Category Archives: The Americas

Political Competition– A First Glance at Trump’s Midterm Prospects

 

The Russians are coming! The Democrats are coming! Accusations, challenges and prospective scandals are all very much part of the current political vocabulary in Washington D.C.. But how will this translate into political gains and losses for both President Trump and the Republican Party at the upcoming midterm elections.

To recap, midterm elections are U.S. general elections that are held two years after the election for president. Up for election are members of the United States Congress, including all 435 seats of the House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate. At first glance, the Republicans stand a good chance of keeping a Senate majority; 26 of the 34 seats up for grabs are Democrat[1] which of course they will all need to hold onto before tackling Republican opposition in the remaining 8 seats. The House of Representatives is perhaps the one to watch with many Republican incumbents retiring and poll ratings being neck and neck at the moment.[2]

Russian meddling in the U.S. election will be a prominent factor of the Democrat attack. With Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicting 13 Russians for disruption of the 2016 presidential election, these accusations have all of a sudden become very real and tangible.[3] However, the Democrat’s have yet to come close to the smoking gun they so desperately seek; proof that Donald Trump was actively and consciously involved in this assault on democracy. The CIA fears that both Russia and China will interfere in the midterms but this won’t necessarily hurt Trump or the Republicans in congress with ties to him. CIA chief Mike Pompeo, a Trump ally, worries about the Russians but at the same time stands behind Trump’s engagement with the issue and involvement in its prevention: “he is curious about the facts that we present. He is curious in the sense he wants to understand why we believe them.”[4] Therefore, without further evidence or advancement of the investigation before November, Trump may not stand to be damaged from this. On the contrary, his accusations of a ‘witch hunt’ and ‘hoax’ may resonate with voters, damaging Democrat credibility.

So, if the charge of collusion with Russia is taken out of the equation, why have the Democrats made gains in recent local elections? Linda Belcher, a Democrat, won the special election for a Kentucky House District a few days ago. This win represents the 37th Republican-held state legislative seat to fall to the Democrats since Trump took office.[5] Surely, this symbolises a Democrat resurgence and a vote of no confidence in the president? Well, not necessarily. The ‘Trump effect’ may have galvanised  increased volunteer activity that has edged Democrat candidates to victory but many of these candidates have campaigned on very local issues (For example, in Virginia it was fixing local traffic problems and in Oklahoma, one stressed shortened school hours).[6] When it comes to national, midterm elections, these Democrat advances may not be the best indicator of voter turnout or indeed, which candidates they’ll vote for.

Democrats aside, if the Republicans secure victories, they won’t all be beneficial for Trump. Former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney will run for the Senate seat in Utah. At other Senators’ insistence, Trump has backed him as the Republican candidate but Romney plans to serve as a check on the president when needed; his latest campaign video targets some of Trump’s agenda, including immigration control.[7]  This could make it harder for Trump to pass bills through the Senate or it could play into the president’s hands. Just like the Democrat ‘Witch Hunt’, Romney’s approach has the potential to fail; after all, he represents a failed career politician, an embodiment of the swamp that Trump pledged to drain. Romney’s apparent ‘backstabbing’ could put a sour taste in many voters’ mouths and rally support for other conservative candidates and Trump.

At this stage, the national midterm elections are a hard one to predict. What is clear is that there will be many attacks on the president’s character and policies but the focus shouldn’t be on the attacks themselves but their effect: will they damage Republican chances or backfire and hurt the Democrats?

[1] Pramuk, J. ‘Republicans just got some good news for the 2018 midterm elections: A new poll shows them leading in the race for Congress’ www.cnbc.com https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/14/2018-midterm-elections-republicans-take-lead-on-a-generic-ballot.html [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mudde, C. ‘Democrats beware: the Trump-Russia inquiry isn’t the path to power’ www.theguardian.com https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/21/trump-russia-mueller-investigation-democrats [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[4] Smith, D. ‘Russia is aiming to interfere in US midterm elections, warns CIA chief’ www.theguardian.com https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/29/russia-is-aiming-to-interfere-in-us-midterm-elections-warns-cia-chief [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[5] Vazquez, M. ‘Kentucky Democrat wins state House seat in Trump stronghold’ edition.cnn.com https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/21/politics/kentucky-linda-belcher-trump/index.html [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[6] Sargent, G. ‘A blue wave? How Trump is helping Democrats win in unlikely places’ www.washingtonpost.com https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2018/02/21/a-blue-wave-how-trump-is-helping-democrats-win-in-unlikely-places/?utm_term=.9b9807face40 [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[7] Rogers, K. ‘Trump endorses Mitt Romney’s Run for Utah Senate Seat’ www.nytimes.com https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/19/us/politics/mitt-romney-trump-endorsement-senate.html [Accessed 22/02/2018]

America’s New National Defense Strategy – What does it mean?

