‘America First’ is no more, but can president-elect Biden fix the US reputation abroad?



Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Gorana Grgic, University of Sydney

Throughout the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, Joe Biden spent significant time reassuring American allies around the world that Trump’s America is not “who we are” and pledging “we’ll be back”.

Now that he’s the president-elect, those who were most worried about another four years of “America First” foreign policy are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief.

Much has been written about a Biden presidency being focused on restoration, or as David Graham of The Atlantic put it,

returning the United States to its rightful place before (as he sees it) the current president came onto the scene and trashed the joint.

Then-Vice President Biden meeting Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2013.
LINTAO ZHANG / POOL /EPA

The old world order doesn’t exist anymore

This idea has revolved around restoring the post-1945 liberal international order – a term subject to a lot of academic contention. The US played a central role in creating and leading the order around key institutions such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the like.

However, there is now no shortage of evidence that many of these institutions have come under extreme strain in recent years and have been unable respond to the challenges of the 21st century geopolitics.

For one, the US no longer wields the relative economic power or influence it had in the middle of last century. There are also increasingly vocal critics in the US — led by Trump — who question America’s foreign commitments.

Trump questioned the US commitment to NATO and expressed affinity for Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Hau Dinh/AP

Moreover, nations themselves are no longer the only important actors in the international system. Terror groups like the Islamic State now have the ability to threaten global security, while corporations like Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Facebook have such economic power, their combined revenue would qualify them for the G20.

Equally, the so-called liberal international order was built on the idea that a growing number of democracies would be willing to work within institutions like the UN, IMF and WTO and act in ways that would make everyone in the system better off.

Clearly, that has not been the case for the past 15 years as democracies around the world slowly eroded, from European Union states like Hungary and Poland to Brazil to the US.




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Biden can’t fix everything at once

Trump’s 2016 election seemed to have been the final nail in the coffin for the idea of a truly liberal international order with the US as a benevolent leader.

From his first days in office, Trump was on a mission to roll back US commitments to myriad organisations, deals and relationships around the world. Most significantly, this included questioning commitments to its closest allies in Europe, Asia and elsewhere that had been unwavering for generations.

Trump damaged some of America’s strongest alliances in Europe.
Francisco Seco/AP

Biden takes over at a precarious time. The world is more unstable than it has been in decades and the US image has been severely damaged by the actions and rhetoric of his predecessor.

There is no naivety on Biden’s part that he will be able to fix everything that was broken along the way. After all, many of these challenges predated Trump and are merely a reflection of a changing world.

Furthermore, Biden will have many pressing domestic issues that will demand his immediate attention — first and foremost addressing the greatest public health and economic crisis in a century.

We are also likely to see growing pressure for Biden to pursue a more progressive climate policy and a better-managed industrial policy, though he’ll be greatly constrained in what he can do if the Republicans maintain control of the Senate.

All of this will limit both his bandwidth and appetite for an overly ambitious foreign policy agenda.




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Rejoining the world, with managed expectations

Given this, Biden’s presidency should be approached with managed expectations. Unlike President Barack Obama, he did not campaign on lofty promises of change. He ran on being the opposite of Trump and, as such, being better able to understand the intricacies of foreign policy.

This will mean a swift return to multilateralism and rejoining the deals and organisations Trump abandoned, from the Paris climate agreement and Iran nuclear deal to the the World Trade Organisation and World Health Organisation.

Given these moves by Trump required no congressional input, Biden will be able to return to Obama-era policies in a relatively straightforward fashion through executive action.

However, this didn’t produce the expected “blue wave” and national repudiation of Trumpism, so it remains to be seen whether friends and foes alike can be convinced the past four years were an aberration. In essence, how good can America’s word be moving forward?

Biden’s campaign put a great emphasis on strengthening America’s existing alliances and forging new ones to maintain what he frequently refers to as “a free world”.

This will involve a substantial change from the way Trump managed US alliances, nurturing relationships with authoritarian leaders in the Middle East, for example, and some of the least liberal eastern European states.

This shift will benefit America’s traditional allies in western Europe the most. However, these countries are more determined than ever to stop depending on the whims of the Electoral College to decide their security. Instead, they are strengthening their own defence capabilities.

‘America First’ finished second

Lastly, on the greatest geopolitical question of our time, there is no doubt the US will continue its competition with China in the coming years, no matter who is president.

Yet, there are still plenty of questions around how Biden will handle this relationship. His campaign adopted a much more hawkish stance toward China compared to the Obama administration, which reflects a growing bipartisan consensus the US must get tougher with Beijing.




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At the same time, there is significant debate about how far his administration should push Beijing on issues ranging from technological competition to human rights, particularly given Biden has said the US needs to find a way to cooperate with China on other pressing issues, such as climate change, global health and arms control.

