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Public Agenda and U.S. Politics

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The group of Iranian students attacked the United States embassy in Tehran and more than 60 United States nationals were made hostages on 04th November, 1979. The incident was the reaction to Jimmy Carter’s decision of providing shelter to deportee Raza Shah of Iran, who was present at that time in United States for the treatment of cancer. Those hostages were released by Iran after deadlock of 444 days, when President Ronald Reagan delivered his inaugural speech.

The hostage crisis is believed to be the main reason of Jimmy Carter’s defeat. The opinion polls before some days of Presidential Elections between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan reflected very close competition. But, exactly two days before the Election, media broke the news that hostages in Iran might be released. Later on, it turned out that they were not. Impact of this news raised more propagation in public, and which also overshadowed the main public agendas. That news produced more curiosity among the public about the hostage crisis.

Before the news about hostage crisis the public of United States categorize their agendas in the following sequence:

  1. Inflation
  2. Crime
  3. Unemployment
  4. Pollution
  5. Hostage Crisis

But, after the news of hostage crisis the sequence of public agenda changed with the following categorization:

  1. Hostage Crisis
  2. Inflation
  3. Crime
  4. Unemployment
  5. Pollution

Media news created perception among masses that Jimmy Carter’s administration has failed to tackle the hostage crisis, and it was / is also believed that the same crisis resulted in the victory of Ronald Reagan as President of United States. Although there were also unverified charges on Regan’s campaign officials that they have conducted secret deal with an Iranian cleric to stop the release of hostages until after the elections. Mr. Gary Sick stated in New York Times that secret deal regarding hostages was started on July 1980 at Madrid hotel between William J. Casey and Iranian Cleric.

Media considered the hostage crisis as mania, which changed the general public perception of the people of United States. Walter Cronkite was a famous news anchor, he used to aware public on daily basis about the real time and days of the captivity of hostages at the end of the broadcast on the CBS network. Jimmy Carter tried all resources to communicate with Iran. Carter’s early secret approach to contact Ayatollah Khomeini wasted, because it was disclosed to the US media. After that, Carter delivered a negotiated hand written letter to Ayatollah Khomeini with the help of William Miller and Attorney General Ramsey Clark to release the hostages and promote the bilateral relations. Khomeini rejected the proposal and prohibited the Iranian authorities to speak to the US authorities.

Daily dramatized and prompt coverage of the hostage crisis on the national media of  United States created more difficulties for the administration of Jimmy Carter. Hence, it can be analyzed that media has ability to place an agenda, which is on the third or fourth priority into first number in the eyes of public. Media also has the capability to divert the focus of public from the basic agendas towards the desires of unknowns. In this pertinent scenario, policy agenda became media agenda, which was successfully transformed into public agenda.

Murder of Jamal Khashoggi and its implication on the future of the United States as policy agenda, media agenda and public agenda would now be discussed. Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi Embassy of Istanbul on 2nd October, 2018. He was a famous journalist and used to criticize Saudi Arabian policies. He had good relations with Saudi Royal Family and also worked as an adviser for the Saudi government. Last year, he lost the favor of Saudis and got into exile in the United States. He criticized Crown Suleiman Prince through articles from United States, in a monthly column in Washington Post.

Before 3 days to disappear, Jamal Khashoggi quoted that:

“The people being arrested are not even being dissidents; they just have an independent mind”

He criticized the Saudi crackdown on different scholars and predicted no place for democracy under the rule of Muhammad bin Suleiman. According to some schools of thought, Jamal Khashoggi was murdered because he was going to break the news of unproved chemical attack by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Mr. Khashoggi’s close friend exposed that Khashoggi was near to get the documentary proof of the chemical attack by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

He revealed that:

“I met him a week before his death. He was unhappy and he was worried” said the Middle Eastern academic, who did not wish to be named.

“When I asked him why he was worried, he didn’t really want to reply, but eventually he told me he was getting proof that Saudi Arabia had used chemical weapons.” He said he hoped he be getting documentary evidence.

“All I can tell you is that the next thing I heard, he was missing.”

The main concern of Mr. Khashoggi was phosphorus. Earlier, it was claimed that Saudi Arabia had used US supplied white phosphorous as weapon against civilians and opponents in Yemen.

“If Khashoggi did, in fact, have proof that Saudi Arabia was deliberately misusing phosphorous for this purpose, it would be highly embarrassing for the regime and provides the nearest motive yet as to why Riyadh may have acted when they did against him.”

The CIA has reported on 17th November 2018 that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman strategized the lethal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. This report directly contradicts the Saudi government’s claim that Muhammad Bin Suleiman was not involved in the murder, not to mention the US president’s inclination to believe Riyadh. The State Department also responded Saturday afternoon, distancing itself from the CIA’s reported assessment.

