How a Russian fascist is meddling in America’s election

Timothy Snyder writes: The president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as a “geopolitical catastrophe.” But the political thinker who today has the most influence on Mr. Putin’s Russia is not Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Communist system, but rather Ivan Ilyin, a prophet of Russian fascism.

The brilliant political philosopher has been dead for more than 60 years, but his ideas have found new life in post-Soviet Russia. After 1991, his books were republished with long print runs. President Putin began to cite him in his annual speech to the Federal Assembly, the Russian equivalent of the State of the Union address.

To complete the rehabilitation, Mr. Putin saw to it that Ilyin’s corpse was repatriated from Switzerland, and that his archive was returned from Michigan. The Russian president has been seen laying flowers on Ilyin’s Moscow grave. And Mr. Putin is not the only disciple of Ilyin among the Kremlin elite.

Vladislav Y. Surkov, Moscow’s arch-propagandist, also sees Ilyin as an authority. Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev, who served as president between 2008 and 2012, recommends Ilyin to Russian students. Ilyin figures in the speeches of the foreign minister, the head of the constitutional court and the patriarch of the Orthodox Church.

What are the ideas that have inspired such esteem?

Ilyin believed that individuality was evil. For him, the “variety of human beings” demonstrated the failure of God to complete the labor of creation and was therefore essentially satanic. By extension, the middle classes, political parties and civil society were also evil, because they encouraged the development of personalities beyond the single identity of the national community.

According to Ilyin, the purpose of politics is to overcome individuality, and establish a “living totality” of the nation. Writing in the 1920s and ’30s after his expulsion from the Soviet Union, when he became a leading emigré ideologue of the anti-Communist White Russians, Ilyin looked on Mussolini and Hitler as exemplary leaders who were saving Europe by dissolving democracy. His 1927 article “On Russian Fascism” was addressed to “My White brothers, the fascists.” Later, in the 1940s and ’50s, he provided the outlines for a constitution of a fascist Holy Russia governed by a “national dictator” who would be “inspired by the spirit of totality.” [Continue reading…]

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Ukrainians fear President Trump will end their freedom

From Kiev, Anna Nemtsova writes: Perhaps you remember Ukraine. Perhaps you remember this war. But if you’re in the United States in the blur of the American presidential campaign, it must seem faint and far away.

For the people here, however, what they read and see coming out of Republican candidate Donald Trump sounds very loud, and clear, and tantamount to a death sentence for their country.

Adding despair to pessimism, they realize their own leaders aren’t really prepared if Trump wins.

It seems to them almost inconceivable that an American president would praise and be praised by Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who illegally annexed Ukraine’s strategic Crimea Peninsula in 2014 then started a shadow war waged by proxy forces and unidentified Russian soldiers to carve off eastern Ukraine (Donbas) like a butcher cutting a roast.

Of course, the factions that have set up “republics” in the east think Trump is great, just as many Russians in the Motherland do after a steady diet of Moscow-generated praise for The Donald.

But that’s certainly no consolation here in Ukraine’s capital. [Continue reading…]

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Merkel’s party slumps in Berlin election, but don’t count her out for 2017

By Daniel Hough, University of Sussex

Angela Merkel’s CDU is having a tough time of late. The latest blow came via the Berlin state parliament election, where the party managed to cling on to second place but was dumped out of the city’s government.

This was the CDU’s worst ever performance in an election in the German capital. It took a meagre 18% of the vote (down from 23.3% in 2011).

The Social Democrats (SPD) also lost votes (down from 28.3% to around 22%), as did the Greens (from just over 17% to around 15.5%). The one consolation for the SPD and Greens is that they are likely to be key players in the next Berlin government – even if as part of a rather broad and unwieldy left-wing coalition alongside the Left Party.

The main winners, as had been widely predicted, were the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD). The AfD was nowhere in sight in 2011, but took around 13% of the vote this time round. A heavily anti-immigration (and particularly anti-refugee) rhetoric has chimed with parts of the electorate beyond Berlin, and the party now sits in 10 of Germany’s 16 regional parliaments. It is almost certain to add Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein, Northrhine-Westphalia and the federal parliament to this list in 2017.

