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Recipe for a Coup: Pulling a Reverse Machiavelli

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Ingredients:

  • A PINCH OF CORRUPTION
  • A TRACE OF TREASON
  • A DOUBLE-CROSS OF YOUR ALLIES
  • A BROADSIDE OF THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY
  • A DISRESPECTING OF MILITARY LEADERSHIP

Directions:

Most students of international affairs, power, and diplomacy are made to read Machiavelli’s The Prince, usually within their very first year of study. While Machiavelli is often misunderstood on moral terms (ie, being amoral as opposed to immoral), the one part of The Prince universally understood is how it is meant to be a primer on how leaders can first get and then keep power. Now that we are more than six months into the Trump presidency one thing is clear: Donald J. Trump has NOT read or understood Machiavelli. If anything, he has employed the chief principles of Machiavelli in reverse, thus begging the question: is the American president trying to oust himself?

First, the pinch of corruption. Whether it is the loose application of quasi-nepotism, the impression of not wanting to do much work in serious terms, or the attempt to implement policy choices that are engineered to only bring himself and his immediate top 1% allies benefits and advantages, Trump has angered many people with what seem like rather brazen grabs at self-indulgent aggrandizement. Even worse is a record of playing purposely fast-and-loose with the truth that is at the least extremely unbecoming for the Office of the President. This is not to say the White House does not have a long and rich history of subterfuge and misleading statements from both parties holding the chief office. Rather, it is the growing societal impression that Trump doesn’t just lie: he lies rampantly and almost incessantly over nearly every issue he tweets about.

Second, a trace of treason. Even if the likely outcome of the Russia investigation reveals no ‘smoking gun’ piece of evidence to prove actual collusion and/or the purposeful undermining of the 2016 presidential election, the vast majority of people in America now believe Trump or his team had numerous meetings with Russian agents for nefarious purposes and intentions. Not succeeding in actually corrupting the presidential election does not, for many, forgive the fact that it seems like some on the Trump team wanted to do just that. In standard American law, the attempt to commit crimes is in fact still illegal. We do not wait to see if the illegal behavior is actually successful. Especially when the issue being discussed involves potential treason by the chief executive of the United States.

Third, a double-cross of your allies. Trump is a Republican. Or, rather, Trump was elected running as a Republican. Ever since that moment he has done one maneuver after another where he has either confused his GOP allies or has had them call into question his competence and/or understanding of how to be a good Republican. This reached its nadir just last week when a media story leaked how some Republican Senators were actually overheard joking in horror about how crazy the president was and what a nightmare his presidency has become. Just yesterday the estimable conservative lion, Sen. Lindsey Graham, declared there would be ‘holy Hell to pay’ if the rumors proved true that Trump was considering firing Attorney General Sessions for…well…for reasons no one really seems to have even an inkling of understanding.

Fourth, a broadside of the Intelligence Community. I have already written openly about the perplexing and dangerous animosity that exists between the president and the United States Intelligence Community. Even worse, this animosity doesn’t just have the president questioning the integrity and relevance of the IC: it has the disturbing potential consequence of turning the IC into an openly politicized entity aligned against the president. If you ever want to know how bad it can be when a country’s intelligence community becomes openly politicized, then just examine Russia, Iran, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, China, and the like. NOW remember that those examples are cases of the intelligence community being politicized but aligned WITH the ruling leadership. Just imagine how much chaos can be caused when it is politicized and aligned against?

Fifth, a disrespecting of military leadership. Trump likes to claim being a great friend to the military. But so far, he has been disjointed and inconsistent in his pronouncements about military policy or military initiatives. That reached a peak this week when Trump once more tweeted out a major policy change when he basically said all transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve their country. A controversial point without doubt, but Trump mentioned specifically in his tweet that he came to this conclusion only “after consultation with my Generals and military experts.” Could this be a welcome departure for President Trump, having finally reached out for advice and guidance from relevant officials before making a decision, even if one packed with political dynamite? Apparently not, given that immediately after the tweet the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the literal top leadership of every branch of the United States military) came out with their own statement that gave the impression that a) they were utterly dumbfounded by the President’s tweet and were not consulted at all and b) existing military policy regarding respect and equality to all serving members would continue. Given how fresh this is, it is still too early to figure out which is more shocking: that the President can claim to have been consulted by ‘top military experts’ but those experts do not apparently include his Joint Chiefs of Staff or that said group has basically issued a public declaration that the President’s desired policy change is going to be ignored and disobeyed.

So welcome to the apparent inversion of Machiavelli. The current President of the United States seems to be making every maneuver to ensure failure in office and, if the circumstances were different and the case study scenario moved to another location, could very easily end up in the blossoming of a coup d’etat. When you take the five ingredients elaborated above and mix them together with the robust energy of dismissive arrogance and insulting machismo (the two things that most embody Trump’s brand of public speaking), then it is fortunate that the United States has such a strong structural history of political stability and democratic process. Because in many other countries all over the world these exact same ingredients, mixed in the exact same way, would have already produced a forceful change of power.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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Biden’s Department of Justice: parents as domestic terrorists

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In recent developments in the United States, US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, and the FBI have put under the FBI radar parents as potential domestic terrorists. You heard it right. This is now a new formal legal policy contained in memos of the Department of Justice trying to reign in parents discussions on Biden’s new school curricula. They are not going after potential outbursts but outright terrorism. 

