Trump could win again despite losing popular vote, as Biden retakes lead in Democratic polls



Despite poor polling and an impeachment inquiry, Donald Trump has a reasonable chance of being elected again.
AAP/EPA/Mark Lyons

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

A year away from the November 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump has a 41.4% approval, 54.6% disapproval rating with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate. His net approval is -13.2%, down 0.8% since my October 10 article.




Read more:
Trump’s ratings slightly down after Ukraine scandal as Warren surges to tie Biden in Democratic polls


With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s approval is 42.4% and his disapproval 54.6%, for a net approval of -12.2%, down 0.7% since October 10.

In the FiveThirtyEight tracker, 47.5% support actually removing Trump from office by impeachment and 45.7% are opposed (47.4-44.7 support four weeks ago).

On October 31, the Democrat-controlled House officially voted to begin an impeachment inquiry by 232-196. As I said previously, while the house will very probably impeach Trump, the Senate is very unlikely to reach the two-thirds majority required to remove him.

In national general election polling against the three leading Democrats, Trump trails Joe Biden by 10.2% in the RealClearPolitics average (7.4% on October 10). He trails Elizabeth Warren by 7.3% (4.5% previously) and Bernie Sanders by 7.9% (5.2%).

How the Electoral College could save Trump again

To win the presidency, a candidate needs at least 270 Electoral College votes. The 538 total Electoral Votes (EVs) are apportioned winner-takes-all by state with two minor exceptions. Each state’s EVs is the sum of its house seats (population-based) and senators (always two).

While Trump’s national ratings and general election match-ups are poor, a poll of the six closest 2016 Trump states gives him a real chance. In this Siena College poll for The New York Times of the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina, Trump trails Biden by two points overall, is tied with Sanders and leads Warren by two.

In 2016, Trump won these six states collectively by two points. Despite losing the national popular vote by 2.1%, Trump exceeded the magic 270 Electoral Votes when he won Wisconsin by 0.8%, so the difference between the national vote and the “tipping-point” state was 2.9%.




Read more:
US 2016 election final results: how Trump won


Trump’s 2016 win was a result of strong backing from non-college educated whites, who make up a large share of the population in the mid-west. This poll suggests Trump’s support is holding up with non-college whites. The Democratic vote could be more inefficiently distributed than in 2016.

I do not believe there will be an eight-point difference between the national vote and battleground states, which this poll suggests when compared with current national polls. The Siena poll was taken October 13-25, a better time for Trump nationally. It may also be Republican-leaning.

US economy still good

In the September quarter, US GDP grew at a 1.9% annualised pace. The US reports its quarterly GDP rates as if that quarter’s GDP was the rate for the whole year. To convert to Australian-style GDP rates, divide by four, which means US GDP grew almost 0.5% in the September quarter. This growth rate is moderate. In the June quarter, GDP was up 2.0% annualised.

In the October US jobs report, 128,000 jobs were created and the unemployment rate was 3.6% (up 0.1% since September, but still very low historically). The participation rate increased 0.1% to 63.3% and the employment population ratio was steady at 61.0% – matching September’s highest since December 2008.

In the year to October, hourly wages grew 3.0%, while inflation increased 1.7% in the year to September, so real wages increased 1.3%.

These two economic reports are good news for Trump. If the economy was all-important, Trump would be a clear favourite for re-election. But Trump’s general behaviour has angered many who might otherwise have voted for him based on economic factors.

Trump will need the economy to stay strong until November 2020 to have a realistic chance. It is likely a weak economy is the only thing that would shake Trump’s support with non-college whites.

Biden retakes lead in Democratic polls

Three weeks after the October 15 Democratic debate, Biden leads with 29.7% in the RealClearPolitics average of national Democratic polls, followed by Warren at 20.8%, Sanders at 17.8% and Pete Buttigieg at 6.7%. Nobody else has more than 4%. In the past four weeks, Warren has lost votes to Sanders and Buttigieg, owing perhaps to her difficulties with the Medicare for All policy.

We are now three months away from the first Democratic contest: the February 3 Iowa caucus. In Iowa, Warren has 22.3%, Buttigieg has surged to 17.0%, Biden has 15.7% and Sanders 15.3%. In New Hampshire (February 11), the one poll conducted since the October debate gives Sanders 21%, Warren 18%, Biden 15% and Buttigieg 10%.

Two recent polls in Nevada (February 22) give Biden an eight or ten point lead over Warren. Biden still has a large lead in South Carolina (February 29).




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


The next Democratic debate will be held November 20 with qualifying criteria increased from October; nine candidates have qualified so far. The qualifying criteria will be increased again for the December 19 debate; five candidates have qualified for that debate.

