With a Biden electoral win, many expect a return to orthodox American engagement with Asia. However, a granular look at election results provides a more sobering assessment of U.S. global commitment beyond the Biden administration. U.S. allies and partners in Asia should be clear-eyed that there will be no reset.
The 2020 U.S. presidential election did not end with a straightforward result. Instead, the delay in ballots counting in battleground states and President Donald Trump’s legal threats to challenge the result complicated the usually smooth power transition. Nonetheless, President-elect Biden has already begun setting the tone for his Presidency through the formation of a COVID-19 task force and the vetting of potential Cabinet members.
A Biden’s win provided a sigh of relief for U.S. allies and partners around the world after an unprecedented period in U.S. foreign policy, which saw President Trump walked away from international agreements, weakened the American system of alliances, and generally pushed a more unilateral approach over a range of issues from trade disputes to China. Most expected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will guide the U.S. back to multilateralism, pursue a more consistent strategy towards Asia and work more closely with allies and partners.
These predictions are accurate. However, the risk here is U.S. allies and partners in Asia might expect orthodox foreign policy. In the background of Trump’s chaotic and unpredictable approach, regional powers such as Japan and Australia stepped up their engagement with the region, spearheaded new interpretations of the Indo-Pacific concepts, and persuaded the U.S. to engage with the region in a coherent manner. An American return to multilateralism and close cooperation with allies and partners might pose a risk of persuading regional countries to lessen their engagement.
A granular look at the election results provided a sobering assessment of U.S. engagement in the region. The close results in popular votes, in which 47% of American voters chose the incumbent President, showed that Trumpism remains a powerful force in American society and the Republican Party. Furthermore, Biden will face political gridlock from U.S. Congress, with the House under the Democrat control while the Republican Party might retain its grip on the Senate. This power-sharing arrangement might complicate Biden’s efforts to reach a bipartisan consensus on a host of issues, from affordable healthcare to clean economy, might become a subject of opposition from the Republican party. However, Biden might find a way out of political gridlock to push for his agenda. With his experiences working within the legislative and the government and his reputation as a centrist politician, Biden and his team might be able to forge consensus in issues that receive bipartisan support, such as investment in infrastructure and strategies towards a more assertive China.
This point is critical to American foreign policy and its global commitment. The U.S. needs to get its own house in order before it can engage more meaningfully with the region and to compete more effectively with China. Biden himself already underlined this point in a Foreign Affairs essay outlining his policy agenda: “As a nation, we have to prove to the world that the United States is prepared to lead again – not just with the example of our power but also with the power of our example.” Unsurprisingly, Biden believes that renewing American democracy and developing a middle class-friendly foreign policy are the centerpieces of his agenda, “Build Back Better.”
Furthermore, the profound economic, social, and political polarization exposed by the election results has its roots in vast economic inequalities between the educated and the rest that spilled into economic resentment, cultural and political volatility. Diminishing polarization and inequality to tangible levels will naturally consume a considerable share of time and resources from the Biden administration. What we should be worried about is not whether Biden will be tough to China, but, as Tom McTague eloquently put, whether the American public continues to shoulder the burden of American regional and global commitments? And for how long?
Trump’s disdain for multilateralism and his unnecessary fights with allies over burden-sharing and trade disputes naturally stoked fears among regional countries over U.S. commitments. The region faces multiple security challenges from the shift in balance of power, triggered by China’s rising influence and strategic assertiveness in its neighborhood. Furthermore, non-traditional security challenges such as climate change, terrorism, trafficking, and piracy continue to threaten regional development and prosperity. The prospect of not being able to rely on U.S. global presence drove U.S. allies and partners towards greater engagement to maintain the rules-based order and regional security architecture.
