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The Caligula Presidency as an Existential Menace to American Democracy

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap]t did not take very long before ancient Romans began to realize that the Caligula reign (which lasted some five years) represented a veritable threat to the Roman Republic and indeed the whole of the Roman Empire.

The Praetorian guards, whose duty it was to protect, the august Emperor of the Empire, came to that realization a bit more slowly but they too arrived at it, and then decided, wisely or misguidedly, as the case may be, to take things into their own hands. They proceeded to assassinate the emperor as he returned to his quarters from a gladiators’ game in the Coliseum.

Unethical and illegal, not to speak of loyalty and duty, to be sure, but a solution of sorts, one must admit. They had decided that a legal or ethical solution was next to impossible; so they resorted to an illegal and unethical one.

Let’s now jump to our present dire crisis. I have dubbed it “the Caligula presidency” because I see uncanny and ominous parallels with what went down some two thousand years ago in ancient Rome.

What is this crisis all about? Is it what Weaky Leak would like us to believe. Deep state taking over like the Orwellian Big Brother in 1984, eavesdropping on its citizens via state of the arts technology?

Is it terrorism? Al-Qaida, ISIS, getting its hands on nukes or controlling the computers that power our banks?

In some way it is all that. But that would still be a secondary peril. The first threat may turn out to be not terrorism but the way we respond to it, by turning against each other and in the process betraying our own ideals.

To imagine such a scenario we need not bring in Donald Trump as president of the United States. We can imagine it even without him. Thomas Jefferson had already imagined when he warned that “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” It is not that Jefferson was predicting the eventual demise of America as a polity. That may go on for a while just as Rome went on for some 400 years more after Caligula, when Romans went about their daily lives unimpeded, but America might disappear as an ideal democracy and as a symbol of liberty and tolerance.

But things have gotten worse than Jefferson might have imagined. We now have a leader who has no shame. He lies habitually and exploits our darkest fears regardless of consequences. He is simply unable to recognize when he is wrong and to rectify it. He takes responsibility for nothing but what appears useful to his own tremendous ego.

Take a couple or recent policy executions which he initiated by executive orders. The travel ban from selected Muslim countries. It reveals a mind-set, alive and well in the White House via the conspiracy theories of Steve Bannon, Trump’s strategist, that terrorists, like a giant tsunami, are flooding the country disguised as refugees. This is pure and simple a ban on Muslims, period.

Then there is VOICE, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, a new office Trump has created recently. This office was created after three Indian men were shot in separate attacks within the country, apparently mistaken for Muslims, or perhaps just because they were non-whites. The initiative of VOICE after these incidents bring one back to Nazi propaganda which blamed every societal ill on an alien race.

What is Trump doing here? Not hard to figure out. In the first place, remember that he is an entertainer. He is motivated rather than repulsed by the raw emotion of a mob. Indeed, fear is what defines much of America at the moment: fear of foreign terrorism, automation, new global markets, drug abuse, spiritual dislocation. Trump give it a name and scapegoat: Otherness. The people respond enthusiastically. They now see enemies everywhere, even here at home: the liberal media, the government agencies, the liberal philosophy underpinning much of democracy, free speech, all considered “enemies of the people.”

To combat those enemies (often dubbed Deep State) a White Nationalism has been created. The KKK used to be the racist symbolism of that mind-set. Now it is more respectable; it clothes itself in the mantle of patriotic Americanism.

Despite all this, the country as a whole continues to believe, a bit schizophrenically, that the country’s legacy is that of a nation of immigrants beyond religion and race. It is that belief that is deemed to be our singular place in the world. That bedrock belief explains the difficulty in reaching a consensus about unlawful immigration. Two seminal ideas are crashing here: the rule of law on one hand which is considered almost sacred, and compassion for others on the other hand, especially when declaring oneself a “Christian” nation.

You would expect that a sitting president would be helpful in sorting out these painful contradictions of public policy. What he has done, instead, is breach all the common boundaries of responsible political debate. His numerous enemies whom he insults habitually via Tweet, are not only Muslims, but Mexicans; not only the poor and disadvantaged, but the educated and the politically correct.

This sitting president, so similar to Caligula of old seems to care little for tolerance, pluralism, free press, as long as the mob stays loyal, well fed and entertained. But it seems that lately he has been losing that too. His popularity as a president is at an all time low.

Oh well, presidents come and go, but this is different. How so? In the sense that he may have unleashed in the body politic of the US a sort of cultural virus wherein the mantra “go back to your own country” does not belong exclusively to the KKK and other assorted racists, but it is fast becoming popular and common.

