Donald Trump’s refusal to concede defeat

This week mainstream media in the USA and Western Europe are allocating prime attention to the stubborn challenge Donald Trump has made to electoral results in a number of swing states, to his demand for recounts and his insistence that the Democrats have “stolen” the election by encouraging massive voter fraud. There are suggestions that this behavior threatens American democracy. We hear dark intimations that The Donald is plotting a coup d’état and intends to remain in office at any cost. The boys and girls are being mentally prepared to rally in the streets to save the Republic.

For his part, President-elect Joe Biden yesterday told the press that Trump’s refusal to concede defeat is a national embarrassment and will impact on the President’s legacy.  Of course, these moderate words are intended to paper over Biden’s own calling Trump a “clown” and “the worst president in American history” during the first televised debate.  How Trump’s legacy can be further tarnished by his latest antics strains credulity.

Let us move beyond superficialities and go to the essence of what Trump is now doing.  Despite brave words about overturning Biden’s vote tally in the electoral college and winning four more years in the White House, I think it is reasonably likely that Trump knows the score and plans to vacate the White House in January as the law requires.  What we are seeing is something entirely different: he is using every resource at his disposal to delegitimize the election of Joe Biden for precisely the same reasons as the Democrats used every trick in the book to delegitimize his own election in 2016. The main thrust of their campaign then was the completely fabricated claim that the Trump team had colluded with the Russians and that Trump owed his victory to interference in the American political process by the Kremlin.  The attempted knock-out blow of releasing the Steele dossier to the press and doing it precisely via the traditionalist and virulently anti-Trump Republican, Senator McCain, was another leg of this defamation effort. We all know what followed, leading ultimately to the president’s impeachment. Russia was instrumentalized for the purpose of bringing down the sitting president. There was no concern that the attacks on the Kremlin might cross tripwires and endanger national security as a war of words spiraled upwards into something more ominous. This was an historical first for the Republic and it was a new low in political intrigue. In light of this, we can only say “as you sow, so shall you reap” – the Democrats are getting back from Trump now what they inflicted on him four years ago.

The same applies to the transition process, which Trump’s refusal to concede defeat is frustrating immensely. Yes, as our newspapers remind us, at this time in the 2016 post-electoral calendar, Donald Trump and Melania were being taken around the White House by Barack and Michele Obama. BUT, and this is an entirely relevant consideration, at the same time the Obama Administration was doing everything possible to wreck Trump’s main electoral pledge in foreign affairs, to reach a new understanding with Russia. They handed on to Trump a poisoned chalice. To be specific, they seized Russian state diplomatic property in the United States and did what was in their power to disrupt relations.  When Trump appointed General Flynn to discuss with the Russian ambassador the possibility of overlooking this offense pending the handover of power and a new policy on Russia, Flynn was ensnared by the US intelligence services in denials of that happening, which led to his facing the courts over perjury and his eventual removal from power. In fact, what Flynn was doing, reaching out to foreign leaders during the transition period, was a well-established practice going back decades. We see the Biden transition team doing the same thing today, when Biden himself confers with the prime minister of Ireland, as if he represented US diplomacy and possibly in violation of the letter of American law.  Our media find absolutely nothing wrong in this, since it is their boy, Uncle Joe, who is doing the consultations, not the authoritarian, wicked Donald Trump and his minions.

Happily the efforts of Trump to delegitimize the incoming Biden administration are based strictly on the flaws of the domestic voting mechanism, in particular on possible abuses of the mail-in voting, without bringing in some foreign actor and disrupting the nation’s relations with allies and adversaries. However, the venom which the Democrats injected into the game of alternation in power will be with us for some time. Joe Biden may try to evade responsibility for what will be a tough four years ahead, but the buck stops on this one at his desk.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020 

[If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]

Is a change in the power balance between executive and legislature presently underway in Russia?

What does the reshuffle in the cabinet of the past several days tell us?

The past several days have seen announcements in TASS and other mainstream Russian media regarding an interesting cabinet reshuffle which President Putin has confirmed following new procedures that were set out in rather sketchy manner in the constitutional amendments approved by the Duma and then by the general population in a referendum earlier this year. 

News and analysis of the reshuffle by Russian journalists has been disjointed, telling us a lot about some of the new faces filling ministerial slots but giving little insight into what the logic driving the change may have been. Commentary from Western media has been almost non-existent.  As usual our Russian experts are all piled up at the same “scrimmage lines” of which the cabinet change is not one. Instead they are trying to make sense of Russia’s passage through Covid-19, of the Russian involvement in the peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan about Nagorno-Karabakh, of Russian reaction to the election of Joe Biden. This is what we see reflected in yesterday and today’s issues of Johnson’s Russia List.

The most persuasive explanation of the cabinet reshuffle that I have seen in Russian media is that Prime Minister Mishustin was removing persons he took over from the Medvedev era and was installing people he feels more comfortable with, nearly all of them technocrats rather than politicians. However, there are indications, particularly when we consider the move of Alexander Novak from the Ministry of Energy to a newly created position as the 10th Deputy Prime Minister, for us to believe that something more substantial is underway, and that it may be related to the very big issue of an eventual succession to Vladimir Putin.

The procedure now is for the Prime Minister to name the new ministers, for them to confirmed or rejected by the Duma within certain deadlines, and for the Duma-approved ministers to be confirmed in their positions by the President.

We are informed only partially by Russian media on the nay votes and abstentions, both of which were applied to several of the ministerial nominations. We are told that A Just Russia and LDPR were against certain proposed appointments. We are not told how the Communists voted. And all of these Duma parties were not given the microphone to explain themselves.

We may assume that the nominations were approved because of unanimous support from the governing United Russia party.  We note that even with the partial information disseminated it is clear that the process of forming a new cabinet has been left entirely in the hands of United Russia with no attempt to bring in ministers coming from the opposition parties in the Duma.  We may expect, on this basis,  that in the next parliamentary elections United Russia will go for broke to retain its majority and will seek no accommodation or power sharing with other parties.  That may well be a lost opportunity for consolidation of the Russian power structure.

Now, with respect to Alexander Novak:  I find that his “promotion” to Deputy Prime Minister status is very curious. Given the great respect he enjoyed abroad as the country’s chief negotiator over the export terms of the country’s most important sector, oil and gas, it is hard to see that his becoming one of ten deputy prime ministers is truly a move up.  At best it is a lateral move having as its logic to use Novak’s profound industry knowledge, discretion and success as negotiator to help with management of domestic affairs during a period of considerable stress arising from the Covid crisis.