America might be coming back under Biden, but this is not the same world or the same country it once was. So, while the restoration of the US will be challenging, one thing is certain: “America First” finished second.The Conversation

Gorana Grgic, Lecturer in US Politics and Foreign Policy, US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What’s next for the Republicans after Trump? Here are 5 reasons for pessimism — and 5 reasons for hope



Evan Vucci/AP

Timothy J. Lynch, University of Melbourne

In a post-election poll for the University of Melbourne’s US election webinar series we asked the several hundred people in the audience if President Donald Trump’s defeat would mean the death of “Trumpism”. A full 92% said “no”.

Now that Democratic challenger Joe Biden has won the election and will become the next president, the logical question for the Republican Party is: what’s next?

Will Trump — and Trumpism — remain dominant features of American life after the election, and if so, what does this mean for the Republicans?

If you are conservative, there are at least five reasons to feel concerned about Trump’s legacy — and another five to be optimistic about it.

Five reasons to be pessimistic

1) Biden has won the presidency with the largest popular vote tally in American history (more than 75 million and counting).

His mandate is considerable for this reason. He now gets to establish the country’s political agenda, both domestically and internationally. Republicans will seek to block him at every turn, but as they have now lost the presidency, they have also lost the initiative.




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2) Trump’s enduring popularity (no Republican has ever received more votes in a presidential election) means he will continue to set the agenda and tone of conservative politics for at least the next few years.

This will no doubt upset conservative critics and “Never Trumpers” like David Brooks, Bret Stephens, Peter Wehner and Jennifer Rubin, as well as activists at the Lincoln Project, who have articulated a revulsion for Trump since he became a presidential contender.

For them, he represents a brand of populism antithetical to conservative values like the importance of institutions in public life, reverence for good character and the rule of law.

Trump supporters protesting the presidential election results in Michigan.
David Goldman/AP

3) Trump’s ability to galvanise grassroots conservatives around the country means polarisation is set to endure.

This will happen at two levels. Polarisation will likely deepen between the two parties, making bipartisan decision-making on COVID-19, China, climate change and the national debt impossible.

And the rift between the two wings of the GOP will likely widen, making a return to civility and compromise more nostalgic than real. The party looks set to be a noisy voice of discordant protest – “This election was stolen!” – rather than a key force of conservative renewal.

There is already evidence of division within the GOP over whether to support Trump’s claims of electoral fraud, with many choosing to remain silent rather than pick a side.




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Trump still enjoys huge support among evangelical voters — and it’s not only because of abortion


4) Despite being the party that liberated African Americans from slavery after the Civil War, the Republicans remain too white and too rural today.

These twin demographics are in long-term decline, which makes replicating Trump’s electoral success on the national stage a losing game. As long as Trump’s brand of ethnic nationalism and white identity politics endures, Republicans will find it hard to build the governing coalitions necessary for national power.

The GOP needs to appeal more to non-whites in the cities and suburbs. Trumpism complicates that task.

5) If the party can’t reach more diverse voters, this creates a climate where conservatism is increasingly depicted by its opponents as illegitimate and politically incorrect.

Public discourse will mutate further into a shouting match of the extremes. The reasonableness and common sense so crucial to the conservative disposition will struggle to be heard.

Biden and Trump supporters frequently clashed during the race.
Jeff Swinger/AP

Five reasons to be cheerful

1) Significant parts of the political and judicial systems look likely to remain in conservative hands.

The Republicans have a good chance of retaining control of the Senate (depending on two run-off elections in Georgia in January), and they have strengthened their minority in the House.

With Amy Coney Barrett’s recent appointment, the Supreme Court also has six conservative-leaning justices (against three liberals).

As a result of all this, conservatism will remain a vital institutional component of American politics.

2) Despite Trump’s loss, there was still a strong Republican vote among those who feel they’ve been ignored or forgotten by the Democratic Party.

The poorest states in the union generally voted GOP, while the richest went Democratic. This trend has been evident for some time, but was affirmed in the election.

Trump galvanised Republican voters like few candidates before.
Evan Vucci/AP

And though Biden made some inroads among white voters without college degrees, their support for Trump remained strong. He won six in ten of those voters nationally, according to The Washington Post exit poll.

Expect Republicans to hone their working-class appeal as they build toward taking back the White House (with or without Trump) in 2024.

3) A white demographic decline need not spell disaster for the GOP. Despite his dog-whistle racism, Trump performed better than expected among Black voters. According to The New York Times and Post exit polls, which took into account early voting, nearly one in five Black men voted for Trump.

He also laid to rest the canard that Latino and Asian voters are the exclusive preserve of the Democratic Party. Trump fared better among both demographic groups than expected, particularly among Latino voters in Florida and Texas, where he increased his vote margin from 2016.

