Authors: Ash Narain Roy and Shimone Jaini
The rise and fall of a leftist government in Latin America evoke passion, nostalgia, optimism and rhetorical exuberance among commentators on the region that may not withstand rigorous academic scrutiny. The outcome of presidential elections in the region is often explained in terms of a victory or defeat for the left and the right. Experts and analysts spin their fine theories in their own imaginary laboratories. Media pundits have had notorious difficulty in predicting developments as they often defy the conventional wisdom.
Binaries usually suffer from blinkered vision. While one section has strong belief in the left’s redemptive power and sees a virile bloom in its upsurge, the other sees only gloom and doom. The analysis of the recent Bolivian election too conforms to this pattern. Such prognosis of Latin American politics is at once admirably catholic and regrettably myopic.
This paper seeks to contextualize the victory of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) in Bolivia and attempts a critical analysis of the new Latin American left and its agendas and trajectories.
Left on comeback trail or Bolivian exceptionalism?
Bolivians have shown an abiding faith in the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), electing Luis Arce, the party’s presidential candidate, with a staggering majority. It is a vindication of MAS’s popularity and legacy of Evo Morales leadership. Should the election of Luis Arce be seen as a harbinger of re-emergence of Latin American left, a Pink Tide 2.0 in the region or is it a case of Bolivian exceptionalism?
Luis Arce as Finance Minister in the Morales government was the architect of the “Bolivian miracle”. The triumph of MAS is no less a victory of Arce, an academic, low-profile and soft-spoken leader. He ran a smart campaign and avoided inflammatory utterances and Morales rhetoric. The former Finance Minister has been rewarded for successfully managing the country’s economy with significant poverty reduction, inflation control and unprecedented growth for almost 14 years. Interestingly, Arce’s vice-presidential candidate David Choquehuanca had opposed Morales’ decision to run for the fourth term.
MAS has moved away from Morales’ style of governance. It is now more institutionalised than ever before. Bolivia has demonstrated that there is no need for extreme populism or violation of democratic process to win. Democracy can triumph without establishing presidencies for life or manipulating constitutional procedures.
Bolivia under the interim president Jeanine Áñez had retreated into neoliberal wilderness. The intervening period in Bolivian history will be known for racist state oppression. According to a report of the Harvard School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the University Network for Human Rights, the month of the coup was “the second deadliest month in terms of civilian deaths committed by state forces since Bolivia became a democracy nearly four decades ago.Bolivia has recovered from that dark phase and it needs to follow a pragmatic policy. President Arce has made right kind of noise assuring the people that Bolivia is back on democratic rails. He said, “We are going to create a government of national unity. Without hate and learning from our mistakes as Movement towards socialism.”
As to the victory of MAS, two factors deserve special mention. Firstly, state repression apart, the interim government was plagued by various corruption scandals and the Áñez government was never in control (Áñez had 34 different cabinet ministers in less than a year). Jeanine Áñez became even more unpopular when she announced her candidacy for the 2020 presidential elections, after having said that she wouldn’t contest elections. Her constant refusal to act as a transitional president effectively boosted Morales and his party, reminding Bolivians why they had supported MAS in the first place.
Secondly, while Morales legacy may have helped mobilise people in favour of MAS, it is more likely that Evo’s absence helped strengthen MAS and “enabled the rise of a new group of leaders”.The credit for an impressive turn of events equally goes to Arce’s moderate temperament and his technocratic style that set him apart from Morales. But he will need to guard against populist forces hijacking the government’s agenda. President Arce must ensure that Bolivia doesn’t go the Argentina or the Ecuador way: In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, facing corruption charges, returned to office as the Vice president and promoted Alberto Fernández – who won by a large majority- as her party’s presidential candidate. He has been living under her shadow and has struggled to hold firm control of power. In Ecuador, Rafael Correa and his successor,Lenín Moreno have ended up becoming arch rivals.
Though Arce has said that Morales will have no part in this government, it remains to be seen whether Evo Morales stays on the periphery or Arce mirrors the trajectory of Lenin Moreno, who succeeded Rafael Correa in the name of continuity but reversed sharply the previously held stances and policies of the government. Arce will be governing a country which is now quite divided, economically weakened, far from the economic boom experienced by Morales, and lacks good diplomatic relations with several neighbours in the region. Arce’s government has an opportunity to rebuild these relations as most Latin American countries and the United states have welcomed Arce and expressed their wish to establish good relations.
All said, Bolivians have disavowed 12 months of a thuggish administration and rejected a period of ugliness, divisiveness, racism and sustained onslaught on democracy. The vote is as much a vindication of MAS’s legacy as a vote against Áñez government’s daylight delinquency. The OAS, the Carter Centre and the European Union have commended Bolivia for holding a clean and transparent election. British playwright Tom Stoppard had once said, “it is not the voting that is democracy, it is the counting”. Bolivia has sent a powerful message as well as a warning to nascent and struggling democracies around the world.
Revolutionising democracy or democratising revolution?
Till the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the make-up of the old left revolved around class and nation. The new left has added democracy building as its third axis.The demise of the old left is universally acknowledged. If the old left articulated and defended the interests of the proletariat, the new left is championing the interests of the ‘pobretariado’, the poor and disenfranchised class as victims of exploitation and social exclusion.
