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Where the 2020 Candidates Stand on Russia

Hunter Cawood

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The Iowa Caucus and the start of the United States’ presidential election season is less than a week away. For Americans, this is a big election that will unquestionably change the course of history and serve as a referendum on what voters perceive to be the identity of the United States.

Just as it was in 2016, Russia is a topic at the forefront of conversations swirling around this year’s election. There have been overly broad discussions about foreign policy during the Democratic debates, but where does each candidate stand concretely when it comes to Russia? And what would relations look like under the various candidates?

Here’s a summary of where some of the top 2020 candidates stand on Russia based on what they’ve said, what they’ve done, and what they say they’re going to do.

Amy Klobuchar

Of all the candidates with at least a viable chance at becoming the next Commander and Chief of the United States, Amy Klobuchar boasts by far the most antagonistic and hawkish attitude towards Russia. Her antipathy towards Russia is likely linked to her strong, yet mysterious affinity towards Ukraine. Klobuchar is one of fifteen Senators who sits on the Senate Ukraine Caucus and even spent New Year’s Eve in Ukraine alongside John McCain and host of Ukrainian marines. There is no concrete evidence that Senator Klobuchar has received or currently receives any financial support from any pro-Ukrainian organizations or individuals, but some say there is likely a lobbyist connection to Klobuchar and her fervent support for Ukraine.

Among the lot of candidates vying to become President, Senator Klobuchar has branded herself as someone who will be tough on Russia and President Vladimir Putin. She famously downplayed allegations about mistreating members of her staff by turning the question into a positive testament of her ability to operate on the international stage. She said, “When you’re out there on the world stage and dealing with people like Vladimir Putin, yeah, you want someone who’s tough.” Klobuchar’s “toughness” will likely take the form of introducing more sanctions on Russia, strengthening the United States’ presence in Syria, and ratcheting up the rhetoric against Russia.

Although she’s unlikely to win the nomination, she recently secured the thumbs up from the New York Times, one of the most highly coveted endorsements for Democratic candidates. If you’re someone who wants better relations between the United States and Russia, then Amy Klobuchar is not you’re candidate. That said, one should note that she does support renewing the New Start Treaty, but that’s the full extent of her goodwill towards Russia.

Bernie Sanders

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was a dark horse in 2016 who came very close to winning the Democratic nomination despite corruption within the Democratic party which sought to undermine his candidacy and prop up Hillary Clinton. This year, the tables have turned and now Sanders, a self-described socialist, is a crowd favorite with a real chance to win it all.

Sanders is unique for a number of reasons. One, he is the only candidate who is proposing to fundamentally change the United States or in his words bring about a “political revolution.” If he were to win, Bernie would be the first president in US history to take office with a socialist ideology. That would be huge considering the word “socialist” has long been a pejorative in mainstream American political discourse. When it comes to Russia, Senator Sanders is likewise very unique. As someone who spent ten days in the Soviet Union for his honeymoon, Sanders has what can be described as a nuanced view of both foreign policy and Russia.

Sanders’ campaign is eccentric in the fact that it’s narrowly focused on improving lives, reversing income inequality, and bringing about social justice. His foreign policy for that reason is minimalistic in that it calls for the United States to shift its focus from endless wars and a maximalist military presence across the globe to solving problems at home. This idea carries over to Russia — where although he has talked tough on “Russian interference” and supported various rounds of sanctions, he doesn’t seem interested in escalating tensions or pursuing provocative policies with regards to Russia. Sanders at the very minimum seems to view Russians as human beings and not predestined arch-nemeses. In 2017, Bernie Sanders recalled witnessing a Russia-U.S. exchange program that helped form his views: “I will never forget seeing Russian boys and girls visiting Vermont, getting to know American kids, and becoming good friends. Hatred and wars are often based on fear and ignorance. The way to defeat this ignorance and diminish this fear is through meeting with others and understanding the way they see the world.”

Sanders’ presidency would likely be a mixed bag. The number of confrontations on issues like Syria, Ukraine, Libya, and Iran would likely dissolve and there could be a considerable amount of groundwork and cooperation made on issues concerning arms control. That said, one shouldn’t expect there to be a complete detente or for his administration to abruptly lift sanctions on Russia. That will not be inside a fortune cookie any time soon.