It is tantalizing to read in some Russian media that Duma deputies expect Novak to get involved in resolving issues of the gas industry in the domestic market, namely “gasification” and rate setting for domestic consumers.  It is a widely felt failure across Russia that the world’s largest exporter of gas only partly satisfies the demand for pipeline gas in its own population.  Most of rural Russia is heated by logs in cast iron stoves and cooks with gas from steel cylinders which must be refilled regularly, at great effort.  The failure to supply pipeline gas also affects many cities across Russia.  We all know about the occasional explosions in apartment houses: very little is said of the extent to which they are caused by tenants using gas from cylinders.

The fact that Gazprom has not hooked up much of the population with pipeline gas has to do with the pricing and with the limited means the company has to exact payment from the many consumers who do not pay their bills. If the skills of Novak are brought to bear on these issues, we may expect great progress on one of the biggest irritants in the daily life of Russia’s rural population.

Redirecting Novak to domestic Russian problems may well prepare him for bigger things to come in Russia’s power structure.

None of the foregoing bears directly on the question of Putin’s eventual succession.  But clearly something is underway when we speak of the consolidation of Mishustin’s power through the cabinet reshuffle and about his prospective use of one of the country’s most talented managers to address key domestic problems, as appears to be the case with Novak.

The foregoing prompts me to reconsider the seriousness of the constitutional amendment that enables Putin’s staying on in the presidency beyond 2024.  Perhaps that was, as many said at the time, just a tactical measure to shut up all those who spoke of him as a lame duck president.   Time will tell.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020 

[If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]

Trumpism without Trump

In this second day after the U.S. presidential elections, the fog is clearing and the likely outcome of the vote is becoming apparent:  in the coming hours or couple of days at most Biden will reach the figure of 270 or more electors needed to declare victory and Donald Trump’s legal team will pursue challenges in the courts hoping to overturn the results.  If the scenario plays out this way, it is nearly certain the Joe Biden will be installed as president in January 2021. 

It is interesting and revealing that yesterday the U.S. stock market reacted with great enthusiasm or, as they say, with ‘animal spirits’ to the prospect of a Biden victory whereby the Republicans hold control over the Senate, the second prospect emerging from the vote tallies.

The Financial Times this morning highlighted in one article the meaning of the sharp rise in share values in yesterday’s session: “Air comes out of the reflation trade. Prospect of a divided Congress and more modest economic stimulus has had a big effect on markets.” Authors Colby Smith and Joe Rennison noted that the markets were pleased to see gridlock in the nation’s capital emerging from the voting on Tuesday. The result is that the projected package of economic relief to compensate for the impact of Covid-19 will be perhaps one half or less than the one trillion dollars that it would have been should Biden have enjoyed the landslide victory that seemed within his grasp on the day before elections and had the Democrats taken full control of Congress.

It seems to me that this analysis of investors’ response to the likely outcome of the election is correct but  fails to consider all the other business-relevant implications of the electoral results as they now are firming up.

What I see is Trumpism without Trump, by which I mean that all of the business friendly measures and legislation that the Trump administration has put in place over the past four years now cannot be undone by an incoming Biden administration because they will fail in Congress, where partisanship will be as vicious and uncompromising as we have seen over the past four years. After all, Republicans will continue to hold the whip in the Senate. In particular, the higher taxes that Biden seeks to impose on businesses and on wealthy individuals in order to finance his ‘green infrastructure’ spend will not go through.

Moving beyond the material interests of U.S. business, the forthcoming gridlock on Capitol Hill means that one of Trump’s greatest achievements on behalf of his core supporters, the creation of a strong six-to-three conservative majority on the Supreme Court, cannot be undone in a Biden presidency, or at least in the first two years of his mandate pending any changes to the balance in the Senate during midterm elections.

The gridlock that market investors are cheering also puts in a new focus the role of the presumed incoming Vice President Kamala Harris.  From the moment of her designation as Biden’s running mate, Harris has been behaving as the force behind the throne, the likely successor to her boss as he moves into dotage. At one point, she even let slip the term “Harris Administration.”  What we have in Harris is yet another bait-and-switch tactic implemented by the Democratic Party administrators to woo liberal to leftist voters, as well as women and Blacks. This is what the Obama candidacy and administration was all about. At the same time, Harris is no party regular who will accept the condescending embrace of its puppet-masters the way that Barack Obama did. Harris is as smug and persuaded of her entitlement to the highest office as Hillary Clinton ever was.

The results of this election tell us that Harris will be stymied in her initiatives along with all the domestic legislative programs that will likely be entrusted to her.  The only dynamic aspect of an incoming Biden administration will be in the realm of foreign affairs, which was and surely will remain the key area of expertise of Joe Biden.

The U.S. foreign policy community, which is nearly 100% behind Liberal Internationalist policies, will rejoice at the prospect of a Biden presidency. The ruptures with our NATO allies will be repaired. The United States will surely rejoin the Paris agreement on climate change.  Transactional relations will be replaced by traditional stress on shared values and alliances.

However, it is unlikely that Europeans will easily forgive and forget the damage done to relations by the policies of naked self-interest that Donald Trump unleashed.  Moreover, behind the mellow words of Biden the outlines of America First will remain.  This was crystal clear in his promise of a “Buy American” policy during the second presidential debate.

Biden may give some relief to anxious Europeans by negotiating and concluding new arms limitation agreements with the Russians.  But otherwise he will likely pursue the Cold War policies that are deeply embedded in his thinking going back to his days in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including as its chairman, and to his service as Vice President when he stoked the confrontation with Russia by his encouragement to Ukraine and Georgia to pursue NATO membership. 

Though Biden is likely to continue the policy of economic disengagement from China and military rivalry with the Middle Kingdom, it is also likely he will restore Russia to its place as the top arch-enemy. The new anti-Russian sanctions that his administration will bring to Congress may go well beyond the taps on the wrist we have seen so far and may threaten full economic warfare, with all the risks of miscalculation and unleashing of kinetic warfare that it entails.