UK general election: December 12

After failing to win parliamentary approval for his Brexit deal in time for the October 31 exit date, Prime Minister Boris Johnson won House of Commons backing for a December 12 election on October 29. The European Union had extended the Brexit deadline to January 31 at parliament’s request.

I wrote for The Poll Bludger on October 29 that Labour’s chances of winning will improve if they can make the election a referendum on Boris Johnson’s deal, which has plenty to attack from a left-wing perspective. Leave was helped by being undefined at the 2016 Brexit referendum, now it is defined.

Canada and other elections

I live-blogged the October 21 Canadian election for The Poll Bludger, in which the centre-left Liberals won a second term, but lost their majority. I also covered the Argentine and Polish elections for The Poll Bludger: a centre-left presidential candidate won in Argentina, and the Law and Justice party retained its lower house majority in Poland.

On my personal website, I wrote about the Greens’ surge at the October 20 Swiss election, where a unique system of executive government is used. Also covered: the left-wing Bolivian president was re-elected for a fourth successive term, the far-right dominated Hungarian local elections despite a setback in Budapest, and the far-right surged in German and Italian October 27 state elections.

Australian Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

In the latest Australian Newspoll, conducted October 17-20 from a sample of 1,634, the Coalition led by 51-49, unchanged since late September. Primary votes were also unchanged, with the Coalition on 42%, Labor 33%, Greens 13% and One Nation 6%.

Scott Morrison’s net approval was +2, down two points. Anthony Albanese’s net approval was -7, down six points. Morrison led Albanese by 47-32 (50-31 previously). Figures from The Poll Bludger.

This Newspoll was the fourth consecutive Newspoll with the Coalition ahead by 51-49. Newspoll’s lack of volatility probably contributed to the poll failure at the May federal election, but this does not appear to have changed.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.

ISIS With Abu Bakr al Baghdadi


Baghdadi’s death is a huge blow to Islamic State, but history suggests it won’t guarantee a safer world



Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may not be irreplaceable, but in many respects he was uniquely suited to the times in which he led.
AAP/EPA/ al Furqan ISIS media wing handout

Greg Barton, Deakin University

“A very bad man” has been killed and “the world is now a much safer place”. The sentiment behind US President Donald Trump’s announcement of the death of Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is difficult to argue with. Baghdadi was certainly a very bad man. And under his decade-long leadership of the Islamic State (IS) movement, many thousands of people in the Middle East and around the world suffered terrible brutality or death.

Common sense would suggest the world is indeed now a much safer place with Baghdadi’s passing. Unfortunately, however, there is no guarantee this will prove to be true in practice.

The 18 year-long so-called Global War on Terror in the wake of the September 11 attacks – the international military campaign to fight al-Qaeda, and then IS – has been almost entirely reactive and tactical.

It has lacked any consistent strategic purpose, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, the Philippines or anywhere else.

The strongest military coalitions the world has ever seen have fought the largest and most powerful terror networks that have ever existed. And this has led, directly and indirectly, to hundreds of thousands of lives lost, trillions of dollars spent and remarkably little progress overall.




Read more:
US retreat from Syria could see Islamic State roar back to life


The special forces raids targeting Baghdadi, in Idlib, and his deputy, IS spokesperson Abul-Hasan al-Muhajir, in Aleppo, were undoubtedly significant achievements representing tactical victories of great consequence.

IS has been dealt an enormous blow. But just how long its impact will last is not clear. The lessons of the past two decades make it clear this will certainly not have been a fatal blow.

The IS insurgency, both on the ground in Iraq and Syria, and around the world, was rebuilding strength before these strikes and will not be stopped in its tracks by losing its two most senior public leaders.

Baghdadi as IS leader

Baghdadi may not be irreplaceable but in many respects he was uniquely suited to the times in which he led. He oversaw the rebuilding of IS from its previous low point a decade ago. He played a key role in expanding into Syria, replenishing the leadership ranks, leading a blitzkrieg across northern Iraq, conquering Mosul and declaring a caliphate. In the eyes of his support base, his credibility as an Islamic scholar and religious leader will not easily be matched.

He was not a particularly charismatic leader and was certainly, as a brutal, fundamentalist loner, not truly inspirational. But he played his role effectively, backed up by the largely unseen ranks of former Iraqi intelligence officers and military commanders who form the core of the IS leadership.

He was, in his time, the caliph the caliphate needed. In that sense, we will not see his like again.

Incredibly, 15 years after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi established al-Qaeda in Iraq, and almost ten years after Baghdadi took charge of the Islamic State in Iraq, there is so much about the leadership of IS we don’t understand.

What is clear is the insurgent movement benefited enormously from so-called “de-Baathification” – the ridding of Arab nationalist ideology – in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and toppling of the authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussein. The sacking of thousands of mostly Sunni senior military leaders and technocrats proved to be a windfall for the emerging insurgency.

