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The Bewildered Herd

Joe Biden
Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Covid-19 at The Queen theater on October 23, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP)

Article by: Ashraf Jehangir Kazi

In just over a month the Biden Administration will commence. Biden promises “America will be back to global leadership.” But after the one-term Trump Administration and the global Covid-19 pandemic, the world will be a very different place. The US will need a complete makeover to exercise global leadership. Far more than the long-term after-effects of Covid-19, Climate Catastrophe ensures the world can never be the same again. Scientists around the world warn human civilization as we know it could cease to exist by the end of the current century unless a radically different global leadership and global agenda soon emerges. The United States has been the most powerful obstacle to any such prospect.

Biden’s sympathies for the working classes will represent a significant improvement in the attitude of the Trump Administration. American workers’ wages have stagnated for almost 50 years. However, Biden does not support healthcare for all, free higher education, writing off student debt, a Green New Deal, etc. all of which would have to be paid for through moderately increased taxes on millionaires and billionaires. He does not intend to be a cause for concern to Corporate America which massively funded his campaign.

Nor does Biden demonstrate much awareness of the extent and speed with which climate calamity is approaching. He has refused to include Bernie Sanders in his cabinet and seems to have ignored his reform package for the first 100 days to prepare for a post-pandemic but climate challenged world. Biden’s explanation is that he needs Sanders in the Senate because he may not have the votes to push his legislation through although he has no apparent intention to push a Sanders reform agenda at all. Instead, he intends to have a cabinet “as diverse as America” although he has yet to appoint a Muslim to a major position. Moreover, as Cornel West observes diversity is not so much a matter of color, race, religion, and gender as it is of a range of approaches, views, and commitments. While Biden will bring a more adult style to his leadership, he is likely to be a cop-out as far as substantive domestic reform is concerned.

On foreign policy, Biden will similarly remain on the right side of Corporate America and the Pentagon by engaging Russia, China, and Iran “from a position of strength” and maintaining US-Israeli hegemony in the Middle East in alliance with regional monarchs and dictators fearful of their own people. Accordingly, he is selecting a team of old Obama hands, including several neo-liberal lady-hawks, even though he says his administration will not be “a third Obama term.” Trump pushed confrontation with China and cooperation with Russia. Biden is more likely to slide into a new cold war including confrontations with both China and Russia. He is also likely to further strengthen the “Indo-Pacific” Alliance against China; ignore a developing genocidal situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir which threatens to pit two nucleararmed countries, Pakistan and India, against each other; use Afghanistan and Central Asian states to target China and Russia; threaten the viability of Iran which would de-stabilize the entire Middle East and Southwest Asia region; and as a consequence divert attention, priority and resources away from averting irreversible climate catastro- phe and all its fatal derivatives.

During his 47 years in Congressional and White House politics Biden has been a pillar of support to US Corporate Global Hegemony, perpetual war, and the dominance of the Corporate-Military-Media-Technology Complex. He has interfaced with Wall Street, the Pentagon, Silicon Valley, Big Tech, Big Banks, Big Oil, Big Pharma, etc. all of whom regard him as reliable. He has never effectively challenged the ideology of limitless greed, comprehensive inequality, and white violence at home and abroad which define the new American Exceptionalism. On the contrary, he has been an integral part of the process which today threatens the planet and human civilization with climate catastrophe, nuclear conflict, and fake news technologies that render democratic governance and rational, responsible, and informed responses to global challenges almost impossible.

In the US, as indeed in so many assumed “democracies,” including Pakistan and India, the people are by and large duped, induced, constrained, and compelled to “elect” representatives who do not really represent their needs and interests. Instead, they represent the interests of their “masters,” including paymasters, who facilitate and finance their electoral campaigns, and whose interests are more or less diametrically opposed to those of the people.

Nevertheless, it is impossible to “predict the future” and somewhat unfair to do so before Biden even enters the White House. However, if he does not win the two Senatorial runoff elections in Georgia on January 5, 2021, he will not have control of the Senate and his legislative agenda may come unstuck very quickly. This could set him up for a major reverse in the mid-term Congressional elections of 2022. That could cost him control over both the House of Representatives and the Senate which would render him a lame-duck President for the rest of his single-term presidency. Any dreams he may entertain of becoming a second FDR and implementing a New Deal-like set of reforms would vanish, setting the scene for a major Republican come-back which would be calamitous for America and the world.

Only the multi-racial progressive youth of the Democratic Party and other smaller parties have any chance of educating American public opinion to understand and avoid such a scenario. Unfortunately, Biden and his likely cabinet have little time or inclination to listen to the advocates of basic reforms. They will be more engaged in enticing “moderate” Republicans to join them in a reform charade that keeps the ruling 0.1 percent in relatively good humor while fake news and mainstream media keep climate catastrophe and other impending disasters out of the picture for as long as possible.