Joe Biden

Former Vice President Joe Biden is a man who needs no introduction. As someone who has been in the political limelight ever since limelights were invented, Biden has long developed and made known his views on Russia.

At the beginning of the Obama administration, Biden was a strong proponent of forging a fresh start with Russia that would focus on mutual interests like nuclear arms control, nonproliferation, stabilizing Afghanistan, fighting terrorism, opening global markets, and a range of other issues. That temporary partnership took a turn for the worse in 2014 following Crimea’s reunification with Russia and Russia’s intervention in Syria that thwarted the Obama administration’s efforts to enact regime change. Since then, Biden has advocated an adversarial foreign policy towards Russia. He has been in favor of increased sanctions, arming Ukraine, pushing back on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and hitting Russia with cyberattacks.

By every indication, a Joe Biden presidency would look a lot like the Obama presidency during its second term. And although it’s true that Biden has a reputation for bringing a sort of charm when it comes to building relations with other countries, it’s unlikely that he’ll carry with him that charm to build better relations with Russia. Biden is the most likely candidate to unseat Donald Trump, which means that Russia-U.S. relations are likely to continue being hostile, confrontational, and counterproductive.

Tulsi Gabbard

While there are no candidates running who can be described as pro-Russian, there is at least one adult in the room who recognizes that this constant confrontation and New Cold War with Russia does not promote America’s interests or make Americans safer. That adult in the room is Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran and serving major in the National Guard who has received quite a bit of attention for being a white crow when it comes to foreign policy.

Gabbard has been a vocal and consistent critic of Washington’s regime change policies that she argues “are wasteful and have drained our country of trillions of dollars, undermined our national security, and cost the lives of thousands of our men and women in uniform.” Beyond that and in stark contrast to her opponents, Congresswoman Gabbard has called for the United States to ally with Russia to restore stability to Syria. She has also been at the forefront of calling for sensible nuclear arms control, which includes renewing the New START Treaty and introducing legislation to keep the United States compliant under the INF Treaty.

Tulsi Gabbard’s unique stances on foreign policy have made her a target for both the media and establishment Democrats who are fervently in favor of the status quo. Just this past year, CNN and the New York Times smeared her by suggesting that she might be a “Russian asset.” This, of course, followed accusations by Hillary Clinton that Gabbard is a “favorite of the Russians” and that Russia was “grooming” her to run as a third-party candidate.

As in the 2016 election and the case of Donald, there has been a groundswell of careless conflation between the idea that Gabbard is a Russian plant and the idea that a few people in Moscow, who actually know who she is, would like her to do well. The truth is Tulsi Gabbard is neither pro-Russian nor a “Russian asset.” In fact, she’s far from it. She does not support Crimea’s reunification, she’s voted for sanctions against Russia, and she’s even called out Russia over election interference. The difference between her and the rest of the field is that she’s the only candidate consistently calling for diplomacy and dialogue. She’s repeatedly argued that inflaming tensions between the United States and Russia is taking us in the wrong direction — and for that reason alone, Tulsi Gabbard is perhaps the only candidate who could bring about better Russia-U.S. relations.

Elizabeth Warren

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren is the woman with a plan. More accurately, Senator Warren is well-known for having an exhaustive list of plans that she would execute as future President of the United States. Those plans range from healthcare to foreign policy, to green manufacturing — to almost everything in between. When it comes to Russia, the former Harvard professor proposes “strong, targeted penalties on Russia for its attempts to subvert elections” and implementing policies that will help make America’s European allies “energy independent.” This is, of course, consistent with her voting record while in the Senate, where she has voted repeatedly to sanction Russia on virtually every occasion.

It’s apparent from Warren’s statements that she views Russia as an adversary and has very little interest in repairing relations between the two countries. Although she supports cooperation on arms control and protecting the New START Treaty, that’s the bare minimum and in itself is a commonsensical position that virtually all of the presidential candidates agree on.

