Speaker and Senate president agree to chair working group on pandemic-safe parliament


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Federal parliament’s Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Scott Ryan have agreed to chair a proposed bipartisan working group on how parliament can meet safely during the pandemic.

Labor put forward the working group plan after Scott Morrison cancelled the two-week sitting that was due to start August 4.

The group would comprise the leader of the house and manager of opposition business and their Senate counterparts. The ALP suggested including the chief federal and ACT medical officers but Smith and Ryan said they should be called on as needed.

The group would not decide whether the next sitting, scheduled to begin August 24, goes ahead. The government determines the House sittings, and the Senate (where the government is in a minority) is in charge of its own meetings.

Smith and Ryan said in a letter to Labor: “At the outset, we believe the six parliamentarians should receive a joint briefing from the Commonwealth and ACT Chief Medical Officers regarding the discussions to date, and risks that need to be mitigated.

“Following this briefing, we will be in possession of all relevant facts, and in a position to discuss specific options.

“We will call upon the resources of the chamber departments and the Department of Parliamentary Services as necessary to address issues raised.”

The presiding officers pointed out they had previously engaged with the opposition about the operation of parliament during COVID.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.

Third time’s the charm for Joe Biden: now he has an election to win and a country to save



AAP/EPA/Tracie van Auken

Bruce Wolpe, University of Sydney

At age 77, in his twilight years, the third time was the charm for Joe Biden.

He prevailed over a field of 24 Democrats from across the political spectrum and has emerged as his party’s nominee for president in a manner unthinkable in January: a united party, from left to right, across race and creed, age and ideology. He is the victor despite mediocre fundraising, no digital media traction, no base of wild enthusiasts. Voters had to consider his appeals before coming to understand and then accept that it was indeed Joe Biden, who failed in his bids for the White House in 1988 and 2008, who was the strongest Democrat to go up against Donald Trump and take him out.




Read more:
Biden easily wins Super Tuesday after strong comeback in past few days


Biden’s essence is unchanged from that first race more than three decades ago. As Richard Ben Cramer reported in his legendary account of the 1988 campaign, What It Takes, Biden realised:

What Americans wanted from their government [was] just a helping hand, to make the fight for a better life for their kids, just a platform to stand on, so they could reach higher … That was his life: he was just a middle-class kid who’d got a little help along the way … and that was all he had to show. But that’s what connected him to the great body of voters in the country. That’s all he needed!

Fast-forward to Biden as vice president in the Obama administration. I captured his addresses to the Democrats in the House of Representatives. This is how I recorded two journal entries for my book (with co-author Bryan Marshall) The Committee, on Obama’s historic legislative agenda in Congress.

In 2010:

We have to help the middle class and working Americans – the people who sent us here.

In 2012:

It is absolutely clear that the decisions we made are working. And the public understands they are working […] The American people understand that the Republicans have rejected the notion of compromise. That’s not the way the American people want us to do business […] We can’t straighten them out, but the American people will in November […]

We will win based purely on the merits of our position. America is going to get an absolutely clear comparison this year. It’s a stark, stark, stark, contrast […] Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.

This has been Biden’s whole life – connecting with the gut of middle America. His 2020 message is the same as he ran on in 1988. And the task is the same as when he was on the ticket with Obama in 2008: to ensure America recovers from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Biden was responsible for ensuring the delivery of the American Recovery Act – the first piece of major legislation enacted after Obama and Biden took office. Ultimately, it spurred a decade of economic growth and full employment. So Biden has been there and will work to do it again.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House in 2015.
AAP/EPA/Jonathan Ernst

A vice president to pick

We know only that it will be a woman. The oped pages and social media are on overdrive on who is best. Two things are paramount to Biden, because he knows the job and he knows what has to work.

Especially given his age, it is imperative the vice president be fully qualified and capable to step in to serve as president on her first heartbeat after his last – and is seen as such by the American people. This is where Sarah Palin was such a failure for John McCain in 2008.

Other mediocrities, both callow (Dan Quayle under George H.W. Bush) and criminal (Spiro Agnew with Richard Nixon) served but did not ascend to the presidency. Others, starting with Walter Mondale under Jimmy Carter, and then Al Gore under Bill Clinton, and Dick Cheney under George W. Bush, became true partners in governance, with real power and responsibility, and remade the office. That is the Biden template.

Biden insisted on – and received from Obama – a promise that he would be the last person in the room with the president before major decisions were taken, so he could give the full benefit of his judgment – whether the president took it or not. (Obama did not take Biden’s advice on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.)

Biden wants a vice president who can do the same with him. The virtues she would bring to the ticket, such as Amy Klobuchar’s ability to drive votes for Biden in the Midwest, and Kamala Harris, who can bring a surge of African American voters to the polls, are but the icing on the judgment Biden will make.

The second factor is chemistry: Biden has to feel with his selection the same intensity that marked Obama’s bond with him over their eight years together. So a woman who is absolutely qualified and star-studded won’t get it if Biden feels they cannot do great things together through shared conviction and trust.

Given the strike rate of vice presidents who have become president – five of the past 11 since 1952 – Biden’s choice will likely affect the future of the Democratic Party and the country for perhaps the next 12 years.

An election to win

Ask anyone in America who is politically attuned and they will tell you this is the most important election of their lifetimes. President Donald Trump has the bully pulpit of the White House where, as we have seen during the pandemic crisis, he can command the airwaves for hours every day to pound home his message. He has a TV network that has effectively become a state media channel. He has a Republican senate that will provide no check on his misbehaviour and no effort to protect the election against Russian interference or voter suppression.

Trump has 90% loyalty in the Republican Party. He has the power to declare national emergencies and launch military action to defend the United States. His campaign has a viciously effective social media war machine. He will conservatively outspend Biden by well over US$100 million. His base has not cracked – it is solid at 46% – after the pummelling Trump triggers from what he calls “fake news” and “the enemy of the people”, and after the disgrace of impeachment.