In the big order of things, the unhealthy divisions in American politics, where gridlock is perceived as a great blessing, are likely to accentuate the country’s retreat from global leadership and to pave the way for the continued rise of China as a dominant force in the 21st century.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020 

[If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]

The morning after: the U.S. presidential election, 2020

It is not quite 10am, Brussels time, this day after the U.S. presidential election.  The BBC World journalists, their faces showing deep fatigue after an all-night vigil, closed out the morning news broadcast with the uncertainty that still remains over the outcome of the vote, admitting that it may take days or more before a definitive result is clear. 

However, to my thinking there are already definitive results, not on who will take the oath of office as president in January, but over the status of the American electorate, over the support Donald Trump enjoys among those who first supported him in 2016 despite the wild ride and the havoc induced by the Covid19 pandemic. These are self-evident results that our mainstream media refuse to present.

First, the very tightness of the race was something one could not fathom from all major media reporting leading up to the election. They, to a man, focused on the poll results which showed Joe Biden ahead by as much as 8% nationally in the days just before the vote.  However, they all hedged their bets by reference to the surprises of the 2016 election.  The real news is deeper.

By all accounts, from analysts of all political persuasions, the re-election campaign of a sitting president is a referendum on his running the country for the preceding 4 years.  Given the often bizarre aspects of the Trump presidency, given its flouting the long entrenched conventional wisdom of American political elites in so many different policy areas, it is utterly stunning that Trump has done so well yesterday and may even win a further four years despite the Covid-19 pandemic and the devastation inflicted on the economy by the lockdown of this past spring. 

This leaves us with the certainty that Trump would have been re-elected handily had there been no pandemic.  Those here in Europe who believe that the policies of the Trump with respect to NATO and to international organizations are an aberration must think again: they are policies which seem to enjoy the support of one half of the American electorate.  That was not knowable before Trump, precisely because the American media have been wholly partisan in support of the Liberal Internationalist positions, and wholly dismissive of America First.

Another take-away from the preliminary electoral results is that whoever wins the White House by the free acknowledgement of defeat by his opponent or by decisions of the courts, the coming four years will see further vicious partisanship exercised in the Congress, in the courts and wherever possible to frustrate the ambitions of the incoming administration just as has happened in the past four years under Trump. A great deal will depend on the outcome of the elections to the Senate, which at this moment stand in the balance. If the Democrats win the three or four seats they need to overturn the Republican majority in the upper house, then they will have a somewhat easier time implementing their domestic programs. However, the mechanisms of the legislature present great opportunities for frustrating the will of majorities.

Finally, a word is due about the “deplorables,” as Hillary Clinton characterized the Trump supporters in 2016. They are, as we have seen in this election, not some marginal antisocial fringe group. The days of the ‘Tea Party’ are long past. The Trump supporters are close to half of the U.S. population.  Once called by Vice President Spiro Agnew “the silent majority,” they are silent no more.

The only path for reconciling these deep differences in values and policies between Democrats and Republicans in the United States will be for the mainstream media to get off the Democratic Party positions and open their pages to genuine policy debates, devoid of defamation and cheap populism.  These differences are suppressed by the media and the result is intense frustration and potential for violence.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020 

[If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]

The incredible incompetence of the Belgian medical profession as exposed by Covid-19

This evening’s edition of European news on BBC World has featured the medical disaster in the making in Belgium, to be more precise in the southern city of Liege and the Region of Wallonia to which it belongs. The reportage focused attention on the directives to medical staff in Liege “to keep on working even if they have coronavirus amid a surge in cases and hospital admissions.” The source of this information is the 10 hospitals in the city of Liege and the head of the Belgian Association of Medical Unions, who told the BBC that “they had no choice if they were to prevent the hospital system collapsing within days.”

The report offers the further quote from this high official in the profession that merits inclusion here for what it says about the ‘in the box’ thinking that prevails throughout this country and makes a mockery of the Hippocratic oath and the principle of ‘do no harm’:  “Dr. Philippe Devos acknowledged that there was an obvious risk of transferring the virus to patients.”

This is shocking in the extreme. At the same time the BBC reporter did not tweak out something bigger and damning in its own way, because it points to gross incompetence in a profession that is largely protected by guild walls and suffers no reproaches from laymen.  I have in mind precisely the fact that 25% or more of the Liege medical staff have caught the virus and are infectious.  Half a year after the start of the pandemic, after all that doctors in the medical world have learned about this insidious viral agent, after all that has been done to provide the Personal Protective Equipment that was so sorely lacking in March, the signs are that Liege doctors have not gotten the point any better than the insouciant youths. Have these doctors not learned the medical protocols of their PPEs? Or are they careless in their home lives? The evidence points in these directions. In some countries medical staff treating Covid are kept on the job isolated from friends and family; they live in hotels for this purpose.  And in Belgium?  While we are pulling back the scabs to look at the wounds, we may ask if our medical staff have finally learned how to work with respirators, which they clearly did not know back in March, judging by the massive loss of life among those in Intensive Care Units.

Belgians complain about incompetence in government at home, behind closed doors. There is very little stomach here for open discussion of the degree and causes of this incompetence, which evidently find full counterparts in the medical profession judging by the disastrous facts in the day’s news about Liege and Wallonia.

The source of incompetence is called corruption, and corruption is built into the political system here by the ultra-sophisticated practice of power sharing that enables the two nations of Belgium, French-speakers and Dutch speakers, to spare one another’s throats and enjoy the fruits of governing without concern over competence or popular will.  The problem is compounded by another ultra-progressive political principle built into the practice of governance – proportional representation, which encourages a proliferation of political parties, which in recent decades numbered already double what they had in the 1960s due to party organizations stopping at the linguistic borders. There is a constant search for a parliamentary majority through coalition building, where policy consistency goes out the window for the sake of nose-counting and finding bedfellows however ‘strange’ they may be.  Call it “Vivaldi,” call it “Swedish,” call it anything but decisive.

Belgium did not invent proportional representation, which is fairly common on the Continent. But it has suffered more than most other countries from its baleful side effects, such as the unreasonable time to form a government enjoying the confidence of parliament from the last general election in May 2019 to a couple of weeks ago.  It was under an acting government that the authorities first tried to cope with Covid.

The time to pay the piper has arrived in the person of Covid 19.  It is merciless with incompetence, and we, the people are paying the price. The mortality to population rate in Belgium during the first wave of Covid was one of the highest in the world. To all appearances, we cannot expect better results in Wave Two.