With the Berlin Wall collapse, Soviet utopia dissolved. Though China, nominally a Communist country, still uses the language of equality and brotherhood, it is only a tactical device to woo the dispossessed. ‘Communism with Chinese characteristics’ is indeed a one-party authoritarian system which sees nothing wrong in becoming rich. To Deng Xiaoping, reform was “China’s second revolution,” and he wanted to “let some people get rich first.” Today what is being pursued in Xi Jinping’s China is ‘CCPology’ and ‘CCPism’.
The Vietnamese revolution had strong nationalist credentials. Some say, Ho Chi Minh was half Lenin and half Gandhi. Others say, he was a cross between ‘Mao of the Long March’ and ‘Gandhi at the Spinning Wheel’. Ho Chi Minh was both a Confucian humanist and a Communist revolutionary. Among 20th-century statesmen, Ho Chi Minh was remarkable both for the tenacity and patience with which he pursued his goal of Vietnamese independence and for his success in blending Communism with nationalism. Ho was an enormously pragmatic Communist, a doer rather than a theoretician. That explains Vietnam’s success and not Communism.
Initially, Nicaragua’s Sandinista leaders defined themselves as Marxist or revolutionary socialist. Later they denied being Marxists. They also denied that they wanted Cuba-style communism in Nicaragua. Instead, they claimed they were fighting for a “New Nicaragua” that will be a pluralist democracy. Today, Nicaragua is under a one-man despotic rule of Daniel Ortega.
Cuba’s revolutionary credentials are still largely intact, perhaps the only country in the world that belongs to the old left but it is struggling to survive against economic adversities. It is true, Cuba benefited from the strategic alliance that Castro forged with Hugo Chavez as the Venezuelan leader lavished generous aid and trade benefits on Cuba. But Cuba had overcome economic crisis earlier without any help from outside. Between 1989 and 1991, USSR’s aid to Cuba evaporated. During this ‘Special Period’, oil imports dropped precipitously and the island-nation faced an unprecedented crisis. But Cuba gradually recovered from the crisis by “doing more with less”. As Christian Science Monitor says, Socialist Cuba has hung on “in spite of itself, achieving inspirational heights in public health and education, and enjoying international influence far beyond its means.” (1)
New left is distinctively Latin American
Who constitutes the new left? Andrew F Cooper and Jorge Heine maintain that “some elements of the old left have morphed considerably and a very different left has emerged.”(2).Jorge Castaneda and Marco A Morales say, “some are updated versions of the old Latin American left with a long term vision; others are populist versions of the left that seek power with short-term goals.” (3)The new left is grounded in Latin America’s long tradition of populism. It is not Castro and Che Guevara, but the legacies of Peru’s Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, Colombia’s Jorge Gaitan, Mexico’s Lazaro Cardenas, Brazil’s Getulio Vargas and Argentina’s Juan Peron that explain the rising tide of the new left in Latin America (4). The “pink tide” in Latin America was much misunderstood by outside observers. It was neither a “tsunami” nor a “tornado”; it was at best “a mild breeze”.(5)
What are the main traits of the new left? Revolution is no longer an objective of the new left. It follows reformist, not insurrectionary agendas. Andre Gorz characterizes its agenda as “non-reformist reforms” which means “to fight for alternative solutions and for structural reforms… (and) not to fight for improvements in the capitalist system; it is rather to break it up, to restrict it, to create counter-powers which, instead of creating a new equilibrium, undermine its very foundations.” (6)
Social and reformist agendas have the intended objective of not just seeking immediate improvements in people’s lives, but also to build popular political capacity so as to lay the foundation for further advances at subsequent stages of political struggle. The relative success of the new left in Latin America is thanks to its dynamic strategies, decentralised social bases and building coalitions and partnerships with multiple organisations, movements and stakeholders.
The Latin American left has moved in the direction of creating a new narrative of nationhood, challenging long-held assumptions and representations of culture, history, race, gender, citizenship and identity.What is common among new left governments is their strong emphasis on social egalitarianism. They have been working to bring politics on a new footing as they are engaged in deeper social transformations.
The new left is primarily the electoral left. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez described it as the “21st century socialism”. It is very different from the traditional left. Hugo Chavez was the most radical exponent and practitioner of the new left. He saw himself as a revolutionary and a liberator and won the hearts of his voters and left-leaning individuals and groups across the region. Chavez, to many analysts, represented the social division of the Latin American society. As Colombian social historian Andres Otavaro says, Chavez “revived the political and ideological debate in Latin America” and thanks to him socialism once again became “an alternative to the long-prevailing neoliberal model.”And yet, Chavez was no Castro and Venezuela is no Cuba.Chavez held largely credible elections and used the vast energy resources to promote his agenda. He did radicalise the new left agenda and made profound impact on other leaders.It is important to note that neither Lula nor Morales followed Chavez’s style or agenda.
During US President George W Bush’s visit to Latin America in 2007, while Bush and Chavez sparred at a distance over their visions about Latin America, Bush-Lula meeting was cordial and the two countries signed a biofuel agreement. Their ideological differences did not chill their official meetings. On his part, Chavez went to Buenos Aires while Bush was on official visit to Argentina and led a stadium full of leftists in screaming “Gringos go home.”
