Coronavirus outbreak casts doubt on Trump’s victory: intl. analysts

TEHRAN, Apr. 06 (MNA) – International analysts maintain that the spread of COVID-19 and its negative impact on the US economy has reduced the chances of victory for Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential election.

The return of extreme rightists and nationalists in Europe and the United States has become a major problem in recent years. As a lasting legacy of the European Union, this problem has unpleasant consequences and has raised serious concerns.

On the other hand, the rise of China as a major power in the region and the world has challenged the hegemonic power of the United States. Therefore, it can be said that China is one of the main issues of the US at the present time and also in the future. In various western security documents, including a statement from the Munich Security Conference, China along with Russia has been cited as a threat. The question is whether or not Washington is able to contain China.

Moreover, the world is currently fighting against the spread of coronavirus and struggling to reduce its economic impacts. The outbreak has reminded us that there are a number of threats that can be resolved more easily through global cooperation.

In different interviews with Mehr News Agency, three international analysts have discussed these issues who are as follows:

Mehran Kamrava is a professor of the Middle East Studies at Georgetown University of Doha and Director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Qatar.

Richard Anderson Falk is a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Paul Pillar is a professor at Georgetown University who was a CIA intelligence analyst for 28 years.

What are the most important reasons for welcoming rightists and nationalists in Europe and America?

Mehran Kamrava: The rise of the right in the US and Europe is the result of a confluence of several developments. At the broadest level, we have national and local reactions to globalization. Global exchanges and interdependencies have always existed. But in recent years, with the spread of social media and instant access to raw and unfiltered information from any part of the world, we see local reactions to global developments, or at least perceptions or misperceptions of global developments. This broader context has facilitated the rise of populist politicians who have capitalized on waves of local fears and anxieties, and these fears and anxieties have been magnified by continued declines in economic conditions, purchasing power, real employment, and prospects for the future. All these factors have combined to result in the rise of the right in the US and in Europe.

Richard Anderson Falk: Many speculations exist as to why these unexpected developments have occurred over the course of recent years. There is no doubt that a core explanation is the widespread alienation arising from the effects of neoliberal globalization, which has seemed to distribute the benefits of economic growth unfairly, making the very rich even richer while leaving most people in society worse off. Such a pattern seems systemic as it happening in so many countries, although the mix of reasons vary depending on national circumstances. A second set of explanations arises from the refugee and migrant flows that have arisen in the course of the long civil strife in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, which are perceived to challenge the social and ethnic cohesion of many European societies. Closely related are ‘climate refugees’ who seek to achieve a tolerable life by moving to more affluent countries, which reinforce resistance in these countries based on labor pressures to retain jobs and keep wages at higher levels. Against this background, an increasing segment of the public in Europe and North America is ready to support leaders that promise to protect the interests of the territorial citizenry and blame economic globalization for lost jobs and income inequalities due to its policies of privileging the flow and efficiency of capital over the wellbeing of people. In this sense, the majority of people in these societies seem responsive to explanations of their distress by leaders with highly nationalistic viewpoints, and seem ready to give up democratic values by supporting autocratic leaders that violate human rights. This pattern is not only visible in the West, but also in other parts of the world, including India, Brazil, and Philippines.

Paul Pillar: The rise of right-wing nationalism--as represented by, for example, the National Rally in France, the Alternative for Germany in Germany, and the whole Trump phenomenon in the United States--chiefly reflects a sense of insecurity and threatened loss among native-born white citizens, especially lower-middle-class males.  There is a large economic component to this, centering on a fear of losing jobs and financial security. Job losses are blamed on immigrants and other foreigners, even though automation has had more to do with such losses.  The fears and the appeal of xenophobic nationalism go beyond economics, however, to a more general fear of losing power and status to people of different races and different ethnicity.

One of the most important issues related to the developments in the Middle East was the announcement of the US withdrawal from the region. But in practice, this has not happened. How do you think the US is pulling its troops out of the region?

