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Saving The Republic: A Titanic Struggle For Mind

Arthur Schopenhauer

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“Truth cannot appear naked before the people.”-Arthur Schopenhauer, On Man’s Need of Metaphysics[1]

If America’s core problems could be reduced to their barest essentials, they would coalesce around issues of mind. What this implies, especially in the “Trump Era,” is the secondary or reflective nature of all politics. More precisely, it suggests that fixing American society calls for more than repairing or changing presidents.  Rather, any such fixing must be a matter of seeking truth dispassionately by intellectual or analytic means.

Always, it is a requirement for serious and capable thinking, optimally via well-established and appropriate methods of science.

For the moment, of course, Americans are most focused on elections. Still, whatever the outcome, the country’s most deeply underlying debilities will remain more-or-less unchanged. To be sure, there may be certain palpable improvements at one life-level or another, but these improvements will almost certainly be distressingly partial and transient. Before this can change, much more will be needed than any such quadrennial change of personalities. 

Somehow, the United States must be willing to restore suitable intellectual standards of policy assessment to their proper and indispensable place.

Though counterintuitive, this unvarnished expectation is not far-fetched. Ipso facto, for Americans to continue to select reflexive obedience over critical analytic thought would represent the literal opposite of what Thomas  Jefferson and other Founders had in mind for the New Republic. More to the point, any such selection would present a potentially lethal “insult” to a steadily weakening United States.[2] Eventually or suddenly, by hard-to-see increments or as a dramatic bolt-from-the-blue, such an insult could include a full-blown nuclear war.

“The worst,” says Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt (as if we should really need such an obvious reminder) “does sometimes happen.”

 There is more. Even in the conspicuously unraveling Trump years,  truth is exculpatory. In this connection. real American renewal can never emerge from endlessly barren presidential promises or from embarrassingly empty presidential witticisms.

What does America really seek? In the final analysis, every society represents the sum total of its individual “souls” seeking some sort or other of redemption. Under no foreseeable circumstances can these individuals be “mended” by governments that willfully eschew science and the humanities and regularly undermine the rudimentary protocols of citizen integrity.[3]

 It’s not all that dense or mysterious.  We Americans now inhabit a society so numbingly false, so disturbingly rancorous, that even our all-too-abundant melancholy lacks credibility. Steeped in the assorted misfortunes of ritualistic national conformance, we the people have shown infinite forbearance for imitation and falsehood, but none for the overriding challenges of cooperation and coexistence.

With no apparent calculations, our lonely American mass hides from its most prospectively lethal characteristic.[4] This trait is the country’s uncontested preference for believing over thinking.[5]

 There is more. We the people ought not express any surprise at the measureless breadth of our collective failures. For many years, the tangible requirements of wealth and “success” have become the unsteady foundation of America’s economy and polity. In essence, American well-being and “democracy” sprang from a debilitating posture of engineered consumption. We are what we buy.   End of story.

It follows, among other things, that today’s American political scandals are largely the product of a society where anti-intellectual and unheroic lives are “measured out,” dolefully, not by any rational accretions of mind or spirit, but without cheer, anaesthetized, without any discernible general satisfaction.

It’s not dense or mysterious. What most meaningfully animates American politics today is not any commendable interest in purpose or progress, but rather a steadily-escalating fear of  personal failure or (far worse) insignificance. To be properly analytic, such insignificance could be experienced individually, alone, or collectively, as a nation. Either way, it must concern deeply-felt human anxieties about not being “wanted at all.”[6]

For us, candor is indispensable. Incessantly ground down by the babble of pundits and politicos, we the people are only rarely motivated by intellectual insight. Just now, we are learning to understand that our badly injured Constitution is subject to variously dissembling intrusions by a head of state who “loves the poorly educated,”[7] who reads nothing at all, and yearns openly not to serve his country,[8] but himself.

Let us remain candid. This is a president who wants to be an “emperor.” Plainly and desperately.

Truth is exculpatory.  In these fragmenting and deeply-polarized United States, a  willing-to-think individual is little more than a quaint artifact of some previous or previously-imagined history. More refractory than ever to refined intellect and learning, our mass society sustains absolutely no decipherable intentions of taking itself seriously.

Not at all.

For Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, things in America could not possibly be better. Manipulating those too-ample parts of an American society that yearn to believe rather than think, a sweeping Putin victory in “Cold War II” is all but inevitable.[9] Though counter-historical, such a fearful triumph could end up being celebrated at the Trump White House as well as at the Kremlin.

Credo quia absurdum, announced the ancient philosophers.

“I believe because it is absurd.”

 There is more. It is possible for the American people to be lonely in the world or lonely for the world, and our unchallenged mindset of “mass” has brought forth both. Before a better America could ever be born from any such bifurcated loneliness, a willing “gravedigger” would have to wield the civilizational forceps. But where shall we find such a person or persons?

 What next for the increasingly imperiled Republic?  Consider that we the people may wish to slow down and smell the roses, but a self-battering country now imposes upon its exhausted people the breathless rhythms of a vast machine.We witness, each day, an endless line of trains, planes and automobiles, transporting weary Americans to yet another robotic workday, a day too-often bereft of any pleasure, of reward and possibly of any hope itself. How long can this be expected to go on?

 There are additional questions. What can be done now to escape the pendulum of our own mad clockwork? We pay lip service to the high ideals of the Declaration and the Constitution, but almost no one cares about these musty old documents.  Invoked only for ostentation, the doctrinal foundations of the United States are today the province of a handful of people. Nothing more.

Presently, we the people lack any genuine sources of national cohesion except for celebrity sex scandals, local sports team loyalties, and the comforting brotherhoods of war.[10] As for the more than seven million people stacked cheek to jowl in our medieval prisons, two-thirds of those released return promptly to violent crime and mayhem. Increasingly, at the same time, “senior” and recognizable white collar criminals look forward to presidential pardons.

Oddly, we Americans inhabit the one society that could have marked a different trajectory. Once we had unique potential to nurture individuals to become more than a mere crowd.[11] Then, Ralph Waldo Emerson had described us as a people animated by industry and self-reliance, not by paralysis, fear and trembling.

 Bottom lines? In spite of our proudly clichéd claim to “rugged individualism,” we Americans are shaped almost exclusively by demeaning patterns of visceral conformance. Amusing ourselves to death, our voyeuristic society fairly bristles with annoying jingles, insistent hucksterism, crass allusions and telltale equivocations. Surely, we ought finally be able to inquire:  Isn’t there something more to this yelling country than abjured learning, endless imitation and expansively crude commerce?

If there is something more fulsome, where can it be discovered?

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” intoned the poet Walt Whitman, but today the American Selfis created by a generally stupefying “education,” by far-reaching patterns of utter tastelessness and by a pervasively rancorous culture of gratuitous obscenity.

Though not generally understood, credulity is America’s very worst enemy. Our unchanging inclination to believe that societal redemption lies in politics (especially the presidency) has already become a potentially fatal disorder. Social and economic issues do need to be addressed by government, but our deeper problems must still be solved by individuals and as individuals.[12]

 For the moment, this key requirement is not even faintly appreciated.

 While allegedly a democracy, only a rare few can actually redeem America, and these quiet souls remain hidden, even from themselves. You will never see them engaged in the frenetic and agitated self-advertisements of presidential politics. To be sure, our necessary redemption as a people can never be found among the crowd, or mass, or herd or horde. There is a way to fix our fractionating country, but not while we inhabit our pre-packaged ideologies by rote, without mind, and without virtue.[13]

A starkly diseased civilization compromises with its afflictions. To restore us to long-term societal health and prosperity in America, we the peoplemust first look far beyond a futile faith in politics. Only when such a desperately required swerve of consciousness can becomes a compelling and irreversible gesture – that is, only when we can restore a meaningful, central and deserved faith in ourselves as individual thinkers – can we the people hope to fix a land in crisis.

To start the process, we can at least acknowledge the limitations of a democracy now based insecurely upon multiplying geostrategic fallacies and utterly inane slogans.[14] 

Most emphatically, we must insist upon expanding the sovereignty of a mindful and virtuous[15] citizenry. This insistence will not succeed overnight, but the time to finally begin is now.

—————-


[1] Arthur Schopenhauer warned, in his “On Man’s Need of Metaphysics” about “…the great majority of men who are not capable of thinking, but only of believing, who are not accessible to reasons,  but only to authority.”

[2]On this growing threat of nuclear war, by Professor Beres, see:  https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2017/08/louis-rene-beres-trump-nuclear/  See also https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/  For early authoritative accounts, by the author, of expected consequences of a nuclear attack, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986).