Morales had a different profile and support base from Ecuador President Rafael Correa. In fact, Morales avoided ‘Venezuela-ization” of Bolivia by following a pragmatic policy. Even the IMF recognised that Bolivia under Morales was “more effective in combating extreme poverty than any other South American government, slashing it from 33 % of the population in 2006 to 16 % in 2018. The Washington Post was all praise for Morales saying, “it is indisputable that Bolivians are healthier, wealthier, better educated living longer and more equal than at any time in this South American nation’s history.”
Argentine President Nestor Kirchner also steered clear of anti-Bush rhetoric though he questioned US-backed market policy. Uruguayan left leaders had no love lost for Chavez and Maduro. In fact, President Jose Mujica, a former Tupamaros guerrilla leader, said Maduro is “as mad as a goat”. Organisation of America States chief Luis Almagro, who earlier served as Mujica’s foreign minister, warned Maduro that he risked becoming “just another petty dictator.”
The left in Brazil and Chile and in Bolivia and Uruguay is as different as day and night. Neither the rhetoric nor the worldviews of Hugo Chavez, Luis InacioLula Da Silva, EvoMorales, Jose Mujica and Michelle Bachelet were similar. What was of course common among them was their opposition to the neoliberal reforms and policies that emanated from the Washington consensus.
Latin America’s new left leaders have not emerged from socialist movements. The new left parties are not the vanguards of revolution. The past and present presidents belonging to the new left don’t exercise hegemonic control over the government.
Social movement is new left’s novelty
Latin Americans, the indigenous and marginalized groups in particular, seem to have perfected the art of collective action. What Latin America has witnessed in this century could be called ‘festivals of protest’ or ‘politics of crowd’. “Dancing in the streets”, as described by Barbara Ehrenreich, has manifested amply in the region like nowhere else. The protesters, mostly the indigenous and marginalized groups, that the left parties have mobilized in their support, revel in feasting, costuming and dancing, long part of communal celebration of their culture. These techniques have been used while protesting, campaigning or marshalling support for their cause.
While street power in general evaporates fast, this has not happened in Latin America thanks to the good management of the ‘politics of crowd’. Elias Canetti, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1960, in his treatise “Crowds and Power” refers to four defining attributes in a crowd. First, the crowd always wants to grow. There are no natural boundaries to its growth. Second, within the crowd there is equality. Third, the crowd loves density. It can never feel too dense. Fourth, the crowd needs a direction. It is in movement and it moves towards a goal.
Indigenous movements and nationalist forces have asserted their presence in national politics in unprecedented fashion in the past few decades. The indigenous people have forged strong national movements and built alliances with other progressive groups highlighting principally their land rights and cultural specificities. It is primarily a fight for asserting their control over their lands, waters and other natural resources. In nearly all Latin American countries with substantial indigenous populations, indigenous movements have gathered force.
Socialism in one country has proved to be a defeated enterprise. As François Chesnais says, socialism can only be conceived as a global / universal enterprise. Its effectiveness in the national space will depend, decisively, on its development in other national spaces, which tends to give it a historical-world process(7). The same is true of the new left.
New geometry of power
The 21st century has witnessed the rise of a new geometry of power in Latin America, that of below and above. With this has emerged new political actors. The most significant has been the rise of the indigenous. Democratization has opened up new spaces. With the traditional left in decline, indigenous groups have stepped in to fill the vacuum in many countries. Several countries in Latin America, Andean countries in particular, have seen sustained struggles for land and water and long marches and protests against mining and road construction through the forests. A host of grassroots movements from the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in Mexico to the Brazilian Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil, and from the Argentinean piqueteros to the indigenous movements of Bolivia and Ecuador, a host of mass-based movements have occupied the social and political spaces vacated by the collapse of the traditional left.
Social movements are the principal novelty of the new left. The streets have become new theatres of politics. The more robust the street protests, the more pressure on government. Governments in Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina have been ousted by street power.MAS has become one of the pillars of democracy in Bolivia, but if the government doesn’t perform well, the highly politicised indigenous movements and street power may turn their ire against the government.
The third left
Besides the electoral left, there is ‘third Left’ stirring in Latin America. The Zapatistas and the piqueteros have shown utter disdain for power though they avow autonomy from the state and promote bottom-up decision-making, rather than pursuing state power. John Holloway, Marxist sociologist, has done considerable work on the Zapatista movement and the piqueteros in Argentina (8).These movements and others dismiss all political institutions as untrustworthy and authoritarian. Such distrust of power—bureaucratic, electoral and governmental is reflected in the slogan ‘que se vayantodos’ at the height of the piqueteros movement. Holloway sees revolution as a struggle against power, not for power.
The third left believes that the world can’t be changed through the state. The notion of revolution was strongly associated with gaining control of the state. This view has been challenged. As Holloway says, “the failure of those attempts to change the world through gaining control of the state has led very many people to the conclusion that revolution is impossible.”
It is the Zapatistas who first said that they want to make the world anew, to create a world of dignity, a world of humanity, but without taking power. Holloway argues that what is at issue in the revolutionary transformation of the world “is not whose power but the very existence of power. What is at issue is not who exercises power, but how to create a world based on mutual recognition of human dignity.” The third left makes demands for economic justice and human rights but it strives for the transformation of people—”self-management, independent thought, and self- construction.”
