By Ashraf Jehangir Qazi
President-elect Joe Biden won the US Presidential elections by almost 5 million votes. He has inherited “a mud sandwich” from Trump in the shape of an unprecedentedly divided US. Given Trump’s criminally irresponsible Presidency, Biden should have won by a landslide. He did not. He will now have to wait until after January 5 to know if he controls the Senate. He barely held on to the House of Representatives. He will face a Trump packed conservative Supreme Court. Trump’s legal challenges and refusal to concede is supported by tens of millions of Americans. He got 71 million votes. The transition could be anything but smooth. However, the problem the US faces today is not so much Trump’s tantrums as it is its advanced corporate capitalist system which is based on extreme inequality, institutionalized discrimination, and perpetual war in the name of ideals it systematically violates.
The US is an island unto itself as well as a continent exercising global power and influence. It sees itself as a beacon of hope and promises while much of the world today sees it as a curse and a menace. Nevertheless, the US is still the mightiest country. On an international exchange rate basis, it has the largest economy. It is by far the number one military power and has well over 1000 military bases around the world with most of them in the vicinity of China and Russia. Its cutting edge technology still has the widest spread underpinning its economic and military power. It has the best science and technology-based universities, institutes, and research centers. Moreover, the US is blessed with the richest diversity of natural resources. Its space explorations wow the world and the vitality of its people, culture, and arts is truly remarkable. And yet its politics today is that of a third world failing country. This makes it the world’s most dangerous country.
Until recently, the US clearly wielded more “soft power” than any other country. It was seen as the land of opportunity, freedom, and democracy, a “melting pot” of the greatest diversity of peoples sharing the American Dream of limitless possibility and setting norms for the world. Its reputation for generosity and assistance was nonpareil. After the US victory in the Cold War Francis Fukuyama wrote his book “The end of history.” Henceforth, according to him, history would merely recount the varying degrees of success with which lesser peoples and nations were able to follow the US liberal democratic course and emulate its scientific and technological prowess. But since 9/11, Mark Anthony’s Shakespearean lament increasingly describes the US: “what a fall there was my countrymen!” The US has forfeited much of its soft power. This in turn has begun to erode its global political hegemony and also with the breath-taking multi-dimensional rise of China and the military resurgence of Russia its global military hegemony.
Under Trump, the political discourse plumbed the depths, further tarnishing the global image of the US. Domestically, his direct and indirect appeal to white supremacy, racism, sexism, and fascism; his apparent tolerance of police murders of black Americans; his immigration travesties against Mexicans and travel ban on Muslims; his massive tax concessions to the ultra-rich at the expense of basic services for the poor including pandemic relief; his presiding over the loss of 10 million jobs; his attempts to dismantle healthcare; his scuttling of environmental protection in favor of fossil fuel-producing corporations; his refusal to accept climate change as a man-made imminent threat to mankind; and his wanton mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic resulting in the deaths of a quarter of a million Americans make him the worst US President ever.
Externally, Trump unilaterally walked out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change; withdrew from the World Health Organization, denounced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran horrifying major European allies; tore up critical arms agreements with Russia thereby increasing the risk of nuclear conflict; and launched a trade war and possibly a new cold war with China which would guarantee international instability for the foreseeable future. Notwithstanding his efforts to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and his relatively less belligerent foreign policy towards the Muslim world than that of Obama, his generally deplorable performance on the domestic and external fronts appeared to set the scene for his elimination as a political force forever. In the event, however, it looked for a while that he might actually win a second term! If he does not end up in jail he may still be a very disruptive political force.
Biden was a weak and deeply flawed Presidential candidate. He supported every American war. By and large, Americans voted against Trump rather than for him. Bernie Sanders was a much more credible candidate. But the Democratic Party establishment is even more pro-Wall Street than the Republican far right. If Sanders were nominated, his own party would probably have worked with Wall Street and the military-industrial complex for a Trump victory! However, the educated and progressive youth of America still supports Sanders’ “New Deal” agenda. This could augur well for the future of the US, possibly under the leadership of the brilliant young Latino American Democratic Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). Biden said he intends to be a one-term transitional President since he will be past 80 by the next election. Biden’s Vice-President, Kamala Harris, will succeed him if for any reason he is unable to continue in office. Her appeal to progressive young Democrats, however, is non-existent.
After Obama engineered the defeat of Sanders in the Democratic Party primaries, Noam Chomsky urged the US electorate to vote for Biden as “the lesser evil” compared to Trump whom he regarded as “worse than Hitler” and “cancer in the White House.” But it is far from clear that younger Democrats will in future vote for a candidate or a party that does not represent their interests and aspirations. If the younger progressive Democrats do not take over the party, as was expected of Sanders supporters after 2016, it will split. So too might the Republican Party if its Congressional leadership, no longer controlled by a maniac in the White House, can assert its independence from the Trump-besot- ted loonies who have had a stranglehold on the party.