Overall, Trump won 26% of the non-white vote, according to the Times and Post exit polls. The trick now is to turn this into a lasting multiracial conservative voting bloc.

Cuban-American voters turned out in large numbers for Trump.
Lynne Sladky/AP

4) Albeit crudely, Trump has tapped into a fervour for conservative politics among large sections of the voting public that his predecessors could not and that his successors can draw strength from.

He outperformed the pre-election polls in key battleground states when everything from an economic recession to a global pandemic suggested he would struggle.

Getting past Trump’s long shadow will be a central issue for Republicans – 52% of GOP voters said they cast their ballots in professed loyalty to him.




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5) The Biden win obscures how riven progressive politics have become.

Biden was a compromise candidate — the only one acceptable to both the progressive and moderate wings of his party. According to The New York Times exit poll, just 47% of Democrats voted for Biden, mainly because they supported him, while 67% said they were voting against Trump.

Biden will have to learn how to bargain not just with Republicans in Congress, but with his own side. This task would be exhausting for any leader, not least for the oldest man to ever hold the office.

Trump has increased the appeal of American conservatism, even as he has complicated its meaning. Republicans and Democrats must now find a way of appealing to a forgotten American middle class that Trump energised. That could be his most enduring and positive legacy.

That is good for democracy. And if Republicans can make this support routine, it could be good for conservatism and the diversity of ideas on which the American experiment itself depends.The Conversation

Timothy J. Lynch, Associate Professor in American Politics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Morrison urges Biden to visit in 2021, as US result injects new force into Australia’s climate debate


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has lost no time pivoting to the incoming US administration, declaring on Sunday he hopes Joe Biden and his wife Jill will visit Australia for next year’s 70th anniversary of ANZUS.

“This is a profound time, not just for the United States, but for our partnership and the world more broadly,” Morrison told a news conference.

“And I look forward to forging a great partnership in the spirit of the relationships that has always existed between prime ministers of Australia and presidents of the United States.”

Those around Morrison say the government is already familiar with many figures in the Biden firmament, who were players in the Obama years.

Morrison also thanked Donald Trump and his cabinet “with whom we have had a very, very good working relationship over the years of the Trump administration and, of course, that will continue through the transition period.”

Meanwhile, Anthony Albanese retrospectively sought to put a less controversial gloss on his Friday comment, when he said Morrison should contact Trump and convey “Australia’s strong view that democratic processes must be respected”.

On Sunday Albanese said: “What I suggested was that Scott Morrison needed to stand up for democracy. He’s done that in acknowledging the election of President-elect Biden”.

Within Australia political attention is quickly turning to what a Biden administration will mean for the Morrison government’s climate change policies, and how Biden will handle China.

With an activist climate policy a central feature of Biden’s agenda, including a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 (which Australia has refused to embrace), Australia faces an increased risk of becoming isolated internationally on the issue.

That could have trade and investment implications, something of concern to the business community.

Morrison sought to highlight a common Australian-US commitment to technology.

He said he particularly welcomed campaign comments Biden made “when he showed a lot of similarity to Australia’s views on how technology can be used to address the lower emissions challenge.

“We want to see global emissions fall and it’s not enough for us to meet our commitments,” Morrison said.

“We need to have the transformational technologies that are scalable and affordable for the developing world as well, because that is where all the emissions increases are coming from … in the next 20 years,” he said.

“I believe we will have a very positive discussion about partnerships we can have with the United States about furthering those technological developments that will see a lower emissions future for the world but a stronger economy as well where we don’t say goodbye to jobs,” Morrison said.

Labor will use the Biden win as a springboard to ramp up its attack on the government over climate policy, including in parliament this week.

Albanese said Biden would reject “accounting tricks” like the government’s argument to be allowed to use carryover credits to reach emission reduction targets.

Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull told the ABC the US result gave Morrison the opportunity to pivot on climate policy. Now was the time for him to say, “I don’t have to go on with all of the BS about a gas-led recovery, which is political piffle,” Turnbull said.

Chief of the Australian Industry Group Innes Willox said the Biden administration would place much more emphasis on climate change and energy policy.

“The commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 will encourage other economies to move down this path. We are already seeing significant steps in recent times from other major trading partners such as Japan, South Korea, the UK and the European Union.

“Australia, led by industry and investor action, is already headed this way without making a formal target commitment,” Willox said.




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Willox said independent Zali Steggall’s climate change bill – with a pathway to a 2050 target – provided an immediate opportunity to move the debate forward. The bill will be introduced on Monday.

“The Bill is non-partisan. 2050 is many changes of government away, but for some industries it’s just a couple of investment cycles,” Willox said. The Steggall bill is receiving considerable business support.