IS has always been a hybrid movement. Publicly, it presents as a fundamentalist religious movement driven by religious conviction. Behind the scenes, however, experienced Baathist intelligence officers manipulated religious imagery to construct a police state, using religious terror to inspire, intimidate and control.

This is not to say Zarqawi and Baghdadi were unimportant as leaders. On the contrary, they were effective in mobilising religious sentiment first in the Middle East and then across the world. In the process, more than 40,000 people travelled to join the ranks of IS, inspired by the utopian ideal of religious revolution. Baghdadi was especially effective in playing his role as religious leader and caliph.

An optimistic take on Baghdadi’s denouement is that IS will be set back for many months, and perhaps even years. It will struggle to regain the momentum it had under his leadership.

Realistically, the extent to which this opportunity can be capitalised upon turns very much upon the extent to which the emerging leaders within the movement can be tracked down and dealt with before they have a chance to establish themselves.

What might happen now?

It would appear IS had identified the uncontested spaces of north-western Syria in Idlib and Aleppo, outside of the control of the Assad regime in Damascus, of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Northeast Syria, and beyond the reach of the Iraqi government in Baghdad, as territory in which its leadership could relocate and rebuild.

Continuing the optimistic take, there is the slim hope that the success of Sunday’s raids in which the partnership between US special forces and the SDF was so critical will lead to Trump being persuaded to reverse his decision to part ways with the SDF and pull out their special forces partners on the ground, together with accompanying air support.




Read more:
The ‘ceasefire’ in Syria is ending – here’s what’s likely to happen now


The fact Baghdadi and Muhajir were both found within five kilometres of the Turkish border suggests Turkish control of northern Syria is, to say the least, wholly unequal to the task of dealing with emerging IS leaders.

A reset to the pattern of partnership established over the past five years with the largely Kurdish SDF forces in north-eastern Syria could prove critically important in cutting down new IS leaders as they emerge. It’s believed the locations in northern Syria of the handful of leaders most likely to step into the void left by Baghdadi’s passing are well-known.

But even in the best-case scenario, all that can be realistically hoped for is slowing the rebuilding of the IS insurgency, buying time to rebuild political and social stability in northern Syria and northern Iraq.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

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

US retreat from Syria could see Islamic State roar back to life


Greg Barton, Deakin University

“Remaining and expanding”. The propaganda tagline of Islamic State (IS) has rung hollow since the collapse of the physical caliphate. But recent developments in northeastern Syria threaten to give it fresh legitimacy.

US President Donald Trump lifted sanctions on Turkey after he announced the Turkish government agreed to a permanent ceasefire in northern Syria.

In a televised speech, he pushed back against criticisms of his decision to remove 1,000 troops from Syria, abandoning their Kurdish allies.

This decision allowed Turkish forces – a hybrid of Turkish military and Free Syrian Army rebels, including jihadi extremists – to surge across the Turkish border and begin intense bombardment of towns and cities liberated from IS.

Just how quickly and how far IS will rise from now remains unclear. One thing that’s certain, however, is that IS and the al-Qaeda movement that spawned it, plan and act for the long-term. They believe in their divine destiny and are prepared to sacrifice anything to achieve it.




Read more:
As Turkish troops move in to Syria, the risks are great – including for Turkey itself


In speaking about the resurgence of IS, we risk talking up the IS brand, the very thing it cares so very much about. But the greater risk is underestimating the capacity for reinvention, resilience and enduring appeal of IS.

And complacency and short-sighted politics threaten to lead us to repeat the mistakes of a decade ago that saw a decimated Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) insurgency roar back to life.

From violent beginnings

In 2006, Sunni tribes in northwestern Iraq killed or arrested the majority of ISI fighters with US support, reducing their strength from many thousands to a few hundred.

But with no backing for the Sunni tribes from the poorly functioning, Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, the outbreak of civil war in Syria, and the draw-down of US troops, ISI launched an insurgency in Syria before rising triumphant as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

ISIS quickly became the most potent terrorist group in history, drawing more than 40,000 fighters from around the world, and seizing control of north eastern Syria and north western Iraq.

The final defeat of the IS caliphate in north eastern Syria came after five hard years of fighting and 11,000 lives from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), largely composed of members of the Kurdish YPG.




Read more:
Trump decision to withdraw troops from Syria opens way for dangerous Middle East power play


To the US, the SDF fighters were local partners and boots-on-the-ground after multiple false starts and expensive mistakes from allying with rebel groups in the Free Syrian Army. Without this SDF alliance, the IS caliphate could not be toppled.

Trump’s betrayal could open up ISIS recruitment

Donald Trump’s betrayal of the SDF in recent weeks is disastrous on several levels. It ignores the threat IS represents and validates ISIS’s central narrative.

What’s more, it contributes to the very circumstances of neglect, cynical short-term thinking and governance failures that lead to giving the IS insurgency an open pathway for recruiting.

