Why is America’s Baghdad Embassy the world’s largest embassy — and the largest by far?
“It’s as if the U.S. Embassy is there not only to protect American interests, but to manage the entire world from the heart of the capital, Baghdad.”
— Iraqi Sheikh Qassim Al Ta’ee, as quoted on 27 December 2011 in Al Iraq News and translated by Ibrahim Zaidan from the original Arabic by Nicholas Dagher
Zaidan’s article went on to say:
The world’s largest embassy is situated in the Green Zone and fortified by three walls, another barrier of concrete slabs, followed by barbed wire fences and a wall of sandbags. It covers an area of 104 acres, six times larger than U.N. headquarters in New York and ten times larger than the new embassy Washington is building in Beijing – which is just 10 acres.
[Editor’s’ Note: The ten-acre U.S. Embassy in Beijing is the second largest overseas construction project in the history of the Department of State — and the 104-acre U.S. Embassy in Iraq is the largest.]
So, America’s largest diplomatic mission is surrounded by high concrete walls, is painted in black, brown and grey and is completely isolated from its environment. … The United States announced several months ago that between diplomats and employees, its embassy would include 16,000 people after the pullout of U.S. forces.
On January 1st, Will Sillitoe headlined at the Helsinki Times, “What does the US embassy in Baghdad export to Finland and dozens of other countries?” and he reported that:
More than a million kilograms of cargo were shipped from Baghdad to different parts of the world, reveals US embassies procurement documents.
Mysterious cargo shipments from the US Embassy in Baghdad to other American embassies and consulates around the world have been revealed on a Wikileaks’ database. Procurement orders of US embassies are public documents, but Wikileaks put them in a searchable database making it easier to analyse.
The database displaying worldwide US embassy orders of goods and services reveals Baghdad as a postal and shipping centre for tonnes of freight.
Though military freight might be expected between the US and Iraq, records show that embassies across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Americas and Africa are all receiving deliveries from Baghdad too.
According to Wikileaks’ database, orders to ship more than 540 tonnes of cargo to the US were made in May 2018. The same document shows other main delivery destinations included 120 tonnes of freight to Europe, and 24 tonnes to South Africa, South America and Central Africa respectively. …
On December 29th, Sillitoe had headlined “Guarded warehouse near airport and mysterious cargos from Baghdad; what is the US embassy in Helsinki up to?” and he opened:
Why does the US Embassy in Helsinki need a big warehouse near Malmi Airport and what are the contents of thousands of kilograms of cargo sent to Helsinki from Baghdad?
A dilapidated warehouse in Malmi is being used by the US Embassy for unknown operations after a Wikileaks release revealed its location.
The anonymous looking building on Takoraudantie is notable only for the new 427 meter perimeter fence that according to the Wikileaks’ database was ordered by the US Embassy in April 2018.
Situated across the street from the main entrance of Malmi Airport, the warehouse with its 3 meter high security fence appears an unlikely location for official embassy business. Neighbouring companies include a car yard and a tyre warehouse.
Helsinki Times visited the perimeters this weekend. Security personnel, young Finns in uniforms with American flags on their arms, appeared nervous and suspicious when asked to comment on the warehouse. …
Sillitoe closed that article by saying: “The searchable Wikileaks database and info about Finland related activities can be found HERE.”
That link leads to a “US Embassy Shopping List” of 24 separate documents, one of which is “RFP 191Z1018R0002 Mission Iraq Shipping Transportation Services”, dated “5/17/18.”
Item 2 there is “Packing of unaccompanied air baggage (UAB) – Throughout Iraq – U.S. Embassy Baghdad, Baghdad International Zone, U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, U.S. Consulate General in Erbil, U.S. Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center, U.S. Erbil Diplomatic Support Center (Note: under the specified unit of measure the U.S. Government contemplates ‘per kilogram’ of gross weight in kilograms)”
The “Quantity Estimated” is “100,000” and the “Unit of Measure” is “kilogram.”
Item 7 is “Storage Services – Monthly Storage of containers – Throughout Iraq – U.S. Embassy Baghdad, Baghdad International Zone, U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, U.S. Consulate General in Erbil, U.S. Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center, U.S. Erbil Diplomatic Support Center.”
The “Quantity Estimated” is “100” and the “Unit of Measure” is “40’ Container.”
