The problem facing Biden is that several of the political veterans who have long been active behind the scenes believe that a concentration of public focus on what may be described as ‘White Terror’ will keep the moderate white as well as black and brown votes on their side.
New Delhi: Although the most experienced politician ever to become President of the United States, sometimes moving away from what he did in the past, rather than repeating them, may be the way in which President Joseph R. Biden avoids the fate of his friend, President Barack H. Obama. The Democratic Party lost control of the US House of Representatives and almost lost control of the Senate in the 2010 midterms, with the Republicans winning 63 additional House seats, seven in the Senate, 6 additional Gubernatorial seats as well as 20 more state legislatures. As a consequence, they were able to gerrymander electoral districts in a manner not even attempted by the Democratic Party under the control of the gentlemanly Obama-Biden duo. Despite these manoeuvres, Obama defeated Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, perhaps because the latter was of the same genteel mould of Obama-Biden or George H.W. Bush, rather than the “red meat” dispensing type that much of the Republican base was hungering for. The base found their candidate in Donald J. Trump in the 2016 Presidential polls, after the Republicans retained the majority they had gained in the US Senate in the 2014 midterms, using that power to try and prevent President Obama from carrying out the policies he was elected to implement. Had President Obama and Vice-President Biden been less focused on being even-handed rather than partisan, the way the other side was, the Democratic Party may not have needed to wait until 2020 to regain its control over the White House as well as both houses of the US Congress.
Both during Obama’s term in the White House and during the Trump presidency, the stridency of the attack on the former President and his Vice-President was so severe that even the quintessentially gentlemanly Joe Biden behaved on occasion with vehemence, while Barack Obama showed flashes of anger in public that had been almost completely absent in previous years. Apart from his relatively simple lifestyle and absence of bile and prejudice, among the reasons why the coolly analytical Barack Obama chose Joe Biden as his running mate was a belief in the latter’s ability to fashion a bipartisan coalition in the US Congress around signature policies such as healthcare. Vice-President Biden worked hard at this, but failed in the task. Now as the 46th President of the US, Biden has again indicated his willingness to embark on the path trodden by him during 2009 until 2016, of seeking consensus with a Republican Party implacably opposed to any of the initiatives of the Democrat-controlled White House. Fortunately for him, in a country where the majority of voters had turned off its earlier acceptance of the “fire and fury” of the Trump years, Biden as Trump contra reaped his electoral reward in 2020 through a party wise enough to nominate him as its standard bearer rather than a candidate with more “razzle dazzle”.
BIDEN NEEDS TO PASS FULL STIMULUS PACKAGE
Much more than anything that the Democratic Party did, it was Donald Trump as President who ensured the success of Joe Biden and his telegenic running mate Kamala Harris. While Vice-President Mike Pence remained a reassuring face, his sheen had worn off among independent voters by the obsessive manner in which Pence acted the way UK Prime Minister Tony Blair did to US President George W. Bush, which was that of a tail-wagging poodle. It was clear that Pence failed to read the tea leaves, and believed along with most of the others in his party that Trump would repeat his 2016 success four years later. Pence wanted to remain Vice-President for another term before striking out on his own, and exhibiting the qualities that endeared Blair to Bush was part of this effort to retain his position as running mate to the “fire and fury” President. Only on rare occasions did the Vice-President come across as himself, as a leader in his own right, as for example in his 2018 speech at the Hudson Institute on China, and his refusal to join Trump at the infamous episode during the 2020 election campaign outside St John’s Church close to the White House, unlike some other individuals in the administration. Unfortunately for President Trump, he forgot to pray inside the church for his victory, an oversight that was repeatedly pointed out and which annoyed some of his supporters enough to stop them from voting for him. The problem facing President Biden is that some in his team act as though they believe that the election was won by them, rather than lost by Trump, with the result that they are urging the 46th President to repeat the follies of the early years of Obama-Biden by giving a long rope to the Republican Party, rather than accept that bipartisanship is a mirage in a political culture where open incitement to sedition from within the