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Why did Obama get his foreign policy so wrong?

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It is only with difficulty that Obama’s friends and foes alike can dispute his leadership abilities. Charismatic, humane, inspirational, well-read, composed- name it, he has it. And yet, going back to examine his foreign policy-making, whether one calls it ‘entrenchment’ or ‘offshore balancing’,  fact remains that America today finds itself in retreat.

Having Trump, a loose cannon, as the President who now has to sift through the consequences of diminished projections of American power in a newly-emerged, almost multipolar and, as such, unstable world order does not seem very promising either.

It is no exaggeration to say that during his two terms in office Obama managed to alienate most of his traditional allies in the Middle East (starting with Israel, culminating with Saudi Arabia, while aggravating Turkey, Egypt and Jordan in the process). It was Obama who allowed leadership in the mess that Iraq, Libya and Syria came to resemble on his watch to move on to the hands of America’s emboldened adversaries in the region. As a direct consequence of American inaction on the ground, the map of the Middle East is currently being re-drawn (in the noticeable absence of the United States) by a coalition of powers among which one finds none other than Iran (a previously rogue state whose return to world politics and the global economy was, in fact, enabled by the Obama administration).

To add insult to injury, Russia and China are building naval capabilities to roam and safeguard the high seas, increasingly laying claim to the Pacific. In fact, following the invasion of Crimea and the securing of the Black Sea, Putin has simultaneously strengthened Russian presence in the Mediterranean, the  Arctic and  the Baltic (which he claims to be a legitimate ‘sphere of interest’ in his very own Near Abroad), while at the same time making America almost a laughing stock in cyberspace. There should be no surprises, then, that on another front and as far as dithering Eastern European countries are concerned, liberal values and a hesitant NATO do not seem to resonate as much as before. Choosing sides for them may not prove to be that difficult in the not-so-distant future, if things do not drastically change. Indeed, the mice have been playing, while the American cat has been away.

But how did things come to that? One can almost hear Machiavelli laughing from the sidelines- a ruler, if they have to choose, must always choose to be feared rather than loved. The moment one puts on the ruling crown, the morality and liberal values of a private citizen need to be interchanged with the kind of morality necessary to protect and advance the interests of the state, no matter how despicable, shrewd or cynical they might seem. It is, therefore, one thing to protect liberal ideas at home, another how you choose to deal with such matters abroad, especially in the context of the brutal, anarchical international system in which we find ourselves.  For example, embarking on a moral crusade which emphasizes democratization and the embracing of civil society at the expense of order and stability in a region ready to combust (remember the Arab Spring anyone?), does not usually turn out to be very wise. Nor forcing allies to take up more responsibilities for their own security, choosing to ‘lead from behind’, as Obama thought possible, works very well either.

Amassing power but never showing any intention of using it, when need be, could possibly be worse than not possessing any power at all. Countries simply do not take lessons from anyone they perceive as weak. Periclean Athens, the cradle of democracy but still one of the most ruthless imperialist states of all time, is possibly the most pertinent case in point. “You seem to forget that if one follows one’s self-interest, one wants to be safe, where the path of justice and honour involves one in danger.” Thus said the Athenians to the rebellious Melians and proceeded to raze their city to the ground. Lesson taken, example set. Power is as power does.

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Americas

Joe Biden’s European vacations

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Joseph Biden, better known as Joe Biden, is an American politician from the Democratic Party who won last year’s presidential elections amid scandals and accusations of fraud. In his autobiography, Biden describes himself as a leading figure in determining US policy in the Balkans, and openly admits having convinced President Bill Clinton to intervene militarily in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and becoming the main architect of NATO enlargement.

Here are just a few facts from his past that can shed light on the possible  line of actions that could be taken by America’s current President.

Biden is certainly no stranger to Balkan issues. In 1999, he played an important role in the administration of President Bill Clinton, when NATO bombed Yugoslavia without a UN resolution, an act of aggression that resulted in Kosovo being proclaimed an independent state and which is now home to the largest US military base in Europe – Camp Bondsteel.  In 1999, the current US president was one of the most outspoken supporters of the bombing of Yugoslavia, which is something he took pride in.

“I propose to bomb Belgrade. I propose to send American pilots and blow up all the bridges over the Drina River,” said Biden, then a US Senator.

On September 1, 1999, Senator Joseph Biden visited Bulgaria as a representative of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, meeting with President Peter Stoyanov, Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mikhailova and local lawmakers. Biden has become a key figure in Bulgaria’s integration into the North Atlantic Alliance.

