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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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Was Trump better for the world than Biden, after all?

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Joe Biden and the State Department just approved a major deal with the Saudis for 500mln in choppers maintanance. Effectively, the US sold its soul to the Saudis again after the US intelligence services confirmed months ago that the Saudi Prince is responsible for the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Biden administration is already much more inhumane and much worse than Trump. Biden doesn’t care about the thousands of American citizens that he left behind at the mercy of the Taliban, the Biden administration kills innocent civilians in drone strikes, they are in bed with the worst of the worsts human right violators calling them friendly nations. 

Biden dropped and humiliated France managing to do what no US President has ever accomplished —  make France pull out its Ambassador to the US, and all this only to go bother China actively seeking the next big war. Trump’s blunders were never this big. And this is just the beginning. There is nothing good in store for America and the world with Biden. All the hope is quickly evaporating, as the world sees the actions behind the fake smile and what’s behind the seemingly right and restrained rhetoric on the surface. It’s the actions that matter. Trump talked tough talk for which he got a lot of criticism and rarely resorted to military action. Biden is the opposite: he says all the right things but the actions behind are inhumane and destructive. It makes you wonder if Trump wasn’t actually better for the world.

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Biden’s worrisome construct of security and self-defense in the first year of his term

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Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe

US President Joe Biden’s foreign policy is failing so far. He can’t get the Iran nuclear diplomacy on track. The Afghanistan withdrawal was a disaster seen by all, placing an unusually high number of weapons and armaments in the hands of the Taliban and leaving everyone behind, to the point that one wonders if it was intentional. The US military has been able to accomplish far more impressive and bigger logistics tasks in the past, so when they want to they can do it.

More worrisome, however – and because it is also oriented towards future impacts – is Biden’s construct of vital concepts such as security, international peace and self-defense which has already displayed a consistent pattern during the first year of his term. The signs are already there, so let me bring them out to the surface for you.

Treating a counter-attack in self-defense as an original, first-move strike

This is a pattern that can be noticed already in Biden’s reading of what constitutes defense. It first struck me in a place where you might not think of looking. It originated from the criticism of the previous Trump administration’s support for the destructive Saudi Arabia campaign on Yemen, leaving Yemen as the biggest famine and disaster on the planet. To avoid the same criticism, the Biden administration decided to do what it always does – play technocratic and legalistic, and hope that people won’t notice. On the face of it, it looked like Biden ended US participation by ending the “offensive” support for Saudi Arabia. Then in the months after the February decision, reports started surfacing that the US actually continues doing the same, and now most recently, some troops from Afghanistan were redirected towards Yemen. Biden didn’t end Yemen; he set up a task force to examine and limit US military action only to defensive capabilities, which sounds good to a general observer. It reminds me of that famous Einstein saying that all the big decisions were to be taken by him and all the small decisions were to be taken by his wife, but there hasn’t been one big decision so far. So see, it just turns out that everything falls under defense, ask the lawyers. Usually no one would object to the well-established right to defend yourself. The problem with that is that the US is actually in Yemen. Treating any counter-strike and any response to your presence as an original, first-move attack is not only problematic but it also simply doesn’t work in legal terms. It goes along the lines of “well, I am already here anyways, so your counter-response in self-defense is actually an attack and I get to defend myself”. If the issue was only with terrorist or rebel organizations (because let’s face it, who cares about the Houthies in Yemen?) I don’t think we would be discussing this. But as you guessed it, this approach can already be traced as a pattern in Biden’s thinking and the way he forges alliances, draws red lines and allows things to happen, and it stretches to areas that most people definitely care about such as a possible military conflict between the US and China.

Let’s take the newest development from today. The US just announced that it has entered into a trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia in the Indo-Pacific, which is encirclement of China par excellence. Where it gets interesting is that the trilateral partnership is purported to be only for “advanced defense capabilities”. The equivalent of this is someone from another city squatting at the door step in your apartment, inviting two others to join, and then when in the morning you push them and step on them to go to work, the squatters claiming that you attacked them and calling the police on you in your own apartment. This is Biden’s concept of self-defense: since I am already here in your space, you are attacking me.

