Coronavirus Is Empowering Dictators And Changing The World Order
The global pandemic of coronavirus will fundamentally re-shape the world order as it upends systems which publics have come to take for granted. Internationally, it is also accelerating the breakdown of the liberal international order. Major themes of the last decades, such as the global war on terror, the rise of populism and the retreat of democracy in countries like Russia have all reshaped the world. The rise of COVID-19 builds on these trends as it rapidly changes relationships between states. It is a black swan event that suddenly closed the previously open borders of the European Union in a way terror threats and migration could not.
This pandemic began in China in January, slowly percolating into other Asian countries such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea before it grew in Europe and the Middle East in February. However, much remained unchanged into mid-March when lockdowns began and international air travel suddenly slumped or stopped in some places. France closed its borders on March 16 and the European Union closed its external Schengen borders for thirty days beginning on March 17. The UK, which is leaving the EU, began a lockdown on March 24.
In the Middle East, border closures increased when it became clear that Iran’s authorities had allowed the virus to spread among its population and done little to mitigate the crisis. Iraq, Turkey, Kuwait and other neighbors shut off travel to Iran while flights were soon cancelled and some countries, like Kuwait, worked to bring their citizens back from Iran. Turkey was already checking Iranian arrivals on February 21 after receiving warnings that up to 750 Iranians had the virus. By March 29, Iran had registered 35,000 cases and 2,500 deaths officially.
The Middle East, unlike the EU, is a region of strong borders and civil conflicts. From Libya to Syria and Yemen there are conflicts that make it impossible for some countries to test their whole populations for the virus. While the pandemic has not transformed the region’s order in terms of borders, it has caused countries to become even more insular than they otherwise would be. In the Gulf, the world’s busiest airport in Dubai is closed. That is an unprecedented break on a conduit of international traffic that has seen more than 80 million passengers transit a year. Many of them fly to the UK, India, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Russia and China. The rest of the Middle East is grinding to a halt as well, including lockdowns in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and new measures to stop activities in Turkey. Countries that rely on tourism will see revenues disappear for the foreseeable future.
What this means for the Middle East is that stable countries will see their economies grinding to a half, at least temporarily. Israel saw almost one million people file for unemployment since lockdowns began in mid-March, putting almost a third of the workforce out of work. Less is known about what unemployment will do to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other localities. However countries like Jordan are already facing hurdles with large numbers of Syrian refugees who have not returned to Syria and don’t look like they will anytime soon. Military-enforced lockdowns will make life difficult for the day laborers and marginalized refugees.
Beyond the Middle East, the pandemic is causing the same insulating lockdown effect in Africa, Asia and will likely continue the trend in the Americas. As most of the world concentrates on the virus, many groups and authoritarian regimes are exploiting opportunities to act amid the global shutdown. Terrorists murdered two dozen members of the Sikh minority in Afghanistan on March 27 and a bomb disrupted the funeral for the fallen. The attack came in the wake of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Kabul and Washington’s decision to cut $1 billion in aid to the Afghan government. The United States wants a peace deal with the Taliban to work and for the Kabul government to play ball. The aid cutoff is designed to pressure Kabul, but it will have long-term consequences. It’s hard not to see how the Taliban and other extremist hands will be strengthened amid the pandemic.
Similarly in Iraq, the United States is repositioning forces amid the pandemic. Bases at Qaim, Q-West and K-1 were transferred to the Iraqis in March. This comes in the wake of rocket attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, including an attack in March that killed two U.S. personnel who were part of the anti-ISIS Coalition. One Briton was also killed. The United States has warned Iranian-backed proxies, but a plan to launch attacks on those proxies may face hurdles. Between Iranian threats and the virus, the United States has a difficult road ahead in Iraq.