Willox said the other shift of importance for Australian industry from a Biden administration would be “the opportunity for the US to re-engage with China on trade and broader economic issues.

“Efforts to take the heat out of differences on global trade through a change in tone will be welcomed but there should be no illusion that a Biden administration would seek to markedly soften the US’s stance on key issues,” Willox said.

“The risk for Australia until now has been that we have been caught up as collateral damage in the US-China trade dispute.

“The future risk is that China may seek to substitute Australian exports in key sectors with goods from the US in an effort to reset their economic relationship,” Willox said.

Asked about the prospect of the US rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Morrison said, “I think it would be very early days to speculate on those matters. I would simply say to the United States, the door has always remained open on the TPP. It is open now. It will be open in the future and you are welcome any time.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Joe Biden wins US presidential election as mail-in votes turn key states around



AAP/AP/Andrew Harnik

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

Pennsylvania and Nevada were today called for Joe Biden, taking him to 279 Electoral Votes, nine more than the 270 required to win. Biden is now the US president-elect, defeating an incumbent president for the first time since 1992.

Donald Trump has won 214 electoral votes. He is very likely to win North Carolina and Alaska. In Georgia, Biden leads by over 9,000 votes or 0.2%, with virtually all votes counted. In Arizona, Biden leads by under 19,000 votes or 0.6%.

If Biden holds his current leads in Georgia and Arizona, he will win the Electoral College by a 306 to 232 margin. That’s the exact margin by which Trump won the 2016 election, ignoring “faithless” electors.

On election night, Trump was well ahead in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia. This occurred because election day votes were strongly Republican, and much of the mail-in votes in those states had not been counted. With the inclusion of mail-ins, Biden won Wisconsin by 0.6% and Michigan by 2.6%.

Pennsylvania took longer to process its mail, but Biden’s lead there will expand from its current 37,000 or 0.6%. Virtually all votes needed to be counted in Georgia for Biden to move ahead.

The late counting trend has been different in Arizona, in which Biden’s large lead on election night induced Fox News and the AP to prematurely call for him. In Arizona, the early mail, which was counted on election night, was good for Biden, but the later mail has been good for Trump. This pattern has normally been reversed in Arizona.

Cook Political Report analyst Dave Wasserman has a graphic tracking the national popular vote. Biden currently leads Trump by 50.7% to 47.6%, and that margin will expand further owing to there being far more vote remaining to be counted in Democratic strongholds like California and New York. The total number of votes cast is already up over 9% from 2016.

While the polls were biased against Trump both nationally and in key states, there was a large gap between the popular vote and the Electoral College “tipping-point” state, as they predicted. Wisconsin, which Biden won by just 0.6%, is likely to be the tipping-point state, with Biden’s lead likely to grow in Pennsylvania but drop in Arizona.

If Biden wins the national popular vote by four to five points, Wisconsin would be 3.5 to 4.5 points better for Trump than the overall popular vote.

While Trump outperformed his polls, the cause was unlikely to be shy Trump voters, as Trump under-performed Republican candidates for the House and Senate. CNN analyst Harry Enten says Republican House candidates are leading overall in Pennsylvania by two points. The small portion of the electorate that voted for Biden but Republicans in Congress made the difference.

The final FiveThirtyEight forecast gave Trump a 10% chance to win. Analyst Nate Silver wrote that in 2016, Trump was just a “normal polling error” from winning, but he needed a bigger error in 2020. In the end, Biden’s polling lead was large enough to survive the errors that occurred.

In the Senate, Republicans are tied 48-48 with Democrats in called races, but Republicans are very likely to win the final two uncalled races in Alaska and North Carolina. Democrats would need to win both Georgia Senate runoffs on January 5 to tie it 50-50, and allow Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to break the tie.

In the House, Democrats lead Republicans by 215 to 196 with 24 races uncalled. Republicans have so far made a five-seat net gain from the 2018 results.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Joe Biden wins the election, and now has to fight the one thing Americans agree on: the nation’s deep division



AAP/AP/Carolyn Kaster

Jared Mondschein, University of Sydney

A timeless tradition in political journalism is trying to find a narrative that explains an electoral outcome.

A widely accepted narrative to explain Barack Obama’s win over John McCain in 2008 was that Americans wanted to embrace the “change” candidate who appeared the most dissimilar to then-President George W Bush. The narrative four years later in 2012 was that Republican Mitt Romney was too “elite” to resonate with American voters, and Obama was returned. Then in 2016, it was that Hillary Clinton was so confident of becoming president, she overlooked “Middle America”.

The accuracy of these widely accepted narratives in explaining electoral victories is fiercely debated. So, too, will be many of the narratives for Joe Biden’s election win to become the 46th president of the United States.

