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The Brazilian anti- presidentialism regime

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More than a hundred days have passed since the inauguration of the sixth elected President of the re democratization period in Brazil, Mr. Jair Bolsonaro. Time enough to observe that a few words of this first sentence appear not to fit together in the current governmental term, namely, “President”, “redemocratization”, and “Jair Bolsonaro”. In this brief article, I explain how those words are being settled apart, through an overview of what has been at the center of media and academic debates. Then, I show what has been the most problematic aspect of those debates, and how they are, consequently, reinforcing the Government’s strategy of resignifying Brazil’s history and reality. Finally, I define what I have termed anti-presidentialist regime, erected upon such strategy which, I argue, is the concluding part of the project presented to the population by the Legislative and Judiciary in 2016, with Dilma Rousseff`s impeachment. My intention here is not to assemble what several political scientists, journalists, economists, and also the political opposition have been expressing to the local and international presses. Instead, I aim to make sense of a broader change regarding the way Brazilians became to recognize themselves: how is such a shift taking place, who is it favoring, and what is the likely outcome?

At first, it is paramount to understand what Mr. Jair Bolsonaro is. He is more a “something” than a “somebody”, and I explain this point: Bolsonaro has made his path as a Congressman as a means through which to assure to his family and his surrounding community of friends and employees safe positions in politics. He is an instrument toward such goal and had succeeded. This becomes clear when one analyses his performance over near thirty years in the House of Representatives: polemic discourses in plenaries; offensive statements directed against homosexuals and women Deputies; a poor record of accepted propositions by his peers (two projects); and a wide range of ideas and proposals oriented to militaries – 53% out of the total, although none was approved in the House. While such performance appears to be low, it happened to be enough for assuring a loyal part of the electorate who had constructed a reliable identification with his “authentic and spontaneous” way of talking.

After his premature retirement from the Army with a granted military patent of captain, the politics turned out to be a space of opportunities to safeguard the economic future of his people. Aware of being a kind of “spokesperson” of the conservative strand of the society that, by this time (the 2000s), was enclosed in itself, Bolsonaro would escalate his style and convert it into a “label”. Although not yet taken seriously by many in the House and within the society, one of his sons was elected Councilor of Rio de Janeiro in 2000 with seventeen years old, under the minimum lega lage to assume the position, replacing his mother, Mrs. Rogéria Bolsonaro. Not by chance, this was the son who most quickly understood and reproduced the label: still a teenager, Carlos Bolsonaro held an active discourse in favor of the civilian armament and the reduction of the criminal age in his campaign. The Brazilian media evaluates that, currently, he is the one who has the most influence over the President – what was underpinned by the unexpected dismissal of Mr. Gustavo Bebbiano, the then Ministry of the General Secretariat of the Presidency and the President of Bolsonaro’s political party, the Social Liberal Party. Bolsonaro announced Bebbiano’s removal from office in 18th February, after an episode of disagreements with Carlos concerning a supposed WhatsApp (mis)communication between Bebbiano and Bolsonaro. It is argued that the event in itself might not have rendered Bebbiano’s dismissal if he wouldn’t have been in continuous disagreements with Carlos since the government’s transitional period.

Nowadays, we have Bolsonaro’s three sons occupying positions in the Legislative, throughout different federal spheres (National Congress and City Hall), and none of them is in the first mandate1. Therefore, we have a political clan, i.e., an instance of informal nepotism. Naturally, alongside the core of the clan constituted by the father and sons, there is an extensive network of collaborators, friends, and supporters that has been consolidated over the years. They might recognize themselves as part of a large family, but the core is tight and well defined. If there is something clear so far within the Government is that: how many more raise opposition to the core, how many more may fall out, either removed or resigned. Bolsonaro is then not a politician in the strict sense of acting towards the common good within the public sphere, seeking the most prepared ones to tackle the tasks. Besides the episode encompassing Bebbiano and his second son Carlos, we are collecting demonstrations of how the hierarchy of the government is built up – as an example, the third son Eduardo took part at the first official meeting with the US President Donald Trump, instead of the Chancellor Ernesto Araújo, in 19thMarch.

The politics is the space that has welcomed Bolsonaro after the Army, in which he could better act to the benefit of his peoples, i.e., professional, economic and material guarantees to his family first, then to the network around them. He has succeeded, as his own plan was just like that personal, simple and clear compared to other politician’s high ambitions. As President, he has been keeping his old discursive style – polemic, controversial, authentic (in his electorate’s words), interventionist and extremist – while strengthening the label Bolsonaro, which was meant to represent conservatism mainly in religious and behavioral terms, and actually represents the most significant far-right authority in Latin America.

Jair Bolsonaro is from the state of Rio de Janeiro, one of the most violent in Brazil. At the same time, one with the highest visibility and popularity, perhaps in the world. The city of Rio de Janeiro (the homonymous state capital) hosted several international mega-events during the last ten years, ranging from religion (the first apostolic journey of Pope Francisco, who is born in Argentina, was to RJ, where he celebrated the World Youth Day in 2013) to culture, sport and business. Alongside them, it had dramatically increased the number of murders, armed repression and forced evictions of poor black people from territories that have turned out to be on the way of those mega-events. Had Bolsonaro been a politician (again, in the original Greek sense of the term), in facing such scenario, and considering his strong discourse on public security – favoring an increase in weapons circulation and military police’s power of action -, he might have been elected Governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro. However, he is not. He is solely the leader of a clan, who has never aspired to be the personification of a national leader.