Trump’s reckless move to withdraw 1,000 special forces troops from Syria comes from an impatience to end an 18-year long “Global War on Terrorism” military campaign of unprecedented expense.

This is somewhat understandable. After almost US$6 trillion of US Federal expenditure and two decades of fighting, surely enough is enough.

But the inconvenient truth is IS and al-Qaeda jihadi fighters around the world have increased, in some estimates nearly four-fold, since September 11.

Still, betraying the SDF and pulling out of Syria for small short-term savings risks jeopardising all that has been achieved in defeating the IS caliphate in northwestern Iraq.

IS hardliners in overcrowded camps

IS will never return to its days of power as a physical caliphate, but all the evidence points to it tipping past an inflection point and beginning a long, steady resurgence.

IS has thousands of terrorist fighters still active in the field in northern Iraq. They’re attacking by night and rebuilding strength from disgruntled Sunni communities, as well as having thousands of fighters lying low in Syria.

But in recent months, the tempo of IS attacks has shifted from Iraq to Syria with the previously hidden insurgency reemerging.

As many as 12,000 terrorist fighters, including 2,000 foreigners, are detained in prisons run, at least until this week, by the SDF. Many are located in the border region now being overrun by the Turkish military and the Syrian jihadi it counts as loyal instruments.




Read more:
Western states must repatriate IS fighters and their families before more break free from Syrian camps


Elsewhere, in poorly secured overcrowded camps for internally displaced peoples (IDPs), tens of thousands of women, many fiercely loyal to IS, and children are held in precarious circumstances.

In the Al Hawl camp alone there are more than 60,000 women and children linked to IS, including 11 Australian women and their 44 children, along with 10,000 IDPs.

The IS hardliners not only enforce a reign of terror within the camps, but are in regular communication with IS insurgents. They confidently await their liberation by the IS insurgent forces.

Liberated ISIS fighters

The hope of being freed is neither naive nor remote. Already, hundreds of fighters and IDPs have escaped the prisons and camps since the Turkish offensive began.

From mid-2012 until mid-2013, IS ran an insurgent campaign called “Breaking the Walls”. It saw thousands of hardened senior ISIS leaders, and many other militants who would later join the movement, broken out of half a dozen prisons surrounding Baghdad.

Suicide squads were used to blast holes in prison walls. Heavily armed assault teams moved rapidly through the prisons, blasting open cells and rushing the hundreds of liberated terrorist fighters into tactical four-wheel-drives. They were to be driven away in the desert through the night to rebuild the senior ranks of ISIS.




Read more:
Western states must repatriate IS fighters and their families before more break free from Syrian camps


The liberated fighters were not only more valuable to ISIS after their time in prison, with many switching allegiances to join the movement, they were better educated and more deeply radicalised graduating for what they refer to as their terrorist universities.

It would appear the same cycle is now being repeated in northeastern Syria.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

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

The ‘ceasefire’ in Syria is ending – here’s what’s likely to happen now


Syrian troops deployed near Aleppo. The likely winner from the latest conflict in Syria is the Assad government.
AAP/EPA/SANA handout

Mehmet Ozalp, Charles Sturt University

The five-day ceasefire negotiated by US Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan ends today.

Despite the shaky ceasefire, the risk of economic sanctions from the US and worldwide condemnation, Turkey is likely to stay in Syria for a long time.




Read more:
As Turkish troops move in to Syria, the risks are great – including for Turkey itself


The anticipated clash between Turkey and Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government is also unlikely to eventuate, for three three reasons:

  1. Erdogan’s main aims require the army to stay in Syria for the long term

  2. Assad’s and Erdogan’s goals in northeastern Syria strangely overlap

  3. The coordinating role of Russia in Syria prevents the need for Erdogan and Assad to clash in open warfare.

Has Turkey achieved its objectives?

Even though Turkey has been building its forces on the border for some time, the US-allied Kurdish YPG (which Turkey considers a terrorist group) was caught by surprise. They were busy fighting Islamic State and not expecting the US to allow Turkish forces across the border. Battle-weary YPG forces were no match for the powerful Turkish army.

As a result, Kurdish commanders begged the Trump administration to intervene. The ceasefire deal was struck to allow YPG forces to withdraw beyond what Turkey calls a “safe zone”. Trump declared the ceasefire to be a validation of his erratic Syrian policy.

Turkey’s immediate objective of establishing a 32-kilometre deep and 444-kilometre wide safe zone across its border with Syria will likely be achieved.

Yet establishing this zone is just the precursor to Erdogan’s three primary objectives. Those are to resettle millions of Syrian Arab refugees in northeastern Syria, as a result helping to prevent the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish administration and, finally, to ensure his political survival by maintaining his alliance with the Turkish nationalist party (MHP).

