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Audio – New realities in Caucasus may lead to inclusive, efficient regional platform: Experts

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New realities have emerged as a result of the recent Karabakh conflict and the following cease-fire deal can result in the formation of a more productive, efficient and cooperative regional platform. It will be beneficial for all actors in the Caucasus region while the Minsk group and its western co-chairs are being left out of the new equation, experts say.

By the end of the 44-day armed conflict that started in late September, Azerbaijan recaptured many settlements in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and surrounding areas from the nearly three-decade occupation of Armenia. Turkey and Russia have also taken the role of peacekeepers by deploying troops to the region following the cease-fire deal signed on Nov. 10.

Tutku Dilaver, an analyst at the Ankara-based Eurasian Studies Center (AVIM), said given the new realities in the Caucasus region, a more inclusive platform with the participation of regional actors rather than the existing Minsk Group would create much more positive results.

“Under the light of recent developments, it can be easily said the Minsk Group has been excluded from the process due to its failure to produce solutions or perspectives,” she added.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, co-chaired by France, Russia and the U.S., was formed in 1992 to find a peaceful solution to the conflict but to no avail.

While Azerbaijan won on the field, all regional actors can be counted as winners when analyzing from a wider perspective, Elnur Ismayil, a Caucasus expert, said while singling out Western countries as the losers.

It was proven that most Western parties aimed to preserve the status quo in favor of Armenia, and the Minsk group’s co-chairs, France and the U.S., were completely ineffective in creating a solution for the latest crisis, he explained. “Disturbed by the involvement of the Western countries in the region, Russia favors Turkey’s proposal that regional issues should be resolved by regional actors.”

“I think, the losers of this agreement are Armenia, Iran and the West while the winners of this agreement are Azerbaijan, Turkey and mostly Russia,” said Ümit Nazmi Hazır, a political scientist at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

Earlier this month during a visit to Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan proposed a six-country regional cooperation platform including Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Georgia and Armenia, saying it could be a win-win initiative for all regional actors in the Caucasus.

Another point Dilaver highlighted was that the West has lost its sphere of influence in Armenia due to the changing balances of power in the region.

“Within this context, Russia’s worry that it had been surrounded by the West in the Caucasus has been relieved for a while. Going forward, the U.S. and France’s place in the new format that will be established for a permanent peace deal is unclear. But we can say the necessity of the Minsk Group co-chairs was completely abolished after it became clear that France had lost its neutrality.”

The Minsk Group was supposed to be neutral on the issue but Paris fiercely supported Yerevan during the conflict. Earlier this month, France’s National Assembly approved a resolution calling on the government to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh under the control of separatist Armenian forces as a “republic.”

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but was under Armenian occupation since a separatist war there ended in 1994. That conflict left the predominantly Armenian populated Nagorno-Karabakh region and substantial surrounding territories in Yerevan’s hands. Heavy fighting erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan in late September in the biggest escalation of the decades-old conflict, killing more than 5,600 people on both sides.

The Russia-brokered agreement ended the recent fighting in which the Azerbaijani army routed Armenia’s forces. The cease-fire deal stipulated that Yerevan hand over some areas it held outside Nagorno-Karabakh’s borders. Baku also retained control over the areas of Nagorno-Karabakh that it had taken during the armed conflict.

Regional projects

Another point that experts agreed on was the possibility of new opportunities for joint projects with the participation of all regional actors.

Hazır said the new status quo paves the way for building relations with Armenia.

“Both Turkey and Azerbaijan can benefit from the normalization of their relations with Armenia. This also can change the status quo in favor of Turkey in the long-run. Moreover, it is important for Turkey to maintain good relations with Ukraine and Georgia to be more effective over Eurasia, even though some authors in Russia do not enjoy Turkey’s improving relations with Ukraine,” he said.

Ismayıl also underlined that new realities in the region have opened the door for Armenia to join new regional and international projects in the following period. “If they do not choose the wrong policies again, Armenia’s reopening borders with Turkey in the near future can be an important development for the Armenian economy,” he said.

Like others, Dilaver highlighted future opportunities for joint regional projects that can be beneficial for all actors with the participation of Armenia. She warned, however, that such projects can be put into action in the long-term.

Turkey’s new role

Regarding Turkey’s role in the new equation, Dilaver added that these new developments would shape the new realpolitik in the region and Ankara will become an important actor by taking a major role in the establishment of a permanent peace thanks to its bilateral cooperations with both Russia and Azerbaijan.

Turkey’s recent proactive policies in the region led to positive results in the Karabakh conflict, Ismayil said, while underlining Ankara’s diplomatic, military and psychological support to Azerbaijan since the beginning of the war.