Despite the widespread expectation that a second wave would strike in autumn, the government never prepared dedicated hospitals to divert Covid patients away from the regular hospital services and preserve some quality of medical care for the non-Covid ill. Moreover, it did nothing to pool the expertise of practicing virologists and so raise the chances of successful treatment. Instead bean-counting methods were and evidently still are used to arrive at some notional fair distribution of Covid patients among the existing hospitals, whatever their degree of relevant expertise.

The curfew, closing of restaurants and bars, closing of museums, theaters and cinemas, closing of sports clubs and other curbs on personal liberty that were decreed in Belgium over the past week are good, though not enough to stop the virus in its tracks. That would take re-imposition of total lockdown and no one is yet prepared to take a step which is knowingly so destructive of the economy.  More to the point, the measures taken now are weeks if not months later than should have been. It took no insight of genius to understand that the street bars where Belgian youth were partying this past summer were very likely a cesspool of infection because whatever regulations on social distancing there were, you could not count on the young bar personnel to enforce them. Very likely thousands of good Belgian citizens will die as a consequence and no one, least of all the leaders of the medical profession and the political leaders in the previous and present cabinets will pay any price for their failure to act in a timely way.

As the current President of the United States, known for his way with words, would surely Tweet if presented with these facts:  “NOT GOOD!!”

Meanwhile, on the more hopeful note, the Belgian dailies Le Soir and La Libre Belgique this evening report on the appeal Wallonian medical authorities have made to The Netherlands to transfer there Covid patients who cannot find hospital beds and doctors where they live.  So far the Dutch have said they are taking the request under consideration as they remain uncertain how long their own excess capacity will last.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020 

[If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]

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Letter to a friend in Seattle as Election Day approaches

hello, John

Thanks for your latest message, your thoughts and experiences as the plague year progresses.

Yes, sadly Europe is in the midst of a full-blown second wave.  Here in Belgium, and more particularly in Brussels, we are experiencing some of the Continent’s worst infection and hospitalization rates. Daily deaths remain a lagging indicator but are still ten times what they were in July.

As in the States, each of the three regions in this country imposes its own restrictions to deal with the problem. Yesterday the Brussels-Capital Region where we live imposed a 10pm to 6am curfew, ordered all stores to shut at 8pm, closed all museums, theaters and betting parlors (!), closed all sports clubs and amateur sporting events (professional football still going strong but in audience-less stadiums).  All restaurants and bars were closed for a month earlier in the week.

How does all this affect us?  Not really.  We were not among the partying and careless youth. We were among the crazed with fear overwhelming majority of adults who to a man or woman is now wearing masks, who try to enter and leave the tram by pushing the door opening button with their elbows, who make a big arc around one another on the sidewalks and engage in other silly, bizarre acts of self-protection.

As one big skull and crossbones going into the All-Saints Day holiday (no Holloween community rounds this year) in the past week we all read with horror that our acting prime minister who stepped down two weeks ago to become foreign minister when a proper cabinet enjoying confidence of Parliament was installed, our dear Sophie, aged 46 and with no known underlying health problems, is now in Intensive Care with Covid. Caught in the family, she supposes.  Fingers crossed that she gets out alive.

As I may have mentioned to you, we turned in our 14 year old Toyota back in March when lockdown hit, there was nowhere to go, and we decided to cut our unnecessary expenses, which were very heavy for a car that was used only to do 4,000 miles a year for more than a decade.    So we were carless!  The first step to restoring mobility was my purchase of a folding bike. Haven’t folded it up yet, because it sits in our front vestibule and I take it our 5 times a week to do heavy service – a15 mile circuit out to the forest bike lanes and back.   Then several weeks ago we discovered Zen, an hourly car rental company all done via an app on your smart phone.  And, surprise of surprises, the cars are all electric.  It has been a great pleasure to find the Renault and the BMW cars I have rented from them to be peppy, with excellent steering and braking properties, as well as the usual creature comforts you associate with BMW.  So, despite myself, I have truly gone Green.

Yes, the election day is approaching.  I imagine that you, like all civilized Americans have cast your vote for Uncle Joe and the Dems.   I have become a more consistent contrarian and voted by mail for The Donald, much as I detest him.  You, like 99% of Americans are surely focused on domestic policies where Donald is Satan incarnate.  I, living abroad, am scarcely affected by what the US does with healthcare, abortion, LGBTQ rights and the environment, whereas I am professionally and personally involved in foreign policy up to my neck.  And in that one domain, Uncle Joe is an ugly American Imperialist who would never get my vote. 

Of course, my Donald vote in New York changes nothing. And even that vote is cancelled in our family by our daughter’s vote for Biden.  Larisa sagely decided ‘a plague on both their houses’ and isn’t voting.

Finally, with regard to the plague:  Donald was very right when he said in the last debate that or was it in an interview just prior to the debate that “a lot of very smart people around the world are running countries which are not doing better than here in the USA.”  Sad but perfectly true. 

In a comparative sense, all of the West has gone down hard from Covid while the much more regimented East has done remarkably well.  I think of Schoenberg’s opera “Moses and Aaron” which highlights the dilemma of leadership, namely that the smartest leader cannot get too far out in front of his people or things go awry. They start worshipping the Golden Calf, whatever Moses says.   And I think also of an interview that Italian Prime Minister Conti gave to the BBC during the summer, when the Covid was at an ebb. Asked if he regretted how he managed the crisis in Lombardy back in March, when Italy became the epicenter of the crisis and lost more than 30,000 citizens in a matter of weeks.  Conti said yes and no.  “Had I imposed full lockdown then, everyone would have said Conti has gone mad.” Yes, he would have been deposed.  The people were not ready for hardship till 30,000 innocents were dead.   And so a Biden presidency would not have produced better outcomes in the States.  Still you have lower death to population ratios than here in Europe despite all the missteps and stupidities that you see all around you.

So, let’s continue to take what pleasure there is in the human comedy. Larisa and I have been drinking up more champagne than usual and have been quaffing all of the remaining 1996 and 1998 bottles of Bordeaux in the basement.  You can’t take it with you!

all the best – and good cheer

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020 

[If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]

Charlie Hebdo and French anti-Muslim bigotry

Once again I am grateful to RT International for prompting me to get my mind around one of the top international news developments of the day and to respond to their interviewer on live television, which by its nature demands tight logic lest you appear to be a bumbler and lose your rights to the next invitation on air.

