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Firewood and Coal: U.S.–Russia Relations without Mueller

Ivan Timofeev

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The completion of the Mueller investigation ended with the deafening defeat of the opponents of the incumbent President of the United States. A supposed grand conspiracy lay at the heart of the “intervention theory” — the assumption that the Kremlin had coordinated a large-scale plan to support Trump and undermine democracy. The formerly respectable U.S. media stoked the flames to the very last. Collusion was seen by many as a self-evident fact. The conclusion drawn by the Mueller report should only have confirmed the obvious. Newspapers printed caricatures of those involved in the “conspiracy,” plotted the schedules of meetings and contacts, cited the opinions of retired intelligence officers that there was no smoke without fire, and pieced together the intricacies of the relations of the “conspirators.” The Mueller investigation out an end to this wanton disorder.

The entire affair revealed two important things for the United States. First, that the leading media outlets, which are supposed to protect democracy (which, according to some, is in crisis), have descended to the level of gutter press. Second, that the law enforcement system has avoided domestic political battles and steadied the political ship, doing more for democracy that those who vow to protect it. The American political regime has shown strength and resilience.

The investigation did not put the question of Russian intervention to be entirely, however. Mueller accused the Russian side of hacker attacks and “trolling” on social networks. Even if we accept that this is the case, however, we are talking about isolated cases that can hardly be characterized as a system. Last autumn, Trump instructed the intelligence services to find evidence of interference in the congressional elections. The investigation revealed nothing. It is unlikely that Russia has heard the last of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, however. The coals will continue to burn for a long time to come, although it would seem that there is no more fresh wood for the fire.

We should not expect any changes in Washington’s stance on Moscow. Trump and his administration have set the tone for the sanctions policy. The notions of “hostile politics” and “interference in the affairs of allies” are gaining momentum. Mueller will not be there. This means that the facts can be interpreted in a number of ways, replacing the American plotlines with other issues — from Venezuela to the Middle East, from the Skripal case to European populists. The sanctions will continue to come in thick and fast. Perhaps the new circumstances will lead to a revision of some of the provisions of the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKAA) with new restrictions. But even without it, the U.S. administration has sufficient resources to impose a wide range of restrictive measures on Moscow if it so desires.

Russia continues to be a competitor of the United States, and there are a huge number of political contradictions between the two sides. Moscow will continue to assert its positions in spite of the sanctions. That notwithstanding, the conclusion of the Mueller investigation presents certain opportunities. Washington and Moscow have a number of questions that need to be addressed in order to reduce the costs of competition. The two sides need to search for solutions and take small steps towards more stable relations. They need to tackle the most pressing issues so that populists on both sides cannot use them to their own advantage, thus reducing the risk of escalation. The priorities include the “rules of the game” for the digital space and the norms of behaviour in the cyber environment, for it is here that the most serious crisis in U.S.–Russia relations became possible. And this is where the problem needs to be dealt with. Back in the day, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought about the realization that arms control is an absolute necessity. The digital environment needs to be regulated.

First published in our partner RIAC

RIAC Director of Programs, RIAC Member, Head of "Contemporary State" program at Valdai Discussion Club, RIAC member.

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Americas

Poll Shows Trump’s Israel Policy Is Opposed Even by Republicans

Eric Zuesse

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On Monday, November 18th, Reuters headlined “U.S. backs Israel on settlements, angering Palestinians and clouding peace process” and reported that, “The United States on Monday effectively backed Israel’s right to build Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank by abandoning its four-decade-old position that they were ‘inconsistent with international law,’ a stance that may make Israeli-Palestinian peace even more elusive.” This article made clear that, of all entities Reuters could contact about the matter, only U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thought that these illegal settlements are legal, and even Pompeo was offering no other reason than that “‘The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,’ Pompeo told reporters at the State Department, reversing a formal legal position taken by the United States under Carter in 1978.” It was merely his dictat, as authority for this major U.S. policy-change. 

One poll was recently taken of Americans on the matter. It was done by Scarborough Research, a joint venture by The Nielsen Company and Arbitron, and its sample size was unusually large for such a poll and employed rigorous sampling techniques. Thus, its findings should be considered to be close to the reality. Here is a summary of that poll’s methodology and findings. [I add my explanations in brackets].

The survey was carried out September 12 – October 9, 2018 online from a nationally representative sample of Nielsen Scarborough’s probability-based panel, originally recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of adults provided by Survey Sampling International. The national sample was 2,352.

Q57. As you may know, the United States has been acting as a mediator between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, with the aim of reaching an agreement in the IsraeliPalestinian conflict. Whether or not these efforts succeed, there is a question about what kind of future for Israel and the Palestinians the U.S. should be supporting over the long term, and many analysts feel that time is running out for some options. Here are four possible approaches that are frequently discussed. Please select the one you think the U.S. should support.

Rep Dem Ind Total 

1. A two-state solution: Israel and a Palestinian state side by side. The Palestinian state would be established on the territories that Israel has occupied since 1967. 24% 48% 31% 36% [That’s 24% “Rep”; 48% “Dem”; 31% “Ind”; 36% “Total.”]