The US is trying to start something with China but it doesn’t know how to, and China seems completely unconcerned with the US.  Chinese leader Jinping doesn’t even want to meet Biden, as became clear this week. China doesn’t care about the US and just wants to be left alone. They already said that in clear terms by reading it out loud to Wendy Sherman last month. Biden didn’t have to ask for a meeting in that phone call this week because he already knew the answer. Wendy Sherman got a clear signal on her China visit that the US president won’t be getting that coveted red carpet roll-out any time soon.

So the story says that the US is going all the way to the other side of the world and staging military presence there but only to defend itself. The US has no choice but to move in to defend all the US citizens at risk in the Indian Ocean — that’s the stand-up comedy line of the week. It is staging military presence right at China’s doorstep — if not in Chinese waters, and the idea is “yes, that’s your turf but now that I’m here, if you push me to leave, you are attacking me”. This is the strategy of narcissists and those that are looking to point the finger to their opponent when they just don’t have anything, so they stage something. China is in the long-term game, playing against itself. The US is that number 2 that’s trying to create provocation. In the Indo-Pacific, the US is biting more than it can chew. China is not a big mouth or one to throw around military threats. That’s the US style: “be very careful, we might bomb you if you don’t do what we say”. A dog that barks doesn’t bite. On the other hand, China is more like a Ferrari — it will go from 0 to 200 in seconds and then it will go back to its business. The US and Biden will be left whimpering but no one will jump to save the US from its own folly because self-defense in the US packaging is not even bought by the US government itself. Even they don’t buy their own packaging. So why should anyone else?

Treating embarrassing discoveries and things that don’t go my way as a threat to international peace

This one is a big one. With this one, Biden is playing with the queen, namely action under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter in the name of international peace and security. A threat to international peace and security is grounds for action under Chapter 7 which includes military action, and it’s never to be spoken lightly. Words have consequences. The UN Security Council rarely specifies grounds for action under chapter 7 for threats to international peace and security but it’s enough to take a look at the practice: resolutions were passed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, in response to 9/11, against Kaddafi who was marching toward Benghazi to wipe out the people in 2011, in relation to genocide, etc. Grounds for a threat to international peace can’t be “because I don’t like the way things are turning out for me”.

Peace and security are not like beauty – in the eye of the beholder. There has to be an actual or imminent attack and actual military action or violence. Loose interpretations of threats to peace and security are a sign of weak leadership.

Leaders who construct dissent and criticism as terrorism in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, as I have argued about the FBI previously in the left media, are weak leaders. In smearing Martin Luther King, the FBI argued national security. As director Oliver Stone said in Cannes this summer, when he was investigating the JFK assassination, every time he was getting close, he heard “national security”. 

You can see a lot about the character of a nation by the way it constructs security, and notice traits such as narcissism, weakness, cheating. The Biden Administration has to know that a threat to international peace and security can’t be “things that make my government look bad”. In 2001, the world followed the US in Afghanistan because there was an actual military attack. The world won’t follow the Biden administration on a bogus threat to international peace that can best be summed up as a major embarrassment for the US government. Suggesting a link is a threat to the fabric of international society. Not only is it a sign of national narcissism but also a sign of arbitrariness and authoritarianism. Treating criticism and the exposure of US government crimes as if it were a military attack is what horror movies are made of. What’s next? Droning journalists?

Treating issues which are a subject to treaties, rules and negotiations as a threat to international peace  

The Biden security construct stretches to various regions, including my own. This first struck me with Biden’s executive order regarding the Western Balkans when he tied blocking these countries from EU accession to a threat to international peace, which carries significant consequences. If a country, let’s say Bulgaria, is exercising its lawful right to veto EU processes, hypothetically, based on Biden’s understanding, the US could table a resolution for Chapter 7 action to punish an EU member-state for blocking the accession of an EU candidate because that’s a threat to international peace. That could hypothetically lead to military action against an EU country making use of its veto. Biden doesn’t have a veto in the EU. Do you know who does? Bulgaria. So until Biden becomes an EU country he doesn’t have a say.

