Sunday 28th of February 2021

saint augustine would be proud... or would he?


Among the many familiar Catholic references in Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s inauguration speech, one stood out as surprising: a quote from St. Augustine.


"Many centuries ago, Saint Augustine, a saint in my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love, defined by the common objects of their love."



St. Augustine was a fourth-century priest, bishop and theologian who has had a tremendous impact on Christianity—Catholics and Protestants. A great influence on both Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther, he is considered a Doctor of the Church for his work on Scripture, the Trinity and grace, among other things. He also had a profound influence on monasticism and asceticism through his letter that became codified as the “Rule of St. Augustine.” Hailing from Northern Africa and a keen student and critic of Roman and Greek thought, his life and work are also reminders that, from its early days, Christianity was a pan-Mediterranean phenomenon that encompassed many cultures.


He is also, however, popularly associated with the idea that Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, hates the body and sex. More broadly, he is often said to have held earthly life to count for little, denying that there had ever been a just political community. Superficial interpretations of his work have helped to inspire both theocratic movements that seek to impose the church upon the state and “Benedict Option” retreats from the world.

While such controversies will not soon be settled, there is no question that he was a harsh critic of political authority in his own time, even taking the occasion of the 410 A.D. sack of Rome to point out the many failures of the Roman Empire in his famous work The City of God. The best one can hope from politics, Augustine argued therein, is some shadow of peace, what he calls the “tranquility of order.” It is not easy, then, to reconcile his vision of politics with that of Mr. Biden, or indeed any U.S. president, let alone the U.S. Constitution.


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Sworn in this Wednesday afternoon (20), the american president Joe Biden signed 17 executive orders - most of them interrupting or undoing decreesof his predecessor, the Republican <br><br>Donald Trump. "I will start by keeping the promises I made to the American people," said the Democrat in the Oval Office.

In the “canetada”, Biden suspended the financing for the construction of the wall on the border between the United States and Mexico, reversed the ban on the entry of travelers, which was aimed especially at Muslim countries, and interrupted the departure of the country from the Paris climate agreement and the World Health Organization (WHO). Also by decree, it imposed the wearing masks in federal buildings.

The president also created a coordination for efforts to combat Covid-19, which will oversee the distribution of vaccines and medical supplies. Anthony Fauci, the country's leading infectious disease specialist, will represent the United States at the WHO executive board meeting on Thursday (21).
Topping Biden’s list:MASKS: Biden is mandating the use of face masks and social distancing in all federal buildings, on all federal lands and by all federal employees and contractors.
“There’s no time to start like today,” Biden said before signing the order while seated behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office for the first time as president.
In a sharp departure from former President Donald Trump, Biden wore a mask himself while signing.Here’s a distillation of the other executive actions Biden inked:
  • WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Also on the coronavirus front, Biden issued an order reversing Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the World Health Organization. Trump cut ties with the international health group in September over unsubstantiated allegations that it was working with China to cover up the origins of COVID-19.
  • STUDENT LOANS/HOUSING FORECLOSURES: Biden signed several decrees that extend coronavirus-related moratoriums on federal student loan payments and housing foreclosures — an initial drip of relief as he begins lobbying Congress to enact his more sweeping $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus package.
  • CLIMATE CHANGE: Moving on from the virus, Biden issued an order to rejoin the Paris climate accord — which Trump dragged the U.S. out of in November — and revoked the ex-president’s permit for construction of the Keystone XL oil and gas pipeline through the Midwest. Also on climate, Biden included actions requiring reviews of a variety of Trump policies aimed at watering down protections for federal lands and loosening regulations for fossil fuel emissions.
  • BORDER WALL FINANCING: Effective immediately, the new president squashed a national emergency declaration that allowed Trump to divert billions of dollars in taxpayer cash to bankroll the construction of the southern border wall that he for years claimed Mexico would pay for. The same order froze all new construction of border wall, pending a review of how taxpayer money is being spent on the project.
  • MUSLIM TRAVEL BAN: Biden put an immediate end to Trump’s travel ban barring citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.
  • DACA: Biden ordered his cabinet to work to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects hundreds of thousands of people who came to the U.S. as young children from deportation. President Barack Obama first introduced DACA in 2012.
  • IMMIGRATION: Biden squashed a Trump order that deemed all of the roughly 11 million people in the U.S. illegally priorities for deportation proceedings. Instead, the Department of Homeland Security will conduct a review of enforcement priorities.
  • CENSUS: Trump’s failed attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from the U.S. census was also rescinded, with Biden ordering a return to the policy that all individuals, regardless of status, be counted.
  • CITIZENSHIP: Finally, Biden issued an order that doesn’t have any immediate results, but proposes legislation that would grant green cards and a path to citizenship for all undocumented people in the U.S. before Jan. 1, 2021. Republicans in Congress have already balked at this proposal, though Biden prides himself on being able to achieve bipartisan compromises.

