Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: August 2023

MY columns these past weeks focused on the Ukraine war and its alternative outcomes. A case was made for Putin and Zelenskyy slugging it out over Ukraine. But overarching this is a bigger fight being played out in a geopolitical setting between the real protagonists, the placeholders in this proxy war — US-NATO versus Russia. Advocates for either side argue on the basis of perceived realities and the facts on the ground, which in any case are muddled and even distorted, as interpreted in a parallel rivalry between the two types of media platforms that shape public opinion and influence the war narratives while the dynamics of the conflicts are evolving: newspapers, television and radio directing public discourse on one side, and on the other, Facebook, Twitter (now X) and YouTube providing real-time images. Both platforms advocate conflicting results on the war.

With all the permutations, it appears that in these proxy fights, the biggest loser is Ukraine itself, with its economy devastated and land scorched, its populace driven into exile, and countless numbers of its youth dead in battle. And in this calculus, a clear winner is the emerging hegemon — China ("Postscript on Ukraine," The Manila Times, July 26-August 2).

Timeline on Trump indictment

But we have developments in America that could have some direct bearing on the Ukraine war and impact geopolitical dynamics. We refer to the upcoming presidential elections, where the former president, Donald Trump, is far ahead in the polls, auguring a comeback. He has averred blatantly that had he been president in February 2022, the Ukraine war would not have happened. Now that it is raging, he will end it on the day he reassumes the presidency. But a compelling drama is unfolding during this year-long American political season. Trump is facing several criminal indictments that may alter his re-run. Trump's four years in office had been tumultuous, eccentric, and divisive to America's body politic and these threaten to even deepen the chasm with the outcome of these indictments.

Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection case

Last week an indictment was directed against Trump, the third since he left office. The charge was conspiracy to deprive millions of Americans of the right to vote and to have their vote counted. To quote Politico's website: "In the two months between Election Day in 2020 and Jan. 6, 2021, Trump mounted a wide-ranging campaign to subvert Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election. Trump and his advisers spread false information about voter fraud, urged Republican state officials to undermine the results in states that Biden won, assembled false slates of electors and pressured Mike Pence, the vice president, to unilaterally toss out the legitimate results. The effort culminated on January 6, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and disrupted the peaceful transfer of power."

These are very serious accusations, as many of the participants in that January 6 assault on the Capitol have now been found guilty and incarcerated.

The classified documents case

On June 9, 2023, the Donald was indicted on 37 felonies for retaining classified documents after he left office, which were found by an FBI search stashed in his residence at Mar-a-Lago. America's Espionage Act makes it a crime to retain records containing sensitive national security information and show these classified documents containing secrets on US and foreign military capabilities, military activities, or nuclear weapons to persons unauthorized to view them. Trump, no longer president, couldn't declassify these documents as he claimed. Furthermore, he obstructed the FBI investigation by directing his people at the residence to move the boxes of classified documents around the building and destroying security camera footage after the FBI requested the same.

Hush money case

His first indictment was on March 30, 2023. The Donald through his lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid off porn star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence to avoid a sex scandal at a sensitive time in Trump's presidential campaign in 2016. Cohen, acting as the fixer, paid her $130,000, which Trump later reimbursed in installments when he was already president. Accordingly, these payments were fraudulently disguised by Trump as corporate legal fees — a criminal violation. The charges contained 34 felony counts. Not only was the Donald accused of falsifying business records, but of using these amounts in an underlying crime — the payoff constituting an illegal contribution to Trump's presidential campaign.

Georgia state election interference

Aside from these three indictments, an investigation is ongoing in the state of Georgia on election interference, where Trump sought to overturn the result of the presidential elections. President Joe Biden won the state's 16 electoral votes, but Trump and his camp spread lies about voter fraud, even plotting to send fake electors to Washington. What could be a criminal offense for election meddling was a recording of Trump calling Georgia's secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, urging him to "find" 11,780 Trump votes to overturn Biden's win.


No American president has been charged with such serious criminal acts. Depending on where you sit, these developments are a measure of America's collective sense of decency, reflecting its ideals of justice and fairness. That these investigations and indictments are necessary to hold public officials accountable for their actions, upholding the cherished democratic-republican concept of the rule of law. That Trump, the most powerful American while he was president of the United States, is not above the law.