Here, I argue, lies the most problematic aspect of the debates concerning the last ten months of Brazilian politics, assembling the electoral period, the transitional government and the almost five months of Bolsonaro’s Presidency: the expectation of an Executive that acts according to the coalition presidentialism is indeed wavering. Coalition presidentialism has been the regime since the redemocratization of the country in 1985 with President José Sarney4. There are two irreconcilable logics at play: on the one side, intellectuals and pragmatics struggle to find in Bolsonaro’s Presidency plausible elements to delineate either a strategy or a personality that fits within the overarching framework of the coalition presidentialism regime. Although nothing resembles the other five Presidents of the redemocratization period5, there is still a considered segment of the society committed to explaining the over-reluctant behavior of the President, which inevitably contaminates the Executive, without putting the regime itself into question.

On the other side, the logic of Bolsonaro does uphold the unfolding developments: as the leader of a conservative clan consisted of white middle-to-upper class heterosexual men, since his first mandates at the House of Representatives he plays solely on the customs agenda, openly displaying no sympathy to democratic principles. He was elected in October 2018 precisely due to such biography and, over the empty presidential campaign that did not have debates nor a minimum exposition of a government program, he never held the promise of diversification. After all, he was not interested in politics, but in raising polemics about traditions, habits, norms, and myths. His last frictions with the President of the House, Mr. Rodrigo Maia (of the Democrats Party, which is center-right and part of the government’s support base), make clear his complete apathy concerning politics.

He plays according to his logic, which is instrumentalized by mechanisms able to promote chaos and polarization – social media, ideological discourses, delegitimation of the opposition as an interlocutor, empty promises and doubtful declarations later falsified by the ministers, and a real war against the press. Nonetheless, chaos and polarization are indeed effective methods to misconduct a country with 34.5 million informal workers6, more than 12 million of unemployed7 and 15.3 million people living below the line of extreme poverty8. As long as press and academic debates keep focused on the failures and shortcomings of this sixth elected representative of a supposed democratic coalition presidentialism regime, we all fail.

Therefore, we urgently need to change the focus and the language, to construct a possible resistance. The focus, away of Twitter and the partisan dichotomy left-right, which is in the clan’s usual rhetoric, toward the proper Executive agenda of reforms and public measures. The language, away of personal adjectives and aggressive responses, toward an assertive and confrontational oratory related to the paralysis of the Executive. Here I use the word paralysis referring to the fact that, with more than ten percent of the term of office spent, we have no real program for Health, Education, Environment, Human Rights, Culture, Work and so on. What we have is still a robust ideological plan of action, replicating the ton used during the campaign. The National Congress is still recalcitrant with the Pension Reform, which has just gone through the first round of voting at the Constitution, Justice and Citizenship Commission (CCJ, in Portuguese) of the House.

Although the political horizon is still unclear, the present is so far undoubted: Bolsonaro is not playing by the rules of the coalition presidentialism, neither is personally attached to the principles of liberal democracy. Bolsonaro has no clue about how to balance the distribution of functions, roles and positions among the ministries and state companies, let alone how to manage the amendments in the budget – recently, the House has approved, in a surprisingly fast majority of 448 votes vs. 3, the Proposal of Constitutional Emendation 2/2015 known as the “authoritative budget”, which substantially restricts the government’s power over the allocation of funds. This is seen as a significant defeat of the Ministry of Economy Paulo Guedes. For Bolsonaro himself – who has already publicly declared against the Pension Reform which is, in turn, the main flag of his mandate proposed by one of the two so-called “super Ministers”, Mr. Guedes – it is all under control.

To highlight the challenge to so-called coalition presidentialism, I will call this particular way of managing government, daily affairs, and (anti)politics a regime of “anti-presidentialism”. Through this specific regime, Bolsonaro’s government simultaneously control the government and the opposition mainly through the setting of the agenda – restricted to customs, myths, contentious issues, and random opinions – employing direct communication with the population via social media.

He won the presidential election with 39.3% of the total electorate who went to the poll and currently needs to preserve the rate of 30% of overall approval to move forward with the reforms, according to companies of data surveys and to the economic press. Today, we have 37% of Brazilians that evaluate Bolsonaro Government as “good”. There is a parcel of the electorate that would remain loyal to the label Bolsonaro: openly chauvinist, homophobic, sexist, conservative, interventionist and safeguard of the patriarchal roots of the Brazilian society. During the Workers Party’s terms (Lula, 2003-2011; Dilma, 2011-mid-2016), this parcel of the electorate – composed mainly by white men of middle and high economic classes, former militaries and evangelicals – has seen a double movement going on in the country: on the one hand, the growing and spread of progressive ideas in the fields of social policies, customs and human rights, which were celebrated by the low classes who are generally the target of security forces’ narco-politics. On the other hand, the lowering of purchase power as an effect of the international economic crisis of 2008 that was felt hard by the middle class, which is generally the target of austerity measures.

The welfare policies of President Lula (Bolsa Família, Fome Zero) did not alter the inequality structure of the country, and there are several plausible critics about Lula’s double strategy of making poor people and the bourgeoisie compliant, through providing access to consumer goods and the reconciliation of conflicting interests, respectively. What is relevant to highlight, however, is the social consequences of this political articulation undertaken during the Workers Party’s terms: the rise of gender activism, feminist movements, human rights advocacy, naming and shaming of racist politicians, and a feeling of empowerment among the poor people. The silenced low class has become louder and proud of its color, race, and sexual orientation. The intolerance grew concomitantly, both among the political-economic elite, and the ordinary people eager to have the “normal order” back, i.e., privileges of gender, class, and race.