Item “Section B.5 Sub-CLIN:84E” is “From Republic of Iraq to Western European Countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City, Nicosia)”
The “Quantity Estimated” is “5,000” and the “Unit of Measure” is “kilogram.”
Item “Section B.5 Sub -CLIN:84 F” is “From Republic of Iraq to Eastern European Countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Kosovo)”
The “Quantity Estimated” is “5,000” and the “Unit of Measure” is “kilogram.”
By far the biggest categories for shipments are to the eastern U.S. states: “From Republic of Iraq to the Unites [sp.] States Eastern Time-Zone – the following States: VT, ME, NH, MA, RI, CT, NJ, DE, MD, DC, NY, PA, VA, NC, SC, GA, FL, WV, MI, OH, IN, KY, GA”
There are 11 such categories:
- “Section B.5 Sub-CLIN:85A”
- “Section B.5 Sub-CLIN:86A”
- “Section B.6 Sub-CLIN:84A”
- “Section B.6 Sub-CLIN:85A”
- “Section B.6 Sub-CLIN:86A”
- “Section B.7 Sub-CLIN:84A”
- “Section B.7 Sub-CLIN:85A”
- “Section B.7 Sub-CLIN:86A”
- “Section B.8 Sub-CLIN:84A”
- “Section B.8 Sub-CLIN:85A”
- “Section B.8 Sub-CLIN:86A”
Each one of those eleven will receive 30,000 kilograms, under the contract.
In each of the eleven, the products will be going “From Republic of Iraq to the Unites [sp.] States Eastern Time-Zone – the following States: VT, ME, NH, MA, RI, CT, NJ, DE, MD, DC, NY, PA, VA, NC, SC, GA, FL, WV, MI, OH, IN, KY, GA”
That’s a total of 330,000 kilograms. That’s 727,525 pounds, or 364 tons, which are going from the world’s largest Embassy, America’s in Baghdad, to America’s eastern states.
In addition, around another 1,091,287 pounds are going from the Baghdad Embassy to other locations throughout the world.
The RFP, or Request For Proposal, informs its recipient that “The Contractor shall provide the services for the base period of the contract,” but “base period” isn’t defined in the RFP. However, the contract does specify that there shall be “a firm fixed unit price for any contract line item number in the Base Year,” and therefore the obligations under any contract will continue for at least one year, but possibly longer (if renewed). Furthermore, the “Type of Solicitation” here is not “Sealed Bid (IFB),” but instead “Negotiated (RFP),” which means that the U.S. Government officials who are “Soliciting” these offers will choose whom to request to present an offer; and, if two or more recipients are being approached and make an offer, then the U.S. official will select the winner that he or she prefers, and won’t be required to accept the lowest-priced one, but can instead take some sort of kickback, as long as there is no evidence of having done that. It can easily be arranged. Furthermore, private arrangements bond the two parties, even if the arrangement is just a one-time deal, because neither party will want the private arrangement to be made public, and if ever it does become public, then both parties will be revealed as guilty; it’ll hurt both parties. Moreover, since any contract may be renewed, the offeror of the contract, which is the Embassy employee, holds the power to affect that — the length of term, and everything that’s associated with it, will be controlled by the Embassy’s side, and not by the contractor’s side. And no matter how brief a contract-term might be, and no matter how many non-Americans might be signing any particular type of contract during any given period of years, none of the private parties will have any motive to make public any kickback. Consequently, there is every motive to keep these arrangements private; and the Embassy employee will always be the more powerful one in any private arrangement that is made with any contractor.
Prior RFPs are also online, for example this one from 16 November 2014. The annual amounts seem to be fairly stable.
On 10 October 2007, while the U.S. Embassy in Iraq was still building, the Congressional Research Service issued to Congress their report, “U.S. Embassy in Iraq”, and it said:
The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq (currently Ambassador Ryan Crocker) has full authority for the American presence in Iraq with two exceptions: 1 — military and security matters which are under the authority of General Patraeus, the U.S. Commander of the Multinational Force-Iraq (MNF-I), and 2 — staff working for international organizations. In areas where diplomacy, military, and/or security activities overlap, the Ambassador and the U.S. Commander cooperate to provide co-equal authority regarding what is best for America and its interests in Iraq.
