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After The Trump Horror Will America’s Next President Be “Normal?”

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After enduring four years of a soiled and dissembling presidency, US voters are entitled to raise a once inconceivable question. Before voting in the 2024 presidential election, they should inquire with appropriate seriousness: “Are these candidates “normal?” Any such query would be many-sided and exceedingly complicated. After all, Americans will have to recall that when he was first introduced as a plausible political candidate back in 2016,  Donald J. Trump seemed to many more charmingly “original” than genuinely dangerous or sinister.

               At that time, at least for many Americans, Donald J. Trump was even  presumed “refreshingly eccentric” or “reassuringly honest.”

               But that was before The Horror.

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.”

               Looking ahead, however, to be purposeful and decent, the selection of the next US president ought not become a psychiatric task per se. In essence, such selection should not be directed by any deliberate search for “abnormality.” This means, inter alia, looking for all of the traditionally-valued qualities of intellect and integrity, but dispensing with any stark assessment differentiations between “normal” and “abnormal.” This is not because “abnormality” would be insignificant, but because it could “present” in unforeseeable  ways or be no more portentous than “normalcy.”

               The world is complicated, Among other things, US voters will need to learn that seemingly “normal” individuals could sometimes pose a manifestly grave threat to American democracy. In certain circumstances, a presumptively “normal” candidate – “eccentric,” “refreshing,” and “charming” – could disguise even greater peril than a glaringly “abnormal” one.[1]

               In all such bewildering assessments, nuance will be critical. At first glance, designations of “normal” and “abnormal” could appear to be sharply delineating and mutually exclusive. Still, upon more subtle and careful examinations, we could all discover that these qualities are more correctly thought of as different points along a common continuum than as discernible analytic alternatives. The real task is not to make this important discovery too late in the “game.”

                There is more. Sigmund Freud wrote imaginatively about the Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1914) while tracing various connections between “abnormal” and “normal.” In consequence, he was surprised to learn just how faint the supposed line of conceptual demarcation could actually be. Exploring  parapraxes, or slips of the tongue, a phenomenon that we now popularly call “Freudian slips,” Freud concluded, somewhat counter-intuitively,  that specific psychopathologic traits could often be identified in apparently “normal” persons.

               Such identifications, moreover, could prove to be entirely routine.  

               After World War II and the Holocaust, American psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton interviewed Nazi (SS) doctors. Perplexed, as a physician, that monstrous Nazi crimes had been justified as “hygiene,” and medicalized murders designated “therapeutic,” Lifton was determined to answer some very basic questions. Most elementary of his pertinent queries was this one:  How could Nazi doctors have managed to conform the large-scale medicalized killing of innocent and defenseless human beings with an otherwise normal/civilized private life?

                Some of Lifton’s findings were markedly unexpected. It was not unusual, for example, that Nazi doctors had remained good fathers and husbands while simultaneously murdering Jewish children. Like some of the most heinous concentration camp commandants, these defiling physicians (doctors who were sworn by Hippocrates to “do no harm”) were capable of supervising  systematic mass murders six days a week.

               On the seventh day, properly, conventionally and sometimes even religiously, they went off to church with their families.

                Polite and nicely groomed for the occasion.

               In Auschwitz, on Sunday, SS prayers were commonly uttered in liturgical chorus. How could this be? More importantly, for us to inquire,  how can Professor Lifton’s scholarly insights and answers from this earlier era of mass criminality help us to better understand the future selection of an American president?

               Lifton carried on his examination of the Nazi “biomedical vision” as a Yale Professor and as Fellow of the Max Planck Institute for Research in Psychopathology and Psychotherapy. For the American-Jewish physician, this examination was not just some random undertaking of unstructured curiosity. Rather, adhering to widely-accepted and intellectually impressive protocols, Dr. Lifton embarked upon a carefully rigorous scientific study.

               To the physician, the Oath of Hippocrates pledges that “I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art.” When asked about this unwavering duty, most of the interviewed SS doctors had felt no contradiction. In Nazi ideology, “The Jew,” after all, was “a source of infection.” Ridding society of the Jews, it follows, was a properly “anti-infective” medical goal. Moreover, they saw such murderously irrational “excisions” as an “obligation” of “healing” and “compassion.”

               Credo quia absurdum, we might recall. “I believe because it is absurd.”       