Trump’s avalanche of lies will continue unabated. He is the most shameless and relentless campaigner in modern American history. And if gets enough votes in the key states he won in 2016, he can be re-elected.




Read more:
Donald Trump blames everyone but himself for the coronavirus crisis. Will voters agree?


Biden’s task is clear: to take back those traditionally Democratic states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin – that Trump won in 2016’s outburst of populist anger at the political establishment, which included Hillary Clinton. And he must withstand and neuter the unprecedented charges of conspiracy and corruption that Trump is unleashing with “Obamagate”.

As of now, Biden leads Trump nationally by three to nine points in the polls. He is leading in three key battleground states, including Florida, and has a chance to capture Arizona and North Carolina. Trump is targeting Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Mexico. The consensus today is if the election was held now, Biden would win.

November is increasingly becoming a referendum on Trump and his management of the pandemic, and whether voters, facing disastrous hardship (over 16 million Americans lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs), trust Trump to restore the economy.

Biden’s message is already clear: Trump’s failures to appreciate the pandemic and act to protect the American people unnecessarily cost tens of thousands of lives. Biden helped bring the nation back from the Great Recession in 2009 – and knows how to do it again in 2021.

A country to heal

Biden’s campaign launch video in April 2019 could not have been clearer:

I wrote at the time [of Nazis marching in Charlottesville in 2017] that we’re in the battle for the soul of this nation. Well, that’s even more true today. I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation — who we are — and I cannot stand by and watch that happen […] The core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America America, is at stake. … Even more important, we have to remember who we are. This is America.

In the late stages of the primaries, the overwhelming sentiment of most Democrats was simple: get rid of Trump. As voters could see limits to the appeal of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg simply could not reach critical mass, they decisively concluded it was Biden that everyone knew and trusted to do the job and free the country of Trump.

Because first they want America healed, too.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.

It’s now Biden v Sanders as Super Tuesday narrows the field for the Democratic nomination



AAP/EPA/Cristobal Herrera

David Smith, University of Sydney

Super Tuesday has continued Joe Biden’s recovery from the brink of disaster.

After a larger-than-expected win in South Carolina, Biden became the clear alternative to Bernie Sanders in the contest to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for the US presidency. Just before Super Tuesday, his moderate rivals, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, dropped out, giving him their endorsements. Just as in South Carolina, the African American vote in southern states proved critical for Biden. He now holds a narrow delegate lead over Sanders.

Sanders held his own on Super Tuesday, especially in California, where he stands to harvest more than 150 delegates. But his campaign will be disappointed that they couldn’t land a knockout blow, especially in Texas where Sanders led in polls but Biden won.




Read more:
Biden easily wins Super Tuesday after strong comeback in past few days


It is now a two-person race, with an advantage to Biden. There have been a lot of crazy, chaotic stories over the past six months. The unlikely rise of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The trials of Elizabeth Warren, widely admired but cursed by self-fulfilling prophecies about her electability. The jaw-droppingly expensive, and futile, campaign of Mike Bloomberg. The demoralising fiasco of the Iowa caucuses.

After all that, we’re back to the two men who seemed the most likely contenders before it all began.

So what can we learn from Super Tuesday in 2020?

The power of the black Southern vote

After his shockingly poor results in the Iowa and New Hampshire races, Biden warned that 99.9% of African American voters had not yet had a say in the primaries. This was Biden’s big gamble – that black voters in South Carolina would redeem him.

Biden boasts long-standing connections with African American leaders and the reflected glory of Barack Obama’s presidency when he served as vice president. But as early losses mounted, campaign money dried up and his poll lead shrank in South Carolina, his prospects looked increasingly shaky.

His saviour was the very senior and respected congressman James Clyburn, who gave Biden his endorsement days before the election. A huge 47% of South Carolina voters said Clyburn’s endorsement was important, and Biden won two-thirds of the black vote there.

African American voters powered Biden’s Super Tuesday victories in Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama and, crucially, in Texas. Overall, he won more than 60% of the black vote, which makes up a quarter or more of the Democratic Party electorate (and the majority in some southern states). It is widely believed in the Democratic Party that an energised black electorate is critical to beating Trump and winning house and senate races, and this will draw more support to Biden.

But is it important to remember that African Americans are not politically monolithic. These wins in the South reflect Biden’s strengths with older and more conservative voters. In California he won about a third of the black vote.

Don’t forget Latino voters

Bernie Sanders is winning in western states like California, Nevada and Colorado. This is partly because of the enthusiasm he has generated among working-class Latino voters, who are drawn to his economic message.

Latinos, who are about a third of the Democratic electorate in California, are younger than the rest of the population and will be increasingly important in future Democratic coalitions. Sanders won around half the Latino vote in California and 39% of it in Texas.




Read more:
The US presidential primaries are arcane, complex and unrepresentative. So why do Americans still vote this way?


The great promise of Sanders is that he can reach young voters who would otherwise avoid politics. His electability against Trump hinges on large increases in youth turnout. So far, those increases haven’t transpired for him in the primaries. It may well be different in a general election, but we’ll never know if it doesn’t happen in the remaining primary races.

Money isn’t everything

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent an incredible half-a-billion dollars (A$768 million) on his campaign in the Super Tuesday states, and has little to show for it. He has now exited the race, but his money will stay in. He is likely to play a Clive Palmer role, unable to buy office for himself, but willing to spend hugely to get a candidate and a president who will act in his interests.

Bloomberg, who wasn’t on the first three ballots, left his run too late. He got only two debates, the first of which was a disaster. He had no chance after Biden harnessed the moderate vote with his South Carolina win.

This will be a lesson for any future candidates tempted to wait out the early races. But it is a lesson Bloomberg should already have known. The mayor of New York before him, Rudy Giuliani, also gambled everything on the fourth race of the 2008 primaries. He spent US$59 million to get a single delegate in Florida.

Whatever else he may have lost, Bloomberg has smashed the record for flushing money down the electoral toilet.

What now?

