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Looking Back: Donald Trump, Israel and the Costs of Complicity

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The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”-W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming

From the start of his sordid presidency, Donald J. Trump has presented himself as a “friend of Israel.” Surprisingly, because it is generally a country of smart and well-educated people, this sham has been widely accepted among otherwise thoughtful Israelis. In time, however, there will be a continuously high price to pay for such demeaning and destructive complicity.

               More precisely, the cumulative costs to Israel will be experienced in moral, jurisprudential and strategic terms.

               Plausibly, they will be suffered along several intersecting fronts, whether in assorted spasms of rapid misfortune or “just” incrementally.

               What has actually been happening? De facto, though not by any conscious policy decision, the Trump administration sought to replicate some of the worst dissembling features of authoritarian governance. While such a grievous charge might ordinarily have seemed unreasonable, gratuitous  or even outrageous, this is no longer the case. With his continuously open support of white supremacy, and by his repeated subordinations of national and international law to personal whim, this bitterly corrosive  president has focused more on dominating his nation’s mean streets than on maintaining even a thin veneer of justice.[1]

 In law and in life generally, truth is exculpatory. The uniformly anti-intellectual tone and orientation of dissembling Trump rallies has more closely resembled Der Fuehrer shrieking at 1930s Nuremberg rallies in Germany than the public activities of any previous American president. Even this now outgoing president’s ostentatiously vulgar and bellicose language seems to have been plucked from the playbook of Joseph Goebbels.

To be sure, there has been no discernible resonance here with the high-minded writings of Thomas Jefferson or any other respected US president.

“Intellect rots the brain,” concluded Der Fuehrer’s Minister of Propaganda at a Nuremberg party rally in 1935.

“I love the poorly educated,” said candidate Donald J. Trump in 2016.

On November 14, 2020, in an especially crude tweet, even for this atavistic president, Trump declared: “ANTIFA SCUM ran for the hills today when they tried attacking the people at the Trump Rally, because those people aggressively fought back…..DC Police, get going — do your job and don’t hold back!!!”

               What “job” was this? Were the American people listening here to an authentic American head of state, or the incoherent ramblings of Il Duce? This is not a silly question.

               Not at all.

               Moral and intellectual judgment ought never be so easily cast aside in Jerusalem. From the start, Israel ought to have known much better than to align its core interests with utterly conspicuous and unprecedented Trump derangements. Also stingingly ironic is that a principal surviving remnant of the Jewish People – that is, the Jewish State born directly from the ashes of genocidal murder[2] – could have chosen to identify both its  interests and ideals with such a sorely derelict foreign leader.         

               Why accept such stark asymmetries? Though Israel has always been prompt to declare “Never Again” for the Jewish People, its citizens have generally accepted Donald J. Trump’s disregard for the coinciding human rights of other peoples and nations, and for the derivative imperatives of dignity and learning.

               There are distinctly concrete or tangible wrongs that must be re-considered and taken into account. Proudly, Donald Trump has cheerfully stood by  assorted hate groups that vilify universal human rights[3] and also the ancient Jewish ideals of law and justice. When this president adopted barbarous illegal positions on immigration (e.g., positions that undermine various peremptory[4] legal obligations that concern the legitimate rights of refugees) and separated thousands of  young and infant children from their families at US borders,[5] the associated American offenses were much more serious than “merely” illegal.

               They were also a slap in the face to a people that had long-suffered from a history of forced expulsions and international exclusions –  the Jewish People. Stephen Miller, Trump’s personal “architect” of immigrant exclusions, is the grandson of Jewish refugees from anti-Semitic pogroms. A key tenet of his grim standard for refugee admission to the United States has been “merit.” Like Trump, he has stipulated that America admit only “the good ones.”[6]

               In once unimaginable cases, Trump-created immigration offenses[7] and corollary criteria of selection reek of earlier harms perpetrated against defenseless European Jews.[8]

               The ironies are unspeakable, but still worth noting. For Israelis cultivating US presidential support at all costs,  the pertinent details are painful to recount and impossible to contest. Under the indifferent aegis of Donald J. Trump and his coterie of dedicated administrative sycophants, this pattern of illegality continues to include forced deportations of minor children and forcible expulsions of the most severely disadvantaged.

               It is not a pattern that ought ever be overlooked or embraced by a decent “Jewish State.”The ironies are simply too conspicuous, too great and too defiling.

               “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…..” say the words inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty from a never-to-be-forgotten poem by Jewish author Emma Lazarus.

               There are other serious issues involved in Israel’s regrettable willingness to betray its most sacred ideals in cynical exchange for Trump patronage. Most perplexing and worrisome of all have been those matters that center on the always-key realms of war avoidance and peacemaking. In these essential matters, this US president’s complete lack of any informed and coherent vision of foreign affairs has been obvious.

