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Tears, a protest, a tweet and a march

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Scene I Act I – Hollywood actress Meryl Streep used her acceptance speech for the Cecille B DeMille award to criticise Donald Trump. She said “if all the foreigners are kicked out then there would be nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts. Hollywood, Foreigners and Press are the most vilified sections in the society.” Meryl Streep also criticised Trump for mocking at a differently abled person.

Trump has refuted this. As usual, Trump took to twitter and said that Meryl Streep is the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood. Hollywood celebrities have gone on to praise her for a bold and beautiful speech. Robert De Niro wrote a full letter praising Meryl Streep. Other celebrities who have praised her include Ellen De Generes, Alyssa Milano, Gina Rodriguez and many others.

Anyone who sees the video will clearly conclude that Trump was mocking the differently abled person. Trump’s gesture was a shameful thing to do. Even if he is not broad minded enough to apologise, the least that one can hope is that he does not do it again. That said, what was so bold and beautiful about Meryl Streep’s speech? Firstly, is it fair for Meryl Streep to use the award platform to have a go at the then President-elect? Secondly, it was good that Meryl Streep became emotional about Trump mocking at the differently abled journalist. Along with that, it would have been good if she had become emotional about Syria and Libya too.

Who will cry for Syria and Libya? These devastations were a result of the decisions taken by the ‘regime-change-mongering’ administration of Hillary Clinton ably backed by Barack Obama. It would have been good if Meryl Streep would have cried for that cause too. Of course one can understand her not doing that. That would have made her speech look like she was in support of Trump. How can one do that? Supporting Trump is the worst criminal act that one can ever commit in this life, isn’t it?

Scene I Act II – John Lewis, a civil rights icon, recently said that “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president.” When asked why he does not consider Trump as a legitimate president, he replied “I think the Russians participated in helping this man elected.” “I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others to help him get elected. That’s not right. That’s not the open democratic process.” In return, Donald Trump tweeted that John Lewis should spend more time on fixing his crime infested district which is in horrible shape and falling apart rather than falsely complaining about election results. As a result, some Democratic members of the Congress decided to boycott the inauguration on January 19.

John Lewis is a civil rights icon, He was an ally of Martin Luther King Jr. He was even beaten brutally in Alabama in 1965 while marching for civil rights and suffered a fractured skull too. Full respect should be given to him for that. On the other hand, does it mean that he is beyond criticism? He has cited his reason as the Russian interference in the US elections. Allegations of Russian interference are not something that has broken out only after the elections. This is something that has been in the air for quite some time. The American voters were fully aware of the allegations against Russia that they hacked the computers of the Democratic National Committee. In spite of that, they decided to back Trump. Without accepting that fact, complaining bitterly that this is not a legitimate election would only portray the person to be a bitter loser.

Scene I Act III – In an interview with The Sunday Times recently, Donald trump said that Angela Merkel, the German President, made a catastrophic mistake with her open policy on refugees. Trump also suggested that the Christmas market attack by a Tunisian man in Berlin was one of the effects of Merkel’s policies and described Syrian refugees as “all these illegals.” In contrast with Trump, Merkel has given a matured response by saying that she is going to wait till the American president takes office, and then will work with him on all levels. Trump’s comments on Merkel’s policy especially during an election year should have been avoided. Trump was criticised for that and rightly so. However, there are other things that have been conveniently forgotten.

For example what and how did the international community talk about Donald Trump before the elections? French President Francois Hollande warned that if the Americans elect Trump, they will have consequences because American elections are world elections. The consequence that Hollande mentioned probably is his own defeat in the upcoming elections of 2017. Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal Alsaud called Donald Trump a disgrace not only to the GOP but to the entire America and called on to him to quit the elections because “you are never going to win.” A host of other world leaders also criticised and maligned him before the elections. But they were not criticised for that. However Trump, on the other hand, was derailed for being ‘inappropriate.’ That is because the International law according to Article ‘007’ says that “Any mistake done by a certain Donald Trump should be analysed via a powerful microscope. However, those mistakes committed by others should be conveniently ignored.”

Scene I Act IV More than 3 million women and men joined Women’s marches in more than 500 US cities. Every state in the US hosted a women’s march. Apart from these cities, women and men marched in cities like Sydney, Paris, London, Nairobi, Berlin, Wellington, Barcelona and Cape Town. Marches also took part in Greece, Kosovo, the Czech Republic and Georgia. Let’s leave alone the international cities for a reason. Let’s look at the protests that happened in the US. Comparisons are being done of the crowds that assembled for these protests with the crowds that gathered for the Trump inauguration ceremony.