A clear example of this shift is Japan. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, Japan found ways to actively engage with the region under the auspice of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific. Emphasizing three pillars, which are: rule-of-law, economic prosperity, and commitment to peace and stability, Japan spearheaded multiple initiatives, from enhancing regional connectivity through quality infrastructure development, promotion of free trade through multilateral agreements to strengthening maritime security through capacity-building. Australia, another trusted ally of the U.S., is also having a “strategic revolution.” Australia’s 2020 Defense Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan signify this fundamental shift, where Australia not only acknowledges its security environment has deteriorated but also commits significant investment to enhance deterrent capabilities. Furthermore, Australia also works with the U.S., Japan and India within the framework of the revived Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad), in infrastructure development (the Blue Dot Network), and in strengthening supply chains’ resilience after the COVID-19 shocks.
A Biden win, therefore, could spur three different scenarios. The first scenario will see U.S. allies and partners’ attempt towards greater engagement and coordination slowly fades upon the hope that Biden will reorient American foreign policy back to its traditional posture. This is not a wise move for the reasons mentioned above. In the second scenario, the greater engagement, whose fundamentals were laid out under the Trump administration, will be reinvigorated even further now that we have a new U.S. leadership that believes in cooperation and multilateralism but still face certain domestic obstacles. In the most optimistic but less likely case, in which the U.S. goes through a V-shaped recovery by controlling the pandemic, the economic tailwind and domestic support will encourage Biden to pursue an even more proactive foreign policy that focuses on the Indo-Pacific, a rational approach to China and strengthen allies and partners.
Whether Biden can achieve this outcome remains an open question. Therefore, for U.S. allies and partners, sustained engagement is not only an effective solution for the current situation but also a long-term strategy for a new era of uncertainty and great power competition.
Why are some Muslims, from India to the U.S Voting against their Natural Allies
Recent national elections in the U.S. and regional elections in India have presented an interesting conundrum. The numbers show that some Muslims, are voting in a counter-intuitive fashion. Given the rise of Islamophobia and right-wing religious nationalism, both in the U.S. and in India, one would surmise that Muslims would vote overwhelmingly to the left of center. But both, in India and in the U.S., many Muslims have however chosen to send a message to the center-left – your sympathetic rhetoric and your verbal condemnations of Islamophobia is not enough, we want to see concrete policies that improve our political and economic conditions. Neither the promises of Joe Biden, nor the fear of Hindu-nationalism is influencing their vote. These Muslims are, for sure, in a minority albeit a growing one. Politicians on the center-left may ignore them at their own peril.
In the U.S.
In the U.S., President-Elect Joe Biden’s campaign outreach to Muslims went far beyond that of any presidential candidate in the past. Biden’s campaign had a manifesto for American Muslims and a designated outreach person. Biden spoke at Muslim conventions and even quoted from Islamic scripture. He dropped an “inshallah” in the debates. Biden promised to end the so called ‘Muslim-Ban’ on day one and has repeatedly condemned Islamophobia. Biden spoke up for Uyghur Muslims in China and Kashmiris in India and has opposed the annexation of West Bank. He has promised to resume relations with the Palestinians and restore aid to them. Even Imran Khan, the PM of Pakistan, a self-proclaimed champion of Muslims, does not have such an impressive pro-Muslim curriculum vitae, he has repeatedly refused to speak up for the Uyghurs.
While a majority of American Muslims campaigned very aggressively for the Biden-Harris ticket and raised millions of dollars for the Democrats, the exit polls indicate that only 69% of American Muslims voted for them. On the face value that is a huge win, but if you look at in comparison to the past it is troubling. Despite the fact that Biden went far beyond any other candidate in his outreach to Muslims, and the Islamophobia of President Trump is well documented, Biden has garnered the least percentage of votes by a Democratic presidential candidate in the last four elections according to exit polls conducted by the Council on American Islamic Relations.
