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Bolivia: Post-Coup Update

Eric Zuesse

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With every passing day, it becomes clearer that the military coup in Bolivia on November 10th was masterminded in Washington DC. This reality will create yet a new difficulty in relations between the U.S. regime and Mexico to its direct south, because the Mexican Government, under progressive President Lopez Obrador, took the courageous and very meaningful step of providing refuge to the U.S.-couped Bolivian President Evo Morales and therefore posed overtly a resistance to the U.S. dictatorship.

Unlike the U.S. itself, which has abandoned the substance of democracy while adhering to its fascist Supreme Court’s interpretations (distortions) of the original intent of the democratic America’s Founding Fathers in their U.S. Constitution, Bolivia’s imposed regime isn’t even nominally legitimate in any democratic sense, because it has abandoned that country’s Constitution, ever since it grabbed power there.

One of the first indications that this was another U.S. coup was that on November 10th, the New York Times, which along with the Washington Post is one of the regime’s two main mouthpieces, refused to call it a “coup” at all, though it obviously was. Headlining on November 10th with the anodyne “Bolivian Leader Evo Morales Steps Down”, they lied and alleged that “Mr. Morales was once widely popular” — as if there were any objective measures, such as polls, which indicated that he no longer was. Their concept of ‘democracy’ was like that of fascists everywhere: violent mob actions against a democratically elected Government. “Angry mobs attacked election buildings around the country, setting some on fire.” Far-right mobs are ‘democracy to ‘journalists’ such as at the New York Times.  

The next day, November 11th, that fascist ‘news’-paper headlined an editorial “Evo Morales Is Gone. Bolivia’s Problems Aren’t.” Here is how they expressed their contempt for democracy: “When a leader resorts to brazenly abusing the power and institutions put in his care by the electorate, as President Evo Morales did in Bolivia, it is he who sheds his legitimacy, and forcing him out often becomes the only remaining option. That is what the Bolivians have done.” ‘Bolivians’ — meaning there that extreme-rightist minority of Bolivia’s electorate. The NYT even had the gall to say contemptuously: “Predictably, Mr. Morales’s left-wing allies across Latin America, including President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, President-elect Alberto Fernández of Argentina and President Miguel Díaz-Canel of Cuba, joined by the British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, cried ‘coup’.”

Britain’s BBC, on November 11th, was considerably more circumspect in their anti-democratic propaganda: for example, in this video, at 13:00, the BBC asks “Why are so many of the people out there on the streets now then do you think

[demonstrating against Morales]

?” and the respondent didn’t say that this is the way practically every CIA coup is done. So, the desired implication was left with gullible viewers, that this was an expression of a democracy instead of the expression of a fascist mob.

It was left to governments which are resisting U.S. rule to express more honestly, as the Turkish Government’s more honest propaganda-organ, the newspaper Yeni Safak, did finally on November 17th, “Bolivia’s Morales was overthrown by a Western coup just like Iran’s Mosaddeg”. Their columnist Abdullah Muradoğlu wrote:

There are indications that the U.S. was involved in the ousting of Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, in a military coup. Secret talks between American senators and Morales’ opponents were brought up before the elections on Oct. 20. The talks, which were leaked to the public, discussed action plans to destabilize Bolivia if Morales won the elections. It was stated that the Evangelical Church would support the coup attempt. The fact that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, known as “Tropical Trump”, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are passionate Evangelicals, points to the ideological link to the Evangelical architects of the Bolivian coup. …

Bolivia has abundant resources of tin, copper, silver, gold, tungsten, petroleum and uranium, as well as large quantities of lithium. Lithium is a strategic mine for space technology. Morales became the target of a pro-U.S. military coup, and policies aimed at allocating the country’s resources to the poor rather than a small group played an important role in his demise. …

But it wasn’t only foreign news-media but also a very few honest alternative-news media which were reporting the realities. For example, on November 11th, The Gray Zone headlined “Bolivia coup led by Christian fascist paramilitary leader and millionaire – with foreign support”. The next day, on November 12th, Moon of Alabama’s anonymous blogger bannered “Lessons To Learn From The Coup In Bolivia” and he summarized the popular democratically elected and re-elected overthrown leader Evo Morales’s enormously successful record of leadership there, such as:

During his twelve years in office Evo Morales achieved quite a lot of good things:

Illiteracy rates:

2006 13.0%, 2018 2.4%

Unemployment rates

2006 9.2%, 2018 4.1%

Moderate poverty rates

2006 60.6%, 2018 34.6%

Extreme poverty rates

2006 38.2%, 2018 15.2%

It’s no wonder, then, that Morales is so popular in Bolivia.

Then, further about the fascist character of the U.S.-imposed regime, Mint Press News headlined on November 18th, “Media Silent as Bolivia’s New Right-Wing Gov’t Massacres Indigenous Protesters”.

On November 19th, Peoples Dispatch bannered “Hatred of the Indian. By Álvaro García Linera”, and presented a statement by Linera, who was Morales’s Bolivian Vice President. He opened:

Almost as a nighttime fog, hatred rapidly traverses the neighborhoods of the traditional urban middle-class of Bolivia. Their eyes fill with anger. They do not yell, they spit. They do not raise demands, they impose. Their chants are not of hope of brotherhood. They are of disdain and discrimination against the Indians. They hop on their motorcycles, get into their trucks, gather in their fraternities of private universities, and they go out to hunt the rebellious Indians that dared to take power from them.