White House goes unpunished in the Senate, as it almost certainly will. The first impeachment drama of Donald Trump was a farce, the second is turning out to be a tragedy for democracy in the US. In effect, the “destined to fail” first impeachment of Trump was a windfall for the PRC, as it weakened the latter’s hand at a time when he had swerved away from the Obama doctrine during his first six years in office of showing patience and kindness rather than firmness to Beijing. Unlike the first, the second impeachment is valid on the merits, although its failure will embolden those on the Right who believe that the wrong side lost the US Civil War in 1865.Joe Biden’s historical record from Iraq to Pakistan to China does not appear encouraging, but times have changed, and so as this quintessentially decent Irish-American family man. Fortunately for the 46th US President, there are two clear-thinking and strong women by his side: Vice-President Kamala Devi Harris and First Lady Jill Biden. Neither is likely to want Biden to repeat what Obama and Biden did in 2009, which was to waste irreplaceable time on trying to get the Republican Party on their side at least on some issues. The sooner Biden uses the majority his party enjoys in the House of Representatives and in the Senate to pass his stimulus package in full rather than compromise to seek for a bipartisanship that does not exist in 2021 just as it did not in 2009 and 2010. The sooner the $1.9 trillion wish list of the Democratic Party is made into law, the better will be the performance of the party in the 2022 midterms. This is precisely why Republican “good cops” such as Mitt Romney will seek to prolong the period before the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package and other measures favoured by the Democratic base get enacted into law. Romney would like to be his party’s standard bearer in the 2024 polls. Which is why he will try and get President Biden to delay the inevitable in a hunt for compromise, aware that every month that passes before such laws get passed will reduce the number of voters inclined to cast their votes for the Democratic Party.
The unexpected aggression shown by Barack Obama to his Republican tormentors during the final months of the Trump presidency helped get Biden into the White House. The 45th President focused only on his base, forgetting that they were less fickle than the independent and moderate voters that the “red meat” he kept throwing at his base turned away from. Trump ignored the obvious electoral advantages of choosing a second Latina judge to the US Supreme Court, Barbara Lagoa, a move that would have given him a substantial number of votes in Latina-dominated districts in several states, unlike his obeying the preferences of his base and selecting Amy Coney Barrett, whose views on abortion and labour laws turned away several of the women and lower income voters who had flocked to Trump in 2016. Barrett appealed to a white, right-wing base that was already in the bag. Hardly any of the individuals holding her views would have voted for Biden in place of Trump. Despite the electoral advantages that would have come from the Lagoa appointment, once again Trump indulged those who were close to his standard rather than those who needed to be persuaded to come over to his side. Trump operated in the belief that there was no way that enough white US voters would choose Biden over him as to cause his defeat.
POLITICS TRUMPS GEOPOLITICS
The problem facing Joe Biden is that several of the political veterans who have long been active behind the scenes believe that a concentration of public focus on what may be described as “White Terror” will keep the moderate white as well as black and brown votes on their side. There has indeed been “White Terror” but although not to the same degree of virulence, there has also been a campaign of “Red Terror”. The justified cause of ensuring systemic justice for African-Americans through the Black Lives Matter movement was in some locations taken over by elements who had little compunction in fomenting violence in the guise of protecting the rights of the underprivileged. The chaos which sometimes accompanied Black Lives Matter protests in several US cities helped Trump to amass more votes than any candidate for the US presidency, except Joe Biden, had secured till then. Such violence made mincemeat of the emphasis on non-violence of Martin Luther King, the tribune of justice for the African-American community, and who remains the lodestar for the long and dignified battle for equality under the law waged by the African-American community. The BLM movement was justified in the interests of justice for a community that has long been deprived of its rightful place within US society, but the manner in which a few elements infiltrated several gatherings and caused mayhem is indicative of the success of efforts by some (infiltrated) radical groups to turn the movement away from Dr King’s precepts into a violent mob of looters. Those visuals further diminished the respect commanded