Kabul bombings a dark day for Afghanistan and Joe Biden — and a harbinger of worse to come

Tony Walker, La Trobe UniversityUS President Joe Biden is facing the worst moment of his presidency. Thirteen US troops and at least 60 Afghan civilians have been killed in a suicide bomb attack outside Kabul’s main airport, for which Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

He, like presidents before him, must face several uncomfortable questions. Could an attack on American forces, in such perilous circumstances as those in Kabul right now, have been foreseen?

Was Biden careless in his haste to get American troops out of Afghanistan and end his country’s longest war?

Was it a failure of judgment to set an August 31 deadline for the withdrawal of troops?

Could more have been done to protect the perimeter of Kabul airport, and prevent suicide bombers approaching American forces who were engaged in a humanitarian exercise to help evacuate US citizens and visa holders?

Why was the fortified Bagram airbase, built up by the US over decades, not maintained, instead using the vulnerable Kabul civilian airport?

Questions around Biden’s judgment and those of his advisers risk eating into his presidency in a way that will erode his authority.

In his moments of reflection, Biden might cast his mind back to other presidents who have endured similar catastrophes.

US President Joe Biden is facing the worst moment of his presidency.
Evan Vucci/AP/AAP

In 1983, Ronald Reagan was obliged to explain to the country how 241 American service personnel could have lost their lives in a vicious truck-bombing in Beirut, believed to have been carried out by Iranian-backed Shiite militants.

Then, as now in Biden’s case, Reagan was blamed for not ensuring US servicemen were adequately protected in their barracks near Beirut airport.

Reagan soon thereafter withdrew American forces from Lebanon, where they were seeking to establish order after Israel’s invasion in 1982. Reagan said at the time he would never again send ground troops anywhere in the Middle East.

His successors might have heeded his words.

Biden’s political adversaries, including former president Donald Trump, are mercilessly capitalising on a terrible day for the United States and those who look to Washington for leadership in a troubled world.

This is a very bad day for the Western alliance.

Read more:
What is ISIS-K? Two terrorism experts on the group behind the deadly Kabul airport attack and its rivalry with the Taliban

The question now becomes: how does Biden respond to this latest in a long history – going back decades – of sickening episodes in its entanglement in the Middle East?

This includes the September 11 bombings in New York and Washington by al-Qaeda terrorists that led to the greatest loss of life from a terrorist attack on American soil in the country’s history.

The 20th anniversary of that moment will again rub raw American memories about a day when the world shifted, and prompted decisions that have proven disastrous.

America’s attempts, over two decades in Afghanistan, to bring order to a country that has defied attempts by outsiders over millennia to tame its unruly elements have ended in failure.

Likewise, America’s rush to war in Iraq, rather than stabilising an inherently unstable Middle East, further catapulted the region into chaos.

All this has come at an immense cost to the United States in blood and money.

Clearly, America’s credibility, and that of the Biden presidency, has been diminished by strategic and tactical failures relating to its decision to leave Afghanistan without ensuring an orderly exit strategy.

Claims no-one could have foreseen the speed with which the Taliban would overrun Afghan government forces do not say much for US intelligence on the ground.

In an emotional speech, Biden uttered words and sentiments that have been characteristic of these moments of American trauma when a superpower has been wounded by an act of terror.

We will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.

In the circumstances, those words are to be expected. No American leader at a moment of national trauma would do otherwise.

However, the task of hunting down those responsible among an amorphous terrorist franchise in Afghanistan and in the wider region will be easier said than done.

Jihadists of whatever stripe across the entire Middle East and beyond will be emboldened.

In Afghanistan, a witch’s brew of terrorist groups is evolving, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated ISIS-K terrorist group, which has claimed responsibility for the Kabul suicide bombings.

What makes the apparent lack of security preparedness around Kabul airport surprising is that multiple warnings had been received that ISIS-K was planning to strike Americans as they departed.

The bombings near Kabul airport have killed at least 60 Afghan civilians and 13 US troops.
Wali Sabawoon/AP/AAP

Indeed, as recently as Sunday of this week, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, described the ISIS-K threat as “acute” and “persistent”. Those words are certain to be thrown back in the faces of US officials responsible for securing Kabul airport.