The June 2019 political loss of the important city of Istanbul to the main Turkish opposition party, primarily due to Syrian refugee debates, has been an important trigger for Erdogan to act on his Syria plans.

These objectives require Turkey to remain in Syria at least until the end of the Syrian civil war. This would mean the status of northeastern Syria and its Kurdish population were clearly determined in line with Turkey’s goals. These outcomes could take many years to eventuate.

So, any withdrawal before the primary objectives are met will be seen as a defeat within Turkey. Erdogan wants to enter the 2023 presidential elections claiming victory in Syria.

Erdogan’s and Assad’s goals overlap

With the US no longer a serious contender in Syrian politics, Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin are the only leaders capable of stymieing Erdogan’s objectives.

Prior to Turkey’s military intervention, the relationship between the Kurdish leadership and Assad administration was one of mutual avoidance of conflict. Since the beginning of the civil war in 2011, they have never clashed militarily.

The expected outcome of this policy was that the Kurds would have an autonomous region in northeastern Syria and an important role in post-civil war negotiations. Assad had no choice but to agree to this in order to stay in power.




Read more:
The Syrian war is not over, it’s just on a new trajectory: here’s what you need to know


The Turkish intervention opens new possibilities for the Assad government. The speed of the alliance between the YPG and Assad indicates the Syrian government senses an opportunity.

The Kurdish-Assad alliance allows Assad’s forces and administration to enter areas they could not enter before. Assad wasted no time in wedging his forces in the safe zone by seizing the major Kurdish town of Kobani in the middle of the Syrian-Turkish border.

Despite the Kurdish-Assad alliance, resettling Syrian Arab refugees in Kurdish regions will weaken Kurdish claims to the region and suit Assad’s goal of a unified Syria that he totally controls.

There is another immediate benefit for Assad. Idlib is a strategic city in northwestern Syria and the last stronghold of the Syrian opposition to Assad. Resistance groups defeated elsewhere were allowed to gather in Idlib. Careful negotiations took place in the past few years to avoid an all-out bloodbath in Idlib.

Assad will almost certainly ask Turkey to abandon its patronage of Idlib and opposition forces l
ocated there. In return, Assad will allow a temporary Turkish presence in northern Syria.

So, although Kurdish forces signed a deal with Assad, it is highly unlikely this will evolve into active warfare between Turkey and Syria. Instead, the situation will be kept tense – by Assad forces remaining in Kobani – to allow Erdogan and Assad to get what they want.

Russia will prevent a Turkey-Syria clash

This is where Russia and Putin come in. Russia is an ally of both the Turkish and Syrian governments. To save face, Erdogan is unlikely to sit in open negotiations with Assad. Negotiations will be done through Putin.

When Putin and Erdogan meet on October 22, the main negotiating points will be to prevent a war between Turkey and the Russian-armed Assad forces. Erdogan will ask the Russian and Assad governments to allow Turkey to stay in the zone it established. In return, Russia will request further concessions on Idlib and perhaps more arms deals similar to the S-400 missile deal.

A deal between Erdogan and Assad suits Russia because it serves the its main objectives in Syria – keep Assad in power to ensure Russian access to the Mediterranean Sea and weaken NATO by moving Turkey away from the alliance.

If the Kurds realise Assad has no intention of fighting Turkey, they may decide to take matters into their own hands and engage in guerrilla warfare with Turkish forces in northern Syria. While this may deliver a blow to Turkish forces, Erdogan will use it to back his claim they are terrorists.

Regardless of what happens, Turkey will stay in northern Syria for the foreseeable future, no matter the cost to both countries.

The eventual winner in Syria is looking to be the Assad government, which is moving to control the entire country just as it did before the 2011 uprising.The Conversation

Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor in Islamic Studies, Director of The Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation and Executive Member of Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University

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

The Trump presidency should not be shocking. It’s a symptom of our cultural malaise



It’s a mistake to see Trump as unique or his success as something that could only occur in America.
Pete Marovich/Pool/EPA

Brendon O’Connor, University of Sydney

During the 2016 US presidential campaign, people around the world were regularly reassured by election experts that Donald Trump was too outrageous to be elected president.

Reflecting this conventional wisdom, Hilary Clinton campaign’s central message seemed to be: “seriously?”.

In other words, we were constantly told that Trump was too offensive, ignorant and dangerous to be chosen to lead the US. But this political interpretation tended to miss how American popular culture had created the conditions for a character like Trump to upend the mannered and formulaic presidential selection process.

In many ways, the Trump campaign was politics catching up with popular culture.

Trump told a rally in Dallas last week: ‘It’s much easier being presidential … All you have to do is act like a stiff.’
Larry W. Smith/EPA

Trump’s embrace of the worst parts of pop culture

In my new book, Anti-Americanism and American Exceptionalism, I argue that it is a mistake to see Trump as unique or his success as something that could only occur in America.