One narrative for this election may be that Biden ran a campaign that was unspectacular, when unspectacular was exactly what Americans wanted after four years of endless spectacles. Perhaps Americans wanted more conventionality after an exceedingly unconventional president.

Another potential narrative may be the death toll of nearly a quarter of a million Americans from the coronavirus pandemic was simply too overwhelming for President Donald Trump to overcome. When a majority of Americans blame the US government for the coronavirus situation in the country now seeing record numbers of infections each day, it’s not hard to see why they would want to change course.

Yet perhaps the most lasting narrative of this election is how fearful, uncertain, and polarised Americans are. Although this is not novel in modern American history, the ever-increasing reach and volume of this sentiment certainly is.




Read more:
‘America First’ is no more, but can president-elect Biden fix the US reputation abroad?


Passion, polarisation – and guns

In receiving more than 70 million votes, more Americans voted for Trump in this election than any other candidate in history – except for Biden, who earned more than 74 million votes. (Both of these totals will likely increase as further ballots are counted.) There’s no denying increased voter participation is an encouraging sign for American democracy, yet some of the passions fuelling that turnout are worrying.

Recent polling found a majority of Americans unwilling to agree the other side’s electoral victory in the presidential election should be accepted.

Biden supporters celebrate in front of the White House in Washington, D.C.
AAP/AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Americans recognise this in the other side too: only 16% of Trump voters said Democrats would accept a Trump re-election; 26% of Biden supporters said Republicans would accept a Biden win.

Alarmingly, other polling found around a third of Americans believed violence could be justified in support of their political parties’ goals, while 21% of those with a strong political affiliation were “quite willing to endorse violence if the other party wins the presidency”.

With more than three quarters of Americans saying they expected violence in the aftermath of the election, a record number of Americans in 2020 decided to arm themselves.

For more than a decade, the United States has had more guns than people. But 2020 has already broken records for the number of gun sales. This was often a partisan trend in previous years – Americans who leaned Republican were more than twice as likely to own a gun as those who leaned Democratic – yet there are some indications that in 2020, increased gun ownership became bipartisan.

Just last month, the Trump administration’s own Department of Homeland Security – an organisation set up in the aftermath of the September 11 2001 terror attacks – said it was Americans, specifically violent white supremacists, who posed the “most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland”.

Amid reports of a foiled plot to attack a vote-counting centre in Philadelphia and continued inflammatory rhetoric, there is little question as to whether violence in the aftermath of this election is likely.

So what happens now?

Trump will remain president for another 73 days, as a “lame duck” president. Biden will be inaugurated on January 20 2021.

So far, Trump has refused to concede defeat – in fact, he is insisting he won without offering any evidence of it – and has launched a series of legal challenges to the outcome. Many of those challenges have already been dismissed.

Simultaneous to his ceaseless battles over the integrity of his electoral loss, Trump will likely face extensive lobbying for presidential pardons – a unique privilege given to the president by the constitution “to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States”.

Conventional presidents have traditionally been concerned about how history will perceive their pardons. Trump is certainly not conventional, having used and considered using pardons for much of his presidency.

Trump will eventually leave the White House. But it is hard to see his loyal base leaving him anytime soon. Like so many other norms, Trump will be unlikely to adhere to the norm that former US presidents retire from political life after leaving the White House.

Trump will leave the White House in January, but he still has many supporters, leaving the possibility of him running again in 2024 an open question.
AAP/AP/Julio Cortez

The fact Trump is still eligible to run for another term of office may allow him to follow in the footsteps of President Grover Cleveland, who was ousted from the White House by Benjamin Harrison in 1888, but four years later, defeated Harrison and took back the presidency.

While some Republican leaders are distancing themselves from the president, the fact Trump still enjoys a 95% approval rating among Republicans means he is undeniably an early favourite for the 2024 Republican nominee for president.

Lastly, Biden will assume the presidency facing multiple crises, ranging from a pandemic and economic downturn to overwhelming levels of fear, uncertainty, and polarisation. Should the US Senate remain Republican-controlled, he will need to navigate these crises in the face of a divided government. In this scenario, his former Republican colleagues in the senate would have final approval of his cabinet and legislative agenda.

From expanding NATO to the 2009 economic stimulus bill, Biden comes to the White House with arguably more bipartisan achievements than any president of the last half century. The question is whether he will overcome the widely-accepted narrative of a dangerously divided America.




Read more:
Even if Biden has a likely win, leading a deeply divided nation will be difficult


The Conversation


Jared Mondschein, Senior Advisor, US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Myanmar’s election is unlikely to herald major political reform or support transition to democracy


DB Subedi, University of New England

Over 37 million Myanmar citizens, including 5 million first-time voters, will go to the polls on November 8.

The election represents a litmus test for the popularity of National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was placed under a house arrest by the military for about 15 years intermittently between 1989 and 2010.

