obama, all of whom differentiated between violent supremacists and everyday practitioners, repeated attacks undermined their arguments. This was exactly what groups like al-Qaeda wanted; the more Westerners hated Muslims, the more Muslims would join al-Qaeda. It also thrilled the nascent figures of the Alt-Right. As early as 2005, Geert Wilders was quoted as saying, “The analysis is clear, we have a great problem with Islam, in the Netherlands too.” Once in the political wilderness, Sunni supremacist attacks in the Netherlands suddenly made Wilders appear sensible.
The return of Russia brought a structural discipline to a movement that hadn’t had any before. While Putin himself does not practice an Alt-Right worldview (it’s more like an imperial nationalism, an older school of geopolitical thought), he saw use in the Alt-Right parties budding throughout Europe and America. Since repeated Sunni supremacist attacks made it increasingly okay to slam Islam, the Alt-Right could no longer be hammered as neo-Nazis as readily anymore. (A common Alt-Right defense for why their Muslim-bashing is not the same as Nazi Jew bashing: The Jews weren’t going around beheading people).
Since Putin’s goals were to roll back values-based institutions like NATO and the EU that might threaten his rule (and possibly undo the Russian Federation), he had to find useful assets that could corrode those institutions. NATO and EU values are rooted in neoliberalism: free trade and open borders through the EU and human rights protected by hard power through NATO. By supporting parties that undercut these values, Putin sought to undermine both the NATO and the EU.
But that would have been irrelevant had neoliberalism’s cracks not begun to show. Even as early as 2000, it was obvious that free trade deals were widening the wealth gap and benefiting only the upper classes. The battle of Seattle, the anti-globalization protests that took place in 1999, were just a harbinger of the energy that would be mobilized against neoliberalism.
The world realized the emperor had no clothes, however, in the wake of the Financial Crisis, when all the inequalities of neoliberalism were laid bare. Years went by with both American and EU leaders trying to cobble together formulas to save the system without addressing any of the problems caused by it: during that time, conservatives began to drift away from economic freedom and free trade and towards the protectionism that had long been espoused by the Alt-Right.
Finally, and perhaps most crucially, the 2000s also saw the end of the World War II generation as a major political force. The veterans and their memories of Axis horrors died off and left their children and grandchildren without any check on Rightist impulses. Political decency, a key post-war value meant to act as a breakwater again violent, thuggish politics, fell away: politicians and public figures could get away with saying increasingly outrageous things. Rightists felt no responsibility or connection with the Hitler era, and were so less stung by the accusation by their enemies that they were behaving like Nazis.
After all, can you imagine a World War II veteran excusing Trump’s Pussygate?
The perfect geopolitical storm
When one sees Hillary Clinton as the standard bearer of discredited neoliberalism, her defeat makes a lot more sense. So too does Brexit; the European Union was always designed as a neoliberal project. The disappearance of the World War II generation’s political power has coincided with the rise of the Alt-Right’s thuggishness: their check on the Alt-Right was crucial.
Yet these alone might not have been enough to propel the Alt-Right to its heights were it not for the machinations of outsiders. Russian plots to bolster Alt-Right parties have largely worked; their ultimate success will depend on the outcome of both the French and Dutch elections this spring. Moreover, Sunni supremacists welcome the takeover of the West by Alt-Right holy warriors, who want the same civilizational showdown they do. If the Alt-Right becomes the dominant ideology of the West, it would almost certainly mean wider war in the Muslim world.
The Dutch election will be critical; should Wilders gain power, it will be another out and out Alt-Right government. That will put both France and Germany in the ideology’s crosshairs. Nobody expected Donald Trump to win the presidency, just as nobody expects Marie LePen, the less overtly anti-Semitic leader of the National Front, to do so in April.
Such electoral victories might tip Great Britain’s conservative movement firmly into the Alt-Right; it already dangerously tiptoes that line. Other borderline governments like Poland, Sweden, and Denmark could also firmly act more like the Alt-Right. That would leave only Germany as a force powerful enough to withstand the complete collapse of neoliberalism. Such a task would be beyond its reach, however, should the United States slip firmly into a new Alt-Right consensus: Berlin cannot hope to stand up against both Russian and American political interference.
In the long run, should the West become dominated by the Alt-Right’s nativism, nationalism, and protectionism, the world risks returning not to the 1930s but to the 1910s, when brute geopolitical interest propelled each power to seek its own short-term gain. The Alt-Right cannot hold together NATO; Alt-Right forces already mumble against it. It actively seeks to destroy the EU. Without either, Europe returns to its pre-war self: an anarchic continent of powerful nation-states unsure of the intentions of their neighbors. That is an environment Russia can thrive in, but it will leave Germany, France, and Britain all the poorer, as they waste resources trying to gain domination over one another.
