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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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Russia Or China: Is Biden Right To Target Russia?

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No one can disagree with President Joe Biden when he wants to overhaul infrastructure — although a single-minded concentration on one aspect is likely to be longer lasting and a legacy.  Consider, for example, a high-speed rail link between New York and Los Angeles,  True high-speed, that is, and truly modern like the new lines in China with a design speed up to 350 km/h (220 mph), or preferably higher by the time the rails are constructed in the US.  It would make overnight coast to coast (3,000 miles) railroad trips a reality.  

What is more difficult to fathom is Biden’s foreign policy.  He appears to have identified Russia as an adversary or worse, starting with calling Vladimir Putin a killer and exposing several Russian companies that possibly support its intelligence services.  Do American companies ever provide cover for the CIA?  That is the obvious question coming to mind with an obvious answer.  Have western intelligence services including the CIA ever carried out assassinations?  If so, would the US president be called a killer?

At the same time, Russia is not the country with a stated goal of becoming the world’s leader in its economy, technology and military.  No, that’s China.  Russia only wants closer ties with the west but is being driven into the arms of China.

Given China’s stated goals and its progress towards them, it is transparent that its aims require the displacement of the US from its leadership position.  Any prospect of thwarting China’s ambitions would impel the US to cordon the  country to some extent or at the very least attempt to challenge its influence.  Instead, China is signing treaties with neighbors.  It is in Iran and it announced that it might send its own troops to Afghanistan to maintain its “peace” after the US departs.  Afghanistan, by the way, is rich in minerals and rare earth elements.  

So far Mr. Biden’s foreign policy initiatives appear tactical with a kind of tit-for-tat approach that is absent a coordinated (with allies) strategic plan to prepare the US for a confrontation politically and economically — not militarily, although as the US ramps up pressure, a skirmish here and there on the high seas could be a possibility.

A string of Chinese bases now ring the Persian Gulf extending west to East Africa and east along the Iran and Pakistan coast to Sri Lanka, across to Burma and then south to the western end of Indonesia.  The recent treaty with Russia allows convenient Eurasian access while the new closeness with Iran permits an overland route to its oil riches.  East of Iran is Pakistan which is a Chinese client state of long standing and where it has built the Gwadar port.

Given the circumstances, the US is obliged to reassess Iran from a geostrategic perspective but also Pakistan, a country that has been on the frontlines of the Afghan war since the beginning.  Pakistan is also a key to long term peace in Afghanistan as its own Pashtun population is connected to Pashtuns there through family ties and a traditionally porous border.  They also command a plurality as the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. 

Further east China is increasing its influence in Sri Lanka, and is by far Burma’s largest trading partner.  The recent coup in Burma is its own story and an oft-reported tale in that country without noting China’s silence.  

Despite the local politics, the US can ill afford to surrender such a vast region to China without counter moves to ensure some freedom of movement within China’s tight embrace.

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Playing Politics in Times of Covid: AMLO’s Whimsical Inoculation Programme

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Image source: as-coa.org

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has capriciously modified Mexico’s inoculation programme as he sees fit. He has followed an improvised strategy along the way that follow no logical approach.

The initial vaccination schedule was set up in 5 stages that placed frontline and essential workers as priority sectors; the rest of the population would be divided up by age ranges and inoculated accordingly. However, last January, AMLO announced the creation of 10,000 brigades who would oversee the vaccination programme. Each brigade is made up 12 people majority of whose are active members of the president’s political party MORENA. They also were prioritised for vaccination, even ahead, some key workers. This process alone took up 120,000 vaccines that otherwise would have gone directly to frontline workers or the elderly.

As of mid April, Mexico, with a population of 117 million people, has only vaccinated over 10 million people, roughly 8.5% of the population. Only 2.6 million have received the second shot, only 2.2%. The government also announced that it was prioritising the poorest citizens and indigenous communities. In a more recent announcement, he declared teachers would be also bumped up for priority vaccination ahead of the elderly. This again demonstrates the arbitrary standards of his vaccination schedule.