In the meantime, the test for America, as Biden stated, will be to complete its mission to remove its personnel from Afghanistan and to put behind it a bitter moment.

This includes expenditures of something like $2.6 trillion and deaths of 2,442 servicemen and women, not to mention those wounded and damaged by the experience.

In all of this and in sympathy for the hand Biden has been dealt, America was never going to prevail in Afghanistan. It became trapped in a war that was unwinnable.

Read more:
Remaining and expanding: what the Taliban’s return will mean for jihadi terrorism

Documents secured by The Washington Post and published in 2019 showed military commanders in Afghanistan knew it was a losing proposition, yet America stuck it out.

It did so until Trump reached a deal with the Taliban in 2020, which effectively sidelined the regime in Kabul, to have American forces out of Afghanistan by May 1. Biden shifted that end date to August 31.

The Trump agreement with the Taliban spelled the beginning of the end for the Kabul regime of Ashraf Ghani.

What is left now for America and its NATO allies in Afghanistan is to make the best of the chaos that surrounds efforts to stage an orderly withdrawal.

Since there is little or no prospect of American re-engagement in Afghanistan, the world will observe what is certain to be continued bloodletting and risks of an exploding refugee exodus.

The next chapter in Afghanistan may well dwarf what has happened in Yemen where a civil war has decimated the country and impoverished a population that had in any case been living on the edge.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Vice-chancellor’s fellow, La Trobe University

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

How Joe Biden failed the people of Afghanistan — and tarnished US credibility around the world

Sidiqullah Khan/AP

William Maley, Australian National UniversityIn April 1961, just months after the young John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th president of the United States, his reputation for expertise in foreign policy took a battering as a result of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, a covert action against the Cuban government that collapsed within a matter of days.

The collapse in Afghanistan that has flowed from current President Joe Biden’s decision to proceed with a complete US troop withdrawal is more than likely to be seen as his own Bay of Pigs moment.

But it may be something worse, akin to the Suez crisis of 1956, which not only humiliated the British government of Sir Anthony Eden, but marked the end of the United Kingdom as a global power.

When historians look back at the shambolic US exit from Afghanistan, it may increasingly appear a critical marker of America’s decline in the world, far eclipsing the flight from Saigon in 1975.

The path to disaster

How did this come to pass? Afghans, turning on themselves, are already pinning the blame on now-departed President Ashraf Ghani, and Biden’s defenders are sure to join the chorus. Yet this is an oversimplification of how things unravelled.

Ghani’s domineering style, poor personnel choices, and reluctance to delegate power to others all played significant roles in the current crisis.

However, the institutional and political problems that were festering long before Ghani became president are perhaps more to blame: a seriously overcentralised state; a presidential system that placed far too much formal power in Kabul; and the development of “neopatrimonial” politics, based on patronage networks that had flourished under former President Hamid Karzai, which in turn fostered electoral fraud.

Read more:
Why the US won’t be able to shirk moral responsibility in leaving Afghanistan

An even more significant role was played by Pakistan, the Taliban’s longstanding patron and supplier of sanctuaries, logistical support, and equipment.

But the (unintentional) green light for Pakistan’s “creeping invasion” of Afghanistan, with the Taliban as its proxy, ultimately came from Washington.

First, there was the catastrophic exit agreement signed with the Taliban on behalf of the Trump administration by the US special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, in February 2020. The flaws of this deal were immediately obvious. Following that was Biden’s conscious choice to adhere to it.

Biden has since sought to emphasise that he inherited the agreement from Trump, but it was his decision to stick with it, and to retain its architect, Khalilzad, as his own representative. Appalling US decision-making lies at the heart of the tragedy.

What lies behind Biden’s failures?

What factors might explain Biden’s gross misjudgement? At this point, several come to mind.

A first factor, universally overlooked, is his lack of relevant experience in dealing hands-on with complex and dangerous foreign policy challenges.

Until becoming president in January 2021, Biden had never held an office with distinct executive authority. He was a longtime legislator and then vice president, and he was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 12 years, including several years as chairman.

