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Will the U.S. Republican Party survive the current election race?



A number of leading members of the Republican Party have sharply criticized the Trump Administration’s response to the riots that have swept America the past few weeks. The US media, traditionally critical of the present occupant of the White House, even argues that just as Trump’s approval rating is taking a tumble, debates about the GOP’s prospects after the current president leaves office this year or in 2024 are heating up in the Republican camp. What is happening in one of America’s two leading political parties? What does future have in store for it following the outcome of the 2020 election race?

The results of a poll, released by the pro-Trump Fox News on May 21, indicate that the Democratic candidate Joe Biden leads Trump by 48-40 percent. Still, given that 11 percent are undecided or plan to vote for someone else, neither candidate hits 50 percent support. According to Fox News, this means that the race could go either way. Meanwhile, 84 percent of likely Republican voters surveyed said that they would still stick with Trump.

A conservative-leaning Rasmussen Reports poll released in May found that 23 percent of likely Republican voters across the country think that their party should “find someone other than Trump to be their nominee.” . Because of the current economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Trump is almost losing his trump card – good economic performance. In the past century, economic recession was one of the main reasons why Presidents Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George Bush Sr. were not re-elected for a second term. It is against this backcloth that more and more observers now tend to believe that the Democrats may regain majority in the Senate, because they only need to win an additional three or four seats to dominate the chamber, while simultaneously retaining their control over the House of Representatives . If the current trend holds, the Republicans risk losing both the executive, and legislative branches of the federal government.

In early June, Senator Lisa Murkowski and Trump’s ex-Defense Secretary James Mattis slammed the president’s intention to use the army to quell mass protests against police violence and racial discrimination. Earlier, according to The Washington Post, critical of Donald Trump, the former   head of his administration, John Kelly, ex-President George W. Bush, Senator Tim Scott, and former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice condemned Trump’s policies. And the former Secretary of State in the administration of the Republican President George W. Bush, Colin Powell, supported a “democratic” candidate in the upcoming presidential election, just like he did in 2016.

Finally, a group of Trump opponents, who call themselves “Republicans for the New President,” are reportedly preparing an alternative party convention, perhaps online, to be held simultaneously with the official GOP convention scheduled for late August. According to the pro-Trump  Breitbart News Network, a number of Republican candidates running for the  Senate also prefer to distance themselves from the current president.

That being said, The Atlantic magazine, critical of Trump, still admits that none of the leading Republican hopefuls in the 2024 presidential election have so far openly challenged the incumbent. Since his election in 2016, Donald Trump has “managed to ingratiate himself with the Republicans.”

“While in 2016, the party elite rejected him, the Republicans have since  rallied around Trump and the overwhelming majority of them, up to 95 percent, now support him,” Valery Garbuzov, director of the Institute of the USA and Canada, told International Affairs.

To get a better picture of the situation, one should bear in mind the fact that observers have been talking about the crisis in the Republican Party almost since the 1990s. Trump’s victory in the 2016 Republican primaries was merely the culmination of processes that had for decades been developing inside the party. Besides, Trump is certainly not the first “populist” in the White House, with some observers saying that since its very inception, the US political system has been swept by recurrent waves of “populism” every 30-40 years, starting with the “Jacksonian revolt” of the 1830s. They serve as a relatively peaceful instrument of transformation of the country’s political system and its adaptation to changing domestic and external conditions, with the sole exception of the period of the Civil War.

Neither is Trump the first Republican president to stake on the white identity.

“Trump was nominated by a political party known for racially motivated statements that they have made the past 50 years,” US political scientist, Professor Richard Lachman noted. The theme was actively used, if only in a more veiled form, by presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Jr. In general, the ideological platform now closely associated with Trump, including the fierce rejection of the party establishment by the mass voter, emerged within the “elephant party” long before the businessman-showman joined the GOP.

What makes Trump unpleasantly “unique” to the Republican Party and American society as a whole, however, is his extremely aggressive stake on polarization. The depth of the current split may be second only to the times of the Civil War. With his demonstrative hostility to political centrism, Trump, according to critics, has presented the vast majority of current and up-and-coming Republican politicians with a hard choice. By supporting Trump, they still remain in his shadow. By opposing him they risk being rejected by the majority of Republican voters.  By trying to distance themselves from him, they start looking like wise, disingenuous and spoon-fed “weaklings.” Finally, any association with “Trumpism” automatically thwarts any Republican politician’s attempts to appeal to vacillating Democrats or fence-sitting centrist voters.