History testifies the fact that midterm elections of United States frequently change the dynamics of power between congress and white house, and which has resultantly insisted the US administration to alter their strategy for foreign policy. For example, the Democrats’ sweeping victory in congressional vote in 2006, forced the Bush administration to modify its approach in Iraq and to appease Iran regime. After that, the revival of Republicans in US midterm elections of 2010 compelled President Obama to back military intervention in Libya, which, later on, resulted in “the worst mistake” of his presidency. The US midterm elections of 2018 are going to place several consequences for US foreign policy especially for Middle-East, doesn’t matter what are results.

The timing of the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi really matters, because he was murdered some weeks before the midterm elections of United States. There is a perception of close relationship among Donald Trump, His Son in law Jared Khushner and Saudia Royal Family.The media campaign by neoliberals for seeking justice for Jamal Khashoggi in the context of Donald Trump having allegedly strong relations with Saudi Arabia is also viewed as character assassination movement to tackle conservative political base of Donald trump and this campaign has also showed its effects on the results of midterm elections of United States.

The complicated political scenario in USA, vicious contemporary issues of the world and war of words between the trump administration and the media could repeat the episode of Jimmy Carter of 1980s election. If one policy failure and the extreme media coverage on that issue can topple the Jimmy Carter’s administration, then in the 2018 in a globalised world, where social media is also very active, it seems very difficult for the Trump administration to survive, especially in upcoming General elections of USA.

The trump administration have to take strong and true measures for the Jamal Khashoggi issue, otherwise it’s position for upcoming General elections could be as weak as Jimmy Crater’s in 1980, because media emphasize on Jamal Khashoggi murder has just started and it could become severe public agenda from media agenda.

Point to Remember: Jimmy Carter’s administration never provoked the media directly and they faced the defeat due to media trail of one issue in 1980, on the other side Trump administration is provoking US media aggressively on several issues especially Jamal Khashoggi murder, now the question is that how the US media would wish the Trump administration on Khashoggi’s issue and other such matters.

Qasim Raza holds a Master's degree in Mass Communication from the National University of Modern Languages (NUML) Islamabad. Currently, he is an M. Phil scholar at Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU), Islamabad. His area of research includes human rights, media theories, nuclear safety and security, Arms Control & Disarmament and global contemporary affairs. He can be reached at qasim.raza6891[at]gmail.com

Americas

Who benefits more from the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva?

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With the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva around the corner, the question is who actually benefits more from the meeting in the small Swiss town.

Mainstream media and right-wing foreign policy thinkers alike have argued that a joint press conference would “elevate” President Putin to the level of the American President.

Ivana Strander, the Jeane Kirkpatrick fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, argued that the upcoming Geneva summit is actually “a gift” to Putin.

In a CNN story, Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak mention that “officials who have been involved in arranging past US meetings with Putin say the Russian side often pushes for a joint press conference, hoping to elevate Putin’s stature by having him appear alongside the American leader”.

Whether as a subconscious bias or an actual reflection of attitudes, prevalent is the idea that coming close to the US President is a privilege that other leaders can only dream about. But who gains more from the upcoming summit?

In fact, it is the American President who is vying for other leaders’ approval and acceptance once again after a humiliating period – not the other way around. American is emerging from Trumpism, which revealed the other, ugly face of America. Trumpism is not gone and the other face of America is still there.

This week, US President Joe Biden is eager to show the world that America is “back”. In meetings with the G7, NATO countries’ top leaders, the NATO Secretary General, the Queen of England, and President Putin in the same week, Biden is asking the world to forget the last four years. And he is not doing this from the position of power or superiority. That’s why assuming that other heads of state, be it Putin or anyone else really, can only gain by coming close to the superiority of the American President is a misplaced and misguided. The US President is asking the international community to take America back – not the other way around.

President Putin doesn’t need the US President’s acceptance – Putin already got that. That happened back in 2018, in Helsinki, when President Trump sided with Putin over the US government’s own intelligence agencies, by rejecting the idea of Russia’s meddling in the US presidential elections. Trump slapped across the face and humiliated the US intelligence community in front of the whole world. Ever since, the US intelligence community has tried to figure out ways to prove Trump wrong and show him otherwise. And they have gone to incredible lengths, only so that they can get their pay pack of a sort, and prove Trump wrong. So, Putin already got what he wanted. He doesn’t need more “elevation”.

What’s also striking is that in Geneva, the UN is absolutely missing from the action. Geneva is the home of numerous UN agencies and international organizations, and not one is actually involved, which speaks volumes to questions of relevance. It is the Swiss government from Bern which is organizing the Summit. The UN is nowhere to be seen which is also indicative of the current Biden priorities.