Warren’s foreign policy views share a lot of similarities with Bernie Sanders in that she supports drawing down America’s presence and excessive military spending across the globe. The difference between her and Sanders is that she doesn’t seem willing to pursue diplomacy with Russia or treat her Russian counterparts with mutual respect. She instead embraces the typical stereotypes about Russia that cast the country as irremediably corrupt, authoritarian, and “not one of us.” That sort of approach will most certainly not lead to better relations between our two countries.

Donald Trump

America’s reigning champion and current president is quite possibly the hardest candidate to read into when it comes to his feelings towards Russia. While it’s true that Donald Trump has said complimentary things about President Putin and is regularly accused by conspiracy theorists and political opponents of possessing a bred-in-the-bone affinity towards Russia, his deeds don’t actually line up very well with the flowery language he uses to talk about relations with the United States’ historic rival. In fact, if you take a moment to just ignore the flattering rhetoric and concentrate on Trump’s actions through his first term, then you end up with an incredibly different picture than what is often portrayed in American media.

Trump, since taking office in 2017, has levied hundreds of new sanctions against Russia — oftentimes without a real clear rationale for doing so. He has forcefully lobbied against Gazprom’s Nord Stream pipeline connecting Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea. He has led regime change efforts in Venezuela, a country where Russia has billions of dollars invested in contracts with the Maduro-led government. Trump has likewise pulled out of treaties like the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty and the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) against Russia’s wishes. He’s armed Ukraine with lethal weapons and his administration has tried to subvert any prospects of peace in the Donbas region. Trump has continued the United States’ illegal occupation in Syria and even authorized a military strike that killed dozens of Russian contractors, all of which have undermined Russia’s quest to restore stability to its most valuable ally in the Middle East.

With this laundry list of transgressions, it’s hard to imagine that Trump does the bidding of the Kremlin or Vladimir Putin. It’s even harder to imagine that President Trump sincerely holds an affinity towards Russia and that improving relations with Russia is a matter of top priority for him. It’s true, he often commends and expresses a willingness to pursue dialogue — however those sweet words rarely if ever translate into actions that Russians could genuinely perceive as being friendly. True to his days a reality television star — Trump is unpredictable and keeps his audience at the edge of their seats.

Donald Trump, in that sense, is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. However, it’s unlikely that another term with Trump as president will bring about any improvements in Russia-U.S. relations.

From our partner RIAC

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Americas

In Praise of the Lioness of Law: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her Jurisprudence

Punsara Amarasinghe

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image credit: Wikipedia

The death of the US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an abyss in the court for the liberal voice where justice Ginsburg was seen as the linchpin of the liberal block of the Supreme Court at a time when that block was shrinking. Especially late judge had vociferously advocated for women ‘rights, environmental issues and often came up with unique dissents in delivering her judgements which were propelled by her jurisprudence which embodied the solemn ideal in American legal system “Equal Protection under the Law “. She was on a quest to defend the delicate balance between honoring the timelessness of American Constitution and recognizing the depth of its enduring principles in new centuries and under new circumstances.

She grew up in an era where men held the helm in every aspect of social life and especially the legal profession was utterly dominated by men. Recalling her legal studies at Harvard law school in the 50’s judge Ginsburg had stated later how she was once asked by the Dean of Harvard law school to justify her position as a law student that otherwise would have gone to a man. Yet she had the spunk to overcome all the obstacles stood on her way and excelled as a scholar becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

In tracing her legal career that it becomes a salient fact, Judge Ginsburg marked her name in American legal history even decades before she joined the bench. While at the American Civil Liberties Union in the early seventies she made an upheaval in American in legal system in famous Supreme Court Case Reed Vs Reed. In Reed Vs Reed the brief drafted by Ginsburg provided an astute analysis on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsburg’s brief changed the aged long practice existed in the State of Idaho on favoring men over women in estate battles by paving the path for a discourse on gender equality rights in the USA.