Most of Biden’s likely cabinet members are competent professionals who have high-level government experience unlike many of Trump’s advisers and cabinet secretaries. However, many of those in key posts have corporate and defense establishment ties which will significantly determine the policy advice they offer the President. They have become very wealthy and dependent as a result of these ties and have, by and large, adjusted their “policy values” accordingly. This has become an integral part of US corporate capitalist governance, irrespective of whether the government is that of the Democratic or Republican Party. It is the basis of a two party system which in reality has become a single Corporate America owned party with two wings: one pretending to be progressive and the other not making any such pretence.

Though not nearly as gifted as Obama, Biden could do his legacy a great favor if he can somehow initiate an exit process from the thoroughly corrupt and obsolete political system and the thoroughly corrupt and unjust economic system that prevails in the US today. The polarization these twin systems have bred now threatens the political coherence and unity of the US which in itself could pose great danger for the rest of the world.

The foregoing, unfortunately, suggests relatively less optimistic responses to the following questions: Under Biden will the concerted campaign continue against alleged Russian interference in US elections without any credible supporting evidence now that the Democratic Party has won the Presidential elections? Will US trade sanctions against China be lifted? Will Obama’s military Pivot towards China be moderated or will it be upscaled and intensified? Will the ban on Huawei and other Chinese tech companies be lifted or extended? Will Biden maintain US hostility towards China’s global BRI-based strategy including its CPEC-based regional strategy? Will he rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran or will he insist on additional Iranian concessions to lift US sanctions which Iran will almost certainly refuse? Will the European members of the JCPOA continue to cravenly follow the US lead? Will the US in conjunction with Israel and Arab Gulf countries provoke a war-like situation with Iran in order to bring about regime change in Tehran? (Arab potentates, according to recent reports offered to bear the costs of a US military imposed regime change in Syria.) Will Biden continue Trump’s policy of looking for a via media with North Korea? Will he restore Obama’s normalization policy with Cuba? Will he restore the international arms agreements with Russia that Trump walked out of? Will his generals allow it? Will US weapons and military equipment manufacturing corporations put peace before profits? Will Senator Bernie Sanders who, according to some progressive polls, is the most popular political leader in the US, finally try form a third party that unlike the two major parties will advocate a political, economic, and foreign policy agenda that most Americans would support against Corporate America and the Military-Industrial Complex?

Will the four foundational US-India military agreements be fully implemented to formalize and activate their strategic alliance against China, and by implication, against Pakistan? Will Biden in any way pressure India to change its Kashmir policy in order to make possible a principled compromise settlement with Pakistan that is acceptable to the people of Kashmir? Will he make constructive and realistic proposals for such a settlement? Or will he pressure Pakistan, through threats of FATF blacklisting and withdrawal of IFI financing, to improve relations with India and refrain from any assistance to the Kashmir resistance which will be equated with abetting terrorism? If India is still unable to control the political situation in the Valley and moves towards the final stage of genocide, will Biden do anything to stop it as Clinton stopped Indonesia in East Timor? Or with tacit Indian support, might he shift towards supporting an independent Kashmir – which could undermine the territorial contiguity of Pakistan with China through AJK and GB – as strategic compensation for India? Will Biden, unlike Obama and Trump, visit Pakistan?

Will Biden withdraw troops from Afghanistan in accordance with the 14-month time schedule that Trump agreed with the Taliban? Or will he continue to insist on a conditions-based withdrawal, which means an indefinitely continued active US military presence in Afghanistan, which in turn would indefinitely delay peace in Afghanistan with all its consequences for Pakistan? Will Pakistan follow America’s lead in the hope of securing some contingent or special interest advantage? Or will it develop an independent national and foreign policy? Will it build, consolidate, and develop a mutually beneficial and comprehensive strategic relationship with China? Or will it continue to “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity?”

Will a soft and failing state, like Pakistan is fast becoming under the dysfunctional governance of elected and non-elected leaderships alike, ever be able to adopt a national transformation policy beyond empty rhetoric to deal with the accumulating, converging and lethal challenges that beset it? Will it learn anything from the largest General Strike in history that took place in India on November 26 in which 250 million workers and farmers all over India protested against the predator capitalist policies of the Modi government? Or do we have no such problem?

Far too many of the ruling elite and intelligentsia in Pakistan knowingly or implicitly bank on or resign themselves to negative answers to most of the foregoing questions. Incremental and marginal changes that are too little too late, yes; but fundamental nation-building and nation-saving reforms, no! Not that they don’t want progress in Pakistan; but because they think it foolish and a costly waste of time to attempt to achieve much progress given the political and power realities in which Pakistan appears trapped. The people of Pakistan are regarded by their unhelpful elites – to quote the famous American political commentator Walter Lippmann’s reference to the American people – as a “bewildered herd.” They should know their place as “enlightened” people in the know provide the “leadership.” Pakistan is unfortunately brimful with such people in the know. But losing hope is a sin and countering those who deny hope is a duty.

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