Political scientists, journalists, economists and also the political opposition have been struggling to keep up with the daily twists promoted by Bolsonaro and his team, to understand them in light of the democratic principles and the coalition presidentialism regime, which normativity is in effect for the last thirty-four years of the Brazilian history. That is where I claim they are reinforcing Bolsonaro’s strategy of resignifying Brazil’s history and reality. Bolsonaro’s team is, on the one hand, made by a majority of militaries already responsible for more than one-third of the Ministries that, together, have a budget more prominent than the Ministry of Health and Education. Naturally, it is inescapable to cope with the old issue of military hierarchy vs. submission to civilians, which has been proved difficult in the negotiations of the Pension Reform.

On the other hand, the team is made by several people who were entitled due to their consent and conviction concerning the conservative customs agenda — nothing beyond that. The Ministers of External Relations, Human Rights & Family, Environment and Education are the most notable examples of what is at stake for Bolsonaro: to ideologically resignify the frontline channels of telling Brazil’s history and reality, inside and outside the country. This agenda has been featured “anti-intellectualism” by the opposition, denoting precisely the denial of facts, statistics, studies, and historiography. The ambivalence is that, even though such denial is already identified, the opposition insists on the intellectual language to confront such an agenda. That is, while Bolsonaro speaks his own truths and manifests his conception of the facts (not the facts themselves), the opposition complains about the lack of accuracy with numbers and narratives about the trending-topics selected by Bolsonaro himself.

As an example, the order launched in the last 31st March to celebrate the Military Coup of 1964 that has initiated the twenty years of the barbaric Brazilian dictatorship, has prompted a massive reaction within the national and international societies 9 . We are witnessing an entire miscommunication that, in the end, has been monopolizing the opposition toward raising a reaction against nothing with the wrong toolkit, as Bolsonaro does not recognize the sound of intellectualism. In other words, would not be the national opposition an echo of Bolsonaro’s anxieties, reverberating his desires and perspectives, they will start to see a backlash before whom he cares about, the international market.

I wrap up this article with the questions concerning the broader change upon the way Brazilians came to recognize themselves: how is such a shift taking place, who is it favoring, and what is the likely outcome? I claim that Bolsonaro is a by product of such change and that it is crucial to highlight the path, the conditions of possibility for his election and continuous support among still 30% of voters. I already mentioned above few concrete facts of the Workers Party’s period in power that contributed to catalyze changes on Brazilians perspectives about themselves. And I would say that, by no means, we are alone: such changes are following an international trend of conservatism. However, Bolsonaro is conservative, to say the least. To be precise, he is located at the far-right part of the political spectrum, what is an unthinkable image for Brazilians historians, social scientists and anyone else who has been thinking of the country since 1985.

Notwithstanding the traditional assumption of Itamaraty that Brazil is a successful example of multiculturalism and harmonious coexistence of differences, Brazilians are carving a deadly version of racism and persistent racial and economic inequality, as “Black Brazilians earn, on average, 57 percent less than white Brazilians. They make up 64 percent of the prison population. Brazil’s Congress is 71 percent white”10. Jair Bolsonaro spurs these numbers. His vocabulary is ideological, and his agenda is no longer part of the progressive path of emancipation that Brazilians were experiencing. He reinforces an illiberal democracy in the country, cheating people’s hope of better days and boosting actual crusades against intellectual discussions and teaching on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Simultaneously, he speaks out in favor of economic liberalism, which is a promise to re-establish the pre-2008 living conditions of the middle class through the privatization of vital national companies.

I named anti-presidentialism regime all this configuration that encompasses an original label shaped over Bolsonaro’s years as a Congressman under which his clan currently acts; a specific language, vocabulary and “functional ignorance” that works to silence substantiated critics; an exacerbated use of personal social media as the official communication channel of the Government; an ability to shape a customs agenda and to monopolize the public engagement around it; and, lastly, a profound lack of knowledge and skills to employ the instruments of the coalition presidentialism regime, which he calls “the oldpolitics”.

We are then reinforcing such anti-presidentialism regime by interacting with its elements, either misunderstanding or complaining about them, or even being sick of delusion. Bolsonaro has won more than sixty thousand new followers on Twitter during Carnaval through the promotion of chaos and polarization with a given video he posted. In Brazil, there is an elected Congressman who resigned from his third mandate and is living abroad in 2019; a Councilor who was a relentless human rights defender brutally murdered in 2018; and uncountable number of politicians who have occupied high positions in the national or local governments in prison due to corruption and support to militias. Liberal democracy is crumbling in Brazil at least since August 2016, with Rousseff´s controversial impeachment, and civilian restrictions are in a fast track of enlargement. The latest measure announced by the Minister of Education was to significantly “decentralized” public funding for superior studies of philosophy, sociology, and social sciences, as “they do not give an immediate return to taxpayers”, according to Bolsonaro.

Eduardo, his third son who is conducting Brazilian foreign policy, seeks for inspiration among the Hungarian Viktor Órban, the Italian Matteo Salvini, the Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu, and the North-American Donald Trump. Each manifestation from those countries’ peoples of non- acceptance of topics of the world far-right agenda is, after all, an engagement. In Brazil, due to the notorious unpreparedness of the President, resistance might be more successful by firstly ignoring posts and tweets of the clan that holds no other goal than to spawn social chaos. Resistance must require liberal democracy, constitutional rights, the rule of law and public policies, with expected outcomes and data. We must pressure the Executive parliamentarians and the media to focus on the democratic agenda. We must organize ourselves around specific flags such as funding for superior education and the combat to narco-politics as it is currently undertaken in favelas, where the state forces drive the genocide of black people. We cannot engage anymore with Bolsonaro’s strategy that is constructed, daily, through a discourse of normality. We need to urgently recover people’s power to shape conceptions of the normal.