The race is now Biden’s to lose, but it is far from over. Biden has so far relied on the patronage of wealthy and powerful people. He is likely to enjoy more of that from Bloomberg, and may hope for the ultimate endorsement from Barack Obama (though it’s unclear that Obama will endorse anyone in the primaries).

But his campaign still has serious organisational weaknesses. While endorsing Biden, Clyburn took the unusual step of publicly pointing out that he lacks campaign infrastructure. Biden has been a less-than-inspirational speaker on the campaign trail. His single most powerful asset is a widespread belief that he can beat Trump.

Sanders has a genuine movement behind him, which the last two winners of the presidential election also had. His social-democratic agenda has changed the debate in the Democratic Party and the nation. Progressives have decisively chosen him over Elizabeth Warren. But Sanders has an uphill fight now that Democratic moderates have settled on a single champion.The Conversation

David Smith, Senior Lecturer in American 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.

Biden easily wins Super Tuesday after strong comeback in past few days



AAP/EPA/Etienne Laurent

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

Fourteen states held Democratic primaries on Tuesday US time. Joe Biden is likely to win ten of those states, to four wins for Bernie Sanders. Biden crushed Sanders by 47 points in Alabama, 30 points in Virginia, 19 in North Carolina, 18 in Arkansas, 17 in Tennessee and 13 in Oklahoma.

Biden had surprise wins in Minnesota (nine points over Sanders) and Massachusetts. That is Elizabeth Warren’s home state, but she finished third, with Biden winning 33%, Sanders 27% and Warren just 22%. Biden won Texas by 4%, and is likely to win Maine.

Sanders won just three states: his home state of Vermont (by 29 points), Utah (by 17) and Colorado (by 13). Sanders is likely to win California, where he currently has a nine-point lead. Many more votes remain to be counted in California, Utah and Colorado, and these votes could assist Sanders. Particularly in California, later votes trend left.

A few days before Super Tuesday, it had looked so different. Even though Sanders had only about 30% of the national vote, that appeared enough for a large delegate plurality against a divided field. So how did Biden come back so strongly?

On Saturday, Joe Biden crushingly won the South Carolina primary with 48.4%. Bernie Sanders was a distant second with 19.9%, followed by Tom Steyer at 11.3%, Pete Buttigieg 8.2%, Elizabeth Warren 7.1% and Amy Klobuchar just 3.2%. According to exit polls, black voters made up 56% of the electorate, and voted for Biden by 61-17 over Sanders.

After disappointing results in two diverse states – Nevada and South Carolina – Buttigieg ended his campaign the next day. Buttigieg is the first candidate to leave while still polling over 10% nationally. On Monday, Klobuchar also withdrew, and she and Buttigieg endorsed Biden at a rally.

In the 2016 Democratic primaries, Sanders came unexpectedly close to Hillary Clinton. However, this was partly due to Clinton’s lack of appeal to lower-educated whites, something that Donald Trump exploited in the general election.

Once Klobuchar and Buttigieg withdrew, Biden was able to consolidate the vote of Clinton’s supporters: higher-educated whites and black voters. Biden has a stronger appeal to lower-educated whites than Clinton. So once moderates consolidated behind one candidate, that candidate was able to dominate.

After spending a huge amount of money on Super Tuesday ads, Mike Bloomberg bombed. He did not come close to winning a single state, finishing third or worse in all states contested.

According to the delegate count at The Green Papers, Biden now leads Sanders by 497 to 395, with 65 for Bloomberg and 47 for Warren. Biden leads the overall popular vote by 35.1% to 27.3%. There are many more contests to come, starting with six states next Tuesday that account for 9% of delegates, but Biden is clearly in the box seat to win at least a plurality of all pledged delegates.

Israel and Germany

At Monday’s Israeli election, right-wing parties won 58 of the 120 seats (up three since the September 2019 election) and left-wing parties 55 (down two). Netanyahu’s coalition will be three seats short of a majority. This election was the third in a year after no government could be formed following April and September 2019 elections.

On my personal website, I covered the February German political crisis in Thuringia, in which the far-right AfD and conservative CDU supported a small pro-business party’s leader to become state president. It is the first time that any German party has cooperated with the AfD to form government.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.

Trump’s bad Nixon imitation may cost him the presidency


President Richard Nixon, left, and President Donald Trump, right.
AP//Frank C. Curtin; REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Ken Hughes, University of Virginia

Whatever Donald Trump does, Richard Nixon usually did it first and better.

Nixon got a foreign government’s help to win a presidential election over 50 years ago. Trump’s imitation of the master has proven far from perfect, and that may cost him the presidency.

Trump’s first mistake was soliciting foreign interference personally. As a result, he cannot deny that he urged Ukraine’s president to investigate Joe Biden. The proof is in his own White House’s record of their telephone call.

Nixon was a more cautious international conspirator, as I detailed in “Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate.”

When Nixon solicited foreign interference on behalf of his presidential campaign, he was careful to use a cutout, a go-between whose clandestine activities could, if exposed, be plausibly denied. Anna Chennault, a conservative activist and Republican fundraiser, acted as Nixon’s secret back channel to the government of South Vietnam.

Nixon’s illegal interference with Vietnam peace talks helped win him the election. Here, he meets with President Lyndon Johnson in July 1968.
LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto

Playing politics with war

The Vietnam War was the biggest issue of the 1968 presidential campaign.

Nixon’s great hope was to hang Vietnam like an albatross on Democratic presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey, the sitting vice president. Nixon’s great fear was that President Lyndon Johnson would start peace talks before Election Day, boosting Humphrey’s campaign along with hopes for an end to the war.

Nixon’s fear was realized when Johnson announced peace talks in the campaign’s final week. Nixon watched his lead over Humphrey dwindle to nothingness.

So he turned to Chennault. She conveyed a secret message from Nixon to South Vietnam, urging it to boycott the peace talks. The South did just that only three days before the election, thereby destroying any hope for an imminent peace.

President Johnson learned of Chennault’s activities from the FBI and other sources, but he had no proof Nixon himself was involved. Nixon’s use of a cutout worked. She was burned, but he was not.