The phone call solicitation took place yesterday morning at  10.00am Brussels time and I was given 20 minutes to pull together a commentary on President Macron’s statement to the French nation on the brutal murder of a history schoolteacher in a suburb of Paris which I had noted briefly from the corner of my eye in my daily post-breakfast read through the Financial Times and New York Times newspapers on line, but had not read attentively.

Now, in preparation for the interview, I dutifully went straight to Le Figaro to see what middle of the road French elites were saying about the event.  Decapitation, as occurred in this case, would surely bring to the surface the emotions most relevant to the fundamental issues.

I was not disappointed. The editorial in yesterday’s Figaro was blunt and to the point: “Liberty versus Barbarism.”  Indeed, the whole tragic incident was cast in terms of a civilizational divide. The tone went well beyond defending the values of the French Revolution which still govern political thought in the country today, namely separation of state and religion, or secularism, the famous French laïcité.  Freedom of expression was, in American political parlance, being instrumentalized as the “dog whistle” to bring on popular outrage yet again against the Muslims in their midst. And who are they?  They are 15% or so of the general population consisting traditionally of 1960s arrivals from former French colonies in North Africa and their progeny, but more recently also of Muslim refugees from further afield, like Chechnya, the ethnic  origin of the Moscow-born assailant in Friday’s murderous attack.

For those who might question going into such a television interview on the basis of reading a couple of news bulletins, I hasten to add that the points I was about to raise had been on my mind ever since the bombing of the editorial offices of the irreverent, sarcastic and often outrageous French news rag Charlie Hebdo five years ago. I had kept my silence over that tragedy, though I had believed the editorial board had abused freedom of speech to publish images that would be knowingly deeply shocking and offensive to the Muslim faithful.  Quite without baiting, they are a population in France which is often highly resentful of the powers that be going back to the vicious treatment they received in the Algerian war of independence, which was topped up ever since by resentments over their economic hardships as an under-class in modern France. They live in gilded cages of social housing at the periphery of metropolitan areas like Paris where they are cut off from the economy and where integration into the broader culture is hindered.

Charlie Hebdo dared to poke Muslims in the eye because the editorial board was confident, and rightly so, that the anti-Muslim disposition of French middle classes and intellectuals would back them up. It was all about freedom of expression, adding to their laurels while attracting new readers and subscribers. Wrong!  It was crying “Fire!” in the midst of a cinema screening.

Allow me to dot the “i”:  my personal acquaintances from among respectable, intellectually sound French middle class people leaves me in no doubt that they are deeply prejudiced against their Muslim compatriots. Let me use a more pungent word:  they are bigoted. It shows up in their smirks when anti-Muslim jokes circulate at cocktail parties or when making small talk at table. Everyone can express wistful regret over the taxes being paid to support Muslim men, their harems, and numerous offspring at the expense of the French state.

My heart goes out to the family of the brutally murdered school teacher, Samuel Paty. We are told today that what he did to attract the attention of those now in detention who aided and abetted his murder was not very different from what many other schoolteachers across France have been doing in their classes ever since the Charlie Hebdo bombing of 2015: he presented to the class copies of the infamous cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published in that weekly, with the intention to illustrate the topic of freedom of expression and secularism. Indeed, not only because of the shocking nature of the murder but also because of the generalized practices of their profession, schoolteachers across France are coming out onto the streets today to express their solidarity.

They are wrong.

Monsieur Paty knew well that there were in his class a goodly number of Muslim believers who could find the cartoons deeply offensive and he proposed that they leave the classroom to be spared the mental anguish. That is to say, he openly divided his classroom into Christians and Muslims and bade the latter to step out of the room.  Is that wise? Does that contribute to what we in “values driven” Europe like to call inclusiveness?  Without meaning to, he was tempting fate.

It is paradoxical that France can practice openly anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric under cover of secularism and freedom of speech at the very time when the United States is experiencing a paroxysm of political correctness whereby you can lose your employment for giving the slightest hint of offense to high visibility minorities such as LGBTQ or Blacks. Both extremes need corrective action so as to apply the rule of reason if we are to enjoy societies that are peaceful and also free.

As regards President Macron, whose address to the nation denouncing Islamic terrorism was the starting point of my talk on RT International, there was one point in his proposed remedial actions which I can freely support: introducing study of Arabic into the public schools so as to draw the Muslim youth away from the mosques and their radicalizing imams. It would be better still if he began to direct attention to the economic roots of Islamic radicalism in his country. Closer attention to immigration policy, in particular to the issue of family reunifications might also be very helpful in curbing the tendency for new immigrants to resist integration into the broader society.  This is another issue where Liberal values run straight into contradiction with common sense.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020 [If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]

Nagorno-Karabakh and unrelenting, mounting US/EU pressure on the Kremlin

The fierce conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh is not what it seems.  Least of all is this a civilizational struggle between barbaric Muslim Azeris and victimized Christian Armenians.  That is how it is being portrayed in the United States, in France and in other Western countries where there are substantial Armenian émigré communities which are and have long been politically active.  It is how the conflict is being portrayed by the Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, who has raised the very emotive issue of “genocide” in speaking of what would happen to his people if the Azeris reconquer Nagorno-Karabakh, with the help of Turkish drones and jihadist mercenaries from Syria allegedly being introduced into the campaign by the Turks.

Given the succession of French, American and other resolutions in recent years recognizing the claims of Armenians to have been victims of planned genocide through forced relocations under the Ottoman rulers in the last years of their empire, this charge of intended genocide is calculated to win support in the West whatever the truth of who started the latest fighting and for what purpose.

Why is this occurring now?  The Azeris say that George Soros is behind it all. They accuse Pashinyan of taking Soros money and being caught in the Soros organization’s spider web of malign influence which in this instance would fit very well with plans in Washington as outlined below.  Pashinyan denies a tie-in with Soros, but why would the Azeris spin this out of thin air when there are so many other grounds for explaining what they say was an Armenian attack on their positions at the start the present armed conflict?

