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The Crisis of Democracy: What’s next?

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The information war that has been unfolding in the world seems to be hopelessly mired in fakes and lies, and, most importantly, it does not struggle for truth, but against it. But more and more often the Western media demonstrates some glimpses of unusual common-sense rhetoric.

The National Interest magazine recently published an article by Professor of the US Naval War college in Newport, RI, Lyle J. Goldstein: From Siberia to Crimea: The Revenge of History in U.S.-Russian Relations. In the article, the distinguished scholar and teacher of the strategy of the Chinese Maritime Studies Institute attempts to shed light on a large number of historical facts forgotten by the United States. The author concludes that during the Crimean War the US and Russia had friendly, but pragmatic relations, largely due to rivalry between the US and Britain, the old imperial enemy.

During the war, commercial contracts were signed between Russia and the United States, an American military delegation visited Russia to advise the army, weapons and ammunition were sent. “This serious enough desire of America to get the rights to Crimea was revealed already then. And it underlines the fact that the American strategy in Eurasia (and also in other parts of the world) is based on challenging Russian claims on this blood-soaked peninsula in the Black Sea” – the author writes. America wanted to get rights to the Crimea, and wants, and it’s no secret that it will want. But Mr. Goldstein quite rationally notes: “We can recall that Russia first received the Crimea in 1783, that is, at the time of the end of the American Revolution. Simply put, the Russians has been controlling the Crimea for a long time, and it is very unlikely that they will refuse it, and therefore let’s not hope for anything and build our strategy on absurd, neoliberal ideas devoid of historical meaning. ”

It should be reminded once again that the events connected to the Crimea are not a precedent. In international political history there are already episodes, which are senseless to interpret, for they are facts. Therefore, the idea of the Americans about the Crimea’s entry into Russia as something unheard of in world history is a simulacrum (an image replacing reality), well orchestrated with the help of the media. The reunification of  East and Western Germany (without a referendum), the reunification of the Ruhr region (or Rurstadt) and West Germany was recognized by the world community. As well as Kosovo, Bangladesh and Pakistan … etc. But the policy of double standards establishes a rule: it is the White House decides who can do what, but not the international law.

The idea of democracy with its egalitarianism, individuality and freedom became the same simulacrum. Trying to give it a world-wide character, the USA automatically canceled it, when, for example, they invaded Iraq. Opposing real violence to invisible dreams of democracy, the US protected its interests, but at the same time kept farther away from the image of the defender and champion of freedom and equality. Some countries at this moment, for example, North Korea and Iran, realized that the rescue of drowning people is the drowning men’s own job.

And they directed their efforts to develop their own nuclear weapons, as the only real guarantee of state  as well as moral sovereignty.

Most recently, the Pentagon published the National Defense Strategy, which offers a new scale of America’s national security priorities: “rivalry with China and Russia is more important for the United States than fighting international terrorism,” the Washington Post said. Two decades of the “war on terror,” which is characterized by losses, casualties, huge costs and never yielding tangible geopolitical benefits, is the  evidence of the utopian nature of US policy. But the new image of the old enemy no longer impresses the Americans themselves. And the country itself is now undergoing  a difficult period. The expectations of Americans about the great America are again clouded by real facts, which the United Nations special rapporteur on poverty and human rights, Philippe Elston, recently shared. UN studies suggest that more than one in eight people in the United States live in poverty, half of them in extreme poverty. Studies also predict the rapid social stratification in the USA, and also note that there is almost no chance for poor citizens to emerge from poverty. According to the UN special rapporteur, the situation will only worsen, the impoverishment of the population and social stratification will only grow. Can this turn the American political establishment from the utopian ideas of world hegemony to facing reality? Even the Freedom House (most of its work is financed by the US government) says this, showing remarkable courage and objectivity.

In its 2018 report on the state of freedom in the world, the Freedom House  concludes that, as in 2017, America’s own democratic standards are being rapidly destroyed more than ever before. The “key institutions” of America, the authors of the report write, “have been attacked by the administration, which rejects established norms of ethical behavior in many areas of activity.” Currently, the total US score (reflecting the degree of freedom and democracy) is 86 – it’s only one point higher than Poland’s. Today, the USA are less free and democratic than Latvia. We can assume that the report is again the result of the rejection of Trump as president. In any case, a very reasonable question arises: how the US, with their rating of 80 points on the scale of Freedom House, will play the role of patron of world democracy? And to what extent is this status justified, in conditions of growing world disintegration and regionalization? As writer Salman Rushdie notes: “America is becoming more and more wounded and fragmented, and these differences are increasing every day.

Eight and a half years ago we experienced a moment of common hope. People like me believed that everything would work out. Instead, we are even more strongly thrown back. ”
I must say that, in addition to taking the journey into the history, the above-mentioned Lyle Goldstein, in fact, is trying to revise the modern neoliberal attitude to reality. And he is not alone. Much the same criticism is heard even from the camp of  his adherents. The Guardian author, Cornel West, writes: “We must testify to the existence of justice. We must justify the truth by our willingness to suffer and make sacrifices when we oppose domination. Thirdly we must remember courageous people like Martin Luther King Jr, who will provide moral and spiritual inspiration as we build multiracial alliances to combat poverty and xenophobia, Wall Street crimes and war crimes, global warming and police abuse – and to protect precious rights and liberties”. Then the author calls for courage, empathy and a mature sense of history, so as not to be afraid of elusive democracy. Further comes a completely disarming frankness: “We must not turn away from the forgotten people of US foreign policy – such as Palestinians under Israeli occupation, Yemen’s civilians killed by US-sponsored Saudi troops or Africans subject to expanding US military presence”.

Some experts call these processes “democratic deconsolidation”, others – “a democratic recession”. These processes can not be slowed down by a simple statement of the diagnosis. Without a conscious review of the political paradigm of the West, they can not be stopped.

First published in our partner International Affairs

Americas

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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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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