Biden was visibly irritated that the process of EU accession has been stalling for quite some time, especially with N. Macedonia and Albania at the EU’s doorstep, so he decided to give it a go. Let’s not forget that the Balkans are a favorite Biden region and this goes back to the 1990s. I have written about it before: Biden is stuck in the 2000s when if you mentioned the Western Balkans the words international peace were a guaranteed association. Not anymore. Negotiations, rules and voting are the peaceful and reasonable way to resolve issues, agree or even not agree in some situations, and are the opposite of war and aggression. Treating these ways as a threat to peace is just the rhetoric of those who can’t get their way. But it’s also indicative of a worrisome trend with Biden that anything that the US government doesn’t like can be dressed as a threat to international peace, which carries the most significant of all consequences in the international arena.

Treating lawful counter-measures as a threat to national security

Perhaps the best and most fascinating example of lawful counter-measures I ever heard was brought by Andrew Clapham at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. Here is the story. The UK issued unlawful sanctions on a country. In response, lawful counter-measures by that country targeted jam exports because a jam factory in Scotland was the key to turning the elections. The targeted counter-measures worked, hit jam exports, discontent people in the region voted the other way and the government that put in place the sanctions to begin with was ousted. This was a brilliant example that you hit where it hurts and you do it lawfully. Counter-measures don’t have to be identical. The US likes to put tariffs on Louis Vuitton bags in retaliation when it deals with France, for example. In the Trump trade wars, Europe would hit bourbon and jeans exports as a counter-measure. You hit their signature product. Not all counter-measures are illegal and count as an attack. International law is full of examples.

Similarly, lawsuits against a government are a lawful counter-measure. This area reveals another part of Biden’s worrisome construct of national security. A threat to sue the US government cannot in and of itself be a threat to national security. Tortured reading of what is national security is a sign of weak leaders, narcissists, those on the losing end, or straight up losers – or all of the above. 

Treating lawful counter-measures as a cause for self-defense is not only a sign of a wrong understanding of self-defense, but is the ultimate sign of narcissism. Usually those who attack know better and brace for impact in anticipation of the counter-measures. Narcissists, on the other hand, cry that they are being attacked when they receive a counter-strike in response. Strategists know better.

Mistreatment of whistleblowers, critics and opponents as spies and as a threat to national security

This one is an easy one. Only losers treat whistleblowers and critics as spies and as an automatic threat to national security. Take the treatment that Gary Stahl has received at the hands of the Biden Administration and the FBI, for example. Again, the US government doesn’t get to construe a huge embarrassment (in what will soon be revealed to shows the true criminal nature of the US government) as a threat to international peace. This is a problem for America. Not only doesn’t China plan to attack militarily the US any time soon over what’s to come, but China is largely unconcerned with the US and would like to be left alone. Any talk about a risk of military conflict could only mean that it is the US that plans to attack because they are embarrassed they got caught red-handed and the world will see the US government’s true nature. Talk of threat to international peace has a very high threshold. No one cares about how America would feel – that’s your problem, not an issue of international peace. 

The Biden concept of security is that of an ugly, pretentious, old woman who is told she can’t enter because her ticket is not valid. She then throws a feat screaming she was attacked, beaten and insulted, expecting everyone to be on her side. But the world simply doesn’t care about the problems of this pain-in-the-ass anymore. The US government will have to try much harder if they want to present the issue as anything close to security and self-defense, let alone a threat to international peace. That tune is old and there are no buyers. 

The US surely thinks very highly of itself if they think that a scandal like that is worthy of a military conflict but literally no one else sees the US as this important anymore. This scandal will matter only to America in what it reveals about all the layers of the US government across rank, institutions and administrations. That’s it. It ends there. Any talk of Chapter 7 threshold is war mongering and no one will care. 

People talk about the Biden doctrine on Afghanistan but the Biden doctrine that will be sealed in history will be something along the lines of “Anytime I get caught, it’s a threat to international peace and security.” This is how Biden will be remembered in history: for creative writing endeavors in the security field and no substantial foreign policy achievements. 

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Biden’s credibility restoration plan

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Although damages of the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan cannot be easily undone, by taking a series of wise steps, Biden can send a strong signal that America is coming back.

Joe Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan has shattered his reputation as a safe haven for allies. This is while, he pledged to restore U.S. leadership after Trump by confronting China’s and Russia’s growing totalitarian ambitions, restoring historic alliances with European allies, and ending the never-ending conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

But he is not the only President whose decision has eventually damaged the United States’ global reputation. Donald Trump’s capitulation deal with the Taliban, Barack Obama’s indolence in Syria, and George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq have all tarnished the United States’ credibility around the world. The question now; however, is no longer whether Biden and his predecessors should have acted differently. It’s how the United States can minimize the damage.

