Mid-term elec­tions await, as Amer­ica split by bit­ter di­vi­sions

People's Review - - OP-ED - BY M.R. JOSSE

NEW YORK, NY: This ini­ti­ates a new col­umn, a month af­ter putting to rest my ear­lier one penned in Kath­mandu. As the ti­tle sug­gests, this will con­tain as­sorted jottings and ru­mi­na­tions on mis­cel­la­neous sub­jects. Now, let me jump right into what is un­de­ni­ably the most ar­rest­ing of pub­lic-in­ter­est top­ics here: the mid-term elec­tions slated for Tues­day, No­vem­ber 6, 2018 where dozens of com­pet­i­tive House races and a hand­ful of Se­nate seats are at stake.


While the out­come of the midterm polls is any­one's guess, a few gen­eral ru­mi­na­tions are in or­der, I be­lieve. The first is that it will be ref­er­en­dum on the con­tro­versy-prone Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion; an­other is that, ac­cord­ing to gen­eral con­sen­sus, there is ex­pected to be groundswell of voter turnout on the Demo­cratic side, which is not a pro­pi­tious omen for the Repub­li­cans - ac­cord­ing to the pun­dits, who have all too of­ten been proved hor­ri­bly wrong. Hate-filled vi­o­lence has rocked Amer­ica on their eve, epit­o­mized, first, by the case of Florid­ian Ce­sar Savoc charged with send­ing at least a dozen ex­plo­sive pack­ages to prom­i­nent Trump crit­ics, in­clud­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama; and sec­ond, by Robert Bow­ers, who at­tacked and killed at least 11 wor­ship­pers at a Pitts­burg syn­a­gogue in what is Amer­ica's big­gest anti-Semitic at­tack in her his­tory. Bow­ers, it was dis­cov­ered, had loudly spewed mur­der­ous ha­tred and big­otry on­line. Both cases re­flect Amer­ica's deep and bit­ter di­vi­sions and par­ti­san fin­ger-point­ing just a week be­fore the polls. Though not in quite the same cat­e­gory, Pres­i­dent Trump - who, of course, is not per­son­ally in­volved in any of races at stake - has taken pub­lic ex­cep­tion to crit­ics' al­le­ga­tions that he has fo­mented the toxic po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment by his an­gry mes­sag­ing and pol­icy state­ments, in­clud­ing the use of im­mi­gra­tion and race to stir fear among the elec­torate.


Though it is highly de­bat­able how much, if at all, for­eign pol­icy is­sues will res­onate in the mid-terms, it is dif­fi­cult for out­side ob­servers not to be flab­ber­gasted at Trump's flac­cid pol­icy vis-à-vis the grue­some mur­der of Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi, at the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul, Tur­key. Here are some re­veal­ing jottings: Ac­cord­ing to New York Times' Ni­cholas Kristof, Trump was pro­vid­ing cover for a Saudi despot's bar­barism, or kow­tow­ing to a mad prince (Crown Prince Mo­ham­mad bin Sal­man, or M.B.S). NYT main­tained the govern­ment was veer­ing be­tween de­fend­ing the value of the U.S.'s ties with Saudi Ara­bia and press­ing Riyadh for an­swers, even while Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin held wide-rang­ing dis­cus­sion with M.B.S. The up­shot: Amer­ica's al­lies and for­eign in­vestors worry as the Khashoggi's mur­der erodes the rep­u­ta­tion of Saudi Ara­bia. In­flu­en­tial com­men­ta­tor, Richard N. Haas, pres­i­dent, Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, opined: "It's a neat trick if you can both sanc­tion a coun­try and part­ner with them at the same time...And it's not easy to keep the fo­cus on Iran's be­hav­ior when the Saudis are do­ing ter­ri­ble things to jour­nal­ists and dis­si­dents and bomb­ing chil­dren in Ye­men." Wall Street Jour­nal colum­nist Peggy Noo­nan, took on Trump's talk of arms sales to Saudi Ara­bia, thus: "We used to be ashamed, or at least em­bar­rassed, to be seen as the arms mer­chant of the world. It didn't quite sit with our vi­sion of our­selves. And Amer­i­can pres­i­dents, as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of a na­tion with cer­tain moral stature, didn't use to de­clare that our world stands are heav­ily in­flu­enced by arms con­tracts." While NYT's cel­e­brated colum­nist, Thomas L. Fried­man, ar­gued that "The (Saudi) Crown Prince should be cen­sured but his re­forms shouldn't stop", for­mer Sec­re­tary of State, James A. Baker III, thought that the U.S. should "bal­ance its val­ues with its na­tional in­ter­ests" in fram­ing pol­icy vis-à-vis Saudi Ara­bia, a good model for which he be­lieved was Pres­i­dent H. W. Bush's ap­proach to­wards China in the af­ter­math of the Tianan­men Square mas­sacre. I couldn't but be struck by the mind-bog­gling dif­fer­ence in Amer­ica's pol­icy pos­ture to­wards the Nepali monar­chy dur­ing the 'regime change' years, post-2005: was it even 1/100th as despotic or bar­baric as to­day's Saudi regime? Of course, Nepal does not sit atop an ocean of fos­sil fuel. Some­thing, me thinks, out pol­icy wonks back home should stick into their pipes and ru­mi­nate, long and hard upon. An­other key for­eign/strate­gic pol­icy is­sue that has promi­nently fig­ured here of late has to do with Pres­i­dent Trump's threat to pull out of the In­ter­me­di­ate Range Nu­clear Forces (INF) Treaty signed be­tween Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan and Soviet Pres­i­dent Mikhail Gor­bachev in 1987. On Oc­to­ber 26, NYT in an ed­i­to­rial pre­dicted that if Trump in­deed with­drew from the INF Treaty "Rus­sia would ex­pand its arse­nal freely" end­ing up "help­ing Rus­sia strate­gi­cally and hurt­ing Amer­i­can se­cu­rity." In the same is­sue of the pre­em­i­nent Amer­i­can news jour­nal, for­mer Sec­re­tary of State George P. Shultz, warned "Now is not the time to build larger ar­se­nals of nu­clear weapons. Now is the time to rid the world of this threat. Leav­ing the treaty would be a big step back­wards. We should fix it, not kill it." Gor­bachev, in an­other NYT oped piece, hoped "that Amer­ica's al­lies will, upon sober re­flec­tion, refuse to be launch­pads for new Amer­i­can mis­siles...We must not re­sign, we must not sur­ren­der."


A few words on Modi's In­dia, I be­lieve, would be in or­der. Mainly, it has to be with the lat­est Sri Lankan po­lit­i­cal cri­sis - where Pres­i­dent Mathri­pala Sirisena sacked Prime Min­is­ter Ranil Wick­remesinghe and swore-in for­mer strong­man and Pravakaran-slayer Mahinda Ra­japakse in his place. Ra­japakse has con­sis­tently been tar­nished by the In­dian me­dia as "pro-Chi­nese"; more­over the lat­est shakeup in Sri Lanka comes not long af­ter Sirisena spoke at a Oc­to­ber 14 cabi­net meet­ing of an as­sas­si­na­tion plot against him, al­legedly by an In­dian with links to RAW! Re­ports in the In­dian me­dia about a 'civil war' within In­dia's in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity made for ab­sorb­ing read­ing. It can hardly be aus­pi­cious for Prime Min­is­ter Modi's elec­toral prospects this close to In­dia's gen­eral elec­tions.

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