On the eve of the 1968 presidential election, President Johnson asked his three top advisers on the Vietnam War – Secretary of State Dean Rusk, National Security Adviser Walt Rostow and Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford – if he should expose Republican interference with his efforts to start begin peace talks.
AP/Bob Schutz

President Johnson discusses with three top advisers whether to expose Republican interference in the Vietnam peace process. They all advised the president not to do so.

False counter-accusations

It’s too late for Trump to use a cutout with Ukraine, but in other ways his actions mirror Nixon’s.

One recurring Nixonian tactic was to falsely claim the Democrats did things that were just as bad as the things he actually did. For example, Republicans charged that Johnson played politics with the war by announcing peace talks right before Election Day.

The diplomatic record proves otherwise. Johnson set three conditions for the peace talks months earlier. He offered to halt the bombing of North Vietnam if Hanoi: (1) respected the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Vietnam, (2) accepted South Vietnamese participation in peace talks, and (3) stopped shelling Southern cities.

Hanoi, however, insisted on an unconditional bombing halt. Johnson refused to budge. So did the North Vietnamese – until October 1968, when they accepted all three of Johnson’s conditions. The timing of the peace talks was their choice, not his. The partisan accusation was false.

Likewise, Republicans’ oftenrepeated, never-substantiated conspiracy theory that one or more Bidens did something corrupt involving Ukraine is the opposite of true. But it does shift the spotlight off Republicans and onto Democrats. And it fosters the false sense that “both sides do it” when only one side did.

Another of Nixon’s favorite tactics was to suggest there was something shady about detecting his crimes. Just as Trump baselessly claims that the Ukraine whistleblower got information about him “illegally,” Republicans like William Safire baselessly claimed that LBJ “abused the power of our intelligence agencies” to get dirt on Nixon.

Rudy Giuliani, left, was President Trump’s unofficial emissary to Ukrainian leaders, whom he wanted to dig up dirt on the Biden family.
AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The records of the CIA, NSA and FBI prove otherwise. Like presidents before and since, Johnson used the CIA and NSA to collect diplomatic intelligence. To provide him with Saigon’s true, private position on the peace talks, the CIA bugged the office of South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu and the NSA intercepted cables to Thieu from the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington, D.C.

Johnson did learn something about Chennault’s activities from this surveillance, but only because diplomatic intelligence is supposed to uncover attempts to thwart presidential diplomacy.

Based on what he learned, Johnson ordered the FBI to tail Chennault and tap the South Vietnamese embassy’s phone. Mere days later, the FBI wiretap overheard Chennault telling the South Vietnamese on behalf of “her boss (not further identified)” to “hold on, we are gonna win.”

Here was evidence that the Nixon campaign was violating the Logan Act – which forbids private U.S. citizens from conducting “any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government” – by undermining the president’s diplomatic efforts to end a war that was killing hundreds of Americans every week.

In other words, Johnson used the FBI to uncover a crime that was also a threat to national security.

That’s not an abuse of the FBI. It’s why the FBI exists.

Clearly, there’s one thing that can overcome Nixonian tactics: evidence. For this reason, House impeachment investigators will likely subpoena as much as they can, and President Trump will likely withhold as much as he can.

Withholding evidence is yet another Nixonian tactic, one called “stonewalling.” It was the basis of the final article of impeachment against him.

[ Insight, in your inbox each day. You can get it with The Conversation’s email newsletter. ]The Conversation

Ken Hughes, Research Specialist, the Miller Center, University of Virginia

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

Afghanistan’s suffering has reached unprecedented levels. Can a presidential election make things better?



A supporter of Ashraf Ghani takes part in an election rally in Kabul last month.
Jawad Jalali/EPA

Safiullah Taye, Deakin University and Dr. Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Deakin University

After months of delays and uncertainty, Afghanistan is set to hold its presidential election on Saturday. This election, the fourth since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, has critical implications for the political stability and security of the country.

Most importantly, it will test the resilience of the country’s fragile democratic process and shape the conditions under which the now-defunct negotiations between the United States and the Taliban can be resumed with more meaningful participation from Kabul.

And if the vote produces a broadly acceptable and functioning government – which is not a guarantee after the last presidential election in 2014 and parliamentary elections in 2018 – it will have profound repercussions for the Afghan people.




Read more:
How to end Afghanistan war as longest conflict moves towards fragile peace


Nearly two decades after the US-led coalition invaded the country and ousted the Taliban, Afghanistan is still in a downward spiral. In June, the country replaced Syria as the world’s least peaceful country in the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index report. The BBC tracked the violence in the country in August and found that on average, 74 Afghan men, women and children died each day across the country.

Further, the number of Afghans below the poverty line increased from 33.5% in 2011 to nearly 55% in 2017.

And in another bleak assessment of where things are at the moment, Afghan respondents in a recent Gallup survey rated their lives worse than anyone else on the planet. A record-high 85% of respondents categorised their lives as “suffering”, while the number of people who said they were “thriving” was zero.



Tests of democracy in Afghanistan

Despite the major challenges posed by insecurity and risks of electoral fraud, Afghanistan’s recent elections have been serious contests between the country’s various political elites.

Ordinary voters take extraordinary risks to participate in the polls. Thanks to a dynamic media sector, these contests involve spirited debates about policy-making and the visions of the candidates. This is particularly true when it comes to presidential elections, as the country’s 2004 Constitution concentrated much of the political and executive power in the office of the president.

There have been serious tests of Afghanistan’s nascent democracy before, however.
The 2014 election was tainted by allegations of widespread fraud, pushing the country to the brink of a civil war.

The political crisis was averted by the formation of the national unity government, in which Ashraf Ghani became president and his main challenger in the election, Abdullah Abdullah, took the position of chief executive officer, with powers similar to a prime minister.

Abdullah Abdullah is again the main challenger for President Ashraf Ghani, similar to the 2014 vote.
Jalil Rezayee/EPA

Negotiations with the Taliban

Since the withdrawal of most of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014, the Taliban has considerably expanded the areas under its influence. Nonetheless, the insurgent group has been unable to score any strategic military victories by gaining control of provincial or population centres.