Biden should begin by speaking the truth. So far, the President has failed to admit the failure of his withdrawal plan. Biden ought to be straightforward with himself, the American people, and the whole world.

Biden’s policy should, of course, vary depending on the area and global conditions. To promote its interests in the Indo-Pacific area, the United States should station a few ambassadors, including a Navy or Coast Guard attaché, in the Pacific Island countries of Tonga, Tuvalu, and Kiribati. In addition, a considerable number of troops currently stationed in Afghanistan should be redeployed to the Pacific. Finally, Biden’s administration should engage with U.S. defense contractors to speed up the transfer of military equipment to Taiwan. Getting Taiwan its armaments swiftly would be a powerful show of support as a steadfast ally, as well as provide modern platforms to prevent a Chinese amphibious invasion.

The Biden administration should also do all in its power to rebuild relations with European partners. For the very first time, NATO invoked Article 5, which identifies an assault on one member as an assault on all. Since then, soldiers from a variety of countries have fought and died alongside US troops. Nonetheless, Biden decided to leave Afghanistan without consulting the governments of these countries, leaving them to plan emergency rescue efforts for their populations. Close allies of the United States are understandably enraged. America’s behavior is being chastised in Paris, Berlin, and the British House of Commons on both sides of the aisle.

Last month, at a meeting of regional leaders in Baghdad, Macron made it clear that, unlike the Americans, he was dedicated to remaining in the Middle East. “Whatever the American choice is,” he stated in public remarks in Baghdad, “we will maintain our presence in Iraq to fight terrorism as long as terrorist groups function and the Iraqi government requests our assistance.” It was a clear example of Macron’s idea of “strategic autonomy,” which implies European independence from U.S. security policy, and an attempt to use the United States’ humiliation to underline that Europe and Washington were not always on the same page. At an emergency G7 summit, Mr. Biden is said to have turned down allied requests to extend the August 31 deadline for exit.

The Biden administration’s recent decision not to penalize Nord Stream 2 pipeline participants has enraged Europeans as well. Poland and Ukraine underlined their worries in a joint statement about the ramifications of choices taken on the pipeline without the participation of nations directly impacted, claiming that Nord Stream 2 poses both geological and ecological risks to Europe.

As a result, whether it’s diplomatic recognition of the Taliban regime, humanitarian aid for the Afghan people, or any other major issue, the US should not take any more action without engaging partners. Mr. Biden should also dispatch senior members of his national security team to Europe and other regions of the world to reinforce America’s commitment to their security.

As to the Middle East, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, in a Foreign Affairs article described “America’s opportunity in the Middle East,” suggesting that diplomacy may work where previous military interventions have failed. The United States’ involvement in the area is frequently portrayed in military or counter-terrorism terms, and as a binary option between going all-in or going all-out. Instead, Sullivan advocated for a strategy that relied more on “aggressive diplomacy to generate more long-term benefits.”

Accordingly, the President and his team in Vienna should get the new Iranian administration back to the negotiating tables and rejoin the JCPOA and ease the tensions in the Middle East. Also, the United States should do all possible in Afghanistan to secure the safe transit of Afghans who qualify for U.S. visas to the Kabul airport – and to keep flights flying until they are able to leave. This should apply to both Afghans who dealt closely with the United States’ military, and to those who engage with U.S. media and humanitarian organizations and must get visas from a third country. In addition to ensuring that the United Nations and humanitarian groups have the resources they need, the United States should cooperate with its Security Council allies to guarantee that the Taliban does not hinder the free flow of help.

Moreover, to follow any influx of jihadists to Afghanistan, intelligence agencies will have to rededicate resources and increase surveillance. They must be pushed to coordinate their efforts on the Taliban in order to keep the most threatening groups under control. The United States could set an example by agreeing to accept a fair share of any displaced Afghans. Neighboring countries like Iran and Pakistan, which already have millions of Afghan refugees, are closing their borders.

Biden may not be able to prevent all of the disastrous repercussions of the Afghan catastrophe, but he must act now before the harm to U.S. interests and moral stature becomes irreversible. By taking these steps, he can send a strong statement to the world that he has learned his lessons and that America is coming back.

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