               However seemingly inane, Americans must prepare to consider mass murder as a heinous crime sometimes justified by metaphor. Millions of Holocaust murders offer irrefutable evidence of just how easy it is to fully subordinate science and reason to the most preposterous forms of doggerel.[2] With such a willful subordination,[3] otherwise normal human behavior could give way to once unimaginable levels of human predation.

               Now, variously underling explanatory themes arise, several which may shed light on the conspicuously dark and untruthful Trump Era.  To wit, the duality of good and evil within each individual person is a very old idea in western thought, most notably in German literature, from Johan Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Nietzsche to Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann. Always, in studying this clarifying literature, we may learn that the critical boundaries of caring and compassion are most genuinely not between “normal” and “abnormal” persons, but instead, within each individual person.  Ordinarily, it is time to recognize, the generally porous walls of human normalcy and abnormality allow each single individual to oscillate more or less freely between cruelty and altruism, between violence and calm, between right and wrong, between reason and anti-reason.

               American voters take heed. Truth is never just a political contrivance, as has been supposed by Donald J, Trump and his continuously obedient enablers. In short, truth is exculpatory, in psychiatry as well as in politics. At any moment of human history, the veneer of human civilization remains thin, markedly thin.    Always, it is grievously fragile, ready to crack.

               When, finally, it does begin to fracture, as in the case of the marooned children in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, a ubiquitous human nature imperils even the most well bred British schoolboys. It is a predatory nature  exposing darkly primal and variously intersecting layers of pure barbarism.

                Thomas Mann reminds, though in  generic terms, this destructive nature will “dare to be barbaric, twice barbaric indeed.”

               After attending the 1961 Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, political philosopher Hannah Arendt advanced the sobering hypothesis that evil can be stunningly ordinary or “banal;” that it can be generated by the literal and seemingly benign absence of authentic thought.[4] Unsurprisingly, this novel interpretation of evil was widely challenged and disputed following the actual trial, but it was nonetheless rooted in certain classical views of individual human dualism, particularly Goethe’s Faust. Hannah Arendt’s resurgent idea of evil as mundane was further reinforced by still-earlier studies of nefarious human behavior in the crowd, the herd, or the mass, especially the variously overlapping works of Soren Kierkegaard, Max Stirner, Arthur Schopenhauer, Gustave LeBon, Carl G. Jung, Elias Canetti, and Sigmund Freud.

               In all of these thematically-related writings, a common focus is placed upon the potentially corrosive impact of group membership and identity on individual human behavior. In this authentically vital genre, Freud’s own best contribution remains his Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921). The seminal psychologist-philosopher  already knew that Reason is at perpetual war with Anti-Reason, and that political dictatorships will inevitably favor the latter.[5]

               Robert Lifton also likely knew all this. Still, he sought something more,  some other isolatable mechanism by which the ordinary or “normal” evildoer could render himself or herself “abnormal.” Ultimately, he discovered this esoteric mechanism in an intra-psychic process labeled as “doubling.”

               Different from the traditional psychoanalytic concept of “splitting,” or what Freud preferred to call “dissociation,” doubling, said Lifton,  is the means whereby an “opposing self” begins to replace portions of the “original self,” in effect usurping and overwhelming that original self from within. When this happens, we learn further,  the opposing self is able to embrace evil-doing without restraint and even while the original self seeks to remain “good.”

                Significantly, for optimum understanding of the outgoing Trump presidency, doubling permits pertinent evil doers to avoid personal guilt, and thus to live simultaneously within two discrete and adversarial levels of human consciousness.

               As a “maneuver,” however unwitting, doubling allowed the Nazi doctors to become murderers and decent family men at the same time. In similar fashion, doubling is likely the way that shameless Trump-sycophants are able to reconcile the apparent ordinariness of their public lives with derivative expressions of personal cruelty. Timely examples here would be Trump’s “Darwinian” attitude toward the exploding Covid19 pandemic and his sustained indifference to massive mistreatment of Hispanic refugee children along US southern borders.

               As with the Nazi doctors and the Jews, it is plausible that “know nothing” Trump-followers regard the harms inflicted upon certain “others” (de facto, “sub-humans”) as not merely pleasing, but as a welcome form of  national “healing.”

               Sometimes, truth emerges through paradox. Accordingly, there can be an abnormal side to normalcy. For the future, in thinking about how best to continuously protect ourselves from another sordid and toxic president, Americans would be well-advised not to think of their prospective leader in narrowly polar terms – that is, normal/abnormal; good/evil.