In neighboring Syria, both Turkey and Russia are angling to wrest control of oil fields that the United States has been patrolling since Washington’s October withdrawal. Turkey has told Russia it wants to use the oil to rebuild parts of Syria. The United States is concerned about Russia’s moves now. While U.S. forces can celebrate one year since the defeat of ISIS in eastern Syria, Senator Lindsey Graham has warned about Russian-backed Syrian regime aggression. While Turkey is distracted by the pandemic, with cases rapidly growing to ten thousand in late March, Russia may have other plans. It has critiqued the United States for using an “accusing tone” against China over the virus origins, playing into conspiracy theories that have arisen in Iran and China that portray the United States as responsible for the pandemic.
Other areas where militants continue to exploit the world disorder to launch attacks include Libya and Yemen. Saudi Arabia intercepted Houthi ballistic missiles on March 28 fired by the Iranian-backed rebel group in Yemen. Fighting has also intensified in Libya as forces from Eastern Libya led by Khalifa Haftar fight against the Turkish-backed government in Tripoli. Haftar is backed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Russia. Despite commercial air traffic slowing, it seems arms are still flowing to these conflicts.
The pandemic appears to only embolden authoritarian regimes. While some expressed hope it could bring a reduction in violence and peaceful gestures, North Korea chose to conduct missile tests. The regime, like others, does not seem deterred or even challenged by the virus. Similarly, terror groups across the Sahel in Africa continue to strike at and weaken a dozen states from Mauritania to Somalia.
There doesn’t seem to be much evidence so far that the pandemic has led to unified global leadership. International institutions such as the United Nations seem to be slow to react, with UN Secretary-General Antonia Guterres waiting until March 26 to appeal for billions to fight the virus. It remains unclear why the WHO waited until March 11 to declare the coronavirus threat a pandemic.
This leaves deep questions for U.S. strategy amid the pandemic. The U.S. National Defense Strategy envisions a growing need to confront Russia, China and Iran. It accuses China and Russia of wanting to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian models. It’s difficult to see how the United States can focus on this strategy during an unprecedented crises at home. That will mean continuing retreat from global affairs. This is a model that is vastly different than the “new world order” envisioned by George H.W. Bush in 1990, one built on U.S. leadership and with international cooperation. Progress towards democratization has slowed and been reversed in the last decades.
U.S. President Donald Trump has generally sought to reduce the U.S. global role, expecting other countries to pay and do their part. Washington is reviewing America’s commitment to Africa and AFRICOM, while also considering cutbacks to a key multi-national observer mission in Egypt’s Sinai. Changes on the ground in Iraq illustrate a looming problem. The United Kingdom, France, Czech Republic and other countries are withdrawing forces amid the pandemic. The United States appears to be battening down the hatches at a few remaining posts.
What happens in the long-term due to the effects of the virus? In Europe the EU has been criticized for its response and critics say its former status quo of open borders and policies is shaken to the core. This will tarnish EU institutions. The pandemic has forced most wealthy countries to rapidly close off their economies amid lockdowns. Poorer states are having a harder time and they may risk slipping into instability if they try draconian lockdowns. On the other hand, some existing authoritarian policies, such as India’s crackdown on protests in places like Kashmir, will go unnoticed amid the wider lockdown. Some countries in Africa appear to be using harsh measures already, using the pandemic as an excuse. It’s unclear how a lockdown can be enforced from Kenya to South Africa. The pandemic both erodes trust in regional and global institutions and pits countries against their own citizens as police and the military are sent to enforce lockdowns.
The end result will likely be a more divided and chaotic world order, with Western states being more isolationist in the short term. With the wealthiest countries in the world unable to deal with the tsunami of cases from the virus, poor countries will be overwhelmed. Border closures against pandemic threats will mean an end to the mass migration that has occurred to places like Europe, or it will mean more hostility to those migrants who force their way in. This creates a growing divide between the global south and others amid the pandemic. It also creates a divide between the arc of instability that links ungoverned spaces across the Sahel to Afghanistan where militant groups thrive. Weak states such as Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria only stand to get worse. China, Russia and Iran will take advantage of this crises to continue their policies that together seek to challenge the United States, the West and Western allies. The economic downturn in Western states in the wake of the lockdowns and stimulus packages will empower other countries that weathered the storm better. China is one of those countries so far. The debt incurred by stimulus has a ripple affect of potential inflation or other hangovers.