This comparison cannot be made for two reasons. Firstly, let’s assume that this march was done as a warning/protest to/against Trump even though it can be argued otherwise. The challenge with taking that line of argument is that half of these people who have joined the protests when asked by the media, as a part of opinion polls, who they were going to vote for, happily shouted out “Hillary Clinton” or “I am undecided”. Then they went to the polling booth, silently voted for Donald Trump and came back. Secondly, even if the polls were to be held today, it is safe to assume that the same protest marches would happen today too. Much of these women and men folk would then loudly chant “Donald Trump down down”, “We want Hillary Clinton” etc. Again they would take a break, go silently, vote for Donald Trump and come back and rejoin the protests against Trump. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the fact of the matter.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author    

Harish Venugopalan is a Research Assistant with the Observer Research Foundation. He has done his Masters in International Relations from the Dublin City University (DCU) in 2011-2012. His current research interest is ‘Conflict Management in Africa’.

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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Trump’s legacy hangs over human rights talk at upcoming Biden-Putin Geneva summit

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biden-syria
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Two days after the NATO Summit in Brussels on Monday, US President Joe Biden will be in Geneva to hold a much anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders are meeting at the shores of Lake Geneva at a villa in Parc la Grange – a place I know very well and actually called home for a long time. The park itself will be closed to the public for 10 days until Friday.

A big chunk of the lakeside part of the city will be closed off, too. Barb wire and beefed up security measures have already been put in place to secure the historic summit. The otherwise small city will be buzzing with media, delegations and curious onlookers.

I will be there too, keeping the readers of Modern Diplomacy updated with what’s taking place on the ground with photos, videos and regular dispatches from the Biden-Putin meeting.

The two Presidents will first and foremost touch on nuclear security. As an interlude to their meeting, the NATO Summit on Monday will tackle, among other things “Russian aggression”, in the words of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Last week, Stoltenberg said that he “told President Biden that Allies welcome the US decision, together with Russia, to extend the New START Treaty, limiting strategic weapons, and long-range nuclear weapons”. To extend the treaty is an important first step for Stoltenberg. This will be the obvious link between the two summits.

But Biden also has to bring up human rights issues, such as the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny and Putin’s support for the jailing of Belarusian activists by Lukashenko. Human rights have to be high on the agenda at the Geneva Summit. And indeed, Biden has confirmed officially that pressing Putin on human rights will be a priority for the American side.

Biden and Putin are not fans of each other, to say the least. Both have made that clear in unusually tough rhetoric in the past. Over the years, Biden has said on numerous occasions that he has told Putin to his face that he doesn’t “have a soul”. Putin’s retort was that the men “understand each other”.

Right at the beginning of his Presidency, earlier this year, Biden also dropped the bomb calling President Putin a “killer” for ordering the assassination of political opponents. The Russian president responded to the “killer” comment on Russian television by saying that “it takes one to know one”. Putin also wished Biden good health, alluding to the US President’s age and mental condition which becomes a subject of criticism from time to time.

Understandably, Putin and Biden are not expected to hold a joint press conference next week. But we weren’t expecting that, anyways.

For me, this Summit has a special meaning. In the context of repression against political opponents and critical media voices, President Biden needs to demonstrate that the US President and the US government are actually different from Putin – if they are any different from Putin.

This week, we were reminded of Trump’s legacy and the damage he left behind. One of Trump’s lasting imprints was revealed: Trump had the Department of Justice put under surveillance Trump’s political opponents. Among them House Democrats, including Congressman Adam Shiff, who was one of the key figures that led Trump’s first impeachment that showed that Trump exerted pressure on Ukrainian authorities to go after Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

In the context of Trump’s impact, President Biden needs to show that there has to be zero tolerance towards the cover up by the US government of politically motivated attacks against voices critical of the US government. If President Biden wants to demonstrate that the US government is any different from Putin’s Russia, Secretary of State Blinken and FBI director Chris Wray have to go. Biden has to show that he won’t tolerate the cover up of attacks on political critics and the media, and won’t spare those that stand in the way of criminal justice in such instances.

Biden is stuck in the 2000s when it comes to Eastern Europe, as I argued last week but he needs to wake up. President Biden and the US government still haven’t dealt effectively with Trump’s harmful impact on things that the US really likes to toot its horn about, such as human rights and freedom. Whether the upcoming Geneva Summit will shed light on that remains to be seen.

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Will Geneva Be Any Different Than Helsinki?

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Any meeting between the leaders of Russia and the U.S. is inevitably an important international event. At some point in history, such summits decided the fate of the entire world, and the world held its collective breath as it followed Kremlin-White House talks on strategic arms or the two sides seeking agreements on urgent regional problems or any political signals coming from the superpower capitals prior to another round of negotiations.

The bipolar era has long been gone, and the Russia-U.S. relations are no longer the principal axis of international politics, although the suspense over bilateral summits remains. As before, the two countries are engaged in “top-down” interaction. Summits give the initial impetus to Moscow and Washington’s cumbersome bureaucratic machines, then diplomats, military personnel and officials start their assiduous work on specific issues, collaboration between the two countries’ private sectors and civil society perks up, the media gradually soften their rhetoric, bilateral projects in culture, education and science are gradually resumed.