By “Patraeus” it meant David Petraeus. He was the person who designed the torture-system that was applied by his assistant James Steele and used in Iraq to extract from prisoners everything they knew about Saddam Hussein’s assistance to the 9/11 event. Petraeus subsequently became a regular participant in the annual meetings of the private and secretive Bilderberg group of representatives of the U.S. and allied nations’ billionaires that constitute The West’s Deep State. Prior to that, Petraeus and Steele had organized and instituted in El Salvador that Government’s death-squads, to eradicate opponents of U.S. control over that country.
The most corrupt parts of the U.S. Government are usually in the military, because the entire Defense Department isn’t audited. It is instead financially an enormous dark hole, even to U.S. Senators and Representatives, and even to the U.S. President. Only members of the U.S. Deep State might have an approximate idea of how much money is getting ‘lost’ in it. After all, the Deep State isn’t, at all, answerable to the public. Since it operates in secret, it can’t be. The consequences of the Deep State, however, can become public, and may contradict what is shown in publicly available documents and public statements, which have been circulated, to the public, by the press. In any nation where a Deep State rules, such contradictions, between public assertions and the actual outcomes, are so commonplace as hardly to be even news at all, if and when they appear, at all.
On 2 July 2017, the great investigative reporter Dilyana Gaytandzhieva headlined “350 Flights Carry Weapons Diplomatic for Terrorists”, and provided documentation of the U.S. CIA’s intricate global network, which secretly “sends $1 billion worth of weapons” through many countries to jihadists in Syria to take down Syria’s Government. Iraq was mentioned 6 times in the original publication of her article, and is mentioned 9 times in the 29 April 2018 updated version. That secret U.S. supply of weapons to jihadist groups to overthrow Bashar al-Assad and his secular, non-sectarian, Baathist Party, is a secret operation, just like the U.S. State Department’s Baghdad Embassy’s operations are, and that Embassy could even be this particular operation’s headquarters.
The 200-page, December 2017, study, “Weapons of the Islamic State: A three-year investigation”, by Conflict Armament Research Ltd., states in its Conclusion:
IS forces, like most non-state armed groups, acquire significant quantities of weapons and ammunition on the battlefield. … Evidence presented in this report, however, confirms that many of the group’s weapons — and notably its ammunition — are newly manufactured, having been delivered to the region since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011. These weapons originate in transfers made by external parties, including Saudi Arabia and the United States, to disparate Syrian opposition forces arrayed against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Here are just a few of the details that this passage in the summary was based upon and summarizing:
On pages 36-9, it says:
CAR has documented and traced numerous weapon systems in service with IS forces. Many derive from shipments made to the US government, or to entities operating under US government contracts. The United States has acknowledged its support to Syrian opposition forces, orchestrated primarily through resupply from the territories of Jordan and Turkey.26 All of the shipments originated in EU Member States; in most cases, US retransfers (exports made after purchase by the United States) contravened clauses in end-user certificates (EUCs) issued by the United States to EU supplier governments. The United States signed these certificates prior to transfer, stated that it was the sole end user of the materiel, and committed not to retransfer the materiel without the supplier government’s prior consent. It did not notify the supplier states concerned before [violating that, and] retransferring the materiel. …
On 21 December 2016, Jaysh al-Nasr, a Syrian armed opposition faction active in the Hama Governorate of Syria, published a set of photographs of its fighters.29 In one of these, Jaysh al-Nasr fighters are operating a 9M111MB-1 ATGW30 bearing an identical lot number and a serial number (365) close in sequence to the one CAR documented (286) in Iraq, suggesting both were part of the same supply chain. …
In May 2015, Syrian YPG forces recovered a PG-7T 40 mm rocket from IS forces near Al Hasakah, Syria, where CAR documented it on 20 May 2015. The Government of Bulgaria confirmed that it exported the item to the US Department of the Army through the US company Kiesler Police Supply. The application for the export licence was accompanied by the original EUC issued by the US Department of the Army (with a non-re-export clause) as well as a delivery verification certificate. The item was exported on 23 June 2014.32 … CAR has yet to receive a reply to a trace request sent to the United States regarding these rockets.
Page 54 says:
Like the United States, Saudi Arabia has provided support to various factions in the Syrian conflict, including through the supply of weapons. Working with the Bulgarian authorities, CAR has traced numerous items deployed by IS forces to initial exports from Bulgaria to Saudi Arabia. These transfers were uniformly subject to non-retransfer clauses concluded between Saudi Arabia and the Government of Bulgaria prior to export. In this respect, onward retransfers by Saudi Arabia of these weapons contravene its commitments to the Government of Bulgaria not to re-export the materiel in question without Bulgaria’s prior consent.