Mehran Kamrava: As with most other countries, there is not a single official opinion in the US when it comes to foreign policy. There are three general views in the US when it comes to UDS military presence in the Middle East.  There are those who prefer a gradual end to America’s costly and difficult military engagements in the Middle East, and even Europe. Currently, this tendency is represented by Donald Trump. There are others, however, who continue to advocate the opposite, namely that a heavy-handed US military presence is needed to help US allies in the region—namely Israel and Saudi Arabia—and to also counter threats to American interests, especially Iran and its non-state actor allies. This trend, represented by Mike Pompeo and many other Republicans in the US Congress, even advocate open military confrontation with Iran. third, there are those who advocate a middle ground, namely a continuation of the status quo, which is the long-term presence of US military bases and troops throughout the region in order to protect US interests and allies when necessary. This is the thinking of almost all Democrats. At this time, I cannot see a possibility that the US would withdraw its troops from the Middle East. Domestically in the US this would be very politically costly, especially in an election season. The only way US troops would be withdrawn is if Trump succeeds in convincing the American people that doing so is in their best interests. Most people in his own party, and an overwhelming majority of Democrats, would not agree. US troops are therefore likely to stay in the region for the foreseeable future.

Richard Anderson Falk: It does seem that military disengagement from the region is a genuine policy objective of Trump and a main campaign promise in 2016, but there is friction coming from the main forces that have controlled American foreign policy ever since 1945, what I call the three pillars: Wall St., Pentagon, and a bit later, Israel, more or less in this order. How this friction will affect the timing and rate of withdrawal probably depends on many factors, including the further unfolding of the current overarching health crisis, and whether signals of confrontation or accommodation come from Iran. It is difficult to predict at this point, but unless there are unexpected regional flareups military disengagement should proceed, and the US presidential elections may hasten the process. The redeployment of American troops from three bases in Iraq after recent rocket attacks, while not an instance of withdrawal, did seem to move in the direction of disengagement.

Paul Pillar: There is an inconsistency between what the American public wants in general regarding a US military withdrawal from the Middle East and how specific problems and perceived threats in that region play politically.  Most Americans do favor less US involvement in wars in the Middle East, and Donald Trump played to that theme as a presidential candidate.  But there still is a strong sense in American political discourse that the United States ought to be able to solve problems in that region and any other region, with military force if necessary.  American politicians are reluctant to favor withdrawals if there is a chance that their political opponents will blame them for bad things that subsequently happen in whatever country was withdrawn from.  Thus the United States is not withdrawing, even militarily, from the Middle East, despite what Trump or any other candidate may have led voters to expect.

One of the major problems facing the US now and in the future is China. Various Western security documents, including a statement from the Munich Security Conference, have cited China as a threat. How will America be able to contain China? Will the containment policy work?

Mehran Kamrava: This is a difficult question to answer because a lot of it depends on the specific policies each side puts into place. The way the two powers have been “fighting” is through commerce and trade, and for now it seems that although the US is losing the global dominance it once had, it is still in a stronger position as a global economic superpower compared to China. So basically, in a trade war, it boils down to how much pain each side is willing to suffer in order to bring the other one to its knees. This is difficult to ascertain. For the foreseeable future, I see trade tensions between the two sides continuing.

Richard Anderson Falk: The future of US/China relations is the most challenging geopolitical issue of our time. It matches two global states from distinct civilizational outlooks. The US and China are both what I call ‘global states,’ whose contours and even presence, cannot be assessed by territorial borders. Both have a global non-territorial reach that no other political actor possesses, but there the similarity ends. The US depends primarily on its military capabilities to punish and coerce those states that it regards as hostile to its global ambitions. Iran (and Venezuela) is the current leading example, as victimized by ‘the maximum pressure’ approach based on threats and punitive sanctions. In contrast, China has brilliantly extended its influence and increased its prosperity by reliance on non-military instruments of expansion, including trade, investment, and foreign assistance. The two global states exemplify an encounter between hard and soft power foreign policies, giving rise to a unique rivalry in the history of international relations.

This rivalry does pose risks of a new cold war or even war in the sense of armed combat. When an ascending power threatens the previously dominant political actor, as China is now threatening to overtake the US, there are many instances in history, where war has resulted, most frequently by the leading state seeking to defeat the challenger while it still seems to have the upper hand. Of course, the prospect of a war fought with nuclear weapons leads to greater caution on the part of leaders than in the past, but it does not give us confidence that current leaders will act prudently and rationally under pressure in a crisis, or if perceiving a threat.