See also: I hope he's read it... especially the bit about peace and turning the other cheek...

forgiveness or sharpening the knives?...


From Glenn Greenwald


This phrase — “inciting violence” — was also what drove many of the worst War on Terror abuses. I spent years reporting on how numerous young American Muslims were prosecutedunder new, draconian anti-terrorism laws for uploading anti-U.S.-foreign-policy YouTube videos or giving rousing anti-American speeches deemed to “incite violence” and thus provide “material support” to terrorist groups — the exact theory which Rep. Schiff is seeking to import into the new domestic War on Terror.

It is vital to ask what it means for speech to constitute “incitement to violence” to the point that it can be banned or criminalized. The expression of any political viewpoint, especially one passionately expressed, has the potential to “incite” someone else to get so riled up that they engage in violence.

If you rail against the threats to free speech posed by Silicon Valley monopolies, someone hearing you may get so filled with rage that they decide to bomb an Amazon warehouse or a Facebook office. If you write a blistering screed accusing pro-life activists of endangering the lives of women by forcing them back into unsafe back-alley abortions, or if you argue that abortion is murder, you may very well inspire someone to engage in violence against a pro-life group or an abortion clinic. If you start a protest movement to object to the injustice of Wall Street bailouts — whether you call it “Occupy Wall Street” or the Tea Party — you may cause someone to go hunt down Goldman Sachs or Citibank executives who they believe are destroying the economic future of millions of people.

If you claim that George W. Bush stole the 2000 and/or 2004 elections — as many Democrats, including members of Congress, did — you may inspire civic unrest or violence against Bush and his supporters. The same is true if you claim the 2016 or 2020 elections were fraudulent or illegitimate. If you rage against the racist brutality of the police, people may go burn down buildings in protest — or murder randomly selected police officers whom they have become convinced are agents of a racist genocidal state.

The Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer and hard-core Democratic partisan, James Hodgkinson, who went to a softball field in June, 2017 to murder Republican Congress members — and almost succeeded in fatally shooting Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) — had spent months listening to radical Sanders supporters and participating in Facebook groups with names like “Terminate the Republican Party” and “Trump is a Traitor.” 

Hodgkinson had heard over and over that Republicans were not merely misguided but were “traitors” and grave threats to the Republic. As CNN reported, “his favorite television shows were listed as ‘Real Time with Bill Maher;’ ‘The Rachel Maddow Show;’ ‘Democracy Now!’ and other left-leaning programs.” All of the political rhetoric to which he was exposed — from the pro-Sanders Facebook groups, MSNBC and left-leaning shows — undoubtedly played a major role in triggering his violent assault and decision to murder pro-Trump Republican Congress members.

Despite the potential of all of those views to motivate others to commit violence in their name — potential that has sometimes been realized — none of the people expressing those views, no matter how passionately, can be validly characterized as “inciting violence” either legally or ethically. That is because all of that speech is protected, legitimate speech. None of it advocates violence. None of it urges others to commit violence in its name. The fact that it may “inspire” or “motivate” some mentally unwell person or a genuine fanatic to commit violence does not make the person espousing those views and engaging in that non-violent speech guilty of “inciting violence” in any meaningful sense.

To illustrate this point, I have often cited the crucial and brilliantly reasoned Supreme Court free speech ruling in Claiborne v. NAACP. In the 1960s and 1970s, the State of Mississippi tried to hold local NAACP leaders liable on the ground that their fiery speeches urging a boycott of white-owned stores “incited” their followers to burn down stores and violently attack patrons who did not honor the protest. The state’s argument was that the NAACP leaders knew that they were metaphorically pouring gasoline on a fire with their inflammatory rhetoric to rile up and angry crowds. 