To be sure, it could be Turkish backing for the Azeris that lies behind the present fighting and a possible Azeri attack at the start of the exchange.  Why now?  Because Turkey’s president Erdogan is flexing his muscles in the region and would not mind appearing to be pressing on the Russian zone of influence in the Caucasus, which Armenia has till now represented. This would improve his standing in Washington even as it raises more hackles in Paris, which is staunchly pro-Armenian.   It would be treacherous in relation to the Russians, but then again Turkey and Russia are at odds in Libya and Syria, so one more bone of contention would not change much in a relationship that is driven purely by Realpolitik.

One may safely assume that the predisposition of the governor of California and of many members of Congress in favor of Armenia does not carry much weight with the Pentagon or the State Department. And a war between Azerbaijan and Armenia that potentially draws into the conflict Turkey, Iran and Russia would serve very handsomely the US policy with respect to all three states, most particularly policy towards Russia.

It is not for nothing that the Financial Times and other mainstream Western media were well prepared to explain the outbreak of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh as one more evidence of the Kremlin losing control over its “near abroad,” that is one more foreign policy failure of Vladimir Putin.  To their surprise and surely to their disappointment, the Kremlin did not go for this bait and Russia has so far remained neutral in the dispute so as to offer its good services to both sides as honest broker. Yes, Russia has a defense treaty and a military base in Armenia, but their pact excludes the Nagorno-Karabakh. Talks in Moscow last week arranged by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov brought about a truce which in latest reporting has proven to be less than perfect, but still has prevented the continuation of all out warfare in the region.

The fires burning at Russia’s borders in the Caucasus are an add-on to the disorder and conflict on its Western border in neighboring Belarus, where fuel is poured on daily by pyromaniacs at the head of the European Union acting surely in concert with Washington.

Yesterday we learned of the decision of the European Council to impose sanctions on President Lukashenko, a nearly unprecedented action when directed against the head of state of a sovereign nation. It signifies not a lever for negotiations but an end to negotiations, a step just short of outright declaration of war.  From this perspective, I conclude that the objective is not at all what it is proclaimed to be, that is to change the behavior of the country’s president and force him to negotiate with the one opposition recognized by the EU, Mrs. Tikhanovskaya.

She alone enjoys the unlimited support of the Baltic States and Poland. She alone has been received and been shown all courtesies appropriate to a head of government by President Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. Lukashenko’s talks with imprisoned opposition personalities in Minsk in the past week to discuss constitutional reform which he says are precondition to any new elections evidently count for nothing in the eyes of the EU leadership which has its own very specific outcome of regime change in its sites.

 In any case, Mr. Lukashenko’s back was already against the wall even before the imposition of personal sanctions on him and there is nowhere for him to go except on a still tougher policy of arrests and police force against the ever more violent and radical street demonstrators. It is easy enough to see that the real intent of the sanctions is to put pressure on the Kremlin, which is Lukashenko’s guarantor in power, to compound the several other measures being implemented simultaneously in the hope that Putin and his entourage will finally crack and submit to American global hegemony as Europe did long ago.

The other pressure points are the phony poisoning of opposition blogger Alexei Navalny with Novichok which is laid before Vladimir Putin’s door explicitly by Navalny in an interview with Spiegel last week. The same is implicit in all the recriminations against Russia over its failure to satisfy EU demands for “clarification” of the poisoning. Here German Foreign Minister Maas has been doing the heavy lifting for his Chancellor.

Finally, there are the ongoing reckless American flights of B-52s armed with cruise missiles to the sea borders of Russia from the Black Sea, Baltic Sea, Sea of Okhotsk and elsewhere. As I mentioned in these pages a couple of weeks ago, these threatening maneuvers which have gone beyond surveillance and turned into mock war exercises come to more than 40 approaches a week, compelling the Russian Air Force to scramble to turn back the potential attackers.

Add to the mix, the steady flow of threats against all participants in the Nord Stream gas pipeline project coming from Washington.

Why are we seeing this unprecedented political, military and economic pressure on the Kremlin? Why now?

I have a couple of tentative explanations.

First, there is the belated reaction of US and Allied forces to the clear emergence of Russia as a step ahead of the West in developing and deploying cutting edge strategic weapons systems that are game changers.   I have in mind in particular the Avangard hypersonic missiles, which have received ample coverage in Russian media. With reference to Avangard, Vladimir Putin said a week ago when presenting an award to the long-time head of the factory that developed and is producing them, it represents the first time ever that Russia has pulled ahead of the USA in strategic weapons.  In the past, the Soviet Union was always playing catch-up to US advances in nuclear weapons, in delivery systems and the like. Moreover, there is additionally an entire panoply of new age weapons undergoing simultaneous testing and entry into serial production. These have the cumulative effect of providing Russia with invincibility against all currently deployed Western attack and defense systems.

Secondly, on the level of the Information War which the US has been waging against Russia ever since Vladimir Putin’s speech before the Munich Security Conference in February 2007, I see the present campaign of multiple threats against Russia as a push-back against the Russians coming out first with a Covid 19 vaccine. Moscow played up its achievement for all it was worth by dubbing the vaccine Sputnik V, in open reference to the shock and awe technical achievement of the Soviet Union in putting the first artificial satellite into orbit in 1957. Like the spectacular original Sputnik, Russia’s latest attention-grabbing vaccine puts to shame all Western developers and Western governments. Here we see the brilliance of Russian science highlighted, a fact which goes unnoticed in the usual metrics of achievement, namely the number of patents filed annually and number of peer-reviewed scientific works published annually.  More to the point, Russia’s political leaders have shown great boldness in moving to save lives and to save the livelihoods of their population threatened by lockdowns, all by overruling the kind of ass-covering bureaucrats who are running the health services elsewhere, particularly in the EU and the USA.

The anti-Russia full tilt ahead policy outlined above is going on against a background of the U.S. presidential electoral campaigns.  The Democrats continue to try to depict Donald Trump as “Putin’s puppy,” as if the President has been kindly to his fellow autocrat while in office. Of course, under the dictates of the Democrat-controlled House and with the complicity of the anti-Russian staff in the State Department, in the Pentagon, American policy towards Russia over the entire period of Trump’s presidency has been one of never ending ratcheting up of military, informational, economic and other pressures in the hope that Vladimir Putin or his entourage would crack. Were it not for the nerves of steel of Mr. Putin and his close advisers, the irresponsible pressure policies outlined above could result in aggressive behavior and risk taking by Russia that would make the Cuban missile crisis look like child’s play.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020

[If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]

Lecture to the Brussels Dialogue Youth Forum, 09 October 2020

“Shared History and Common Future” Discussion platform No. 1: “History Lessons: facts and fakes”

Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Brussels

I would like to bring some general perspectives of historical science to this discussion. Let us take a brief walk through the history of history, what is called historiography. This can give us a proper context for considering what we all surely consider to be dangerous distortions in current accounts of World War II, its causes and aftermath, without being overwhelmed or greatly discouraged by what we see going on.