I am not sure whether ‘containment’ is relevant to fashioning a Western response to the Chinese challenge. Containment was a doctrine developed to deter military expansion, initially of the Soviet Union. It was in a geopolitical context in which two hard power leading states were in competition, economically and ideologically throughout the world. Containing a soft power global state such as China has already taken the form of trade wars and efforts to curtail Chinese penetration of foreign markets. To an alarming extent, this kind of confrontation has accelerated during the Trump presidency, fueled by the adoption of a nationalistic and transactional policy agenda.

Paul Pillar: It should be remembered that the original policy of containment as applied to the Soviet Union was based on the idea of buying time until the Soviet Union collapsed from its own internal contradictions.  The Soviet system did ultimately collapse, but it is not clear whether anything comparable will happen to the system that the Chinese Communist Party has erected.  Thus containment might not "work" in the same way.  In the meantime, containing China probably should focus on such issues as maintaining free navigation of all the seas in the East Asia-Pacific region, without trying to claim domination over that region by the United States.  The US and other Western policies also should be aimed at encouraging China to be a responsible and constructive player as a major global power, a position that China's rise has given it. 

The outbreak of the coronavirus points out that there are threats that are more easily resolved through the cooperation of countries. Will the international community learn from the damage caused by the spread of the virus, and will we see increased international cooperation to address global threats?

Mehran Kamrava: The lessons of the coronavirus and what, if anything, global actors will learn from it is too early to tell. So far, each country’s response has been to close its borders and to restrict entry from abroad. We see cruise ships being refused port entry, and travelers not being allowed to board planes. Many countries have banned the export of medical supplies and equipment so that they can have more domestically. So in a crisis of global proportions, the impulse almost everywhere has been to protect national interests. And, with populists either in power or being influential in most parts of the world, there is a paucity of principled leadership that would engage in international cooperation in order to combat this pandemic. For the time being at least, I do not see a possibility for enhanced cooperation.

Richard Anderson Falk: The incentivizing of global cooperation may become the silver lining of the COVID-19 challenge. It has become obvious to even the most nationalist viewpoints that we help ourselves by helping others, and hurt ourselves by hurting others. Only by cooperating in good faith can constructive responses to the spread of this virus be achieved. What is true in relation to the Coronavirus pandemic is also true for other issues of global scope: extreme poverty, climate change, global migration, biodiversity, militarism and nuclear weaponry.

Extending the experience in relation to health policy to other policy domains may not be so easy. The transfer to these other areas is rendered difficult, or impossible, if the benefits of cooperation are uneven, less immediate, and more abstract. Also, governmental resistance is likely to occur whenever there are special interests embedded in bureaucratic structures and the private sector. This resistance arises, in part, from continuing to regard international relations as a zero-sum, win/lose contest rather than an arena in which seeking win/win outcomes bring the more enduring gains for all.

Paul Pillar: The virus certainly does point to the need for international cooperation in responding to such a global threat, and one can hope that lessons will be learned in that respect.  Unfortunately, some of the responses to the epidemic that may be necessary and appropriate as public health measures may push attitudes in the opposite direction.  The view of the virus as a "foreign" threat that crosses international borders that need to be closed tends to play into the hands of xenophobic nationalists.

What will be the economic impact of the coronavirus on the world economy? How will this affect the upcoming US presidential election?

Mehran Kamrava: Much of global commerce has come to a grinding halt. Airlines are not flying, passengers are not traveling, the international flow of goods and trade has been seriously disrupted. Also, local economies are not functioning; most stores are closed, people do not leave the house, restaurants, small businesses, and many kinds of trade are shut. Local and global stock markets have seriously declined, How all of this will impact the global economy is hard to tell. But it will be very, very difficult to recover from this for a number of years.

As for the impact on the US presidential elections, that is hard to predict this far out. Trump’s big accomplishment has been a sharp rise in the US stock market. But that has all disappea.red in the last two weeks or so. If the decline continues, and if Joe Biden runs a smart campaign, Trump faces major difficulties in his re-election campaign.