A Biden Administration will certainly do better than Trump on Covid-19 and the looming Climate Catastrophe. He has promised carbon neutrality by 2050. Biden will immediately rejoin the Paris Agreement. He will improve relations with Europe. His immigration policies are likely to be less arbitrary, discriminatory, and anti-Muslim. He may rejoin the JCPOA thereby easing tensions with Iran while maintaining longstanding US hostility towards its independent foreign policy. Iran long ago offered to forego developing a nuclear weapons option if the US and Israel agreed to a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. The US, however, refuses to do so because that would render illegal its assistance to Israel which has an undeclared nuclear arsenal. Biden might also alleviate current tensions with China while trying to thwart its emergence as an independent global power which offers a more attractive, non-hierarchical, and shared-development-based alternative world order.
On the US economy, it is not clear how well Biden would manage a moving balance between security, economic and health imperatives in a pandemic and climate disrupted world. However, his saner Climate, Covid and China policies might help. But he will neither end Fracking for shale oil and gas nor will he support a Green New Deal both of which are essential to combat climate catastrophe. He will also not accept Medicare for all with a single-payer plan although Covid-19 could threaten millions of American lives. With regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan, if Biden follows his former boss, Obama, he could be more aggressive than Trump in attempting to force an Afghan peace settlement. But the Taliban are too entrenched, the Kabul government is too fragile, and US public opinion wants out of Afghanistan ASAP. Biden might, accordingly, blame Pakistan for his failure. He will look askance at CPEC and Pakistan’s embrace of China.
He will further strengthen strategic cooperation with India. He is more likely than Trump to equate assistance to Kashmiri’s resistance against Indian genocide with terrorism. He will, accordingly, increase FATF and IFI pressures on Pakistan. Biden may voice criticisms of Indian human rights violations in IHK. But he will do nothing to reverse India’s August 5, 2019 decision. He will not reduce the US military budget citing Russian and Chinese threats. The US is doubly divided. There is the relatively superficial divide that grabs all the headlines and there is the real divide that mainstream corporate media barely mentions. The superficial divide is between the two Wall Street financed parties: one, the unsophisticated but more straightforward Republicans who see themselves as salt-of-the-earth patriotic Christians and hate assumed liberal elite conspiracies against the common folk, and two, the more sophisticated but devious Democrats who pretend to represent the grievances of the downtrodden but within parameters that rule out any real reforms that would upset Corporate America.
The real divide, however, is between the 0.1 percent which is made up of corporate bosses and CEOs, hedge fund managers, media barons, party bosses, congressional committee and subcommittee chairpersons, lobbyists, generals, senior Administration officials, etc. on the one hand, and the rest of the country which is largely controlled through Artificial Intelligence based surveillance technologies and Big Data assisted manipulation of perceptions and manufacture of consent for elite agendas, on the other. This divide between the 0.1 and the 99.9 percent is one which Biden, like Trump, will preside over rather than seriously address. After Biden’s victory, Sanders summarized a “first 100 days” reform agenda for his Administration. But Biden wants to “reconcile” progressives and Wall Street “moderates” in his party and to “reach out” to Republicans. So much for Bernie’s agenda!
The perennial question among Pakistani observers about which American Presidential candidate or political party will suit Pakistan is irrelevant. Pakistan faces colossal domestic and external challenges. Only a comprehensive and rapid national transformation can enable it to deal with them. Tragically, apart from rhetoric, there is no sign of this happening. Nor is there any discernible intention among the ruling political and institutional elites for it to happen. Accordingly, many observers see Pakistan as its own biggest problem, which it is not even allowed to address. Such observations might appear to overstate the dilemma Pakistan faces. But unless it is seen to be seriously and effectively dealing with challenges on its domestic and external fronts, its views and complaints however valid will not be taken seriously. If the people of Pakistan are seen as resigned to their fate and its rulers are seen to be no friends of the people no country, including China, will care to strategically invest in its future.
Only a seriously and successfully governed Pakistan which requires the organized ownership and active participation of its own people can command the respect of friend and foe alike, and maximize its policy options vis-à-vis the several simultaneous existential challenges it faces. Should this begin to happen, it will not matter who rules in Washington, Beijing or Delhi. Should it not, then for an opposite set of reasons, it will similarly not matter. Many in Pakistan may go along with these observations. But there are far too few who are able and committed enough to undertake the rigors and stress of joining and participating in grass-roots movements for the implementation of mutually reinforcing measures to transform Pakistan. This is the fundamental challenge that has yet to be taken up. Moreover, impending climate catastrophe has drastically shortened the time in which this challenge has to be met. The great “Satchmo,” Louis Armstrong, sang: So little time; so much to do!