In the case of Santa Cruz, they organize motorized hordes with sticks in hand to punish the Indians, those that they call ‘collas’, who live in peripheral neighborhoods and in the markets. They chant “the collas must be killed,” and if on the way, they come across a woman wearing a pollera [traditional skirt worn by Indigenous and mestizo women] they hit her, threaten her and demand that she leave their territory. In Cochabamba, they organize convoys to impose their racial supremacy in the southern zone, where the underprivileged classes live, and charge – as if it were a were a cavalry contingent – at thousands of defenseless peasant women that march asking for peace. They carry baseball bats, chains, gas grenades. Some carry firearms. …

On November 26th, the Libya 360 blog headlined “Bolivia: they are killing us, comrades!” and reported:

We are receiving audios all the time, from different parts of Bolivia: Cochabamba, El Alto, Senkata, La Paz… They bring desperate cries from women, from communities that resist with dignity, under the murderous bullets of the military, police, and fascist groups armed by the oligarchies with the support of Trump, Macri, and Bolsonaro. They also bring voices that denounce, voices that analyze, voices that organize, voices that are in resistance. There are weeping voices that are remade in slogans. The united peoples will never be defeated!

The racist, fascist, patriarchal, colonial, capitalist coup d’etat seeks to put an end to all these voices, silence them, erase them, make them inaudible. The communicational fence seeks to crush and isolate the words of the people. The conservative, capitalist restoration, goes for lithium, goes for the jungle, goes for bad examples.

The voices continue to arrive. New spaces of communication are generated. The social and family networks, the community radio stations, the home videos made from cell phones are functioning by the thousands. It is heartbreaking to hear bullets. To see their journey through the flesh, invading the bodies that rise from all humiliations. It generates anger, impotence, indignation, rage. …

On the same day, that same blog bannered “The People Will Not Allow the Coup in Bolivia, says Venezuelan Ambassador”. This opened:

One of the first ‘promises’ made by the self-proclaimed, de-facto government of opposition senator Jeanine Áñez was to “hunt down” ex-minister Juan Ramón Quintana, Raúl García Linera – brother of vice-president Álvaro García Linera -, as well as the Cuban and Venezuelan people that live in Bolivia.

The threat was publicly declared by the interior minister Arturo Murillo, designated by Áñez.

Later on, the communications minister of the de facto government, Roxana Lizárraga, accused Cuban and Venezuelan diplomats of being responsible for the violence unleashed in the country.

The statements came after an attack on the Venezuelan diplomatic office in La Paz on November 11. Armed paramilitaries surrounded the embassy with explosives and threatened to invade the building.

However, the aggression did not begin with the coup. According to Crisbeylee González, who served as the Venezuelan ambassador in Bolivia for more than 10 years, since 2008, the embassy has suffered threats from the organizations in opposition to Evo Morales and Álvaro García Linera.

During the days of tension, Crisbeylee, who is also a personal friend of Morales, decided to protect her team and she returned to her country.

On November 17, the Venezuelan diplomatic staff, made up of 13 functionaries and their family members, flew with the Venezuelan state company Conviasa from La Paz to Caracas.

Upon returning to her country, the ambassador spoke to Brasil de Fato and denounced the terror she suffered in the last couple of days.

Brasil de Fato: How did you all take the news that you would have to leave the country? Was there any hostility before the coup?

Crisbeylee González: For a while now, the opposition has talked about a “Chavista bunker” referring to the Venezuelan embassy, where we would supposedly be “ideologically orienting” the Bolivian people’s movements and youth. They even talked about us supposedly exerting pressure on Evo so that he would not abandon the socialist, Bolivarian proposal.

There were always certain times when the xenophobia increased, especially during elections. Every time that there were elections or a coup attempt, the principal target is always of course president Evo Morales but right after that, it’s the Venezuelan embassy. The diplomatic mission has always been an element that must be combated.

Since 2012 when there was a coup attempt by the police, they began to say that our embassy carried out military training with the Bolivians. A very similar discourse to what was created in Chile against the Cubans during the rule of Salvador Allende.

And with this, they were able to create a strong expression of xenophobia within the Bolivian middle classes against Venezuelans. The media also helped to create this adverse discourse against Venezuelans.

In these past couple of days [since the coup], one of the first things that they did was to say that the Venezuelans had to leave and that they were going to attack the Venezuelans. Before the elections on October 20, they already talked about attacking the embassy. …

The next day, on November 27th, they headlined “The U.S. Launches Itself in the Most Violent Way Imaginable to Definitively Seize Bolivia”. They interviewed Argentine sociologist Atilio Boron, one of the most internationally renowned political analysts today, so that in just three questions he can give us his vision of the crisis Bolivia is going through.

How would you characterize the coup d’état in Bolivia?

Without a doubt, the coup d’état in Bolivia is part of the tradition of the old military coups sponsored by the United States since the end of World War II. However, this practice dates back even further, as the history books show us. That means that the soft coup that was applied against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, Lugo in Paraguay and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, has been abandoned and the old formulas have returned. In Bolivia, the old formulas were applied, because in reality there was no possible propagandistic basis for the coup. There was no fraud in Bolivia and therefore the OAS avoided using that expression, instead making euphemistic recommendations. Furthermore, recent studies from the United States convincingly prove that such fraud did not exist. The University of Michigan study (which is the most important center for electoral studies) confirms this. However, the coup plan was not going to stop in the face of these details. They wanted to get Evo out and take revenge. It was a very clear lesson against those Indians who, as they did in 1780, revolted against the Spanish viceroyalty. Somehow what is happening now is a replay of Túpac Katari’s deed. The scenarios have changed and imperialism is different, but the essence is the same. And now, as yesterday, it is being repressed with unprecedented ferocity. …

On November 28th, Peoples Dispatch and Libya 360 simultaneously headlined “Bolivia: What Comes After the Coup?” and opened:

It has been over two weeks since the coup d’état which forced the resignation and exile of President Evo Morales and Vice-president Álvaro García Linera. Since then, thousands of working-class and Indigenous Bolivians have been resisting on the streets the coup and the illegitimate government of Jeanine Áñez. They have been met with extreme violence from the Armed Forces and the National Police, over 30 have been killed, hundreds injured and hundreds have been arrested.