“As you know, Turkey explicitly expressed its support for Azerbaijan as soon as the war began. This was important in terms of the rising motivation of the Azerbaijani nation and army. Turkey’s attitude has brought Azerbaijan and Turkey closer. What’s more, Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan bears importance for Iranian Turks. Turkey is a historical and significant actor in the Caucasus,” Hazır also said.

Ankara-Moscow cooperation

While Turkey expanded its role in the Caucasus, Russia will be its main partner for the implementation of stability and security in the region, experts say.

Around 2,000 Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh under the terms of the deal and are expected to stay in the region for at least five years. The Turkish Parliament also last month overwhelmingly approved the deployment of Turkish peacekeeping troops to Azerbaijan after Turkey and Russia signed an agreement for establishing a joint center to monitor the cease-fire in the region. The mandate allows Turkish forces to be stationed at a security center for one year. Azerbaijan has been pushing for its close ally Turkey to play a central role in the implementation of the agreement, as Ankara pledged full support for Baku during fighting in the region.

Ismayil noted that the agreement between the Defense Ministries of Turkey and Russia determined the main functions of this center to jointly monitor the implementation of the Karabakh cease-fire deal.

“When we analyze the issue in-depth, it was said following the signing of the deal that the Russian and Turkish troops would come to the region as peacekeepers under equal circumstances, but this has not been put into practice yet. Turkey and Russia will also cooperate for the solution of other regional problems in addition to the Caucasus. This experience was expected to be applied in the Caucasus. During the period following the end of the war, this cooperation will evolve into different dimensions,” he said.

Regarding the cooperation between Turkey, Russia and Azerbaijan in the region, Dilaver said it will open doors for other partnerships.

“A relationship based on realpolitik has been established between Russia and Turkey. As (Russia’s President) Vladimir Putin stated, the two countries have the potential to have discussions at the negotiation table and take steps together, even though they do not share the same opinions on every issue. It can be said this cooperation platform is very important for the resolution of regional issues.”

Turkey and Russia demonstrated they are capable of meeting on common ground and cooperating even in competing regions, Hazır said, adding: “On the other hand, I would like to underline that since the Nagorno-Karabakh war began in 2020, many experts and authors in Russia’s media have discussed Turkey’s rising influence over the region by way of its good relations with Azerbaijan and Ukraine. They have argued that the rising influence of Turkey could undermine Russia’s influence over the region in the long-run.”

“Now, Turkey and Russia are the most significant actors in Southern Caucasus. However, I’d like to underline that Russia is still a hegemonic power in the Caucasus. At his annual press conference this year, Putin underlined that the status of Karabakh should remain unchanged. This means that Russia does not want to change the current status-quo in Karabakh and Russian troops will remain in Karabakh for many years. Russia may want to stay permanently in Karabakh,” he added.

Ismayil also underlined the fact that although Russia seems to be in cooperation with Turkey, it also aims to use this opportunity for its own interests and Moscow is disturbed by the presence of Ankara as a rival actor in the region.

“Countries must determine their strategies accordingly. The fact that Turkey is an emerging power and Russia is a country facing more problems must also be remembered,” he said.

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What is behind the triptych Putin – Erdogan – Rouhani

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fromNews from Russia, CIS and the world – IA REGNUM.


The signing of the Russia-Azerbaijan-Armenia trilateral agreement to end the war in Nagorno-Karabakh marked a historic turning point, which must also be consolidated diplomatically. Moscow is behaving with caution so far.

Stanislav Tarasov ,
28 November 2020 , 14:37 – REGNUM

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a videoconference meeting with permanent members of the Security Council. In particular, he reported on his regular telephone contacts with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, during which the activities of the Russian peacekeepers and the work of the humanitarian mission in Nagorno-Karabakh were discussed.

In turn, Pashinyan somewhat detailed the situation. According to him, “such negotiations are carried out on a regular basis, sometimes several times a day,” although “we do not always disseminate information about these discussions, given their nature and frequency.” Among the topics discussed, he named issues related to the settlements of the Lachin corridor, missing persons, search operations, the bodies of the dead, the exchange of prisoners, the deployment and delimitation of peacekeepers, as well as the unblocking of transport communications in the region. As for the Azerbaijani side, Aliyev, in a telephone conversation with Putin, “expressed satisfaction with the fact that” the ceasefire is observed in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Russian peacekeepers continue to successfully carry out their mission. ” From the latest messages: the peacekeepers provided, as stated in the information of the Ministry of Defense of Russia, “the organized transfer of the Kelbajar region under the control of the Azerbaijani forces, observing the safety of civilians.” Nevertheless, the situation in the conflict zone remains somewhat fragile, Moscow is forced to use the “manual control” regime in this direction in order for the current course of events to become irreversible.