Today, after several years of lull, tensions in Ukraine are shooting up again.  At the close of 2013, a series of riots were provoked there eventually leading up to the 2014 coup and the subsequent conflict in the country’s eastern regions. During the armed confrontation, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics were established, which to this day remain at loggerheads with Kiev. After a region-wide referendum, over 95 percent of the residents of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea announced their desire to reunite with Russia. The role of Washington in the violent overthrow of power in Ukraine was clearly visible. US officials openly supported the Maidan, and Senator John McCain met with future government officials. Victoria Nuland, then US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, publicly stated that Washington had allocated $5 billion to support democracy in Ukraine. She personally distributed food to “peaceful demonstrators”, many of whom later ended up on the Maidan with weapons in their hands. Nuland, who served as Assistant Secretary of State to three presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, retired in 2017. Today, Biden is bringing her back into politics, nominating her to the post of Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs – the third most important in the State Department.

Biden visited Ukraine five times during and after the Maidan. The United States, along with Germany, Poland and France, forced the country’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych to make concessions to protesters, which quickly led to the government’s collapse. Immediately after the resignation of Yanukovych in February 2014, President Barack Obama appointed Biden as his official representative in Ukraine. A little later, Biden’s son, Hunter, was appointed to the board of directors of Ukraine’s Burisma gas company.

After the coup, the Americans took deep roots in Ukraine with their representatives appearing both in economic structures and in the government and special services. Years later, details of their work became available to the media. Former US President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudolph Giuliani said that he had managed to find witnesses and obtain documents demonstrating attempts to cover up violations of the law by Burisma and Hunter Biden’s involvement in the laundering of millions of dollars. Giuliani unveiled a scheme how $16 million, including $3 million “earned” by Biden Jr., had been withdrawn through a network of companies, a number of which were located in Cyprus. Other investigations initiated by the media have also revealed large flows of “dirty” money that was flowing from Ukraine through Latvia to Cyprus and other offshore companies such as Rosemont Seneca, founded by Hunter Biden and Devon Archer.

In April 2019, journalist John Solomon published a post in the American edition of Dakhil about how Joe Biden was helping his son in his business dealings after leaving the post of vice president and bragging to foreign policy experts that, as vice president, he had forced the dismissal of Ukraine’s chief prosecutor. Biden related how in March 2016 he threatened Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that Washington would withdraw its $ 1 billion loan guarantees and drive the country into bankruptcy unless Attorney General Viktor Shokin was dismissed immediately. And dismissed Shokin was, accused of not being active enough in fighting corruption. However, when talking about his victory, Biden misses an important point. Prior to his dismissal, the attorney general had launched a large-scale audit of the Burisma mining company where Hunter Biden was working. According to the US banking system, between spring 2014 and autumn 2015, Hunter’s company Rosemont Seneca regularly received transfers from Burisma to the tune of about $166,000.

This whole story gives us an idea of what kind of a person Joe Biden really is  and the question is how he will behave in the future.

Even before Biden’s inauguration as president, media representatives and analysts predicted an aggravation of the military situation, an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine and an increase in US activity in the Balkans. In the spring of 2021, these predictions were confirmed, and the military rhetoric of the US administration began heat up. In a March 17 interview with ABC TV, Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “killer.” Even during the Cold War, world leaders did not allow themselves such disrespect for one another. Similar statements from American politicians are often made against foreign leaders whom they want to overthrow or physically eliminate. A number of analysts believe that the absence of an apology from Washington indicates that such a statement was not accidental, but well thought out and comes as a new step in the information war against Russia.

The further development of events in the international arena appears more and more is scary each day. In the media and in public statements by a number of politicians the topic of possible military action is almost becoming “business as usual.” Therefore, the new American president’s personality and his inner circle is extremely important for understanding the future and assessing global risks around the world.

From our partner International Affairs

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The Private And Public Joe Biden: Belief And Policy

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Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith

Joe Biden supports abortion rights politically, a position conflicting with doctrine in the Catholic church.  Despite the pope issuing a warning to act with care, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is now ready to prepare a teaching document that could potentially bar Biden from receiving Holy Communion at mass.  A central sacrament during mass, Catholics believe that eating the consecrated wafer dipped in wine, representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ, unites them with their savior fortifying them to face evil temptations.

The USCCB vote to prepare the document was an overwhelming 168-55, and a committee of US bishops has been assigned the task.  Responding to questions, President Biden called it a private matter.  The document is expected to be ready in time for debate at the November bi-annual conference of US Catholic Bishops.

If that is one headache for Biden, another is in the offing.  Perhaps as a consequence of US policy towards Iran, the election of a hard-liner in Iran’s presidential election seems almost certain.  Judge Ebrahim Raisi, who is also Iran’s top judge, is on his way to victory on the basis of the votes counted so far.

