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(Un)expected President

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] S [/yt_dropcap]hock! Disbelief! Total surprise! Those media (and politicians) who have in the preceding election campaign totally uncritically, but systematically supported Hillary Clinton, try by using such words to convince the public opinion (and themselves most probably) that the election of Donald Trump as the next American President is a total surprise (a mistake, almost). But – this is not how things really are. This is, simply, not true.

On one hand Trump seems to be a surprise to those who conducted an almost unprecedented media campaign for the former Secretary of State and for those too who allowed to be convinced (if not deceived) by this campaign, but on the other hand Trump’s victory is no surprise at all for those who tried, free of all prejudices, to analyze all elements of the election campaign and its foreseeable result. Of course one could argue about the fact that it is tragic for today’s America and its political scene, dominated by Republicans and Democrats who successfully prevent any “third candidate” to come even close to the presidential race, that in these elections we witnessed the confrontation between an excentric millionare, a somewhat dubious businessman and a figure from the reality shows and a woman directly responsible for destabilizing the whole Middle East and for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. But, there is not one single word about this from those who are “shocked” and “surprised”.

The campaign started with the firm conviction that the winner will be Hillary Clinton, former First lady, former senator from New York and former Secretary of State. Her victory was, so to say, programmed and she was treated as a favorite in everything and in every moment. This went so far (and we know it thanks to Wikileaks) that the leadership of the Democratic party torpedoed, during the primaries, the campaign of Bernie Sanders who portrayed himself as a socialist and announced a political revolution, thus becoming the most dangerous rival of Clinton. Although not young himself, Sanders and his ideas attracted young voters (some surveys conducted after the election show that in some key states, where Hilary Clinton failed, Sanders would have been victorious over Trump). But, the nomination had to go to Hillary, a favorite of financial circles who financed her campaign either directly, or in advance, paying her enormous fees for lectures in which she said things that she would never repeat in the campaign and before those whose votes she wanted to win. But, besides being a favorite of financial circles, she was a favorite of those political circles too who wanted the continuation of the policy of a “transformed” Barack Obama, a President welcomed with great hopes, who during his first term of Office took a starting position, marked by his speeches in Cairo and Prague, only to become the true successor of George W. Bush, bombing even more countries than he did and inaugurating again, after a short intermezzo, interventionism plus confrontation with Russia as undisputed cornerstones of Washington’s foreign policy.

And so Sanders was eliminated and the nomination went to Hillary Clinton, a women whose intelligence and political experience could not be denied, but who was described by the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, as a person who was eaten alive by her own ambition. On the other side there was Donald Trump, climbing towards the nomination for a presidential candidate, financing in the first stage almost entirely the campaign out of his own pocket. His success was not the result of the policy of the party’s leadership, but mostly of the votes of those who were attracted by his very often extremely rude populism, on the verge of open racism (these characteristics will gradually almost disappear during Trump’s campaign that was to follow). And he got the nomination on a very stormy Republican party’s convention, during which some delegates in protest even left.

And the arena was ready for the confrontation between a political amateur, “racist, sexist and vulgar person” with an experienced politician (although he would say that her experience was a bad one). In this moment the political-media machinery started to work “full speed”. About Trump nothing good could have been said or written, despite the fact that in his first foreign policy speeches, as a presidential candidate, some new and encouraging tones were registered, while at the same time it was not possible (or allowed), at least in the mainstream media, to either say or write anything negative about Hillary Clinton, despite the never brought to end scandal with her using an unprotected server for sending messages as Secretary of State and despite the fact that she obviously lied saying she did not erase any of the messages and that not a single one dealt with matters of national security. The curtain was up for a battle between the “evil” Trump and the “good” Hillary. In reality the curtain was up for a mud-wrestling between two candidates who were not selective at all choosing the instruments to destroy each other. And the propaganda machine continued to work full speed. After each TV confrontation public opinion surveys were published showing Hillary was “convincingly better” in comparison with her opponent (there was, as far as we know, only one exception). After that voters opinion surveys were published, all of them giving Hillary great chances to win and Trump almost none.