[3] Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the intangible essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provided any precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either in some ordinary religious sense. For both, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of both mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by various express references to “soul.” Freud was plainly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect, literature and history), and even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological misery.

[4] “The mass-man has no attention  to spare for reasoning;” warns Jose Ortega y’Gassett in The Revolt of the Masses (1930, “he learns only in his own flesh.”

[5] Apropos of this preference, see Oswald Spengler: “I believe is the one great word against metaphysical fear” (The Decline of the West, 1918). Here, Spengler underscores humankind’s utterly primal search for an ultimate victory over death.

[6] “It is getting late; shall we ever be asked for?,” inquires the poet W H Auden in The Age of Reason. “Are we simply not wanted at all?”

[7] Said candidate Trump in 2016, “I love the poorly educated.” This strange statement appears to echo Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels at Nuremberg rally in 1935:  “Intellect rots the brain.”

[8] This brings to mind the timeless observation by Creon, King of Thebes, in Sophocles’ Antigone: “I hold despicable, and always have….anyone who puts his own populate before his country.”

[9]Regarding the effects of Cold War II on security matters in the Middle East, by this author, see:  https://besacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/162-MONOGRAPH-Beres-Israeli-Nuclear-Deterrence-CORRECTED-NEW.pdf

[10] War, of course, is arguably the most worrisome consequence of an anti-intellectual and anti-courage American presidency. For the moment, the most specifically plausible area of concern would be a nuclear war with North Korea. https://mwi.usma.edu/theres-no-historical-guide-assessing-risks-us-north-korea-nuclear-war/

[11] “The crowd,” said Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “is untruth.” Here, the term “crowd” is roughly comparable to C.G. Jung’s “mass,” Friedrich Nietzsche’s “herd,” and Sigmund Freud’s “horde.”

[12] See, by Professor Beres, at The Daily Princetonian:  https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/02/emptiness-and-consciousness

[13] “There is no longer a virtuous nation,” warns the poet William Butler Yeats, “and the best of us live by candlelight.”

[14] The worst of these limitations concerns the growing risks of a nuclear war occasioned by an American unprepared president. In this regard, we may recall the words of “beat poet” Lawrence Ferlinghetti back in 1958 (A Coney Island of the Mind): “In a surrealist year some cool clown pressed an inedible mushroom button, and an inaudible Sunday bomb fell down, catching the president at his prayers on the 19th green.”

[15] As used by ancient Greek philosopher Plato, the term “virtuous” includes elements of both wisdom and knowledge as well as morality.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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The liberal international order has not crumbled yet

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Since 2017 when Donald Trump took office, the “liberal international order” erected in 1991 has been under serious challenges raised by the United States’ relative decline, the Trump administration’s isolationist policy, and on top of that, the outbreak of COVID-19. Indeed, this order is greatly plagued, which is evidenced by its dysfunction. Against this backdrop, its endurance in the upcoming time is questionable. Nevertheless, the liberal international order has not collapsed yet. It will even revive, and endure in the post-pandemic era.

The victory of Biden 

Notwithstanding facing great threats, the liberal international order is far from crumbling. On the contrary, it is gradually reviving. In the Western world, countries are making effort to reform their order that is on the verge of collapse. This is true in the US – the world democracy’s leader. Joe Biden’s victory against Donald Trump may be a positive signal for the US and the global democracy. As a strong advocate for values including democracy, multilateralism and international trade, at no doubt, President Biden will be opposite to Trump in his policy, both domestic and foreign ones. Indeed, during his first 100 days, Mr.Biden has implemented some meaningful things. Regarding the pandemic, he has a stricter approach than his predecessor’s: Mandatory mask wearing, a $1.9-trillions bill, historical vaccination campaign, to name a few. All of Biden’s actions have been so far effective, when the new cases and deaths are steadily declining, and the number of vaccinated people is substantially high. This lays a foundation for Biden to reinvigorate his country’s ruined democracy and governance system, as his efficiency in countering COVID-19 may help him regain American people’s trust on the future of American democracy.