Just like in the case of the Baghdad Embassy’s agreements with contractors, the powerful party in any contract will be the party whose side is paying (the buyer), and not the party whose side is supplying the service or goods (the seller). Money always rules.
The CAR report, which was issued just months after Dilyana Gaytandzhieva’s report, was entirely consistent with, and largely overlapped, hers. The U.S. and Saudi Governments were not only using Al Qaeda as their main proxy in southwestern Syria to lead the jihadist groups to overthrow Syria’s non-sectarian Government, but were also using ISIS in northeastern Syria as their main proxy forces there to overthrow Syria’s Government. After Russia’s entry into the war on 30 September 2015 on the side of Syria’s Government, America’s assistance to Al Qaeda in Syria (Al Nusra) continued in order to help replace that Government by one which would be controlled by the Sauds. And America’s assistance to ISIS was almost totally replaced then by its assistance to ethnocentric Syrian Kurds in the northeast as the Syrian Democratic Forces, which were fighting against both the Government and ISIS. Russia, of course, was against both Al Qaeda-led jihadists and against ISIS jihadists. (Turkey was against ethnocentric Kurds, because those people want to take a chunk out of four nations: Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The CIA edited and written Wikipedia’s article on Kurdistan conveniently doesn’t even make note of that key fact.) So: America was using a complex combination in order to take over Syria for the Sauds ultimately to control. But Russia’s entry into Syria’s air-war on 30 September 2015 has overcome that U.S-led and Saudi financed combination against Syria.
Would any secret facility, anywhere in the world, be better situated to manage that operation, on America’s side, than America’s Baghdad Embassy?
So, the question then arises: who benefits from this enormous Embassy, and from the Deep State of which it is a part? The American public certainly do not.
Generally speaking, the people who get paid to promote endless wars, such as sellers of the constantly receding (propagandistic) “light at the end of the tunnel”, support continuing if not intensifying such wars. Typical is the neoconservative (in foreign affairs) and neoliberal (in domestic affairs) David Bradley, who controls and is the Chairman of Atlantic Media, which publishes the neocon-neolib The Atlantic, and many other public-affairs magazines and websites. His “Defense One” site posted, on 22 March 2018, from its Executive Editor, “The War in Iraq Isn’t Done. Commanders Explain Why and What’s Next”, and closed with “‘We need to be very careful about rushing to the exit, and secure this win,’ said the senior U.S. military official. ‘This is a significant win.’” The “senior U.S. military official” wasn’t identified, other than to say that he “spoke only on background.” But, of course, George W. Bush had already told the world all about this “win,” back in 2003. Salespeople just continue their pitches; it’s what they are paid to do, and so they never stop.
The annual military costs alone, for the U.S. to keep being, as its propaganda euphemistically puts the matter, “policeman for the world” (such as, in the Syrian case, by means of those proxy boots-on-the-ground warriors, the jihadists, and the ethnocentrists among Syria’s Kurds) are actually sufficient, even on their own, to cause America’s soaring federal debt — and that’s not a benefit, but an extreme harm, to the public. Future generations of Americans will be paying the tab for this. And the costs for being “policeman for the world” are enormous. Even just militarily, they’re over a trillion dollars each and every year.
Though current U.S. Defense Department budgets are around $700 billion annually, the United States is actually spending closer to $1.2 trillion annually on the military when all of the nation’s military spending (such as for military retirements, which are paid by the Treasury Department not by the Defense Department) are factored in. The only people who benefit from being “policeman for the world” are the billionaires of the U.S. and (though to only a lesser extent) of its allied countries. And, of course, they pay their lobbyists and propagandists. It’s really being policeman for those billionaires, who own and control all of the international corporations that are headquartered in this alliance. The U.S. public isn’t paying the tab by any cash-and-carry basis; instead, future generations of Americans will be paying the tab, for today’s U.S.-and-allied billionaires. Those billionaires today are the chief beneficiaries. It’s all being done for them and their retinues. That’s why America’s Founders didn’t want there to be any “standing army” at all. They didn’t want there to be any permanent-war government. They wanted military only for national defense — not for any billionaires’ protection or ‘insurance policy’, or what might actually be publicly paid and armed thugs in service abroad as if they were the nation’s armed forces — when, in fact, they are the armed forces for only those billionaires and their servants. America’s Founders wanted no military at all that serves the aristocracy. They wanted no aristocracy, at all. They wanted no “standing army” whatsoever. They wanted only a military that protects the public, when a real military danger, from abroad, to the domestic public, exists. Of course, that’s possible only in a democracy, but the U.S. is no democracy now, even if it might have been in the past.