But he never occupied a position where he was routinely required to make final decisions on matters of high policy with significant associated risks.

President Joe Biden meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
President Joe Biden meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House in June.
Susan Walsh/AP

Having an interest in world affairs is not the same thing as having strong judgement or a talent for developing and implementing foreign policy. Robert Gates, a former defence secretary in both Republican and Democrat administrations, argued in his 2014 memoir that Biden had been

wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.

Some reports suggest Biden’s decision to follow Trump’s path was driven more by instinct and longstanding beliefs than by a methodical, cerebral appraisal of the dangers.

Biden may also have been influenced by a deep, almost visceral, suspicion of the advice of the US military, going back to his failed attempts while vice president to argue against the “surge” of US troops in Afghanistan, which President Barack Obama ultimately decided to do.

A second factor at play is likely US domestic politics. Biden and his supporters have quoted polling in support of a complete US troop withdrawal, but it is unlikely this was much of a contributor to the final decision, as Afghanistan has never generated anything like the heat in US politics that was associated with the Vietnam War.

A more likely contributor was the internal politics of the Democratic Party. Biden had endured considerable criticism from the left over his ardent support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Supporting an Afghanistan troop withdrawal had the potential to ameliorate some of those concerns, and to appeal to the party’s progressive wing and ideological isolationists.

How the US-Taliban deal eroded confidence

The US decision also reflected a grave misunderstanding of power dynamics in Afghanistan.

As I have previously noted, mass psychology is a critical determinant of political trajectories in an environment as threatening and de-institutionalised as that in Afghanistan.

As in an avalanche, a small shift can rapidly snowball, resulting in what social scientists call “cascades”.

The collapse of the Afghan government provides a perfect example of a cascade at work. The 2020 US-Taliban deal created deep and widespread apprehension about what the future might hold. Then, it only took a few localised failures to sap the confidence of all sorts of actors, both military and civilian, in the survival of the government. Side-switching became a rational strategy, then spun out of control.

Read more:
On the brink of disaster: how decades of progress in Afghanistan could be wiped out in short order

The US troop withdrawal also seems to have reflected a failure on the part of Biden – although not the US military — to appreciate how destructive the February 2020 agreement had been to the effectiveness of the Afghan military.

In requiring the withdrawal not just of US troops but US maintenance contractors, it compromised the ongoing capabilities of key assets in the inventory of the Afghan National Army, as well as depriving the army of critical air cover. As an insightful analysis put it,

in the wake of President Biden’s withdrawal decision, the US pulled its air support, intelligence and contractors servicing Afghanistan’s planes and helicopters. That meant the Afghan military simply couldn’t operate anymore.

The long-lasting damage to US credibility

It is hard to see how Biden can emerge from this disaster without his credibility shredded, but the greater loss is to the credibility of the United States, which increasingly appears a fading power internationally (as well as a failing state at home).

For no great gain, it sold out the most pro-western government and public in the region to a brutal terrorist group, all this after having long promised the Afghans that they would never be abandoned.

Read more:
As the Taliban surges across Afghanistan, al-Qaeda is poised for a swift return

The implications of this abandonment stretch far beyond Afghanistan’s borders. As a group of eminent retired ambassadors has put it,

an ignominious American departure from the country would send a terrible signal to other countries as the United States competes with China and other authoritarian states. If US security guarantees are not credible, why not cut deals with China?

In May 1940, in a scathing indictment of the failures of the Chamberlain government to stand effectively by its allies, former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George observed cuttingly that “our promissory notes are now rubbish on the market”.

As a result of its failures over Afghanistan, the Biden administration is rapidly heading in a similar direction.The Conversation

William Maley, Emeritus Professor, Australian National University

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

Liberals likely to retain majority in Tasmania; Biden’s ratings after 100 days

AAP/Chris Crerar

Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneWith 79% counted in Saturday’s Tasmanian election, the ABC is calling 12 of the 25 Tasmanian lower house seats for the Liberals, eight for Labor, two Greens and three undecided. Vote shares were 48.7% Liberals (down 1.5% since the 2018 election), 28.4% Labor (down 4.3%), 12.2% Greens (up 1.9%) and 6.3% for independents.

Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark system, with five electorates each returning five members. A quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%.

In The Poll Bludger’s projections, the Liberals are on 3.6 quotas in Bass, Labor 1.6 and the Greens 0.6. The Liberals will win three, Labor one and the last is Labor vs Greens.

In Braddon, the Liberals have 3.4 quotas, Labor 1.6, the Greens 0.3 and an independent 0.4. The most likely result is three Liberals and two Labor.

In Lyons, the Liberals have 3.1 quotas, Labor 2.0 and the Greens 0.5. A clear three Liberals, two Labor.

In Franklin, the Liberals have 2.5 quotas, Labor 2.0 and the Greens 1.1. The Liberals will win two, Labor two and the Greens one.

Finally in Clark, the Liberals have 1.9 quotas, Labor 1.3, the Greens 1.2 and Independents Kristie Johnston and Sue Hickey 0.7 and 0.6 respectively. If this projection holds up, it is hard to see the Liberals not getting two Clark seats and a majority.

Adding it up, the most probable result of the Tasmanian election is 13 Liberals (steady since the 2018 election), eight Labor, two Greens, one Labor vs Greens in Bass and one independent in Clark (Hickey or Johnston).

Premier Peter Gutwein had called this election ten months earlier than scheduled, hoping to take advantage of high ratings attributable to COVID. A June 2020 Newspoll gave Gutwein an astonishing rating of 90-8 satisfied, almost certainly the best approval polled by any premier or PM in Australian polling history.

Gutwein gambled that his COVID popularity would get the Liberals to a majority while it remained an issue. It looks as if his gamble has succeeded. The Liberals are likely to retain government in Tasmania for a third term, while the same party is in power federally. This is a big achievement in a state that voted for Labor by 56.0-44.0 at the 2019 federal election.

The last publicly released poll, an EMRS February poll, gave the Liberals 52%, Labor 27% and the Greens 14%. In my election preview, a uComms poll for The Australia Institute gave the Liberals 41.4%, Labor 32.1%, the Greens 12.4%, Independents 11.0% and Others 3.1%.

Read more:
Tasmanian election preview: commissioned poll has Liberals likely short of majority

This commissioned poll was too low on the Liberals and too high on Labor and independents.

Liberals likely to gain Windermere in upper house, but Labor retains Derwent

Two of the 15 upper house seats were up for election for six-year terms. In Derwent, which Labor has held since 1979, they led the Liberals by 48.7% to 41.2%, with 10.0% for Animal Justice. In Windermere, held by a retiring conservative independent, the Liberals had 37.7% to Labor’s 26.8% with 21.2% for an independent.

Preferences have not yet been distributed for either seat, but Labor will clearly retain Derwent while the Liberals are likely to gain Windermere. The upper house will retain its 9-6 left-right split.

After first 100 days, Biden has 54% approval rating

It is 101 days since Joe Biden began his term as US president on January 20. In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, his ratings with all polls are 53.9% approve, 41.4% disapprove (net +12.5%). With polls of likely or registered voters, Biden’s ratings are 53.8% approve, 42.0% disapprove (net +11.8%). For the duration of his presidency, Biden’s approval has been between 53% and 55%.

FiveThirtyEight has ratings of presidents since Harry Truman (president from 1945-53). At this stage of their presidencies, Biden’s net approval is only ahead of Donald Trump and Gerald Ford (who took over after Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974).

The US economy, boosted by stimulus payments, appears to be recovering very well from COVID, but attempted illegal immigration has surged since Biden became president. The key question is how Biden’s ratings look at the November 2022 midterms, when the president’s party normally loses seats.The Conversation

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

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

Biden’s first 100 days show a president in a hurry and willing to be bold

AAP/AP/zz/Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx

Bruce Wolpe, University of SydneyJoseph R. Biden Jr is the most experienced person to become president in US history. A senator for 36 years, with wide-ranging experience and leadership across domestic and foreign policy, and vice president for eight years with Barack Obama, with a full parentship between the two men on all aspects of Obama’s agenda, from health care to terrorism.