Thus the stage was set for the final act – the ritual execution of the candidate who refused to accept that everything was over, until he himself comes to the conclusion that it is over – despite his sometimes openly racist statements and their public echo (mainly abroad) and despite his sexual scandals (real or fabricated, most probably both). But, and this is obvious now, Trump was not acting without knowing what he was doing. Repeatedly invoking the silent majority, he played on the card of the Americans (and there are not only a few of them) abandoned by the society and those who feared they could experience the same destiny. It might be a paradox, but it is true: in the eyes of these people the blonde billionar appeared as some sort of a Robin Hood. In him they saw their last straw. He promised to bring back the factories that fled to “cheap countries”, he announced big projects for modernizing the infrastructure, he spoke about opening new working possibilities and “making America great again”. Former Secretary of State could not respond to this with her cheap slogan about America being great “because it is good” (most probably her staunchest supporters were afraid that someone could ask people from Libya or Syria what they think about both America and her being good). Above all she made both a strategic and tactical mistake: she did not want to deal with Trump as an unworthy opponent; instead of him she choose as her opponent the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, degrading Trump to his mere puppet. Consequently her speeches were more and more anti-Russian intoned and cold war colored, so that Trump with his announcement of talks and deals with Russia (especially in the fight against global terrorism) started to sound moderate and common sense driven (to those who wanted to hear and understand, naturally).

The day of the decision came. And it was, as it was. And we have today President-elect Donald Trump, elected with a convincing majority (of electoral votes, popular votes are not decisive, due to the specific American system of electing the President).His first speech after Hillary Clinton conceded in a phone call to him was well calibrated, low key, but not without substance, it was the address of a statesman. The pledge that he will ban all Muslims from entering the USA disappeared from his web page. And while he is preparing to take over in direct talks with the current President who was obviously forced to join the anti-Trump hysteria, proclaiming him totally unfit for the highest position in the state, some media who all of a sudden see clear, or the Russian media, who never openly sided with Trump, but never demonized him either, have fun exposing politicians form the West with their statement before the US elections and after. Just one example, the British foreign minister, Boris Johnson. Before the elections he boasted how he avoids certain streets in New York, out of fear he might bump into Donald Trump. And after the elections he is “looking forward to work with President Trump’s administration”.

It seems realistic to expect that Trump will disappoint both the European extreme rightists (who are overwhelmed by his victory), as well as liberals (not necessarily of left orientation) who are despairing and exchanging messages of condolences. Trump is without any doubt a conservative, but he comes not out of the same nest as the European neo-fascists who are more and more aggressive with every day passing; he played without any scruples the lowest instincts of the voters to get as many votes as possible, but his domestic policy will most probably be similar to those of Nixon and Reagan. These were, one must admit, not the best times for liberals, but neither were they put before committees for investigating anti-American activities, nor were they forbidden to work. In the field of foreign policy Trump will enter the path of calming down the relations with Russia (that are almost on the boiling point), which is still his “magnum crimen” in the eyes of some European politicians, prisoners of the past; he will enter the path of strengthening (but with Russia and not against it) the fight against global terrorism. Otherwise he will orient America towards itself, putting it in a semi-isolation and giving the US an active role on the international scene only when American interests are in question (and not necessarily interests of the Wall Street). To many he might appear as dangerous, simply because he is an unknown. Potentially he is really dangerous if he insists on denying the global warming and transforms this into American policy. But it seems to us prematurely and simply not serious to judge him today completely negative only because he avoided (in accordance with the law) to pay for years the federal tax and because of his sexual escapades (does anybody still remembers Bill Clinton, the Oval Office and Monica Levinsky?). Equally not serious is to state that his election victory is “a surprise” and “totally unexpected”. This author published in July this year an article under the title “President Trump?”, stating as follows: “The rich businessman whose biggest advantage is that he owes nothing to anybody, because he is until now more or less financing his campaign out of his pocket, presented a mixture of populism, demagogic approach, sounding phrases and pure politics.” Further: “Repeating constantly that he will bring back the sense of security to every American, he openly pledged his support to homosexual community, promising to protect it from any kind of violence (and thanked – as a Republican – the audience for applauding him after this). And he made sure that among his supporters there were representatives of other races (such as ‘Koreans for Trump’).” And finally: “Trump’s first big political speech shows that the battle for the white House will be waged between two at least equal rivals; Trump will without any doubt repeat the slogan used in his speech on the Convention: She says: ‘Everything will stay as it is.’ And I say: ‘Nothing will remain as it is.’ And with some sarcasm, but not without effect: ‘She is asking her supporters to say that they are with her. And I am telling you and the whole of America: I am with you, I will be your voice, I will be your champion.’” Published in July 2016.