               By preferring visceral seat-of-the-pants planning (“attitude, not preparation,” says Trump) to any focused forms of policy creation,[9] Donald Trump has sought to “reward” Israel with a series of  marginal “victories” –  e.g., moving the American Embassy from  Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and a demonstrably Faustian agreement to arm the UAE with US F35s as the quid pro quo for diplomatic recognition by Abu Dhabi. At best, these alleged “gains” will represent Pyrrhic victories for Israel.[10]

               And all of the presumed benefits to Israel ignore or exacerbate the more authentically critical security problems still at issue in its volatile region. Most obvious and problematic here are the expectedly continuous antipathies of the Palestinians.

               Whatever the issue, truth is always “exculpatory.” The many Palestinian elements seeking sovereignty with a determined prise de conscience, with an aroused consciousness, will not only remain fixed on achieving their still-overriding national goal. Now, too, they will more likely prepare for the next round of inter-communal violence. This suggests, most urgently and with the ironic compliments of Donald J. Trump, another intifada.[11]

               At every level of assessment, the UAE “deal” negotiated by the American president’s “good offices” to Israel – and also the kindred deals with Bahrain and Sudan – was devoid of any gainful substance. In essence, to praise the US-UAE agreement for enhancing Israel’s security is a bit like commending US President Ronald Reagan’s October 1983 invasion of Grenada on the grounds that Americans have not since had to face any Grenadian-inflicted aggressions.

               When Israel-Palestinian relations are taken into account, as they must, the net costs of these Trump-brokered agreements will significantly exceed their net gains. This means, by definition – at least as long as we can assume an Israeli capacity to estimate costs and benefits of alternative  courses of action – that Jerusalem’s behavior in these contrived matters was literally irrational.

               Self-evidently irrational.[12]

                In even the best of times, no one could reasonably describe the Middle East as an area of impending stability or prospective security.  In the worst of times, this endlessly-volatile region could quickly descend into a substantially more far-reaching condition of chaos.[13] Such a potentially lethal descent could have its origins in an impending nuclear confrontation with Iran[14] – a crisis made more likely by Trump’s earlier withdrawal from the Obama-era Iran pact and by his mid-November 2020 queries about launching an American military first strike – or in the still-expanding interstices of microbial assault. In a credibly worst case scenario, these causes, augmented by the similarly incoherent Trump withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq,  would  intersect synergistically.[15]

               Then, again by definition, the calculable “whole” of tangible injurious effects suffered by Israel[16] would be greater than the simple sum of its component “parts.”[17]

               Matters have not been helped by Donald Trump’s mid-November 2020 national security purges, including his removal of the Secretary of Defense and his firing the Director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cyber Security Branch.

               There is more. From its starkly disjointed  beginnings, the  posturing Trump presidency was detached from any identifiable considerations of history, law[18] or diplomacy.[19] Even now, saddled with such overwhelming and self-inflicted debilities, the outgoing American president “advances” unashamedly toward more conspicuous postures of anti-reason. These flagrantly non-analytic postures include conspiracy theories so utterly vacuous and outrageous that they would make even the most witting fools blush with a well-deserved embarrassment. If this were not enough humiliation to worry about, all this critique ignores Donald Trump’s unhidden disrespect for elementary logic, most distressingly his false correlation of Covid19 testing with increasing illness and his corresponding “medical” recommendation that citizens consider taking household disinfectants by injection.

               There is little here that is subject to dispute. President Trump’s disjointed Corona Virus policy continues to result in the needless deaths of a great many trusting Americans. Though lacking the “intent” or mens rea that is integral to the codified crime of genocide, the president’s Covid19 policy’s effect upon US civilian populations has been effectively genocidal.[20]

                From the standpoint of both the victims and their families, the juridical fine point here is immaterial. It’s a bit like the frogs who are killed by the playful rock-throwing of young children. The boys may not have meant any harms, but the frogs remain dead nonetheless.

               From the start, Israel had been forewarned. In all complex matters of world politics and foreign policy, this American president had always been operating ad hoc, without any considered plan or doctrine, lurching fitfully from one inane whim to another, always without any sturdy analytic moorings.[21] Whatever the subject, Trump  has navigated precipitously, leaping wildly from crisis to crisis, and always without an elementary grounding in theory,[22] ideology or science. Like his frivolously appointed and obsequious subordinates, Trump still reads nothing, nothing at all.

               Is this an American president from whom Israel should ever have expected wisdom, reason or informed guidance?

               The question is silly, prima facie.

                For Jerusalem, though already very late in the “game,” the cumulative security consequences of any Trump-induced regional disorder (Trump has said on several occasions, “I love chaos”) are apt to be far-reaching and at least partially irremediable. By assuming, without good reason, that this US President ever had Israel’s best interests in mind, or that he could figure out intellectually what those national interests might be, Israel could soon find itself dealing with progressively debilitating regional crises. Among major examples of especially serious Trump errors and deceptions, the American President’s April 2018 attack against Syrian chemical warfare facilities had little if any impact upon Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal dictatorship.[23]

               Even worse, this publicity-generated attack merely emboldened various anti-Damascus regime insurgents with jihadist orientations. Subsequently, these insurgents were crushed by al-Assad’s armed forces, hardly a victory for democratic rule in Syria or for any other society allegedly bound to the peremptory Biblical principle, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”[24]  Also, because of the Trump operation’s lack of strategic theoretical underpinning, matters could reasonably have gone the other way, favoring what was then a pro-ISIS adversary.