That experience has paid off with the exceptionally smooth start to his administration. Appointments have been made steadily, with wide acceptance. Communications from the president have been clear and concise. Both have been in sharp contrast to his immediate predecessor.

With three presidential campaigns in his own right, and two more with Obama, Biden has come to know America as few have. His experiences across the country have only reinforced the core beliefs he brings to the Oval Office: to heal America and help bring the country together, provide economic security and opportunity for Americans from all walks of life, and redress profound legacy issues including racial justice, climate change and immigration.

Biden made his legislative agenda quite clear throughout the 2020 presidential campaign. While each of the policy initiatives are complex, involving competing ideas and policy prescriptions, Biden was able to sell his program to voters as a responsible, pragmatic, centred, rational and commonsense approach that dealt with core issues that most voters recognise require attention. They are:

  • end the pandemic and ensure the success of the vaccination program
  • full recovery and jobs growth for the economy
  • racial justice and voting rights
  • climate change and green energy job creation
  • completing Obamacare and ensuring access to a “public option” for health insurance coverage
  • immigration reform and a path to citizenship for the “Dreamers
  • Build back better” America’s infrastructure: roads, bridges, railroads, airports, electricity grids, water supplies
  • gun control.

In these first few weeks of the Biden administration, it is clear that success on the first two overarching issues of urgency – ending the pandemic and restoring the economy – was essential. And Biden succeeded; the American Rescue Plan is now law. It is clear to most Americans that while the management of the pandemic was a disaster, the vaccine rollout has been a success.

Joe Biden is the most experienced person to become president in US history, having served in many roles including, for eight years, as vice president to Barack Obama.
AAP/AP/Susan Walsh

There was a deep understanding – which Republicans recognised as much as Democrats – that if Biden had failed on this first hurdle, his presidency would have been permanently damaged. In fact, failure to win congressional approval on the American Recovery Plan would have meant Biden was unable to win congressional approval of virtually all the other priority measures listed above.

Relationship with Congress

The key to understanding what Biden can accomplish in Congress requires an appreciation of the political dynamics that affected, and ultimately overcame, Obama’s presidency. Indeed, the lessons from the 111th Congress – the first two years of Obama’s first term – are the guideposts for Biden’s strategy and approach to winning in this 117th Congress.

What is striking about this partial re-creation of the landscape on the Hill when Obama entered office was that the Biden agenda is, to a significant degree, similar to the priorities articulated by Obama in 2009. This includes rebuilding an economy struck down by crisis, addressing an urgent health-care reform agenda, securing progress in the epic battle to combat global warming, and a host of other compelling social priorities.

The urgency of what Biden has undertaken is clear. He knows that if he fails on dealing with the pandemic while shoring up the economy, his presidency is lost. That defeat would mean he would be unable to leverage the votes in Congress to do the other big things on racial justice, climate change, and immigration.

And the Republicans know it – and therefore feel no need to back off their headlong embrace of extremism and their intent to stop Biden’s agenda cold. The midterm elections next year traditionally punish the party that holds the White House. Republicans need a net gain of only six seats in the House, and just one in the Senate, to win control of Congress. What is the incentive for them to be truly bipartisan on Biden programs that voters will reward him for winning in Congress?

This is why Biden was determined to go big and go early – however he can get there – to get the vaccine and economic stimulus in place as soon as possible, and without Republican votes.

This is the lesson Biden draws from Obama’s setbacks in living with a too-tepid recovery program in the Great Recession in 2009. Republicans refused to go with what the economy needed. Obama and the Democrats acceded to them and, with the recovery far too slow, took a huge political hit in the 2010 midterm elections. Biden has no intention of repeating that mistake.

Where Australia fits in

There are several major issues that directly affect Australia’s interest in the context of its alliance with the United States.

China. This is the most important foreign policy issue facing Biden. While he generally concurs with the issues that President Donald Trump defined as requiring hard-nosed engagement, especially on trade, Biden’s approach is much more multilateral: development of concerted, coordinated policies on China in conjunction with US allies across Asia and Europe. This was the genesis of the recent meeting of the Quad leaders in March.