Russian peacekeepers control the movement of civilian vehicles along the Lachin corridor in Nagorno-Karabakh

The fact is that after the signing of the Russia-Azerbaijan-Armenia trilateral agreement on ending the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, an acute diplomatic intrigue, initiated by France, begins to unfold in the West. She is concerned that in the future, when determining the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, “Russia and Turkey may conclude an agreement in order to cut off Western countries from future peace negotiations.” And now Paris believes that the implementation of the ceasefire agreement “must take place under international supervision” in order to start negotiations on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, meaning, apart from Russia, other OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries. Recall that Moscow, along with Washington and Paris, is the co-chair of the Minsk Group for the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, but they did not participate in the conclusion of the agreement, signed by Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and ended six weeks of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh. And Turkey was the first to react to this, which France seeks to exclude from the Karabakh settlement process in any form.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “the fears expressed by some of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group have no basis.” On the other hand, after a telephone conversation with Putin, he said that he had discussed with him the possibility of involving other countries of the region in efforts to maintain the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh. At the same time, Erdogan did not specify which countries were being discussed, although everyone understands that this is Iran. Let us note in this regard that Tehran, like Ankara, supported the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, believing that only in this way it will be possible to achieve sustainable peace in the conflict region. Moreover, Iran put forward the initiative to sign the so-called Caucasian pact with the participation of Russia, Turkey and Iran without involving Western countries in solving the problems of the Transcaucasus. With this mission I recently traveled to Baku, Yerevan, Moscow and Ankara, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Erakchi. Ankara is satisfied with this project because it can relieve tension in Iran arising in connection with the strengthening of Turkey’s military presence in Azerbaijan. At the same time, the participation of Tehran and Ankara in the Karabakh settlement can fundamentally change the geopolitical situation in the region, which is considered a zone of political interests only for Russia. This is the first thing.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Erakchi

Tasnim News Agency

Second, an act of political expulsion of the West from Azerbaijan and Armenia will take place. Europe has already reacted to this. The ruling coalition in Germany issued a statement stating that “Turkey is pursuing a policy in the Caucasus that does not contribute to the peace process in Nagorno-Karabakh at the diplomatic level and, through isolated agreements with Russia, is trying to promote the interests of individual parties in the region.” There is a call to Moscow and Ankara “not to use third countries to achieve their political interests in this region”, that is, not to involve Iran in the Karabakh settlement, but to focus only on participation in the Minsk Group settlement process. But in fact, if the group does work, it will build on the agreement on November 9, since her early developments on the settlement of the conflict are now of interest only to historians. Iran also responds. As the Tehran newspaper Hamshahri writes, the West’s desire to preserve the OSCE Minsk Group proceeds from the fact that “during further negotiations on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, a situation will arise when the conflicting parties will not abandon their claims to each other, they will consider the current truce to be temporary, at best. calculated for several decades ”.

It is still difficult to say whether the designated political and diplomatic intrigue will lead to any results. Something may appear when the new administration in the US starts working, however, it is not known whether it will coordinate its efforts in the Karabakh direction with the EU. In any case, a historic turning point has taken place, which in Nagorno-Karabakh will have to be consolidated also diplomatically. Moscow is behaving cautiously in this regard. Major decisions are ahead.

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Opinion | 1918 Germany Has a Warning for America

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Opinion | 1918 Germany Has a Warning for America

The startling aspect about the Dolchstosslegende is this: It did not grow weaker after 1918 but stronger. In the face of humiliation and unable or unwilling to cope with the truth, many Germans embarked on a disastrous self-delusion: The nation had been betrayed, but its honor and greatness could never be lost. And those without a sense of national duty and righteousness — the left and even the elected government of the new republic — could never be legitimate custodians of the country.

In this way, the myth was not just the sharp wedge that drove the Weimar Republic apart. It was also at the heart of Nazi propaganda, and instrumental in justifying violence against opponents. The key to Hitler’s success was that, by 1933, a considerable part of the German electorate had put the ideas embodied in the myth — honor, greatness, national pride — above democracy.

The Germans were so worn down by the lost war, unemployment and international humiliation that they fell prey to the promises of a “Führer” who cracked down hard on anyone perceived as “traitors,” leftists and Jews above all. The stab-in-the-back myth was central to it all. When Hitler became chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933, the Nazi newspaper Völkischer Beobachter wrote that “irrepressible pride goes through the millions” who fought so long to “undo the shame of 9 November 1918.”

Germany’s first democracy fell. Without a basic consensus built on a shared reality, society split into groups of ardent, uncompromising partisans. And in an atmosphere of mistrust and paranoia, the notion that dissenters were threats to the nation steadily took hold.