What’s even more disturbing is that there seems to be an assault on taken for granted American ideals by which this country thought of itself as exceptional. The question arises: is this the real threat? Is this the wrong path we have embarked upon from which there is no going back? And when do our leaders in Congress and the Judicial rise up and say “enough is enough”?

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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A Most Unusual Inaugural

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President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden enter the inauguration platform during the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. (DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II)

Sic transit gloria mundi — thus passes worldly glory, which seems an apt phrase for the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next.

Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. became the 46th president of the United States at noon on January 20th, and earlier  Donald J. Trump departed the White House quietly for Florida — his last ride on Air Force One as president — leaving behind a generous and gracious letter for Biden.  So it is described by Joe Biden himself.  Trump did not attend the inauguration, the first president not to do so since Woodrow Wilson in 1921, who remained inside the Capitol building because of poor health while his successor Warren G. Harding was installed.

It was a most unusual inauguration this time.  There were no crowds on the lawns outside; instead row upon row of American flags representing them.  The official attendees all wore masks and included three former Presidents (Obama, the younger Bush and Clinton).  President Carter, who is in his 90s and frail, sent his apologies. 

The usual late breakfast before the ceremony and the lunch afterwards were also cancelled — one cannot eat with a mask in place!  No evening inaugural balls either.  These were sometimes so many that the new president and his lady could only spend a few minutes at each.  In their stead, there was a virtual inaugural celebration hosted by Tom Hanks the actor.  It consisted mostly of pop-singers who supported Biden plus a disappointing rendering of Amazing Grace by Yo-Yo Ma on his cello. 

Biden’s first act was to sign a series of executive orders to undo some of Trump’s policies.  He announced the U.S. would not leave the World Health Organization (WHO) and would continue to contribute to it.  On climate change a complete policy reversal now means the U.S. will abide by the Paris climate accord.   

Biden’s other executive orders totalling 15 responded to the coronavirus crisis with the goal of giving 100 million vaccine shots by the end of April.  He proposes to establish vaccine centers at stadiums and community facilities and also plans to speed up production of the supplies required for making vaccines.

The U.S. now has lost 406,000 lives (and counting) from COVID-19.  That number is noted to be greater than U.S. deaths during WW2.  The virus has so far infected 24.5 million people.  However, the problem is more complicated than simply inoculating everyone.

Swedish authorities report that 23 people, mostly elderly and having other health issues, have died after being given the Pfizer vaccine.  Its side effects apparently can be severe and mimic the disease itself.  Thus given a choice, one would prefer the Moderna vaccine.  

Old age is a poignant sight to behold.  Biden the ex high school football star now having difficulty lifting his feet to walk.  Very gamely, he even tried a jog or two to say a quick hello to bystanders during his short walk to the White House.  We wish him well and hope for a successful presidential term.  Thirty-six years as senator and eight years as vice-president certainly make him one of the most experienced to sit in the White House Oval Office.   Good luck Mr. President!  

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Is Sino-Russian partnership posing a strategic threat to U.S. and democracy worldwide?

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image credit: kremlin.ru

Despite significant divergence between China and Russia in both regional and international arenas, the countries have striven to expand their cooperation in several directions namely in diplomatic, political and defense realms. China and Russia consider the US as a challenge to the national security of both Beijing and Moscow. The countries are bearing in mind that alignment between Moscow and Beijing is thought to be the best possible measure to deter US hegemonic policy.  Russia and China are working together to the fill the gaps of their military capability, accelerating their technological innovations, supplementing each other’s defense competency to emasculate US global leadership, challenging US dominance in strategic regions as well.

Their joint naval drills are supposed to be projected as a counter-measure to minimize the US capability, and to defy US regional scenario. Furthermore, the countries accelerate their cooperation to erode US military advantages. In order to enhance their efforts, Russia provides China with advanced weapons to remove the US from their backyards. Their joint efforts have put America under immense pressure to reconsider its defense budget and its alleged commitments to advocate a free and open Indo-Pacific.  The countries are doing their best to counter American Democratic measure in form of “color revolutions”, substantiating each other to defend their interests in multidimensional environments, creating norms around cyber and internet sovereignty, and augmenting anti-American elements even radical Islamists to gain the power and expand their territorial control. They legitimize each other’s conducts to persuade swing states to abandon the US.

Moscow and Beijing consolidating their efforts to inter to the new spaces more likely Artificial Intelligence, they strive to offer diverse digital system and other technologies. They also joined hands to disqualify American financial measures in the global economic arena especially bypass the US sanctions and minimize the US ability in financial realm  as part of the US foreign policy objective.  