The 60-year old cleric spent most of his life as a prosecutor until he was appointed Iran’s top judge in 2019.  He is fiercely loyal to his fellow clerics, particularly to Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader who has the final say in all matters.  All the same, the president does the administration and has significant input in both domestic and foreign policy.  Suffice to say, Raisi lost in a landslide to Hassan Rouhani, who sought accommodation with the West, in the previous election four years ago.

Having played hardball with Iran, the US is repeating itself with a Russia anxious for better relations.  Following the G7 meeting in Cornwall a week ago, President Biden flew to Geneva meeting President Putin at the Villa La Grange for a closely-watched summit.

Relations between the two countries have been tense following a series of events including the Russian annexation of Crimea.  The latter was transferred to Ukraine for administrative convenience when a connecting bridge was being constructed so that both ends of it would fall under the same authority.  The people of Crimea have no other connection with Ukrainians other than they were both part of the Soviet Union. 

Climate change, arms control, cyber security and American interest in jailed dissenters in Russia including Alexei Navalny .  Reading the riot act to Mr. Putin does little to further stability in relations.  Peace is not a problem among like-minded countries with a commonality of interests, it is a challenge when the parties are rivals, nuclear armed, and capable of blowing up the world.  Mr. Biden may be proud of his performance but is he able to accept the challenge, for if not where does it leave the rest of us …

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Is Covid-19 Zoonotic, Natural or Lab-engineered?

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President Trump led the US government propaganda that Coronavirus originated in WIV. However, even after twelve months the US government failed to provide factual or scientific evidence. Now, the Biden administration, inspired by the “dark web,” has tasked the US intelligence community to produce evidence in 90 days to establish that COVID-19 had no “natural ancestors.” As half the world’s scientific community is busy speculating, a simple forensic investigation is what is needed to find the answer.

***

“Throw enough dirt, and some will stick”  – Thomas Boghardt, Historian

Recently, there has been growing renewed interest in Coronavirus “lab leak” hypothesis. One can only speculate if more recent revelations of the presence of coronavirus in the US in mid-December 2019 – weeks before the first confirmed case was announced on January 21, 2020, would impact Wuhan lab leak controversy. But thanks to Trump’s “anti-China xenophobia,” for past whole year the leak theory was sidelined in public scientific debate in the US. As Covid-19 was turning into a global pandemic, the lab leak hypothesis got stuck in “hyper-politicized context.” Looking to inject fresh energy in his ongoing anti-China rhetoric with eyes on the November presidential vote, President Trump began “instrumentalizing the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) lab leak theory and even called it “China Virus” and “Kung Flu.” According to media reports, such pernicious intertwining of anti-China rhetoric and the xenophobic framing of the pandemic “caused an apparent chilling effect among the scientific community.”

During the past twelve months, science writers mocked and some even condemned anyone claiming lab leak origins of Coronavirus. Now, same lot among these writers and a few more joining them afresh, have lately been saying that Coronavirus may well have originated in a lab in Wuhan. As The New Yorker’s veteran political editor Amy Davidson Sorkin observed last Sunday, with President Biden entering the battle over the coronavirus lab-leak theory “the debate about the origin of the pandemic has become loud, contentious, and infused with politics.”  A rare Chinese commentary even alleged the Biden administration’s call for a fresh probe into the origins of Covid-19 is inspired by the latest “explosive” new study by two European scholars claiming that “Chinese scientists created the virus in Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) laboratory.”

What has changed for these science writers? If we go by what author and activist David Swanson says, nothing really. Swanson, who is also a popular radio host, thinks the latest change in the stance of the scientific community is largely a question of fashion. (Emphasis added) Indirectly attributing the “new outlook” of the scientists to the fresh call coming from the White House, Swanson wrote in a recent article “One doesn’t wear a wrong outfit too early in the season, or explore the wrong epidemiological idea when the White House is claimed by one Party or the other.” In fact, Swanson refused to be persuaded by the fact that the virus jumping out of the Wuhan lab was cause enough to condemn or “hate” China. Why?

Swanson offers two reasons. First, the bogey that the virus was created by Chinese scientists engaged in “Gain of Function” (GoF) project. Further elaborating on “Gain of Function” projects, Sorensen told DailyMail.com in an interview recently, GoF research involves “tweaking natural viruses to make them more infectious” and had been outlawed by former US President Barack Obama. Although denying the money US invested in WIV had gone into GoF projects, Dr. Antony Fauci told US lawmakers just the other day that the US National Institute of Health funded WIF with $600,000 between 2015 and 2021. So, instead of limiting one’s hatred for China, if China is a military threat, then why fund its bioweapons research? Swanson asked. Indeed, extremely pertinent question!