But the Supreme Court rejected that argument, explaining that free speech will die if people are held responsible not for their own violent acts but for those committed by others who heard them speak and were motivated to commit crimes in the name of that cause (emphasis added):

Civil liability may not be imposed merely because an individual belonged to a group, some members of which committed acts of violence. . . . 

[A]ny such theory fails for the simple reason that there is no evidence — apart from the speeches themselves -- that [the NAACP leader sued by the State] authorized, ratified, or directly threatened acts of violence. . . . . To impose liability without a finding that the NAACP authorized — either actually or apparently — or ratified unlawful conduct would impermissibly burden the rights of political association that are protected by the First Amendment. . . . 

While the State legitimately may impose damages for the consequences of violent conduct, it may not award compensation for the consequences of nonviolent, protected activity.  Only those losses proximately caused by unlawful conduct may be recovered.

The First Amendment similarly restricts the ability of the State to impose liability on an individual solely because of his association with another.


The Claiborne court relied upon the iconic First Amendment ruling in Brandenburg v. Ohio, which overturned the criminal conviction of a KKK leader who had publicly advocated the possibility of violence against politicians. Even explicitly advocating the need or justifiability of violence for political ends is protected speech, ruled the court. They carved out a very narrow exception: “where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action” — meaning someone is explicitly urging an already assembled mob to specific violence with the expectation that they will do so more or less immediately (such as standing outside someone’s home and telling the gathered mob: it’s time to burn it down).

It goes without saying that First Amendment jurisprudence on “incitement” governs what a state can do when punishing or restricting speech, not what a Congress can do in impeaching a president or expelling its own members, and certainly not social media companies seeking to ban people from their platforms.

But that does not make these principles of how to understand “incitement to violence” irrelevant when applied to other contexts. Indeed, the central reasoning of these cases is vital to preserve everywhere: that if speech is classified as “incitement to violence” despite not explicitly advocating violence, it will sweep up any political speech which those wielding this term wish it to encompass. No political speech will be safe from this term when interpreted and applied so broadly and carelessly. 

And that is directly relevant to the second point. Continuing to process Washington debates of this sort primarily through the prism of “Democrat v. Republican” or even “left v. right” is a sure ticket to the destruction of core rights. There are times when powers of repression and censorship are aimed more at the left and times when they are aimed more at the right, but it is neither inherently a left-wing nor a right-wing tactic. It is a ruling class tactic, and it will be deployed against anyone perceived to be a dissident to ruling class interests and orthodoxies no matter where on the ideological spectrum they reside.

The last several months of politician-and-journalist-demanded Silicon Valley censorship has targeted the right, but prior to that and simultaneously it has often targeted those perceived as on the left. The government has frequently declared right-wing domestic groups “terrorists,” while in the 1960s and 1970s it was left-wing groups devoted to anti-war activism which bore that designation. In 2011, British police designated the London version of Occupy Wall Street a “terrorist” group. In the 1980s, the African National Congress was so designated. “Terrorism” is an amorphous term that was created, and will always be used, to outlaw formidable dissent no matter its source or ideology.

If you identify as a conservative and continue to believe that your prime enemies are ordinary leftists, or you identify as a leftist and believe your prime enemies are Republican citizens, you will fall perfectly into the trap set for you. Namely, you will ignore your real enemies, the ones who actually wield power at your expense: ruling class elites, who really do not care about “right v. left” and most definitely do not care about “Republican v. Democrat” — as evidenced by the fact that they fund both parties — but instead care only about one thing: stability, or preservation of the prevailing neoliberal order. 