They have long before tried to de-dollarize the world finical system, which will in turn curtail the US capability in the area of export control.

America’s counter measures

Nonetheless, the US has launched counter measures to limit Sino-Russia cooperation and the threats they pose to Washington. In response to Sino-Russian partnership, the US stationed and installed vigilant technologies all around the countries to curb their liabilities. Additionally, in response to the Sino-Russian joint-partnership, the US adopted a new maritime strategy in December 2020 the three maritime services of the US military – the US Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The strategy elucidates both China and Russia as resolute adversaries, who pose a long-term strategic threat to the national security of the US in the global arena particularly in Indo-pacific domain. In comparison to the old strategies, the new strategy presses on the importance of sea control, which ascribes the possibility of armed conflict with at maritime level. Moreover, the strategy signifies the importance of Coastguard as a part of main element to deter multidimensional threats posed by Sino-Russia. The new strategy also implies and stress on building partnerships and cooperation with other countries to defend the US global perspective.  It clarifies as well that current US defense capability is not sufficient. Thus, the maritime forces ought to be modernized in order to counter Sino-Russia maritime strategy. According to the new strategy, the size and shape will boldly change to answer the current and future challenges.

Are China and Russia strategically associated?

Even so, due to American Air, Land and sea superiority, in global level and particularly in Indo-pacific, Asian and African regions, which is considered as threat to the national security of China and Russia.  Therefore, Moscow and Beijing agreed upon to build up partnership and cooperation along with filling each other’s gaps in term of defense, aerial, sea and digital technologies, to rule out American Maritime strategic challenges. In addition, kick out the US military forces from their back yards. It is worthwhile to note Sino-Russian cooperation or partnership is not strategic, because is not built on natural basis, rather it instituted on a tactical measure to deter American aggression. It is very conventional term that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, which means Beijing and Moscow have a common enemy “the United States”. Therefore, they disregard their border dispute for the time being, which will definitely be brushed up, when the US is out of the race in the global arena.

According to the management criteria, partnership or cooperation is based on three terms; short term, midterm and long term in other word operational, tactical and strategic, taking in to account the mentioned terminologies the Sino-Russia partnership is operational and tactical then to be strategic/long-term. While China has been shifting its soft strategic measures, the country tries to apply hard power in Central Asia “Russia’s back yard”.  Beijing considers stationing military forces in the region to defend the country’s Belt and Road initiative extended to the region. China wants to safeguard its geo-economic and geo-political objectives thru future military installations in Central Asia. Therefore, Beijing’s motives are irreconcilable with the foreign policy objectives of Moocow for the region, because China pursues to advance trans-Eurasian transportation corridor in order to bypass Russia. Furthermore, China recently built an airport in Xining-Uyghur autonomous district close to Afghan and Tajikistan borders, which is the first airport of such kind in the mountainous area of Badakhshan. China’s initiative in this form, offers Beijing enjoying upper hand to get hold on Natural resources of the disputed region. The country undertook to build extra 25 airports in the region in order to expand its military buildup.  Hence, Russia reconsiders its partnership with China, because the balance between Beijing and Moscow is changing in the region.

In addition, Sino-Russian partnership is depended on China’s commitment to full carbon neutrality by 2060.  Beijing will reduce consumption of all fossil fuels, including natural gas, which will definitely play a significant role in future cooperation and partnership between Moscow and Beijing.

China has recently made public that the country will almost be carbon neutral in 40 years; means the country will reduce 65% of its oil consumption and 75% of its natural gas consumption. These assertions will disqualify forthcoming efforts to run a mega-pipeline “Power of Siberia-2” in order to pump Russian natural gas to China. In order to minimize its dependency on Russian Natural Gas, China has diversified its efforts to import natural gas from centrals Asian countries. China made a technological breakthrough in domestic natural gas production, which will in turn reduce Chinese dependency on Russia. In couple of decades, Russia will totally lose its fuel and gas advantages to leverage China. Between 2050.2060, China will independently handle its energy needs, and develop its defense, maritime and digital technology including artificial intelligence. China will increase its defense budget up to 1 trillion dollars. Until 2060, the US will completely be out as a major element of world order. So there would be no need for Sino-Russian cooperation, China alone would be in a position to police the world and Russia will become Beijing’s number one geo-political enemy.