On Monday night, a new agreement was announced reached between the de facto government of Áñez and the legislators from the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) to hold elections in the country in the next 3-4 months.

Peoples Dispatch spoke to Marco Teruggi, an Argentine sociologist and journalist who spent several weeks in Bolivia before and after elections were held in order to understand the agreement reached on elections and the state of resistance in the country.

Peoples Dispatch: Starting with the most recent, what do you think about the agreement that MAS made with the de facto government of Jeanine Áñez? Did they have another option? Was there enough force on the streets and in the Assembly to achieve anything else?

Marco Teruggi: The first thing to keep in mind is that in the design of the coup d’état, from the beginning, the possibility of an electoral solution was always contemplated in order to gain legitimacy.

If you had to arrange it in steps, there is the first step which is the overthrow, a second step which is the creation of a de facto government, and all of this accompanied by persecution, repression and massacres. The third moment is the call for elections and the fourth moment is when the elections themselves happen.

This was always proposed in the basic design, it was never about an old-style coup d’état where a de-facto government is installed for an undetermined amount of time, but precisely part of its presentation was to show itself as a democratic process, recognized internationally, under the condition that later they would go to elections.

It was always expected, the question was in what moment, with what conditions, both for the coup supporters and for those who are confronting it. In this sense, this issue was being discussed in the Assembly, where MAS has a majority, and as they had been announcing, they gave the OK for an agreement, in law, to call for elections, wherein the results of the elections of October 20 are also annulled.

I think that just as it was clear that the coup strategy counted with an electoral resolution to legitimize itself, it also was clear early on that the strategy of the MAS legislators was to hold these elections in the most favorable conditions possible. Basically that MAS could present itself in the elections, which it achieved, and with guarantees for Evo, not to participate, but to prevent political-juridical persecution. And also the retreat of the soldiers, for them to return to their barracks, and that the decree which exempts them from penal responsibility in operations of “re-establishing order” is withdrawn.

As such, it is not surprising that MAS has said yes to the elections because it was not going to be possible to remove Áñez through street pressure, even though the actions on the streets conditioned the initial strategy of the coup. It is very important to keep this in mind because otherwise, one could think that MAS proposed a change of tactics, of strategy. But no, it was always the electoral solution, and either way, the streets were an important component to accelerate this process on both ends. …

So, in short: rigged ‘elections’ will be held, in which Evo Morales is to be excluded, and in which there will be no repercussions against the U.S.-stooge-regime participants if their side fails to win those s’elections’. The Bolivian people won’t have any legal right to hang the coupsters. The U.S. regime will see to that.

Author’s note: first posted at Citizen Truth

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Will the Trump Administration Fight the Coronavirus or China?

Harley Schlanger

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In reviewing the excruciating pressure imposed on U.S. President Donald Trump to drop his efforts to achieve a collaborative relationship with China’s President Xi Jinping, it is useful to review the strategy outlined by former United Kingdom Ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, to manipulate him to adopt British policy initiatives. The {Daily Mail} published on July 6, 2019 leaked diplomatic cables sent by Darroch to Britain’s National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill, discussing how to maintain what he described as “our single most important bilateral relationship”, with Trump as President, given the importance of “defense and intelligence cooperation.”

In his cables, Darroch gave credibility to the discredited report by former MI6 operative Christopher Steele, that Trump could be compromised by the “dodgy Russians…the worst cannot be ruled out”; that Trump and his administration are “inept” and “uniquely dysfunctional”; and that his presidency could “crash and burn”, in a “downward spiral…that leads to disgrace and downfall.”

To sustain the cooperation with — or subservience from — the U.S. that the U.K. requires, Darroch recommends that they employ “Trump whisperers” to “flood the zone” around him: “You want as many as possible of those who Trump consults to give him the same answer. So, we need to be creative in using all the channels available to us through our relationships with his Cabinet, the White House staff and our contacts among his outside friends.”

The goal of the “Trump whisperers” from the time he took office has been to break Trump from his stated desire to improve cooperative relations with Russia’s President Putin and China’s President Xi. The Russiagate narrative, which originated with British fabrications from the GCHQ and MI6, was designed to force Trump into a hostile relationship with Russia, in order to dispel rumors he was being blackmailed by Putin. Though it has been fully discredited, and he survived the subsequent effort to remove him, by a House vote for impeachment regarding his alleged effort to withhold aid from Ukraine for political purposes, the U.S. relationship with Russia has been badly damaged, though he continues to say he wants a positive relationship with Russia. In the weeks since the Coronavirus has taken an increasingly deadly toll in the U.S., and the lock-down measures to combat the pandemic have wreaked havoc with the already-collapsing U.S. economy, the Trump Whisperers have escalated their campaign against China, pushing Trump to blame China for the public health crisis, and the related crash of the economy. Among those who have been identified as Trump Whisperers who met with Darroch are former National Security Adviser John Bolton, former Chief of Staff John Kelly, and former adviser Steve Bannon.