The third left has supported new left governments but has continued to be critical of their policies. Another characteristic of the third left is horizontalism which means “having everybody decide.” The Zapatistas use village-wide meetings to decide local issues, rotate regional leaders, and use intensive consultation to reach movement-wide decisions. The MST uses a more traditional set of pyramidal elected councils (with some less traditional aspects, such as mandating an equal number of women and men representatives at every level).
The leftist governments in Latin America benefited from the commodities boom. While the economy expanded, the period also witnessed sharp reduction in poverty. That boom has now ended largely as a consequence of a slowdown in China’s economy.
Because of the Pink Tide, women in power are no longer a novelty in Latin American politics;in 2014, female presidents ruled in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Their policies leave little doubt about the transformative nature of their leadership. Much of the economic development happened due to an intense extractive development model. The indigenous groups have sharpened attacks on the Left regimes. This model of development, which relies on the rapacious extraction of natural resources, entails environmental destruction and the fragmentation of indigenous territory.
From Mexico to Chile, Latin Americans frustrated with scandals, stagnant economies and government incompetence are taking to the streets. Often the protesters’ ire is aimed against the very populist leaders they rallied around earlier when rising wealth from a commodities boom fueled a surge in government spending and helped mask corruption. There are no takers for left governments’ slogans like “paradise with us or hell with the opposition”.
Some governments tried to justify their extractive development by saying how they need these projects to fight poverty. Governments sought to differentiate their prudent and indispensable extractivism from “predatory” extractivism. Some governments even preferred not to take away money from rich people since money came from extractive policies. However, this “hydrocarbon-fuelled social-democratic bargain” could not save their governments. The indigenous protesters who consider Nature as patrimony, not capital, refused to relent.
The fall of some leftist governments, not all, was due to what Santiago Anriaand Kenneth M Roberts call the “autocratic temptation”. Charismatic leaders began to believe that they speak “for the entire nation” and that “they can do so forever.”
Inequality and poverty have sharply fallen in Latin American countries ruled by the leftist governments even though some have had better record in redistributing income than others.
It would be erroneous to view the rise and fall of a government in Latin America as pendulum swings between the left and the right. There has been a steady expansion of democratic institutions and political rights in recent decades. The deepening of democracy has created political space and Latin America has seen the emergence of several new political parties and social movements. The changing political fortunes of governments are part of what political scientist Sidney Tarrow calls “cycle of contention”.
Social mobilisations and protest movements across Latin America have given a new dimension to democracy. Just as protests and social movements become protest cycles if these are well-organised, sustained and diffused to several sectors, the rise and fall of leftist government becomes cyclic.Like protests and social movements, the advent of a left government has followed a parabolic pattern. It expands to more sectors and more countries.
The new left has made Latin America the epicentre of left-wing politics in the world. It is now part of democratic politics.The region’s experiments in institutional innovations have gone a long way in deepening democracy. As they say, before the deed comes the doing. The unprecedented explosion of rage against injustices of various kinds in Latin America portend a radical change. The rage is the starting point. The rage implies doing. Will it prove to be another utopia?It may well be. But isn’t utopia the process of making a better world?
1. French, Anya Landau. Can Cuba survive the loss of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. March 07, 2013.
2. Cooper, Andrew F and Heine, Jorge. The effect of national and global forces on the Americas: Tsunami, tornado or just a mild breeze? Which way Latin America? Hemispheric politics meets globalization. Tokyo : United Nations University Press, 2009.
3. Castaneda, Jorge and Morales, Marco A. The emergence of the new left. Which way Latin America? Hemispheric politics meets globalization. Tokyo : United Nations University Press, 2009.
4. Latin America in India’s foreign policy. Roy, Ash Narain. s.l. : International Studies, 2010, Vol. 47, pp. 2-4.
5. Cooper, Andrew F and Heine, Jorge. “The effect of national and global forces on the Americas: Tsunami, tornado or just a mild breeze?”.
6. Gorz, Andre.Strategy for Labor. Boston : Beacon Press, 1964.
7. Chesnais, François.The globalization of capital. s.l. : Syros Editions, 1996.
8. Holloway, John.Change the World without Taking Power:The Meaning of Revolution Today. s.l. : Pluto Press, 2002.
Implications of Right-Wing Politics in United States
US witnessed one of the tumultuous transition of power as the republicans shook the very roots of a model democracy in the US after the Capitol hill mayhem .
Trump administration during the four-year Presidential Term has been worst on all fronts -be it Internal Policy, Health Policy, unemployment, Governance, Foreign Policy, security and Trade policy.
Trump being afraid of defeat resorted to inciting Voters, supporters and workers to attack Capitol Hill, and his racial tirade and overtures drowned him in Last year’s most trumpeted Presidential Elections when the country appeared divided between the rightist and leftists.
The elections witnessed the bloodshed, torture, violence and sheer violation of legislative laws that warranted immediate legal action.
From his election to the Presidential slot, Trump behaved like an amateur and insensible, had run the political affairs as a personal business rather than a statesman. He, being an actor, took the job as a mere role but the presidency demands prudence and sensible decisions to avoid any worst repercussions.
Trump’s aggressive response to matters of importance further exacerbated the situation, especially with China and Iran.
The leftists or change agents wanted a people-friendly government where the rights of people should be protected regardless of their political affiliation or association, caste, colour, creed, religion, ethnicity.