Sino-Russian rift

China and Russia enmity goes back to the Chinese Eastern Railway(CER) conflict took place in 1929 between Soviet Union and China, which was the bloodies conflict of its time. Joseph Stalin played a significant role to neutralize Chinese efforts to recapture the Railway. In order to attain its goals China used both conventional and asymmetric approaches to eliminate Soviet Union control over the Railway. Obtaining green signals from Japan, Stalin forcefully trespassed the region and pushed back Chinese armed forces, which was connoted as a sign of aggression, and ended up with border dispute. Throughout, the history both countries unsuccessfully endeavored to find a peaceful and acceptable solution to the border conflict. Consequently, in 2003 Russia and China signed an agreement to resolve the border dispute. In 2005, Moscow and Beijing finalized the border issue, nevertheless, Chinese leadership still claims that Vladivostok Russia’s Fareast city is part of Chinese territory, besides Beijing asserts that Russia has annexed 350.000 square mile of Chinese territory.

Taking into account the above said facts, Sino-Russian partnership will break up some times in the future (2050-2060) and will change to armed conflict. Furthermore, Russia is not a solemn geopolitical adversary of the United States as China is. After the collapse of Soviet Union, both Russia and America were on the right path to normalize their relationship. Throughout, the different administrations no matter democrats or republicans leadership, Moscow and Washington achieved a lot to be aligned.  For goodwill they even signed a new start to reduces their nuclear warheads and stop arm race. Due to the US eastward expansionism, Russia was driven into the arms of Beijing to establish partnership and cooperation.

Is Beijing or Moscow a national security threat?

The National Counterintelligence and Security Director Bill Evanina in his Fax News interview shed light on that no country poses a broader more severe threat to America than China. He added that Beijing’s malign influence campaign against America would be one of the bigger challenge for Biden administration. He asserted from a threat perspective, Russia is a significant adversary particularly with regard to cyber intrusions, malign influence, and sowing discord in American democracy, but China poses a broader, more severe intelligence collection to the United States. According to Evanina, China continually engaged in highly sophisticated malign influence campaign against America, because America is a democracy, and democracy is bad for China. Evanina clarifies that challenge for Biden administration will be to understand the scope and scale of Chinese threats in the American landscape, domestically, and what is the best course to defeat that.

He added that part of China’s malign influence has focused on politicians and elected officials, leveraging them to be engaged in promoting Beijing’s scenario. Evanina signalizes that data theft by Beijing poses severe threat to the nationalized Americans. China can exploit the data for variety of nefarious purposes, and already has a significant record of exploitation of DNA for social control and surveillance of their Uyghur population at home. Evanina warned that China’s collection of U.S.  Genomic data is helping to fuel their precision medicine and artificial intelligence industries, which poses a long-term threat to the US biotech industry and medicine around the world at large. China continues to exploit American government and industry supply chain he said, Beijing uses American trusted suppliers and vendors against the US itself.  He explained that supply chain attacks are insidious at most, because they violate the basic trust between a supplier and a consumer. Therefore, he said that it is a complicated set for the Biden administration to deal with.

A chance of reconsidering foreign policy objectives

Observing that Russia is not a significant threat to America at most, on the other, China poses, the most severe threat to the United States, so the Biden administration can give it a try  to revise policies on Russia, and find out divergences and get them solved. In accordance with the US newly adopted maritime strategy, the American forces and vigilance instruments cannot be present everywhere and every time, therefore it stressed on to build and convene partnership and alliance with other countries. Unlike former strategies, the current strategy is more in favor of working together with allies.  If Biden’s administration tries to build trust amongst its allies, he needs to listen to his allies around the globe especially his European ones and give preference to their concerns. In European perspective, Russia is an inevitable potency in term of economic cooperation, counter insurgency, counter terrorism, and cyber security. Therefore, it is advisable that the policy towards Moscow requires to be given the kiss of life to crumble Sino-Russian partnership, and get it aligned with Washington. Most importantly, Russia is part of Europe; hence, a European orientated solution should be conveyed to motivate Russia to work together with European Union and America.

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Is Mike Pompeo the worst Secretary of State in history?

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State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain

Trump may have a race for the worst presidential title, but Pompeo is in a class of his own. James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson remain formidable contenders for Donald Trump in the ranking of worst US presidents. However, there is no competition for Mike Pompeo, Trump’s most passionate subordinate, in the worst Secretary of State ranking.

During his two years and nine months as the nation’s top diplomat, Pompeo did nothing to improve the US administration’s security, values, or even policies. His term ended in humiliation: humiliation from European allies, disgusted by the profanity he and Trump have committed over the past four years. On January 4, Pompeo announced he would travel to Europe and meet European Union leaders.