Read more:
Quad group makes vaccine deal as a wary China watches on

Sentiment in Congress among both Democrats and Republicans is for a continuation of confrontation with China on trade, human rights and territorial issues, including Taiwan and the South China Sea. Leaders in Congress on China policy will pay special attention to Australia’s views and outlook and will want to ensure that US policy towards China takes into account and protects Australia’s interests. US officials have made clear that China must retreat from its economic coercion of Australia.

Biden’s approach on foreign relations has been more multilateral than that of his predecessor, demonstrated at the Quad meeting in March this year.
AAP/AP/Ryohei Moriya

Big Tech. Australia’s strong stance against the market abuses of big tech companies, especially Facebook and Google, has captured the attention of both members of Congress who follow these issues closely, and the administration officials and agencies who oversee antitrust and consumer protection issues. Lawmakers and regulators alike will track how these issues play out in Australia, and further steps taken in parliament and by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Read more:
Media Files: ACCC seeks to clip wings of tech giants like Facebook and Google but international effort is required

Climate change. Climate change and global warming have already proven to be an issue that is directly affecting Australian politics. Biden’s commitment to move aggressively on climate is a pillar of his overall agenda. His stance on climate was crucial to winning the support of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic nomination.

In office, Biden has affirmed reaching stringent emissions-reduction targets by 2050. He has also moved aggressively to reverse, by issuing executive orders, Trump policies that rolled back environmental regulations, ended carbon-intensive projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline, and permit approvals that would have opened public lands and offshore tracts to oil and gas drilling.

These measures – especially the support for firm 2050 targets – have provoked political debate here on Australia’s climate policy, as we could see from the climate summit Biden convened in April. The contours of this debate are ultimately bound by any moves in Congress to put a price on carbon. It is unclear whether Biden will proceed with such legislation. If carbon-price legislation is proposed, it would further intensify political debate on the degree to which Australian policy should mirror any such proposal.

It is clear there is nothing Prime Minister Scott Morrison can say or do that will slow, delay or stop any action Biden and his climate advisors, led by former Secretary of State John Kerry, will take to address climate change.

Biden and his climate czar John Kerry has moved swiftly and aggressively on the issue, leaving many to question Australia’s position.
AAP/EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

This suggests the political echo chamber in Australia on these issues will intensify to the extent that a Democratic-controlled Congress does not stop, or block, Biden administration moves to control carbon pollution and greenhouse gases.

Read more:
Biden says the US will rejoin the Paris climate agreement in 77 days. Then Australia will really feel the heat

So far, so good, but where to from here?

The only issue posed by this first year of Biden’s term is whether Australia will be working with a strong president or a weak one.

Biden’s standing in Washington and with Americans overall will determine whether he becomes a strong president who will give Australia more leverage to advance its strategic interests, especially with China, or a weak president who leaves Australia with less leverage in dealing with other world powers.

The next 100 days will be crucial. Will Biden succeed in getting his infrastructure program through Congress, or will the Republicans and some wavering Democrats block it, halting his momentum? This will be a key marker of how consequential Biden will ultimately be as president.The Conversation

Bruce Wolpe, Non-resident Senior Fellow, United States Study Centre, University of Sydney

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

Russia and China are sending Biden a message: don’t judge us or try to change us. Those days are over

Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service/AP

Tony Kevin, Australian National UniversityThe past week has marked a watershed moment in Russia’s relations with the West — and the US in particular. In two dramatic, televised moments, US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have changed the dynamics between their countries perhaps irrevocably.

Most commentators in the West have focused on Putin’s “trolling” of Biden by dryly — though, according to Putin, unironically — wishing his American counterpart “good health”. This, of course, came after Biden called Putin a “killer”.

But a more careful and complete reading of Putin’s message to the US is necessary to understand how a Russian leader is, finally, ready to tell the US: do not judge us by your claimed standards, and do not try to tell us what to do.

Putin has never asserted these propositions so bluntly. And it matters when he does.