               Other basic questions should now arise. Whatever the specific issue at hand, Donald Trump has remained steeply beholden to Vladimir Putin, and would never consider doing anything assisting Israel or impacting the Middle East that did not first comport with the Russian dictator’s presumptive preferences.[25] Why?

               It’s not a silly question. It finally deserves a proper answer.

               Donald J. Trump could care less about Israel’s well-being or physical survival. His inauthentic outreach to Israelis and American Jews has had only one self-serving objective.  This was to re-elect Donald Trump and receive ego-salving homage as America’s boldly reigning “emperor.”

                Now, more than ever, history deserves appropriate pride of place. Since the seventeenth-century, the core structure of world politics has been consistently anarchic or “Westphalian.”[26] But anarchy means “only” the absence of any authoritative central government. To fully unravel still-meaningful effects of the destabilizing Trump presidency, Israel would need to prepare more systematically for “centrifugal” foreign policy developments. Any such condition of geo-strategic  disorder would be correctly identifiable as chaos.

               Quo Vadis? For Israel, a true condition of chaos could be more threatening than “mere” anarchy. In virtually any still-expressible form, this bewildering condition could play havoc with the best laid plans of any nation. From the always-critical standpoint of Israel’s military preparedness, it represents a persistently unpredictable and ever-changing  correlation of forces.[27] Suddenly or incrementally, this correlation could impair all “normal” national security preparations. This fearful impairment could arrive suddenly, as a dissembling “bolt-from-the-blue” enemy attack, or less dramatically, in tangible but unforeseeable increments.

               Whatever its mode of arrival, the results, for Israel, could be intolerable.

               These results will have been generated by misconceived and manipulative US presidential thinking. In consequence, any residual Israeli gratitude to Donald Trump as a “friend of Israel” will  have been sorely misplaced. Donald J. Trump is a friend only to himself, and even this “friendship” is self-distorted.

               There is more. The now-impending chaos must be differentiated from the more “normal”disorder associated with Carl von Clausewitz’s (the nineteenth-century Prussian military strategist) “friction” and “fog of war.”[28] At its core, this Trump-boosted chaos describes a deep and systemic level of unraveling, one that could create unprecedented and residually primal forms of international conflict. It follows, for Israel, that regional chaos could quickly and conclusively smother any still-simmering hopes for some cumulatively gainful “Trump Effect.”

               There was never any defensible reason for Israel to make sordid deals with a deranged American president, to betray its interests and its ideals at the same time.

               At best, the US embassy move and the UAE/Bahrain/Sudan “peace agreements” will prove to be of very limited consolation to Israel. At worst, these “rewards” (designed only for Trump’s domestic political benefit) will be responsible for newly accelerating anti-Israel passions and policies, including new waves of Palestinian terror in Judea. Samaria (West Bank) and Israel proper. Any such revived instances of Sunni-Arab terror[29] could hasten rather than  hinder the creation of a Palestinian state,[30] a portentous outcome that could then generate  continuously ominous synergies with Iranian nuclear weapons development.[31]

                Also worrisome, in this regard, is that once such creation had become a fait accompli, Israel would likely experience new incentives to initiate “anticipatory self-defense” options.[32]

               Wittingly, many states in world politics, not just Israel, must acknowledge the steadily increasing risks from assorted forms of nuclear conflict.[33] In this connection, Donald Trump’s evident incapacity to suitably manage a nuclear crisis and/or control any more-or-less related military escalations is difficult to dispute. Should this outgoing US President still fail to prevent a single escalation from an ongoing crisis to overt nuclear warfare, the corollary effects would impact other parts of the world. These palpable effects would arrive in the form of prompt, immediate or latent physical casualties, and less dramatically, as the probable cause of unique social and economic misfortunes.[34]

                World politics is not geometry. In these complex spheres of interaction, ones where complex synergies are often involved, the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. For Israel, going forward, the most obvious chaos-generated perils could concern (1) escalating violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sudan, Libya and/or Syria; and (2) near-simultaneous deteriorations in the still-ongoing Iranian nuclearization effort and/or in the many-sided Palestinian insurgency. Facing these prospectively intersecting and synergistic perils, Jerusalem is already well aware that the Hashemite monarchy in neighboring Jordan remains vulnerable to assorted new forms of Islamic radicalism. Also apparent to decision-makers in Jerusalem is that a continuously authoritarian el-Sisi military regime in Cairo might not be able to control the  re-aspiring Muslim Brotherhood indefinitely.

               Nothing done by the Trump administration addressed any of these key problems.

               In principle, at least, the Brotherhood or its kindred organizations could seek to get its hands on various weaponized pathogens or even nuclear explosives.[35] Regarding the “germ warfare” components, there would be very great uncertainties about plausible effects of use during an already ongoing viral pandemic. What  then?

               These are not policy problems for the analytically unprepared or intellectually faint-hearted. How, in his presumptively final days in office,  will US President Donald J. Trump respond to bewildering threats in the Middle East? Will it be with some residual intellection and geo-strategic planning, or instead, with predictably spasmodic explosions of aimless rancor and ad hominem bluster?