In 2016, President Donald Trump came to the White House with the promise of ending the war in Afghanistan. However, after a meticulous assessment of the risks associated with a complete troop withdrawal, he backed away from that pledge.

Trump instead called the 2014 departure of most US troops a “hasty withdrawal” and declared a new strategy that included an increase in the number of US forces in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (centre) has adopted a populist style in his re-election campaign to connect better with voters.
Ghulamullah Habibi/EPA

The deployment of additional troops significantly escalated the military campaign against the Taliban but failed to decisively change the security dynamics in the country.

Then, in 2018, the Trump administration formally began engaging the Taliban in a series of direct negotiations in Qatar. The process was called off by Trump earlier this month when it was reportedly at the threshold of an agreement.




Read more:
A peace agreement in Afghanistan won’t last if there are no women at the table


Critics noted, however, the many flaws of this approach and the haste with which the negotiations were conducted by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation.

Ironically, at the insistence of the Taliban, the process excluded the government of Afghanistan, which the Taliban refuses to recognise as the legitimate authority in the country. This led to phased negotiations, whereby a deal between the US and the Taliban was expected to be followed by an intra-Afghan dialogue and eventually a ceasefire.

A successful presidential election that produces a broadly acceptable outcome can significantly strengthen the position of the new government in negotiating and implementing a peace process with the Taliban. This is one reason why Ghani does not want to be sidelined from the negotiations.

Challenges for the upcoming vote

The election involves a significant number of political players and coalitions, but is essentially a replay of the 2014 poll between Ghani and Abdullah. While none of the other 13 candidates have a realistic chance of winning, they can split the votes to prevent one of the leaders from claiming victory in the first round. A run-off was required in the last two presidential elections in 2009 and 2014.

Another factor is the threat of violence from the Taliban. The group has already vowed to violently disrupt the election. In recent weeks, it has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks on election rallies, including a devastating attack on the campaign office of Amrullah Saleh, the first vice-president on Ghani’s ticket.

Supporters of incumbent President Ashraf Ghani at a rally in Jalalabad this month.
Ghulamullah Habibi/EPA

Insecurity will also likely prevent significant numbers of people from participating in the process. The number of polling stations has significantly dropped to less than 5,000 this year compared to 7,000 in 2014, highlighting the deteriorating security conditions.

There are also fears that more polling stations will be closed on election day, both for security reasons and political reasons (the latter in areas that are likely to vote for opposition candidates).




Read more:
Afghanistan election: with Kabul in lockdown, we watch and wait


This election is unlikely to be a game changer in the face of the magnitude and complexity of the challenges facing Afghanistan and its people.

Nonetheless, the election presents a rare opportunity for the country’s people to exercise their rights to choose who governs the country.

And if the supporters of the leading candidates stay committed to a transparent process, even a reasonably credible outcome can go a long way in restoring confidence in the country’s shaky institutions and strengthening the position of the government in any future peace negotiations with the Taliban.


This article was corrected on September 27, 2019. The forthcoming election is the fourth since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, not the third as originally stated.The Conversation

Safiullah Taye, Phd. Candidate and Research Assistan, Deakin University and Dr. Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Associate Research Fellow, Deakin University

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

Warren placed second after Biden, as Trump’s ratings rise. But could the impeachment scandal make a difference?


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

Two weeks after the September 12 Democratic presidential debate, Joe Biden continues to lead with 29.0% in the RealClearPolitics Democratic national average, followed by Elizabeth Warren at 21.4%, Bernie Sanders at 17.3%, Pete Buttigieg at 5.8% and Kamala Harris at 5.0%.

No other Democrat candidates have more than 3% support. And the last three polls average to a tie between Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.

Since the debate, there have been gains for Biden, Warren and Buttigieg, and a continued slump for Harris. After the first debate on June 26 to 27, Harris surged from about 7% to 15%. Now, she has lost all that support and can no longer be considered a top-tier candidate.




Read more:
US Democratic presidential primaries: Biden leading, followed by Sanders, Warren, Harris; and will Trump be beaten?


The contests that will select the Democratic presidential candidate will be held between February and June 2020, with four states permitted to hold contests in February.

Iowa (February 3) and New Hampshire (February 11) are the first two states, so doing well in one of them is important. To win any delegates, candidates need at least 15% in a particular state or congressional district.

There have been three Iowa polls conducted since the debate, including one by the highly regarded Selzer poll. The RealClearPolitics average shows Warren surging into the Iowa lead with 23.0%, followed by Biden at 20.3%, Sanders 12.0%, Buttigieg 11.3% and Harris 5.3%. The one post-debate poll in New Hampshire also has Warren leading with 27%, followed by Biden at 25%, Sanders 12% and Buttigieg 10%.

Biden is disadvantaged in Iowa and New Hampshire because these states’ populations are almost all white. CNN analyst Harry Enten says Biden’s strongest support comes from black voters.




Read more:
In the Democrats’ bitter race to find a candidate to beat Trump, might Elizabeth Warren hold the key?


In South Carolina, where black voters made up 61% of the 2016 Democratic primary electorate according to exit polls, Biden leads by over 20 points, though none of those polls were taken since the debate. South Carolina votes on February 29.

The next Democratic debate will be on October 14, with the same rules for participation as in the September debate. At least two more candidates will qualify, and this will mean a two-night debate with the 12 candidates split over these nights. The participation threshold has been increased for November and further debates.

Trump’s ratings rise, likely due to the economy

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings are currently 42.9% approve, 52.8% disapprove (that equates to a net -9.9%) with all polls.




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Trump trails leading Democrats by record margins, plus Brexit latest and the LNP leads in Queensland


With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 43.8% approve, 52.1% disapprove (net -8.3%). Trump’s approval has not been higher since November 2018. But since my September 5 article on the polls, Trump’s net approval has risen about three points.