Biden has put Putin on notice, saying he will ‘pay a price’ for alleged meddling in the 2020 US presidential election.
Evan Vucci?AP

Putin’s message to the new US president

The tense test of strength began when Biden was asked about Putin in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos and agreed he was “a killer” and didn’t have a soul. He also said Putin will “pay a price” for his actions.

Putin then took the unusual step of going on the state broadcaster VGTRK with a prepared five-minute statement in response to Biden.

In an unusually pointed manner, Putin recalled the US history of genocide of its Indigenous people, the cruel experience of slavery, the continuing repression of Black Americans today and the unprovoked US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the second world war.

He suggested states should not judge others by their own standards:

Whatever you say about others is what you are yourself.

Some American journalists and observers have reacted to this as “trolling”. It was not.

It was the preamble to Putin’s most important message in years to what he called the American “establishment, the ruling class”. He said the US leadership is determined to have relations with Russia, but only “on its own terms”.

Although they think that we are the same as they are, we are different people. We have a different genetic, cultural and moral code. But we know how to defend our own interests.

And we will work with them, but in those areas in which we ourselves are interested, and on those conditions that we consider beneficial for ourselves. And they will have to reckon with it. They will have to reckon with this, despite all attempts to stop our development. Despite the sanctions, insults, they will have to reckon with this.

This is new for Putin. He has for years made the point, always politely, that Western powers need to deal with Russia on a basis of correct diplomatic protocols and mutual respect for national sovereignty, if they want to ease tensions.

But never before has he been as blunt as this, saying in effect: do not dare try to judge us or punish us for not meeting what you say are universal standards, because we are different from you. Those days are now over.

Read more:
Nato-Russia tensions: what a Biden administration can do to lower the temperature

China pushing back against the US, too

Putin’s forceful statement is remarkably similar to the equally firm public statements made by senior Chinese diplomats to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Alaska last week.

Blinken opened the meeting by lambasting China’s increasing authoritarianism and aggressiveness at home and abroad – in Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. He claimed such conduct was threatening “the rules-based order that maintains global stability”.

Yang Jiechi, centre, speaking at the opening session of US-China talks in Alaska.
Frederic J. Brown/AP

Yang Jiechi, Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief, responded by denouncing American hypocrisy. He said

The US does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength. The US uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long-arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries. It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and to incite some countries to attack China.

He said the US had no right to push its own version of democracy when it was dealing with so much discontent and human rights problems at home.

Read more:
Biden faces the world: 5 foreign policy experts explain US priorities – and problems – after Trump

Russia and China drawing closer together

Putin’s statement was given added weight by two diplomatic actions: Russia’s recalling of its ambassador in the US, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting in China with his counterpart, Wang Yi.

Beijing and Moscow agreed at the summit to stand firm against Western sanctions and boost ties between their countries to reduce their dependence on the US dollar in international trade and settlements. Lavrov also said,

We both believe the US has a destabilising role. It relies on Cold War military alliances and is trying to set up new alliances to undermine the world order.

Though Biden’s undiplomatic comments about Putin may have been unscripted, the impact has nonetheless been profound. Together with the harsh tone of the US-China foreign ministers meeting in Alaska — also provoked by the US side — it is clear there has been a major change in the atmosphere of US-China-Russia relations.

What will this mean in practice? Both Russia and China are signalling they will only deal with the West where and when it suits them. Sanctions no longer worry them.

The two powers are also showing they are increasingly comfortable working together as close partners, if not yet military allies. They will step up their cooperation in areas where they have mutual interests and the development of alternatives to the Western-dominated trade and payments systems.

Read more:
Australia’s strategic blind spot: China’s newfound intimacy with once-rival Russia

Countries in Asia and further afield are closely watching the development of this alternative international order, led by Moscow and Beijing. And they can also recognise the signs of increasing US economic and political decline.

It is a new kind of Cold War, but not one based on ideology like the first incarnation. It is a war for international legitimacy, a struggle for hearts and minds and money in the very large part of the world not aligned to the US or NATO.

The US and its allies will continue to operate under their narrative, while Russia and China will push their competing narrative. This was made crystal clear over these past few dramatic days of major power diplomacy.