               Extrapolating from his past, the correct answer is distressingly obvious.  

               To the end, Donald Trump has continued to function with only a skeletal and constantly changing national security establishment – by intention, one utterly lacking in seriousintellectual gravitas or thought.[36] Never did he effectively fill the still-yawning directorial gaps in senior national governance with individuals of any real intellectual accomplishment. Never.

               With precious few exceptions, this president has staffed the upper levels of all principal government departments with viscerally obedient apparatchiks, not with capable and courageous thinkers.             

               There is more. Apropos of any derivative “Trump effects” upon Israel’s national security, Pakistan reveals another critical site of wider-area disintegration, one that could suddenly transform a “merely” volatile Middle East from basic Westphalian anarchy to a genuine chaos. To wit, if the already-nuclear regime in Islamabad should sometime fall toJihadists, all other regional sources of chaotic disintegration could promptly pale into comparative insignificance. In this regard, there is no evidence that the Trump administration has done even a modicum of appropriate planning.

               For Jerusalem, it is high time to inquire with recognizable interest and conviction: What would US President Trump do in this sort of grave development, and how would this expected American reaction impact Israel’s security and survival?

               This will not be an easy question to answer, but it must be considered carefully in Jerusalem. Naturally, the question must also be kept in Israel’s “mind” post-Trump, as the regional effects of this president’s multiple misunderstandings and derelictions could endure long after January 20, 2021. Specifically, there could occur various significant synergies between India-Pakistan rivalries, Iranian strategic apprehensions and the various consequences of US military withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq.

               Not for the intellectually faint-hearted or obedient clerk class to work out.

               In another expectedly worse case scenario for Israel, assorted Jihadists, emboldened by multiple expressions of Trump administration confusion and indecisiveness, would take singular or “hybrid” control in one or several of the more plainly unstable Arab and/or North African governments. Ultimately, these “martyrdom-driven” leaders could acquire certain game-changing weapons of mass destruction. This worrisome prospect, even if all the acquired weapons were to remain non-nuclear, bring to mind the correlative scenario of a “suicide-bomber in macrocosm.”[37]

               Also worth noting here is that a Jihadist “hybrid” could be a terror-group amalgam (that is, no direct state component) or an asymmetrical alignment between a particular terror-group/groups and a kindred state.

               With the expected advance of Trump-enhanced chaos in the Middle East, Israel could sometime have to face certain nuclear and ideologically Islamist enemies on both the Iranian (Shiite) and Arab (Sunni) fronts. Even in the absence of old enemies with new atomic arms, nuclear and biological materials could find their way to Hezbollahin Lebanonand/or Hamas in Gaza. Along the way, Jerusalem – perhaps still following Trump’s predictably uncertain and residually disjointed policies –  could find itself having to take sides with one or another set of mortal enemies.

               Back in the seventeenth-century, the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, had already recognized that although international relations exist indefinitely in a “state of nature,” a condition of anarchy (not one of genuine chaos), these decentralized relations are nonetheless more tolerable than the condition of individual human beings living in similarly “everyone-for-himself” circumstances. This is the case, argued Hobbes, because nations, unlike individuals, lack the capacity to destroy one another.

               But this once reassuring distinction is no longer meaningful.[38] Thomas Hobbes was clearly unable to conceptualize a world with nuclear weapons. Now, proliferation of these weapons, especially in the Middle East, could quickly reduce the orthodox and relatively tolerable Westphalian anarchy of international relations to an authentically Hobbesianchaosof “nature,” one that could normally exist only between individuals.

               Here, as more and more nations came to share what Hobbes had cleverly called a “dreadful equality,” a more-or-less symmetrical capacity to inflict mortal destruction, the portent of  regional nuclear calamity could become correspondingly more likely.

               In his modern classic poem “The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats wrote of a time in which “the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” Succinctly, the celebrated Irish poet then revealed what continues to elude historians, diplomats, statesmen, and scholars:In the not-too-distant future, there could arrive a moment wherein there would be no safety in numbers, treaties, or armaments; no help from “civilizations;” no counsel from public authority; and no last-minute rescues from science. Such an apocalyptic “moment,” one made more likely by America’s manifestly ill-prepared and corrupted President Trump, might rage for a long while, perhaps until every flower of human culture had been trampled and once-intact human communities had been ground insidiously into the dust. From this seemingly resurrected medieval darkness, from this foreseeably Trump-facilitated chaos, there would be neither escape nor sanctuary.

               Rather like the “America First” or “know nothing” illiteracy that Mr. Trump had been championing in the United States, such darkness could envelop entire regions of our long-suffering world in a single suffocating pall.

                What then? What will we have learned from still-enduring horrors of the Trump declension?

                 For Israel, the prime inheritor of Genesis, Trumpian chaos has augured severe and paradoxical kinds of national fragility. As a continuously beleaguered microstate, Israel could still become  (depending upon the precise extent to which it would have allowed itself to be manipulated and misguided by Trump “rewards”) the principal victim of even more-rampant regional disorder. In view of the far-reaching interrelatedness of all world politics -everything is “system” –  this victimization could arise even if the actual precipitating events of war and terror[39]were to occur elsewhere.