[Read more…]

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Mourning the Syria that might have been

Christian Caryl writes: Earlier this week, when the latest ceasefire in Syria’s long-running civil war took effect, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seized the opportunity to embark on a triumphant tour of a place that has long defied him. He paid a visit to the city of Daraya, a Damascus suburb where rebels managed to resist his forces for four long years until they finally agreed to give up control in the last week of August.

For those four years the government threw everything it had at Daraya. The troops surrounding it tried to starve it out, refusing to let aid convoys bring food to residents. Syrian helicopters pounded the city with barrel bombs, weapons of indiscriminate terror that have little or no military utility. In August, the Syrian air force used rockets and napalm to obliterate the city’s last surviving hospital. Some observers believe this was part of a calculated effort to make the place completely uninhabitable.

We’ve seen the same brutality in far too many places in this war. But there was something different about Daraya — something that helps to explain why Assad was so keen to celebrate its fall.

If you only follow the headlines, you can be forgiven for seeing this war primarily as a fight between two equally nasty alternatives: the totalitarian Baath Party regime of Assad or the totalitarian theocracy of the Islamic State and other jihadist groups. But this is a drastic simplification — one that both Assad and the terrorists want their own supporters, and the world, to believe. But it is certainly truer today than it was back at the beginning of the conflict. By their very nature, civil wars have a tendency to foster extremes. The ruthless are rewarded, while the moderates and the evolutionary reformers tend to get culled out.

That’s exactly what has happened in Syria. Today, five years later, it’s easy to forget that Syria’s revolution started off amid the optimism of the Arab Spring. The first protests against Assad’s dictatorship were peaceful: Demonstrators were demanding democracy, not rule by Al Qaeda.

And Daraya was one of the birthplaces of this movement. In the revolution’s early stages it was the home of the activist Ghiyath Matar, known as “Little Gandhi” for his quixotic embrace of non-violence. When Assad’s soldiers arrived to crush local protests, he greeted them with flowers and water. They responded by torturing him to death. His corpse was later returned to his family with its throat torn out. The country’s downward spiral began.

In The Morning They Came for Us, her bloodcurdling account of the early stages of the war, journalist Janine di Giovanni explains what happened next. When she visited Daraya in 2012, locals gave her detailed accounts of a massacre conducted by government troops who had briefly managed to wrest the town away from the rebels. “It was punished,” she told me, “because it was a symbol of peaceful resistance.”

Yet even amid the descending darkness, the people of the city tried to hold on to their ideals. When Assad’s generals realized they couldn’t take the place back, they placed it under siege. Hunger became the government’s most potent weapon. “‘What did you eat today?’ I’d ask them,” di Giovanni recalls. “‘Grape leaves, some salt.’ They took leaves from the trees and made soup out of them.” Much of the population left, but several thousand locals, many of them activists, remained. In October 2012 they set up a council to govern themselves, and in the years that followed, even as life became nearly impossible, they persisted in holding regular elections — “every six months, inside every single office and department of the local government,” says Hussam Ayash, a spokesperson for the local council.

Most importantly of all, he told me, the local government persisted in maintaining its independence from the city’s militia, a non-jihadist unit of the rebel Free Syrian Army. In many other rebel-controlled parts of Syria, Ayash explained, local governments have frequently fallen under the sway of fighters, many of them Islamist extremists. By contrast, Al Qaeda and its ilk never managed to get a foothold in Daraya. “We had no services,” says Ayash. “We had no communications. We had no water. But also nobody could get in or get out. The only fighters in Daraya were the local people. So we had no jihadists.”

Ayash spoke to me on Skype from northern Syria, where he is now living after being “evacuated” from Daraya by government forces in the days following the city’s surrender on August 25. When the Syrian army managed to capture a key position on the outskirts of the city, Daraya’s leaders saw the writing on the wall, and accepted a government offer of safe passage to the north in return for their surrender of control over the community. This uncharacteristically lenient gesture by Assad was a shrewd move, one that enabled him to finally seize control of a key rebel stronghold at relatively low cost to his own troops. It was also calculated to undermine the resolve of rebel holdouts in other hard-pressed areas, who may now see a deal with the government as a more palatable option than continued resistance.