The government’s decision to inoculate teachers ahead of even health workers does not come as a surprise: they’re a key voting bloc. Mexico is holding mid-term elections this coming July, and vaccinating teachers so close to voting time is the latest evidence that the president is playing politics with the vaccinations. Just like in old times under the hegemonic party, unionised teachers are crucial for AMLO’s political party to win the most votes in the next elections.

Using certain sectors of the population to mobilise voters in favour of political party is not something new in Mexican politics. In Mexico, just like in many other unconsolidated democracies, political parties and candidates themselves can turn to political agents to ensure victory in elections through the use of patronage systems or vote-buying strategies.

To fully understand the role of the Teachers’ Union (SNTE and CNTE) as a political machine, it is essential to understand its history and role in elections over the last decades. The SNTE has more than 1.6 million members nationally, while the CNTE has over 100,000 members, it was founded in 1980 and has considerably less influence than the SNTE.

The SNTE was founded in 1949, and since then they served as a satellite organisation of the hegemonic party, PRI. Up until 1992, it was mandatory for all Union members to register as active party members. Therefore, throughout these years, the PRI, regularly received electoral support from the Union. The alliance between the hegemonic party and the SNTE strengthened in 1989 when Elba Esther Gordillo was appointed as the new leader of the Union.

What was behind the motivation of the SNTE in becoming an electoral agent? For many years, the Union received monetary incentives and access to political posts. Under this arrangement, political parties and even candidates may monitor the performance of such agents to make sure they are still aligned to those of the government, political party or candidate. As long as the interests of both sides are aligned, the electoral agent is expected to work efficiently to deliver the expected results either on election day or throughout the length of the administration.

In 2005, Elba Esther Gordillo was expelled from the PRI, ending the alliance between the SNTE and the hegemonic party. The leader of the Union founded her own political party, PANAL, and participated in the 2016 federal elections. However, due to the number of voters the newly created party attracted, it was only limited to proportional representation positions. Although PANAL, presented its own candidate for the presidency, Elba Esther offered the votes of the Union in the presidential elections to other political parties with greater possibilities of winning.

The SNTE supported Felipe Calderón, the PAN candidate in 2006 and in 2012 they backed the PRI candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto. The SNTE’s geographical outreach and the role of teachers as community and educational leaders facilitate their role as electoral agents. They’re able to influence informally the vote of others as well as the opinions and voting decisions of students and their parents.

In many democracies, it is not unusual for teachers to have strong ties to political parties and their candidates, and this is critical when it comes to explaining their effectiveness as electoral agents. It is not uncommon also for teachers to be appointed as voting stations representatives. The combination of these institutional characteristics opens the door for teachers to continue to influence voters through either legal or illegal.

AMLO’s courting of the Teachers’ Union dates to his electoral campaign in 2018. José Alfredo González, son in law of Elba Esther Gordillo, was seen in a presidential campaign event to support AMLO’s candidacy. He is also an active member of Redes Sociales Progresistas, a newly created party with links to Elba Esther Gordillo. Soon after AMLO’s inauguration in 2018, AMLO set to dismantle the education reform that has been approved by Enrique Peña Nieto in 2012. This was well received by the 2 Teachers’ Trade Unions. In 2020, the SNTE expressed its support for the president, and they also ratified its adherence to the political programme of the president. AMLO also publicly asked Elba Esther Gordillo to talk openly about the (alleged) fraud of 2006. AMLO’s intentions in doing this are very clear: He wants the former leader of the Union to enter the political game by talking about the issue and taking a stance that would not be antagonistic towards the incumbent party.

There is no doubt that the president has an underlying agenda in prioritising the vaccination of teachers when mid-term elections will be held in less than 2 months in Mexico. The president has chosen CanSino as the vaccination to be used to inoculate teachers across Mexico to allow schools to reopen by the end of May in some states. Now, with only less proven vaccine options, CanSino has an efficacy rate of less than 65%, questions undoubtedly arise as to how effective the inoculation of Mexicans will be with the use of these vaccines over the already proven ones.