In terms of foreign policy, President Biden has some radical changes compared to that of Trump, which might be favorable to the Western world. At first glance, Biden embraces multilateralism much more than his predecessor, with the hope of saving the American global leadership. He supports Washington’s participation in international institutions, which is illustrated by the rejoining of WHO, Paris Agreement and several multilateral commitments. In tandem with this, Biden values the US’ alliances and strategic partnership as vital instruments for the US’ hegemony. Unlike Trump’s transactional approach, Biden prioritizes early and effective engagement with allies to tackle regional and global issues, especially major ones like NATO, G7. In Asia, he also seeks for further cooperation with traditional allies such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and deepening partnership with Vietnam, Singapore, India and ASEAN countries.

More importantly, President Biden’s policies towards the US’ competitors and “rogue states” are far different from Trump’s. Granted, despite seeing China as the biggest threat to the American global leadership, Biden adopts a more flexible and multilateral policy. His administration looks to cooperate and compete with China, which implies a different trajectory of the US-China relationship in the upcoming time. Additionally, as noted above, instead of unilaterally escalating tensions with China as Trump did, Biden has been forging relations with traditional and potential Asian allies to contain China together, given China’s increasing assertiveness. With regard to Iran, Washington is now working on the Iran Nuclear Deal with other six parties, promising a potentially positive future on the relations of Iran with the US and the West. The bottom line is, a radical change in Biden’s foreign policy will be a clear message to the world that the US will still try to save the liberal international order and make this world safer for democracy.

The European Union is recovering 

Things are happening in the same pattern in Europe. European leaders are also closely cooperating, both inside and outside the bloc, to defeat COVID-19. That said, they are ardently supporting multilateralism. So far, the EU has spent billions of dollars in vaccine development as well as humanitarian support, demonstrating its solidarity in the battle against COVID-19. As such, if EU leaders can successfully lead their bloc out of the current crisis, they can reform this currently plagued institution in the post-pandemic era. Not only seeking further intra-bloc cooperation, but also European leaders are working with other major actors around the world to substantiate the global battlefront against COVID-19. Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged her country and China to jointly develop COVID’s vaccine in an open, transparent way, and to a further extent, maintain good and stable bilateral partnership, regardless of two sides’ differences.

Similarly, the EU has been putting the Transatlantic relationship among the priorities of its foreign policy agenda. After Biden’s election, the European Commission has proposed refreshing the US-EU alliance and establishing a Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council, being seen as an informal tech alliance with the US to prevent China from dominating this critical sector. The Transatlantic relationship is perhaps one of the pillars for the liberal international order, given its long history and its contribution to maintain the global stability. In the last decades, this axis has been damaged by numerous issues, from economic to security, which is one of the main causes for the decline of liberal international order. Thus, a fresh Transatlantic relationship is conducive to the re-emergence of this order. In this respect, the EU’s effort to strengthen the Transatlantic alliance, despite being questionable in terms of feasibility and outcome, is still paving the way for reinvigorating of liberal international order. More notably, the most recent G7 Summit has illustrated the Western’s solidarity, when there is a convergence in most issues related to global governance and maintaining the Western-based order. This may be a harbinger of the liberal international order’s revival, at least in a foreseeable future.

Non-Western world is struggling 

The dynamics outside the Western world is also changing in a more favorable direction. Many non-Western countries, once were effective in combating against the pandemic, are now struggling with a greater threat. Taiwan, in spite of being praised as one of the most successful states in the battle against COVID-19, is currently facing another wave of pandemic when the new cases in this island are surging recently. Other successful stories, let us say Thailand, Japan or South Korea, are questionable of maintaining their momentum in preventing the virus, showcased by their relatively inefficiency during this new wave, in implementing strong measures and getting their people vaccinated. This raises question about these countries’ model of governance, which was used to be praised as a better alternative for a plagued, dysfunctional Western one, thanks to its merits in helping those above-mentioned states contain COVID-19.

Major non-Western blocs are in the midst of COVID-19 crisis as well. The clearest example is the BRICS. Except China, all other countries in this bloc have been tremendously suffering from the pandemic. Due to this, they are far from being recovered quickly. This failure in dealing with the virus undermines the bloc’s previous effort in establishing its position as a major, effective one, not to mention building a new, non-Western international order. This is also the case with ASEAN, as the organization was sharply divided by COVID-19. There are countries doing well with controlling the pandemic such as Vietnam, Singapore, but the Philippines and Indonesia are unable to do so, making this bloc suffering from institutional sclerosis without having any coherent COVID-19 policy. Therefore, non-Western blocs and countries are far from being more efficient than Western ones, implying they are unable to come up with any better international orders than the current liberal international one.