This is an attack on freedom of speech in the sense that parents have the right to discuss and disagree with the new Biden school curricula. This is where the issue originated: parts of Biden’s new school curricula are not accepted by many parents and if they disagree, the FBI treats them now as potential domestic terrorists as a matter of policy. Apart from a First Amendment case, this is also a case for international human rights law and I reported the development to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech this week hoping to get a statement.

The Department of Justice is referring to some constitutional provision on “intimidation of views” to override and take down one of the most firmly established rights, the right to freedom of speech, in quite frankly a ridiculous interpretation. Those parents that dare to speak up against controversial parts in the new text books could be investigated for domestic terrorism. This is the most incompetent interpretation on limitations of freedom of speech I have seen in awhile. 

Garland and the FBI have totally lost their marbles. The woke discussion is not funny to me anymore. It increasingly looks like a woke tyranny that has nothing to do with rights and equality anymore but simply serves as a vehicle to empower the FBI to run wild against regular people. This lunacy needs to be stopped.

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Iran poll contains different messages for Biden and Raisi

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“It’s the economy, stupid.” That is the message of a just-published survey of Iranian public opinion.

However, the substance of the message differs for newly elected hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and the Biden administration as Mr. Raisi toughens his negotiating position and the United States grapples with alternative ways of curbing the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme should the parties fail to agree on terms for the revival of the 2015 international agreement.

Iranians surveyed last month by Iran Poll and the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies were telling Mr. Raisi that they are looking to him to alleviate Iran’s economic and other problems and have little hope that a revived nuclear agreement will make the difference, given lack of trust in US and European compliance with any agreement reached.

The Iranians polled seemed in majority to endorse some form of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s notion of a “resistance economy” as a way of blunting the impact of the US sanctions imposed by former President Donald J. Trump after he walked away from the nuclear agreement in 2018. Some 65 per cent of the responders said they favoured a self-sufficient economy; 54.2 per cent expected the economy to at least improve somewhat in the next three years.

A large number expressed confidence that Mr. Raisi would significantly lower inflation and unemployment, increase Iran’s trade with other countries, control the pandemic and root out corruption.

Meanwhile, 63 per cent suggested that Iran’s economic situation would be the same, if not better, if there were no return to the agreement and the government continued to pursue a civil nuclear programme. The figure seemed at odds with the 80 per cent who said Iran’s economic situation would improve if Iran and the United States returned to the agreement and both fulfilled their obligations under the deal.

The divergence may be a function of the fact that the poll, unsurprisingly, indicated that Iranians (64.7 per cent) had little trust in the United States living up to its commitments even though they expected the Biden administration to return to the deal (57.9 per cent). As a result, 73.1 per cent of those surveyed said Iran should not make concessions given that world powers would not live up to commitments they make in return.

At the same time, 63 per cent blamed the troubled state of the economy on domestic mismanagement rather than US sanctions. Only 34.4 per cent believed that the sanctions were the main cause of their economic difficulty. Iranians pointing the finger at the government rather than external forces was also reflected in the 60.5 per cent of those polled blaming Iran’s water shortages on mismanagement and bad policies.

The poll suggested that by emphasising domestic mismanagement, Iranians were going to judge Mr. Raisi on his success or failure in countering the debilitating effect of the sanctions even though 77.5 per cent of those surveyed said that the sanctions had a negative or somewhat negative impact on the economy.

Implicitly, Iranians were holding former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responsible for the mismanagement given that Mr. Raisi only took office in August. Rated very favourable by 61.2 per cent of Iranians surveyed in 2015, Mr. Rouhani’s favorability dropped to 4.6 per cent in the most recent poll. By contrast, the favourable views of Mr. Raisi soared from 38.3 per cent in 2014 to 77 per cent last month. IranPoll and the Center have been conducting annual of surveys since 2014.

Mr. Raisi may have taken pleasure from that but more importantly, the poll implicitly suggested that he does not have much time to produce results before his significant public support starts to wane.

Of those polled, 66.7 per cent expected Mr. Raisi to improve Iran’s international standing, 55.7 per cent said he would be in a better position to negotiate with world powers, and 45.2 per cent predicted that he would enhance Iran’s security. Those expectations may have been to some degree validated in the public’s mind by last month’s acceptance of Iran’s application for membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that groups China, Russia, India, Pakistan and several Central Asian states.

The survey results seemed to suggest that ordinary Iranians were framing their message to the United States differently from the assessment of prominent scholars and analysts. The divergence may well be one primarily of timing but nonetheless has implications for policymaking in Washington. The message of the respondents to the poll was one of immediate impact while analysts and scholars appear to be looking at the middle term.