Much is at stake in this election, but the role of the military still looms large in Myanmar politics.

The constitutional change needed to further democratise Myanmar is impossible without the military’s consent, so achieving major political transformation through the election alone seems unlikely.




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Rohingya genocide case: why it will be hard for Myanmar to comply with ICJ’s orders


The recent past

In 2011, after about five decades of military rule, the military nominally handed power to the government of President Thein Sein and his Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

Soon after, in the 2015 election, Suu Kyi’s NLD party won a landslide victory. She is now Myanmar’s incumbent state counsellor (equivalent to prime minister) but her international standing has taken a hit in recent years.

Critics accuse her of allowing widespread abuse of minority Rohingyas. Many Rohingya villages were burned down during a military crackdown in 2016 and 2017. Over 900,000 Rohingya — including more than 400,000 children — fled to Bangladesh and a large number of Rohingya refugees are dispersed across Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, armed conflicts between ethnic armed organisations and the military continue, especially in the Rakhine state and the northern borderlands, and Myanmar’s transition to democracy is faltering.

New parties and political alliances

Suu Kyi’s NLD and its main rival, the USDP, are the two largest political parties vying for a majority of seats.

With its origin in the bloody 1988 anti-government uprising, the NLD has long fought for democracy and freedom.

The USDP (currently chaired by Than Htay), on the other hand, was formally registered in June 2010 with tacit support from the military. However, the USDP’s recent decision not to favour retired military generals as candidates indicates its ties with the military are weakening.

Many smaller parties and alliances are emerging and some, such as the People’s Party and the United Political Parties Alliance (UPPA), are likely to divide NLD’s traditional voters.

Two new political parties, the Union Betterment Party and the Democratic Party of National Politics, both formed by ex-military generals, will likely split the military sympathisers and cut into the USDP’s traditional voter base.

In states such as Kachin, Shan, Rakhine, Mon, Chin and Karen, many ethnic parties have recently merged to form a united front. They aim to win a majority in state parliaments and claim most of the national parliament seats in their states. These mergers may also weaken the NLD’s position; it had performed well in ethnic majority states in 2015.

Despite some notable economic and policy reforms, many ethnic parties are dissatisfied with the NLD government for the slow pace of transition from the military rule.

As the COVID-19 pandemic restricts freedom of movement, the candidates will be forced to campaign largely through social media and traditional media, which might work in the favour of larger and better-resourced parties. Not all parties and candidates have the finances to run online campaigns.

Big issues driving the voters

The election campaign will bring to light complex issues around Myanmar’s rich ethnic diversity: the continuation of armed conflict, demand from ethnic minorities for federalism, devolution of state power and better economic opportunities.

Despite the NLD’s promise of greater freedom and civil liberties, Suu Kyi’s government has prosecuted more journalists, social media users and human rights activists than the previous government.

Myanmar’s economic and infrastructure development has been limited and, as my research argues, has been manipulated for political gain by powerful interest groups.

This has helped radicalise a section of Buddhist extremists. The middle class and rural poor haven’t benefited greatly from development policies; more than 24% of people still live below the national poverty line.

Deep reforms for a federal system and equitable economic development policies are needed to bring real progress toward peace between ethnic armed groups and the government. The way land ownership and natural resources are managed would need to be overhauled. Such reforms, however, are constrained by provisions in Myanmar’s constitution that ensure state power is shared with the military.

The constitution allows the military to occupy 25% of parliamentary seats. Only serving military officers can lead the three most powerful ministries – defence, home affairs and border affairs. This makes the military a very powerful political institution, which effectively controls the peace process and the direction of the transition.

The Rohingya crisis: ‘seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing’

The persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, which then-United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein said in 2017 “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, continues to loom large in Myanmar politics. It has created one of the world’s largest refugee crises.

Many international observers have criticised Suu Kyi’s silence on the Rohingya crisis. Inside Myanmar, however, her popularity remained strong (especially among the country’s majority Bamar community) as she was called to answer for allegations of genocide made at the International Court of Justice late last year.

The Bamar community makes up about 70% of the country’s population and is the major voter base of Suu Kyi’s party. They largely consider Rohingyas illegal migrants, despite the fact many have lived in Myanmar for generations. A section of the community supports radical Buddhist nationalism and resists ethnic pluralism.

The Rohingya crisis has made ethnic minority voters deeply sceptical of Suu Kyi, but within the Bamar community, Buddhist nationalist narratives have surged and may come to dominate electoral campaigns.

What’s the outlook for reform?

Myanmar’s military has frequently resisted constitutional reforms that would reduce its power.

If, as is expected, Suu Kyi’s NLD wins a majority this year, the military will likely collaborate with its allies in the parliament to block any constitutional reform.