A possible explanation for this relatively weak performance is that, for some Muslims his “iron-clad” support for Israel and his willingness to work with pro-Hindutva operatives in the U.S., make his opposition to Islamophobia sound less credible. Words are not enough. If his electoral promises do not actually translate into actual policies, one can expect further decline in Muslim support for Democrats. American Muslims are a rapidly growing and politically engaged community that is over represented in swing states.
A closer reading of the exit polls suggest that things are worse than they seem. The exit polls show that while 17% American Muslims voted for Trump (up from 13% in 2016), 11% declined to reveal who they voted for. It is possible that they lean heavily towards Trump, hence the secrecy. That would mean that in spite of all his Islamophobic rhetoric, Trump may have doubled his support among American Muslims. One Trump supporter told me he voted for Trump because Trump did not invade a single Muslim country in four years unlike Biden who supported the invasion of Iraq.
The recent elections in Bihar has an interesting story to tell. The state is clearly polarizing as most gains have been made by parties on the extremities. Prime minister Modi’s right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) went from winning 53 wins in the 2015 elections to winning 74 of the 243 seats in 2020. A significant swing in favor of Hindutva ideology. The Communist Party (CPI-ML) gained 9 seats, it had 3 seats in 2015 to 12 seats in 2020. The communist parties combined had a 400% increase, they went from 4 to 16 seats. The parties in decline are the so-called secular centrist parties. The Rastriya Janata Dal (RJD) which is the biggest single party in the state lost five seats (80-75) and the Indian National Congress (INC), the grand old party of India, also lost ground (27-19).
Clearly the secular center is shrinking. The biggest surprise of the elections was the performance of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All Indian MajlisIttehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), a Muslim party, which in the past five years has gone from 0-5 seats. The Majlis won in predominantly Muslim area of Seemanchal and is being accused by commentators of stealing the secular vote away from secular parties. Some are describing Majlis as BJP’s B-Team.
It is interesting that now in Indian politics, the code for Muslim vote is ‘the secular vote’. Indian Muslims are now the last line of defense for the rather rapidly shriveling secular space. The criticism of Owaisi and the Majlis for denting the prospects of secular parties in Bihar is both misplaced and inaccurate. The question that is important is not why Owaisi’s Majlis, a party historically based in Hyderabad (South India) is contesting elections so far in the North of India. The key question is why are Muslims in Bihar voting for Majlis? A party that has no record of governance in their region.
In a speech months before the elections, Owaisi predicted a tectonic shift in Seemanchal’s politics and he said that it was coming because of the profound injustices and inequities that plague Muslims of that region. If secular parties that have governed the state for decades had delivered good governance to Muslims, Owaisi would have stayed at home.
Muslims are increasingly disillusioned by secular and left politicians. Islamophobia was on the rise even before Trump became President and 37% of American Muslims, pre-covid pandemic, were found hovering near the poverty line. There is much discontent. I think just as 17-25% American Muslims voted for Trump rejecting the centrist politics of Democrats – many Muslims in Bihar too are frustrated by the failure of secular parties to improve their material condition. The region of Bihar where Owaisi’s party won five seats is the poorest and infrastructurally the least developed area of the state. Voting for secular parties for decades did not help them much. They have been voting without hope. They too are tired of the lip service.
Muslims of Bihar are fortunate that they have an alternative in Majlis and they are able to reject both Indian secularists and Hindu nationalists unlike some American Muslims who feel that they are stuck between Republicans who are Islamophobic and Democrats who promise much but deliver little. The minority of Muslims who appear to be voting counter intuitively, seemingly against their own interests, either for Donald Trump in the U.S. or the Majlis in Bihar, are clearly sending a signal to secular politicians – do not take our vote for granted, you need to earn our vote.
The center-left may be a natural ally of Muslims, but if it does not deliver for Muslims, they may lose their vote in ever increasing numbers.