               In the Third Reich, doubling was not the only reason certain “normal” individuals were able to be complicit in crimes against humanity.[6] Elements of “groupthink,” especially an overwhelming need to belong, have always been a dominant decisional influence on human behavior. Clinically, at least, whatever sorts of explanation might ultimately emerge as most persuasive, we Americans may still have to accept that the most odious and contemptible political leaders have sometimes been clinically “normal.”

               Such conclusions ought to be kept in mind as future US voters prepare to better understand the “psychopathology of normalcy.” In support of such necessary preparations, citizens ought to focus more diligently on tangible fact-based explanations[7] than on narrowly simplistic or corrosively conspiratorial ones.[8] And just as important, Americans should prepare to reject future candidates who display any darkly visible affections for prejudice and rancor, the sort of hatreds that have been nurtured so systematically by Donald J. Trump at home and abroad.

               There is more. When violence-stoking hatreds are channeled by President Trump into the crudely belligerent nationalism[9] of  “America First,” they could result in catastrophic international war.[10] In this regard,  Americans won’t be out of the woods (not even tentatively or partially) until January 20th, 2021. At that point, the full consequences of the Trump presidency should reveal themselves not as just a passing “abnormality,” but as the plausible result of a political selection process that can overlook or understate the “banality of evil.”

               Should this flawed process ignore interrelated considerations of law,[11] intellect and ethics once again in 2024, the lethal consequences could then prove irremediable. Why does the famous Edvard Munch “scream” (above) resonate so tellingly across the world? It is because so many “normal”  human beings are able to grasp intuitively a very sobering awareness: In a world that is so conspicuously mad, not to be mad could represent just another form of madness.

————-


[1] Do you know what it means to find yourselves face to face with a madman,” inquires Luigi Pirandello in Act II of Henry IV, “with one who shakes the foundations of all you have built up in yourselves, your logic, the logic of all your constructions? Madmen, lucky folk, construct without logic, or rather, with a logic that flies like a feather.”

[2] Even now, large numbers of Americans, misdirected by a president who opposes Reason and Law at every turn,  decry science and medicine in a calculated preference for ignorance.  Twentieth-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gassett clarified the generic bases of such a leader-induced declension in his classic The Revolt of the Masses (1930):  “It’s not that the vulgar believes itself to be superexcellent and not vulgar, but rather that the vulgar proclaim and impose the rights of vulgarity or vulgarity itself as a right.” Among other evident absurdities, it is this perverse “right of vulgarity” that still animates the docile Trump legions of cultivated thoughtlessness and deliberate inconscience.

[3] Too little attention has been directed toward Donald J. Trump’s open loathing of science and intellect, and to his corresponding unwillingness to read. Ironically, the Founding Fathers of the United States were intellectuals. As explained by American historian Richard Hofstadter: “The Founding Fathers were sages, scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning, who used their wide reading in history, politics and law to solve the exigent problems of their time.” See Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964), p. 145. A conclusion ought to surface: How far we Americans have fallen.

[4]See Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963).

[5] On this key theme, see especially Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952). In a diagnosis that seems to fit perfectly with America’s current struggles with Trump-inflicted horror, Jaspers summarizes a lethal problem of “normalcy.” In essence, notes Jaspers: “The enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.”

[6] Crimes against humanity are formally defined as “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population before or during a war; or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether  or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated….”  See Charter of the International Military Tribunal,  Aug. 8, 1945, Art. 6(c),  59 Stat.  1544, 1547,  82 U.N.T.S.  279, 288.

[7] But see Karl Jaspers, Reason and anti-Reason in Our Time (1952): “There is something inside all of us that earns not for reason, but for mystery – not for penetrating clear thought but for the whisperings of the irrational….”

[8] Recall, in this connection, Bertrand Russell’s timeless warning in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916): “Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth, more than ruin, more even than death.”

[9] The belligerent nationalismof Donald Trump stands in marked contrast to authoritative legal assumptions concerning solidarity between states. These jurisprudential assumptions concern a presumptively common legal struggle against both aggression and terrorism. Such a “peremptory” expectation, known formally in law as a jus cogens assumption, had already been mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey., tr, Clarendon Press, 1925)(1690); and Emmerich de Vattel, 1 Le Droit Des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[10] For early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects in particular, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018). https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy

[11] Apropos of US disregard for relevant international law, President Donald J. Trump instructed his Secretary of State and Attorney General to openly denounce the International Criminal Court’s planned investigation of alleged US war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. This direction represented a fundamental contradiction of America’s peremptory obligation to national and international law. In the words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.  For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.”  See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900).  See also:  The Lola,  175 U.S. 677 (1900);  Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774,  781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984)(per curiam)(Edwards, J. concurring)(dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied,  470 U.S. 1003 (1985)(“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).