Top US admiral bristles at criticism of ‘woke’ military: ‘We are not weak’
Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of Naval Operations, rebuffed pointed interrogations by GOP lawmakers who grilled him over his decision to recommend sailors read a book deemed by some conservatives as anti-American.
The U.S. Navy’s top admiral also defended moves to address and root out racism and extremism in the forces as well as its efforts to bolster inclusion and diversity, which have prompted criticism from some conservatives and Republican lawmakers.
“Do you personally consider advocating for the destruction of American capitalism to be extremist?” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., asked Gilday during a House Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, referring to a passage from Ibram X. Kendi’s book “How to Be an Antiracist,” which argues capitalism and racism are interlinked.
Banks continued to interrogate the admiral over specific quotes from Kendi’s book, which was a No. 1 New York Times best seller in 2020, and statements he had made elsewhere in the past.
Visibly distraught, Gilday fired back:
“I am not going to sit here and defend cherry-picked quotes from somebody’s book,” he said. “This is a bigger issue than Kendi’s book. What this is really about is trying to paint the United States military, and the United States Navy, as weak, as woke.”
He added that sailors had spent 341 days at sea last year with minimal port visits — the longest deployments the Navy has done, he said.
“We are not weak. We are strong,” Gilday said.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., also challenged the admiral by citing specific quotes from the book and asked him how those ideas laid out by Kendi would further advance or improve the Navy’s power.
Gilday responded by arguing the importance of transparency and open dialogue about racism.
“There is racism in the Navy just as there is racism in our country, and the way we are going to get out of it is by being honest and not to sweep it under the rug,” he expounded, adding that he does not agree with everything the author says in the book.
The key point however, he said, is for sailors “to be able to think critically.”
The exchange was the latest in vociferous complaints from some conservative leaders and lawmakers who suggest the armed forces are becoming a pawn for the country’s culture wars and “wokeness” ideology, as the military takes steps to address issues of racial inclusion, extremism, racism and white supremacy.
And only last week, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., accosted Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about Kendi’s book, which Cotton said promoted “critical race theories” at a different Senate Armed Services Committee hearing where Austin was testifying.
Days earlier, Cotton and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas — two combat veterans — launched a “whistleblowers” online platform to report examples of “woke ideology” in the military.
“Enough is enough. We won’t let our military fall to woke ideology,” Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, said in a tweet.
Also in February, Austin instructed a one-day stand-down across the Defense Department pausing regular activities to address extremism and white nationalism in the ranks — an issue Austin declared as a priority after a number of rioters at the U.S. Capitol in January were found to have military backgrounds.
The stand down completed in April was an effort to better understand the scope of the problem of extremism in the ranks, Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said in a briefing then.
Earlier, Austin had revoked a ban on diversity training for the military.
More recently, in May, a U.S. Army animated ad focused on soldier diversity — featuring the real story of a soldier who enlisted after being raised by two mothers in California — drew criticism and political backlash from some conservative lawmakers.
“Holy crap,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a tweet. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea. . . .”
Cruz was referring to a TikTok video that compared the U.S. Army ad with a Russia campaign that showed buff soldiers doing push-ups and leaping out of airplanes, adding that the contrast made the American soldiers “into pansies.”
The confrontation Tuesday is also the latest in reproaches by Rep. Banks, who is a Naval Reserve officer, and other GOP members over Gilday’s recommendation to include Kendi’s book in the Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading Program.
In February, Banks sent a letter to Gilday arguing that the views promoted in the book are “explicitly anti-American” and demanded Gilday explain the Navy’s decision to include it on the reading list or remove it.