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An anatomy of U.S. human rights diplomacy

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Authors: Zhou Dong-chen & Paul Wang

Over the past two weeks, the United States Congress has successively passed two acts concerning with Hong Kong human rights and democracy, and Uygur human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Accordingly, Beijing has urged the U.S. to stop slandering China’s anti-terrorism and cease interfering in its internal affairs. No doubt, the two acts passed by the U.S. legislation are not only an outrageous violation of the basic norms governing international relations but also seriously insult the Chinese people and the spirit of human rights.

Some experts testified the motivation behind the U.S. Congress, for example, as William Jones, Washington bureau chief of Executive Intelligence Review, put it that the United States has a history of interfering into other countries’ internal affairs. This time, their target is Hong Kong, one of the most important global financial hubs, and also aims at U.S. interference into China’s internal affairs. On September 11, the U.S. senate in effect passed a bill which condemns gross human rights violations of ethnic Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. They are pretentious to think the U.S. can weaken the Belt and Road Initiative in this way, and subsequently demote China’s influence through the so-called human rights violations. Yet, Washington’s acts on Hong Kong and the Uygur ethnics in Xinjiang are typically hypocritical in nature.

Historically, international concern for what we nowadays call human rights, in the sense of fundamental and inalienable rights essential to human being, is nothing new. As early as the 15th century when the Europeans started their overseas expansion, some law scholars were heavily engaged in discussion on the natural rights that were to be accorded to every human being under any circumstances, and lashed out the mistreatment of the native inhabitants of America by the European colonizers. Yet, after more than 400 years, the United States tried in 1919 to provide an overall mechanism to insure fair treatment for the peoples of the world. Yet, the efforts were fruitless until 1945 when the United Nations Charter was signed to enact more specific and comprehensive protection for all individuals.

It is true that the United States has been so keen in promoting its values of democracy and human rights in foreign policy, even if that meant instability and the end of necessary diplomatic talks. As Joseph Nye put it, “Over and over in international politics, the question is not absolute order versus justice, but how to trade off choices in particular situations.” Taking a look into the Cold War era, the United States actively supported numerous the violations of human rights in the so-called “friendly” states, such as South Korea, the Philippines, Chile and Iran—here to mention a few only. The reason is that a grand strategy for protecting U.S. traditional vital interests and its global public goods needs Washington to address and act along with the third elements of human rights and democracy. Yet other countries and cultures have often interpreted these values differently and resented the U.S. intervention in their internal affairs as self-righteous unilateralism.

According to Henry Kissinger, in 1974, a sea change in the conduct of American foreign policy occurred. Prior to that, it had attempted to affect the domestic policies of other states by way of covert operations or quiet diplomacy. It means official intervention in the domestic affairs of other states had not yet become an accepted component of the U.S. foreign policy; Westphalian scruples still prevail. Yet, for the first time in 1975, the U.S. Congress applied legislative sanctions to promote its values such as human rights and democracy, making it a formal and public part of the U.S. foreign policy. From then on, intervention in what had been considered domestic policy became increasingly fashionable. Then President Ford even talked of “the deep devotion of the American people and their government to human rights and fundamental freedoms.”Ironically, the U.S. bipartisan consensus was reached on the human rights, even though they were split by the Vietnamese War. Now Presidents Carter and Reagan both appealed to the Wilsonian rhetoric of America’s crusading spirit against a hostile ideology. For instance, Carter affirmed that “we ought to be a beacon for nations who search for social peace, individual liberty and basic human rights.” Reagan reiterated it in a more assertive language: “America’s leadership in the world came to us because of our own strength and the values that guide us as a society.”

Final victory in the Cold War further encouraged this self-gratification even in other groups, turning it into a global triumphalism. For absent a Cold War and an alternative power center to the United States, the theory of an “end of history” achieved considerable plausibility. Ideological struggles might well have ended once and for all; the entire world including a Communist-led China was adopting variations of the American economic and political systems. As a result, U.S. foreign policy became increasingly driven by domestic politics, but behind it is the arrogance backed by its superior power. As scholars put it, when pressure on foreign countries appears free of risk, there is increasing scope for legislating American domestic preferences as objectives of foreign policy, a revealing case of the new congressional involvement was to connect the granting of Most Favored Nation status to China dependent on its annual demonstrations of progress on human rights in the 1980s.

No doubt, support for an active diplomacy on behalf of human rights is by no means unanimous within the United States. As David Newsom, a U.S. senior diplomat, put it, “foreign affairs and diplomacy are domestic political-often partisan-questions in the United States.” There is no recognition of diplomacy as a part of “the state” above politics, as in many European countries. Thus, primary opposition to diplomatic efforts on behalf of human rights in the U.S. has come from those in believing that such policy threatens their interests, particularly security and trade.

In term of China, the United States has combined aspects of both strategies: containment and engagement. The first one has two main prongs: an effort to slow down China’s amazing economic growth by denying it access to the large U.S. market; and to strengthen building up an alliances with China’s neighbors in order to provide an effective counter-weight to its growing power. Yet, the second one argues for taking China in a web of institutions dealing with security, trade, and finance, such as WTO, ASEAN, IMF and the World Bank. As a result, China’s leaders will find an assertive foreign policy—challenging the status quo—to be too costly.