‘The world…is awash in change…Great Power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.’[1] On 19 January, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mattis confirmed that American strategic attention was shifting.

The attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 established terrorism as the supreme threat to the United States, a threat to the safety of its citizens and the very ideals for which their country stands for. The successes, failures and honesty of President Bush’s foreign policy aside, his doctrine established a clear vision of America’s role in the world. It would stand unilaterally in the pursuit of its defence and made no distinction between the terrorists and nations that harboured them.[2]

The waning presence of Islamic State makes Bush’s vision outdated. The threat of IS is now overshadowed by perhaps a more traditional antagonist; rogue or revisionist nation states seeking to disrupt the global order. Russia and China are the primary nations that now constitute the focus of American defense strategy and for good reason. China represents a significant economic threat to the U.S., particularly through its potential ambition to dethrone the U.S. dollar by pricing Oil in Yuan[3].  Russia’s military prowess has been demonstrated in Ukraine and its Middle East intervention has produced significant gains for the Syrian government. Both nations clearly represent a significant threat to America’s global leadership which explains the U.S. shift in Defense policy, illustrated by Secretary Mattis’s recent remarks.  In a sense, this strategy represents a return to the Cold War model, pitting global superpowers against each other in a deadlocked competition.

President Trump’s National Defense Strategy makes sense and is perhaps a more up-to-date version than previous approaches that fixated upon international terrorism.  But is it inward looking as much as it is outward looking? Trump’s administration has more military commanders in top positions than any since Eisenhower’s[4] and this could illustrate bureaucratic pressure to secure a policy favourable to the military’s budget. Moreover, 2018 mid-term elections are fast approaching and the alleged Russian hacking still overshadows Trump to a greater or lesser extent. Tough talk on Russia could effectively shrug off Republican critics such as Senator McCain and help hold much needed seats in Congress for Trump to secure more legislative achievements such as tax reform. Whatever the motives behind this shift in outlook, President Trump is establishing a foreign policy vision of his own, distinct from Bush and Obama; a vision that recognises the threat to American supremacy abroad and clearly seeks to address this. There will be two things to watch for over the coming months. One, how much of this strategy is implemented and in what form it materialises. Two, how Russia and China respond to America’s policy shift and whether this will affect the dynamic of other areas such as dealing with North Korea.

[1] ‘Remarks by Secretary Mattis on the National Defense Strategy’.  www. Defense.gov https://www.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/1420042/remarks-by-secretary-mattis-on-the-national-defense-strategy/ [Accessed 25 January 2018]

[2] Jones, S. ‘Understanding the Bush Doctrine’ www.thoughtco.com https://www.thoughtco.com/the-bush-doctrine-3310291 [Accessed 25 January 2018]

[3] Jegarajah, S. ‘China has grand ambitions to dethrone the dollar. It may make a powerful move this year’. www.cnbc.com https://www.cnbc.com/2017/10/24/petro-yuan-china-wants-to-dethrone-dollar-rmb-denominated-oil-contracts.html [Accessed 25 January 2018]

[4] Wallace, C. ‘Trump’s generals: President turns to military men for counsel, order’ www.foxnews.com http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/08/08/trumps-generals-president-turns-to-military-men-for-counsel-order.html [Accessed 25 January 2018]

Terrorist Attack Could Benefit Trump

There is a constant question mark over which nation and which location will be the next to fall victim to a serious terrorist attack. In the United States, the possibility of an attack has taken on added significance with the presidential election looming, and there is little doubt which candidate would stand to gain the most politically should such an incident occur before polling day on the 8th November.

The recent bombs blasts that occurred in New York have not yet been claimed by any particular terrorist group. It is likely that it was an instance of lone actor terrorism inspired by Islamic State; however, this has not been proven. The most important aspect of the incident was instead the contrasting reactions that it drew from Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. One seized on the Afghan born perpetrator Ahmad Khan Rahami’s immigrant background to repeat calls for ‘extreme vetting’ of migrants entering the US, the other called for increased harmony between law enforcement agencies and Islamic communities in the US. It would not take a genius to deduce who said what.

The failed attack in New York re-emphasises how events beyond either candidate’s control could heavily influence the outcome of the election. The incident in New York thankfully did not result in any fatalities. However, what if another attack should occur in the coming weeks that does? There is every chance that such an incident will fuel more support for Trump and his hard line stance on immigration. In the aftermath of an attack, fear and anger rather than restraint generally take hold. The American people will demand tough rhetoric from both of their presidential candidates, something which Trump excels at projecting, far more so than the calm and professional Clinton. It is worth noting that Trump will be in a better position than ever to attack Clinton during the upcoming televised presidential debates that are set to draw massive national audiences.