               Oddly, a hideously triumphant global chaoscould reveal both sense and form. Generated by mutually  reinforcing explosions of mega-war and mega-terror, any further Trump-induced disintegrations of world authority could assume a revealing shape. But how should such a unique shape, this sobering “geometry” of chaos, be suitably deciphered and understood in Jerusalem? As a correlative and similarly vital question, Israel’s leaders would then need to inquire as follows:

               “How, exactly, should we deal with potentially irrational nuclear adversaries, dedicated foes operating within both state and terrorist groups?”[40]

               What if US President Donald Trump should make certain irrational last-minute decisions? What would this mean for Israel? Scientifically, there is no reliably analytic way to make any such predictions probabilistic (because scientific  probabilities must always be calculated according to the determinable frequency of pertinent past events), but this significant prospect remains conceivable.

               There is more. Among other things, the whole world, like the individual nation-states that comprise it, is best understood as a system.  By definition, therefore, what happens in any one part of this world always affects what happens in some or all of the other parts. When, for example, global deterioration is marked, and begins to spread from one country to another, the effects could undermine international stability in general. When deterioration is sudden and catastrophic, as it would be following the onset of any unconventional war and/or act of unconventional terrorism, the unraveling effects could become immediate and overwhelming. 

               The State of Israel, a system of interdependent and interpenetrating parts like every other state, exists precariously in our larger world system.  Aware that any Trump-inspired collapse of regional authority structures (most plausibly, in increments) would, in one way or another, impact its few friends as well as its many enemies, leaders of the Jewish State should now advance variously informed expectations or scenarios of collapse in order to best prepare suitable forms of  response. Ultimately, recognizing that any rapid and far-reaching global collapse could spawn a more or less complete return to “everyone for himself” in world politics, or what philosopher Thomas Hobbeshad earlier called in Leviathan a bellum omnium contra omnes, a “war of all against all,” Israel’s leaders must consider just how they should respond to any future national life in a global “state of nature.”

               These would not present encouraging or pleasing forms of analytic consideration. Still, they would  represent prudential policy steps, and must be undertaken.

               Such eleventh-hour considerations could be critical to the extent that the triggering mechanism of collapse would originate within the Middle East itself, from massive chemical, biological and, in the future, nuclear attacks against Israel. In these fearful times of biological “plague,” the specific actions of any microbial assault would be largely unpredictable but nonetheless highly consequential.

               Any chaotic disintegration of the regional or wider-world system, whether slow and incremental or sudden and catastrophic, would impact the Israeli system. Accordingly, following the intellectually and morally deficient Trump presidency, Israel will have to orient its military planning doctrines more expressly toward worst-case possibilities. Already, Trump-initiated US troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, opposed internally by the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  are accelerating regional instabilities in ways that are both foreseeable and unforeseeable.

               Will one predictable result of these ill-considered withdrawals be increasing pressure upon Israel  to carry out assassinations/targeted killings[41] on behalf of Washington?[42] If so, what would this suggest about the true cumulative costs to Israel of the Trump-brokered “peace” agreements? This is a question well worth answering.

               In the final analysis, it will be apparent that the overall security costs of these pacts to Jerusalem will exceed the overall benefits. And this is to say nothing about the corresponding Israeli violations of international law mandated by American “largesse,” or about the indiscriminate Israeli submission to misconceived US presidential authority. Though every sham can have a patina, this moral and intellectual surrender could haunt Israel’s national integrity and self-respect for a painfully long time to come.

               There is one last time-urgent observation to make about Israel’s witting subordination to Donald J. Trump’s incoherent plans and expectations. Very recently, in mid-November 2020, Israel felt itself obligated to strike out at selected Iranian military targets in Syria. Simultaneously, in large part because of Trump’s earlier (and counter-productive) withdrawal from the Iran nuclear pact, Tehran has been accelerating its preparations to “go nuclear.” On both conventional and unconventional weapon fronts, this American president’s errors and incapacities have been encouraging Iranian belligerence and strategic threats toward Israel.

                In the end, Israelis, not Americans, will have to extricate from Trump-engineered humiliations and misfortunes.

               To avoid similar judgments or mistakes in the future, Israeli leaders ought never calculate that the flamboyant wishes of an American president are ipso facto coincident with their own nation’s best interests. At this late date, outgoing President Donald Trump has inflicted deeply corrosive harms upon the United States, but he has also set the stage for continuously creating certain corollary or corresponding harms to Israel. These significant harms, left unresolved, would not only imperil the Jewish State’s physical security, but also its still-residual “convictions” concerning international justice and human rights.[43]

               Israel take heed. “Passionate intensity,” when unsupported by intellect and self-respect, can never lead a nation toward safety or virtue.[44] Rather, any such tangible lack of support for Reason, anywhere in the world, augurs a sober existential warning. A small nation that had chosen to follow a dissembling and dishonest American patron could expect a future of unceasing lamentations and irremediable despair.[45]

               This should not be difficult to understand.