2. A one-state solution: A single democratic state in which both Jews and Arabs are full and equal citizens, covering all of what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  33% 36% 38% 35%

3. Annexation without equal citizenship: Israel would annex the Palestinian territories, but keep a majority-Jewish state in the expanded territories by restricting citizenship rights of Palestinians. 14% 3% 4% 8%

4. Maintain the occupation of both the territories Israel has captured in 1967 and the Palestinians inhabiting them indefinitely. 18% 5% 13% 11% 

Refused 11% 8% 14% 10%

[71% support either a two-state or a one-state solution (a sort of democratic solution). 19% support either “Annexation without equal citizenship” or Israel’s permanent militarily imposed “occupation of both the territories (West Bank and Gaza).” On this question, only 19% support Trump’s Israel policy, but 25% of Republicans do. However, 67% of Republicans don’t.]

One of the issues of tension between the United States and Israel has been its construction of Israeli settlements in the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. These settlements are considered illegal by most of the international community and have been opposed by every U.S. administration, both Republican and Democratic. The Israeli government has continued to build settlements. … How do you believe the U.S. should react to new settlements?

1. Do nothing: 38% 17% 33% 28%

2. Verbally criticize: 30% 22% 27% 26%

3. Economic sanctions: 17% 41% 22% 17%

4. More serious action: 9% 15% 11% 12%

[Trump’s “Do nothing” is supported by 28% of American voters. That even includes only 38% of Republicans. 56% of Republicans want some type of at least criticism against Israel.]

Consequently: Trump has now gone far out onto a far-right limb here in his policies toward the state of Israel and its dictatorship over Palestinians (the people who are the descendants of what were the vast majority of Israel’s population until the ethnic cleansing that slaughtered and displaced them).

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The Intellectual Doomsday Clock: 30 Seconds to Midnight?

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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As someone who has dedicated his entire professional career to higher education, to engaging young minds and striving to advance new thinking across a whole host of critically important global issues, it is with great sadness that I write this article. Not only do all of the scientific surveys point to a coming calamity, my own career provides extensive anecdotal confirmation of the sad reality that we are, as a human society, pushing ourselves down into an intellectual abyss from which we might not be able to emerge. Perhaps most disturbing of all, this pushing momentum is not done by accident. Rather, most of society today seems hell-bent on orgiastically rejoicing in our diminishing skills and our dismissal of ‘smartness.’ Refined thinking, nuanced analysis, and subtle reasoning are now the supposed domain of out-of-touch elite, of people who do not know about reality and are therefore happily removed from the debate/discussion stage. This is not the same kind of anti-elitism we have seen in decades past. This is not simply a fight between the benefits of ‘book learning’ versus ‘experiential wisdom.’ This is more about total war being waged against the intellectual process itself with adjacent side-battles against research, open-mindedness, and scientific thinking. It is not about the quality of the journey of intellectual engagement. It is about the attempt to annihilate discussion in total, surrounding ourselves with our own anti-intellectual camps of sycophantic chatter amounting to nothing. It is not about inquiry leading to epiphany. It is about the biased construction of self-affirmation. We are a society of self-delusional dullards. May this be a not-so-subtle early warning to stop our own dumb and dumber destruction.

Source: axios.com

The above chart is fairly self-explanatory. The chief aspect to focus on is how most Democrats will actually use this as supposed ‘proof’ of their open-mindedness and ability to think more independently, far more so than the other two representative groups covering most of society in America. While I can grant it is horrifically appalling to see percentages amongst Republicans to go all the way to 92% and even “independents” proving they are not so independent at all by going up to 4/5 of their numbers, the surveys still show one out of every 2 democrats, slightly more than that actually, are in the exact same boat as the other members of society. Why does this matter? It matters because on one very crucial aspect this chart explains the secret ingredient that currently powers the base rationalization and self-justification most people use to fuel their purposeful refusal to seek out alternative arguments, embrace people with differing viewpoints, and understand the crucial humility needed in the world of politics and social order, that being there are very few, if any, questions that have one single undebatable answer that should rationally end all further debate. When you can reject all of these things, it allows you to be content with rejecting even the search for multiple sources, the comparative analysis crucial to any real truth-finding, and the rational thinking that creates true deep thought and nuanced intellectualism. The rejection of the impartiality of news sources as an entity de facto turns into behavior that rejects the need to be discerning about sources overall. If the sources are all tainted, then why do we need them at all? All we need is our own thinking, backed of course by the resident echo chambers we create by surrounding ourselves only with like-minded people. As long as the people I spend most of my time with (and that is increasingly becoming a measure based on ‘virtual exposure’ rather than ‘face-to-face living engagement’) agree with me, why do I need to care about other fools with different opinions?