by the US across the world, as did the right-wing radical violence that gave the excuse of countering the left as justifications for its misdeeds. Since the time Barack Obama was sworn in as US President in 2009, a sophisticated external actor has been active in the US widening and broadening faultlines between the Right and Left fringe. This power was joined by a still more capable force in 2017, once Donald Trump settled into the White House. The alliance of this force with radical Wahhabi groups gave it an additional prong to inflame and influence opinion. In recent months, neither in Russia nor in China has it been hidden that there is anticipation of a meltdown in the US. In the case of the PRC, a similar forecast has long been made about India. What is recent is the addition of the US to this list. Few within the security establishments of either India or the US appear to have taken seriously enough the consequences of external input into social media conversations designed to increase tension and hatred for the Other across both sides of the spectrum. The Trump administration ignored external infiltration altogether and focused only on the Left fringe. The Biden administration is making the same misstep, only the concentration is now on the Right fringe almost to the exclusion of the Left. Both hands are clapping, and both need attention, if the US and the other large democracy, India, is to prevail over those who are seeking to make their own forecasts (now public in the case of one of the partners of the Sino-Russian alliance, as evidenced by President Vladimir Putin’s carefully constructed speech at the 2021 Davos WEF meeting) of an impending meltdown in the US and India come true. It needs to be added that in the case of India, Russia and its leadership have not subscribed, at least in public, to the PRC’s hostility towards the upward trajectory of the world’s largest democracy. In the case of the US, Pakistan, the PRC and Russia are together. In the case of India, Pakistan and the PRC are together, including in several special projects.
Just as in India, the other large democracy on the other side of the Indo-Pacific, it is not just domestic but external players as well who have been active in the use of social media platforms to help build a narrative of exclusion and hate on both extremes of the spectrum of opinion, the Right and the Left. The intention behind this effort has been to (a) pull in as many of those still in the moderate middle into the vortex of either of the two extremes, (b) widen the faultlines dividing them, so as to (c) create a climate favourable to the eruption of violence. Lessons have been learnt from the activities of Samantha Power and Hillary Clinton in their regime change crusades while in office. In the US, the country which is the principal geopolitical rival of the US, need not use for purposes of boosting toxicity through social media via any of the multiple channels it has developed within the world’s most powerful country. Instead, lobbies linked to Russia and Pakistan have been pressed into service. In the case of India, the Russian lobby has been inactive except where matters such as the perpetuation of the weapons trade are concerned. Or its efforts at ensuring that such trade does not get affected by India forming a close defence and security alliance with the US. The effort at causing greater societal toxicity through empowerment of extremes has been undertaken by the PRC lobby as well as the Pakistan lobby in the country. These lobbies are also active in the capitals of key NATO member-states, denigrating the image of the Narendra Modi government in an effort to wean public opinion away from backing a strong alliance with India. In India, the effort is to sow suspicion about the intentions or the capabilities of the US. Stopping a US-India defence alliance from forming is an imperative for the Sino-Russian alliance as well as Pakistan.
WAR ON SYSTEMS OF US, INDIA
Thus far, both in India as well as in the US, investigative agencies have concentrated their attention on “domestic” causes of the eruptions of violence that have taken place, most recently in the capital of the US on 6 January and in the national capital of the Republic of India on 26 January. The honeycombing of social media handles with those controlled from outside the country has been carried out with finesse. As a consequence, the actual instigators (and remote controllers) of the creation through social media and in other ways of an increase in the climate of hatred and refusal to agree to any of the compromises usual in a democracy seem to have thus far escaped detection. This has also been the case in the US, given the effort of the present administration to keep the spotlight on the domestic angle, in order to ensure a continuing political dividend from the mayhem caused by the toxic nature of some of the faultlines in the political discourse. There is indeed a substantial component in both countries that is entirely home-grown, but to this needs to be added the external implants.