               For Israel, from the start, any deal made by US President Donald J. Trump “on its behalf” has been a bad deal.[46] “Proof” of this once-preventable result is already plainly evident in the moral and legal realm,, and will soon become similarly clear in pertinent matters of strategy and self-defense. These matters will involve, inter alia, adversarial actions issuing forth from various sectors of the Sunni Arab world (including some that have been beneficiaries of Trump deal making); Shiite Iran (including various cooperating elements of both Sunni al-Qaeda and Shiite Hezbollah); and Afghanistan (mainly once-dormant Taliban foes  newly-resurrected by Trump’s recently announced US troop withdrawals).

               In this last example, the negative consequences of Donald Trump’s misconceived foreign policy (terrorist training and terrorist safe havens) will not stem directly from any US actions undertaken “on behalf of Israel.” Rather, these unwanted results will stem indirectly from a policy intended originally by the outgoing American president for the presumed benefit of the United States. Some or all of these discrete consequences, of course, could sometime combine in more-or-less unforeseen ways, creating synergistic outcomes that are expectedly far worse than the calculable sum of their component parts.

               In such cases, the relevant costs to Israel of having acceded to Donald Trump’s seat-of-the-pants deal making will have become still more apparent and even less remediable.


[1]https://news.yahoo.com/trumps-new-pentagon-chief-counterterrorism-agency-white-supremacy-100030848.html

[2] See, for example, Louis René Beres, “Genocide and Genocide-Like Crimes,” in  M. Cherif Bassiouni., ed., International Criminal Law: Crimes (New York, Transnational Publishers, 1986), pp. 271-279.   On the crime of genocide under international law, see: See Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, opened for signature, December 9, 1948, entered into force, January 12, 1951, 78 U.N.T.S. 277.  Although the criminalizing aspect of international law that proscribes genocide-like conduct may derive from sources other than the Genocide Convention (i.e., it may emerge from customary international law and also be included in different international conventions), such conduct is always an egregious crime under international law. Even where the conduct in question does not affect the interests of more than one state, a traditional canon of international legal validity, it becomes an international crime ipso facto whenever it constitutes an offense against the world community delicto jus gentium. 

[3]Though Trump’s Israeli and American supporters sometimes advance a purportedly utilitarian argument about  these evident infractions of law and justice, they ought best bear in mind the following peremptory principle of jurisprudence: “Rights cannot derive from wrongs” (Ex injuria jus non oritur).

[4]In the precise words of Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969: “A peremptory norm of general international law….is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole, as a norm from which no derogation is permitted, and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.”

[5] We must remember here that the core obligations of general international law are simultaneously obligations of US law. Recalling the precise words of Mr. Justice Gray, in delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).The specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.” It is manifest that neither Donald J. Trump nor his Attorney General has any awareness of these facts.

[6]By such alleged criteria of “merit,” it is plausible that neither Stephen Miller’s Eastern European refugee forbears or Donald Trump’s own refugee mother (who came to the US penniless from Scotland to work as a domestic) would have been granted legal admittance.

[7]When President Trump’s executive orders directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to expand his coercive program of “expedited removal,” he was in conspicuous violation of the legal principle known as non-refoulement. This principle is unambiguously codified at Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Automatically, owing to the prior incorporation of international human rights law into US law, these very serious violations extend to the authoritative immigration laws of the United States.

[8] The author, Professor Louis René Beres, was born in Switzerland at the end of the War, the only son  of Austrian Jewish Holocaust refugees.

[9]The “mass-man,” we may learn from 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset,  The Revolt of the Masses, “learns only in his own flesh.” Donald J. Trump is the quintessential “mass-man.”

[10]At worst, of course, the Trump-supplied massive weapons transfer to UAE (his quid pro quo for UAE recognizing Israel) will quickly find its way into the hands of more belligerent adversaries of Israel, including assorted Sunni terrorist groups. https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/senate-block-trump-weapons-sale-uae-192114064.html

[11] For authoritative legal criteria to distinguish permissible insurgencies from impermissible ones, see: Louis René Beres, “The Legal Meaning of Terrorism for the Military Commander,” CONNECTICUT JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 11., No. 1., Fall 1995, pp. 1-27.

[12]More  generally, expressions of decisional irrationality in world politics could take different and overlapping forms. These include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[13] See latest book by this writer, Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016; 2nd. ed. 2018). https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy

[14] Presently such a confrontation could not involve a full-fledged nuclear war (because Iran is not yet nuclear). For the moment, therefore, it is not an imminent risk. Looking ahead, however, for informed assessments of the probable consequences of nuclear war fighting, by this author, see Louis René Beres, SURVIVING AMID CHAOS: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016/2018); Louis René Beres,  APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres,  MIMICKING SISYPHUS: AMERICA’S COUNTERVAILING NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1983);  Louis René Beres, REASON AND REALPOLITIK: U S FOREIGN POLICY AND WORLD ORDER (Lexington MA;  Lexington Books, 1984);  and Louis René Beres, ed.,  SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[15]Regarding Israel and Iran, see Louis René Beres and John T. Chain (General/USAF/ret.), “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran”?, The Atlantic, August, 2012; and also: Professor Louis René Beres and General Chain, “Israel and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012. General Chain was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[16]On occasion this “whole” could be minimized by certain lawful expressions of anticipatory self-defense. Non-nuclear preemption has figured importantly in previous Israeli strategic calculations.  This was most glaringly apparent in the wars of 1956 and 1967, and also in the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.  It was essentially the failure to preempt in October 1973 that contributed to heavy Israeli losses on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts during the Yom Kippur war, and almost brought about an Israeli defeat.  During January, May, and October 2013, Israel, understandably apprehensive about Damascus’ supply of military materials to Syria’s Hezbollah surrogates in Lebanon, preemptively struck pertinent hard targets within Syria itself. For a jurisprudential assessment of these undeclared but still-appropriate expressions of anticipatory self-defense, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, “Striking Hezbollah-Bound Weapons in Syria: Israel’s Actions Under International Law,” Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, Online,  August 26, 2013.

[17] See, by this writer, at Harvard Law School:  Louis René Beres,  https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/  See also, by this writer, at West Point (Pentagon):  Louis René  Beres https://mwi.usma.edu/threat-convergence-adversarial-whole-greater-sum-parts/

[18] For early pertinent decisions on US “incorporation” of  authoritative international law by Chief Justice John Marshall, see: The Antelope, 23 U.S. (10 Wheat.) 66, 120 (1825); The Nereide, 13 U.S. (9 Cranch) 388, 423 (1815); Rose v. Himely, 8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 241, 277 (1808) and Murray v. The Schooner Charming Betsy, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 64, 118 (1804).

[19] See, by  this writer: Louis René Beres, https://nationalinterest.org/feature/wanted-plan-nuclear-diplomacy-26395

[20]https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/mary-trump-blood-on-his-hands-101528091.html

[21]See, on this point, by Louis René Beres at Israel Defense: https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/28532

[22]“Theory is a net; only those who cast, can catch.” This metaphor is generally attributed to Novalis, the late 18th-century German poet and scholar. See introductory citation by Karl R. Popper, in his The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959). Ironically, perhaps, Novalis’ fellow German poet, Goethe, declared, in his early Faust fragment (Urfaust): “All theory, dear friend, is grey. But the golden tree of life is green.” (Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grűn des Lebens goldner Baum.)

[23]Regarding illegal US support for the Syrian regime, see, by this author at Jurist:  Louis René Beres, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2018/07/us-abandoning-legal-obligations-in-syria/ 

[24]Deuteronomy, 16:20

[25]  Vladimir Putin has remained Donald Trump’s evident puppet-master. In essence, this US president has been “The Manchurian Candidate” on steroids.

[26]Reference here is to the world system creating Peace of Westphalia, which concluded the Thirty Years War  in 1648. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119. Together, these two treaties comprise the “Peace of Westphalia.” When compared to “Westphalian” anarchy, any impending chaos could be more expressly primal, more primordial, perhaps even self-propelled and “lascivious.” We may think here, for further elucidation, of the near-total “state of nature” described in William Golding’s prophetic novel, Lord of the Flies. Before Golding, the 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (see Ch. XIII of Leviathan) had warned that in any such rabidly dissembling conditions, the “life of man” must inevitably be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

[27]For earlier examinations of this “correlation,” by this author, see:  https://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/louis-bene-beres/israel-palestine-and-correlation-of-forces-in-the-middle-east/2005/04/20/; and also, at Israel Defense: https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/content/idf-correlation-forces-strategy-order

[28] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/foreign-policy/344344-risks-of-accidental-nuclear-war-with-north-korea-must-be

[29]Under international law, terrorist movements are always Hostes humani generis, or “Common enemies of mankind.” See: Research in International Law: Draft Convention on Jurisdiction with Respect to Crime, 29 AM J. INT’L L. (Supp 1935) 435, 566 (quoting King v. Marsh (1615), 3 Bulstr. 27, 81 Eng. Rep 23 (1615)(“a pirate est Hostes humani generis”)).

[30] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s steady insistence that any Palestinian state remain “demilitarized” is not merely unrealistic, but also potentially inconsistent with pertinent international law. On this point, see: Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why a Demilitarized Palestinian State Would Not Remain Demilitarized: A View Under International Law,” Temple International and Comparative Law Journal,Winter, 1998, pp. 347-363. See also, by Professor Beres and AMB. Shoval, at West Point (US Department of Defense): https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/  Zalman Shoval is two-times Ambassador of Israel to the United States.

[31]In principle, such synergies could shed light upon our entire world system’s state of disorder (a view that would reflect what the physicists call “entropic” conditions), and could be dependent upon each pertinent decision-makers subjective metaphysics of time. For an early article by this author dealing with plausible linkages between such a metaphysics and national decision-making processes, see: Louis René Beres, “Time, Consciousness and Decision-Making in Theories of International Relations,” The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. VIII, No.3., Fall 1974, pp. 175-186.