Alarmingly, that seems to be exactly what is happening in the United States today. According to the Pew Research Center, 89 percent of Trump supporters believe that a Joe Biden presidency would do “lasting harm to the U.S.,” while 90 percent of Biden supporters think the reverse. And while the question of which news media to trust has long split America, now even the largely unmoderated Twitter is regarded as partisan. Since the election, millions of Trump supporters have installed the alternative social media app Parler. Filter bubbles are turning into filter networks.

In such a landscape of social fragmentation, Mr. Trump’s baseless accusations about electoral fraud could do serious harm. A staggering 88 percent of Trump voters believe that the election result is illegitimate, according to a YouGov poll. A myth of betrayal and injustice is well underway.

It took another war and decades of reappraisal for the Dolchstosslegende to be exposed as a disastrous, fatal fallacy. If it has any worth today, it is in the lessons it can teach other nations. First among them: Beware the beginnings.

Jochen Bittner (@JochenBittner) is a co-head of the debate section for the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a contributing opinion writer.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email:

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The “Cooties Theory” of Criticism

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The “Cooties Theory” of Criticism

Once upon a time, perhaps not too long ago, I’m guessing the Daily Show-watching version of yourself used to think “Axis of Evil” was on the harsh side. That was a “Republicant” thing, right?  A George W. Bush groaner, correct? It wasn’t nice to label an entire country as evil incarnate, especially when said country happens to be only a strategic adversary and is filled with millions of people struggling to live their lives amidst the melancholy squalor that is human existence. But then Donald Trump, that bright orange sun around which all the hot takes revolve, went and posed for some awkward family photos with Kim Jong Un, the cherub-cheeked Schrodinger’s Dictator whose flattop haircut is so precise all five of his country’s knockoff Apple watches are set to it. So now, you and national security kingpin John Bolton’s moustache find yourselves in alignment, strange bedfellows indeed! “North Korea delenda est!”

Makes sense, yes? The friend of my “hatespo” is my “frenemy,” at the very least, and it’s all but certain they’re Bad, Actually. Trump has been good at flipping these scripts, far better than even the conservative hawkish Democrats of the 1980s who wanted to cut the taxes, the welfare rolls, and the crime rate. The aforementioned Bolton noted in his memoirs that the most deranged thing he ever witnessed Trump do was hesitate when circumstances necessitated that he “bomb, bomb Iran” (to borrow a line from a popular parody-radio ditty of the 1980s) in retaliation for Iran’s attack on an American drone. Trump, Bolton noted with astonishment, refrained from pulling the trigger because he didn’t want to see Iranian body bags on television. Quelle horreur!

For years, American intelligence services have financed various initiatives, sometimes openly and sometimes covertly, to shape consensus at home and abroad. These initiatives had various degrees of effectiveness—who knows how much Civil Rights photographer and FBI informant Ernest Withers actually compromised Martin Luther King’s later anti-poverty work?—but they were merely the 1.0 version of the fascinating, ever-evolving psyop that has characterized the response to Trump’s blustery, off-the-cuff rhetoric. Trump, by virtue of maintaining at least some skepticism about foreign wars, the Chinese surveillance state, the power of the big technology firms like Amazon and Twitter that detest him, has given others an opening to create arguments that they’re Good, Actually. Trump is the 2.0 release, now no longer in beta, of the “Cootie Theory” we internalized in our childhoods: whatever he tweets or talks about, and he does a lot of both, is now verboten, foreclosed forever to anyone even vaguely aligned with the party apparatus that opposes him. 

This represents evolution by devolution in the way news consumers— particularly professional-class news consumers who have lots of time to scroll timelines on their phones yet no time for rhetorical hairsplitting—make up their minds. After all, making up one’s mind has never been easy, and “think for yourself” is a commonplace expression that may as well read “think for yourself, like everyone else.” Quickly grasping what the members of your team or squad value, and then using these heuristics to reach snap judgments, has worked since grade school and will continue to work throughout the rest of your life. I use “work” here in the sense that it allows you to do the work of reaching conclusions without wasted time, not in the sense that this “work” is otherwise productive in ways that lead to a net increase in your ability to accommodate contradictions while reasoning your way through arguments. The art kids don’t like the jocks; the Patriots fans don’t like the Steelers fans; the Flemish dislike the Walloons; and so on ad infinitum.

This kind of community-building is nothing new, but applied to a global overlay—the all-encompassing “world wide web” of social media in which we are entangled—it has accelerated a return to factionalism by increasing the number of groups one can affirmatively if lazily join, as by clicking a button or posting a tweet, as against the number of groups in which one finds himself in by virtue of his residence in a particular region or community. There are so many groups or “teams” one can join, most of them totally “liquid” and without roots in any particular place or even much of a shared history, that a person can be totally rebuilt, as far as identity claims go, within a matter of minutes.