There are good reasons to believe this won’t happen. Already forces are arrayed against the Alt-Right, most powerfully in the United States. Should Trump be impeached and convicted over his ties to Russia, it could kill the movement globally. This could simply be the final, most dramatic act in the Strauss-Howe Crisis, giving way to a gentler 2020s.
Or it could be the beginning of a new normal. Watch the Dutch today; watch the French in April. And watch how long Trump occupies the White House.
(Correction: The ruling government of Sweden is not an Alt-Right leaning government; the Alt-Rightists there are the Sweden Democrats. Sorry.)
When it comes to combating terrorism, Pakistan is an indispensable ally for the United States. But as the two countries’ checkered history shows, it is also an unreliable one. By Fred Burton
Pakistan seems to be a constant center of terrorism and chaos. The Taliban and al Qaeda have long been present in the country. Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden even hid out in his compound in Abbottabad, a stone’s throw away from a military training compound, before Navy SEAL Team 6 took him out in a 2011 raid. Pakistani officials have denied that they knew about bin Laden’s presence. But for those of us who have spent time in the world of counterterrorism, it’s hard to believe that one of the world’s most wanted people lived in the city for years without being detected by the Pakistani government or its intelligence agencies.
The raid took place only when CIA suspicions about the terrorist leader’s whereabouts were confirmed by a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi. He used a fake vaccine campaign to obtain samples of the bin Laden family’s DNA, pointing U.S. forces to the compound. For his role in the affair, Afridi was convicted by Pakistan of treason and is currently serving a long prison sentence. Afridi became a cause celebre after U.S. President Donald Trump made a campaign promise to have him freed. But when Pakistan reacted angrily to the suggestion, it became another bone of contention between uneasy allies.
Pakistan’s turbulent history also includes a pattern of violence toward its leaders, who have been targets of numerous assassination attempts. In 1988, the mysterious crash of a U.S.-made C-130 claimed the life of President Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq and many of his top generals, along with U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Herbert Wassom and U.S. Ambassador Arnold Raphel. Over a decade later, President Pervez Musharraf survived several attempts on his life. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was not so lucky; she was killed in a bombing in late 2007.
In the late 1980s, I was part of a small U.S. team sent to investigate the crash of Zia-ul-Haq’s C-130, a tricky case made more complex by the atmosphere we found in Pakistan. First, Zia-ul-Haq belonged to the Pakistani army, but the country’s air force was the branch tasked with coordinating our investigation. As in any nation’s armed forces, interbranch rivalries ran deep there. From the first briefing with Pakistani officials, it was clear that they had preconceived notions about the cause of the crash, creating immediate friction with our small team. To make an uncomfortable situation even worse, they closely watched our every move.
As an investigator, I strove to rule in or out the variables that could have caused the crash, such as sabotage, catastrophic mechanical failure or weather. Granted, the event was traumatic to Pakistan; after all, it had lost its president. But it was also unnerving for the Diplomatic Security Service. We had lost our ambassador and a brigadier general. In fact, before Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed in Benghazi, Raphel was the last U.S. ambassador killed in the line of duty.
Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States on that case and others has not stopped militant groups from festering in the country, despite Islamabad’s campaign against them. Pakistan’s hard-line Islamist factions and long-running disputes with India provide a breeding ground for militancy, and Islamabad has even had a hand in fostering groups that later committed acts of terrorism.
The recent house arrest of Hafiz Saeed demonstrates the duality of Pakistan’s relationship with the United States when it comes to terrorism. As Pakistan’s competition with India over Kashmir heated up in the 1990s, its intelligence services supported the development of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the armed wing of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa Islamic charity Saeed had founded. Since being turned loose in Kashmir to harass Indian troops, Lashkar-e-Taiba has pursued its jihadist agenda in other regions as well, targeting Americans among other victims.
Saeed himself is the accused mastermind of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which killed 166 people, including six U.S. citizens. The U.S. government offered a $10 million reward for his arrest and conviction for the attacks, which targeted several hotels. Despite the price on his head, Saeed continued to live openly in Pakistan, even giving occasional press conferences. That is, until he was placed under house arrest by Pakistani authorities in late January.
Why the change of heart? It could be to ensure that the new U.S. administration continues to funnel military aid to Pakistan, or to avoid being added to the list of countries with a U.S. travel ban. It could also be a sign of a larger shift in Pakistani politics. Islamabad’s reasons are rarely straightforward. Either way, it’s unlikely that the Pakistani government is motivated by the prospect of the reward, offered through the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program, since states are not eligible to cash in on it.
The one constant I’ve learned over the years is that Pakistan is key to our silent and sometimes violent war on terrorism. The success of the fight also depends on the continued cooperation of men and women with Afridi’s courage. I trust that the Trump administration is working behind the scenes to secure his release. Because if anyone deserves a State Department reward for helping run a terrorist to ground, it’s him.