Richard Anderson Falk: It is too soon to tell what the economic impacts will be, but it seems as if these impacts will be severe, both for the world economy and all national economies, especially hitting hard the most vulnerable parts of the population. There will be variations from state to state depending on their resources, the discipline of different societies, and the skill of government officials. It appears at present as though the world economy will experience a collapse comparable to the situation that produced the Great Depression of the 1930s, and contributed to the outbreak of Fascism and World War II. This current Coronavirus challenge is unfolding in unprecedented ways, and our assessments must be tentative and frequently updated as it proceeds on uncharted territory.

The same cautionary attitude shapes my response to the effects on the November elections in the United States. As of now, it would seem to hurt Trump’s chances of reelection because the leader at the time of downturn is held responsible by many voters for results, independent of fault. If the economy is doing well, the incumbent president reaps the benefits, whether deservedly on not, while if it is doing badly, existing leaders are held responsible whether or not at fault. In addition, this interpretation is reinforced by the fact that many Americans, including Republicans, felt that Trump handled the challenge badly, especially at its crucial early stages, belittling the seriousness of the spread of such disease, and thereby postponing self-isolating steps to slow the spread of the disease. But there are many unknowns between now and the elections. If the situation does not improve, or worsens, it is easy to imagine a situation where the elections are postponed in accord with the state of emergency, while if the situation unexpectedly improves, Trump might easily win reelection, especially if opposed by such a weak candidate as Joe Biden.

Paul Pillar: A: It already is clear that the resulting economic recession will be severe, probably on the scale of the one in 2008-2009.  Usually, such an economic downturn is bad news for incumbent political leaders, and in this respect, the recession will work against Trump's re-election.  However, what American voters react to most is the direction of change in their economic situation.  If the recession bottoms out in the summer of 2020 and economic recovery have begun by the time of the election in November, Trump's political situation may start to look better than it does now.

What do you know about the most important international developments in Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East over the past year?

Mehran Kamrava: The appearance of COVID-19, and the incredible speed and ways in which China and South Korea were able to contain and deal with it; the continuation of Syria’s tragic civil war for another year; the impeachment of Trump and his continued popularity among the American electorate; the continued political ascent of Mohamed Bin Salman; and, the world’s indifference to the continued destruction of Palestine under the guise of “the deal of the century.”

Richard Anderson Falk: Such a question is so broad that it is difficult to answer briefly, but I will try. Without doubt, as my earlier responses suggest, the Coronavirus pandemic overshadows all other recent developments both by the magnitude of its health challenges and by the gravity of its non-health impacts. Other international developments of note are the continuing ordeal of vulnerable minorities, including the Rohingya in Myanmar, Kashmiris in India, and the Palestinian people, who additionally are likely to be the least protected against the ravages wrought by the virus. In addition, the struggles in several Middle East countries exhibit continuing chaos, massive displacement, and ongoing violence. Syria, Yemen, and Libya continue to experience chaos and strife without any serious capacity to restore peace and normalcy. As well, in the same Middle East region there has been a second wave of popular challenges to the established order in Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and Algeria, as well as nearby Sudan that suggest that the conditions that led to the Arab Spring a decade earlier continues to produce social unrest and political protest. A final set of developments can be associated with the disappointing failures to move forward with respect to the threats associated with climate change despite fires of savage intensity in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and across huge tracts of land in Australia. These threats highlighted the urgency of a cooperative approach to issues of ecological balance, while the behavior of important states seemed to produce a regressive, head-in-the-sand trend toward the embrace of ultra-nationalist foreign policies and transactional geopolitics, thoroughly dysfunctional from a problem-solving perspective.

Paul Pillar: Given the global economic impact, the coronavirus pandemic must now be considered one of the most important developments of the past year.  I also would name as among the most important developments Brexit (given its impact on both Britain and the European Union) and, in the Middle East, the war in Syria with all its international involvement and ramifications, and the heightened tensions resulting from the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran. 

Interviews by Javad Heirannia

MNA/ 4892683

News Code 157273

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