If Trump was about “America First”, then Biden is about “America is still number one, right?”. But as the United Kingdom learned the hard way recently, it is sometimes best for a declining power to perhaps elegantly realize that the rest of the world no longer wants to dance to its tune, or at least not to its tune only. Discussions about how much Putin gains from coming close to the presence of the US President are misguided. In trying to climb back on the international stage on crotches and covered up in bruises, America is not in a position to look down on other big powers. And as regards who benefits more from the Summit, it seems like one side is there with a clear request asking for something. My understanding is that it is Biden who wants Putin to hand cyber criminals over to him. Putin still hasn’t said what he wants from Biden, in return.

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Trump’s legacy hangs over human rights talk at upcoming Biden-Putin Geneva summit

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biden-syria
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Two days after the NATO Summit in Brussels on Monday, US President Joe Biden will be in Geneva to hold a much anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders are meeting at the shores of Lake Geneva at a villa in Parc la Grange – a place I know very well and actually called home for a long time. The park itself will be closed to the public for 10 days until Friday.

A big chunk of the lakeside part of the city will be closed off, too. Barb wire and beefed up security measures have already been put in place to secure the historic summit. The otherwise small city will be buzzing with media, delegations and curious onlookers.

I will be there too, keeping the readers of Modern Diplomacy updated with what’s taking place on the ground with photos, videos and regular dispatches from the Biden-Putin meeting.

The two Presidents will first and foremost touch on nuclear security. As an interlude to their meeting, the NATO Summit on Monday will tackle, among other things “Russian aggression”, in the words of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Last week, Stoltenberg said that he “told President Biden that Allies welcome the US decision, together with Russia, to extend the New START Treaty, limiting strategic weapons, and long-range nuclear weapons”. To extend the treaty is an important first step for Stoltenberg. This will be the obvious link between the two summits.

But Biden also has to bring up human rights issues, such as the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny and Putin’s support for the jailing of Belarusian activists by Lukashenko. Human rights have to be high on the agenda at the Geneva Summit. And indeed, Biden has confirmed officially that pressing Putin on human rights will be a priority for the American side.

Biden and Putin are not fans of each other, to say the least. Both have made that clear in unusually tough rhetoric in the past. Over the years, Biden has said on numerous occasions that he has told Putin to his face that he doesn’t “have a soul”. Putin’s retort was that the men “understand each other”.

Right at the beginning of his Presidency, earlier this year, Biden also dropped the bomb calling President Putin a “killer” for ordering the assassination of political opponents. The Russian president responded to the “killer” comment on Russian television by saying that “it takes one to know one”. Putin also wished Biden good health, alluding to the US President’s age and mental condition which becomes a subject of criticism from time to time.

Understandably, Putin and Biden are not expected to hold a joint press conference next week. But we weren’t expecting that, anyways.

For me, this Summit has a special meaning. In the context of repression against political opponents and critical media voices, President Biden needs to demonstrate that the US President and the US government are actually different from Putin – if they are any different from Putin.

This week, we were reminded of Trump’s legacy and the damage he left behind. One of Trump’s lasting imprints was revealed: Trump had the Department of Justice put under surveillance Trump’s political opponents. Among them House Democrats, including Congressman Adam Shiff, who was one of the key figures that led Trump’s first impeachment that showed that Trump exerted pressure on Ukrainian authorities to go after Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

In the context of Trump’s impact, President Biden needs to show that there has to be zero tolerance towards the cover up by the US government of politically motivated attacks against voices critical of the US government. If President Biden wants to demonstrate that the US government is any different from Putin’s Russia, Secretary of State Blinken and FBI director Chris Wray have to go. Biden has to show that he won’t tolerate the cover up of attacks on political critics and the media, and won’t spare those that stand in the way of criminal justice in such instances.

Biden is stuck in the 2000s when it comes to Eastern Europe, as I argued last week but he needs to wake up. President Biden and the US government still haven’t dealt effectively with Trump’s harmful impact on things that the US really likes to toot its horn about, such as human rights and freedom. Whether the upcoming Geneva Summit will shed light on that remains to be seen.

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Will Geneva Be Any Different Than Helsinki?

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Any meeting between the leaders of Russia and the U.S. is inevitably an important international event. At some point in history, such summits decided the fate of the entire world, and the world held its collective breath as it followed Kremlin-White House talks on strategic arms or the two sides seeking agreements on urgent regional problems or any political signals coming from the superpower capitals prior to another round of negotiations.

The bipolar era has long been gone, and the Russia-U.S. relations are no longer the principal axis of international politics, although the suspense over bilateral summits remains. As before, the two countries are engaged in “top-down” interaction. Summits give the initial impetus to Moscow and Washington’s cumbersome bureaucratic machines, then diplomats, military personnel and officials start their assiduous work on specific issues, collaboration between the two countries’ private sectors and civil society perks up, the media gradually soften their rhetoric, bilateral projects in culture, education and science are gradually resumed.