On 11 December 2017, Montana State University headlined “MSU SCHOLARS FIND $21 TRILLION IN UNAUTHORIZED GOVERNMENT SPENDING; DEFENSE DEPARTMENT TO CONDUCT FIRST-EVER AUDIT”, but the Pentagon’s promised audit has failed to materialize. A major accounting firm was hired for the task but soon quit, saying that the Defense Department’s books were too incomplete to proceed further. Three days before that article was published, a colleague of that MSU team headlined at Forbes, ”Has Our Government Spent $21 Trillion Of Our Money Without Telling Us?” and said that the answer was yes. All of this ‘lost’ money was spent merely by the Department of Defense. Just managing the more-than-a-thousand U.S. military bases worldwide requires a lot of money. Any actual war-fighting adds to that U.S. military-base cost — the war-fighting costs are extra. Those military bases etc. are the “standing army.” Protection of our billionaires’ investments abroad, and of their access to raw materials in underdeveloped countries (such as to manufacture cellphones), is an enormously expensive operation. Basically, the American public are hugely subsidizing America’s billionaires. But only future generations of Americans will be paying that debt — plus, of course, the accumulated interest on it.
The Department of Defense isn’t the only federal Department that has ever been unauditable. On 18 June 2013, Luke Johnson and Ryan Grim at Huffington Post bannered “GAO Cannot Audit Federal Government, Cites Department Of Defense Problems” and opened: “The Government Accountability Office said Thursday that it could not complete an audit of the federal government, pointing to serious problems with the Department of Defense. Along with the Pentagon, the GAO cited the Department of Homeland Security as having problems so significant that it was impossible for investigators to audit it. The DHS got a qualified audit for fiscal year 2012, and is seeking an unqualified audit for 2013.” However, on 17 November 2014, the Washington Post headlined “Homeland Security earns clean audit two years running”, and Jerry Markon reported that, “For the second straight year, the Department of Homeland Security has achieved a much sought-after clean audit of its financial statements by an independent auditor.” Furthermore: “for nearly all of its first decade of existence, DHS was unable to achieve a clean audit because it had been created by combining 22 federal agencies and components into one massive department. That led to inherent challenges.” That wasn’t the situation at the Defense Department, which was far different. On 8 December 2017, NPR headlined “Pentagon Announces First-Ever Audit Of The Department Of Defense”, and opened: “‘The Defense Department is starting the first agency-wide financial audit in its history,’ the Pentagon’s news service says.” However, almost as soon as the auditing team began their work, they quit it, because the Department’s books were garbage. Only the DOD is like that — almost entirely corrupt.
On 2 October 2018, Project Censored headlined “$21 Trillion in Unaccounted-for Government Spending from 1998 to 2015”. However, it falsified. It opened: “Two federal government agencies, the Department of Defense and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), may have accumulated as much as $21 trillion in undocumented expenses between 1998 and 2015.” None of that was actually HUD, it was 100% DOD. And all of “the alleged irregularities in DoD and HUD spending” were not merely “alleged,” but they were, in fact, carefully checked and repeatedly verified, and were only at DOD, despite what Project Censored published. This inaccuracy is important. If people don’t know that DOD is the only unaudited federal Department, then they can’t possibly understand why that is the case. The reason it is the case, is that almost all of the “waste, fraud, and abuse” in the U.S. federal government is at the Defense Department. It has never been auditable. How much do America’s ‘news’-media report this reality?
DOD is consistently, year after year, and decade after decade, the federal Department or federal or local governmental function, that Gallup’s polling has shown to be more respected by the U.S. public than is any other. (It’s identified there as “The military”. It beats, for examples: “The Supreme Court,” “Congress,” “The public schools,” “The presidency,” “The police,” and “The criminal justice system.”) The most corrupt isn’t the most despised; it is the opposite — it is the most respected.
Secret government tends to be costly for taxpayers, and also tends to add a lot to the governmental debt. An unauditable governmental department, such as the Defense Department is, cannot function, at all, without an enormous amount of corruption. This is the reality about America’s military. However, there’s much propaganda contradicting it. The news-media also serve those same billionaires.