For the years, US democracy has been a model for many developing countries owing to its non radicalised and people-friendly Governments.
All the democratic forces were stunned over the unfortunate incident of Capitol Hill mayhem and were shocked that even developed nations like America can be enthralled, enticed and incited to the level that they will shake the very roots of Democracy i.e Capitol Hill.
The world responded with regrets that it was unfortunate that trumpism radicalized supporters to the extent that they were instigated and incited to influence the Presidential Elections results so that Biden’s Victory may not be validated.
The world might have moved to tears when Trump supporters and workers ransacked Capitol Hill and brought disgrace for America around the world.
All experts, analysts and pro-democracy leaders condemned such act since it was against the norms of civilized nations of the world.
All that mayhem that stormed the US was orchestrated and masterminded by a Business Tycoon, Actor turned Politician Donald Trump who already lost his credibility for his election to the office of President since he was facing rigging and horse-trading charges in his first term that led to his impeachment Trial but luckily he was set free twice from impeachment during his presidency.
Furthermore, his complete failure to tackle the issue of pandemic also contributed to his humiliating defeat since he ridiculed the pandemic by terming it China Virus owing to trade war with China.
Later, when the pandemic went out of control, he took initiative but it was too late to restrict the covid-19 infections since the US had the highest ratio of Infections in the world.
Trump escalated the situation with Iran by killing General Qassem Suleimani in Iraq. later, Iran attacked American Military bases in Iraq but there were no causalities reported for the incident. Iran also shot down a passenger plane by mistake and all passengers were killed.
Trump’s diplomatic relations with China worsened due to the Trade war. American relations with North Korea did not improve though both Trump and KIM met in Singapore to reach a possible peace agreement.
His amnesty or pardon for his friends also came under heavy criticism since he was afraid that they might be prosecuted as his term ended.
His blunders contributed a lot to his worst defeat though, he being stubborn did not accept defeat but later, Supreme Court rejected his claims of any rigging in elections.
Republicans being a right-wing party radicalized the political workers and community to that extent that people violated law without any fear as they enjoyed the support from the white house.
Such aggressive policies led to the isolation and there was division based on ethnicity, colour and religion that is alarming for the tolerant and peaceful nature of people.
The right-wing politics of Donald trump sowed the seeds of hatred and hostility that will have serious repercussions in the long run as long as the trumpism pandemic exists among the people.
His failure to implement a deal of the century plan in the Middle East that was aimed merely on supporting Israel by giving a greater share of settlements. The deal came to a logical end as it was heavily criticized and Palestinians called it a suicide if accepted.
Despite signing the deal with the Afghan Taliban with the help of Pakistan to end 20 years longest war on terror and paving the way for US troops’ withdrawal, the law and 0rder situation has not improved so far as the peace dialogue between the Afghan Taliban and Government yet to take place.
Right-wing politicians led by Trumps have serious implications that will ultimately create problems for Biden to cope with during his presidency .
Biden has to overhaul the whole system to restore the Trust and reputation in the world and strengthen the US through unity by abolishing the discriminatory approach.
The Selection of an Afro-American lady as Vice President has already laid the foundation to put the country on right track and building the trust of all the communities whether voted for him or not as he called himself the president of all Americans rather than of those who voted and supported him during his victory speech.
The Vote is the great tool of people to bring in the choice of leadership as it is the constitutional right of every American and can be exercised on free will without any pressure .
The Afro-American community still recalls the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd by Police, supported Joe Biden after he chose Kamala Harris as Vice President candidate .
On the other hand, though Trump was given clean chit in impeachment since he was charged of inciting the supporters to attack Capitol Hill that will be marked as a black day in American history, yet he has sown the seeds of intolerance, political victimization and radicalizing the peaceful Americans.
This aspect of populist or right-wing politics always plagues the peaceful and vibrant societies in a developed nation like the US, UK, France and Germany. Trump promoted racism through his flowery speech that incited and enthralled mob violence to exert pressure through street power as practised in Asian states such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and Japan.
The political analysts term Trump as an existential threat for Biden as he still enjoys the second largest votes in key states and may create problems especially the legislation for key issues.
Biden will have to fix diplomatic relations with all nations of the world especially Tehran and Beijing as Former President Donald Trump escalated the diplomatic relations with these countries with his insensible and aggressive attitude.
He will have to take immediate steps to clear the mess that was stalled by Trump’s radicalized and extremist approach to right-wing Politics whose price is being paid by citizens through isolation and hatred.
Biden and Kamala Harris will have to chalk out such policies that deal with communities with equality and justice and especially deal with the pandemic situation through vaccination drive to minimize the covid-19 infections. The causalities have surpassed thousands whereas long lockdowns have created unemployment and economic crisis impacting many industries.
They need to sit with health experts and Economists to get the country out of the crisis. It will be better to take help from the nations that managed to defeat this pandemic with SOPs and measures.
Beyond ego, the US may seek help from Russia, China, Singapore and the UK to win against the pandemic situation, though the ratio of the infections dropped worldwide as the cold winter departs.
Joe Biden will have to support Kashmiris against the unilateral move of India as he had promised in the election campaign.
He should play his role for the Middle East peace plan of the two-state solution so that Palestinians may have a state as per their wishes and the map they have in mind.