This state of affairs, to quote the ever-so-trite conventional wisdom, “is what it is,” and the pace of its progress is unlikely to decelerate. However, as these liquid, newly-invented, and branded fictive kinships increase, the number of heuristics that accompany them grow as well: arrogate enough identities to yourself and, bang!, you’ll no longer have to make a decision at all— your “identity stack,” equivalent to an “avatar build” in a role-playing game for those of you who fancy such diversions, comes equipped with everything you’ll need to navigate all the critical moments of your increasingly extremely online existence. You’ll have so many heuristics to utilize that your only remaining challenge will be what to do when faced with competing loyalty claims (the answer there is to either employ a bunch of vague weasel words to “split the difference” while really saying nothing at all, or to leave or be ostracized from one or the other community).

For me, alas, the contemplation of this brave new world engenders a profound sense of melancholy. There was never a time in the history of humankind when we didn’t snap to judgment, but there has also almost certainly never been in a time in that history when both popular and elite opinion has been so easy to predict and calibrate. If, say, Tulsi Gabbard endorses some nationalistic Bollywood film, then that film is good for her stans and bad for her foes— and anyone sufficiently interested can “perform” online, signalling adherence to one or the other outcome. The same applies to the Chapos, or any other set of tastemakers who purport to shape the thoughts of some niche or subculture, manufacturing consent for this or that neoliberal, marketplace-of-ideas objective.

The various power players whose invisible hands nudge and prod the consumers shopping at the marketplace of ideas understand this all too well and work tirelessly to exploit it. A Jordan Peterson book controversy, for example, can benefit the publisher of his upcoming book in several ways: either the publisher concedes to its angry employees and shelves the book, winning some “wokeconomic” PR points in the process, or the tempest in a teapot is allowed to boil over and Peterson’s most rabid partisans, aggrieved by the insult to the free expression of whatever they think he represents, rush to pay full fare for hardback copies that matter more to them as mass-produced totems than carefully-read manuals in which important information is conveyed.

In other words, this instant revulsion, occasioned by the rapid-fire hot-takifying made possible by a new and improved “cooties theory,” turns everyone into sitting ducks for the people sitting behind the desks and cashing the checks, pushing buttons to manufacture not just consent but two equal strains of it: dote and antidote, working in conjunction to lubricate the pressure release valve within a rigged and otherwise-untenable system. It amounts to little more than theater, yet what is advertising and marketing but the lowest, most insidious, and most effective form of popular theater ever devised? In a world defined by incessant consumption rather than dignified or meaningful labor, opinions are mere commodities, “to be bought and sold like rock-and-roll,” to paraphrase the Mekons.

Could I imagine anything different, anything besides this sordid outcome? I suppose I fancy myself distant from petty affairs, “Olympian” if you will, but such thoughts are grandiose and should be dismissed out of hand. At best, I’ve aspired to be charitable, not in the sense of “charity” that takes governments off the hook by personally providing for the least among us, but charitable in an intellectual sense. From the time I was a lad, my father—an honest-to-goodness athlete, not a spectator on the sidelines—taught me to admire whenever anyone who entered the arena, sporting or otherwise, made what struck us as a skillful play. For the two of us, there was no beloved “team” that demanded obeisance and sacrifice, only a bunch of people who were doing their best. These doomed stars of the hour would eventually fail and end up on the wrong side of history, but don’t we all, in the long run? Nobody gets out of this world alive, but while we’re still sucking wind, we should endeavor to listen to each other, and redeem each other, and move on.  

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Progressives don’t love Joe Biden’s foreign policy — but there’s a lot to like

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Progressives don’t love Joe Biden’s foreign policy — but there’s a lot to like

Nobody expects President-elect Joe Biden’s centrist foreign policy views to shift radically once he’s in office. Not after almost five decades in Washington, most of which have been spent with international affairs as his bailiwick. But for progressives grumbling about some of Biden’s Cabinet picks, I offer good news: This administration can still deliver on some of your biggest foreign policy goals.

Much of the focus since the election has been on whom Biden will install to run the federal bureaucracy. That’s fair, given the challenge of rebooting the nation’s operating system after four years of President Donald Trump and his haphazard staffing. The problem is that some of Biden’s picks come with baggage of their own.

Antony Blinken, the president-elect’s choice to become secretary of state, and Michèle Flournoy, reportedly the lead contender to run the Pentagon, are under increasing scrutiny for their post-government work. That includes founding WestExec, their consulting firm, whose client list is secret and which has diligently kept its staff from being called “lobbyists.” Flournoy’s close ties with defense contractors are also getting major pushback.

A look at some of the main foreign policy priorities for the progressive movement shows some major opportunities on the horizon.