How likely, then, is it, that America’s Baghdad Embassy serves the U.S. public? It certainly does not serve the Iraqi public. But it does serve the people — whomever they are — who control the U.S. Government. And that’s the Deep State. That’s the reality, but what’s promoted is fantasyland. And this fantasyland, which is promoted, is called “American democracy”. Just ask Big Brother, and he’ll tell you all about it. He always does.
Author’s note: first posted at strategic-culture.org
The liberal international order has not crumbled yet
Since 2017 when Donald Trump took office, the “liberal international order” erected in 1991 has been under serious challenges raised by the United States’ relative decline, the Trump administration’s isolationist policy, and on top of that, the outbreak of COVID-19. Indeed, this order is greatly plagued, which is evidenced by its dysfunction. Against this backdrop, its endurance in the upcoming time is questionable. Nevertheless, the liberal international order has not collapsed yet. It will even revive, and endure in the post-pandemic era.
The victory of Biden
Notwithstanding facing great threats, the liberal international order is far from crumbling. On the contrary, it is gradually reviving. In the Western world, countries are making effort to reform their order that is on the verge of collapse. This is true in the US – the world democracy’s leader. Joe Biden’s victory against Donald Trump may be a positive signal for the US and the global democracy. As a strong advocate for values including democracy, multilateralism and international trade, at no doubt, President Biden will be opposite to Trump in his policy, both domestic and foreign ones. Indeed, during his first 100 days, Mr.Biden has implemented some meaningful things. Regarding the pandemic, he has a stricter approach than his predecessor’s: Mandatory mask wearing, a $1.9-trillions bill, historical vaccination campaign, to name a few. All of Biden’s actions have been so far effective, when the new cases and deaths are steadily declining, and the number of vaccinated people is substantially high. This lays a foundation for Biden to reinvigorate his country’s ruined democracy and governance system, as his efficiency in countering COVID-19 may help him regain American people’s trust on the future of American democracy.
In terms of foreign policy, President Biden has some radical changes compared to that of Trump, which might be favorable to the Western world. At first glance, Biden embraces multilateralism much more than his predecessor, with the hope of saving the American global leadership. He supports Washington’s participation in international institutions, which is illustrated by the rejoining of WHO, Paris Agreement and several multilateral commitments. In tandem with this, Biden values the US’ alliances and strategic partnership as vital instruments for the US’ hegemony. Unlike Trump’s transactional approach, Biden prioritizes early and effective engagement with allies to tackle regional and global issues, especially major ones like NATO, G7. In Asia, he also seeks for further cooperation with traditional allies such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and deepening partnership with Vietnam, Singapore, India and ASEAN countries.
More importantly, President Biden’s policies towards the US’ competitors and “rogue states” are far different from Trump’s. Granted, despite seeing China as the biggest threat to the American global leadership, Biden adopts a more flexible and multilateral policy. His administration looks to cooperate and compete with China, which implies a different trajectory of the US-China relationship in the upcoming time. Additionally, as noted above, instead of unilaterally escalating tensions with China as Trump did, Biden has been forging relations with traditional and potential Asian allies to contain China together, given China’s increasing assertiveness. With regard to Iran, Washington is now working on the Iran Nuclear Deal with other six parties, promising a potentially positive future on the relations of Iran with the US and the West. The bottom line is, a radical change in Biden’s foreign policy will be a clear message to the world that the US will still try to save the liberal international order and make this world safer for democracy.
The European Union is recovering
Things are happening in the same pattern in Europe. European leaders are also closely cooperating, both inside and outside the bloc, to defeat COVID-19. That said, they are ardently supporting multilateralism. So far, the EU has spent billions of dollars in vaccine development as well as humanitarian support, demonstrating its solidarity in the battle against COVID-19. As such, if EU leaders can successfully lead their bloc out of the current crisis, they can reform this currently plagued institution in the post-pandemic era. Not only seeking further intra-bloc cooperation, but also European leaders are working with other major actors around the world to substantiate the global battlefront against COVID-19. Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged her country and China to jointly develop COVID’s vaccine in an open, transparent way, and to a further extent, maintain good and stable bilateral partnership, regardless of two sides’ differences.