Meanwhile, the majority of Republican electorate is still elderly, white, and married people who live in rural areas and many of whom never went to college. Some observers see Trump’s victory as a “swan song” of a coalition of voters who are trying hard to resist America being transformed into a “resource base” of post-industrial globalization. Perhaps, some in the GOP leadership hoped to put history in a “pause” mode for the duration of Trump’s four years in the White House and use the time to adapt the party to the objectively needed changes. However, Trump spoiled their game with his radical stake on the white identity, which deepened the country’s sociopolitical split, and a personnel policy based on personal loyalty. Coupled with the demographic changes going on in US society, this has only aggravated the trends that will be playing against the Republicans in the medium and long term.

Others believe that “everything will be decided in November” depending on the outcome of the presidential and parliamentary elections. Trump’s victory, even if the Republicans lose their majority in Congress, would still give a boost to the ideology of “Trumpism” as the party’s dominant “political brand.” His defeat, especially coupled with failure in elections to Congress, will provoke an “existential crisis” of the Republican Party. And even if no split happens in the party, in 2024 the Republicans, who already are a minority party, will only have the Constitution, which gives states an advantage in presidential elections, and the “peculiar demarcation of the constituencies in the US” to lean on in elections to the House of Representatives.

As we all know from history, a “one leader” party, which Trump’s opponents say the GOP has become on Trump’s watch, rarely survives the leader’s exit from political life without major upheavals. In the modern world, such parties usually leave the political scene. However, in the bipartisan political system they have in the United States, the complete collapse of one of the two system-forming parties seems highly unlikely.

“Trump’s racist and anti-immigrant views”, as well as a “nationalist economic agenda designed to protect and restore jobs for Americans” have struck a chord not only with the cross-section of the Republican electorate, but with many party activists as well. These trends are unlikely to peter out in US politics, even in the event of Trump’s crushing defeat in November.

In the spring of 2018, The Economist wrote that if “Trumpism” is destined to define the Republican Party’s policies for at least the next decade then there will be three most likely scenarios to prepare for.

In the first, Trump will be replaced by his ideological adherent, who will show similar disregard for the separation of powers, judicial independence or a free press. However, unlike Trump, he will pursue a more systematic policy of their destruction. 

In the second, the Republican Party will lose its leading position in government and become the parliamentary wing of the “anti-government movement.”

In the third scenario, Trump’s four-year “antics” will bring to life a new political project, a modern edition of the New Deal, this time implemented by the right-wing forces as a kind of a nation-wide political movement in America that could enlist the support of right-wingers who reject  “Trumpism” because of its tendency of balancing “between anarchy and high treason.” However, such a movement will only be viable if it can avoid the influence of the ideology of dissatisfaction by the country’s white majority.

Thus, the future of the Republican Party in the short term depends much on the outcome of this year’s elections. Trump’s victory in November will encourage his team and his supporters to further advance the current “schismatic” agenda. The risks of a further escalation of the sociopolitical confrontation in America will increase. The interparty struggle will predictably heat up resulting in an aggressive spike in US foreign policy, something we have witnessed before.  

Trump’s electoral defeat would give the traditional Republican establishment a four-year breather they need to regroup, rid the upper and middle echelons of the party apparatus of the most “diehard” supporters of the current president, and adapt the party program to the changing reality. The Democratic candidate’s victory in November will also play into the Republican hands if victory is all that the Dems really want. As a result, Biden’s presidency may turn out to be “weak and goalless,” and will not provide answers to the many domestic and external challenges that America faces today.

From our partner International Affairs

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Biden Revises US Sanctions Policy



Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

In the United States, a revision of the sanctions policy is in full swing. Joe Biden’s administration strives to make sanctions instruments more effective in achieving his political goals and, at the same time, reducing political and economic costs. The coordination of restrictive measures with allies is also seen as an important task. Biden is cautiously but consistently abandoning the sanctions paradigm that emerged during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The US sanctions policy under Trump was characterised by several elements. First, Washington applied them quite harshly. In all key areas (China, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, etc.), the United States used economic and financial restrictions without hesitation, and sometimes in unprecedented volumes. Of course, the Trump administration acted rationally and rigidity was not an end in itself. In a number of episodes, the American authorities acted prudently (for example, regarding sanctions on Russian sovereign debt in 2019). The Trump-led executives stifled excess Congressional enthusiasm for “draconian sanctions” against Russia and even some initiatives against China. However, the harshness of other measures sometimes shocked allies and opponents alike. These include the 6 April 2014 sanctions against a group of Russian businessmen and their assets, or bans on some Chinese telecommunications services in the United States, or sanctions blocking the International Criminal Court.