Meanwhile, one of Biden’s top choices for CIA chief, former Deputy Director Michael Morell, has been accused of defending the Bush-era torture program. He could face opposition from Senate Democrats if nominated. Avril Haines — who has been tapped to become director of national intelligence — has also been criticized for her role in redacting the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture and supporting current CIA Director Gina Haspel’s nomination. (Haines worked at WestExec, too, by the by.)

All of that having been said, it’s a mistake to focus solely on the people at the top. For all the centrists being put in place, a look at some of the main foreign policy priorities for the progressive movement shows some major opportunities on the horizon:

Considering domestic and international economics in foreign policy. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both argued during their presidential runs that the U.S. needs to develop a foreign policy that keeps the economic well-being of all Americans in mind. Heather Hurlburt, a policy researcher with New America, wrote in 2018 that “ensuring the basic health and sustainability of the U.S. economy, addressing inequality, and attacking absolute poverty both at home and abroad” should be central to a progressive foreign policy.

Jake Sullivan’s pending appointment as national security adviser should be seen as a promising development. Sullivan, who praised Sanders’ focus on crony capitalism and corruption abroad in 2018, recently worked with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on a series of reports examining how to make foreign policy work for America’s middle class.

Putting climate change front and center. Former Secretary of State John Kerry is on track to be appointed to a Cabinet-level role focused on international climate efforts, a decision that lends weight to Biden’s ambitious climate plans. As fellow MSNBC columnist Emily Atkin noted, though, progressives need to be ready to be critical of Kerry and Biden, leaning on them to follow through with action instead of just rhetoric.

Accepting the limits of U.S. military power. Biden’s not exactly what anyone would call a peacenik, but after going on 20 years of constant war, he literally can’t afford to deploy forces overseas like his predecessors. Trump, for all his misguided logic, wanted to roll back some of the U.S.’s overseas military commitments that have left the armed services stretched thin. Biden should at least consider the same, with an acknowledgment that a military presence doesn’t always guarantee success.

Defending democracy without going on the offense. Both neoconservatives and progressives believe the U.S. should advocate for democracy abroad. The difference is that the former believes the military needs to foster new democracies, while the latter is typically more interested in shoring up those that already exist. And as we head into 2021, democracies need help to keep from becoming nationalist oligarchies. We’ve already seen this backslide happen in Hungary and Turkey. Halting — and, ideally, helping reverse — these transformations should be a priority for the Biden administration.

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Rethinking U.S. alliances. Biden campaigned on restoring some of America’s most crucial alliances after years of Trumpian mishandling. He now has an opportunity to determine what “crucial” means — especially when it comes to ignoring human rights abuses from allies like Saudi Arabia. While the Trump administration turned a mostly blind eye to Riyadh’s killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Biden’s team can afford to be a bit pickier about who gets called a friend.

Ending U.S. support for the war in Yemen. On a similar note, in the short term, progressives can count on Biden and his Cabinet to call off American support for the six-year war in Yemen. Both houses of Congress passed a resolution in 2019 that would constrain U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led campaign, which has at times targeted civilian facilities and prevented humanitarian aid shipments; Trump vetoed the legislation. A new version is sure to pass in the next session of Congress, and Biden will sign it.

If progressives want not just to have a seat at the table but also to sit at its head, now is the time to lay their own groundwork.

There will undoubtedly be foreign policy fights between the left wing of the Democratic Party and the liberal internationalists who have dominated the Democratic establishment since the end of the Cold War. No matter who winds up as defense secretary, slashing military spending will be a major lift. Through a combination of Trump’s demands and congressional inertia, this year’s National Defense Authorization Act is likely to appropriate over $740 billion for the current fiscal year to the Defense Department and other national security projects. Getting Flournoy to trim that number could be difficult.

The same goes for U.S. policy toward Israel, still one of the deepest divides among Democrats. Relatedly, Biden and his team are facing what could be an early test in the Middle East. Iran’s top nuclear scientist was killed over the weekend in an assassination that showed the hallmarks of an Israeli operation. How Biden threads the needle of discouraging Iran’s nuclear program, avoiding war and supporting Israel without encouraging international lawbreaking is likely to be a preview of the rest of his term.

Biden is prioritizing staffers who have years of experience in foreign affairs. If progressives want not just to have a seat at the table but also to sit at its head, now is the time to lay their own groundwork. The Biden administration needs new foreign policy hands to revitalize the ranks, from top to bottom. Now is the time to seed lower-level staffers who eventually guide the U.S. in the next decade and beyond, building on the work that will be done over the next four years.

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Hayes Brown is a writer and editor for MSNBC Daily, where he helps frame the news of the day for readers. He was previously at BuzzFeed News and holds a degree in international relations from Michigan State University.