But the ultimate target of this campaign is not Putin and Xi — it is Donald Trump, as his presidency is viewed by leading British/City of London officials, and their U.S. allies in the Bush-Obama intelligence community and both U.S. political parties, as an existential threat to the maintenance of their bankrupt system, which is dependent on the unbroken continuity of geopolitical confrontation, and neoliberal economic policies. A review of the British role in promoting the anti-China hysteria demonstrates how the U.K. establishment is focused on moving Trump to turn against China, especially after the successful conclusion by Trump and Xi of Phase I of the trade negotiations.

“Blame China”

At the heart of the British anti-China campaign is the Henry Jackson Society (HJS). Founded by neocons with ties to the lying campaign accusing Saddam Hussein of possessing weapons of mass destruction to justify the Iraq war — including Sir Richard Dearlove, who as MI6 head delivered the fake Iraq WMD dossier to the Bush administration — the HJS has conducted an ongoing campaign demanding concerted action by western nations against China. (Note that Dearlove was among the most aggressive defenders of Christopher Steele, when his fake dossier against Trump came under fire). Among other targets, they went after Chinese telecom innovator Huawei, insisting that any deal with Huawei opens western telecommunications to Chinese spying. Most recently, an April 5 report from HJS demanded that China must pay compensation for the spread of the Coronavirus, drafting a bill for $4 trillion to be paid to G7 nations.

This demand became a leading “talking point” of the anti-China crowd in the U.S., picked up by trade negotiator and anti-China hack Peter Navarro, who is pushing the slogan, “China lied, people died”, to claim that China owes the U.S. It is the subject of a raving article published by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on April 28, titled “How to Make China Pay for COVID19”. The article was written by John Yoo and Richard Delahunty, who are notorious for authoring the infamous memo defending torture in Iraq for the Bush administration in 2002. The AEI is one of the leading promoters among U.S. think tanks of British neo-illiberal economic policies. After relentless questioning by anti-China media hawks, President Trump stated at recent press briefings that his administration is looking into getting China to pay!

One prominent “Trump whisperer”, Steve Bannon, a former adviser until he fell into disfavor, uses his “WarRoom” podcast to demand punitive actions against the Chinese government. Bannon accuses China of unleashing a “biological Chernobyl”, saying the “world must hold them [the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)] accountable,” adding provocatively that “All the dead [from the pandemic] are victims of the CCP.” Bannon’s co-host and collaborator in the WarRoom is Raheem Kassam, who previously worked for the HJS.

Another major British intervention, which has been repeated incessantly by those attacking China, was the article on April 5 in the {Sunday Times}, by Niall Ferguson, who is an outspoken apologist for the British Empire. Ferguson claims that “after it became clear that there was a full-blown epidemic spreading from Wuhan”, that the Chinese cut off all domestic travel from there, but allowed international travel to continue. This charge has morphed into the argument that China was spreading the disease deliberately to the rest of the world, and found its way into the April 30 Trump press briefing, when Trump responded to a question by saying that the U.S. is investigating whether this may have been a mistake, or deliberate!

Clearly Trump had not been briefed on the devastating blow to Ferguson’s polemic from Dr. Daniel A. Bell, Dean of the School of Political Science and Public Administration at Shangdong University. Bell proved that Ferguson’s charge that international travel continued from Wuhan after January 23 was false, by examining the flight logs, which showed NO flights from Wuhan after that date. Neither the {Times}, nor Ferguson, nor whomever briefed Trump on Ferguson’s fabricated story, has come forward to acknowledge that it is a lie, and the story continues to be bandied about by anti-China politicians and the media. Among those repeating this claim is Navarro, who blustered that instead of containing the virus in Wuhan, “five million people went out from Wuhan and propagated the virus around the world.”

While there are many other instances of such lies shaping an anti-China environment, one of the more egregious ones was a report in the [Daily Telegraph] of Australia, which claims that a report was prepared by a joint intelligence team of the Five Eyes, accusing China of conducting “an assault on international transparency”, by hiding or destroying evidence of the Coronavirus. While the author of this article was subsequently featured on Fox News in the U.S., it has been noted by critics that no one from Five Eyes has taken credit for the report, nor has anyone else seen it! The same “report” also targets Trump, saying that he had been briefed in January that China had unleashed a potentially devastating pandemic, yet he did nothing to counter it. U.S. intelligence officials deny that Trump received such a briefing. The Five Eyes network, which includes the U.K., the U.S., and British Commonwealth countries Canada, Australia and New Zealand, was prominently involved in setting in motion the fake Russiagate story, with particular input from Australian official Alexander Downer.

One U.S. official, who is at the center of the War Hawk grouping in the Trump administration, who finds no British claim too extreme to repeat, is Secretary of State Pompeo, who often travels to London to coordinate this offensive. In May 2019, he spoke at a London think tank, the Center for Policy Studies, warning that China’s goal is to divide the western alliance — which in fact is what he has been doing, with his global tour attacking the Belt-and-Road Initiative, which has been gaining support among some EU countries — and attempting to cut-off cooperation with Huawei. Last January, during a stop in London, Pompeo said that “the Chinese Communist Party is the central threat of our times.” Recently, on Fox tv and in other venues, Pompeo said there is “huge evidence” that the CCP is “hiding and obfuscating” the truth about its role in spreading the Coronavirus, but that he cannot divulge that evidence! He went on to accuse the CCP of “using classic communist disinformation” in its coverup, insisting that the CCP “continues to pose a threat to the world,” and that it “now has a responsibility to tell the world how this pandemic got out of China and all across the world, causing such global economic devastation.”