Today, as the largest rising power of the 21st century, China has been described as “a revisionist power”, by analogy to the Soviet Union in the Cold War. To that end, the American promotion of human rights aims to undermine China’s domestic political structure and international prestige, or in a geopolitical sense, the United States tries to keep China permanently in a secondary position. Accordingly, China has made all efforts to reject the proposition that international order is fostered by the spread of liberal democracy and the international community has an obligation to bring this about, and especially to achieve its perception of human rights by real action. In light of that American can never abandon their values of democracy and human rights, no formal compromise is possible between the ruling power and the rising power; yet, as Kissinger advised, “To keep the disagreement from spiraling into conflict is one of the principal obligations of the leaders of both sides. After all, we are living in the same global village.

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It’s Back to “Rocket Man”: Trump Steadily expanding risks of a Nuclear war With North Korea

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind, and not merely when the accident of birth had bequeathed them sovereignty. Usually, they have wreaked havoc.”-Sigmund Freud

“We fell in love” crowed Donald Trump about Kim Jung Un, after their Singapore summit back in June 2018. But this grotesquely curious romance was destined not to last. In fact, since early December 2019, it’s been consistently retrograde, back to Trump’s nonsensical recriminations; that is, to the American president’s conspicuously demeaning reliance upon childish epithets.

But to what conceivable strategic purpose? Once again, at least for the still-dissembling White House, it’s not about substantive geopolitical threats. Instead of purposefully enhancing American diplomatic leverage – which might actually make some bargaining sense – it’s just about “rocket man.”[1]

Even at this late point, objective strategic analyses are altogether necessary. Leaving aside the obvious futility of launching ad hominem insults as allegedly productive diplomacy, any upcoming crisis decision-making processes between Washington and Pyongyang will be shaped by Kim Jung Un’s unswerving commitment to personal military power. Inevitably, the flagrantly simplistic notion that this North Korean dictator would ever consider trading off the most visibly tangible implements of such power for presumptive national economic benefits is erroneous on its face.

In strategic matters, truth is always exculpatory. North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is irreversible. Prima facie, “denuclearization” remains an unrealizable goal –  a bitterly naive and conveniently distracting fiction.[2]

What next? The best case scenario available to the United States must now be a mutually acceptable relationship of stable nuclear deterrence. Still, there will be various “potholes” and recurrently unpredictable nuances. Going forward, a generally understated but particularly serious sub-risk for both the United States and North Korea will concern inadvertent nuclear war.

Oddly enough, the actual level of public concern about such prospectively grievous conflict – at least from the standpoint of palpable population fears – remains incommensurately small.

Now what? To begin, President Trump must carefully approach these complex issues at a suitably conceptual level. Then inter alia, it would become easier for Trump and his advisors to understand that the specific nuclear war risks posed by inadvertence must be carefully differentiated from the expected hazards of any deliberate nuclear war. The particular hazards of an intentional nuclear war could stem only from those Washington-Pyongyang hostilities that had been purposely initiated with nuclear weapons and/or deliberately responded to with nuclear weapons.

Moreover, this argument holds whether such unprecedented military actions were undertaken to achieve some form of strategic surprise, or as the result (expected or unexpected) of North Korean enemy irrationality.[3]

There is more. In any deliberate nuclear war scenario, and before any presidential ordering of an American preemption,[4]the expressly designated North Korean leadership would need to appear to US intelligence as(a) operationally nuclear and (b) psychologically irrational. Without this second expectation, any US preemption against an already-nuclear North Korean adversary would be irrational.

Trump, therefore, must continuously monitor not only relevant North Korean nuclear assets and capabilities, but also the substantially intangible mental health (decision-making) characteristics of Kim Jung Un. Although some might mock this second intelligence imperative as unnecessary or even impossible, it nonetheless remains conceivable that the authoritative dictator in Pyongyang could sometime choose to pretend irrationality. What then?

In fact, as we already well know, it is only Kim Jung Un’s counterpart in the White House (and not Kim himself) who has mused publicly about the potential rationality of pretended irrationality and who (until recently) took evident pleasure in claiming that the two presidents once “fell in love” back in Singapore.

When the US president and his latest batch of national security advisors consider the co-existing and fearful prospects of an inadvertent nuclear war with North Korea, their primary focus should remain oriented in institutional directions. This means attention to the expected stability and reliability of Pyongyang’s command, control and intelligence procedures. Should it be determined that these “C3I” processes display unacceptably high risks of mechanical/electrical/computer failure; indecipherable pre-delegations of nuclear launch authority; and/or unpredictable/unreliable launch-on-warning procedures (sometimes also called “launch-on-confirmed-attack”), a still-rational American president could then feel a more compelling need to consider an appropriate preemption.

A complex factor in any such decision-making process would be the apparent advent of hypersonic weapons in North Korean arsenals, and the extent to which any such ominous emergence was being suitably paralleled in American arsenals.

At this already advanced stage in North Korean nuclear military progress, the probable costs to the United States and certain of its allies accruing from any such defensive first-strike would be overwhelming and more-or-less “unacceptable.” Somehow, this foresee ably urgent understanding seems to have escaped Donald Trump, who has stated publicly on several worrisome occasions that North Korean tests of short-range missiles “do not worry” him. Among other shortcomings, this blithe and shallow presidential observation suggests that Trump is focused only on direct (long-range) missile threats to the United States, and somehow remains continuously unmindful of escalatory possibilities.

These inherently bewildering prospects include the profoundly destabilizing impact of shorter-range missiles upon US regional allies.

In principle, at least, certain calculable preemption options cannot be dismissed out of hand. More precisely, any residual American resort to “anticipatory self-defense” could be nuclear or non-nuclear and could even be indicated without any express regard for Kim Jung Un’s presumed rationality. Still, the well-reasoned cost-effectiveness of any US preemption would almost certainly be enlarged by any such carefully calculated presumptions.