More importantly, Western values underpinning the liberal international order are universal. This is noteworthy when arguing for the long-lasting of Western order, as its existence and endurance mainly hinge on the universality of Western values. These values have been embraced by many countries for a very long time. Hence, despite being deteriorated in recent years, they cannot be easily changed. On the other hand, non-Western values are also not as highly embraced as Western ones. China, desiring to topple the US, is initiating numerous projects and agreements to spread its values around the world, making the world less Western and more Chinese/Asian. Nonetheless, Beijing has yet achieved any remarkable achievements in making their values more widespread and embraced by the rest of the world. Even worse, its image has been tarnished due to its rising assertiveness. Its projects in developing countries, especially BRI-related projects, have been notorious for a large number of problems related to environment or local corruption, and it is raising strategic uncertainty in the region by its increasing militarization, particularly on the South China Sea. These movements have turned China into a “malevolent” major power, hindering its process of disseminating and socializing its values to the world.

It is also worth noting that although Western values have declined, they have been proven to be benevolent for this world. Most recently, it is Western countries that have successfully developed good COVID-19 vaccines to save themselves and save the world from this unprecedented health crisis. Non-Western countries, for instance China and Russia, have their own vaccines, but they are not as welcome as other developed countries in the West in the vaccine race, because their vaccines are relatively less effective than Western-produced ones. Democracy, liberty, lassaiz faire are values that help Western countries or ones embrace such things able to produce massive amount of effective vaccines, and more broadly to develop a strong science and technology foundation. Producing and distributing vaccine for the rest of the world would make the West become a savior, which is good for saving the liberal international order.

Without doubt, the liberal international order has been in its worst time since 1991 when it reached its heyday. However, thanks to its merits, the liberal international order will not die. Instead, most countries will jointly save it, because they have been benefitting from this order for a long time, and will be so in the future. The order’s founding members are recovering, and cooperating closely to reform it, as well as there are no better international orders that can replace the existing one. Given these circumstances, the liberal international order would re-emerge as a dominant form of ordering this world after the pandemic, and would be perpetuated.

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Who benefits more from the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva?

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With the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva around the corner, the question is who actually benefits more from the meeting in the small Swiss town.

Mainstream media and right-wing foreign policy thinkers alike have argued that a joint press conference would “elevate” President Putin to the level of the American President.

Ivana Strander, the Jeane Kirkpatrick fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, argued that the upcoming Geneva summit is actually “a gift” to Putin.

In a CNN story, Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak mention that “officials who have been involved in arranging past US meetings with Putin say the Russian side often pushes for a joint press conference, hoping to elevate Putin’s stature by having him appear alongside the American leader”.

Whether as a subconscious bias or an actual reflection of attitudes, prevalent is the idea that coming close to the US President is a privilege that other leaders can only dream about. But who gains more from the upcoming summit?

In fact, it is the American President who is vying for other leaders’ approval and acceptance once again after a humiliating period – not the other way around. American is emerging from Trumpism, which revealed the other, ugly face of America. Trumpism is not gone and the other face of America is still there.

This week, US President Joe Biden is eager to show the world that America is “back”. In meetings with the G7, NATO countries’ top leaders, the NATO Secretary General, the Queen of England, and President Putin in the same week, Biden is asking the world to forget the last four years. And he is not doing this from the position of power or superiority. That’s why assuming that other heads of state, be it Putin or anyone else really, can only gain by coming close to the superiority of the American President is a misplaced and misguided. The US President is asking the international community to take America back – not the other way around.

President Putin doesn’t need the US President’s acceptance – Putin already got that. That happened back in 2018, in Helsinki, when President Trump sided with Putin over the US government’s own intelligence agencies, by rejecting the idea of Russia’s meddling in the US presidential elections. Trump slapped across the face and humiliated the US intelligence community in front of the whole world. Ever since, the US intelligence community has tried to figure out ways to prove Trump wrong and show him otherwise. And they have gone to incredible lengths, only so that they can get their pay pack of a sort, and prove Trump wrong. So, Putin already got what he wanted. He doesn’t need more “elevation”.