Unlike so many ordinary citizens addicted to trivial partisan warfare, these ruling class elites know who their real enemies are: anyone who steps outside the limits and rules of the game they have crafted and who seeks to disrupt the system that preserves their prerogatives and status. The one who put this best was probably Barack Obama when he was president, when he observed — correctly — that the perceived warfare between establishment Democratic and Republican elites was mostly theater, and on the question of what they actually believe, they’re both “fighting inside the 40 yard line” together:

See video...:

A standard Goldman Sachs banker or Silicon Valley executive has far more in common, and is far more comfortable, with Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan than they do with the ordinary American citizen. Except when it means a mildly disruptive presence — like Trump — they barely care whether Democrats or Republicans rule various organs of government, or whether people who call themselves “liberals” or “conservatives” ascend to power. Some left-wing members of Congress, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) have said they oppose a new domestic terrorism law, but Democrats will have no trouble forming a majority by partnering with their neocon GOP allies like Liz Cheney to get it done, as they did earlier this year to stop the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Germany. 

Neoliberalism and imperialism do not care about the pseudo-fights between the two parties or the cable TV bickering of the day. They do not like the far left or the far right. They do not like extremism of any kind. They do not support Communism and they do not support neo-Nazism or some fascist revolution. They care only about one thing: disempowering and crushing anyone who dissents from and threatens their hegemony. They care about stopping dissidents. All the weapons they build and institutions they assemble — the FBI, the DOJ, the CIA, the NSA, oligarchical power — exist for that sole and exclusive purpose, to fortify their power by rewarding those who accede to their pieties and crushing those who do not. 

No matter your views on the threat posed by international Islamic radicalism, huge excesses were committed in the name of stopping it — or, more accurately, the fears it generated were exploited to empower and entrench existing financial and political elites. The Authorization to Use Military Force — responsible for twenty-years-and-counting of war — was approved by the House three days after the 9/11 attack with just one dissenting vote. The Patriot Act — which radically expanded government surveillance powers — was enacted a mere six weeksafter that attack, based on the promise that it would be temporary and “sunset” in four years. Like the wars spawned by 9/11, it is still in full force, virtually never debated any longer and predictably expanded far beyond how it was originally depicted. 

The first War on Terror ended up being wielded primarily on foreign soil but it has increasingly been imported onto domestic soil against Americans. This New War on Terror — one that is domestic in name from the start and carries the explicit purpose of fighting “extremists” and “domestic terrorists” among American citizens on U.S. soil — presents the whole slew of historically familiar dangers when governments, exploiting media-generated fear and dangers, arm themselves with the power to control information, debate, opinion, activism and protests.




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And remember: 

"eat my shorts" — joe biden wrote the "patriot act"...



See also:

a couple of advices to president biden...

BEFORE DONALD TRUMP began his run for president, there was a war against journalism in the United States. President George W. Bush used the Espionage Act and sought to jail reporters who refused to give up their sources, not to mention killing journalists in war zones. When President Barack Obama, a constitutional law scholar, came to power, he did so claiming that he and Joe Biden would represent the most transparent administration in history. But then reality set in. During his eight years in power, Obama’s Justice Department used the Espionage Act against whistleblowers more than all of Obama’s predecessors combined. They continued the Bush Justice Department’s war on journalists, including threatening to jail then-New York Times reporter James Risen if he did not testify against his alleged source.

Despite its prosecutions of whistleblowers, Obama’s administration understood that use of the Espionage Act was controversial and widely denounced by press freedom organizations. Attorney General Eric Holder sought to implement some guardrails against spyingon journalists, though the administration maintained it had the right to do so in some circumstances. Still, Obama commuted whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s draconian 35-year prison sentence. During Trump’s tenure Manning was jailed again for nearly a year for refusing to testify in front of a Grand Jury. Obama’s administration also declined to indict WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and at least one other alleged whistleblower accused of leaking documents about the drone assassination program. Trump’s administration dug both cases out and moved forward with espionage prosecutions, which remain active.

Trump came to power following a political campaign in which he attacked the free press, adopted fascist slogans to denounce reporters, and denied that basic facts were true. Trump harbored a Nixonian hatred of the press and lived in constant fear of leaks, particularly about his personal finances.

In a clear effort to send chills through the government and as a warning to any would-be whistleblowers, Trump’s Justice Department went on a rampage using the Espionage Act. Its first major prosecution was against a National Security Agency contractor named Reality Winner. The Justice Department accused Winner of leaking to a “news outlet” an NSA document that showed Russian efforts to penetrate software used in some U.S. voting systems in 2016. Other news organizations have stated that the outlet was The Intercept. Winner accepted a plea agreement to one count of felony transmission of national defense information and was sentenced to five years, the longest prison term of any whistleblower convicted under the Espionage Act. It was an unconscionable act by a vindictive administration.