In the meantime the “champion” became President-elect. He will take over in mid-January next year. Until then the horror of those who played (for their own interest, but wrongly) on the card of Hillary Clinton, as well as the horror of those who without any real basis believed the she is the Godgiven President f the US, will calm down. Donald Trump, the man who described himself with the words: “I know the system best. So I am the one who can fix it” – 45th President of the USA. So, why not?

Americas

Biden: No More “Favourite Dictators”

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

 Former US President Donald Trump shared a strong personal rapport with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. Trump made no bones about the fact, that he got along well with authoritarian leaders – especially in the Middle East. At the G7 Summit in 2019, Trump while looking for Egyptian President had even said, “Where’s my favourite dictator?”

Statements made by Biden before taking over as US President

On the other hand, Joe Biden before taking over as US President had repeatedly criticized Erdogan, MBS and Sisi for their poor human rights record, and had unequivocally stated that none of them would have a free pass in a Biden Presidency.  Biden had on numerous occasions flagged the dismal Human Rights record of Saudi Arabia, especially MBS’ involvement in the murder of Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and lashed out at Trump for soft pedaling on the issue because of his personal rapport with MBS. Similarly, in August 2020, Biden had dubbed Erdogan as an ‘autocrat’ and also expressed the view that the US needed to lend support to opposition parties in Turkey. Biden had also issued a warning to Sisi, saying that there would be “no more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favourite dictator’.”

How President Biden has approached relations with the three leaders

During the Biden Administration, ties with Saudi Arabia have witnessed a change. A report which clearly points to MBS’ role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was released (Trump had refused to release this report). The US has withdrawn support for the Saudi war in Yemen, and defence agreements signed between the US and Saudi Arabia, during the Trump Administration have been put on hold. Yet, Biden while sanctioning Saudi officials in connection with the Khashoggi case, in addition to those sanctioned by the Trump administration, refused to impose sanctions on MBS owing to the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East (Saudi support is essential for the revival of the Iran Nuclear Deal/Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action-JCPOA) and the strong US-Saudi relationship. It would be pertinent to point out, that Biden’s decision not to impose sanctions on MBS has drawn strong criticism from many including members of his own party.

If one were to look at the case of Turkey in recent months, the Turkish President has himself toned down his Anti-West rhetoric and described his meeting with Biden on the sidelines of the recent NATO Summit as fruitful. While commenting on the meeting with Biden, Erdogan stated that ‘ We believe there is no problem that cannot be resolved in Turkey-US relations,’

The US President also said, that the meeting with Erdogan was positive and expressed hope that the bilateral relationship would improve in days to come.

While the meeting between Biden and Erdogan was positive, differences between both sides still persist over Turkey’s purchase of S400 missiles (the Trump administration had imposed sanctions in its final days and Turkey had also been removed from its F-35 fighter jet program)

Turkey’s strategic relevance

Turkey has stated that it is willing to play a role in security in Afghanistan, and guard Kabul airport, after the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Turkish President did say that Turkey would require diplomatic, logistic and financial support that the United States. The Biden administration’s outreach to Turkey indicates that in spite of differences over key issues, Istanbul’s potentially important role post the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is something, the US will not ignore. Erdogan on his part needs to have a reasonable relationship with US, given the fact that the Turkish economy has slowed down significantly.