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Opinion | Trump Looms Large Now, but Maybe Not Forever

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Opinion | Trump Looms Large Now, but Maybe Not Forever

President Trump’s critics warn that history will look unkindly on his effort to overturn a democratic election. This forecast, while understandable, may be wrong. History rarely looks on one-term presidents at all.

For the last four years I’ve covered his administration as a journalist while also researching and writing books about 19th-century American history. This made it natural to try assessing him from a distance, as future historians might peer at him. Someday the clamor of his tenure will fade, leaving behind a few essential facts, the first of which is his single term.

Few presidents who served four years or less find an enduring place in the popular imagination. One term is not long to influence a country so large and dynamic — and a president’s failure to win a second term can be a sign that he didn’t. If you are not from Indiana, you may not know my state produced Benjamin Harrison, a one-term president who was different from President William Henry Harrison, who died after one month in office. Few people visit the statue of James Buchanan in a lonely corner of a Washington park, and in my life I have met just one enthusiast for Chester A. Arthur.

One-term presidents who escape obscurity often did something beyond the presidency — like John Adams, one of the nation’s founders, or Jimmy Carter, whose much-admired post-presidency has lasted 10 times as long as his term. John F. Kennedy’s legacy rests, in part, on legislative achievements that passed after his assassination. Others are known for their failures while in office: Warren G. Harding for a corruption scandal, Herbert Hoover for economic calamity, Andrew Johnson for being impeached.

We can’t be sure what history will make of Mr. Trump, whose term featured scandal, impeachment and calamity, as well as a pandemic. His story may not be over; he remains at the head of a powerful movement, and reportedly talks of running in 2024. But to judge by information available today, he has a relatively narrow role in the American story: as the reaction to a game-changing president — Barack Obama.

Something like this is true of many presidents. A relative handful enact lasting change, while others respond to them. The ones who left a mark include Andrew Jackson, Mr. Trump’s favorite, who served two terms, from 1829 to 1837. Jackson founded the Democratic Party, reinforced slavery, pursued populist economic policies, and faced down a near-rebellion over states’ rights. When he exceeded his power to achieve his goals, critics called him King Andrew.

Jackson was followed by eight presidents who served in his shadow, two of whom died in office and none of whom went on to a second term. History does not linger long on most of them; they were subordinate characters, mostly shaped by Jackson’s agenda — either advancing or resisting it.

In the same way, Mr. Trump’s place in history may be overshadowed by Mr. Obama’s. Elected in 2008, Mr. Obama seemed to personify America’s growing diversity as a multiracial republic. His campaign motivated new voters, and he talked at first of transcending old political divisions. He said he wanted Americans to regain trust in institutions battered by 9/11, the war in Iraq and the financial crisis. He raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans, signed the Affordable Care Act, tried to break an impasse over immigration and approved a nuclear agreement to ease a long-running conflict with Iran.

He also did not manage to transcend the old divisions. Facing unrelenting opposition from Republicans in Congress, he enraged them by using executive authority to govern around them. Numerous Republicans claimed Mr. Obama had acted like a king.

The Obama presidency paved the way for Mr. Trump. He rose by relentlessly attacking Mr. Obama, promoting the racist conspiracy theory about his birthplace and falsely claiming that he favored open borders. Mr. Trump told voters in 2016 that he was their “last chance” to win before they were overwhelmed by immigration and globalism.

It is astonishing to recall how much Mr. Trump devoted his term to re-fighting the battles of the Obama years. Using executive authority as Mr. Obama had, he rolled back housing and environmental regulations, reversed transgender rights in the military, and branded antiracism programs as racist.

But on many issues he only partly succeeded. He withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear agreement, but other nations did their best to maintain it. He abandoned Mr. Obama’s strategy toward China, but he struggled to make his own strategy work. He damaged the Affordable Care Act but never managed to repeal it, even when his party controlled Congress.

It was revealing that he publicly supported the most popular benefits of the health insurance law that he said he despised, such as protections for pre-existing conditions. His predecessor defined what health insurance should cover, and Mr. Trump accepted the definition.

Mr. Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord, but his successor plans to rejoin it. Mr. Trump ended Mr. Obama’s program giving legal status to some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, but the Supreme Court restored it, finding Mr. Trump’s action “arbitrary and capricious.” Though Mr. Trump took other actions to limit immigration, the most permanent symbol of his policy may be an unfinished wall in the desert. He neither erased all of President Obama’s accomplishments nor completed his own.

President Trump still has a legacy. He attracted a vast and loyal following. The tax cuts he approved could last for years, while the three conservative justices he appointed are likely to remain on the Supreme Court for decades. His obsessive use of social media made him unlike any president before him, as did his open disregard of barriers between his public duties and personal business. He spoke well of authoritarian rulers, and accelerated the use of disinformation.