The Trump Justice Department weaponized its indictment of Winner in an effort to smear The Intercept and to encourage the media to focus on other journalists rather than the contents of the NSA document in question or the unjust use of the Espionage Act. Unfortunately, many publications took the bait and played into Trump’s malignant anti-press crusade.

When indictments of whistleblowers happen and FBI investigations are launched, journalists should scrutinize and confront the actions of intelligence and law enforcement agencies and assess what these attacks mean for the freedom of the press. Instead, so many media outlets seemed to want to aid the Trump administration in making this about what journalists did or did not do — making the publication the target, instead of focusing on the secrets that whistleblowers exposed or the dangerous weaponizing of the Espionage Act by both Democratic and Republican presidents.

I believe that The Intercept made serious errors in its editorial process on the Russia story, and I advocated both publicly and internally for The Intercept to explain exactly what happened. I believe that some of these mistakes were preventable. At the same time, there were serious legal concerns that anything The Intercept said in public could be used against Winner and other sources, and our attorneys implored The Intercept’s editors to say nothing. I understood the legal logic. Our editor-in-chief ended up making a statement acknowledging that we had failed to live up to our standards and taking responsibility for the institutional failure.

This was a complicated situation, and I believe the facts make clear that Winner would likely have been arrested regardless of any mistakes made by The Intercept. She was one of just six people in the entire U.S. national security apparatus to print the document in question and the only one to use a government computer to send emails (which were unrelated to the Russia story) to The Intercept. That doesn’t absolve The Intercept, but it is an important part of this story that is seldom mentioned. And we all know the Trump administration prioritized punishing leakers and was willing to use the full force of the state to do so. It was disturbing that the overwhelming focus of the reporting on Winner by some media outlets was not on the contents of the document she allegedly revealed or that the Trump administration was wielding the Espionage Act like a weapon in order to threaten any would-be whistleblowers. The lead prosecutor made the outrageous statement that Winner was “the quintessential example of an insider threat.” The Intercept deserved criticism and scrutiny, but the problem was that it often came at the expense of holding the chief villains of the story accountable.

President Joe Biden has an opportunity to right some of these wrongs. He should publicly commit to ending the use of the Espionage Act against whistleblowers. Congress could also amend or repeal the act so that it cannot be used for such purposes. Biden should also take actions to end the persecution of Assange and return to the Obama-era position that Assange should not be prosecuted by the United States. “We thought it was a dangerous precedent to prosecute Assange for something that reporters do all the time,” said Matthew Miller, an Obama Justice Department spokesperson. “The Espionage Act doesn’t make any distinction between journalists and others, so if you can apply it to Assange, there’s no real reason you couldn’t apply it to [the New York Times].” Biden should immediately pardon Winner and secure her release from a coronavirus-infested prison. He also should drop the case against former intelligence contractor and war veteran Daniel Hale, who is facing trial under the Espionage Act for allegedly leaking documents on the U.S. drone and assassination programs.

We have just seen the end of a dangerous administration that openly waged war against journalism. For four years, the president of the United States used the Justice Department as his personal law firm and a political cudgel against his perceived enemies, including the press. Even if Biden doesn’t agree with the principles I am advocating, he could declare these Espionage Act indictments to be the toxic fruit of the poisonous and discredited Trump Justice Department. And media outlets should remember the next time a whistleblower is arrested that the most important task for journalists is to hold those in power to account rather than allow themselves to be used in a government distraction campaign.


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See also:

why the empire hates julian assange...


"eat my shorts" — joe biden wrote the "patriot act"...


free assange today, mr biden...





Advice number 2:


After being sworn in as US president on Wednesday, Joe Biden is likely to move quickly to transform most dimensions of US policy. A glaring exception is China. But if Biden maintains his predecessor Donald Trump's confrontational approach to the world's second-largest economy, he will come to regret it.

While Biden may be less overtly antagonistic toward China than Trump was, he has echoed many of his predecessor's complaints about China's trade practices, accusing the country of "stealing" intellectual property, dumping products in foreign markets, and forcing technology transfers from American companies. And he has indicated that he will not immediately abandon the "phase one" bilateral trade agreement reached last year, or remove the 25 percent tariffs that now affect about half of China's exports to the United States.