If one were to look at the case of Egypt, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi role in the ceasefire between Israel and Palestine, was acknowledged by the Biden Administration. While the US President during a telephonic conversation hailed Sisi for his ‘successful diplomacy’ in the Israel-Palestine ceasefire, the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said:

‘We have had in Egypt a real and effective partner in dealing with the violence, bringing it to a close, relatively quickly. And now, we are working closely together to build something positive’

It would be pertinent to point out, that during his telephonic conversation with Sisi, in May 2021, Biden did flag the need for a ‘constructive dialogue’ on human rights in Egypt

Conclusion

While it is easy to criticise Joe Biden, he has the onerous responsibility of striking a  balance between values, which he has repeatedly referred to even after taking over as President, with US interests. Given the complex geopolitics of the Middle East, Biden while refraining from taking steps, which may be counterproductive has flagged his concerns with regard to Human Rights, and sent out a strong message that bilateral relations will be dictated by substance and not mere personal chemistry or optics. At the end of the day it is important not to forget Miles’s law — ‘where you stand depends upon where you sit’.

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The liberal international order has not crumbled yet

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Since 2017 when Donald Trump took office, the “liberal international order” erected in 1991 has been under serious challenges raised by the United States’ relative decline, the Trump administration’s isolationist policy, and on top of that, the outbreak of COVID-19. Indeed, this order is greatly plagued, which is evidenced by its dysfunction. Against this backdrop, its endurance in the upcoming time is questionable. Nevertheless, the liberal international order has not collapsed yet. It will even revive, and endure in the post-pandemic era.

The victory of Biden 

Notwithstanding facing great threats, the liberal international order is far from crumbling. On the contrary, it is gradually reviving. In the Western world, countries are making effort to reform their order that is on the verge of collapse. This is true in the US – the world democracy’s leader. Joe Biden’s victory against Donald Trump may be a positive signal for the US and the global democracy. As a strong advocate for values including democracy, multilateralism and international trade, at no doubt, President Biden will be opposite to Trump in his policy, both domestic and foreign ones. Indeed, during his first 100 days, Mr.Biden has implemented some meaningful things. Regarding the pandemic, he has a stricter approach than his predecessor’s: Mandatory mask wearing, a $1.9-trillions bill, historical vaccination campaign, to name a few. All of Biden’s actions have been so far effective, when the new cases and deaths are steadily declining, and the number of vaccinated people is substantially high. This lays a foundation for Biden to reinvigorate his country’s ruined democracy and governance system, as his efficiency in countering COVID-19 may help him regain American people’s trust on the future of American democracy.

In terms of foreign policy, President Biden has some radical changes compared to that of Trump, which might be favorable to the Western world. At first glance, Biden embraces multilateralism much more than his predecessor, with the hope of saving the American global leadership. He supports Washington’s participation in international institutions, which is illustrated by the rejoining of WHO, Paris Agreement and several multilateral commitments. In tandem with this, Biden values the US’ alliances and strategic partnership as vital instruments for the US’ hegemony. Unlike Trump’s transactional approach, Biden prioritizes early and effective engagement with allies to tackle regional and global issues, especially major ones like NATO, G7. In Asia, he also seeks for further cooperation with traditional allies such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and deepening partnership with Vietnam, Singapore, India and ASEAN countries.

More importantly, President Biden’s policies towards the US’ competitors and “rogue states” are far different from Trump’s. Granted, despite seeing China as the biggest threat to the American global leadership, Biden adopts a more flexible and multilateral policy. His administration looks to cooperate and compete with China, which implies a different trajectory of the US-China relationship in the upcoming time. Additionally, as noted above, instead of unilaterally escalating tensions with China as Trump did, Biden has been forging relations with traditional and potential Asian allies to contain China together, given China’s increasing assertiveness. With regard to Iran, Washington is now working on the Iran Nuclear Deal with other six parties, promising a potentially positive future on the relations of Iran with the US and the West. The bottom line is, a radical change in Biden’s foreign policy will be a clear message to the world that the US will still try to save the liberal international order and make this world safer for democracy.