Still, there are annoying exceptions to this general rule. In particular, the latest full-fledged Russia–U.S. summit in Helsinki in July 2018 failed to trigger improvements in bilateral relations. On the contrary, Donald Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Finland’s capital aroused massive resentment among the anti-Russian Washington establishment. Ultimately, on returning home, the U.S. President had to offer awkward apologies to his supporters and opponents alike, and relations between the two countries continued to rapidly deteriorate after the summit.

Surely, nobody is willing to see another Helsinki scenario in June 2021, this time in Geneva. Yet, do we have good reason to hope for a different outcome this time? To answer this question, let us compare Donald Trump and Joseph Biden’s approaches to Russia-U.S. summits and to bilateral relations at large.

First of all, in Helsinki, Trump very much wanted the Russian leader to like him. The Republican President avoided publicly criticizing his Russian counterpart and was quite generous with his compliments to him, which inevitably caused not only annoyance but pure outrage in Washington and in Trump’s own Administration. Joe Biden has known Vladimir Putin for many years; he does not set himself the task of getting the Russian leader to like him. As far as one can tell, the two politicians do not have any special liking for each other, with this more than reserved attitude unlikely to change following their meeting in Geneva.

Additionally, in Helsinki, Trump wanted, as was his wont, to score an impressive foreign policy victory of his own. He believed he was quite capable of doing better than Barack Obama with his “reset” and of somehow “hitting it off” with Putin, thereby transforming Russia if not into a U.S. ally, then at least into its strategic partner. Apparently, Biden has no such plans. The new American President clearly sees that Moscow-Washington relations will remain those of rivalry in the near future and will involve direct confrontation in some instances. The Kremlin and the White House have widely diverging ideas about today’s world: about what is legitimate and what is illegitimate, what is fair and what is unfair, where the world is heading and what the impending world order should be like. So, we are not talking about a transition from strategic confrontation to strategic partnership, we are talking about a possible reduction in the risks and costs of this necessarily costly and lengthy confrontation.

Finally, Trump simply had much more time to prepare for the Helsinki summit than Biden has had to prepare for Geneva. Trump travelled to Finland eighteen months after coming to power. Biden is planning to meet with Putin in less than five months since his inauguration. Preparations for the Geneva summit have to be made in haste, so the expectations concerning the impending summit’s outcome are less.

These differences between Biden and Trump suggest that there is no reason to expect a particularly successful summit. Even so, we should not forget the entire spectrum of other special features of the Biden Administration’s current style of foreign policy. They allow us to be cautiously optimistic about the June summit.

First, Donald Trump never put too much store by arms control, since he arrogantly believed the U.S. capable of winning any race with either Moscow or Beijing. So, his presidential tenure saw nearly total destruction of this crucial dimension of the bilateral relations, with all its attendant negative consequences for other aspects of Russia-U.S. interaction and for global strategic stability.

In contrast, Biden remains a staunch supporter of arms control, as he has already confirmed by his decision to prolong the bilateral New START. There are grounds for hoping that Geneva will see the two leaders to at least start discussing a new agenda in this area, including militarization of outer space, cyberspace, hypersonic weapons, prompt global strike potential, lethal autonomous weapons etc. The dialogue on arms control beyond the New START does not promise any quick solutions, as it will be difficult for both parties. Yet, the sooner it starts, the better it is going to be for both countries and for the international community as a whole.

Second, Trump never liked multilateral formats, believing them to be unproductive. Apparently, he sincerely believed that he could single-handedly resolve any burning international problems, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to North Korea’s nuclear missile programme.

Biden does not seem to harbor such illusions. He has repeatedly emphasized the importance of multilateralism, and he clearly understands that collaboration with Russia is necessary on many regional conflicts and crises. Consequently, Geneva talks may see the two leaders engage in a dialogue on Afghanistan, on the Iranian nuclear deal, on North Korea, or even on Syria. It is not at all obvious that Biden will succeed in reaching agreement with Putin immediately on all or any of these issues, but the very possibility of them discussed at the summit should be welcomed.

Third, Trump was not particularly fond of career diplomats and, apparently, attached little value to the diplomatic dimension of foreign policy. The Russia-U.S. “embassy war” had started before Trump—but not only did Trump fail to stop it, he boosted it to an unprecedented scale and urgency.

Sadly, the “embassy war” continues after Trump, too. Yet President Biden, with his tremendous foreign policy experience, understands diplomatic work better and appreciates it. Practical results of the Geneva summit could include a restoration of the diplomatic missions in Washington and Moscow to their full-fledged status and a rebuilding of the networks of consular offices, which have been completely destroyed in recent years. Amid the problems of big politics, consular services may not seem crucial but, for most ordinary Russians and Americans, regaining the opportunity for recourse to rapid and efficient consular services would outweigh many other potential achievements of the Geneva summit.

From our partner RIAC

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