As the 2020 election approaches, this line is one that Trump is being urged to employ to combat the charge that his administration was not prepared to take on the pandemic, a charge already being voiced by the campaign of Trump’s likely opponent, Joe Biden. While ignoring that the lack of preparation was due to a 40+ year dismantling of public health in the U.S., due to adherence to neoliberal austerity policy, a key campaign theme which is emerging is who is “softer” on China. A 57-page memo prepared for the National Republican Senatorial Committee advocates that, in response to Democratic attacks, the Republican response should be “Don’t Defend Trump…Attack China.” This report was prepared by a consultant, Brett O’Donnell, who has in the past worked for Fox News’ anti-China and anti-Russian loudmouth Sean Hannity, war hawk John McCain, and, in 2019, current British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

China Responds to War Hysteria, Calls for Cooperation

The leading media in China have countered this unhinged propaganda campaign sharply, warning that these allegations not only threaten a worsening of relations, but could lead to military confrontation. The British-Canadian news agency Reuters attempted to whip up war hysteria, reporting that a leaked document shows that the Chinese military is “preparing for military confrontation.” Apparently Reuters does not consider nearly non-stop naval maneuvers by the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea to be war preparation, nor that the constant demands that nations in the “Indo-Pacific” region engage in joint maneuvers with the U.S. to combat Chinese “aggression” could raise legitimate concerns in China.

The Chinese media point out that one aspect of the virulent anti-China response is to take away the focus on the failure of the U.S. to adequately prepare for the pandemic. A May 5 story in {China Daily} was headlined “Pompeo’s Clown Show Spotlights U.S. Administration’s Mistakes,” was followed by a story the next day which stated that rather than blaming China for a “coverup”, the problem is that the U.S. ignored the indicators of the coming problem. “Washington should face the reality of the situation…and work with Beijing”, the editorial states, “to defeat this pathogen.” On May 7, {China Daily} issued a call for collaboration under the headline “It’s Time U.S. Focused on the Struggle Against a Real Enemy — the Virus.”

What must be presented to American citizens is that the propaganda designed to create an “enemy image” of China is run by the same networks which targeted Trump for removal by Russiagate, and is just as fabricated as that narrative, as is being demonstrated by the latest evidence coming out from the Flynn case. National security requires that immunity to the “British virus” known as the “special relationship” must be developed, through an understanding of the real intent of British meddling in U.S. policy. This is an essential component to not only effectively fight the Coronavirus and prevent the spread of future pandemics, but also to consolidate mutually beneficial strategic relationships with Russia and China.

From our partner RIAC

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Is an Electioneering Trump Overblowing the ‘China Threat’?

M Waqas Jan

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As several analysts grapple over the futility of calling for greater international cooperation against the Coronavirus pandemic, US – China relations seem to be plumbing to ever increasing lows day by day. One has to just glance at the daily news cycle to see how both the virus and the US – China rivalry seem to be going almost hand in hand in representing perhaps the most serious threats to global peace and prosperity. Threats that are in turn more than likely to dramatically impact the world’s economic and security outlook for many years to come. 

Yet, even before the COVID-19 pandemic stormed all forms of political and international relations discourse, the primacy with which the US – China rivalry had been afforded was never in doubt of fading anytime soon anyway. Especially considering President Trump’s incessant obsession with everything China in his previous election campaign, it was already expected that his hardline stance on China would only intensify the closer it came to his re-election bid. This for instance was best encapsulated in his ‘successfully concluded trade deal’, which in supposedly ending the long and protracted US- China trade war,was to stand as one of the most significant achievements of the Trump presidency. In fact, it was to represent in essence a vindication of President Trump’s entire ethos of America First as manifest in his more assertive and obstinate approach to US diplomacy and foreign policy.

Yet based on some of President Trump’s most recent statements, even the achievements of his much-touted trade negotiations now stand jeopardized as both the White House and State Department continue to directly blame China for causing the Coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the way both President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo have gone about in accusing China of deliberately covering up and mishandling the crises during its earliest stages has stood out particularly for its lack of evidence and sole reliance on hawkish rhetoric. What these claims have instead effectively done is to conflate the security and economic implications of the ‘Chinese threat’ on US primacy. An aspect which has in turn continued to resonate unequivocally with President Trump’s highly conservative and mostly far-right electorate.

Its thus not much of a surprise that China’s response has been to mount an even stronger diplomatic offensive. This has been evident in the collective vitriol expressed by a new breed of more assertive diplomats engaging in what has been ascribed (perhaps more disparagingly) as ‘Wolf Warrior Diplomacy’. Yet, it is worth emphasizing that while such a response is likely to have been expected, it still represents a marked departure from the more subtle, patient and restrained manner that had up till now characterized Chinese diplomacy under the now infamous guiding principlesof Deng Xiaoping. While such assertiveness may represent a benign attempt by China at limiting the defense of its international credibility to the diplomatic front, it could also point towards the growing eminence of more hawkish voices taking hold within the Chinese politburo. Hence, ultimately signifying a more overt and perhaps more dangerous challenge to US primacy on China’s part.