If Suu Kyi’s political rivals — the USDP and other smaller parties and alliances — obtain a larger presence in the parliament, no single party will have a big enough majority to push through constitutional reforms. This will ultimately benefit the military and delay the transition to democracy.The Conversation

DB Subedi, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of New England

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘America First’ is no more, but can president-elect Biden fix the US reputation abroad?



Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Gorana Grgic, University of Sydney

Throughout the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, Joe Biden spent significant time reassuring American allies around the world that Trump’s America is not “who we are” and pledging “we’ll be back”.

Now that he’s the president-elect, those who were most worried about another four years of “America First” foreign policy are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief.

Much has been written about a Biden presidency being focused on restoration, or as David Graham of The Atlantic put it,

returning the United States to its rightful place before (as he sees it) the current president came onto the scene and trashed the joint.

Then-Vice President Biden meeting Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2013.
LINTAO ZHANG / POOL /EPA

The old world order doesn’t exist anymore

This idea has revolved around restoring the post-1945 liberal international order – a term subject to a lot of academic contention. The US played a central role in creating and leading the order around key institutions such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the like.

However, there is now no shortage of evidence that many of these institutions have come under extreme strain in recent years and have been unable respond to the challenges of the 21st century geopolitics.

For one, the US no longer wields the relative economic power or influence it had in the middle of last century. There are also increasingly vocal critics in the US — led by Trump — who question America’s foreign commitments.

Trump questioned the US commitment to NATO and expressed affinity for Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Hau Dinh/AP

Moreover, nations themselves are no longer the only important actors in the international system. Terror groups like the Islamic State now have the ability to threaten global security, while corporations like Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Facebook have such economic power, their combined revenue would qualify them for the G20.

Equally, the so-called liberal international order was built on the idea that a growing number of democracies would be willing to work within institutions like the UN, IMF and WTO and act in ways that would make everyone in the system better off.

Clearly, that has not been the case for the past 15 years as democracies around the world slowly eroded, from European Union states like Hungary and Poland to Brazil to the US.




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Biden can’t fix everything at once

Trump’s 2016 election seemed to have been the final nail in the coffin for the idea of a truly liberal international order with the US as a benevolent leader.

From his first days in office, Trump was on a mission to roll back US commitments to myriad organisations, deals and relationships around the world. Most significantly, this included questioning commitments to its closest allies in Europe, Asia and elsewhere that had been unwavering for generations.

Trump damaged some of America’s strongest alliances in Europe.
Francisco Seco/AP

Biden takes over at a precarious time. The world is more unstable than it has been in decades and the US image has been severely damaged by the actions and rhetoric of his predecessor.

There is no naivety on Biden’s part that he will be able to fix everything that was broken along the way. After all, many of these challenges predated Trump and are merely a reflection of a changing world.

Furthermore, Biden will have many pressing domestic issues that will demand his immediate attention — first and foremost addressing the greatest public health and economic crisis in a century.

We are also likely to see growing pressure for Biden to pursue a more progressive climate policy and a better-managed industrial policy, though he’ll be greatly constrained in what he can do if the Republicans maintain control of the Senate.

All of this will limit both his bandwidth and appetite for an overly ambitious foreign policy agenda.




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Rejoining the world, with managed expectations

Given this, Biden’s presidency should be approached with managed expectations. Unlike President Barack Obama, he did not campaign on lofty promises of change. He ran on being the opposite of Trump and, as such, being better able to understand the intricacies of foreign policy.

This will mean a swift return to multilateralism and rejoining the deals and organisations Trump abandoned, from the Paris climate agreement and Iran nuclear deal to the the World Trade Organisation and World Health Organisation.

Given these moves by Trump required no congressional input, Biden will be able to return to Obama-era policies in a relatively straightforward fashion through executive action.

However, this didn’t produce the expected “blue wave” and national repudiation of Trumpism, so it remains to be seen whether friends and foes alike can be convinced the past four years were an aberration. In essence, how good can America’s word be moving forward?

Biden’s campaign put a great emphasis on strengthening America’s existing alliances and forging new ones to maintain what he frequently refers to as “a free world”.

This will involve a substantial change from the way Trump managed US alliances, nurturing relationships with authoritarian leaders in the Middle East, for example, and some of the least liberal eastern European states.

This shift will benefit America’s traditional allies in western Europe the most. However, these countries are more determined than ever to stop depending on the whims of the Electoral College to decide their security. Instead, they are strengthening their own defence capabilities.

‘America First’ finished second

Lastly, on the greatest geopolitical question of our time, there is no doubt the US will continue its competition with China in the coming years, no matter who is president.

Yet, there are still plenty of questions around how Biden will handle this relationship. His campaign adopted a much more hawkish stance toward China compared to the Obama administration, which reflects a growing bipartisan consensus the US must get tougher with Beijing.