Trump-like behaviour is all around us. His narcissism, bullying, misogyny, racism, populism and tendency to play the victim is all too commonplace – and these are certainly not just American problems.

What is exceptional is that American politics tends to be more pretentious and has a greater sense of self-importance than politics elsewhere.




Read more:
How the impeachment inquiry might affect Trump’s 2020 re-election chances


Trump snubbed the pretentiousness and faux politeness of the US political system with a devil-may-care attitude, and in so doing made presidential politics more like Westminster parliamentary politics with its name-calling and bravado.

Trump has also taken the worst lessons from popular culture and used them to his advantage.

He turned the second presidential debate, for instance, into a version of The Jerry Springer Show by inviting three women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault to sit in the audience.

Trump attempted to deflect attention from the Access Hollywood tapes with an attention-grabbing stunt at his second debate with Hillary Clinton.
Andrew Gombert/EPA

Over 4,000 episodes, Springer had used traumatic cases like these to entertain and distract daytime television viewers. This is far from just an American ploy as radio shock-jocks like Alan Jones in Australia are well-practised at using victims for their own purposes.

In the wake of the Access Hollywood tapes, Trump drew from Springer’s playbook and turned one of the most important testing grounds in American politics into a crass reality television drama. By inviting Clinton’s accusers, his intention was to make this claim: Hillary’s husband is worse than I am.

Hardly caring to answer the serious questions posed during the debate, Trump also ventured that Hillary Clinton “would be in jail” if he was president, echoing the notorious “lock her up” chants at his rallies.

This mocking campaign style – which has continued throughout his presidency – has had real and grave consequences. However, it was far more in touch with the spirit of the times than is usually admitted.




Read more:
8 reasons why impeaching Donald Trump is a big risk for the Democrats (and 3 reasons why it’s not)


A symptom of widespread cultural malaise

Trump’s constant self-promotion and trolling of opponents is not only utterly familiar, it’s emblematic of narcissistic 21st century culture. He is certainly more culturally familiar than Hillary Clinton with her lifelong dedication to public service and understanding of complex public policy issues.

The Trump phenomenon is politics subsumed by popular culture. During the 2016 campaign, he lived by the entertainment industry maxim that you can get away with almost anything as long as you’re not boring.

Part of the media’s watchdog role relies on accountability, ethics and the law being central to politics. However, this understanding is undermined when politics is reduced to a popularity contest and increasingly resembles the anything-goes ethos of popular culture.

If we view Trump as a product of popular culture, then he is clearly a symptom of a cultural malaise rather than a radical departure from it.

Given this, it has been intriguing to watch The New York Times, CNN and other traditional media outlets react with endless shock and horror to Trump, as if they had never seen anything like him.

One of the other many curiosities of the Trump era is that the oldest person ever to be elected US president quickly mastered the dark arts of Twitter and has strong appeal with a tech-savvy male youth subculture, which has made shock, conspiracies, misogyny, racism, trolling and bullying supposedly funny and transgressive.

New information technologies haven’t just fuelled greater understanding in the world – as some of the utopian founders of the internet had hoped – they have also given more power to the obnoxious and ill-informed.

Once you engage with this online culture, it is clear that Trump is part of a disturbingly widespread cultural backlash rather than being a unique phenomenon.




Read more:
Is the United States on the brink of a revolution?


One sign of this is how much less critical Trump has been of white nationalists than any president in the post-civil rights era. By delaying and obfuscating his criticisms, he has encouraged those on the alt-right to believe their voices are being heard.

How we got to this sorry place is that the shock culture that pervades right-wing talk radio hosts, Fox News and 4Chan all made Trump’s alt-right presidency possible.

With the next presidential election looming, it is time to take these popular but often insensitive cultural and political developments that helped Trump come to power very seriously. These cultural trends are on the rise and require resistance as they degrade our personal lives and political culture.The Conversation

Brendon O’Connor, Associate Professor in American Politics at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney

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

Why the Kurdish conflict in Turkey is so intractable


Recep Onursal, University of Kent

The ramifications of Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from the Turkish-Syrian border continues to have a seismic effect on the situation in northern Syria.

Faced with the Turkish invasion of northern Syria, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who controlled the area were forced to make compromises. On October 13, they announced a deal with the Syrian army, which began moving troops towards the Turkish border. A five-day ceasefire was brokered by the US on October 18, during which Turkey agreed to pause its offensive to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw.

For many, the SDF proved itself to be the most effective force in the fight against Islamic State (IS). Turkey, however, considers the SDF as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it, the US and EU label as a terrorist organisation.