It was the sensible decision from him that troops’ withdrawal option was postponed ,given the critical situation in Afghanistan. Rather, he should not jeopardize or sabotage the peace deal with the Taliban .Instead ,he should engage person like Zalmay Khalilzad to strengthen the dialogue process between the Afghan Taliban and other stakeholders including the existing Government of Ashraf Ghani so that peace could be restored as it will benefit all the countries and play a pivotal role in regional stability and prosperity. The pandemic has united the world as human conscience has roused again.
Finally, Democrats have always saved America and promoted justice, equality and opened doors for the world for immigration but Trump wreaked havoc with all the social norms and promoted intolerance, racism and inequality that shook the very roots of the country and gave birth to happenings of Capitol Hill and distrust on the electoral system.
Biden Administration is expected and mandated by the masses to clear that mess and pave the way for his second term if he succeeds to bring change to the country.
Right-wing politics has its pros and cons but the version introduced by Republicans radicalized the whole system and divided the country even in times of emergency. Populist leaders all around the world have impacted various governments specially in Asian States as they are elected on popular vote .
The version introduced by Trump may give birth to the dissent voices as left-wing whose critique may be beyond rectification whereas the ethnic divide, will promote separatism as happened in UK, Spain, Russia and Subcontinent when people’s rights were compromised and the freedom of expression was annulled.
US cannot afford further isolation and division of communities on the basis of ethnicity , colour or radical thoughts since it has already the price during the regime of Trump .
New US Administration Approach to Syria: How Different Could It Be?
With the new US administration in the White House, there are rather lofty expectations about a change in the American Middle East policy in general and towards Syria in particular. Some argue that the US Middle East policy will remain somewhat in line with that of Trump’s presidency, while others believe that Biden’s team will try to reverse many of the previous foreign policy steps. The rest say that we should expect an Obama-style Middle East policy, which means more diplomatic engagement with less military involvement and a heavier focus on the human rights issues.
The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle. The new US administration will certainly attempt to undo some of the predecessor’s moves: withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, putting the Houthis on the terror list, suspending aid to the Palestinians, etc. However, this will require considerable effort on the part of the new White House.
First, the new Administration will spend much more time dealing with the domestic issues they have inherited from Trump: polarized domestic politics, economic issues, consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and response to it, etc. Biden’s administration will have to devote much of its time to all of this, so it is safe to say that the Middle East will not stand in the forefront of the US foreign policy focus.
Second, in the realm of foreign policy, US relations with Europe, China and Russia are of far greater importance to Washington than those with the Middle East which will remain on the margins of the US foreign policy, being a concern only through the lens of strategic threats, such as combatting terrorism (anti-ISIS coalition efforts), nuclear non-proliferation (revival of the JCPOA), and interacting with actors involved in those issues.
Third, Biden will face certain domestic opposition to some of the Middle East policy issues, e.g. Iran nuclear deal, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, sanctioned entities and so on.
Finally, having different views, approaches and rationale, US allies in the region (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey and Israel) could possibly frustrate some of the plans devised by the new administration.
Therefore, we should not expect the Middle East to figure high on the US foreign policy agenda, as well as keep our expectations low as concerns possible breakthroughs on the profiles which will get certain US attention: the Iran nuclear deal, Syrian Kurds issue, reconciliation with Turkey, dealing with Libya, cultivating relations with Israel and Palestine.
Syria Is Not a Priority
Syria has never been a priority for the US foreign policy and will likely remain a second-tier issue for Biden and his team. In fact, some analysis of the US Middle East policy over the last decade shows consistency of approach. Although Obama started his presidency with his 2009 Cairo speech, intended as a signal of support to the region and increased attention from the US, his administration responded to the Arab Uprising with certain discretion and was reluctant to increase American involvement in the regional conflicts—Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya—rather opting for a low profile, proceeding with its fight against terrorism and focusing on diplomacy to a greater extent. Trump administration, by and large, continued this approach avoiding military involvement and shifting more of the responsibility for security and regional problems onto its regional allies—Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, etc. While Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and increased sanction pressure on Tehran, this never translated into a significant change in the American approach to the region. Even in Syria, which suffered several US missile attacks, the moves of the previous administration did not lead to a drastic change of the situation on the ground. Moreover, US “betrayal” of the Kurds and a partial withdrawal of its military from Syria had little serious impact on the course of the conflict. Therefore, over the last decade, the US regional policy has, by and large, been going along the similar lines of limited engagement, fight against terrorism, support of its regional allies.
Today, Biden administration’s plans do not provide for a change in the established approach and deal only with a limited number of policy issues, those coming in for heavy criticism under Trump, e.g. the Iran deal, extending support to the Syrian Kurds, suspending dialogue and aid to the Palestinians, etc.
It is worth noting that the new US administration does not regard the Syrian conflict as a separate problem, important in its own right. It, rather, treats it as a secondary issue linked to other, more important policy issues, such as dealings with Iran and the nuclear deal, relations with Turkey, which happens to brand US-backed Syrian Kurdish militias (YPG) as terrorists, as well as dealings with Russia who, in recent years, has become more active in Syria and in the region at large, or ensuring security of US allies in the region (Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iraq, etc.) who feel threatened by increased Iranian military presence in Syria. Therefore, the Syrian profile is largely viewed in the context of US policies towards Iran, Russia and Turkey, rather than as a separate foreign policy concern.