The European Union is recovering 

Things are happening in the same pattern in Europe. European leaders are also closely cooperating, both inside and outside the bloc, to defeat COVID-19. That said, they are ardently supporting multilateralism. So far, the EU has spent billions of dollars in vaccine development as well as humanitarian support, demonstrating its solidarity in the battle against COVID-19. As such, if EU leaders can successfully lead their bloc out of the current crisis, they can reform this currently plagued institution in the post-pandemic era. Not only seeking further intra-bloc cooperation, but also European leaders are working with other major actors around the world to substantiate the global battlefront against COVID-19. Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged her country and China to jointly develop COVID’s vaccine in an open, transparent way, and to a further extent, maintain good and stable bilateral partnership, regardless of two sides’ differences.

Similarly, the EU has been putting the Transatlantic relationship among the priorities of its foreign policy agenda. After Biden’s election, the European Commission has proposed refreshing the US-EU alliance and establishing a Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council, being seen as an informal tech alliance with the US to prevent China from dominating this critical sector. The Transatlantic relationship is perhaps one of the pillars for the liberal international order, given its long history and its contribution to maintain the global stability. In the last decades, this axis has been damaged by numerous issues, from economic to security, which is one of the main causes for the decline of liberal international order. Thus, a fresh Transatlantic relationship is conducive to the re-emergence of this order. In this respect, the EU’s effort to strengthen the Transatlantic alliance, despite being questionable in terms of feasibility and outcome, is still paving the way for reinvigorating of liberal international order. More notably, the most recent G7 Summit has illustrated the Western’s solidarity, when there is a convergence in most issues related to global governance and maintaining the Western-based order. This may be a harbinger of the liberal international order’s revival, at least in a foreseeable future.

Non-Western world is struggling 

The dynamics outside the Western world is also changing in a more favorable direction. Many non-Western countries, once were effective in combating against the pandemic, are now struggling with a greater threat. Taiwan, in spite of being praised as one of the most successful states in the battle against COVID-19, is currently facing another wave of pandemic when the new cases in this island are surging recently. Other successful stories, let us say Thailand, Japan or South Korea, are questionable of maintaining their momentum in preventing the virus, showcased by their relatively inefficiency during this new wave, in implementing strong measures and getting their people vaccinated. This raises question about these countries’ model of governance, which was used to be praised as a better alternative for a plagued, dysfunctional Western one, thanks to its merits in helping those above-mentioned states contain COVID-19.

Major non-Western blocs are in the midst of COVID-19 crisis as well. The clearest example is the BRICS. Except China, all other countries in this bloc have been tremendously suffering from the pandemic. Due to this, they are far from being recovered quickly. This failure in dealing with the virus undermines the bloc’s previous effort in establishing its position as a major, effective one, not to mention building a new, non-Western international order. This is also the case with ASEAN, as the organization was sharply divided by COVID-19. There are countries doing well with controlling the pandemic such as Vietnam, Singapore, but the Philippines and Indonesia are unable to do so, making this bloc suffering from institutional sclerosis without having any coherent COVID-19 policy. Therefore, non-Western blocs and countries are far from being more efficient than Western ones, implying they are unable to come up with any better international orders than the current liberal international one.

More importantly, Western values underpinning the liberal international order are universal. This is noteworthy when arguing for the long-lasting of Western order, as its existence and endurance mainly hinge on the universality of Western values. These values have been embraced by many countries for a very long time. Hence, despite being deteriorated in recent years, they cannot be easily changed. On the other hand, non-Western values are also not as highly embraced as Western ones. China, desiring to topple the US, is initiating numerous projects and agreements to spread its values around the world, making the world less Western and more Chinese/Asian. Nonetheless, Beijing has yet achieved any remarkable achievements in making their values more widespread and embraced by the rest of the world. Even worse, its image has been tarnished due to its rising assertiveness. Its projects in developing countries, especially BRI-related projects, have been notorious for a large number of problems related to environment or local corruption, and it is raising strategic uncertainty in the region by its increasing militarization, particularly on the South China Sea. These movements have turned China into a “malevolent” major power, hindering its process of disseminating and socializing its values to the world.