But behind this lies a long history of Turkey denying the very existence of the Kurdish conflict, and the political and cultural rights of its Kurdish population. Understanding this history helps explain why the conflict is so intractable, and the impact it continues to have on Turkey’s foreign policy choices.

No room in the nation state

The Kurdish conflict cannot be understood without considering the question of power and exclusion. Its origins go back to the mid-19th century when the Ottomans attempted to end the 300-year-old autonomy of the Kurdish principalities in Kurdistan. This struggle for autonomy wasn’t resolved during the rule of the Ottoman era, and when it collapsed, all of the new nation states that eventually emerged – Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran – inherited their own Kurdish conflict.

The Turks and the Kurds fought a successful war of independence together in 1919 against the Allied forces. Nevertheless, when the new Republic of Turkey was established in 1923, Turkish identity was presented as its unifying force, at the expense of the society’s political, social and cultural differences.

Not only was political power further centralised in Ankara, but the domination of the ethnic, Turkish and Sunni majority became the norm. The decision to create a centralised and homogeneous nation state was implemented in a top-down and violent fashion. The seeds of the long-term problems that Turkish and Kurdish communities confront today were created by this decision.

Various Kurdish groups challenged this new social and political order with different revolts, uprisings, and resistance, but these were violently suppressed. Repressive policies of assimilation were later implemented to transform the Kurds into civilised and secular Turks.

A conflict buried

The Kurdish conflict laid buried for many years. Then, the most serious challenge to Turkey’s nation state project was initiated by the PKK in 1984, which embraced a political agenda called democratic autonomy. The violent struggle between Ankara and the PKK has resulted in a huge economic and human cost.

Peace talks which began in 2013 with the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan were widely considered to be the best chance for ending the conflict, but these collapsed in 2015. This led to increasing violence in the form of a destructive armed conflict in southeastern Turkey and a wave of bombings, including in Ankara and Istanbul.

The resolution of intractable conflicts is only possible when conflicted parties can confront their past and learn from it. In 2015, amid attempts by Turkish opposition parties to reopen peace negotiations with the Kurds, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insisted: “There is no Kurdish conflict”. Such positioning, which continues today, keeps the political dimension of the conflict in the background.

The state carefully controls what can and cannot be said about the conflict. Typically, words such as “terror” and “traitor” are used to criminalise those who criticise government policy towards the Kurds. A group of academics who signed a petition in 2016 calling for the resumption of peace talks were charged with making “terrorism propaganda”. The non-violent wing of the Kurdish movement – activists, politicians, political parties – has also been criminalised.

Blame game

Instead of confronting their failure to bring about peace, Turkish political elites have tried to apportion blame elsewhere. Erdoğan, for example, repeatedly refers to an invisible “mastermind” who orchestrates the PKK. Such rhetoric is deployed to play on the collective fear and anxiety about national security felt by parts of Turkish society.

Some have called this the “Sèvres syndrome” – referring to the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres that marked the end of the Ottoman empire and proposed to divide it into small states and occupation zones. The treaty was never implemented, and superseded by the 1923 Lausanne Treaty which recognised the Republic of Turkey.

This syndrome – also referred to as “Sèvres Paranoia” – in essence reflects the collective fear that the Treaty of Sèvres will be revived and that the Turkish state is encircled by enemies who want to divide and weaken the country.

Today, this line of thinking is an integral part of Turkish political life and continues to influence public perception towards the external world. In a 2006 public opinion survey, for example, 78% of participants agreed that “the West wants to divide and break up Turkey like they broke up the Ottoman Empire”.

Driving Turkey’s choices.
By kmlmtz66/Shutterstock

In this way, the Kurdish conflict has been used to mobilise Turkish society to act against its own collective interest: a peaceful and just society. Policies aimed at managing the conflict have been implemented mostly within a state of emergency, in ways that continue to undermine Turkish democracy. Not only has the tremendous economic and human cost of the conflict become a “normal” part of Turkish life, but the state has also been successful in actively keeping the political dimension of the conflict at bay.

For a long time, Turkey refrained from talking about the Kurdish issue by assuming that it would eventually fade away. But it didn’t and instead, the conflict has become more deeply entrenched. Time will tell whether the Turkish state will ultimately gain or lose by its latest military intervention in Syria. However, what’s clear is that the Kurdish conflict will get more complicated with this latest move, and both the Turkish state and Turkish society will no longer be able to ignore it.The Conversation

Recep Onursal, Assistant Lecturer and PhD candidate in International Conflict Analysis, University of Kent

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

As Turkish troops move in to Syria, the risks are great – including for Turkey itself



Turkish armoured vehicles drive down a road during a military operation in Kurdish areas of northern Syria.
AAP/EPA/STR

Mehmet Ozalp, Charles Sturt University

Turkey did not waste much time in launching an attack on Syrian soil just days after US President Donald Trump announced he would withdraw US forces from northern Syria. As this development opens a new chapter in Syria, Turkey maybe unwittingly sinking deeper into that country’s civil war.