First, history is always being re-written. That did not start yesterday and it will not end tomorrow. In itself, this is not cause for concern. “Revisionism” is a natural phenomenon.  And it is not just the result of new facts coming to the surface as archives are opened and memoirs are written.

Each generation seeks in history narratives that are relevant to its problems, challenges, ambitions.

Once upon a time, history meant the study of dynasties, monarchs.  Once upon a time there was interest in great men who were assumed to have shaped the world we know.  Once upon a time there was a focus on diplomatic history.

Today, only a few specialists work in these areas.  Over the past forty or fifty years, history as a discipline moved into areas that the public has wanted to hear about:  social history, the history of women, the history of various minorities in multicultural societies, such as Black History in the United States.

These developments are all healthy and the natural evolution of history as a social science that answers questions of interest to the general public and not only to a few scholars.

It is also understandable that with the end of the Cold War and the emergence of new state structures in Central and Eastern Europe history has been enlisted and encouraged in each of these countries to assist in the task of nation building and establishing or reestablishing national identity.

The problem arises when the political leadership, when national elites encourage a propagandistic turn in the creation of national narratives, when these narratives are used to strengthen the hold on power of one or another faction within a given country and when historical grievances are used to justify flagrant distortions of fact, as is often the case today in how the Baltic States, Poland and even seemingly reasonable states distant from the front lines like the Czech Republic characterize the role of the Soviet Union – namely as conqueror, enslaver rather than as liberator from the scourge of Hitlerism or as initiator of the war with the same or even greater culpability than Berlin.

We all are aware of the destruction these past several years of monuments to the Red Army and its heroic soldiers in Estonia, Latvia, Poland and the Czech Republic, to name only the most egregious offenders.  However, this also did not start yesterday.  

As I was reading through my diaries in preparation for a book of memoirs that I will soon be publishing, I found notes from a visit I made to Prague on Sunday, 16 June 1991.

“We are unwittingly witnesses to the removal of the now famous ‘pink tank’ statue symbolizing the Soviet liberation of Prague in WWII. It has been defaced since the revolution and now is unceremoniously removed by cranes as Czechs gawk. “ 

Of course, the failure to pay due respect to the overwhelming contribution of the Soviet Union to the victory over fascism in WWII exists as well in Western Europe.  Here the distortions have a different basis: in the wish of the sponsors and leaders of European integration to put behind them the past murderous hatreds of French and Germans that devastated the Continent.  It is not for nothing that Angela Merkel was given all possible attention and respect at the various ceremonies marking the start of WWII whereas Vladimir Putin was marginalized. You could almost be confused over who was the winning coalition and who was the losing aggressor when watching Euronews coverage.

More generally, in Western Europe the murderous emotions of past conflicts over the centuries have made history a very dangerous subject.  Indeed, here in Belgium a couple of years ago very controversial changes were made to instruction of history in the public school system. The number of hours a week devoted to history in the classroom was sharply reduced in favor of other less controversial social sciences dedicated to the present and future.  Can you wonder then that the West European public does not know how to respond here to the awful lies being propagated by our friends in Poland, Lithuania, etc.

I can appreciate why in Western Europe history is a problematic subject for instruction when I think of our own family experience.  Our daughter was schooled here in Brussels and for a time when she was twelve or so was enrolled in the Lycee Francais.  Over dinner one day we asked her about what she was studying. She said they were reading about Napoleon, who was a very great man.  My wife objected: but Napoleon killed so many people.  Our daughter replied at once:  but they were only English! 

Such attitudes fostered in the Lycee Francais at that time go a long way to explaining why history as a discipline is avoided in our present age of political correctness.

Then let us look across the Atlantic to the United States where it would seem that history has no future as a discipline. Just a few months ago we watched on television how bronze and marble statues to generals of the Confederate Army in the South were being taken down in the presence of hostile mobs which were very emotional and were fired up by the Black Lives Matter movement.  At the same time we heard arguments discrediting the Founding Fathers of the United States. It was pointed out that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others were all slave-owners.  There were calls to rename the capital of the country to blot out Washington, D.C. 

These same historical revisionists published materials showing that the President who took the United States into World War I to “make the world safe for democracy,” Princeton professor Woodrow Wilson, had been a supporter of the Ku Klux Klan.  Princeton University administrators lost no time removing his name from what had been till now the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Remember, this was the man who promoted a “values based” foreign policy that challenged the traditional “interests based” foreign policy of the Realist School of political science.   And though the decision of Princeton took place in the midst of great public uproar, just a few years ago, in much calmer times, when attending my 50th anniversary reunion at Harvard University, I heard administrators explain how they had changed the names of several old buildings in the Harvard Yard and had installed plaques to show in which buildings slaves had been quartered in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

I can point to a similar movement striking at ‘great men’ whose values of their day violate our values of today in the tearing down of monuments to great patrons and founders of charitable works in the UK, in Bristol, due to their association with the slave trade.  Here in Belgium there have been acts of vandalism against memorials to King Leopold the Second, for the atrocities committed in his name in The Congo.

The problem all these acts pose is what will remain of history in general if we apply the values of today to the distant past.  It is cheap populism to attack the memory of prominent people who lived hundreds of years ago and lived under different value systems.  Take care: our value systems of today also will not last forever and in time the descendants of the same champions we see in the streets today will expunge us from their past.

I argue that the brave and commendable thing to do is to fight for one’s values against today’s violators – something which you hardly see happen here in the West. If that were done we would have seen the trial for crimes against humanity committed in Iraq by former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former US Vice President Dick Cheney. Nothing of the sort happened.