What would be the most plausible reactions concerning a Trump-ordered preemption against North Korea? When all significant factors are taken into analytic account, Pyongyang, likely having no meaningful option to launching at least some massive forms of armed response, would intentionally target designated American military forces in the region and/or certain high-value South Korean armaments/personnel. President Trump, still assuming enemy rationality, should then expect that whatever its precise configuration of selected targets, North Korea’s retaliatory blow would be designed in part to avoid any massive (including nuclear) American counter-retaliations.

All such high-consequence calculations would involve multiple adversarial policy intersections, some which could be genuinely “synergistic”[5] and would assume perfect rationality on all sides. If, for example, the American president should decide to strike first, the response from Kim Jung Un should then be expectedly proportionate,[6] that is, similarly massive. In this heuristic escalatory “game, “the willful introduction of nuclear weapons into any ensuing conflagration might not be dismissed by either “player.”

What happens next?

As Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt has written, perhaps prophetically in this US-North Korea war scenario, “Sometimes, the worst does happen.”

 Noteworthy, too, at least at such a markedly uncertain and unprecedented point of prospective belligerency, any such game-changing introduction would more likely originate from the American side. This singular but all-embracing inference is based upon the understanding that while North Korea already has nuclear weapons and missile delivery vehicles (consequential weapons and delivery vehicles by definition), it is not yet prepared to seek “escalation dominance” vis-à-vis the United States. More precisely, for the moment, at least, it would seemingly be irrational for Pyongyang to launch its nuclear weapons first.

 Sometime, at least in principle, Trump, extending his usually favored stance of an argumentum ad bacculum (an illegitimate appeal to force) could opt rationally for a “mad dog” strategy.[7]Here, the American president, following his just-ordered preemption, would deliberately choose a strategy of pretended irrationality.

There is more. Any such determined reliance, while intuitively sensible and expectedly compelling, could backfire, thereby opening up a slippery path to various unstoppable escalations. Such a self-propelling competition in risk-taking could also be triggered by the North Korean president, then pretending to be a “mad dog” himself. Significantly, any feigned irrationality stance by Kim Jong Un might be undertaken exclusively by the North Korean side, or in an unplanned “synergy” with the United States.

In all conceivable variants of crisis bargaining situations between Washington and Pyongyang, and even without any calculable synergies, highest-level decision-making processes would be resoundingly and meaningfully interdependent.

All this means, inter alia, greater levels of complexity for decision-makers to unravel and a measurably lesser significance assigned to any once-presumptive “love” relationship between the two adversarial presidents.

Regarding complexity, and in absolutely all possible bargaining postures, each side would have to pay reciprocally close attention to the anticipated wishes and intentions of Russia (Cold War II[8]) and China. Aptly, one must now inquire, does President Trump genuinely believe that China would find it gainful to support him in any pending nuclear crisis with North Korea? To answer such a query, it ought to become plain that Trump’s still-ongoing and largely incoherent trade war with China will prove manifestly “unhelpful.”

Immediately, relevant scenarios must be explicitly posited and dialectically examined.[9]If President Donald Trump’s initial defensive first strike against North Korea were observably less than massive, for example, a still rational adversary in Pyongyang would likely take steps to ensure that its optimal reprisal was correspondingly limited. But if Trump’s consciously rational and calibrated attack upon North Korea were (wittingly or unwittingly)launched against an irrational enemy leadership, the response from Pyongyang could then bean all-out retaliation.

This unanticipated response, whether a non-nuclear or non-nuclear-nuclear “hybrid” response, would be directed at some as yet indeterminable combination of US and allied targets.

Inevitably, by any sensible measure, this response could inflict starkly grievous harms.

It is now also worth considering that a North Korean missile reprisal against US interests and personnel would not automatically exclude the American homeland. However, should the North Korean president maintain a determinedly rational “ladder” of available strategic options, he would almost certainly resist targeting any vulnerable civilian portions of the United States. Should he remain determinably willing to strike targets in South Korea and/or Japan, he would still incur very substantial risks of an American nuclear counter-retaliation.

In principle, at least, any such US response would follow directly from this country’s assorted treaty-based obligations regarding “collective self-defense.”[10]

Such risks would be much greater if Kim’s own aggressions[11]had already extended beyond hard military assets, either intentionally or as “collateral damage” brought unwittingly to soft civilian populations and/or infrastructures.

There is more. Even if the unimaginably complex game of nuclear brinksmanshipin Northeast Asia were being played exclusively by fully rational adversaries, the rapidly accumulating momentum of events between Washington and Pyongyang could still demand each “contestant” to strive relentlessly for escalation dominance. It is in the notably unpracticed dynamics of such an explosive rivalry that the prospect of an actual “Armageddon” scenario could plausibly be actualized.

“Sometimes,” reminds Friedrich Durrenmatt, “the worst does happen.”

This unprecedented outcome could be produced in unexpected increments of escalation by either or both dominant national players, or instead, by some sudden quantum leap in destructiveness undertaken by the United States and/or North Korea.

Looking ahead, the only predictable element of this foreseeable US-North Korea strategic game is this situation’s irremediable and boundless unpredictability. Even under the very best or optimal assumptions of enemy rationality, all relevant decision-makers would have to concern themselves with potentially dense or confused communications, inevitable miscalculations, cascading errors in information, unauthorized uses of strategic weapons, mechanical, electrical or computer malfunctions and poorly-recognized applications of cyber-defense and cyber-war.