Source: realclearscience.com

The above chart clusters Republican (red) and Democrat (blue) representatives on a spectrum of ideology (defined by how often they vote with the rest of their party) then links opposite party members according to their votes together. The links grow larger and darker the more often representatives vote across party lines. In this case, that symbolizes the positive representation of independent thinking and the ability to make decisions NOT according to knee-jerk party lines or blind ideological allegiance. The graphs’ evolution over time is simply remarkable in that not only does the prevalence of cross-party line votes diminish radically over the decades, the behavior by 2011 de facto evaporates while adhering staunchly to party ideology. Exclusionary thinking becomes intensely concentrated and exclusive. It is also disappointing to note that this fascinating study ended in 2011: one year before the second term of President Barack Obama and fully five years before the controversial first term of President Donald Trump. It is not scientifically radical to say the ideological tendencies in American partisanship have only worsened since that 2011 end-of-study date. In fact, heading into 2020, most political discussions in America no longer even include the possibility of any cross-party thinking, let alone behavior. The idea itself is dismissed as being symbolic NOT of independent thinking but of social betrayal that should be shunned and punished.

Source: dailymail.co.uk

This final chart is the cherry on top of the stupid sundae. It shows the clear and inevitable path that global IQ is taking from 1950 all the way to 2110. Some may say that a decline from an average of 92 to a new average of 84 is not much given it is covering 160 years. Some might even be motivated to invoke the old “Malthusian Dilemma” to criticize the data, pointing out that such long-term extrapolations are only based on current trends remaining immutable and cannot, therefore, take into account what future counter-measures might be taken by society to right the wrong indicators. I would like to be a member of the Malthusian camp, quite honestly. In its own way, this article is an effort to kick-start those supposed Malthusian strategies, bringing future resolutions to our ‘stupid problem’ sooner to the forefront rather than later. But all of this is wishful thinking. It is not hard science. My hopes, in fact, are based on the opposite of what the data shows, what society currently rejoices in, and what so many individual people profess as being an advancement in ‘popular intelligence.’ As long as our global society, led most decidedly by the most powerful and influential country on earth, continues to revel in anti-intellectualism as proof of its own grassroots intelligence, as long as people rationalize away critical reasoning and analytical thinking as just so much elite ivory tower snobbery, then the only path we craft for ourselves as a society is one of blissful ignorance, confrontational delusion, and self-righteous obliviousness. The only society to emerge from this path is a dead society. A society of stagnation and regression. The intellectual doomsday clock is at 30 seconds to midnight. The ability to shift the ticking second hand backwards, back to enlightenment and dynamic knowledge engagement, may already be gone. May the Malthusian Army appear soon.

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U.S.-Turkey relations: From close friendship to conflict of interests

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Relations between the U.S. Turkey have strained since the failed July 2016 coup in Turkey. Now, the most important reasons for the tension is Washington’s strong opposition to Turkey’s plan to buy S-400 missile system from Russia and Turkish military invasion into northern Syria.

Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the U.S. on November 13 was intended to resolve the two countries’ disputes and open a new horizon in economic and trade relations, differences still remain. 

Though after the meeting at the White House, Trump made some pledges, including increasing trade ties to $100 billion, it takes a long time to fulfill these promises.

Contrary to such pledges, the Pentagon announced that it had replaced all F-35 fighter parts made by Turkey.

While the Turkish and U.S. leaders were meeting, F-35 production program executive Lt. Gen. Eric Fick said at a congressional hearing that Turkey would be completely phased out until March.

At the moment the U.S. has narrowed the number of parts down from 1,000 to 12.

Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord affirmed to Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., that as of Wednesday, Turkey’s exit from the program was not expected to cause any F-35 production delays.

The U.S. government believes Ankara’s move to buy S-400 missile system from Russia is not in line with NATO policies. Washington also sees Turkey’s decision as a threat to U.S. F-35 fighters. However, Ankara has announced that it will go ahead with its decision to buy the missile system.

Erdogan said it is not a right policy to ask Ankara to deprive itself of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

Erdogan’s remarks came in response to some reports that Trump had requested Turkey to cancel the purchase of S-400 system, a defense system that has been deployed in some parts of Turkey since July 2019.

But after Trump and Erdogan’s meeting, the Turkish president claimed that the U.S. president had a positive view on buying the missile system.

Though Trump may seek to strike a deal with Erdogan on the S-400 missile system and F-35 fighter aircraft, based on his own businessmen approach, Ankara’s military intervention in northern Syria and its insistence on buying the S-400 system are at odds with Washington. For this reason, the House of Representatives has passed two resolutions against Turkey.

On October 30, the House approved a resolution against Turkey recognizing the Ottoman massacre of Armenians in 1915. 305 representatives voted in favor of the resolution, with only three opposing it. It also passed another resolution calling on Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey over military operations in northern Syria. The resolution was also adopted by 403 votes in favor and 16 against, a move that rose Turkey’s anger.

After Erdogan’s meeting with Trump, attended by some Congress representatives, senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee vetoed the resolution recognizing the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. 

Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Robert Menendez had called for the resolution to be approved. Lindsey Graham noted that he had listened to Erdogan’s speech at the White House and criticized a House resolution that recognized the Armenian genocide. 

Menendez argued that “U.S. policy must be unanimous and honest in the face of human rights violations, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide” and sent it to the Senate for approval.

There is a difference between the White House and Congress in how to deal with Turkey. Also, there is a difference between Republicans and Democrats despite Trump’s promises to Erdogan.

From our partner Tehran Times

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