In August, there were prominent predictions of a recession, and the Dow Jones tanked. In September, there has been far less recession talk, and the Dow recovered its August losses. The economy likely explains the recovery in Trump’s ratings.

Will Trump’s ratings take damage from the impeachment controversy?

On September 24, Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry over allegations Trump attempted to get incriminating material on Biden from the Ukraine, including by threatening to withhold funds.

The next day, a White House memo of Trump’s phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy showed Trump asked for “a favour”, and for Zelenskiy to “look into” Biden.

I do not believe this affair will do lasting or serious damage to Trump’s ratings: the better-educated voters already detest him, and the lower-educated will be far more concerned with the economy.

Removing a president from office requires a majority in the House and a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Democrats control the House, but Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority. So there is very little chance of Trump being removed before the November 2020 election.

In RealClearPolitics averages, Trump trails Biden by 7.7 points (9.9 points in my September 5 article). He trails Warren by 4.0 (4.1 previously) and Sanders by 4.8 (6.0).

Biden’s electability argument is enhanced by these figures. The pro-Trump Rasmussen polling company showed Trump leading Biden by four, but did not poll other match-ups. Without this Rasmussen poll, Biden would be placed 10.0 points ahead.

Why is Biden doing much better against Trump than other Democrats?

I think a key reason is he sometimes says things that are not politically correct, which the media construe as gaffes.

But those with a lower level of education are very dubious about the values of the “inner city elites”. Saying things the elite disagree with probably makes some Trump 2016 voters more comfortable supporting Biden than Warren.

There have been four major upsets in the US, UK and Australia in the last three years: the June 2016 Brexit referendum, Trump’s November 2016 victory, the UK Labour surge that produced the current hung parliament in June 2017, and the Australian Coalition’s triumph in May 2019.

My theory is the Remain campaign, Hillary Clinton and Australian Labor performed worse than expected because they were all seen as too close to the “inner city elites”.

In contrast, UK Labour adopted a pro-Brexit position before the 2017 election, and this assisted them as they were not seen as serving elite opinion.

To win elections, perhaps the left needs to break free of elite opinion in ways that do not compromise its core agenda.

UK Supreme Court rules prorogation unlawful

On September 24, the UK Supreme Court – the highest UK court – ruled the prorogation of parliament was illegal. The House of Commons resumed sitting the next day. Had parliament still been prorogued, the Commons would not have sat until October 14.

With both parliament and the courts hostile to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, it is unlikely he can deliver Brexit by October 31 as he has promised.

As I wrote for The Poll Bludger in mid-September, parliament bears a large portion of responsibility for the Brexit shambles as it can only agree to procrastinate. It cannot agree to any method to resolve Brexit.

Israel, Austria, Portugal, Poland and Canada elections

I recently wrote for The Poll Bludger about the September 17 Israeli election results and said it is unlikely anyone can form a government. I also wrote about upcoming elections in Austria (September 29), Portugal (October 6), Poland (October 13) and Canada (October 21).
All these countries except Canada use proportional representation, while Canada uses first-past-the-post after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wimped on electoral reform after winning the October 2015 election.

Australian Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

In the last Newspoll, conducted September 5-8 from a sample of 1,660, the Coalition led by 51-49, unchanged since mid-August.

Primary votes were 43% Coalition (up one), 35% Labor (up one), 12% Greens (up one and their best in Newspoll since March 2016) and 5% One Nation (up one).

Scott Morrison’s net approval was +10, up four points, while Anthony Albanese slumped into negative net approval at -5, down 12 points. Morrison led as better PM by 48-28 (48-30 previously). Figures from The Poll Bludger.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.

US Democratic presidential primaries: Biden leading, followed by Sanders, Warren, Harris; and will Trump be beaten?



Joe Biden is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.
AAP/EPA/Justin Lane

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The next US presidential election will be held on November 3, 2020. Incumbent president Donald Trump will almost certainly be the Republican nominee, but there is a contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Republican and Democratic nominees will be the only candidates with a realistic chance of winning the presidency.

Both major parties will hold presidential primaries and caucuses in the various states between early February and early June 2020. These contests select delegates to the party conventions in mid-July (Democrats) and late August (Republicans), at which the party’s candidate is formally nominated. Primaries are administered by the state election authority, while caucuses are managed by the party.

Democratic delegates are allocated proportionally to candidates who clear a high 15% threshold, both within each Congressional District (CD) and state. The more Democratic-leaning a CD is, the more delegates it will receive. The total number of delegates for a state depends on that state’s population and how Democratic-leaning it is.

There will be a grand total of 3,768 pledged delegates, so 1,885 is needed to win on the first ballot at the Democratic convention. Superdelegates (Democratic members of Congress, governors and party leaders) cannot vote in the first round, but if no candidate has a first round majority, it becomes a “contested convention”, and superdelegates can vote.

Four Democratic contests are permitted in February 2020: the Iowa caucus (Feb 3), New Hampshire primary (Feb 11), Nevada caucus (Feb 22) and South Carolina primary (Feb 29). Relatively few delegates will be chosen at these contests, but they are still very important for establishing front runners and winnowing the field.

On “Super Tuesday” March 3, 14 states will vote including delegate-heavy California and Texas. 1,358 pledged Democratic delegates, or 36% of the total, will be determined as a result of these contests, so this could be the decisive moment of the Democratic presidential nomination.

Current Democratic primary polling

In the RealClearPolitics poll aggregate, Joe Biden has 28.4% support from national Democrat-aligned voters, followed by Bernie Sanders at 15.0%, Elizabeth Warren at 14.6% and Kamala Harris at 12.6%. Everyone else is at 5% or less.

The first Democratic presidential debate was held over two nights, June 26-27, to cope with the 20 candidates who qualified. As a result of this debate, Biden dropped from the low 30’s to the mid 20’s, but has recovered a little. Harris surged from 7% to 15%, but has fallen back since.

The next Democratic debate will also be held over two nights, July 30-31. For the following debate on September 12, the qualification threshold has been raised, so fewer candidates will qualify.