Without referring to the poll, Vienna-based economist and strategic consultant Bijan Khajehpour argued this week, seemingly contrary to the poll, that “mismanagement and the Covid-19 pandemic have both contributed to Iran’s poor economic performance in recent years, but it remains that US sanctions…will be the key factor in determining Iran’s future prospects.”

Mr. Khajehpour went on to say that “high inflation, capital flight and the erosion of household purchasing power alongside mismanagement of resources and the deterioration of the country’s infrastructure have the potential to spark more protests and further undermine the already faltering legitimacy of the Islamic Republic in the eyes of the public.”

No doubt, the jury is out on how Iranians respond if and when Mr. Raisi fails to live up to their expectations. If the past is any indication, Iranians have repeatedly taken to the streets at often substantial risk to liberty and life to make their discontent with government performance evident as they did with the low turnout in this year’s election that brought Mr. Raisi to power.

The risk of renewed protests was reflected in the fact that responses to various questions regarding the electoral system, the limited number of presidential candidates (because many were barred from running), and the public health system showed that it was often a slim majority at best that expressed confidence in the system.

Add to that the fact that 68 per cent of respondents to the poll said that the objectives of past protests had been a demand that officials pay greater attention to people’s problems.

Yet, at the same time, they were telling the United States that its efforts to generate pressure on Iranian leaders to moderate their nuclear and regional policies by imposing harsh sanctions had for now backfired. Iranians were backing a tougher negotiating position by the Raisi government.

Ultimately that could be a double-edged sword for Mr. Raisi. He has to prove that he can be tough on the United States and simultaneously improve the lives of ordinary Iranians. Failure to do so could have in Mr. Khajehpour’s words “unpredictable consequences.”

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Gallup: World’s Approval of U.S. Govt. Restored to Obama’s Record High

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President Joseph R. Biden Jr. of the United States of America addresses the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session. UN Photo/Cia Pak

On October 19th, Gallup issued their “2021 Rating World Leaders” report and finds that “Six months into the first year of Joe Biden’s presidency, the image of U.S. leadership is largely restored in the world’s eyes. As of early August 2021, across 46 countries and territories, median approval of US leadership stood at 49%, matching the record high rating when former President Barack Obama first took office in 2009.”

Their year-by-year graph is shown of the global approval-ratings of the Governments of Germany, U.S., China, and Russia, by the populations of 44 countries, and of 2 territories (Hong Kong and Taiwan were included in their surveys because the U.S. Government wants to conquer both of those Chinese provinces, so as to weaken China). That chart clearly displays the following fact: thus far (six months into Biden’s Administration), the world viewed Biden as favorably as Obama, and far more favorably than Trump (even though Biden has been continuing almost all of Trump’s foreign policies). Apparently, the global public views Biden as being like Obama because his Party is the same as Obama’s, and his rhetoric also is similar. Though Trump’s international policies have been continued with little (if any) significant change under Biden, the world still has been viewing Biden as being like Obama (whom the world still views as having been the best world-leader during his Presidency), instead of like Trump (whom the world still views as having been the worst world-leader during his Presidency). Obama is still viewed far better than Trump, though (for example) two U.S-and-allied-banned news-sites had published, two days earlier, on the 17th, with full documentation, the major (but banned) news-report titled “First of over 200 bodies being exhumed from Lugansk mass grave. One of Obama’s atrocities.” It had been submitted to 200 news-media, and only those two published it.

Perhaps the world’s population is more swayed by rhetoric, and by Party-labels, than by a national leader’s actual policies (which, perhaps, they’ve not even known about — after all, how many know about those mass-graves?).

The Gallup surveys were done actually in 106 countries and in those two Chinese provinces that the U.S. Government wants to control, but “U.S. Leadership Approval” has, as-of yet, been calculated by Gallup only in these 46. Of the 108 total lands, 23 were in Africa, 38 in Europe (including Europe’s largest and most populous country, Russia), 30 in Asia, and 17 in “The Americas” (not including U.S., whose Government these surveys by Gallup have actually been designed to serve).

Remarkably, “While Germany and the U.S. had previously been vying for the top spot in the Americas, Germany’s leadership safely led the other countries in 2020, with a median approval rating of 50% in 2020. Russia earned higher approval ratings than China or the U.S., with a median approval rating of 41%. The U.S. and China earned similar, and far lower, approval ratings, of 34% and 32% respectively.”

Also: “Germany’s leadership continued to be the most popular in Europe, with a record-high median approval of 62% in 2020. China, Russia and the U.S. have all lost favor in Europe in recent years, and in 2020 they were all on equal footing, with approval ratings of around 20%.”

Furthermore, in Asia: “U.S. Leadership Image Still Mired at Record Lows” and these are lows that previously had been shown during the G.W. Bush and Trump Administrations; so, the U.S. Government’s rhetoric under Biden does not, at least yet, seem to be persuading Asians as much as was the case under Obama. Perhaps the Biden Administration will need to employ less-blatantly-hostile rhetoric against China than it has been using, in order to be able to get much support from Asians against China.

And, regarding Africa, “Ratings are not yet available” that are sufficient to determine whether or not, as has been shown since 2007, “the U.S. remained strongest worldwide in Africa,”or else changed up or down.

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