Or, is this simply a witch hunt as claimed by the supporters of Donald Trump, particularly the MAGA (Make America Great Again) which Hillary Clinton once described as "a basket of deplorables," putting forward arguments that from the very start of the Trump presidency "the deep state" was out to delegitimize and destabilize it? The Donald burst onto the American political scene, breaking the mold of the usual politicians who rose through elective offices and are creatures of the political party establishment or political dynasties. Trump was a maverick who never held any government position or any elective post and came from the world of business. He doesn't owe his rise to the political kingmakers from the proverbial "smoke-filled rooms." In his rhetoric, the "deep state" comes from both major political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, and the shadowy entrenched bureaucrats and civil servants following their own agenda irrespective of the government of the day. Trump has always been apolitical and was once a Democrat and a heavy contributor to both political parties. He won the primary as a Republican, trouncing the revered names of party stalwarts. But he now owns the GOP. In a more pedestrian language, he holds the mainstream Republican party by the balls. His MAGA provides him with a base vote of 30 percent that could propel him back to the US presidency.

These indictments have not sunk his image. backfiring instead and providing a boost to his campaign. The actual trials and their results scheduled over the entire primary season towards the election itself could be decisive.

By 2024, America could have Trump the President or Trump with a numbered striped jacket at the back: the prisoner.

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 09 August 2023 09:52

Postscript on Ukraine: China wins

Last of 3 parts

THE last few columns were a play on the outcomes of the Ukraine war, suggesting alternative endings to how the conflict unfolds. The first is that Russia wins. Ukraine is destroyed, and Russia occupies the country, installing a puppet government. The second possibility is that NATO and Ukraine get the upper hand, stop Putin dead in his tracks, and perhaps arrive at a negotiated settlement in the Donbass region and the Crimea. The third alternative could either be a prolonged war with no clear winner among the proxies except the continued devastation of Ukraine, or the war escalates into a much wider conflict, resulting in greater instability and violence and perhaps even the unthinkable consequences of the deployment of battlefield nuclear weapons. This last one may not happen because it couldn't, but because all sides are only too aware of the consequences of mutually assured destruction (MAD). 

Russia wins

This will usher in the resurgence of Russia's position as a major global power with the self-fulfilling prediction by the neocons about Putin's imperial ambitions to revive the old USSR. With close ties with China, both will challenge the dominance of America as a counterbalancing force in a multipolar world order.

Putin thus regains his image as a strongman after the West has been taunting him as weak after the Prigozhin affair. This will reestablish his preeminence along with his Kremlin cabal, giving him carte blanche to redo the world's second-biggest authoritarian structure.

The immediate effect in Eastern Europe is to induce a sense of anxiety among the countries it shares borders with, prompting them to reexamine their relationship with NATO against the renaissance of the Eastern European hegemon.

NATO's touted umbrella, a guarantee to defend non-nuclear allied states, by the nuclear-capable members pouring in conventional logistic and war material short of boots on the ground yet unable to stave off Ukraine's defeat, may no longer be reassuring. These border countries, particularly the Balkan states and Poland, Norway and Finland, full NATO members, may have to rethink their existing protocols. In any case, Russia could wreak havoc with some of these former Warsaw Pact allies and may dissuade those with NATO membership aspirations — Sweden, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Georgia — to back out of NATO and the EU.

From the standpoint of Russia's gaining control of its economy, this could impact energy supplies and agricultural products. Russia's oil fields feed Europe through pipelines passing through Ukraine. And as Europe's breadbasket, imports of wheat, corn, animal and vegetable fats, sunflower seed oil, and cereals are critical to their economies. European imports from Ukraine alone were valued at $29 billion in 2022. Russia's revived role in Europe alters the power dynamics and may drive a wedge between the US allies.

US-NATO-Ukraine wins

There are permutations in the event that Russia doesn't overrun Ukraine in the next couple of months, retreats (unlikely) and goes into a negotiated settlement (likely). The Kremlin cabal will most likely topple Putin, but the replacements are at present unknown and may prove even more unpredictable and volatile than Putin, a known quantity. Or it may not. In any event, this scenario will strengthen the NATO alliance by projecting its clout in Eastern Europe and a strong perception of its relevance in a multipolar world. It would signal that the international community is able and willing to stand up to violations of sovereignty and territorial integrity — this, of course, from the standpoint of the West.