In early-state polls taken since the first debate, Biden had 24% in Iowa, Harris 16%, Warren 13% and Sanders 9%. In New Hampshire, Biden averaged 22.5%, Warren 18%, Sanders 14.5% and Harris 13.5%.

On current polling, Biden would win the Democratic nomination as he would be the only candidate certain to pass the 15% threshold in the vast majority of CDs and states. Unless one of Sanders, Warren or Harris can build their support beyond 20%, this is a viable scenario.

Biden appeals to older and more conservative Democrats, but an important reason for his lead is his perceived electability. After Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss in 2016, Democrats are desperate to ensure Trump is a one-term president. In a Quinnipiac poll of California, 45% of Democrats thought Biden had the best chance of any candidate to beat Trump, with no other candidate getting more than 12%.

By the time of the 2020 general election, Biden will be almost 78, Sanders will be 79, and Trump will be a mere 74. Warren will be 71. Harris is easily the youngest top-tier candidate; she will be 56 by the election. According to CNN analyst Harry Enten, only 33% of Democrats would feel comfortable with a nominee aged over 75.

Another reason for scepticism about Biden’s electability is that, like Clinton, he is an established politician who was first elected to the Senate in 1972. There are likely to be some things in Biden’s long political career that Trump will be able to exploit in the general election.

For the record, Trump has over 80% support for the Republican presidential nomination.

What about the general election?

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings are currently 42.4% approve, 52.8% disapprove with all adults. With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 43.3% approve, 52.4% disapprove.

With the official US unemployment rate at just 3.7%, Trump’s ratings are weaker than they should be given economic data. There has been little change in his ratings since a slump during the January 2019 government shutdown, followed by a recovery once the shutdown ended.

Trump’s current ratings show that, if the next election is a referendum on his performance, he should be defeated. Trump’s best chance of re-election is if the Democrats nominate somebody who is also unpopular, as Clinton was in 2016.

On current economic figures, Trump will probably be defeated in 2020, but this is by no means certain. However, there is a major political risk to the economy: a “no-deal” Brexit. Right-wingers have strongly advocated a hard Brexit, and they may get what they want with Boris Johnson certain to be the next British PM – as I wrote for The Poll Bludger on July 10. The result of the Conservative members’ ballot for leader will be declared on July 23.

If a no-deal Brexit occurs on October 31, there is likely to be a large negative impact on the UK economy, with knock-on effects for the world economy. A no-deal Brexit and Trump’s tariffs are likely to have some impact on the US economy. A US recession in 2020 would be very bad for Trump’s re-election chances.

As I said in the article I wrote immediately after the May Australian election, I believe the left’s only hope to consistently win elections is if there is a major economic disaster that is blamed on the right.




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Coalition wins election but Abbott loses Warringah, plus how the polls got it so wrong


Right wins Greek election, left wins Turkish Istanbul mayoral re-election

I wrote on my personal website on July 8 that the conservative New Democracy won the July 7 Greek election with 158 of the 300 parliamentary seats, ousting the far-left SYRIZA. In Turkey, the left won the June 23 Istanbul mayoral re-election by a much bigger margin than originally.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.

US House of Representatives condemns racist tweets in another heady week under President Donald Trump


Bruce Wolpe, University of Sydney

The past three days in US politics have been very difficult – and ugly.

President Donald Trump chose to exploit divisions inside the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives – generational and ideological – by attacking four new women members of Congress, denying their status as Americans and their legitimacy to serve in Congress. They are women of colour and, yes, they are from the far left of the Democratic Party. They have pushed hard against their leaders.

But Trump’s vicious, racist attacks on them have in fact solved the unity problem among the Democrats: they are today (re)united against Trump.




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You can draw a straight line from Trump’s birther attacks on Obama, to his “Mexican rapists” attack when he announced his run for the presidency, to his Muslim immigration ban, to equivocating over Nazis marching in Charlottesville, to sending troops to the US-Mexico border, to shutting down the government, to declaring a national emergency, to what he is doing today.

And his attacks on these lawmakers is based on a lie: three of the congresswomen were born in America. One is an immigrant, now a citizen, and as American as any citizen – just like Trump’s wife.

I worked in the House of Representatives for ten years. I learned early that you do not impugn – you have no right to impugn – the legitimacy of an elected member of Congress. Only the voters can do that.

Other presidents have been racist. Lyndon Johnson worked with the southern segregationists. Nixon railed in private against Jews. But none have spoken so openly, so publicly, without shame or remorse for these sentiments. So this is new territory.

And this is unlike Charlottesville, where there was vocal and visible pushback from Republicans on Trump giving an amber light to the Nazis in the streets. This is how much the political culture and norms have corroded over the past two years.

The Democrats chose to fight back by bringing a resolution condemning Trump for his remarks to the House of Representatives floor. Historians are still scurrying, but it appears this is unprecedented – the house has never in its history, which dates to the 1790s, voted to condemn a president’s remarks. (The Senate censured President Andrew Jackson over banking issues in 1834.)

The house passed the measure almost along party lines, with only four Republicans out of 197 – just 2% – voting for the resolution.

The concluding words in the resolution are these:

Whereas President Donald Trump’s racist comments have legitimised fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color: Now, therefore, be it resolved, That the House of Representatives […] condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimised and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of colour by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President like immigrants, should “go back” to other countries, by referring to immigrants and asylum seekers as “invaders”, and by saying that Members of Congress who are immigrants (or those of our colleagues who are wrongly assumed to be immigrants) do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America.

So Trump is secure within his party – and he believes he has nothing to fear from the testimony of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, next week before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.

Much attention will be paid to the examination of obstruction-of-justice issues when Mueller testifies. But the more meaningful discussion will occur in the assessment by the intelligence committee examining Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the persistence of a Russian threat in 2020.

Mueller ended his Garbo-like appearance before the media in May with these words:

The central allegation of our indictments [is] that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interference in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American.