It’s hard to overestimate the psychological impact of the city’s fall. [Continue reading…]

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How Costa Rica has become a world leader in renewable energy

 

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Sorry folks, veterans are not necessarily experts on foreign policy

Rosa Brooks writes: Politicians have always sought to associate themselves with military glory, with mixed results. (Think Michael Dukakis and the tank, or George W. Bush’s flight suit and “Mission accomplished.”) Barack Obama’s no exception: Virtually all his major national security speeches have been made in military settings, from West Point to the National Defense University. The military is, far and away, the most trusted public institution in the United States, so it’s no surprise that politicians like to associate themselves with it. If political candidates could wear live service members as lapel pins, I’m sure they’d do so.

But the “Commander in Chief Forum” brought the ickiness to a new level. Sponsored by NBC and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the event invited each presidential candidate to make the case that she or he is “better qualified to serve as America’s next commander in chief” before an audience of veterans and military personnel. The tenor of the publicity made it sound like an audition: “Vets size up Clinton, Trump,” proclaimed NBC.

Why even hold an election? Why not just let NBC’s specially selected audience of veterans pick the next president?

Trump clearly saw the event as something between an audition and a popularity contest. “Eighty-eight generals and admirals endorsed me today,” he proudly informed NBC host Matt Lauer, several times, even going so far as to take the list out of his suit-jacket pocket. Clinton’s campaign quickly counterattacked, proffering its own list of 95 generals endorsing the Democratic candidate.

As my FP colleagues Kori Schake and Peter Feaver have written recently, such partisan endorsements by former military officials are growing more frequent and risk turning the military into even more of a political football than it already is. “Such political endorsements contribute to toxic civil-military relations,” writes Feaver. They “damage … the norm of a nonpartisan military that has served our country well.”

But I find it hard to blame veterans and retired military leaders for becoming more partisan. To my mind, the problem isn’t that former military personnel sometimes take very public and very partisan positions (they are still citizens, after all, and entitled to speak and vote their conscience) — the problem is that the media and the public actively encourage this partisanship by treating military personnel as political sages. They’re not. [Continue reading…]

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Some see anti-women backlash in ouster of Brazil’s president

The New York Times reports: At one heated moment in the impeachment trial of Dilma Rousseff, a powerful senator pushing for her ouster decided that some of his outspoken female colleagues in the chamber needed scolding.

“Calm down, girls,” the senator, Cássio Cunha Lima, part of a political dynasty from northeastern Brazil, told Senators Vanessa Grazziotin and Gleisi Hoffmann, both supporters of Ms. Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president. His remark drew sharp rebukes from the two women.

“Men believe they are the owners of this space, as if we’re just here by chance,” said Ms. Grazziotin, 55, a prominent leftist senator from Amazonas State.

For senators like Ms. Grazziotin, the episode reflected the emboldening of conservative voices after the impeachment of Ms. Rousseff, who argued that she had been the target of misogynistic attacks by opponents. Female politicians across Brazil are debating what her downfall means in a political realm dominated by men.

Despite the inroads made by Ms. Rousseff and others, Brazil ranks remarkably low in the representation of women in politics. Of the 513 members of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Brazilian Congress, 51 are women, placing the country 155th in the world in the percentage of women elected to the lower house of a national legislature, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. It trails places like Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan. [Continue reading…]

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Angela Merkel and Marine Le Pen: One of them will shape Europe’s future

Natalie Nougayrède writes: Two very different women hold Europe’s future in their hands – and neither of them is Theresa May. The battle for Europe’s soul is being waged between Angela Merkel and Marine Le Pen. This is a clash of personalities and visions: Germany’s chancellor v the leader of France’s Front National, the largest far-right party in Europe. As Britain prepares to leave the EU, the Franco-German dimension of the continent’s destiny has arguably never been so important since the end of the cold war. What is at stake is momentous: whether Europe can survive as a project, and whether fundamental principles such as the rule of law, democracy and tolerance can be salvaged. The battle will play out nationally in 2017, in key elections in France and Germany, but it concerns all Europeans.

