America remains in search of leadership. There is much to be done and much need for that elusive leadership
By Anil Madan
The midterm elections in the US are all but over, down to the final counting. As I write on Wednesday, the day after election-day in the US, the Republicans appear likely to have taken control of the House of Representatives by a slim margin. The Senate is still up for grabs, but it seems likely to remain in the Democrats’ control with an even split 50-50 (48 Democrats plus 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats) and Vice President Kamala Harris casting a deciding vote in case of a tie.
U.S. President Joe Biden campaigning for Democratic Party Rep. Mike Levin in Oceanside, California, last week in preparation for midterm elections. Pic – AFP-JIJI
The runoff election in Georgia will decide whether the Republicans get to designate the Majority Leader or whether the Democrats remain in control. The biggest loser was Donald Trump. No, America did not reject all the election-deniers (the term used to describe those who, without any evidentiary support, claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump) but the big names that Trump pushed found themselves floundering in defeat.
Trump finds himself looking in from the outside at an America that, for the most part, rejects him and his antics. Those who accepted the foolish notion that patriotism is shown by wearing a baseball cap and shouting meaningless slogans, have long since faded into obscurity.
What was forecast to be a debacle for the Democrats, a Red Wave of Republican wins, turned out to be a Pink Ripple. Trump and his allies may have nicked a capillary, but he is an insignificant leech who failed to exsanguinate the Democrats.
America remains in search of leadership. And what we now have posing as leadership must get on with the business of governing. There is precious little time for that because the thrust and parry of the 2024 presidential election will be upon us ere long. There is much to be done and much need for that elusive leadership.
The nation aches for vision
On the Republican front, the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis staked his claim. The mainstream media sprang to attention to proclaim him the heir apparent, if not the fair prince. But here is a man with no articulated vision for where he intends to lead America or why, and for that matter, no stated reason why he wants to be president. On the Democratic front, Joe Biden says he will likely run but again, we are not told why or to what end. The nation aches for vision.
As a practical matter, from a domestic policy perspective, if the numbers eventually resolve to the devolution that the House will be under Republican control and the Senate under Democratic control, doesn’t mean much. Whether it is the Democrats or Republicans in control of the Senate, no major legislation can be passed without getting 60 Senators on board. Else, there will be a filibuster and whatever legislation is at issue, will be doomed. However, fiscal legislation can be passed in the House via the reconciliation process. The Democrats will not be able to leverage that route to pass legislation if the House is in Republican hands. This means stagnation in Washington, DC for the next two years. Strangely, when Congress is gridlocked and cannot pass foolish laws, the American economy does quite well, thank you.
What this does mean in practical terms is that President Biden will have more time to focus on foreign policy issues than on domestic matters. And there, he will have his hands full. From Ukraine to the Korean peninsula, from Beijing to Taiwan to Iran to Saudi Arabia and Israel, there are forces, seemingly unmanageable, at play. Certainly, corralling any of the problems in these areas will take a deft hand.
When we look at Ukraine ten years hence, will America and NATO be proud of what they did? As Putin continues his wanton cold-blooded murder of Ukraine’s people including women and children, and his ruthless, pointless destructive bombing and missile attacks on its energy and water supplies, thus ensuring suffering and death in a harsh winter to follow, did we do enough to stop this idiocy? Putin can gain nothing by annexing Ukraine for he will never subjugate its people. He can gain nothing by killing all Ukrainians other than to cement his historical place in the pantheon of war criminals.
What of the US and NATO? Did they allow Putin to use the doctrine of MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction as a means of nuclear blackmail? Will Ukraine’s population survive another winter without heat, water, food, and shelter?
Nuclear blackmail is not solely the province of a great power such as Russia. It is now in full-fledged use by Kim Jong Un of North Korea too. As he launches ballistic missiles over Japan and adjacent to South Korea, while apparently threatening to conduct another nuclear test, it becomes more and more apparent that the world is dealing with a deranged leader who is looking for recognition and respect. Can he be taken out? Does the US have a first strike capability to wipe out Kim’s ability to launch missiles at South Korea, Japan or Guam, and at the same time to wipe out his nuclear capability?
If the answer is no, be prepared for more nuclear blackmail. And if the answer is yes, it does not follow that it should be the This point has not been lost on the Ayatollahs of Iran for decades. A former President of Iran mused that Israel could be destroyed by one nuclear blast whereas Iran, much larger, could survive a limited attack. As crazy as that may be, it is a risk the rest of the world cannot take. It also highlights why the Ayatollahs seem to have this single-minded and hellbent pursuit of nuclear weapons as their primary mission. Well, perhaps secondary to their lust for repressing their own citizens.
The Iranian regime may be doomed. We cannot tell whether the ongoing protests in that nation will lead to regime change. We hear or read that hundreds have been killed and thousands arrested with threats of long-term incarceration. This only seems to inspire more protests. We shall see.
What then of the Abraham Accords that brought Israel together with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco? Putting aside that when Israel held a celebratory follow up meeting, Egypt was present and Jordan was there in spirit but not actual presence, this is clearly a paradigm shift in the Middle East. But let us suppose for a minute that the Iranian regime is displaced. Will this alliance, birthed out of security concerns about a hostile and encroaching Iranian regime, hold together? There was some speculation that for the UAE and Bahrain to have agreed on the accords, Saudi Arabia must have given its tacit approval. Not so fast. It appears that MBS is positioning himself solidly with China and Russia as a counterfoil to the US.
And speaking of China, there are formidable concerns. At the recent National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, not only did President Xi succeed in getting a third term — and perhaps leadership for life — but he reiterated the notions of conquest of Taiwan and the inevitable conflict with the West led by the US. He has recently repeated calls on the armed forces to be ready to fight.
Delusions of greatness
It is difficult to understand the minds of men such as Xi and Putin. Russia stands to gain nothing from the annexation of Ukraine. The Ukrainian people would not be willing subjects and Russia has no need to add 40-45 million to its population. True, Ukrainian grain producing lands are productive and lucrative, but it is unlikely that Russia would ever be able to run the farms as the Ukrainians did. The sale of Russian oil and gas without sanctions is a surer way to prosperity.
Similarly, Xi seems hell-bent on conjuring up conflict with America. To what end? China is now the major manufactory for sales to the American consumer and American business. Why would Xi want to destroy that relationship? Why does China have even a remote interest in the island nation of Taiwan? Out of wounded pride? Ego? How would it better the lives of the Chinese people for Taiwan to be annexed? An invasion of Taiwan risks the destruction of the island’s chip-making plants. Certainly, over time, plants can be replaced but the economic devastation of supply chains in this area could produce a lasting recession.
Both Putin and Xi seem to have delusions of the greatness of their nations, greatness in the sense of being the dominant nation in its sphere of influence. The post-Soviet Union collapse experience of the US is instructive. The Russia that emerged remained a formidable power, military, strategic, and economic. Neither the US nor NATO wanted to tangle directly with Russia over the Ukraine war. So also, the US is not going to disappear as a world-class power even as China dominates world trade.
These are the shoals that Biden must navigate. In the hands of strong and visionary leaders, the nations involved would face massive and delicate challenges to optimize outcomes and to negotiate mutually beneficial tradeoffs. In the hands of weak and insular leaders, the problems seem insurmountable.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 11 November 2022
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