Judge Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1994 during Clinton administration marked the dawn of new jurisprudential chapter in the US Supreme Court. Two terms later, in the United States v. Virginia (VMI), Justice Ginsburg applied her lucid perspective to a sharply disputed constitutional claim. The United States challenged Virginia’s practice of admitting only men to its prestigious military college, the Virginia Military Institute. Writing for six Justices, Ginsburg held this policy unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. In reaching this result, Ginsburg adroitly cut away potentially confounding issues about women’s participation in the military or the advantages of single-sex education.

Her robust activism in securing gender equality often attracted the admirations of the feminist scholars and activists, but it should be noted that her contribution was not only confined to the protection of gender equality. She was a robust critique of racial dissemination which still pervades in American society and she frequently pointed out how racial discrimination has marred the constitutional protections guaranteed to every citizen. Especially in the case of Gratz Vs Bollitnger, she stressed on the commitment that the state ought to fulfil by eliminating the racial biases existing employment and education. Moreover, disabled citizens. In Olmstead v. Zimring, she held that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.45 She elaborated a two-fold concept of discrimination, noting that unneeded institutionalization both “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life”.

In remembering the mortal departure of this prudent judge that one cannot forget her keenness in incorporating international law into her judgements regardless of the disinclination shown by conservative judges like Antony Scalia. Going beyond the mere textualism approach to the law, Ginsburg’s jurisprudence was much more akin to using international law to make substantive decisions. For instance, in her concurring verdict in Grutter Vs Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon international human rights law, and in particular upon two United Nations conventions, to support her conclusions.

Indeed, the demise of Ruth Ginsburg is a major blow for the liberalists in the USA, especially in an era where liberalist values are at stake under the fervent rise of populist waves propounded by Donald Trump. Especially late judge had been one of the harsh critics of Trump even before ascendency to the Oval office. The void created by the demise of judge Ginsburg might change the role the US Supreme Court if the successor to her position would take a more conservative approach and it will fortify the conservative bloc in the US Supreme Court. Trump has already placed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and the third pick would more deeply entrench the conservative views in the US Supreme Court, which would inevitably undermine the progressive policies taken during Obama’s administration towards issues such as the environment. The political storm appeared after the death of the late judge has already created a tense situation in US politics as president Trump is determined to appoint a judge to fill before the presidential election in November.

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The Politics of (In)security in Mexico: Between Narcissism and Political Failure

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Image credit: Wikimedia

Security cannot be that easily separated from the political realm. The need for security is the prime reason why people come together to collectively form a state. Providing security is, therefore, one of the most basic functions of the state as a political and collective entity.

Last Friday, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) laughed during his daily morning press briefings over a national newspaper headline about 45 massacres during his presidency. This attitude summarises in a macabre way his approach to insecurity: it is not his top priority. This is not the first time that AMLO has showed some serious and deeply disturbing lack of empathy for victims of crimes. Before taking office, he knew that insecurity was one of Mexico’s biggest challenges, and he has come to realise that curbing it down will not be as simple as he predicted during his presidential campaign.

Since the start of the War on Drugs in 2006, Mexico has sunk into a deep and ever-growing spiral of violence and vigilantism as a result of the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide safety to citizens. Vigilantism is when citizens decide to take the law into their own hands in order to fill the vacuum left by the state, or to pursue their own very particular interests. Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz have over 50 vigilante organisations that pose substantial danger to the power of the state.

Vigilantism is not the only factor exacerbating the security crisis in Mexico: since 2006, young people have also started to join drug cartels and other criminal organisations. There are important sectors of the population who feel that the state has failed to represent them. They also feel betrayed because the state has not been able to provide them with the necessary means to better themselves. These frustrations make them vulnerable to the indoctrination of organised crime gangs who promise to give them some sort of ideological direction and solution to their problems.

As a result, it is not enough to carry out a kingpin arrest strategy and to preach on the moral duties we have as citizens as well as on human dignity. People need to be given enough means to find alternative livelihoods that are attractive enough to take them out of organised crime, Mexico can draw some important lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and resettled ex-combatants after the armed conflict. Vigilantism, recruitment by organised crime, and insecurity have also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. The judicial system is weak and highly ineffective. A large proportion of the population does not trust the police, or the institutions in charge of the rule of law.