The US presidential election remains vulnerable and it is not clear that sufficient safeguards are being put in place to protect the country’s democracy.

But it is the unresolved drama over impeachment that will colour Mueller’s appearance on Wednesday.




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Explainer: what is a special counsel and what will he investigate in the Trump administration?


Mueller concluded he could not indict a sitting president. However, he forensically detailed ten instances of possible obstruction of justice. Mueller said that if he believed Trump had not committed a crime he would have said so and that, as a result, he could not “exonerate” Trump.

The key question that will be asked of Mueller is: “If the record you developed on obstruction of justice was applied to any individual who was not president of the United States, would you have sought an indictment?”

And on the answer to that question turns the issue of whether there will be critical mass among House of Representatives Democrats, and perhaps supported by the American people, to vote for a bill of impeachment against Donald J. Trump.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.

Iran’s leader is losing his grasp on power. Does this mean diplomacy is doomed?



President Hassan Rouhani came to office with an olive branch, but his hard-liners rivals now appear to be setting the political agenda in Iran.
Iranian Presidency Office Handout/EPA

Shahram Akbarzadeh, Deakin University

Iran’s announcement last Sunday that it would break the limit on uranium enrichment agreed to in the nuclear deal with world powers was not a surprise. It came hot on the heels of another breach only a few days earlier on the 300-kilogram limit agreed to in the deal on stockpiles of low-enriched uranium.

Iran had warned Europe that it would start dismantling the nuclear accord if the promised economic benefits of the agreement did not materialise. A year after the US withdrew from the nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, and imposed very strict sanctions on Iran, the Iranian leadership appears ready to give up on finding a diplomatic solution to this deadlock.




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This bodes ill for the future of President Hassan Rouhani and regional security. A weakened Rouhani will find it difficult to fend off his hard-line critics in Iran and keep the nuclear deal alive.

With every step away from diplomacy, the hard-liners have taken a step forward and appear to be now setting the political agenda in Iran.

Rouhani’s riskiest gamble

The JCPOA was signed in 2015 between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany.

This was Rouhani’s greatest achievement and riskiest gamble. He faced the ire of hard-liners in Iran who continue to have a formidable presence in the parliament, as well as the security and judicial system.

They accused Rouhani of selling out Iranian sovereignty and betraying the ideals of the Islamic revolution by scaling back Iran’s nuclear program and subjecting it to an unprecedented international monitoring regime.

Rouhani nonetheless pushed through his agenda of finding a diplomatic solution to Iran’s isolation because he believed that years of sanctions and mismanagement had pushed the Iranian economy to the brink of collapse.

He staked his political fortunes on bringing Iran out of isolation.

The JCPOA was the compromise deal to assure the international community that Iran would not pursue a nuclear weapons program in return for sanctions relief to revive the Iranian economy.

But US President Donald Trump never liked the deal. He campaigned against it and often questioned Iran’s commitment to it, though the UN International Atomic Energy Agency consistently reported on Iran’s compliance with the terms of the agreement.




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Why Donald Trump is backing the US into a corner on Iran


Despite much lobbying by European powers, Trump withdrew from the deal in May 2018 and reimposed severe unilateral sanctions on Iran, and anyone dealing with Iran.

Losing control to the hard-liners

Trump’s decision to tear up the nuclear deal was seen by the conservatives in Iran as a vindication of their feelings towards the United States. They lambasted Rouhani for putting his trust in the US.

In May 2019, the situation got even more tense after Trump announced that US warships were sailing to the Persian Gulf to counter potential Iranian hostility. No intelligence regarding a suspected Iranian threat was shared.

The escalation of tensions following the alleged Iranian attack on two oil tankers last month, and the downing of a US reconnaissance drone by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards has made it very hard to find a diplomatic solution. Drums of war are silencing voices of diplomacy.

While Rouhani came to office with an olive branch, he realises that he has effectively lost the political contest against his hard-line critics. He has another two years in office, but is at risk of losing the presidency if the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who yields ultimate power in Iran, is disillusioned with his performance.

This realisation has seriously undermined Rouhani, who appears to have adopted the language and posture of the hard-liners in relation to the US. It is unclear if this can save him in office, or embolden his critics who seem to be gaining significant momentum.

In May, the Supreme Leader appointed a battle-hardened General as the commander of the Basij paramilitary force, an arm of the Revolutionary Guards that suppresses domestic dissent.




Read more:
Iran nuclear deal is hanging by a thread – so will Islamic Republic now develop a bomb?


This was a significant development for the hard-liners in case they seek to assert political control. Basij has been a ruthless security force inside Iran and can provide the necessary street support for a potential coup against Rouhani.

Another notable military commander is General Qasem Soleimani, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise in Iran due to his performance as commander of Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards’ international arm operating mostly in Iraq and Syria to defeat the Islamic State.

He is considered a war hero by the public and now has the confidence of the Supreme Leader. This is an ominous development for Rouhani.

A woman carrying a picture of Qasem Soleimani during an anti-US demonstration in Tehran earlier this year.
Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

Breaking with the tenets of the nuclear deal was also clearly not Rouhani’s objective, as it would reverse his hard-won diplomatic gains and discredit his legacy.

Iran’s recent breaches on uranium enrichment and stockpiles were incremental steps to exert pressure on European leaders to adhere to their promises of sanctions relief. This strategy was predicated on the assumption that Europe has more to lose with the collapse of JCPOA than a rift with the United States. It can only be described as a desperate move, showing that Rouhani is fast running out of options.

The window of opportunity for a diplomatic solution is fast closing and the alternative scenario of the return of a combative government in Tehran is looking more and more unavoidable. This would shut the doors to diplomacy and increase the chance of confrontation with the West.

Trump accused Iran of not wanting to sit at the table. He may be fulfilling his own prophecy.


An earlier version of this article implied General Qasem Soleimani was the leader of the Basij security force, when he is actually the commander of the Quds Force.The Conversation

Shahram Akbarzadeh, Professor of Middle East & Central Asian Politics, Deputy Director (International), Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

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