What’s also striking is that in Geneva, the UN is absolutely missing from the action. Geneva is the home of numerous UN agencies and international organizations, and not one is actually involved, which speaks volumes to questions of relevance. It is the Swiss government from Bern which is organizing the Summit. The UN is nowhere to be seen which is also indicative of the current Biden priorities.

If Trump was about “America First”, then Biden is about “America is still number one, right?”. But as the United Kingdom learned the hard way recently, it is sometimes best for a declining power to perhaps elegantly realize that the rest of the world no longer wants to dance to its tune, or at least not to its tune only. Discussions about how much Putin gains from coming close to the presence of the US President are misguided. In trying to climb back on the international stage on crotches and covered up in bruises, America is not in a position to look down on other big powers. And as regards who benefits more from the Summit, it seems like one side is there with a clear request asking for something. My understanding is that it is Biden who wants Putin to hand cyber criminals over to him. Putin still hasn’t said what he wants from Biden, in return.

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Trump’s legacy hangs over human rights talk at upcoming Biden-Putin Geneva summit

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Two days after the NATO Summit in Brussels on Monday, US President Joe Biden will be in Geneva to hold a much anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders are meeting at the shores of Lake Geneva at a villa in Parc la Grange – a place I know very well and actually called home for a long time. The park itself will be closed to the public for 10 days until Friday.

A big chunk of the lakeside part of the city will be closed off, too. Barb wire and beefed up security measures have already been put in place to secure the historic summit. The otherwise small city will be buzzing with media, delegations and curious onlookers.

I will be there too, keeping the readers of Modern Diplomacy updated with what’s taking place on the ground with photos, videos and regular dispatches from the Biden-Putin meeting.

The two Presidents will first and foremost touch on nuclear security. As an interlude to their meeting, the NATO Summit on Monday will tackle, among other things “Russian aggression”, in the words of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Last week, Stoltenberg said that he “told President Biden that Allies welcome the US decision, together with Russia, to extend the New START Treaty, limiting strategic weapons, and long-range nuclear weapons”. To extend the treaty is an important first step for Stoltenberg. This will be the obvious link between the two summits.

But Biden also has to bring up human rights issues, such as the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny and Putin’s support for the jailing of Belarusian activists by Lukashenko. Human rights have to be high on the agenda at the Geneva Summit. And indeed, Biden has confirmed officially that pressing Putin on human rights will be a priority for the American side.

Biden and Putin are not fans of each other, to say the least. Both have made that clear in unusually tough rhetoric in the past. Over the years, Biden has said on numerous occasions that he has told Putin to his face that he doesn’t “have a soul”. Putin’s retort was that the men “understand each other”.

Right at the beginning of his Presidency, earlier this year, Biden also dropped the bomb calling President Putin a “killer” for ordering the assassination of political opponents. The Russian president responded to the “killer” comment on Russian television by saying that “it takes one to know one”. Putin also wished Biden good health, alluding to the US President’s age and mental condition which becomes a subject of criticism from time to time.

Understandably, Putin and Biden are not expected to hold a joint press conference next week. But we weren’t expecting that, anyways.

For me, this Summit has a special meaning. In the context of repression against political opponents and critical media voices, President Biden needs to demonstrate that the US President and the US government are actually different from Putin – if they are any different from Putin.

This week, we were reminded of Trump’s legacy and the damage he left behind. One of Trump’s lasting imprints was revealed: Trump had the Department of Justice put under surveillance Trump’s political opponents. Among them House Democrats, including Congressman Adam Shiff, who was one of the key figures that led Trump’s first impeachment that showed that Trump exerted pressure on Ukrainian authorities to go after Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

In the context of Trump’s impact, President Biden needs to show that there has to be zero tolerance towards the cover up by the US government of politically motivated attacks against voices critical of the US government. If President Biden wants to demonstrate that the US government is any different from Putin’s Russia, Secretary of State Blinken and FBI director Chris Wray have to go. Biden has to show that he won’t tolerate the cover up of attacks on political critics and the media, and won’t spare those that stand in the way of criminal justice in such instances.

Biden is stuck in the 2000s when it comes to Eastern Europe, as I argued last week but he needs to wake up. President Biden and the US government still haven’t dealt effectively with Trump’s harmful impact on things that the US really likes to toot its horn about, such as human rights and freedom. Whether the upcoming Geneva Summit will shed light on that remains to be seen.

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