The other reason Swanson did not consider Coronvirus lab leak theory worthy of condemnation has much to do with the issue of censorship surrounding the whole topic of bioweapons in the US. For example, no one is supposed to know what is common knowledge anyway that the 2001 Anthrax attacks originated with material from a US bio- weapons lab. Or that Lyme disease which affects 400,000 Americans every year spread from a US bioweapons lab. Therefore, for Swanson, plausibility of a lab leak, even if never proven, is a new good reason to shut down all the world’s bioweapons labs. It is beyond comprehension why all those for probing the coronavirous lab leak origin are silent and have not demanded a ban on all the world’s bioweapons labs! (Emphasis added)

But why even after one and a half year since Covid-19 was detected in Wuhan, its source of origin remains a mystery? What about the WHO probe? Perhaps a calculated decision, or maybe not, as soon as President Trump exited the White House, the WHO sent a much awaited investigative team of seventeen experts to Wuhan. After spending four weeks in the “city of silence,” during which the team visited the laboratory, the WHO scientists concluded the lab-leak theory was “extremely unlikely.” But in a bizarre twist, even the so-called “China-centric” WHO chief Tedros surprised everyone and angered China, when speaking in Geneva two months ago he said “although the [WHO scientific] team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation.”    

On the other hand, China, as expected has repeatedly denied WIV was responsible for the lab leak and insisted that the virus emerged naturally or that it was zoonotic. In fact, by refusing to be either transparent or cooperative in sharing information, Beijing has only furthered global backlash against China’s antagonistic policies. China’s foreign ministry hitting back at the US as Biden ordered to revisit Wuhan lab leak theory is the latest example of its “wolf-warrior” attitude. China’s official media is no different. A month before the Wall Street Journal renewed media onslaught against Beijing in May end, official Chinese news broadcaster CGTN stated: “With Trump gone, the lab leak hypothesis is now acceptable. This plays into both an old Orientalist trope as well as a modern Sinophobic one to manufacture consent for America’s hybrid war against China.”

Though not officially declared a “taboo” subject, the op-ed commentaries have been scarce and few and far between on the WIV lab leak theory in China. A recent signed commentary jointly written by a seasoned India watcher who uses pen name “countryside Brahmin” and South Asian affairs expert Gao Xirui, strongly challenged May 26 executive order by President Biden. The commentary also ridiculed India for “piggy riding” America in the latest lab leak theory hype. The authors attributed Biden’s renewed interest in WIV lab leak to the recent study published in the science journal Quarterly Review of Biophysics Discovery by two European scientists, cited in the early part of this article.

Earlier on in August last year, WIV scientists had again refuted the leak theory. Speaking to the NBC News from the US which became the first foreign news agency to get access to the laboratory, Wang Yanyi, the WIV director had said: “None of the institute’s scientists contracted the virus, which made it extremely unlikely that the pathogen could have escaped from the facility.” NBC News in its report claimed WIV had been targeted because it was equipped to study the world’s “highest-risk infectious agents and toxins, like the latest coronavirus.” More recently, a GT editorial described President Biden ordering fresh probe as indulging in a bigger gamble against China than even Trump.  “No matter what Biden has in mind, the US government is generally up to something big against China,” the edit said.

As the flip-flop on the “leak theory” in the US continues, the narrative is not only inconclusive but still unfolding. Just as this write-up was near closing, the Financial Times reported researchers in the US fear “decades of fortuitous partnership” between the USA and P R China is under threat, all thanks to Wuhan lab row. “Beginning 2004, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed an agreement with the Chinese National Influenza Centre to help China improve its analysis of seasonal flu strains.  Scientists are now worried this type of collaboration is under threat, imperiled by mutual suspicions which have been exacerbated by the recent row over whether Covid-19 could have come from a lab leak in Wuhan,” the FT reported. Over the next decade, the US trained nearly 2,500 Chinese scientists and helped open dozens of laboratories in the country, the report added.    

Finally, according to Richard Ebright, “little has changed in terms of scientific evidence since the genome sequence of the virus was first released in January of 2020.” Ebright is one of 21 international scientists who detailed what a full, interdisciplinary investigation in Wuhan should look like in an open letter last March. At the same time, security analysts and think tank scholars in the US believe the new administration is forced to chase “lab leak” theory as “Biden doesn’t want to look ‘weak on China’.” Meanwhile, as China’s media is comparing the lab leak theory with the infamous “washing powder” lie about the WMDs in Iraq, professor Ebright has inadvertently replied to the New Yorker’s demand to find real answers. “The coronavirus origin can be answered through a forensic investigation, not a scientific speculation,” Ebright averred.   

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