Technically, one further analytic distinction is needed between inadvertent nuclear war and accidental nuclear war. By definition, an accidental nuclear war would be inadvertent, but reciprocally, an inadvertent nuclear war need not necessarily be accidental. False warnings, which could be spawned by mechanical, electrical or computer malfunction, or by hacking,[12]would best fit under the clarifying narratives of an accidental nuclear war. Most worrisome, however, for all concerned, would be those forms of inadvertent nuclear war occasioned not by accident, but by confusion and/or miscalculation.

Irony is applicable. Such prospectively irremediable outcomes could be expressed though neither side had actually wanted war.

“Everything is very simple in war,” says Carl von Clausewitz inOn War, “but the simplest thing is still difficult.” With this seemingly banal but still profound observation, the classical Prussian strategist makes plain that capable military planning is always problematic. In large measure, this is because of what Clausewitz so famously called “friction.”In essence, friction describes “the difference between war as it actually is, and war on paper.”

Unless US President Donald Trump is able to better understand this core concept and prepare to meticulously manage all unpredictable risks of an unintentional war with North Korea, any future warnings about “rocket man” would prove operationally immaterial or blatantly injurious. While the specific identifiable risks of any deliberate or intentional nuclear conflict between the United States and North Korea should remain front and center in Washington, such formidable risks ought never be assessed apart from these other hazards of crisis decision-making. Significantly, all of these strategic risks could be overlapping, mutually reinforcing and/or synergistic. In at least some suchdaunting circumstances, the palpable “whole” of cumulative risk effects would be greater than the simple additive sum of constituent “parts.”

At that point, recalling US President Trump’s earlier inversion of what is actually true, it will be too late to purposefully understand what is most important: Nuclear crisis bargaining between adversarial states should be based not on “attitude,” but on “preparation.” Further, such inevitable bargaining ought never be founded upon any presumptive “love” relationships between the relevant adversaries or on any demeaning epithets drawn whimsically from contemporary musical compositions (e.g. “Rocket man”).

To meaningfully reduce the steadily-cascading risks of a nuclear war with North Korea, Donald Trump should immediately cease his caricatural personalizations of world politics, and focus instead upon far more serious policy considerations of intellectual substance.


[1]https://news.yahoo.com/trump-revives-threat-force-against-023727996.html

[2]https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/07/us/north-korea-denuclearization-off-table/index.html Also, see earlier, by this writer, at Yale Global Online:  Louis René Beres, https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/too-late-north-korea-denuclearization

[3] Recalling the 20th-century German philosopher, Karl Jaspers: “The rational is not thinkable without its other, the non-rational, and it never appears in reality without it.” This insight can be found in Jaspers’ “Historical Reflections” on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.

[4] Worth noting here too is that any such ordering of a preemptive attack (defensive first strike) by an American president would be problematic under US law (especially underUS Constitutional constraints). Always, there are critical jurisprudential as well as strategic implications involved.

[5] In any synergistic intersection – whether in chemistry, medicine or war – the “whole” of any result would exceed the simple sum of policy-determining “parts.”

[6]In legal terms, the principle of proportionality is contained in both the rules governing the resort to armed conflict (jus ad bellum) and in the rules governing the actual conduct of hostilities (jus in bello).  Regarding the former, proportionality relates to self-defense.  In the latter, it relates to conduct of belligerency. Proportionality is itself derivative from the more basic principle that belligerent rights are not unlimited (See notably Hague Convention No. IV (1907), Annex to the Convention, Section II (Hostilities), Art. 22: “The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited”).

[7] This term has certain historical roots in former Israeli Minister of Defense (General) Moshe Dayan’s remark about his own country’s strategic vulnerabilities: “Israel must be seen as a `mad dog,’ too dangerous to bother.” (See discussion by this writer, Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed., 20180.

[8]In political science terms, positing the expansion of “Cold War II” means expecting that the world system is becoming increasingly bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of just such an expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[9] The base term, “dialectic,” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation. A common contemporary meaning is method of seeking truth by correct reasoning. From the standpoint of shaping Israel’s nuclear strategy, the following representative operations could be regarded as essential but nonexclusive components: (1)a method of refutation conducted by examining logical consequences; (2) a method of division or repeated logical analysis of genera into species; (3) logical reasoning using premises that are probable or generally accepted; (4) formal logic; and (5) the logical development of thought through thesis and antithesis to fruitful synthesis of these opposites.

[10] For the differences between “collective self-defense” and “collective security,” see this writer’s early book: Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (University of Denver Monograph Series in World Affairs) (1973).

[11] Since World War II, aggression has typically been defined as a military attack, not justified by international law, when directed against the territory of another state. The question of defining aggression first acquired legal significance with the Draft Treaty of Mutual Assistance of 1923. One year later, the Geneva Protocol of 1924 provided that any state that failed to comply with the obligation to employ procedures of peaceful settlement in the Protocol or the Covenant was an aggressor. Much later, an authoritative definition of aggression was adopted without vote by the UN General Assembly on December 14, 1974.

[12] This prospect now includes the plausible advent of so-called “cyber- mercenaries.”

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Americas

Some False Statements Made in the Trump- Impeachment Hearings

Eric Zuesse

Published

on

In the December 4th statement that was made by Stanford University law professor Pamela Karlan was this:

We have become the shining city on a hill. We have become the nation that leads the world in understanding what democracy is. One of the things we understand most profoundly is it’s not a real democracy, it’s not a mature democracy if the party in power uses the criminal process to go after its enemies. I think you heard testimony, the Intelligence Committee heard testimony about how it isn’t just our national interest in protecting our own elections. It’s not just our national interest in making sure that the Ukraine remains strong and on the front lines so they fight the Russians there and we don’t have to fight them here.