Second, Trump clearly ignored the views of US allies. The unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 forced European businesses to leave Iran, resulting in losses. Even some of the nation’s closest allies were annoyed. Another irritant was the tenacity with which Trump (with Congressional backing) threw a wrench in the wheels of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. Despite the complicated relations between Moscow and the European Union, the latter defended the right to independently determine what was in its interests and what was not.

Third, concerns about sanctions have emerged among American business as well. Fears have grown in financial circles that the excessive use of sanctions will provoke the unnecessary politicisation of the global financial system. In the short term, a radical decline in the global role of the dollar is hardly possible. But political risks are forcing many governments to seriously consider it. Both rivals (Moscow and Beijing) and allies (Brussels) have begun to implement corresponding plans. Trade sanctions against China have affected a number of US companies in the telecommunications and high-tech sectors.

Finally, on some issues, the Trump administration has been inconsistent or simply made mistakes. For example, Trump enthusiastically criticised China for human rights violations, supporting relevant legislative initiatives. But at the same time, it almost closed its eyes to the events in Belarus in 2020. Congress was also extremely unhappy with the delay in the reaction on the “Navalny case” in Russia. As for mistakes, the past administration missed the moment for humanitarian exemptions for sanctions regimes in connection with the COVID-19 epidemic. Even cosmetic indulgences could have won points for US “soft power”. Instead, the US Treasury has published a list of pre-existing exceptions.

The preconditions for a revision of the sanctions policy arose even before Joe Biden came to power. First of all, a lot of analytical work was done by American think tanks—nongovernmental research centers. They provided a completely sober and unbiased analysis of bothха! achievements and mistakes. In addition, the US Government Accountability Office has done serious work; in 2019 it prepared two reports for Congress on the institutions of the American sanctions policy. However, Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election significantly accelerated the revision of the sanctions instruments. Both the ideological preferences of the Democrats (for example, the emphasis on human rights) and the political experience of Biden himself played a role.

The new guidelines for the US sanctions policy can be summarised as follows. First, the development of targeted sanctions and a more serious analysis of their economic costs for American business, as well as business from allied and partner countries. Second, closer coordination with allies. Here, Biden has already sent a number of encouraging signals by introducing temporary sanctions exemptions on Nord Stream 2. Although a number of Russian organisations and ships were included in the US sanctions lists, Nord Stream 2 itself and its leadership were not affected. Third, we are talking about closer attention to the subject of human rights. Biden has already reacted with sanctions both to the “Navalny case” and to the situation in Belarus. Human rights will be an irritant in relations with China. Fourth, the administration is working towards overturning Trump’s most controversial decisions. The 2020 decrees on Chinese telecoms were cancelled, the decree on sanctions against the International Criminal Court was cancelled, the decree on Chinese military-industrial companies was modified; negotiations are also underway with Iran.

The US Treasury, one of the key US sanctions agencies, will also undergo personnel updates. Elisabeth Rosenberg, a prominent sanctions expert who previously worked at the Center for a New American Security, may take the post of Assistant Treasury Secretary. She will oversee the subject of sanctions. Thus, the principle of “revolving doors”, which is familiar to Americans, is being implemented, when the civil service is replenished with personnel from the expert community and business, and then “returns” them back.

At the same time, the revision of the sanctions policy by the new administration cannot be called a revolution. The institutional arrangement will remain unchanged. It is a combination of the functions of various departments—the Treasury, the Department of Trade, the Department of Justice, the State Department, etc. The experience of their interagency coordination has accumulated over the years. The system worked flawlessly both under Trump and under his predecessors. Rather, it will be about changing the political directives.

For Russia, the revision is unlikely to bring radical changes. A withdrawal from the carpet bombing of Russian business, such as the incident on 6 April 2018 hint that good news can be considered a possibility. However, the legal mechanisms of sanctions against Russia will continue to operate. The emphasis on human rights will lead to an increase in sanctions against government structures. Against this background, regular political crises are possible in relations between the two countries.