Returning to the questions before our expert panel today, what can I recommend to youth to counter the propagandistic distortions of history surrounding World War II and in particular the vile accusations brought against the Soviet Union by politicians in the Baltics, in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe?  My recommendation is to do your best to study the facts as they are set out in the archival documents that are freely available in your libraries, and from the best professional historians in Russia, in the United States, in the United Kingdom.  There is no way you will win an argument with the current generation of nationalists in Eastern Europe who care not at all for objective truth.  But with the passage of time, reason will return even in those countries now blighted by anti-Russian prejudice.

In support of this recommendation, I urge our local governments to do more to honor good teachers and to provide them with incentives.  History like other subjects can be dull or exciting depending on the instructor. A charismatic teacher who challenges young people by feeding their curiosity, by bringing them into the discovery of historical truth will be the best force for combatting the fake history put up by propagandists.  I urge history teachers to give their students source documents, archival documents to read and interpret already in secondary school.

One further thought in response to those colleagues who today expressed concern at the distortions and “fake news” over World War II that are being disseminated not by politicians and the third rate historians they hand feed but by private extremist portals and loudmouth bloggers in the social media: the notion that Facebook, Twitter and similar media should be enforcers of the moderate, irreproachable consensus and should prevent the ‘deplorables,” as Hilary Clinton so colorfully called them, from polluting the minds of our youth shows contempt for the right of free speech and complete misunderstanding of what education is all about. 

There always were and always will be those who advocate censorship to keep the population on the straight and narrow path. They are by nature elitists who fail to see the common sense so abundant in the overall population and so uncommon in their own midst.

The best protection against “fake news” in the social media is providing a solid education to youth.  The purpose of education is not a corpus of knowledge, though that is essential. The purpose is to support thinking for oneself, arriving at an internal compass and ability to scrutinize incoming information.  Those in possession of their own North Star and an ability to reason that is cultivated by discussion and debate will have no need of censors to protect them from the falsehoods disseminated in social media.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020

[If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]

The Biden-Trump Debate, 29.09.2020

Thanks to a spot of insomnia, I awoke last night at about 2.30 am Brussels time and was able to catch the final third or so of the Great Debate.

The opinions aired on CNN and on BBC World just after the close of the debate were fairly uniform: that it had been ‘chaotic’ and the worst such event in living memory, though it reflected fairly the low level of political culture which the United States is presently experiencing. Most commentators agreed that the debate, such as it was, more like pig wrestling in the mud, will not change the minds of voters and will not influence the 10 or 15% of Americans who said they were undecided before the event. They did not see much discussion of the policies that the two sides plan to implement if they win the election, only a lot of name calling, heckling and interruptions.  Everyone felt certain that there will be no further debates this season, because this one was a dud.

There were, on the Biden side, commentators who said that the former Vice President had done well. He had not made any gaffes, he had held his own in 90 minutes against an aggressive and emotional opponent.

Of course, both CNN and the BBC are mainstream media that were against Trump in 2016 and have not gotten friendlier towards him over the past four years. Their remarks on how Biden performed have to be understood in that light.

My first thoughts from watching the debate live in its last third or so were very different:  during that entire segment Biden was flagging.  Yes, there were no gaffes. But there was no mental force, he was searching for words and even for concepts that were eluding him. This was beyond any doubt a man whose intellectual faculties are failing.  Not quite senile, but well on his way. And if this is how he performs before the election, then we can well imagine that he will be a wreck in two years’ time, not to mention by the end of his first term. Will this be the man to deal as an equal, nay as a superior being with other world ‘leaders’ on the international stage? 

That was a purely rhetorical question. The answer is flatly “no.” Calling Trump Putin’s “puppy” may sound clever, though it is absolutely false.  Whose ‘puppy’ Biden will be remains to be seen.

People close to Biden know and understand this fact.  It was not just a slip of the tongue when a month or so ago his vice presidential running mate, Kamala Harris spoke of a “Harris Administration” in answer to a journalist’s question before backtracking and changing that to a “Biden-Harris Administration.”

Trump is precisely correct when he suggests that Biden will be the plaything of people at his side. Trump thickens the paint when he says they will be radical left Democrats.  Surely, that is one possibility. Another is that he will be in the pocket of the US Intelligence Services, of the Pentagon, of the hacks still remaining in the State Department.  Even the obstreperous and often obnoxious Trump has had a hard time staying out of their grasp.

I concede that upon watching excerpts from the debate taken from the start, Biden appeared to be in  better shape than in the segment I watched live.  He delivered some punches, usually below the belt, calling Trump ‘a liar,’ ‘a clown’ and telling him repeatedly just ‘to shut up.’  Biden’s supporters regret that he was baited by Trump to stoop so low and speak in such an ‘un-presidential’ manner.  

Indeed, I recall how my mother, in her late 80s, a life-long Democrat, had spoken of Biden in 2012 as such a ‘gentleman.’  To whom was he a gentleman back then?  To white Social Security claimants like my mother. Not to the rest of the world.  To the world at large Biden was a vicious imperialist, an authoritarian who presumed to dictate to them how they should conduct their affairs.  In that guise he spoke before the Ukrainian and Georgian parliaments. In that guise in 2011 he instructed Vladimir Putin to abandon plans to return to the Russian presidency and instead to take up the chairmanship of the Russian Olympics Committee.  Could one possibly construe Biden’s past behavior as meddling in the internal affairs of other countries, something which the United States finds totally unacceptable when applied to its own political life?  Absolutely!

The world knows what Trump’s “America First” means.  It willingly has forgotten that Biden and the Democrats today are no less ‘in your face’ in pursuing national interest and denying the existence of national interest to every other nation state.  The difference between the parties and the candidates is only one of frank aggression (Trump) versus honeyed and deeply hypocritical words about ‘universal values’ (Biden).  Even in industrial policy, Biden last night managed to present a program that was stolen shamelessly from Trump’s playbook when he said he would promote a ‘buy American’ program that would be directly contradicting the WTO principles.

If Biden came on strong at the start of the debate and ended as a smirking but wordless mutterer, that tells you he lacks the staying power to put in a full day in the White House and master the challenges that come up daily.  Trump may be no smarter, no better read than the day he took the oath of office in 2017 but he is mentally alert and resistant to directives from the bureaucracy.  They can, with the assistance of the Congress, outfox him and outmaneuver him, but they cannot tame him. That is his saving virtue and the one fact that so far has prevented the United States from slipping into a one-party police state under the flag of  Democracy Promotion values.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020

[If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]