The global balance of power is shifting, and for many nations, the smart money might be on Russia and China now.The Conversation

Tony Kevin, Emeritus Fellow, Australian National University

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

Polls say Labor and Coalition in a 50-50 tie, Trump set to be acquitted by US Senate

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The first Newspoll of 2021 has the major parties tied at 50-50 on two-party preferred, a one-point gain for Labor since the final 2020 Newspoll in late November. The poll was conducted January 27-30 from a sample of 1,512 people.

Primary votes were 42% Coalition (down one point), 36% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (down one) and 3% One Nation (up one).

63% were satisfied with PM Scott Morrison’s performance (down three) and 33% were dissatisfied (up three), for a net approval of +30 points. While this is still very high, analyst Kevin Bonham says it is Morrison’s lowest net approval since April.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese had a net approval of -2, down five points. Morrison led Albanese by 57-29 as better prime minister (60-28 in November).

While much commentary has written off Labor for the next election, a source of hope for the opposition is that while the Coalition has usually been ahead since the COVID crisis began, the two-party-preferred margin has been close.

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Morrison’s great approval ratings have not translated into big leads for the Coalition. It is plausible that by the middle of this year COVID will not be a major threat owing to a global vaccination program.

A return to a focus on normal issues could assist Labor in undermining Morrison’s ratings and the Coalition’s slender lead on voting intentions.

Albanese has come under attack from the left owing to Thursday’s reshuffle in which Chris Bowen took the climate change portfolio from Mark Butler.

But the Greens lost a point in Newspoll rather than gaining. With the focus on COVID, climate change appears to have lost salience.

On Australia Day and climate change

In an Ipsos poll for Nine newspapers, taken before January 25 from a sample of 1,220 people, 48% disagreed with changing Australia Day from January 26, while 28% agreed.

But by 49-41 voters thought it likely Australia Day would be changed within the next ten years.

In a Morgan SMS poll, conducted January 25 from a sample of 1,236 people, 59% thought January 26 should be known as Australia Day, while 41% thought it should be known as Invasion Day.

In an Essential poll conducted in mid-January, 42% (down 20 since January 2020) thought Australia was not doing enough to address climate change, 35% (up 16) thought we were doing enough and 10% (up two) thought we were doing too much.

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But there was a slight increase in those thinking climate change was caused by human activity (58%, up two since January 2020), while 32% (steady) thought we are just witnessing a normal fluctuation in the earth’s climate.

Trump set to be acquitted in impeachment trial

I related on January 20 that Donald Trump was impeached by the US House of Representatives over his role in inciting the January 6 riots with his baseless claims of election fraud.

Donald Trump boarding a helicopter as he leaves the White House.
Donald Trump departs the White House.
Alex Brandon/AP/AAP

The Senate is tied at 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris giving Democrats the majority with her casting vote. But it requires a two-thirds majority to convict a president, so 17 Republicans would need to join the Democrats for conviction.

On January 26, a vote was called on whether it was constitutional to try a former president. The Senate ruled it constitutional by 55-45, but just five Republicans joined all Democrats.

That is far short of the 17 required to convict, so Trump is set to be acquitted at the Senate trial that begins February 8.

Only ten of over 200 House Republicans supported impeachment. It is clear the vast majority of Congressional Republicans consider it more important to keep the Trump supporters happy than to hold Trump accountable for the rioters that attacked Congress.

In a late January Monmouth University poll, 56% approved of the House impeaching Trump while 42% disapproved. When asked whether the Senate should convict, support dropped to 52-44.

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FiveThirtyEight has started an aggregate of polls to track new President Joe Biden’s ratings. His current ratings are 54.3% approve and 34.6% disapprove for a net approval of +19.7 points.

While Biden’s ratings are better than Trump’s at any stage of his presidency, they are worse on net approval than all presidents prior to Trump this early in their terms.

Prior to Trump, presidents were given a honeymoon even by opposition party supporters, but it is unlikely the 30% or so who believe Biden’s win illegitimate will ever approve of him.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.