In Biden's view, it is best not to make any significant changes to the ongoing approach to China until he conducts a full review of the existing agreement and consults with the US' traditional allies in Asia and Europe, in order to "develop a coherent strategy". His chosen US trade representative, Katherine Tai-an Asian-American trade lawyer (and fluent Mandarin speaker), with extensive experience in China-might play an important role in the review process.

But it should not take a comprehensive examination to see that high tariffs and the phase one agreement are fundamentally incompatible. In the last two years, the proportion of Chinese exports to the US subjected to additional tariffs has soared from a nearly insignificant share to more than 70 percent. Similarly, the share of US exports to China subject to tariffs has skyrocketed, from 2 percent in February 2018 to more than 50 percent two years later.

Over the same period, the US has implemented 11 rounds of sanctions against Chinese entities. Last month's addition of 59 Chinese enterprises and individuals to the US Department of Commerce's list of export-controlled entities brought the total to 350-the most for any country.

With such high costs and strict limitations on exports, China cannot possibly fulfill its commitment, included in the phase one agreement, to purchase some $200 billion worth of additional US goods and services in 2020-21. Since January 2020, US exports to China have fallen far short of the deal's targets. As a result, in November 2020, China had fulfilled just 57 percent of its annual purchase commitment.

China's options for accelerating progress are severely limited. The private sector-which accounts for nearly 80 percent of Chinese demand for US imports-cannot simply be instructed to purchase American goods at such high tariffs. And forcing Chinese State-owned enterprises to pick up the slack would create its own problems.

The conclusion is clear: as long as Biden upholds Trump's confrontational approach, the phase one accord will be fundamentally unworkable, and further progress toward a mutually beneficial trade relationship will be all but impossible. Bilateral trade could even collapse.

But this does not mean that the Biden administration need only remove tariffs. The phase one agreement is also deeply flawed, not least because complying with it would force China to reduce imports from other countries. By giving the US a significant advantage over China's other trading partners, the agreement may even violate the World Trade Organization's principle of non-discrimination.

Other economies, therefore, are trying to level the playing field. At the end of 2020, the European Union and China concluded the negotiations on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, and all 10 of the ASEAN member states, together with China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement in November.

None of this is in the US' interest. For starters, ASEAN members-which, collectively, form the US' fourth-largest export market-are likely to shift more trade to their RCEP partners. The fact that the RCEP lacks the labor and environmental standards seen in agreements with Canada, Mexico and the US will reinforce this shift.

The RCEP is also likely to increase Chinese demand for agricultural and energy exports from Australia and New Zealand. And by indirectly establishing a free trade zone among China, Japan and the ROK-the so-called iron triangle-it will consolidate supply chains in Northeast Asia and the West Pacific. This puts the US at a growing strategic disadvantage.

Therefore, instead of upholding Trump's confrontational China policy, Biden should accept China's central role in the global economy, and pursue a mutually beneficial, non-discriminatory trade agreement. China's efforts to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership-which evolved from the Trans-Pacific Partnership after Trump pulled the US out of it upon taking office four years ago-could provide an important opening here.

The Biden administration promises a fresh start for the US and its relations with the world. To fulfill that promise, he must end his predecessor's disastrous trade war against China.

Project Syndicate

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Zhang Jun is the dean of the School of Economics at Fudan University and director of the China Center for Economic Studies, a Shanghai-based think tank. And Shi Shuo is a PhD candidate in economics at Fudan University's China Center for Economic Studies and a visiting fellow at CERDI-IDREC, Université Clermont Auvergne.


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a love misplaced...


by James O’Neill


The United States presents an unedifying sight at the moment as gleeful Democrats celebrate the second condemnation of Donald Trump, and the latter’s apparent concession of the United States’ presidential race to Joe Biden. It is difficult for the external observer to see what they have to be glad about.

Certainly, the presidency of Donald Trump has not been a happy experience for the people who really control the United States and its foreign policy. Although the past four years of the Trump presidency have been fraught, replete with threats and much blustering, the fact of the matter is that for four years he has resisted actually physically invading another country.