It may seem cynical to focus on what Trump could gain in the event of such a tragedy. However, the reality is that Trump has harnessed the fear and anger that millions of Americans feel over issues such as terrorism to great effect. Another successful attack would inspire yet more fear and anger, and there is no telling how many more voters that he will be able to rope in should that time come.

Trump Will Not be a One-Off Presidential Candidate

Donald Trump once again displayed his talent for causing controversy with his criticism of the parents of Captain Humayun Khan, an American Muslim soldier who was killed in action during the Iraq War in 2004. His comments once again called into question the Republican candidate’s attitude toward the issue of racial relations. However, despite the shock that his remarks have caused, the worrying prospect that such behaviour may become the norm in future US presidential elections cannot be ignored.

Aside from the remorseless and uncaring manner of his comments, Trump’s criticism of Khan’s bereaved parents was unsettling because it showed that Khan had failed to win Trump’s respect despite sacrificing his life for his country. The link between Khan’s Islamic background, Trump’s comments and the hard line stance that he has taken over the issue of Islam in America is clear. The mere thought that these comments were racially motivated is enough for eerie historical comparisons to be made between Captain Khan and African-American soldiers who fought for the US during both World Wars, but returned home to experience the same racism, bigotry and violence that they had always faced.

What is also of considerable concern is the legacy that Trump’s success may leave. He has actively caused controversy to stir up more support amongst his anti-establishmentarian followers. It is unlikely that this anti-establishment feeling will subside anytime soon. It has been caused by escalating social tensions over sensitive issues such as race, immigration and gun control, which has been exacerbated by increasing instances of violence over these areas. The recent shootings in Dallas and Orlando to name but two examples. These tensions will take a long time to reconcile. The prospect of another candidate like Trump, who seeks to use this tension to their benefit emerging again in the future is realistic.

The notion that the sort of rhetoric directed toward Captain Khan’s family could consequently become the norm in US elections is disturbing. Finding a way to reconcile the social and political tension that helped give rise to it will be the greatest domestic challenge faced by the White House and Congress over the coming years. Unless genuine bi-partisan agreements and compromises are reached over the contentious issues plaguing US society, something which both major parties and the White House have failed to do during the Obama administration, we could very see this election campaign repeat itself soon.

 

Russia’s Very Own Turkish Coup

The move by Russia to normalise its relations with Turkey was unexpected. However, it makes perfect sense when one considers Russia’s foreign policy strategy is focused on outmanoeuvring the US and Europe over the refugee and Syria crises.

The tension that had until recently dogged relations between the two nations had been caused by the downing of a Russian jet near Turkey’s border with Syria on 24th November last year. One of the most significant links between this incident and the normalisation of Russo-Turkish relations is that a repeat is now highly unlikely. The strengthening of ties between the two will allow the Russians additional freedom to conduct airstrikes in Syria. Russia is thus in a considerably stronger position to advance its own aims and those of Bashar al-Assad, something which the US and Europe do not want to see.

The significance of Turkey in the current refugee crisis cannot be ignored either. There are approximately 2.75 million refugees currently in Turkey. Russia, like ISIS, has utilised the crisis to destabilise the domestic and foreign affairs of the US and Europe. The normalisation of ties with Turkey will give the Russians increased influence over the fate of the millions of refugees resident there. This spells bad news for a Europe that is already being strained at a political and societal level by both this crisis and Brexit. The EU’s aim of expanding will also have been set back by the normalisation as Turkey had a significant interest in one day joining the EU. It is now highly doubtful that this will happen anytime in the short or medium term future, and once again shows the ease at which Russia is able to outflank the EU at a diplomatic level.

Normalisation of relations with Turkey was nothing short of a masterstroke from Russia. It shows that they are still a force to be reckoned with on the world stage, whilst decreasing the likelihood of a solution to the refugee and Syrian crises and the instability in the EU being found. Should the isolationist and unstable Donald Trump capture the White House later this year, Russia’s work to ensure that it becomes one of the dominant powers in Eurasia will be frighteningly close to fruition. The need for greater cohesion and purpose within the EU, and for the West in general over the refugee and Syria crises has never been greater.

Why Russia Want Trump to Win

The linking of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to Russia raises questions over what Russia may have to gain from a Trump victory in the election later this year.

The answer appears obvious at first. Trump has previously praised Vladimir Putin and has suggested that the United States’ NATO allies will only be able to guarantee American protection by fulfilling their ‘obligations’ to the US under his watch. Such statements further empower Russia and fit in with Trump’s isolationist outlook on foreign policy. Should Trump be given a chance to realise this vision and scale back or withdraw existing American international commitments, it would give Russia a golden opportunity to increase its global influence.