This could further isolate Russia from the family of nations, making it a pariah. The Western alliance would be a real deterrent to future Russian aggression, weakening its influence and standing, limiting its ability to assert its interests in Eastern Europe, and driving it further into the arms of China — unless America manages its foreign policy well and gets the new Russian regime into its fold. Overall, this will contribute to greater stability in Eastern Europe, enticing the other former Warsaw Pact countries to join NATO and the EU and perhaps discouraging them from any military adventurism against their neighbors.

Whatever the outcomes in Ukraine

The Ukraine war does not have a direct impact on US-China relations per se but has broader implications for geopolitics, indirectly affecting the dynamics between the two hegemons. China, in some sense, supports the Russian side but has refused to send in any war materiel — except for encouragement and moral support — hardly critical logistics during wartime.

But observant China must be calculating the risk involved in a parallel concern China has with Taiwan — in case of another proxy fight. China must have studied well the nuances of the strategy and tactics of a US-led war. China may conclude that America may be reluctant to go all-out in Ukraine for fear of widening the conflict with Russia — and perhaps in the same vein, America will not risk its boys in defending Taiwan if China makes its move. Biden's confession of America running out of ammo and critical war materiel suggests America's unpreparedness. China has long built its arsenal for any eventuality. America apparently did not. It is consumed with its internal politics and its society's divisions — fruits of a libertarian-democratic society — unlike an authoritarian one, untrammeled by what the Chinese populace wants but what the Communist Party dictates.

China the victor presumptive

A prolonged war and a stalemate work in China's favor, gloating at NATO's bleeding, exposing to the world its inutility. This distraction in the Eastern European theater leaves China bolstering its moves in the Indo-Pacific region and Africa, where it continues to make inroads with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

On the other hand, Russia's or NATO's victory in Ukraine may not be at all negative for China. Outcomes could enhance China's position. I draw heavily from Dr. Sari Arho Havrén (associate fellow and specialist in China's foreign relations — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). And I quote:

"China sees Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine through the lens of great power competition between itself and the US ... Europe seems to misunderstand — or disregard — how Beijing sees the war and its geostrategic position, including its view that the EU and its member states form the weak link in the trans-Atlantic alliance."

In a unipolar world where America is the lone hegemon and China is still on the geopolitical fringes, America's dominance has always been stifling to its own drive to global power. As the emerging hegemon, it is intent on abrogating the old order established by America, which did well for itself in a unipolar world. In a multipolar world order, China wants its own model of international relations, and after the success of Deng Xiaoping in adopting the concept of the market economy, it also seeks to redefine democracy, one shaped by the Chinese Communist Party that is acceptable to the rest of the world or at least within China's sphere. To echo Dr. Havrén, China needs to fashion an international order aimed at structuring the world and making it safe for China.

And for the world. And in the process, we hope, not precipitate Cold War 2.0.

Published in LML Polettiques

Second of 3 parts

AFTER 18 months, it seems obvious that NATO and Zelenskyy are running out of options. There are limits to how much military aid can be sent to Ukraine to fight non-nuclear conventional warfare. And NATO does not possess the wherewithal nor the will to put boots on the ground. Even the former Eastern European allies of the old USSR, which are now NATO members, will not have the gumption to involve themselves by sending warm bodies. And if they do, they will still need war materiel handouts from NATO. It seems that Putin, who after the Yevgeny Prigozhin telenovela was deemed weak by the West turns out to be still firmly in control — not only of the Kremlin cabal but the war in Ukraine. This column attempts topresent another perspective viewed against the framework of Putin's original declared intentions in Ukraine.

Putin's justification for his Ukraine adventure was to preserve Russia's geopolitical strategic interests against the encroachment of NATO (Russia's Black Sea fleet is in Sevastopol, Crimea); protect the rights and interests of the ethnic Russian-speaking population in the Donbas and Crimea; and replace an anti-Russian Ukraine government, which is aligning closer with the West. The overarching cover of purported denazification of Ukraine was earlier debunked and did not gain wide traction in the global community. Putin had to recalibrate his strategy after the disastrous first few weeks in February, March and April of 2022.

At the outset, Russia never did indicate destroying a country that provides a buffer against the USSR's old nemesis. Russia preferred a neutral Ukraine that it can do business with, Ukraine having one of the biggest economies within Russia's sphere of influence. It is obvious that the pro-Western Zelenskyy had to be replaced by a Russia-friendly or puppet government. These probably are the reasons why Russia moves cautiously and deliberately, avoiding major confrontations. As it is, the never-ending war is bleeding NATO dry, draining its resources, and depleting its logistics. And reportedly, despite the Western sanctions, Russia's economy is growing by a comfortable annual 2 percent. This war of attrition is likely to drive a wedge between NATO allies.