Interestingly, though, the new Administration refused to send its representative to the 15th round of the Astana Syria talks held in Sochi on Feb. 16–17, despite an invitation being sent, as is argued by Alexander Lavrentiev, Russia’s special envoy on Syria. The US ceased to participate in the Astana meetings in mid-2018. Mr Lavrentiev went on to suggest that the new administration has yet to formulate its Syria policy, despite being officially in office for over a month now. “There are signals [coming from the US] that they will be ready to work with us, but so far no conclusive proposals have been made,” concluded the Russian envoy. Thus far, Washington has not devised its Syria policy, having other actors involved guess its possible approach and future steps.
Moscow Concerns with US Syria Policy
US military presence in Syria is among major concerns for Russia. American soldiers are deployed in northeastern and eastern provinces of Syria as well as in the south, around al-Tanf settlement, on the border with Jordan and Iraq. Moscow perceives American presence in the country as illegal and among the key obstacles to its reunification. US support to the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) prevents them from striking a deal with Damascus, something that is needed to restore the country’s territorial integrity and to assume control over those areas, as the majority of oil fields, water resources (Euphrates river), and some 40% of all agricultural lands are located in Kurdish-held regions. When the US is going to leave Syria is thus one of the most important questions for Russia.
A short answer would be that Washington will not pull out its forces from Syria, at least in the mid-term. Regardless of who occupies the White House, there are certain interests and goals that the US has in Syria, and it will hardly abandon them.
First and foremost, American military presence in Syria serves as a deterrent for the Syrian government forces and loyal militias, as well as for Russia, Iran, pro-Iranian units and Turkey. American troops prevent the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the Russian forces from asserting control over the oil fields and extending it to the economically-needed, 3-million strong northeast and east provinces of Syria. They also keep an eye on Iranian activities in east Syria, on the border with Iraq (border-crossing in Al-Bukamal), and keep Iran from further entrenchment. Finally, American troops keep the Turkish forces and the Ankara-backed armed Syrian opposition from the offensive against the Syrian Kurds. In addition, American military surveilles Russian activities and moves in the region. Being no heavy burden for Washington, the mere presence of several hundred US soldiers in the country kills many birds with one stone. That is why we can hardly expect the new US leadership to abandon such a position.
Second, the fact that the US is capable of significantly increasing its military presence in Syria at any given moment and within a short span of time puts it in a position of being a potential spoiler of any military or political/diplomatic initiative or deal that Russia, Iran, the Syrian government or Turkey may undertake. Besides, recent reports indicate that the US is constructing a new military base with airfield facilities near al-Omar oil field in Deir ez-Zor. Its runways are 2.5 km-long, which allows it to host heavy military planes (Lockheed C-130 Hercules, Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, or В-52). Once finished, the base will let the US easily send several thousands of soldiers or PMC fighters to Syria overnight, handing it an opportunity to rapidly build up its military presence and capabilities in the area. This makes Washington an indispensable participant of any settlement in Syria and forces Moscow, Ankara, Tehran and Damascus to take American interests and concerns into account. It is unlikely that Washington is ready to lose such leverage.
Third, being the leader of the anti-ISIS coalition, the US maintains its presence on the ground, which enables it to fight the remnants of terrorists. US officials have recently called attention to the fact that the main focus of US military in Syria is to fight the Islamic State which has become more active over the past six months. This reason serves as an official excuse to justify US presence in the country.
Finally, the US wants to maintain its ability to influence the political process in Syria. As of now, Washington has several instruments at its disposal. Its unilateral sanctions coupled with the Caesar Act, created serious additional problems not only for the Syrian economy but for the socio-economic, humanitarian and medical situation affecting millions of ordinary civilians as well. Such sanctions are politically motivated, pursuing a change in the regime’ behavior, something that was never achieved. Essentially, this results in making the socio-economic and humanitarian conditions in the country only worse and obstructing any attempts to reconstruct critical infrastructure. Many humanitarian organizations report severe impediments in delivering humanitarian aid to Syria and rebuilding the country, with many INGOs being simply afraid to work in Damascus-controlled areas because of their fear to be sanctioned. According to the UN Special Rapporteur Prof. Alena Douhan, “secondary sanctions and over-compliance with unilateral sanctions result in fear for all interlocutors and drastically affect all population groups in targeted societies impeding people, private business, workers, scholars and doctors to do their job and to enjoy human rights.” As a result, US sanctions on Syria allow Washington to exert serious influence on the political settlement of the conflict as well as on Syria’s economic reconstruction, along with letting the United States remain a key actor in the conflict resolution.
Another leverage the US has in terms of shaping the political process in Syria is its support to SDF. Today, while backing the Syrian Kurds, Washington also obstructs any serious talks between them and the Syrian authorities in Damascus aimed at reaching reintegration of the northeast and eastern provinces of Syria back under control of the central government. Even though the most recent round of talks between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Damascus activated by Moscow ended up with reaching an important preliminary agreement on major controversial issues, this does not prevent the Kurds from backtracking once the Americans decide to sustain or increase their support to them and reaffirm their commitments. Such moves can substantially affect the ongoing intra-Syrian political processes and prevent the country from restoring its territorial integrity. As long as the Syrian Kurds enjoy support and commitments from the US, it is extremely hard to expect them to reach any viable deal with Damascus.