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At the same time, there is significant debate about how far his administration should push Beijing on issues ranging from technological competition to human rights, particularly given Biden has said the US needs to find a way to cooperate with China on other pressing issues, such as climate change, global health and arms control.

America might be coming back under Biden, but this is not the same world or the same country it once was. So, while the restoration of the US will be challenging, one thing is certain: “America First” finished second.The Conversation

Gorana Grgic, Lecturer in US Politics and Foreign Policy, US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

To stay or cut away? As Trump makes baseless claims, TV networks are faced with a serious dilemma



Evan Vucci/AP

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

In the United States, democratic norms are breaking down.

The president, Donald Trump, baselessly claimed at a White House press conference on Friday morning, Australian time, that the presidential election has been stolen from him by fraudulent and corrupt electoral processes.

This confronted the television networks, whose job is to report the news, with an acute dilemma.

In an already volatile political atmosphere, do they go on reporting these lies, laced with an undertone of veiled incitement to violence? Or do they cut away on the grounds that by continuing to broadcast this stuff, they are helping to propagate lies and perhaps to oxygenate a threat to the civil peace?

Major networks tune out

Many of the major networks — MSNBC, NBC News, CNBC, CBS News and ABC News — decided to cut away. So did National Public Radio.

MSNBC presenter Brian Williams said of Trump’s speech:

It was not rooted in reality and at this point, where our country is, it’s dangerous.

CNBC presenter, Shepard Smith, said the network was not going to allow it to keep going because what Trump was saying was not true.

CNN and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News broadcast Trump’s entire press conference but immediately afterwards challenged what he said. CNN’s fact-checker Daniel Dale said it had been the most “dishonest” speech Trump had ever given, with anchor Jake Tapper saying Trump’s statements were “pathetic” and “a feast of falsehoods”.

Fox’s host Martha MacCallum said the supposed evidence and proof of election misconduct would need to be produced.

Even Murdoch’s New York Post, which had endorsed Trump’s re-election, accused him of making “baseless” election fraud claims, quoting a Republican Congressman as saying they were “insane”.

The Washington Post carried two news stories on its front page, clearly calling out Trump’s lies: “Falsehood upon falsehood”; “A speech of historic dishonesty”.

A serious decision to silence the President

But what of the networks’ decision to cut away?

Silencing a public official in the course of his official duties is a very serious abrogation of the media’s duty in a democracy.

But so is allowing the airwaves to be used in such a way as to arouse fears for public confidence in the democratic process and — as MSNBC’s Williams argued — even public safety.

Donald Trump giving his White House press conference.
Caption text.
Shawn Thew/ EPA

On the run, many of the big networks prioritised public confidence in the democratic process, and public safety, over the reporting of the president’s words.

It is a rare circumstance in any democratic society that the media are placed in the position of having to shoulder such a heavy burden of responsibility.

It is most unlikely that once the present crisis is over, assuming Democrat candidate Joe Biden wins, the American media will find themselves in this position again.

Even so, a Rubicon has been crossed. A president of the United States, a publicly elected official, has been silenced by significant elements of the professional mass media in the course of his public duties.




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This was done principally on the grounds he was lying to the people in circumstances where there was a foreseeable risk of serious harm to the body politic, and there was no practicable way to reduce the risk.

Is that a standard the media is prepared to set for the future? If so, it would be giving itself a power that goes well beyond anything the media has claimed for itself up till now.

Journalists need to keep their nerve

In considering this, two questions arise.

What if all media outlets had adopted this course? No one except those at the White House press conference would have known the whole of what Trump said, seen the context and observed the demeanour with which he said it.

Would it have been enough to do as CNN and Fox did — report the speech and then repudiate it?




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An answer to that would be: the lies were coming so thick and fast, and were so damaging to the public interest, that it would have been impossible to set the record straight in anything like real time.

Real-time fact-checking is a relatively new development, and a welcome one. But its feasibility should not be a criterion for deciding whether to publish breaking news, unless there is doubt about whether the breaking news is actually happening.

The networks that cut away doubtless acted in good faith to do right by the country. Trump’s speech was shocking and irresponsible.

Trump supporters protest in Detroit.
Trump supporters have taken to the streets since the polls closed on November 3.
Nicole Hester/AP

However, American democracy is in crisis. At this time, above all, the public needs the institution of the fourth estate to keep its nerve and a clear head.

A primary norm of journalism is to inform the public. That certainly means being fair and accurate. But if the news contains lies, the norm is to publish and then call out the lying and set the record straight as soon as possible.

The networks need to explain to their audiences their reasoning behind the decision to cut away, and the media as a whole need to realise that if the norms of journalism break down, that just adds to the tragic chaos into which their country has descended.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.