NATO'S belligerence

The Ukraine war should not have happened. But the West, particularly the neocons in DC, propagated the fiction that Putin is an imperialist bent on reviving the old USSR. There never was any evidence of this. Putin came to power only in 2000 a decade after the Cold War ended. It took another two decades for the Ukraine crisis to erupt in 2014 induced by NATO intrusion. In those intervening years, there were no accusations in the West of Putin having imperial aspirations.

Post-Cold War, a weak Russia was intent on holding on to its sphere of influence. But in 2004, NATO expanded its membership to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all former Soviet republics. This expansion which NATO justified under the pretext of promoting stability and security in Europe yielded undesired consequences. It was NATO's opening gambit for East European hegemony. Russia saw this as a threat to its security. In retrospect, in a multipolar world, Russia could have even become a US/NATO ally against China rising in the East.

In 2008, another of the USSR's former Soviet republics began to seek closer ties with the West intending to join the alliance — encouraged no doubt by NATO. Russia invaded Georgia, justifying the intervention of putting down separatist groups in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, simmering ethnic and territorial disputes between Georgia and the breakaway regions. This is a template that Russia employed in 2014, when it annexed Crimea and occupied Ukraine's Donbas regions.

Putin's acts could not simply be attributed to his imperial impulses. NATO's relentlessdecadeslongbelligerence impelled Russia's response. NATO's military alliance during the Cold War was met to some extent by the Soviet Warsaw Pact. But after the demise of the Soviet Union, NATO lost its reason for being and should have been disbanded. But the alliance moving into Russia's borders became an existential threat.

An analogous case would be the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Russia's deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba posed an existential threat to America and the Western hemisphere. This brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war. The same logic can be applied to NATO's moves toward the borders of Russia.

Political realism With these geopolitical realities in a flux as backdrop, John Mearsheimer, an eminent political scientist, articulated in his theory of political realism a compelling assessment, postulating that "...great powers are principally concerned about the balance of power... they care about how powerful they are relative to other powers." Evidently, they will take advantage of any weakness as this is imperative for their own survival. Mearsheimer further advanced that at the incipient unipolar world with the ascendancy of America over the carcass of the USSR, its remnant Russia was so weak emboldening America to do whatever it wanted. This simply follows the tenets of political realism. That the first primordial consideration is to be more powerful, economically, and militarily to survive and flourish. The second consideration is "...political realism doesn't discriminate between democracies and non-democracies; or liberal states and fascist states or communist states." Therefore, the emerging hegemon — America, must maximize its relative power regardless of the political order at the home front, the GOP- or Democratic-led government. Traditional inclinations by the Western-influenced, Greco-Roman governance concept still adhere to democracies being the "good guys" and communism, authoritarianism, fascism, etc., the "bad guys." Political realism simply negates these concepts. Competing for power and being more powerful trumps all ideological concepts.

During the Unipolar era from the Cold War's end, 1990/1991 to 2017, the US, the lone world hegemon with no rival for political power on the horizon, acted not in a political realist but in a liberal fashion, pursuing foreign policy as liberal hegemony. Why? Because great power politics no longer mattered with no rivals in the system.

But with the transition to a multipolar world, it was a mistake for America to be conducting itself as if it were still the only kid on the block using the tools and concepts of unipolar conventions.

So, America pursued a liberal foreign policy of engagement helping China get rich, integrating it into international institutions like WTO (China already is in World Bank and IMF) hoping it would become a responsible stakeholder and voila! — a liberal democracy, like the Asian Tigers did a few decades back.

Xi Jinping was only too glad to accommodate America's naivete and proceeded to grow economically and built China's military. Its navy is now the biggest in the world. It took a Donald Trump to understand this geopolitical development and began to confront China but unable to follow through, even unwisely alienating America's allies in the process. Mearsheimer put it succinctly upon the ascendancy of Joe Biden: "...America is pursuing realpolitik behavior towards China, but disguises it with liberal rhetoric — with a mailed fist. America has to change its posture as China grew powerful." America began to fear China!

Published in LML Polettiques