From our partner RIAC

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Sea Breeze 2021: U.S. is worryingly heading closer to conflict with Russia in the Black Sea



On July 10th, the 2021 iteration of the joint military exercise, Sea Breeze, concluded in the Black Sea. This exercise, which began on June 28th was co-hosted by the Ukrainian Navy and the United States Navy’s Sixth Fleet. According to the U.S. Navy, the annual Exercise Sea Breeze consists of joint naval, land, and air trainings and operations centered around building increased shared capabilities in the Black Sea.

This year’s Sea Breeze included participation from 32 countries, including NATO members and other countries that border the Black Sea, making it the largest Sea Breeze exercise since its inception in 1997. All other countries bordering the Black Sea were included in participating in the joint drills, except Russia.

Russia’s exclusion from these exercises is not unsurprising, due to its current tensions with Ukraine and its historical relationship with NATO. However, it signals to Moscow and the rest of the world that the NATO views Russia as an opponent in a future conflict. At the opening ceremony of Sea Breeze 2021 in Odessa, it was made clear that the intention of the exercise was to prepare for future conflict in the region when the Defense Minister of Ukraine, reported that the drills “contain a powerful message – support of stability and peace in our region.”

These exercises and provocations do anything but bring peace and stability to the region. In fact, they draw the United States and NATO dangerously close to the brink of conflict with Russia.

Even though Sea Breeze 2021 has only recently concluded, it has already had a marked impact on tensions between NATO countries and Moscow. U.S. Navy Commander Daniel Marzluff recently explained that the Sea Breeze drills in the Black Sea are essential deterrents to Russian assertions in region. However, these drills have consisted of increasingly provocative maneuvers that ultimately provoke conflict in the region.

These drills have done anything but act as a deterrent for conflict in the Black Sea. In response to the Sea Breeze drills, Russia conducted its own drills in the Black Sea, including the simulation of firing advanced missile systems against enemy aircraft. As the Black Sea is of utmost importance to Russia’s trade and military stature, it follows that Russia would signal its displacement if it perceives its claims are being threatened.   

Sea Breeze followed another rise in tensions in the Black Sea, when just a week prior to the beginning of the exercise, a clash occurred between Russia and Britain. In response to the British destroyer ship, the HMS Defender, patrolling inside Crimean territorial waters, Russia claimed it fired warning shots and ordered two bombers to drop bombs in the path of the ship. When asked about the HMS Defender, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the ship’s actions as a “provocation” that was a “blatant violation” of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Putin also went on to claim that Moscow believes U.S. reconnaissance aircraft were a part of the operation as well. Despite this, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded with a denial of any wrongdoing.

Russia’s actions to provocations by the United States-led Sea Breeze and interaction with the HMS Defender in the Black Sea signal its resolve to retaliate if it feels as its sovereignty and its territorial claim on Crimea is being impeded on. Despite Russia signaling its commitment to defending its territorial claims in the Black Sea, the United States still willingly took actions during Sea Breeze that would bring the United States closer to a clash with Russia.  

Provoking conflict in the Black Sea does not align with the national security interests of the United States. In fact, it only puts the United States in the position to be involved in a costly clash that only would harm its diplomatic relationships.  

As Russia has signaled its commitment to its resolve and scope of its military response in a possible conflict, any potential conflict in the Black Sea would be costly for the United States. Over the past few years, Russia has increased the size and capabilities of its fleet in the Black Sea. Two of these improvements would especially pose a challenging threat to the U.S. and NATO – Russia’s drastically improved anti-access/area-denial capabilities and its new Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile. This would mean any conflict in the Black Sea would not be a quick and decisive victory for U.S. and NATO forces, and would instead likely become costly and extensive.  

A conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only be costly for the U.S. and its allies in the region, but could irreparably damage its fragile, but strategically valuable relationship with Russia. If the United States continues to escalate tensions in the Black Sea, it risks closing the limited window for bilateral cooperation with Russia that was opened through increased willingness to collaborate on areas of common interests, as evidenced by the recent summit that took place in Geneva. After a period of the highest levels of tension between the U.S. and Russia since the Cold War, this progress made towards improving bilateral relations must not be taken for granted. Even if the U.S. and NATO’s maneuvers in the Black Sea do not ultimately materialize into a full-scale conflict with Russia, they will most likely damage not just recent diplomatic momentum, but future opportunities for a relationship between the two powers.

In such a critical time for the relationship between the United States and Russia, it is counterproductive for the United States to take actions that it can predict will drive Russia even further away. Entering into a conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only engage the U.S. in a costly conflict but would damage its security and diplomatic interests.  