It is also worth noting that although Western values have declined, they have been proven to be benevolent for this world. Most recently, it is Western countries that have successfully developed good COVID-19 vaccines to save themselves and save the world from this unprecedented health crisis. Non-Western countries, for instance China and Russia, have their own vaccines, but they are not as welcome as other developed countries in the West in the vaccine race, because their vaccines are relatively less effective than Western-produced ones. Democracy, liberty, lassaiz faire are values that help Western countries or ones embrace such things able to produce massive amount of effective vaccines, and more broadly to develop a strong science and technology foundation. Producing and distributing vaccine for the rest of the world would make the West become a savior, which is good for saving the liberal international order.

Without doubt, the liberal international order has been in its worst time since 1991 when it reached its heyday. However, thanks to its merits, the liberal international order will not die. Instead, most countries will jointly save it, because they have been benefitting from this order for a long time, and will be so in the future. The order’s founding members are recovering, and cooperating closely to reform it, as well as there are no better international orders that can replace the existing one. Given these circumstances, the liberal international order would re-emerge as a dominant form of ordering this world after the pandemic, and would be perpetuated.

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Americas

Who benefits more from the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva?

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With the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva around the corner, the question is who actually benefits more from the meeting in the small Swiss town.

Mainstream media and right-wing foreign policy thinkers alike have argued that a joint press conference would “elevate” President Putin to the level of the American President.

Ivana Strander, the Jeane Kirkpatrick fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, argued that the upcoming Geneva summit is actually “a gift” to Putin.

In a CNN story, Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak mention that “officials who have been involved in arranging past US meetings with Putin say the Russian side often pushes for a joint press conference, hoping to elevate Putin’s stature by having him appear alongside the American leader”.

Whether as a subconscious bias or an actual reflection of attitudes, prevalent is the idea that coming close to the US President is a privilege that other leaders can only dream about. But who gains more from the upcoming summit?

In fact, it is the American President who is vying for other leaders’ approval and acceptance once again after a humiliating period – not the other way around. American is emerging from Trumpism, which revealed the other, ugly face of America. Trumpism is not gone and the other face of America is still there.

This week, US President Joe Biden is eager to show the world that America is “back”. In meetings with the G7, NATO countries’ top leaders, the NATO Secretary General, the Queen of England, and President Putin in the same week, Biden is asking the world to forget the last four years. And he is not doing this from the position of power or superiority. That’s why assuming that other heads of state, be it Putin or anyone else really, can only gain by coming close to the superiority of the American President is a misplaced and misguided. The US President is asking the international community to take America back – not the other way around.

President Putin doesn’t need the US President’s acceptance – Putin already got that. That happened back in 2018, in Helsinki, when President Trump sided with Putin over the US government’s own intelligence agencies, by rejecting the idea of Russia’s meddling in the US presidential elections. Trump slapped across the face and humiliated the US intelligence community in front of the whole world. Ever since, the US intelligence community has tried to figure out ways to prove Trump wrong and show him otherwise. And they have gone to incredible lengths, only so that they can get their pay pack of a sort, and prove Trump wrong. So, Putin already got what he wanted. He doesn’t need more “elevation”.

What’s also striking is that in Geneva, the UN is absolutely missing from the action. Geneva is the home of numerous UN agencies and international organizations, and not one is actually involved, which speaks volumes to questions of relevance. It is the Swiss government from Bern which is organizing the Summit. The UN is nowhere to be seen which is also indicative of the current Biden priorities.

If Trump was about “America First”, then Biden is about “America is still number one, right?”. But as the United Kingdom learned the hard way recently, it is sometimes best for a declining power to perhaps elegantly realize that the rest of the world no longer wants to dance to its tune, or at least not to its tune only. Discussions about how much Putin gains from coming close to the presence of the US President are misguided. In trying to climb back on the international stage on crotches and covered up in bruises, America is not in a position to look down on other big powers. And as regards who benefits more from the Summit, it seems like one side is there with a clear request asking for something. My understanding is that it is Biden who wants Putin to hand cyber criminals over to him. Putin still hasn’t said what he wants from Biden, in return.

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