Yet as this back and forth between Chinese and US officials rapidly intensifies, many have been left wondering whether the very threat of China’s rise has been deliberately overblown within US policymaking circles to begin with. This argument for instance has been raised by a number of leading analysts such as Fareed Zakaria among others. In a recent article, Zakaria very pointedly explains how designating China as a strategic competitor has allowed the Pentagon to once again justify the kind of grandiose plans and expenditures which more or less defined some of the most tense days of the US – Soviet Cold War. This kind of thinking for instance is replete in some of the latest analyses and commentary calling for a complete overhaul of the US military – industrial complex in response to the ‘Chinese threat’. Chris Brose’s recent book ‘The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare’, makes exactly this argument drawing on his years of expertise working closely with the Pentagon and the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee. As pointed out by Zakaria, this kind of discourse feeds directly into the perceived inevitability and simple predictability of a US – China conflict in what has been famously ascribed to now as the much-vaunted Thucydides Trap. A concept whose own author – Graham Allison – has warned against turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy. A similar skeptic can be found in Michael Beckley whose latest research also questions the severity and alarm that has been afforded to China’s rise. Especially when considering the long way China still has go to overtake the US both economically and militarily.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that on the purely political front, this debate on China’s rise while completely stripped off its historical precedents and hard economic numbers has been reduced to just diplomatic vitriol between both powers. Whereas, President Trump has simply continued what he knows best, the more assertive line taken by China now however directly feeds into US insecurities regarding the future of its power projection capabilities even more.

With the COVID-19 pandemic now representing the latest battleground for this rivalry to play out, China’s attempts at ‘Mask Diplomacy’ and pandemic aid are adding even more fuel to this fire by appearing to take on a more leading role in international leadership. All while appearing to eclipse the US’s waning influence even further as it undergoes one of the most divisive US elections to date. A development that is to only further complicate this rivalry more along the basis of simple prestige than on any serious hard power discrepancies in the years to come.

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From Plato To Donald Trump: A Once Unimaginable Declension

Prof. Louis René Beres

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An elder Plato walks alongside a younger Aristotle. "The School of Athens" is a fresco by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael. It was painted between 1509 and 1511 as a part of Raphael's commission to decorate the rooms now known as the Stanze di Raffaello, in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.

“….till the class of philosophers be invested with the supreme authority in a state, such state and its citizens will find no deliverance from evil….”-Plato, The Republic

“I love the poorly educated.”-Donald J. Trump, 2016

It’s hardly a secret. During the once unimaginable Trump years – an ongoing era of conspicuous presidential dereliction and determined anti-reason[1] – Americans have been enduring  a grievous national retreat. Earlier, in  principle at least, and at a moment when “principle” still held certain tangible meanings,  Plato’s Republic had provided a proper benchmark for many generations of college students. Here, acquainted with a learning-based view already well-known to Thomas Jefferson and to other founders of the American Republic (back then, our leaders actually read challenging books), such students could think interestingly and usefully about a “philosopher king.”

 The lesson was “heavy,” of course, yet unambiguous. For earnest freshmen, this inspirational figure of  commendable judgment and public righteousness was cast asthe one who could be trusted, the exemplary political  leader, the witting thinkerwho could fuse real learning (not cheap merchandising, chicanery or electoral contrivance) with law-supporting national governance.[2]

Plato’s proposed leader represented what the interested scholars would call an “ideal-type,” and was not considered as an immediately graspable or pragmatic model for national political implementation. Nonetheless, it still served to remind entire societies that justice, virtue and decency could somehow be immensely practical. This dignifying message is patently absent from literally anywhere in the Trump White House. Correspondingly, with this Platonic example, higher education was regarded as an intrinsically worthwhile American experience, not just a tactical stepping stone to better vocation or higher personal income.

Back then, inter alia, American higher education was not just about learning how to extract narrowly personal benefits without regard for fulfilling certain much wider and necessary societal obligations.[3]

Back then, in essence, dignified learning was about rejecting the primal and persistently damaging ethos of “everyone for himself.”[4] In other words, worthwhile it itself, such learning was the literal opposite of what we now suffer hourly from a tweeting but non-reading American president.

 There is more. Now, at a precarious time when extant US presidential liabilities are being amplified and multiplied by worldwide disease pandemic,[5] by a bewildering and frightful pestilential assault, it is a last good time to inquire as follows: What has happened to this once enviable and hopeful model of political leadership?

Significantly, the day-to-day betrayal of this model by an American president and his unswervingly obsequious henchmen in government and industry also represents a wholesale betrayal of America’s Founding Fathers. Though assuredly not understood by Donald Trump or any of his reflexively servile enforcers, the Founders who crafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were animated by distinctly Platonic notions of wisdom and by the corollary high ideals of Natural Law.[6]  Thomas Jefferson, especially, had argued that the core viability of the precarious new American republic would depend most of all upon the meaningful education of its citizens. For Jefferson, the kind of ignorant imposture we must now tolerate in the Trump White House would have been judged irreconcilable with any genuine democracy.

Myriad promises notwithstanding,  Donald J. Trump could never plan to move us even inches toward a more properly virtuous and wise “polity.” Rather, and exactly as Plato had once feared in a generic sense, we Americans have already been deformed by a dissembling president who is unable and/or unwilling to distinguish between true knowledge and self-serving opinion. Much like the contemporary Sophists who Plato had recognized could only impair societal betterment and virtuous government, Donald J. Trump represents an utterly insidious caricature (one might even say here, a grotesque self-parody) of commendable national leadership.[7]

In this connection, the president now wittingly risks millions of American lives by personally taking over very complex medical and scientific judgments regarding Covid19.[8] When he is finally finished supplanting properly analytic assessments with his own propagandistic and conspiratorial views of the raging pestilence,[9] there will likely be more body bags piled up on our streets than were earlier evident during the Vietnam War.

That is a sobering and instructive image, one now well worth visualizing.

What about basic human compassion in the White House? As to any evidence of personal empathy or presidential concern for the millions of already suffering, ill and jobless fellow countrymen, Trump can only lament his own alleged punishments by the “fake news.” Grotesquely, even when confronted with the steadily mounting number of American fatalities to Covid19, his only thought is to urge “unfair” interlocutors to “be nice,” to be “more polite.”