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Maximizing Biden’s Plan to Combat Corruption and Promote Good Governance in Central America



Authors: Lauren Mooney and Eguiar Lizundia*

To tackle enduring political, economic and security challenges in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the Biden administration is attempting to revitalize its commitment to the region, including through a four-year, $4 billion plan submitted in a bill to Congress.

In its plan, the White House has rightly identified the root causes of migration, including limited economic opportunity, climate change, inequality, and violence. Systemic corruption resulting from the weak rule of law connects and entrenches the root causes of migration, while the increased devastation brought about by climate change exacerbates economic hardship and citizen insecurity. 

The renewed investment holds promise: previous foreign assistance in the Northern Triangle has shown results, including by contributing to a reduction in the expected level of violence. As the Biden Administration finalizes and begins implementing its Central America strategy, it should include three pillars—rooted in lessons learned from within and outside the region—to maximize the probability that the proposed spending in U.S. taxpayer funds has its intended impact. 

First, the Biden administration should deliver on its promise to make the fight against corruption its number one priority in Central America by supporting local anti-graft actors. The sanctions against officials which the United States is considering  are a step in the right direction, but lasting reform is best accomplished through a partnership involving regional or multilateral organizations. Guatemala’s international commission against impunity (CICIG) model was relatively successful until internal pushback and dwindling U.S. advocacy resulted in its dismantlement in 2019. Though Honduras’ equivalent was largely ineffective, and El Salvador’s recently launched version is marred by President Bukele’s campaign against judicial independence, there is room for learning from past mistakes and propose a more robust and mutually beneficial arrangement. The experience of Ukraine shows that while external engagement is no silver bullet in eliminating corruption, the role of foreign actors can lead to tangible improvements in the anti-corruption ecosystem, including more transparent public procurement and increased accountability for corrupt politicians.

In tandem with direct diplomatic pressure and helping stand up CICIG-like structures, the U.S. can harness lessons from prior anticorruption efforts to fund programs that address other aspects of graft in each country. This should involve empowering civil society in each country to monitor government compliance with anti-corruption laws and putting pressure on elected officials to uphold their commitments. While reducing impunity and improving transparency might not automatically persuade Central Americans to stay, better democratic governance will allow the three Northern Triangle nations to pursue policies that will end up expanding economic opportunities for residents. As Vice President Harris recently noted, any progress on addressing violence or food insecurity would be undermined if the environment for enabling corruption remains unchanged.

Second, the United States should support local initiatives to help reverse the deterioration of the social fabric in the region by expanding access to community decision-making. Given the high levels of mistrust of government institutions, any efforts to support reform-minded actors and stamp out corruption at the national level must be paired with efforts to promote social cohesion and revitalize confidence in subnational leaders and opportunities. In the Northern Triangle countries, violence and economic deprivation erode social cohesion and undermine trust in democratic institutions. The U.S. government and practitioners should support civic efforts to build trust among community members and open opportunities for collective action, particularly in marginalized areas. A key component of this is expanding sociopolitical reintegration opportunities for returning migrants. In so doing, it is possible to help improve perceptions of quality of life, sense of belonging, and vision for the future. While evidence should underpin all elements of a U.S. Strategy for Central America, it is particularly important to ensure social cohesion initiatives are locally-owned, respond to the most salient issues, and are systematically evaluated in order to understand their effects on migration.

Lastly, the U.S. should take a human-rights based approach to managing migration and learn from the pitfalls associated with hardline approaches to stem migration. Policies rooted in a securitized vision have a demonstrable bad record. For example, since 2015, the European Union undertook significant measures to prevent irregular migration from Niger, including by criminalizing many previously legitimate businesses associated with migration and enforced the imposition of legal restrictions to dissuade open and legal migration. Not only did this violate freedom of movement and create adverse economic consequences, but it also pushed migration underground, with individuals still making the journey and encountering significant threats to their lives, security and human rights.

A welcome realignment

Acknowledging the role of push factors is key to responding to migration effectively. Most importantly, putting political inclusion and responsive governance at the center is critical for ensuring vulnerable populations feel rooted in their community. A more secure, prosperous, and democratic Central America will pay dividends to the United States not only in terms of border security, but also in the form of improved cooperation to tackle global challenges, from climate change to the rise of China. 

*Eguiar Lizundia is the Deputy Director for Technical Advancement and Governance Advisor at IRI

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