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Americas

United States must rebalance its relationship with Russia

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Hours after signing an executive order, on April 15, 2021, which imposed sanctions on Russia, US President Joe Biden stated that the door for diplomacy and engagement with Moscow was far from closed.  Said the US President:

‘Throughout our long history of competition, our two countries have been able to find ways to manage tensions and to keep them from escalating out of control.’

Days before the imposition of sanctions, Biden had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the conversation with Putin, Biden had indicated that he would be taking action against Russia for interference in the 2020 US Presidential election (a US intelligence report had pointed to Iranian and Russian meddling in the 2020 election), as well as cyber attacks against the US government. While emphatically stating that the US would firmly safeguard its interests and not refrain from strong retaliation in response to any provocative actions by Russia, Biden also proposed a summit with Putin in Europe.

Significantly during his conversation with Putin, Biden according to a White House release:

‘discussed a number of regional and global issues, including the intent of the United States and Russia to pursue a strategic stability dialogue on a range of arms control and emerging security issues, building on the extension of the New START Treaty.

Soon after the Biden administration had taken over it had been decided to extend the treaty which came into force on February 5, 2011 and would have ended February 5, 2021. The treaty limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 and deployed missiles and bombers to 700 for each country.

Sanctions imposed by Biden Administration

The sanctions imposed by the Biden Administration on April 15thinclude; expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats stationed in Washington DC, sanctions on six Russian technology companies which allegedly provided support to Russian hacking operations during US elections, barring US financial institutions from participating in the primary market for rouble and non-rouble-denominated sovereign bonds, from June 14, 2021 and individuals and entities associated with Moscow’s actions in Crimea.

Significantly, Biden’s predecessor Trump had defended Russia against allegations of interference in the US Presidential election of 2016.

Russia’s response to US sanctions

Russia responded to the imposition of US sanctions by expelling US diplomats, imposed sanctions on 8 US officials, and would put an end to the activities of US NGOs  in Russia, since they interfered in Russia’s politics. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the US that Moscow would be compelled to take strong measures against Washington, if the latter adopts a ‘confrontational course’.

US Sanctions measured

According to many observers, the sanctions imposed by the US on Russia were not particularly harsh and underscore the point, that the Biden Administration while seeking to sending out a strong message to Russia, also realizes that it can not permit the bilateral relationship to slide down any further for a myriad of reasons. First, US needs to cooperate with Russia on a number of global issues, such as jointly battling the covid 19 pandemic, confronting challenges posed by climate change, working together to resolve the Iran and North Korea issue.

Second, it needs to prevent Moscow from moving closer to Beijing. Last month after Biden’s strong attack on Putin, Foreign Ministers of Russia, Sergey Lavrov and China Wang Yi, had held a summit in China in March, days after Biden had attacked Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview. The Russian Foreign Minister criticised US for its role in ‘underming the world order’ and both sides also proposed the need for reducing their dependence upon the US dollar.

An anonymous paper published by the Atlantic Council had emphasised on the need for a pragmatic policy vis-à-vis Russia, and also to prevent Moscow from moving closer to Beijing. Said the paper titled the Longer Telegram:

‘..United States must rebalance its relationship with Russia whether it likes it or not.. Allowing Russia to drift fully into China’s strategic embrace over the last decade will go down as the single greatest geostrategic error of successive US administrations’

Third, a number of US allies have strong ties with Moscow, and the US can not expect them to make clear choices (this is an important point made by a large number of US commentators)

In conclusion, Biden’s approach vis-à-vis Russia so far has been a blend of diplomacy and firm measures. His focus on dialogue and finding common ground on important bilateral security issues and global issues is significant. Washington while giving precedence to its own interests needs to adapt to the changing geopolitical situation especially the increasing proximity between Moscow and Beijing.

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