The epic conflicts he generated seem like perfect material for future history classes. It is easy to imagine a high school history book recounting the monthslong court fight over his effort to ban Muslims from entering the United States, followed by discussion on religious freedom and the Constitution.

But in those same textbooks, President Trump may be a minor player in the larger story of a democracy grappling with demands for a more equal society — an era marked by the election of Mr. Obama, the first Black president.

And Mr. Trump’s tenure already has a fitting bookend: On Jan. 20, he will be replaced by Mr. Obama’s vice president.

Steve Inskeep is a co-host of NPR’s Morning Edition and Up First, and the author of “Jacksonland” and “Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Fremont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War.”

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Opinion | Trump Wars II: The Loser Strikes Back

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Credit…Andres Kudacki

We all knew that Donald Trump would react badly to defeat. But his refusal to concede, the destructiveness of his temper tantrum and the willingness of almost the entire Republican Party to indulge him have surpassed even pessimists’ expectations.

Even so, it’s very unlikely that Trump will manage to overturn the election results. But he’s doing all he can to wreck America on his way out, in ways large and small. Among other things, his officials are already trying to sabotage the economy, setting the stage for a possible financial crisis on Joe Biden’s watch.

To the uninitiated, the sudden announcement by Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, that he’s terminating support for several emergency lending programs created back in March might not seem like that big a deal. After all, the financial markets aren’t currently in crisis. In fact, defying Trump’s prediction that “your 401(k)s will go to hell” if he were to lose, stocks have risen substantially since Biden’s win.

Furthermore, much of the money allocated to those programs was never actually used. So what’s the problem?


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Well, the Federal Reserve, which administers the programs, has objected strenuously — for good reason. You see, the Fed knows a lot about financial crises and what it takes to stop them — and Mnuchin is depriving the nation of tools that could be crucial in the months or years ahead.

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In the old days, what we now call financial crises were generally referred to as “panics” — like the Panic of 1907, which was the event that led to the Fed’s creation. The causes of panics vary widely; some have no visible cause at all. Nonetheless, they have a lot in common. They all involve a loss of confidence that freezes the flow of money through the economy, often with dire effects on growth and jobs.


Credit…Andres Kudacki

Why do such things happen? Panics don’t necessarily reflect mob psychology, although that sometimes plays a role. More often we’re talking about self-fulfilling prophecy, in which individually rational actions produce a collectively disastrous result.


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In a classic bank run, for example, depositors rush to get their money out, even if they believe that the bank is fundamentally sound, because they know that the run itself can cause the institution to collapse.

Which is where public agencies like the Fed come in. We’ve known since the 19th century that such agencies can and should lend to cash-starved players during a financial panic, stopping the death spiral.

How much lending does it take to stop a panic? Often, not much at all. In fact, panics are often ended simply by the promise that cash will be provided if needed, with no need to actually write any checks.

Back in 2012 there was a runaway financial crisis in much of southern Europe. Countries like Spain saw their ability to borrow collapse and the interest rates on their debt soar. Yet these countries weren’t actually insolvent; Spain’s fiscal position was no worse than that of Britain, which was able to borrow at very low interest rates.

But Spain, which doesn’t have its own currency — it uses the euro — was the subject of a self-fulfilling panic attack, as investors fearing that it would run out of cash threatened to provoke the very outcome they feared. Britain, which can print its own money, was immune to such a crisis.

In July 2012, however, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank — the Fed’s counterpart — promised to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro, which everyone interpreted as a commitment to lend money to crisis countries if necessary. And suddenly the crisis was over, even though the bank never did end up doing any lending.

Something similar happened here this past spring. For a few weeks in March and April, as investors panicked over the pandemic, America teetered on the edge of a major financial crisis. But the Fed, backstopped by the Treasury, stepped up with new programs offering to buy assets like corporate bonds and municipal debt. In the end, not much of the money was used — but the assurance that the money was there if needed stabilized the markets, and the crisis faded away.


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So far, so good. But in case you haven’t noticed, the pandemic is back with a vengeance; hospitalizations are already much higher than they were in the spring, and rising fast.

Maybe the new coronavirus surge won’t provoke a second financial crisis — after all, we now know that a vaccine is on the way. But the risk of crisis hasn’t gone away, and it’s just foolish to take away the tools we might need to fight such a crisis.

Mnuchin’s claim that the money is no longer needed makes no sense, and it’s not clear whether his successor will be easily able to undo his actions. Given everything else that’s happening, it’s hard to see Mnuchin’s move as anything but an act of vandalism, an attempt to increase the odds of disaster under Trump’s successor.

The thing is, until this latest move, it looked as if Mnuchin might be one of the few officials who managed to emerge from their service under Trump without completely destroying their reputations. Well, scratch that: He’s joined the ranks of Trump loyalists determined to trash the nation on their way out the door.

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