A long-term strategy requires linking security with politics. It needs to address not only the consequences but also the roots of unemployment and deep inequality. However, doing so requires decisive actions to root out widespread and vicious corruption. Corruption allows concentration of wealth and also prevents people from being held accountable. This perpetuates the circle of insecurity. Mexico has been slowly moving towards a borderline failed state. The current government is starting to lose legitimacy and the fragility of the state is further perpetuated by the undemocratic, and predatory governance of the current administration.

Creating a safer Mexico requires a strong, coherent, and stable leadership, AMLO’s administration is far from it. His popularity has consistently fallen as a result of his ineffective policies to tackle the pandemic, worsening insecurity, and the economic crisis. Mexico has reached over 72,000 Covid-19 deaths; during his initial 20 months as incumbent president, there has been 53,628 murders, among them 1800 children or teenagers, and 5888 women (11 women killed per day) This criminality rate is double than what it was during the same period in the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012); and 55% higher than with the last president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Mexico is also experiencing its worst economic recession in 90 years.

Insecurity remains as the issue of most concern among Mexicans, seeing the president laughing about it, can only fill citizens with yet more despair and lack of trusts in the government and its institutions. AMLO’s catastrophic performance is not surprising, though. Much of his failures and shortcomings can be explained by both ideology and a narcissistic personality. Having someone with both of those traits ruling a country under normal, peaceful times is already dangerous enough, add an economic crisis and a pandemic to the mix and the result is utter chaos.

AMLO embodies the prototypical narcissist: he has a grandiose self-image; an inflated ego; a constant need for admiration; and intolerance to criticism. He, like many other narcissists, thinks about himself too much and too often, making him incapable of considering the wellbeing of other and unable to pursue the public interest. He has a scapegoat ready to blame for his failures and mistakes: previous administrations, conservatives, neoliberalism, academics, writers, intellectuals, reporters, scientists, you name it, the list is long and keeps getting longer.

AMLO keeps contradicting himself and he does not realise it. He has been claiming for months that the pandemic is under control: it is not. He declares Mexico is ready to face the pandemic and we have enough tests and medical equipment: we do not. He says Mexico is on its way to economic recovery: it is not. He states corruption is a thing of the past: it is not. He says Mexico is now safer than ever before: it is not. When told the opposite he shrugs criticism off and laughs, the behaviour of a typical narcissist.

AMLO, alike narcissists, due to his inability to face criticism, has never cared about surrounding himself by the best and brightest. He chose a bunch of flunkies as members of his cabinet who try to please and not humiliate their leader. A further trait of narcissistic personalities is that they love conflict and division as this keeps them under control. The more destabilisation and antagonism, the better. AMLO since the start of his presidency has been setting states against states for resources and for pandemic responses, instead of coordinating a national response. He is also vindictive: playing favourites with those governors who follow him and punishing those that oppose him.

Deep down, narcissistic leaders are weak. AMLO is genuinely afraid to lead. He simply cannot bring himself to make decisions that are solely his. This is why he has relied on public referendums and consultations to cancel projects or advance legislation. He will not take any responsibility if something goes wrong: It was not him who decided, it was the people, blame them. He inherited a broken system that cannot be fixed during his term, blame the previous administrations, not him.

AMLO is a prime example of a textbook narcissist, unfortunately he is not the only one: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte are only a few more examples of what seems to be a normalised behaviour in contemporary politics. Every aspect of AMLO’s and other leaders presidencies have been heavily marked by their psychopathology. Narcissism, however, does not allow proper and realistic self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-appreciation therefore such leaders will simply ignore the red flags in their administration and have no clue how despicably and disgracefully they will be remembered.

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Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption.  And the stones certainly bruise.

Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers.  Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January.  It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago.  It gets worse for Trump. 

In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent.  Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent.  Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.

Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.

If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other.  Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico.  President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump,   Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.

The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel.  In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank.  Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime.  However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait.  Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.

If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof.  As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel.  Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace.  When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion.  Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.

How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?

There things stand.  As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early.  Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money.  The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage.  Time it seems is on Trump’s side.  

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