Still, there are annoying exceptions to this general rule. In particular, the latest full-fledged Russia–U.S. summit in Helsinki in July 2018 failed to trigger improvements in bilateral relations. On the contrary, Donald Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Finland’s capital aroused massive resentment among the anti-Russian Washington establishment. Ultimately, on returning home, the U.S. President had to offer awkward apologies to his supporters and opponents alike, and relations between the two countries continued to rapidly deteriorate after the summit.

Surely, nobody is willing to see another Helsinki scenario in June 2021, this time in Geneva. Yet, do we have good reason to hope for a different outcome this time? To answer this question, let us compare Donald Trump and Joseph Biden’s approaches to Russia-U.S. summits and to bilateral relations at large.

First of all, in Helsinki, Trump very much wanted the Russian leader to like him. The Republican President avoided publicly criticizing his Russian counterpart and was quite generous with his compliments to him, which inevitably caused not only annoyance but pure outrage in Washington and in Trump’s own Administration. Joe Biden has known Vladimir Putin for many years; he does not set himself the task of getting the Russian leader to like him. As far as one can tell, the two politicians do not have any special liking for each other, with this more than reserved attitude unlikely to change following their meeting in Geneva.

Additionally, in Helsinki, Trump wanted, as was his wont, to score an impressive foreign policy victory of his own. He believed he was quite capable of doing better than Barack Obama with his “reset” and of somehow “hitting it off” with Putin, thereby transforming Russia if not into a U.S. ally, then at least into its strategic partner. Apparently, Biden has no such plans. The new American President clearly sees that Moscow-Washington relations will remain those of rivalry in the near future and will involve direct confrontation in some instances. The Kremlin and the White House have widely diverging ideas about today’s world: about what is legitimate and what is illegitimate, what is fair and what is unfair, where the world is heading and what the impending world order should be like. So, we are not talking about a transition from strategic confrontation to strategic partnership, we are talking about a possible reduction in the risks and costs of this necessarily costly and lengthy confrontation.

Finally, Trump simply had much more time to prepare for the Helsinki summit than Biden has had to prepare for Geneva. Trump travelled to Finland eighteen months after coming to power. Biden is planning to meet with Putin in less than five months since his inauguration. Preparations for the Geneva summit have to be made in haste, so the expectations concerning the impending summit’s outcome are less.

These differences between Biden and Trump suggest that there is no reason to expect a particularly successful summit. Even so, we should not forget the entire spectrum of other special features of the Biden Administration’s current style of foreign policy. They allow us to be cautiously optimistic about the June summit.

First, Donald Trump never put too much store by arms control, since he arrogantly believed the U.S. capable of winning any race with either Moscow or Beijing. So, his presidential tenure saw nearly total destruction of this crucial dimension of the bilateral relations, with all its attendant negative consequences for other aspects of Russia-U.S. interaction and for global strategic stability.

In contrast, Biden remains a staunch supporter of arms control, as he has already confirmed by his decision to prolong the bilateral New START. There are grounds for hoping that Geneva will see the two leaders to at least start discussing a new agenda in this area, including militarization of outer space, cyberspace, hypersonic weapons, prompt global strike potential, lethal autonomous weapons etc. The dialogue on arms control beyond the New START does not promise any quick solutions, as it will be difficult for both parties. Yet, the sooner it starts, the better it is going to be for both countries and for the international community as a whole.

Second, Trump never liked multilateral formats, believing them to be unproductive. Apparently, he sincerely believed that he could single-handedly resolve any burning international problems, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to North Korea’s nuclear missile programme.

Biden does not seem to harbor such illusions. He has repeatedly emphasized the importance of multilateralism, and he clearly understands that collaboration with Russia is necessary on many regional conflicts and crises. Consequently, Geneva talks may see the two leaders engage in a dialogue on Afghanistan, on the Iranian nuclear deal, on North Korea, or even on Syria. It is not at all obvious that Biden will succeed in reaching agreement with Putin immediately on all or any of these issues, but the very possibility of them discussed at the summit should be welcomed.

Third, Trump was not particularly fond of career diplomats and, apparently, attached little value to the diplomatic dimension of foreign policy. The Russia-U.S. “embassy war” had started before Trump—but not only did Trump fail to stop it, he boosted it to an unprecedented scale and urgency.

Sadly, the “embassy war” continues after Trump, too. Yet President Biden, with his tremendous foreign policy experience, understands diplomatic work better and appreciates it. Practical results of the Geneva summit could include a restoration of the diplomatic missions in Washington and Moscow to their full-fledged status and a rebuilding of the networks of consular offices, which have been completely destroyed in recent years. Amid the problems of big politics, consular services may not seem crucial but, for most ordinary Russians and Americans, regaining the opportunity for recourse to rapid and efficient consular services would outweigh many other potential achievements of the Geneva summit.

From our partner RIAC

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