What is taking place within the US and India is a war on their governance and societal systems. It may seem out of place to refer to Afghanistan, a country where two superpowers, the USSR and later the US, failed to quell the groups fighting their militaries. The reason in both cases was that the umbilical cord linking such insurgencies to sources of support and replenishment was left unmolested by both Moscow as well as Washington. In the 1980s, not a single revolver bullet, much less an artillery shell or a bomb, was expended by the Soviet military in Pakistan, with the result that the insurgents that they were battling in Afghanistan recuperated at speed and launched fresh attacks, thereby finally exhausting the morale and capability of the Soviet troops and their political masters in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In the case of the US, the very power that was facilitating attacks on US forces and their Afghan allies was embedded in the strategies and resources mobilised by the US government to fight the insurgency. This was especially marked during the George W. Bush presidency, almost all of which was consumed in the war in Afghanistan as well as that in Iraq that was launched amidst almost complete acclamation by the entire political elite of the time in 2003. President Obama did make some moves towards holding GHQ Rawalpindi for its acts of sabotage, but as was often the case in his administration, such moves were tentative rather than decisive. Effective action, such as dismantling facilitation centres within GHQ-controlled territory for those fighting US and partner forces in Afghanistan was not seriously attempted, nor measures such as sanctioning the army generals responsible for such sabotage. As for the Trump administration, in the case of Pakistan, there was again no “bite”, while even the “bark” was uncharacteristically mild. Trump had clearly signed on to those in the military and the intelligence agencies who still believed in the failed measures of the past that were designed to alter the behaviour of GHQ Rawalpindi through the threat (but seldom more) of a small stick and the liberal dispensation of large carrots of assistance and diplomatic support.
NEED TO CONFRONT REALITY
While a US Senator, Joseph R. Biden Jr was an enthusiastic backer of Cold War 1.0, which was a geopolitical necessity at the time, and the prosecution of which improved the standing of the US vis-a-vis its only competitor during that period, the USSR. There are those in his administration who take seriously the honeyed words coming from the leadership of the other superpower. These call for “mutual respect and cooperation” and “win-win” solutions. Of course, the precondition for all this would be acceptance by Washington of Beijing’s claim on Taiwan, the South China Sea and the Himalayan massif, all of which have been repeatedly declared as “non-negotiable”. Securing any of the three by the PRC would be a disaster for the US and its partners. Any serious investigation into the origins of a significant portion of the toxic atmosphere of hate and exclusion that led to 6 January and earlier to riots during the “Black Lives Matter” movement would interfere with the plans of those who seek to deny the reality that the US is already in the midst of Cold War 2.0, together with several of its allies and partner countries, including India. However, stepping away from the error of ignoring the umbilical cord is essential to success. As is the placing of responsibility where it needs to vest. Cold War 2.0 is a contest that is proving far more difficult for Washington to handle than the earlier joust with the USSR was. The technological and organisational capabilities of the Sino-Russian alliance, especially when combined with the asymmetric capabilities of extremism as practised by allies such as GHQ Rawalpindi, is developing at speed and in ways that are often difficult to discern, much less counter. So far as the PRC is concerned, Republican Party strategists are aware that his apparently muscular approach to Beijing was among the factors that helped Trump to amass such a large number of votes. The misrepresentation that Joe Biden was “soft” on China was not countered effectively enough to prevent several voters from supporting Trump or not voting at all out of worry that a Biden administration would press the brakes on the robust moves that Trump was perceived as making against the efforts of the PRC to gain primacy in the Indo-Pacific before moving on (together with the Russian Federation) to achieving the same result in the Atlantic. Any perceived lowering of the guard by the White House could lead to the Republican Party securing a majority in both Houses of Congress in 2022, thereby making it easier for them to cripple the Biden presidency enough to result in a Republican sweep of the White House, the US Senate and the House of Representatives in the 2024 polls. However, the lessons he picked up during the Obama White House years make it unlikely that President Biden will walk into the trap of having his policies on security shaped by illusions about the intentions of the principal adversaries of the US. The reality is that the US now led by Biden is once again engaged in a war of systems that over the next decade will decide the future of global geopolitics over several generations. This time around, India is facing the same foes as Washington, and both will share either success or failure in this existential battle of systems.