It may seem strange to reduce Europe’s existential crises to just one personal confrontation. Merkel has been in power since 2005 and is trying to remain there, while Le Pen may dream of being in office but has never approached it (last year her party failed to take control of a single French region in local elections). Some may ask: why would a French opposition figure count more than the man currently sitting in the Elysée Palace? But François Hollande has become so weak – even more so with this week’s resignation of his economics minister, Emmanuel Macron – and terrorism has transformed French politics to such a degree that Le Pen’s prospects now stand out as a key defining factor of where France, and Europe for that matter, may be heading.

It is only partly reassuring to say that Le Pen has little chance of becoming president next year (the French electoral system makes that difficult). The trouble is, in recent months, her brand of anti-Muslim, xenophobic and nationalistic politics has spread across the French mainstream right like wildfire. Le Pen is fast capitalising on this summer’s burkini episode and on the national trauma left by jihadi terrorism. It’s hard to see which French politician or movement can find the authority and strength to push back against her ideas, or counter their appeal among the French suburban middle classes as well as in rural areas. Nicolas Sarkozy hopes to win primaries in November, but his whole strategy hinges on imitating rather than disputing Le Pen’s line of thinking. [Continue reading…]

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Understanding the role of Russian propaganda in the U.S. election

Ben Nimmo writes: It may seem strange, but the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is not backing US Presidential Republican Candidate Donald Trump. It has a bigger goal: Discrediting democracy in the United States.

The Kremlin’s main propaganda outlets in the US are the television station RT — formerly Russia Today — and the radio and online outlet Sputnik. Both are headed by Kremlin loyalists and closely mirror Russia’s foreign policy. While their effect on the presidential race is likely to be minimal, their reporting is useful for the insight it provides into the Kremlin’s intentions.

That reporting focuses on specifically attacking US Presidential Democratic Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the general nature of US democracy. As such, it appears that the Kremlin is less interested in promoting Trump than promoting discontent.

Coverage of Trump by RT and Sputnik is uncharacteristically balanced. Some recent reports have presented the Republican candidate favorably, such as when he endorsed a number of his critics for re-election “in an attempt to ease party tensions”, or accused Clinton of founding ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

Other coverage, however, was unfavorable. Some have quoted a neo-Nazi leader as backing Trump’s candidacy, and accused him of hypocrisy. One report even asked: “Is Trump an embarrassment to the [Republican Party] because he’s an incompetent, uninformed, pathological menace, or because he’s just saying out loud what most Republicans now believe?”

No such balance is apparent in the two outlets’ coverage of the other candidates.

Clinton is the most obvious target. In August of 2016 alone, RT reports covered accusations of corruption, lying, and ill health against her; accused her of launching a McCarthy-style “witch hunt” against Trump; and linked her to the use of nuclear weapons in 1945. Sputnik’s reporting called her and her team “war hawks”, accused her of wanting to “make more families suffer” the deaths of soldiers, and named her the “Queen of War”. [Continue reading…]

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Liberal democracy is in the midst of an epic struggle for survival

Yascha Mounk writes: There are years, decades even, in which history slows to a crawl. Then there are weeks that are so eventful that they seem to mark the dissolution of a world order that had once seemed solid and to foretell the rise of one as yet unknowable.

The week of July 11, 2016, has every chance of being remembered as one of those rare flurries of jumbled, inchoate, concentrated significance. The centrifugal forces that are threatening to break political systems across the world may have started to register a decade ago; they may have picked up speed over the last 12 months; but never since the fall of the Berlin Wall have they wreaked havoc in so many places in so short a span of time—showcasing the failures of technocratic rule, the terrifying rise of populist strongmen, and the existential threat posed by Islamist terrorism, all in the span of seven short days.