[32] The customary right of anticipatory self-defense, which is the legal expression of preemption, has its modern origins in the Caroline Incident. This was part of the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. (See: Beth Polebau, “National Self-Defense in International Law: An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age,”  59 N.Y.U. L. REV.  187, 190-191 (noting that the Caroline Incident transformed the right of self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a customary legal doctrine). Following the Caroline, even the threat of an armed attack has generally been accepted as justification for a militarily defensive action. In an exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then-U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that does not actually require a prior armed attack. (See Polebau, op. cit., citing to Jennings, “The Caroline and McLeod Cases,”  32 AM. J. INT’L L., 82, 90 (1938).) Here, a defensive military response to a threat was judged permissible as long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation.” (See Polebau. supra, 61).

[33] It warrants pointing out that no state on earth, including Israel, is under any per se legal obligation to renounce access to nuclear weapons, and that in certain residual circumstances, even the actual resort to such weapons could be construed as lawful. On July 8, 1996, the International Court of Justice at The Hague handed down its Advisory Opinion on “The Legality of the Threat or Use of Force of Nuclear Weapons.” The final paragraph of this Opinion, concludes, inter alia: “The threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law. However, in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.” Nonetheless, prima facie, should Israel ever allow itself to reach a point where nuclear weapons use were judged indispensable to continued survival, everything of existential meaning would already have been lost.

[34]See, by this author, at Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School: Louis René Beres, https://harvardnsj.org/2020/03/complex-determinations-deciphering-enemy-nuclear-intentions/  

[35] See, by this author, at BESA (Israel):  Louis René Beres, https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/terrorism-power-death/

[36]In the 17th century, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal remarked prophetically, in his justly celebrated Pensées: “All our dignity consists in thought….It is upon this that we must depend…Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality.” Similar reasoning characterizes the writings of Baruch Spinoza, Pascal’s 17th-century contemporary. In Book II of his Ethics Spinoza considers the human mind, or the intellectual attributes, and – drawing further from Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge.

[37] See early book on this subject by this author, Louis René Beres,  https://www.routledge.com/Terrorism-And-Global-Security-The-Nuclear-Threatsecond-Edition-Completely/Beres/p/book/9780367289881  See also: Louis René Beres,  https://elibrary.law.psu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://search.yahoo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1335&context=psilr

[38] In this connection, see, by this author, at US Army War College (US Department of Defense):  Louis René Beres,  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/

[39] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, https://scholarlycommons.law.case.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1317&context=jil

[40] See, for example, by this author at Besa (Israel):  Louis René Beres, https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/north-korean-threat-rationality-intentionality-nuclear-war/

[41]For important legal distinctions between assassination and targeted killing, see:  Amos N. Guiora, Legitimate Target: A Criteria-Based Approach to Targeted Killing (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 107 pp.

[42]A current example may be found in Israel’s August 2020 elimination of Abu Muhammad al-Masri, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command. While not possible to confirm, it is plausible that Israel acted here as a “sub-contractor” for the United States. When the Taliban fell in Afghanistan, certain senior al-Qaeda leaders fled to Iran. This suggests, inter alia, (1) that upcoming US withdrawals from Afghanistan could occasion a partial or full return of al-Qaeda from Iran, and  (2) that there can be significant ad hoc relationships forged between the Shiite majority regime in Tehran and the Sunni-jihadist terrorist group.

[43] Israel can expect no rescue from a deus ex machina. In ancient Greece, classic playwright Euripides sometimes concluded his plays with  a reassuring “god out of the machine.” Appearing above the action, in a sort of theatrical crane, the specifically relevant god was seemingly able to solve all sorts of dreadful complications arising from the action, and thereby to supply a decipherable and more-or-less happy ending.

[44] “There is no longer a virtuous nation,” wrote the Irish poet W B Yeats, “and the best of us live by candle light.”

[45] Appropriately here, the specific importance of Reason to moral judgment and legal order  was prefigured in ancient Israel, which accommodated Reason within its own system of revealed law.  In jurisprudence, Jewish theory of law, insofar as it displays elements of Natural Law, offers a transcending order revealed by the divine word as interpreted by Reason.  In the words of Ecclesiastics 32.23,  37.16,  13-14:  “Let Reason go before every enterprise and counsel before any action…And let the counsel of thine own heart stand…For a man’s mind is sometimes wont to tell him more than seven watchmen that sit above in a high tower….”

[46] Where these deals are thought of as “Faustian bargains,” they call into question not only Israel’s tangible national security, but also its “soul. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the essence of every human being. Neither Freud nor Jung provides a precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either thinker in any ordinary religious sense. For both, it was a recognizable and critical seat of mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his predicted decline of America by express references to “soul.” He was seemingly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (i.e., awareness of intellect and literature), and supposed that the crude American commitment to a perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment would inevitably cause sweeping psychological misery. One might reasonably extrapolate from this indictment that Freud would have had the same or similar apprehensions about any other society that looked to the United States as a suitable model for imitation, e.g., Israel.

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

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The liberal international order has not crumbled yet

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

The victory of Biden 

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

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

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

The European Union is recovering 

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

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

Non-Western world is struggling 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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