By the same token, the US can influence Turkey and its Syria policy—either through increasing pressure on Ankara or trying to co-opt it by addressing its concerns and moderating the Turkish-Kurdish agreement. Such steps can potentially change the course of the conflict, thus profoundly affecting Russian positions in Syria.
Similar logic applies to the US policy towards Iran and to the revival of the JCPOA. Washington would very much like to tie the nuclear deal to other issues of concern, such as Iran’s ballistic missile program and/or its “malign activities in the region”, including those in Syria. Such an approach aspires to change Iran’s behavior, for instance, in Syria in exchange for the nuclear deal revival and lifting US sanctions. In the US line of reasoning, the White House has an upper hand in the talks with Iran to be able to force it to follow its preferred path. That can, in turn, affect Iran’s behavior not only apropos the return to the JCPOA but concerning its Syrian policy as well. The risks, if this approach fails, are high, as this will have counter-productive results. If the nuclear deal is not revived and sanctions remain at place, Iran will most likely persist in its “malign activities” in Syria and throughout the region, while reserving the option to escalate them. Even the most recent US attack on pro-Iranian targets in Syria had more to do with Iran and its activities in Iraq and Syria rather than with the Syrian conflict itself.
This is to say that the US policy towards Iran and the revival of the nuclear deal, or towards the Syrian Kurds, or the way how Biden’s administration will deal with Turkey, or Russia on the track of the Syrian conflict will have a serious impact on the situation in Syria. So far, there is no indication that it is going to be among the priorities of the new administration. Syria, though, will most likely remain part of US regional policies and subordinate to US dealings with Iran, Turkey and Russia. Outcomes of US-Iran, US-Turkey and US-Russia dialogue can potentially have a profound effect on the situation in Syria. Although it is hard to expect the new US administration to drastically change its approach to the Syrian conflict, there may be new promising avenues for diplomacy which will, hopefully, yield more positive results than negative ones.
From our partner RIAC
Washington Ill-Prepared to Set Human Rights Agenda
It is evident that US Democratic President Joe Biden and his team will pay more attention to the human rights agenda in foreign policy than their Republican predecessors did. It is also clear that Washington will actively use this agenda in dealing with its main geopolitical adversaries—above all, China and Russia. Finally, it is obvious that the United States will try to put together a consolidated Western front to shoulder American human rights initiatives. Human rights will become one of the tools to keep liberal democracies together confronting what is perceived to be the global rise of illiberal authoritarianism. We are likely to hear strong rhetoric on human rights coming out of the White House and the State Department. We will observe multiple human rights-focused US initiatives in international organizations. And we will also see new American human rights-related sanctions against Moscow and Beijing.
Still, at the end of the day, this strategy might turn out to be less successful than the new US leaders anticipate. No matter how Russian or Chinese governments are planning to handle, respectively, the Alexey Navalny case or political protests in Hong Kong, it is very unlikely that either Moscow or Beijing will yield under US pressure. Moscow and Beijing will continue going hand in hand with each other in blocking US-proposed international resolutions, in containing US foundations and NGOs operating in sensitive areas, and in countering the coming American information offensive on the human rights front. The growing pressure from the White House will only further cement the China-Russia partnership.
Moreover, the reality is that Washington is ill-prepared to make a convincing case on human rights and broader democracy issues.
First, America itself has not fully recovered from a deep and protracted political crisis. Many inside the US still question the standards of November’s presidential elections as well as the legitimacy of information restrictions imposed on Donald Trump and his supporters by major social networks and the US mainstream liberal media. The 2020 large-scale violent racial riots also question the assumption that the United States can serve today as a universal model of human rights observance. Until President Biden fixes related problems at home, his international human rights crusade will not look too credible even for his fellow citizens.
Second, it is easy for Biden to raise human rights issues against Russia and China—or against North Korea and Iran. This is a light and unburdensome task—in any case, these countries are not and will not be US allies or partners anytime soon. However, what about other potential targets—like Turkey and Saudi Arabia? On the one hand, both Ankara and Riyadh are perceived in Washington as gross violators of basic human rights. On the other hand, Washington badly needs partnerships with both of them. If the Biden administration heads down a slippery slope of double standards and selective use of the human rights agenda in foreign policy, this will not make this agenda more convincing for anyone. If Biden chooses to go against traditional US clients and friends, the political price for such integrity might turn out to be prohibitively high.
Third, though the international human rights agenda remains important, it seems that today, in most societies, the public puts fairness before freedom. 20 or 30 years ago, the quest for freedom was the driving force behind the majority of street protests, political upheavals and revolutions. Today people revolt mostly against what they believe to be unfair and unjust. The widely shared sentiment of unfairness and injustice rather than human rights or political democracy is the main source of various populist movements in all parts of the world.
The balance between the quest for freedom and the quest for fairness has always been moving from one side to the other, forming long political and social cycles in human history. In the first half of the 20th century, fairness and egalitarianism were perceived as more important than freedom and human rights, while in the second half of the century, the balance shifted away from the former and toward the latter. Today we observe the global social pendulum once again swinging in the opposite direction.
In this context, the recent statement of Chinese President Xi Jinping about the ultimate victory over absolute poverty in China may well outweigh all the eloquent human rights rhetoric coming from US President Joe Biden.
From our partner RIAC
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