That may seem a small achievement, but it is unprecedented in post- World War II United States presidencies, where the attacking of third countries was an essential part of United States foreign policy.

That is not to say that the Trump years were full of peace and love for their enemies, real and imagined. Throughout his four years in power Trump has waged war by different means, including against Venezuela, going so far as to recognise the pretender to the Venezuelan presidency as the legitimate holder of that office. In this folly he was joined by a number of western nations, including Australia. That exercise seems to be finally dying a death, but the associated sanctions against Venezuela have caused enormous hardship and suffering for the country and its people. Their crime seems to have been no more than to elect a president unwilling to accept American dominance of his country.

The Trump administration’s treatment of Iran has been even worse. There, the United States abandoned the agreement worked out by his predecessor Barack Obama and some western European nations. The incoming Biden administration seems willing to re-join the Iran deal, but wants improvements to it. The Iranians, quite rightly, have flatly refused and it will be interesting to see how much the Biden administration continues to push for amendments to the original deal. In this, the attitude of the Israeli government, a bitter opponent of any concessions to Iran, will likely be a dominant factor.

It would be extremely unwise to expect any major improvement in United States foreign policy under the incoming Biden government. There are several reasons for this pessimistic view. The first is that Biden has a long history to serve as a guide to what his future policies might be. There is nothing in that history to inspire any confidence.

As Obama’s vice president Biden was at the forefront of that administrations aggressive policies. This included the 2014 coup in Ukraine, the consequences of which still plague those hoping for a peaceful Europe.

A resolution of the Ukrainian situation is unlikely under a Biden administration. The United States and western government in general continue to misrepresent the sequence of events in Crimea, treating it as if Russia had acted aggressively in resolving Crimea’s conflict with Ukraine. In the now more than six-year conflict I have yet to see any acknowledgement in the western media of the circumstances under which Crimea came under Ukrainian control in 1954, or any of its relevant history as an integral part of Russia.

Joe Biden also has a personal link to the Ukrainian government through the activities of his son Hunter Biden, the details of which are another area that the western media prefers to ignore. Biden is unlikely to have a favourable view of Russia as a consequence of these events.

Nor can one expect any significant changes in United States foreign policy in the Middle East. While vice president Biden took no steps to acknowledge the gross error of President George Bush in attacking Iraq, and certainly no steps to reduce United States involvement in the country during his eight years as vice president. It was also under his reign in 2015 that the United States attacked Syria, and again there has been no commitment to end that conflict, or indeed to end United States support for the multiple rebel groups that plague both Iraq and Syria.

Biden has promised to “return” to Europe but the truth of the matter is that the United States never left there. Rearranging the deployment of United States forces is far from a withdrawal, and that is essentially all the Trump administration did. Neither has Biden made any commitment to reducing the interference of the United States in countries such as Belarus where the United States is a current supporter of the former presidential candidate now living in exile.

A question the western media is also unable to confront is the very real issue of Biden’s mental health. There is very convincing evidence that Biden displays symptoms of mental incapacity. Whether he will survive the whole four years is an open question. In the event he is disabled or dies then the character of his vice president Karmela Harris becomes highly relevant.

Quite why she was chosen is unclear. Her record as a top California legal officer is notable for its highly conservative features and relentless pursuit of black persons. She was the first to drop out of the presidential primaries barely registering in voter support. Her main attractions to Biden seem to be her race, her sex and her geographical location. None of those features provides a clue as to her capabilities and nothing she has said or done through the presidential campaign invite any particular confidence.

The dominant feature of Biden’s appointments to his main foreign policy areas is his reliance upon people with whom he was friendly when he last held office. None of them are known for any particular sympathy to either Russia or China, the two countries whose relationship with Biden will define the success or otherwise of his presidency.

While there may well therefore be some changes in the style of the Biden presidency over that of his predecessor, it would be a grave error to expect substantial changes. Coupled with that is Biden’s obvious commitment to a past era. The world has changed in the past four years, and almost none of it to America’s liking. That process is likely to continue. The big question will be the United States’ response to those changes, and in particular its willingness or otherwise to accept that the period of United States hegemony is now well and truly over.


James O’Neill, an Australian-based former Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.



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