Similarly, the EU has been putting the Transatlantic relationship among the priorities of its foreign policy agenda. After Biden’s election, the European Commission has proposed refreshing the US-EU alliance and establishing a Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council, being seen as an informal tech alliance with the US to prevent China from dominating this critical sector. The Transatlantic relationship is perhaps one of the pillars for the liberal international order, given its long history and its contribution to maintain the global stability. In the last decades, this axis has been damaged by numerous issues, from economic to security, which is one of the main causes for the decline of liberal international order. Thus, a fresh Transatlantic relationship is conducive to the re-emergence of this order. In this respect, the EU’s effort to strengthen the Transatlantic alliance, despite being questionable in terms of feasibility and outcome, is still paving the way for reinvigorating of liberal international order. More notably, the most recent G7 Summit has illustrated the Western’s solidarity, when there is a convergence in most issues related to global governance and maintaining the Western-based order. This may be a harbinger of the liberal international order’s revival, at least in a foreseeable future.
Non-Western world is struggling
The dynamics outside the Western world is also changing in a more favorable direction. Many non-Western countries, once were effective in combating against the pandemic, are now struggling with a greater threat. Taiwan, in spite of being praised as one of the most successful states in the battle against COVID-19, is currently facing another wave of pandemic when the new cases in this island are surging recently. Other successful stories, let us say Thailand, Japan or South Korea, are questionable of maintaining their momentum in preventing the virus, showcased by their relatively inefficiency during this new wave, in implementing strong measures and getting their people vaccinated. This raises question about these countries’ model of governance, which was used to be praised as a better alternative for a plagued, dysfunctional Western one, thanks to its merits in helping those above-mentioned states contain COVID-19.
Major non-Western blocs are in the midst of COVID-19 crisis as well. The clearest example is the BRICS. Except China, all other countries in this bloc have been tremendously suffering from the pandemic. Due to this, they are far from being recovered quickly. This failure in dealing with the virus undermines the bloc’s previous effort in establishing its position as a major, effective one, not to mention building a new, non-Western international order. This is also the case with ASEAN, as the organization was sharply divided by COVID-19. There are countries doing well with controlling the pandemic such as Vietnam, Singapore, but the Philippines and Indonesia are unable to do so, making this bloc suffering from institutional sclerosis without having any coherent COVID-19 policy. Therefore, non-Western blocs and countries are far from being more efficient than Western ones, implying they are unable to come up with any better international orders than the current liberal international one.
More importantly, Western values underpinning the liberal international order are universal. This is noteworthy when arguing for the long-lasting of Western order, as its existence and endurance mainly hinge on the universality of Western values. These values have been embraced by many countries for a very long time. Hence, despite being deteriorated in recent years, they cannot be easily changed. On the other hand, non-Western values are also not as highly embraced as Western ones. China, desiring to topple the US, is initiating numerous projects and agreements to spread its values around the world, making the world less Western and more Chinese/Asian. Nonetheless, Beijing has yet achieved any remarkable achievements in making their values more widespread and embraced by the rest of the world. Even worse, its image has been tarnished due to its rising assertiveness. Its projects in developing countries, especially BRI-related projects, have been notorious for a large number of problems related to environment or local corruption, and it is raising strategic uncertainty in the region by its increasing militarization, particularly on the South China Sea. These movements have turned China into a “malevolent” major power, hindering its process of disseminating and socializing its values to the world.
It is also worth noting that although Western values have declined, they have been proven to be benevolent for this world. Most recently, it is Western countries that have successfully developed good COVID-19 vaccines to save themselves and save the world from this unprecedented health crisis. Non-Western countries, for instance China and Russia, have their own vaccines, but they are not as welcome as other developed countries in the West in the vaccine race, because their vaccines are relatively less effective than Western-produced ones. Democracy, liberty, lassaiz faire are values that help Western countries or ones embrace such things able to produce massive amount of effective vaccines, and more broadly to develop a strong science and technology foundation. Producing and distributing vaccine for the rest of the world would make the West become a savior, which is good for saving the liberal international order.
Without doubt, the liberal international order has been in its worst time since 1991 when it reached its heyday. However, thanks to its merits, the liberal international order will not die. Instead, most countries will jointly save it, because they have been benefitting from this order for a long time, and will be so in the future. The order’s founding members are recovering, and cooperating closely to reform it, as well as there are no better international orders that can replace the existing one. Given these circumstances, the liberal international order would re-emerge as a dominant form of ordering this world after the pandemic, and would be perpetuated.
Who benefits more from the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva?
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.
Trump’s legacy hangs over human rights talk at upcoming Biden-Putin Geneva summit
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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