The Russians would also undoubtedly prefer a politically inexperienced Trump to be in the White House come next January. However, the key factor behind why they would find a Trump victory preferable is China. Russia’s recent normalisation of its relations with Turkey showed its desire to continue its aggressive foreign policies of the past few years, as the normalisation allowed it increased freedom to conduct airstrikes in Syria without serious reprisal. This evidences a clear desire from the Russians to expand their influence over Eurasia. China is its biggest rival in this regard with its gargantuan population, and burgeoning economy and military might. Trump’s rhetoric toward China has been markedly confrontational. His foreign policy promises thus far include labelling China as a currency manipulator and bolstering the US military presence in the South China Seas. If successfully enacted, these policies would result in the US and China spending time and resources on countering each other as opposed to Russia.

It cannot be conclusively proven that the Russians are influencing the US election. What has been obvious for a long time however is that international order is returning to a balance of power state with no one state dominant over the international system. The US, China and Russia instead all vie for increased global influence in order to gain an advantage over one another. A Trump victory would seriously affect the balance of power in Russia and China’s favour. All that remains to be seen is whether this possibility will affect the way millions of Americans vote when they go to the polls on November 8th. The pleasing aspect for the Russians and the Chinese is the not inconsiderable possibility that it will not.

The Revelations from the Orlando Attacks

The horrifying attack on the Pulse night club in Orlando, Florida, just over two weeks ago opened up fresh debate over the ongoing issues of gun control and homophobia that currently plague US society. There has been far less of an attempt to place the attack in the context of the terror tactics being deployed by the Islamic State who inspired it. The attack demonstrated the power that IS retains to inspire lone-actor terrorism as well as larger scale terrorist attacks in western nations, even as the noose is tightened around its neck by the Iraqi army in Fallujah. The specificity of the attack against a gay nightclub also represents a chilling new dimension to the tactics of IS.

What made the Orlando shooting more disturbing than other major terrorist attacks of recent times is that it deliberately targeted LGBTQ people. It was more than a mere attempt to spread the fear of losing one’s life amongst members of a population or to forcibly coerce a government to take a certain action, but to make people afraid of expressing their sexuality. Additionally concerning, is the suggestion that pre-existing prejudices that exist toward LGBTQ people in European and US societies could fuel similar attacks and serve as a potent recruiting tool for IS. There is a strong suggestion that Omar Mateen, the perpetrator in this instance, was fiercely homophobic.

Although Mateen pledged allegiance to IS prior to his murderous act, there remains considerable doubt over how much direct influence they had in motivating him. Mateen had lived his entire live in the US and had a history of mental illness. These two factors would preclude him from having had any physical contact with IS and would suggest an alternative reason for his actions respectively. Yet the fact that he undeniably fell under their influence clearly demonstrates the continued power that their ideology has to inspire such acts.

It is unclear how long it will take to eradicate the influence of this ideology. What recent events have also demonstrated is that IS will exploit every conceivable societal division that they can in order to further their deadly ambitions. Keeping society cohesive in Europe and the US therefore, will be as much a blow to IS as any victory won against them in the field.

Clinton Victory Will Not Empower All Women

Hilary Clinton’s securing of the Democratic nomination sees her remain on course to become the first ever female president of the United States. It would follow on from the election of Barack Obama as the first ever African-American to occupy the Oval office. However, Obama’s election did not resolve the racial problems still inherent in American society, and a Clinton victory would be similarly limited in the scope of its empowerment of women.

A Clinton triumph would unmistakably benefit women. It would show that it is possible for an American woman to become president, when one hundred years ago, they did not even have the right to vote. In order to become president, she would have to defeat Donald Trump, who can be seen to epitomise what some have dubbed the Republican ‘war on women’. His insulting tweet about rival Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi, his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s assault on reporter Michelle Fields, and his hasty retraction of a suggestion that women who choose to have an abortion should be punished, have all created a sexist and divisive feel around his campaign. A Clinton victory would be welcomed by many who see Trump as being detrimental to the further empowerment of women.

Yet, there are clear limitations on just how empowering Clinton’s victory would be. Clinton is white, Yale educated and is married to a former president. She is also part of the maligned Washington establishment having served from 2001 – 2013 firstly as a Senator and then as Secretary of State. She is unrepresentative of many women in the United States. The fact that she has failed to overwhelmingly command the support of the female electorate, something that the first ever female nominee from a major US political party would surely take as a given, suggests that not all women view her as the candidate that they desire or need. Continuing doubts over Clinton’s commitment to strengthening social security and the ongoing email scandal, have driven many women to support Clinton’s democratic rival Bernie Sanders instead. Others have even turned to Trump.

A Clinton victory would be a boost for female empowerment, but it will not be the boost that many would have hoped for. The fight for the further political empowerment of women must continue regardless of who steps into the White House next January. Clinton’s election would bring hope to many women, but many more will not feel its benefits.