At first glance, a political crisis in London; a terrorist attack in Nice, France; a failed putsch in Ankara, Turkey; and a bloviating orator on his way to becoming the Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States look like the dramatic apex of very different, barely connected screenplays. To my eye, they are garish panes of glass that add up to one unified, striking mosaic. Looked at from the right distance, they tell the story of a political system, liberal democracy, that has long dominated the world — and is now in the midst of an epic struggle for its own survival. [Continue reading…]

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Is the U.S. electoral system really ‘rigged’?

By Timothy Frye, Columbia University

Many have speculated how a Trump victory would affect the U.S., but few have thought about the consequences of a Trump loss. After falling behind Hillary Clinton in the polls, Donald Trump has already developed a narrative for his exit: The election was rigged.

So how likely is a rigged vote?

Full-throated claims

Last week Trump told Fox News: “I’m telling you – Nov. 8, we’d better be careful because that election is going to be rigged. And I hope the Republicans are watching closely or it is going to be taken away from us.”

This is not just an isolated or off-the-cuff statement. Trump confidant Roger Stone recently noted: “I think that we have widespread voter fraud, but the first thing that Trump needs to do is begin talking about it constantly.”

Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort noted: “Frankly we think that the situation in the country, just like with the DNC’s primaries, is a situation where if you rely on the Justice Department to ensure the security of elections, we have to be worried.”

That President Obama has dismissed these claims as ridiculous will do little to reassure Trump supporters.

[Read more…]

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Trump seems to be seriously inciting intimidation of minority voters

 

Based on its analysis of the polls, FiveThrityEight currently gives Donald Trump an 11.9% chance of winning Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes on November 8. In its aggregate of all recent polls in Pennsylvania, RealClearPolitics finds that in a two-way race, Hillary Clinton leads with 49.2% and Trump trails at 40.0%.

With collapsing support, Trump seems to have concluded that the only way he can win in a state like this is by promoting a stop-the-vote campaign targeting minority voters.

The Los Angeles Times reports: In remarks with strong racial overtones, Donald Trump told a mainly white rural crowd in Pennsylvania on Friday that vote fraud could cheat him out of victory and vowed to dispatch police who support him to monitor polls in “certain parts” of the state.

“We’re going to have unbelievable turnout, but we don’t want to see people voting five times, folks,” the Republican presidential nominee said at a rally in Altoona, Pa.

After months of racially charged violence between Trump supporters and protesters at his rallies, the comments raised the specter of confrontations on election day in precincts with many minority voters.

Trump, who previously suggested the Nov. 8 election would be rigged for Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, said he’d “heard some stories about certain parts of the state, and we have to be very careful.”

“Maybe you should go down and volunteer or do something,” Trump told the audience, bemoaning Pennsylvania’s lack of voter identification requirements.

“We have a lot of law enforcement people working that day,” he said. “We’re hiring a lot of people. We’re putting a lot of law enforcement — we’re going to watch Pennsylvania, go down to certain areas and watch and study, and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.”

Trump’s remarks came two weeks after a federal appeals court struck down a voter ID law in North Carolina, another presidential battleground state. The law targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision” in an effort to suppress the black vote, the court found. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: After telling an audience in Altoona, Pa., that he would seek their help in policing the polls in November to root out voter fraud — something that even the state of Pennsylvania has noted doesn’t exist in any meaningful way — Donald Trump’s campaign nationalized the effort on Saturday morning. Now eager Trump backers can go to Trump’s website and sign up to be “a Trump Election Observer.” Do so, and you get an email thanking you for volunteering and assuring you that the campaign will “do everything we are legally allowed to do to stop crooked Hillary from rigging this election.”

There are any number of problems with this, again starting with the fact that the frequency of in-person voter fraud in elections is lower than getting five numbers right in the Powerball. But there’s a potentially bigger legal problem noted by election law expert Rick Hasen of the University of California at Irvine: Trump’s unnecessary effort could be violating a prohibition against voter intimidation that applies to the Republican Party. [Continue reading…]

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