This is not the first time president Trump has mentioned withdrawal from Syria – he voiced it in April 2018.

Alleged gas attacks by the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s incumbent government followed, which resulted in the US continuing its stay in Syria despite its reluctant president.

The US government has always been tentative with its Syrian policy, which was openly exploited by Russia in its bid to support the Assad government’s grip on power in the embattled country.




Read more:
Trump decision to withdraw troops from Syria opens way for dangerous Middle East power play


It is also not the first time Turkey has talked about a military presence in Syria. In January 2018, it sent troops to north-western Syria, establishing its control over lands to the west of the Euphrates river. Turkey has increased its military build up on the Syrian border ever since.

The US contained any further Turkish advances by making it clear Turkey was not welcome to the east of the river, especially when the US needed the support of Kurdish forces in ending Islamic States’s presence in Syria.

Why does Turkey want to increase its military presence in Syria?

There are three main reasons Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is eager to send more troops in to northern Syria east of the Euphrates river.

The first is the prospect of free Kurdish states near its borders inspiring the sizeable Kurdish populations in the south east of Turkey to seek similar aspirations. Northern Iraq is slowly moving towards independence. If Kurds in northern Syria were to establish an autonomous region, it would only be a matter of time before the same demands were raised in Turkey.

Fearing this development, Erdogan has pursued an increasingly tough policy on Kurdish political activities in Turkey. The leader of pro-Kurdish party HDP, Selahattin Demirtas, has been in jail for almost three years.

Turkey’s second concern is the reported 3.5 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey since the conflict began in 2011. Although they were initially welcomed with open arms, there is growing discontent in the Turkish media and society, with many calling for their return.

Opposition parties have been critical of the Erdogan government’s inability to effectively manage the refugee crisis, which was one of the key issues that led to Erdogan’s loss in this year’s Istanbul elections.

Erdogan plans to create a safe zone in Northern Syria, establish new settlements within this region and slowly move Arab Syrian refugees back to Syria. This will change the demographics of the region and undermine Kurdish dominance.

Erdogan’s third aim is to make a political investment for future elections. This may be the most important reason, as Erdogan first mentioned a military offensive in Syria soon after his local government election loss in June 2019.

The Turkish leader needs the coalition with MHP, the nationalist party, to maintain his grip on power and enhance his chance of re-election. He needs a war to unify his electorate, please his coalition partner and silence the growing critical voices in the midst of a worsening Turkish economy.

Erdogan made strong hints in August he would send troops to northern Syria against the US-allied YPG, which Turkey considers to be a terrorist group. He was most likely testing international, especially US, reaction. The US responded by offering a joint operation in the region.

It appears Erdogan thought the US involvement was limiting his goals and wasting his time. Perhaps he reasoned the timing was right to make a bold move when Trump was politically weakened by an impeachment inquiry.

It seems Erdogan’s strategy worked. Trump agreed to withdraw from Syria on the condition Turkey took responsibility for handling thousands of IS prisoners and their families in camps.

Trump added a threat to “totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey” if it was to do anything considered “off-limits”. But the move was still a green light for Turkey to send troops to Syria.

What is likely to happen now?

Trump’s announcement does not mean the US is pulling out of Syria completely. It’s likely the US will continue to have a presence in eastern Syria to watch developments closely and intervene if the situation deteriorates.

A total pull-out would further weaken Trump. He would not want to risk the already-waning Republican party’s support over concerns about a resurgence of IS in Syria.

Russia seems to be pleased with the developments. Putin knows the US withdrawal means greater Russian influence and shores up the Assad government. Since Erdogan does everything with full Russian endorsement, their close collaboration gives Russia leverage in its political and diplomatic struggle with the NATO.




Read more:
Further strikes on Syria unlikely – but Trump is always the wild card


One possibility is that Turkish forces do not face much resistance. They would then only advance to a limited region, with their stated aim of establishing a safe zone and returning Syrian refugees back to Syria. This may contain the situation without further escalation.

Another possibility is that the US abandoning its protection of the Kurdish YPG forces in northern Syria will have a cascading effects. A sizeable portion of Kurdish civilians may be displaced, and some may flee in advance, fearing the worst.

The Kurdish YPG forces may initially avoid open conflict with the advancing Turkish forces, and look for new alliances in Syria. The most likely candidate for this is Assad, who may see an opportunity to bring the Kurdish populations and regions under his control.

If an Assad-Kurdish partnership eventuates, Turkish forces may be drawn into the war within Syria.

Kurdish populations in Turkey may then become involved, threatening Turkey with what it fears the most – a Kurdish insurrection within its own borders.The Conversation

Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor in Islamic Studies, Director of The Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation and Executive Member of Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University

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