It’s also our national interest in promoting democracy worldwide, and if we look hypocritical about this, if we look like we’re asking other countries to interfere in our election, if we look like we’re asking other countries to engage in criminal investigations of our President’s political opponents, then we’re not doing our job of promoting our national interest in being that shining city on a hill.

She said: “We have become the shining city on a hill.” Here is a list of just a few of the democratically elected presidents and prime ministers in foreign countries whom the U.S. regime overthrew, by coups, in order to install brutal dictatorial regimes there that would do sweetheart deals with America’s international corporations. Also, unsuccessful, merely attempted, U.S. coups are discussed there.

Furthermore, the scientific studies of whether the U.S. Government is controlled by the public (a democracy) or is instead controlled only by its very wealthiest (an aristocracy) are clear: this country is an aristocracy, not a democracy at all, except, perhaps, in the purely formal senses of that term — our great Constitution. Far-right judges have recently been interpreting that Constitution in the most pro-aristocratic, anti-democratic, ways imaginable, and this might have something to do with why the scientific studies are finding that the U.S. is now a dictatorship. And this fact, of America’s now being a dictatorship, was blatantly clear in America’s last Presidential election, which was actually a s‘election’ by Americas’ billionaires — not  by the American public.

How, then, can Professor Karlan be respected about anything, if she lives in a dictatorship (by its aristocracy) and is deluded to think that it’s still (which it never was completely) a democracy?

Furthermore: her statements about Ukraine are equally deluded. She is obviously unaware that the Obama Administration started planning its coup against Ukraine in 2011 and started implementing it in the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine on 1 March 2013, and started in June 2013 soliciting bids from U.S. companies to renovate at least one building in Crimea for use by the U.S. Navy to replace Russia’s main naval base — which Russian naval base was and is in Crimea — by a new U.S. naval base to be installed there. 

The craziest thing of all about Karlan’s statement, however, is this part: “It’s not just our national interest in making sure that the Ukraine remains strong and on the front lines so they fight the Russians there and we don’t have to fight them here.”

Imagine if someone said, “It’s not just our national interest in making sure that the Mexico remains strong and on the front lines so they fight the Americans there and we [Russians] don’t have to fight them here.”

If a Russian were to assert that, would the statement be any more justifiable than what Karlan said regarding Ukraine? Of course not! Even an idiot can recognize this fact. But Karlan can’t.

On December 5th, the anonymous “Moon of Alabama” blogger, whose opinions and predictions turn out to have been correct at perhaps the highest rate of anyone on the internet, headlined “The Delusions Of The Impeachment Witnesses Point To A Larger Problem” and he not only pointed out the “delusional” beliefs of Professor Karlan (“One must be seriously disturbed to believe such nonsense. How can it be that Karlan is teaching at an academic level when she has such delusions?”), but he noted that:

How is it in U.S. interest to give the Ukraine U.S. taxpayer money to buy U.S. weapons? The sole motive behind that idea was greed and corruption, not national interest:

[U.S. special envoy to Ukraine] Volker started his job at the State Department in 2017 in an unusual part-time arrangement that allowed him to continue consulting at BGR, a powerful lobbying firm that represents Ukraine and the U.S.-based defense firm Raytheon. During his tenure, Volker advocated for the United States to send Raytheon-manufactured antitank Javelin missiles to Ukraine — a decision that made Raytheon millions of dollars.

The missiles are useless in the conflict. They are kept near the western border of Ukraine under U.S. control. The U.S. fears that Russia would hit back elsewhere should the Javelin reach the frontline in the east and get used against the east-Ukrainians. That Trump shortly held back on some of the money that would have allowed the Ukrainians to buy more of those missiles thus surely made no difference.

To claim that it hurt U.S. national interests is nonsense.

It is really no wonder that U.S. foreign policy continuously produces chaos when its practitioners get taught by people like Karlan. …

The Democrats are doing themselves no favor by producing delusional and partisan witnesses who repeat Reaganesque claptrap. They only prove that the whole affair is just an unserious show trial.

In the meantime Trump is eliminating food stamps for some 700,000 recipients and the Democrats are doing nothing about it. Their majority in the House could have used the time it spent on the impeachment circus to prevent that and other obscenities.

Do the Democrats really believe that their voters will not notice this?

(Of course, they do, and they might be right. After all, polls show that Democrats still believe that Barack Obama was a terrific President, just as Republicans believe that George W. Bush was a terrific President. The fact that both  — and Trump himself —were/are among the worst in American history eludes the voters in both Parties. But though I disagree with his opinion on that particular matter, he’s just asking a question there, and I hope that his more optimistic take than mine turns out to be right, and that the voters — in both Parties — are coming to recognize that American politics right now is almost 100% a con-game, in both Parties.)

Why do people pay subscription-fees, to Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post, and to the New York Times, and to other media that are controlled by America’s billionaires, when far higher-quality journalism, like that of “Moon of Alabama” (and like the site you’re reading here) is freely available on the internet? Who needs the mainstream ‘news’-media, when it’s filled with such unreliable claptrap, as respects (instead of exposes) what persons such as Karlan say? Jonathan Turley is to be taken seriously, and he is at the very opposite end from Karlan’s opinions in the impeachment hearings (and regarding much else). (And the hearings-transcript in which both law-professors testified is here.) But the exception is Turley, and Karlan is far more the norm in the U.S.-media mainstream. And virtually all Democratic-Party propaganda-organs (‘the liberal press’) are playing up the Karlan claptrap. So: yes, I do think that “the Democrats [referring to the ones in the House of Representatives, of course] really believe that their voters will not notice this.” Most voters are just as “deluded” (misinformed by the ‘news’-media) as Professor Karlan is.

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