There is more. Under Donald Trump’s sorely twisted presidential tutelage, we Americans can never expect any Platonic-style  “deliverance from evil.”  Rather, when we begin to consider the increasing threats of war and terrorism now tied up in various complex interactions with unpredictably virulent pathogens, such evil could prove greater than anything Plato might ever have imagined in the fourth century BCE. Looking toward these potentially existential  perils, they could eventually include enemy nuclear attack and/or biological terrorist assaults against the American homeland.[10]

If anyone in President Trump’s governing inner circle should ever come around to acknowledge such hazards, it would have to be done with a proper obeisance to Der Fuehrer; that is, obliquely, disingenuously, sotto voce.

Nothing more.

Ironically, in this pestilential age of rampant pandemic, a time of global war, terror and plague, the absence of a suitably wise American leadership could render vastly more probablethe weaponized pathogens of some present or future adversary. To wit, as Donald Trump rules openly and entirely by untruth and obfuscation –  “in his own flesh”[11] – he simultaneously undermines utterly vital US relations with Russia, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

“I love chaos,” volunteered  Donald Trump with uncharacteristic honesty on March 4, 2018. Portentously, there is ample confirming evidence of just such a dissembling love (a perverse sentiment he also applied several times to his personal relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un) in the offhanded way Trump has stubbornly mishandled American testing and tracing for the Corona virus. Moreover, in late May 2020, this president announced plans to withdraw from the long-stabilizing Open Skies Treaty with Russia, another worrisome example of favoring gratuitous international belligerence (chaos) over any correctly law-based patterns of international cooperation.[12]

Every four years, We the people – we ina nation which had once been nurtured by American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Platonic call for high thinking and by Henry David Thoreau’s complementary (and similarly Platonic) plea to “consider the way in which we spend our lives” –  push aside any still-recognizable  serious thought. Obediently, as a deformed society that loathes complexity and looks ever anxiously for simple explanations, we Americans may yet again reduce complex US policy issues  to a crass assortment of numbing clichés and empty witticisms. Whatever else one might say about the rapidly-approaching election, choosing an American president will once again be fraught with abundantly delusionary expectations, and with conspicuously uninformed or incoherent policy platforms.

 Endlessly, in our quadrennial presidential election contests, the celebrity politician draws huge audiences and generous donors in spite ofan ineffable absence of substance. Always, in our infantile and banal national politics, less intellect is more pragmatic. Now, with Donald Trump still able to be taken seriously by so  many Americans, less discernible intellectual substance still spells tangible candidate advantage. With this starkly benighted incumbent, outright buffoonery has often become indisputable electoral advantage.

Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.”

 There is more. The harshly demeaning and dangerous Trump presidency  bears witness to America’s unprecedented national decline  – a declension of both the electorate and the Republic for which it stands. Now, whenever the sitting president’s words seethe with altogether evident worthlessness, a still-adoring crowd rushes in from the wings to applaud. Mixing desperation with a curiously self-imposed absence of memory and learning, it nods approvingly, en masse, and in more-or-less compliant “social distancing,” cheerlessly celebrates what it presumptuously calls “American Exceptionalism.”  The celebrations are without authentic joy because any tangible evidence that America is “great again” would be preposterous prima facie.

If it were in any way identifiable, it would then represent a glaring contradiction in terms.              

Once, many of our national heroes, including those who could and would actually read, were created by something other than marketing and crude commerce.[13] Today, a “normally” incoherent American president has become an embarrassing pitchman, a circus-announcer fashioned by careful manipulation and persistently meticulous misrepresentations. Far more ominously, of course, America trusts this sitting president with life or death nuclear command decisions,[14] a complex set of expectations that is always subject not only to willful deviations, but also to wholly unpredictable episodes of decisional irrationality.[15]

Let us finally be candid. The American “emperor” is more than just occasionally mistaken. He is hideously and very plainly “naked.” Most worrisome, in this regard, especially for any still-remaining American national future, is an election process that will likely remain shabby and demeaning, that will gratuitously mock all elements of genuine learning, and that proves shamelessly refractory to all residual hints of American intelligence and virtue.

 In principle, somehow, this ill-fated election process can still be civilized and transformed, but only after critical personal meanings in America can finally be detached from a ubiquitously craven and vulgar commerce. The American Republic, it must then be acknowledged, represents significantly more than just another gaming or real estate deal fashioned by Babbitts and politicos who have never heard of Plato or Jefferson or Blackstone, and have no clue as to what is actually discoverable in the US Constitution. Soon, governing this democracy, it must be acknowledged, will require more than another blustering and self-promoting illiterate buffoon.

Much more.

 We must now finally be candid. Plato’s prescriptively high standard of political leadership remains unassailably out of America’s ordinary reach. Still, this guiding standard may serve to remind us just how far we have already managed to descend from the Republic’s original expectations and how far we will need to advance to fully rescue and restore the imperiled United States. No one can reasonably expect Donald Trump or even the other party’s presidential candidate to become another Thomas Jefferson, but we should still hold every presidential aspirant to some at least minimal standards of intellect, seriousness and learning.