Two days later, after Trump-fueled riots on Capitol Hill, EU officials said they would not meet him. So Pompeo canceled his last chance to travel abroad. It’s been a long season of humiliation for Pompeo. In August, he pressed the UN Security Council to pass a ban on the sale of conventional weapons to Iran. Only one of the council members, the Dominican Republic, joined the US in supporting the ban; Russia and China against it; others, all US allies, abstained.

The episode depicts, in extreme form, two of Pompeo’s most distinct features: the obsession that foments regime change in Iran and the inability to bring it about or any other goal. Like Trump, Pompeo has been unceasingly opposed to the Iran nuclear deal. It’s no coincidence that Trump pulled out of the deal and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic on May 8, 2018, just 12 days after Pompeo was sworn in as Secretary of State. (His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, has advised Trump to stick to the deal.)

Pompeo claimed, with high confidence, the sanctions would force Tehran to return to negotiating a “better” nuclear deal, or perhaps force a regime collapse. Today: Iran’s economy is in ruins, but the regime survives, its hardline faction is stronger than ever, and its reactors are more capable of producing atomic bombs than ever before. (President-elect Joe Biden wants to restart the nuclear deal, but Iran’s technological advances and political hardening will make this more difficult to achieve.)

This week, he may realize his “maximum pressure” campaign has failed miserably. No wonder then that Pompeo changed course and claimed, in a speech to the National Press Club, that Iran was al-Qaeda’s new “base” and declared, “The time is now for America and all countries free to destroy the al-Qaeda axis of Iran.” The US intelligence official said there was not any evidence for this claim.

Pompeo’s other big target is China, and he has called for regime change in Beijing as well, despite the goals that are clearly absurd. In fact, a large proportion of China’s population supports the party that ruled the government, which lifted more than 850 million people out of poverty in record time. However, there is nothing “Marxist-Leninist” about President Xi Jinping’s philosophy, which seeks expansion through mercantilist techniques, not ideological conformity.

While it is important to contain Chinese military presence in the South China Sea (something the US military has been doing for some time), it is very difficult to compare its scope or ambition to that of the Soviet Union, which once enjoyed a presence in a truly global world. Pompeo misunderstood the nature of China’s challenge. As a result, he came up with half-baked ideas on how to deal with it.

There are also Pompeo’s lies. He has claimed he and Trump have made NATO “stronger” than ever. In reality, those trans-Atlantic relations are strained as Trump continually rejects the alliance in general and the European Union in particular.

Pompeo has also been a corrupt foreign minister. By filming a speech in Jerusalem to be broadcast at the 2020 Republican National Convention, he was violating not only the law, but also the previously announced policy of barring department employees from attending political conventions.

He used security guards to carry out errands for himself, his wife, and his wife’s mother. He also asked Trump to fire the inspector general who investigated the misuse of his government’s resources. He threw a lavish dinner party inside the State Department, inviting donors who might contribute to some future political campaigns.

He tricked the Voice of America, which in recent decades had become a fairly objective global news service, into becoming a propaganda organ for Trump. He demoralized the foreign service even more thoroughly than Tillerson had done.

Pompeo paved his way to power by directing his every word to the pleasure of the boss, starting when he was director of the CIA (where he frequently omitted or distorted intelligence that contradicted Trump’s hunches). He is a dishonest intermediary, reluctant to speak the truth to power, for fear that he will lose power in doing so.

To end it all, in his final days, Pompeo issued a no-discussion order that overturned existing policies: lifting restrictions on official contact with Taiwan, designating Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” and declaring Iranian-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen an “organization. foreign terrorists ”.

This movement will not have a long-term effect. The future Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, can reverse this dictum, although it would be awkward to do so. It was an act of sheer mischief, like a teenager throwing a rotten egg at a new neighbor’s front door.

Is Pompeo the worst Secretary of State ever? In modern times, John Foster Dulles (former Secretary of State) may be a rival for the crown, but, fortunately, President Dwight Eisenhower did not listen to Dulles’ most dire advice.

Dulles was fanatical about pushing for the “backsliding” of Soviet communism, but Eisenhower, however, still adopted the “containment” policy of his predecessor, Harry Truman. Dulles also offered his French counterpart two tactical nuclear weapons to prevent the Viet Cong siege of Dien Bien Phu. However, Eisenhower was not interested in doing so. So, Mike Pompeo won the crown of worst US Secretary of State. Next week, he will fly back to Kansas, where he was a congressman and where he hopes to run for the Senate.

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