Gilday responded to Banks in a letter obtained by Fox News saying that the book was included on the list because “it evokes the author’s own personal journey in understanding barriers to true inclusion, the deep nuances of racism and racial inequalities.”
Lamborn and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, D-Mo., also wrote a letter to the admiral to convey their concern about the inclusion of Kendi’s book as well as Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and Jason Pierceson’s “Sexual Minorities and Politics.”
The GOP lawmakers argued the books “reinforce a view that America is a confederation of identity categories of the oppressed and their oppressors rather than a common homeland of individual citizens who are united by common purposes,“ Lamborn and Hartzler wrote, according to Fox News.
Looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021
Our understanding of events refines with time. New developments reframe the issues, and prompt reassessment of the solutions applied, their design and outcomes. What does looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021 tell us?
For three decades, India celebrated and criticised the 1991 reforms. The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout. The reforms, they insist, were ‘home-grown’. In the years leading up to 1991, technocrats in government had been thinking and writing about how India’s economic policies had been blocking the country’s rise to potential and the structural changes needed. If the broad range of reforms—including tearing down the industrial license permit raj, an exchange rate correction, and liberalising foreign direct investment and trade policies—could be launched within a matter of days of a new government joining office, they argue, it is because the blueprints were ready, waiting for the go-ahead from the political leadership.
The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout.
At least two well-regarded technocrats that were important in the 1991 reforms disagree—publicly and in off-the-record conversations. In a media interview last month, one of them, the economic adviser in the reforms team, Dr Ashok Desai, suggested that if there were any reformers in government before the IMF “forced” India to liberalise in 1991, “they hid themselves very well”. According to him, after the BOP crisis was resolved, finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh turned “dead against reforms”.
The multiple versions of the reforms story make it difficult to separate fact from romance. It cannot be disputed, though, that the 1991 BOP crisis was a turning point for the economy. India had tided over BOP crises earlier with loans from the IMF, repaid them prematurely, and avoided going through with the bailout’s conditionalities. 1991 was singularly different because India was on the brink of default, which is likely to have forced politicians to set politics aside and listen to technocrats. Any default on external obligations would have meant hurting India’s credibility grievously and an inescapable sense of national shame. The government probably took the view that there was no choice other than to take corrective steps. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao named Dr Manmohan Singh, who had been a technocrat in government and was well regarded in global policy circles, as his finance minister. Dr Singh clearly had the Prime Minister’s, his party’s and the IMF’s trust. Records irrefutably show that the Congress party’s acceptance of the reversals in the interventionist economic policies of the first four post-Independence decades was not secured by the Prime Minister. He had delegated the task of tackling doubts and resistance within the party to his ministers, in particular, the finance minister and the commerce minister, and an aide in his office. The finance minister defended the reforms on the floor of the house in Parliament.
Taxpayer-funded NPR mocks ‘CaPitAliSm,’ prompting calls to ‘defund’ media outlet
National Public Radio (NPR) ignited a social media firestorm Thursday night over a tweet that appears to mock capitalism, despite taxpayer dollars accounting for much of the organization’s annual budget.
The outlet posted a story titled “And Now, Crocs With Stiletto Heels” that explores a curious new collaboration between luxury fashion brand Balenciaga and Crocs, the rubber slipper company responsible for fashion faux pas among the millions of comfort-clinging owners nationwide.
The caption accompanying the article, which was written in both uppercase and lowercase letters, appears to mock the collaboration: “CaPitAliSm bReEds InNovAtiOn,” it reads.
The tweet’s language sparked outrage on social media, with figures like conservative Tim Young calling out the irony in NPR’s three-word post.
“You wouldn’t exist without capitalism, clown who is tweeting on behalf of NPR,” he wrote.
“Job at public news station wouldn’t exist wo capitalism,” another user echoed. “Are you guys ok?”
“Our tax money shouldn’t pay for this,” one person expressed.
“It’s still a hell of a lot better than communism at breeding innovation, even if some of the products are silly,” one woman fired back.