Which Coronavirus Policies Succeed, And Which Fail: N.Y. Times Analysis Confirms Mine
According to an analysis by and in the New York Times on November 18th, which is headlined “States That Imposed Few Restrictions Now Have the Worst Outbreaks”, “Coronavirus cases are rising in almost every U.S. state. But the surge is worst now in places where leaders neglected to keep up forceful virus containment efforts or failed to implement basic measures like mask mandates in the first place, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the University of Oxford.”
At Strategic Culture, on May 21, I had published my own analysis, which was based upon tracking the data globally and within countries, and within the various states of the United States, which analysis concluded that countries (and states) which apply the least-stringent regulations in order to keep as low as possible the spread of the virus are failing the most to contain or limit that spread. I labelled those the “libertarian” countries, and I noted that what I called the “socialist” countries — the nations which were the most strictly imposing scientifically confirmed regulations in order to keep those numbers down — were having the best success at limiting the spread of this virus. My study was global, and its headline was “Ideology and Coronavirus”. Unlike the Times article, I was forthright about the ideological implications of the coronavirus data — because those implications are vastly important. (The handling of this pandemic is providing reams of data that test the effectiveness of the various locales’ predominant ideology at dealing with a global life-or-death years-long public-health emergency in regions throughout the world. This is like a global laboratory experiment testing the two opposite ideologies: libertarianism, which is against government regulation, versus socialism, which applies government regulation. No government is purely one or the other, but those are the two poles.)
The analysis in the Times article shows a chart, and represents on it almost all of the states, as dots that indicate both the amount of regulation which has been applied, and the lowness of the infection-rate which has resulted; and, at the upper left corner on it, are the two Dakotas, as “Weak recent containment measures and many cases,” while at the bottom rightmost corner is Hawaii as “Strict measures and fewer cases.”
The Times chart is showing, only locally within the United States, during just the past few weeks, what my analyses had shown, regarding not only the international and longer-term data, but also within the United States itself and recently, not only longer-term and internationally. One of my articles, on November 1st and titled “The Highest Covid-Infection-Rate States”, showed the infection-rate for all 50 states, and noted that, “In 2016, the top 17 [the states with the highest rates of this infection in 2020] voted for Trump, and the bottom 5 voted for Clinton. All but 3 of the top 24 voted for Trump, but from numbers 25 to 45, there was a political mixture. The highest infection-rate state, North Dakota, has a Covid-19 infection-rate that is 14.6 times higher than the lowest Covid-19 infection-rate state, Vermont.” Of course, the Republican Party (Trump’s Party) is the more libertarian Party, and the Democratic Party (Clinton’s Party) is the more socialist (though actually just as totalitarian) of the two Parties. (Both Parties represent only their billionaires, who also own and control the media; and this is the way that America’s aristocracy controls the Government. For example, the very pro-Democratic-Party website PoliticalWire quoted from and linked to the NYT’s article, but always fails to include any of mine, because I am critical against both Parties. Truly independent news-media are almost non-existent in the United States.)
Whereas the Times’s chart of “Avg. new cases per 100,000” failed to include Vermont, Vermont is the state that has, for the longest time, been among the best three on not only cases per million but also deaths per million, from this virus, and substantially better even than Hawaii, and both states are among the two or three that in recent decades have been the strongest for Democratic candidates, and the weakest for Republican candidates. However, Vermont especially is politically independent, and, so, it has a Republican Governor, Phil Scott, whose record on containing this virus has been the best in the nation; and he was just re-elected in a landslide, 69% of the votes (largely because of this terrific record). Right now, however, the number of daily new cases has shot up suddenly about fivefold in just the past week; so, Phil Scott’s record is in jeopardy. If that surge quickly ends, then he could become the strongest Republican to run against Kamala Harris or Joe Biden in 2024. He would not only receive almost all Republican votes (since that’s his Party), but also at least a third of Democratic votes, and almost all independent votes. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that he would be the likeliest to win the Republican nomination, because (just as is true about the Democratic Party) that Party’s billionaires will be making that choice. (It was blatantly true also with regard to Biden and Harris.) This epidemic will be a major political challenge both in 2022 and in 2024. Anyone who wants to see Governor Scott’s press conferences regarding this crisis, so as to know precisely what his coronavirus-policies have been, can see them here. His November 20th press conference is here. He and his governing team receive and answer there many intelligent questions, so that the policies which have led to the best results in America are amply explained there.