Sustaining and expecting some rudimentary intellectual life in the United States is hardly a dispensable option. In the final analysis, a more far-reaching American respect for a genuine life of the mind is required not “merely” for national physical survival, but also for the most fragmentary implementations of virtue. In the seventeenth century, Blaise Pascal, in his eternally elucidating Pensées, effectively summarized Plato: “All our dignity, then, consists in thought. It is upon this that we must depend, not on space and time, which we would not in any case be able to fill. Let us labour then, to think well (emphasis added): this is the foundation of morality.”[16]

There is one last and prospectively overriding point left to make. It is that the manifold derelictions of an anti-intellectual American society must inevitably “spill over” into the wider global arena, sometimes “synergistically,”[17] and thus weaken this country’s overall position in world politics. Accordingly, it was modern French thinker and poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, who understood the corresponding bit of  wisdom better than most: “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.”[18]

Now, beleaguered by plague as well as by the more “ordinary” hazards of foreign affairs – war, terrorism and genocide – Americans could do worse than consciously resurrect certain core principles of Plato’s Republic.

Far worse.

So long as we wittingly ensconce Plato’s “supreme authority” in the hands of a manifestly unfit American president, we should rightfully expect no quarter from adversaries of  any kind or magnitude, no reassuringly Platonic “deliverance from evil.”

None at all.


[1] “There is something inside all of us,” writes twentieth century German philosopher Karl Jaspers, “that yearns not for reason, but for mystery – not for penetrating clear thought but for the whisperings of the irrational….” See: Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time, Archon Books, 1971, p.67.

[2]Generally, the pertinent obligations of international law are also obligations of US law. In the words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).Moreover, the specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US

Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

[3] See, by this author, at The Daily Princetonian : https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/06/a-core-challenge-of-higher-education

[4] Says French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the  extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.” Nonetheless, at the international level, Trump has amplified the competitive nature of America’s Covid19 policies, a brand of “vaccine nationalism” that is the reductio ad absurdum of his more generally belligerent stance in world politics.

[5] Says Albert Camus in The Plague (1947): “At the beginning of the pestilence and when it ends, there’s always a propensity for rhetoric….It is only in the thick of a calamity that one gets hardened to the truth, to silence.”

[6] See Edward S. Corwin, THE “HIGHER LAW” BACKGROUND OF AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW (1955);  Alexander P. D’Entreves, NATURAL LAW: AN INTRODUCTION TO LEGAL PHILOSOPHY (1951). Additionally, Blackstone’s COMMENTARIES recognize that all law “results from those principles of natural justice, in which all the learned of every nation agree….”  See William Blackstone,  COMMENTARIES ON THE LAWS OF ENGLAND,  adapted by Robert Malcolm Kerr  (Boston; Beacon Press,  1962),  Book IV,  “Of Public Wrongs,”  p. 62  (Chapter V.,  “Of Offenses Against the Law of Nations.”) Still earlier, a century before Demosthenes, Antigone’s appeal against Creon’s order to the “unwritten and steadfast customs of the Gods” had evidenced the inferiority of human rule-making to a Higher Law.  Here, in the drama by Sophocles, Creon represents the Greek tyrant who disturbs the ancient harmony of the city state.  Aristotle, in his RHETORIC, quotes from Sophocles’ ANTIGONE when he argues that “an unjust law is not a law.”  See RHETORIC 1, 15,  1375, a 27 et seq.

[7] In just one example, during his May 21, 2020 tour of a Ford plant in Michigan, Trump refused to wear a mask. Though his explanation for this legal violation was that he didn’t want to give the press “the satisfaction” of seeing him in a mask (what that should actually mean is anyone’s guess), more likely he thought that wearing a mask would project an image of weakness, and – as everyone must already know – Der Fuehrer  is not subject to the normal rules of biology and infection (just as he is allegedly immune to any normal expectations of law). In essence, Trump’s refusal implies that he stands all-powerful, conspicuously “above biology,” just as he allegedly stands uniquely and brazenly “above the law.”

[8] “I tested very positively,” Trump said confusedly on the South Lawn of the White House on May 21, 2020,. “So this morning, yeah, I tested positively toward negative, right? So no, I tested perfectly this morning. Meaning, meaning I tested negative. But that’s a way of saying it, positively toward the negative.” To be charitable about describing such telling presidential confusions, Trump has also had some “trouble” in the past offering proper terminology concerning his medical test results.

[9] https://www.yahoo.com/news/answers-va-given-hydroxychloroquine-1-220636232.html

See also: https://www.yahoo.com/news/massive-study-coronavirus-patients-shows-140100072.html

[10] Professor Beres is the author of some of the earliest books on nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, including Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (1979); Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980); and Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016). His pertinent writings on this topic have been published in The New York Times; The Atlantic; Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (West Point); The War Room (Pentagon); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon) International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; and The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

[11] “The mass man has no attention to spare for reasoning,” warns 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gassett in The Revolt of the Masses (1930), “he learns only in his own flesh.”

[12] Trump’s proposed withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty (1992/2002) mirrored the U.S. decision to pull out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia in August 2019.

[13] Sigmund Freud maintained a general antipathy to all things American. He most strenuously objected, according to Bruno Bettelheim, to this country’s “shallow optimism” and its seemingly corollary commitment to a disturbingly crude form of materialism. America, thought Freud, was very evidently “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.

[14] See, by Professor Beres, at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, https://thebulletin.org/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/

[15] Expressions of decisional irrationality in world affairs could take assorted and overlapping forms, and need not be a function of “madness.” These forms include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[16] This is taken from Chapter XXIII of Pascal’s Pensées, “Grandeur de l’Homme.”

[17] Synergistic intersections are those that are “force-multiplying;” more precisely, ones wherein the “whole” is effectively greater than the more-or-less calculable arithmetic sum of its “parts.”

[18] See Guillaume Apollinaire’s “The New Spirit and the Poets,” 1917.

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