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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Biden: No More “Favourite Dictators”

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

 Former US President Donald Trump shared a strong personal rapport with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. Trump made no bones about the fact, that he got along well with authoritarian leaders – especially in the Middle East. At the G7 Summit in 2019, Trump while looking for Egyptian President had even said, “Where’s my favourite dictator?”

Statements made by Biden before taking over as US President

On the other hand, Joe Biden before taking over as US President had repeatedly criticized Erdogan, MBS and Sisi for their poor human rights record, and had unequivocally stated that none of them would have a free pass in a Biden Presidency.  Biden had on numerous occasions flagged the dismal Human Rights record of Saudi Arabia, especially MBS’ involvement in the murder of Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and lashed out at Trump for soft pedaling on the issue because of his personal rapport with MBS. Similarly, in August 2020, Biden had dubbed Erdogan as an ‘autocrat’ and also expressed the view that the US needed to lend support to opposition parties in Turkey. Biden had also issued a warning to Sisi, saying that there would be “no more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favourite dictator’.”

How President Biden has approached relations with the three leaders

During the Biden Administration, ties with Saudi Arabia have witnessed a change. A report which clearly points to MBS’ role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was released (Trump had refused to release this report). The US has withdrawn support for the Saudi war in Yemen, and defence agreements signed between the US and Saudi Arabia, during the Trump Administration have been put on hold. Yet, Biden while sanctioning Saudi officials in connection with the Khashoggi case, in addition to those sanctioned by the Trump administration, refused to impose sanctions on MBS owing to the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East (Saudi support is essential for the revival of the Iran Nuclear Deal/Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action-JCPOA) and the strong US-Saudi relationship. It would be pertinent to point out, that Biden’s decision not to impose sanctions on MBS has drawn strong criticism from many including members of his own party.

If one were to look at the case of Turkey in recent months, the Turkish President has himself toned down his Anti-West rhetoric and described his meeting with Biden on the sidelines of the recent NATO Summit as fruitful. While commenting on the meeting with Biden, Erdogan stated that ‘ We believe there is no problem that cannot be resolved in Turkey-US relations,’

The US President also said, that the meeting with Erdogan was positive and expressed hope that the bilateral relationship would improve in days to come.

While the meeting between Biden and Erdogan was positive, differences between both sides still persist over Turkey’s purchase of S400 missiles (the Trump administration had imposed sanctions in its final days and Turkey had also been removed from its F-35 fighter jet program)

Turkey’s strategic relevance

Turkey has stated that it is willing to play a role in security in Afghanistan, and guard Kabul airport, after the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Turkish President did say that Turkey would require diplomatic, logistic and financial support that the United States. The Biden administration’s outreach to Turkey indicates that in spite of differences over key issues, Istanbul’s potentially important role post the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is something, the US will not ignore. Erdogan on his part needs to have a reasonable relationship with US, given the fact that the Turkish economy has slowed down significantly.

If one were to look at the case of Egypt, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi role in the ceasefire between Israel and Palestine, was acknowledged by the Biden Administration. While the US President during a telephonic conversation hailed Sisi for his ‘successful diplomacy’ in the Israel-Palestine ceasefire, the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said:

‘We have had in Egypt a real and effective partner in dealing with the violence, bringing it to a close, relatively quickly. And now, we are working closely together to build something positive’

It would be pertinent to point out, that during his telephonic conversation with Sisi, in May 2021, Biden did flag the need for a ‘constructive dialogue’ on human rights in Egypt

Conclusion

While it is easy to criticise Joe Biden, he has the onerous responsibility of striking a  balance between values, which he has repeatedly referred to even after taking over as President, with US interests. Given the complex geopolitics of the Middle East, Biden while refraining from taking steps, which may be counterproductive has flagged his concerns with regard to Human Rights, and sent out a strong message that bilateral relations will be dictated by substance and not mere personal chemistry or optics. At the end of the day it is important not to forget Miles’s law — ‘where you stand depends upon where you sit’.

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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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