On November 16th in South Dakota (and then repeated nationally on National Public Radio on November 20th), reporter Seth Tupper headlined “Two States, Different Paths: Vermont Keeps Virus Low While Rivaling SD’s Economy” and provided a thorough report, including graphs of infection-rates over time, comparing two states, South Dakota, which has the nation’s second-highest infection-rate (after only North Dakota’s 9%) of 7.8%, versus Vermont, which has the nation’s lowest infection-rate, of only 0.5% — one-fifteenth as high. Tupper explained the different policies that the Governors of those two states had applied, and how those policies produced vastly different results for the infection-rates and the death-rates in their states’ populations, but only moderately higher increase in unemployment in Vermont than in South Dakota, which at the peak in April had reached 16% unemployment in Vermont, versus only 10% peak in South Dakota; and, by the time of August, both states had nearly identical low unemployment-rates. Whereas the death-rates from the disease soared around a thousand fold, between April and November, in South Dakota, the death-rate remained virtually flat, almost no increase, in Vermont, throughout that entire period. However, both states were now experiencing soaring infection-rates during the current, second, wave of the epidemic.
Author’s note: first posted at Strategic Culture
Trump’s Election Shenanigans Pale Before The Threats From Melting Polar Glaciers
Despite Joe Biden exceeding the magic number of 270 that guarantees a majority in the electoral college, President Donald Trump has not conceded. Does he have a plan to overturn the wishes of the electorate?
According to Trump he did not lose, he was cheated out of a legitimate win by voter fraud and ballot stuffing. Accordingly, he has filed lawsuits in those critical states with narrow margins of victory for Biden — so far without tangible success — to block certification of the vote and persuade Republican legislatures to overturn the state vote as fraudulent and award the electoral votes to him.
Trump’s window of action is narrowing. A major target state was Michigan with 20 electoral votes. However, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has now certified Biden’s victory meaning he should get its electoral votes.
While Trump’s shenanigans continue, the world faces a real danger of melting ice sheets and glaciers. A long term denier of global warming, Mr. Trump now accepts it but believes the earth will right itself without any effort by humans.
Scientists meanwhile are particularly concerned with the Florida-sized Thwaites glacier in the Antarctic. Its collapse they fear could destabilize surrounding glaciers eventually causing catastrophic global sea level rises measured not in inches but feet.
The glacier rises 60 to 75 feet above water across its 75 mile face. Remembering that 90 percent of it is under gives some notion of the quantity of ice. The Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessel is conducting a survey this winter for the first time as part of a five-year international research program to learn just how fast the glacier is melting and how much it might be adding to rising seas.
The problem is the shape of the glacier under the water and the warming waters eating away that core while the ice on top gets thicker and thicker as the glacier retreats inland. At some point the glacier is likely to collapse of its own weight into the ocean. Scientists who have modeled the scenario fear the process is unstoppable once it starts. Worse it puts much of the West Antarctic ice sheet at risk of following it into the sea. Any wonder then that Thwaites is also known as the Doomsday glacier.
At the other pole the Greenland ice sheet had a record-breaking 2019, shedding the most ice since 1948 — an estimated 532 billion tons. It of course increases coastal flooding along the eastern seaboard particularly the Carolinas and Florida. Fortunately for the residents, the 2020 melt from Greenland, while well above the 1981 to 2010 average, was lower than recent years particularly 2019.
Donald Trump does not believe he lost the election and he does not believe in global warming. Christmas is just around the corner and it’s reassuring to know he believes in Santa Claus . . . and the tooth fairy.
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