Mid-term elections await, as America split by bitter divisions
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.
FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES
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.