Date: November 10, 2016

Why we get Russia wrong (Long Form)

The idea of a long form, citation-heavy, analytical article on Russia and Russian foreign policy, was not something I was interested in, particularly for two simple and personal reasons. First of all, great power relations, their military and grand strategy, with a particular focus on Russia, NATO and Europe is my area of study, research and, dare I say the much-reviled word, expertise. Like every academic, I treat my subject of research with a cherished, revered detachment; not because I feel skeptical about sharing the information/knowledge/wisdom which I spend days studying, for free, but because it is something which I essentially do all day and I feel reluctant about writing or talking about it during my journalistic leisure. Secondly, there is already an insane amount of what we call “pop analysis” on Russian foreign policy that is available online, especially snowballing during election and referendum seasons and such fluid state of Western foreign policy in general. Some written by bleeding heart rights campaigners, some written by broadly partisan ideological commentators from both left and right. Yet others written by journalists covering a single beat or region, broadly missing the greater geopolitical long game. A lot written by op-ed writers and bloggers desperate to fill up their daily content quota. I started my career as a journalist, so I don’t blame any of them. A lot of these pop analysis and explainers are inevitably asinine and demonstrably flawed, and lack even the most fundamental understanding of International Relations theory and the structural forces that shape and influence how states and nations behave and interact with each other in this Hobbesian, anarchic world.

Here, I finally deal with the issue, in details. 


Inititial thoughts on Trump’s victory

Initial thoughts on Trump’s election:
– Republicans were prepared to make the argument that although Hillary Clinton won, she had no mandate. She only won because she defeated a terrible candidate. Most Americans disliked both of them. So her victory doesn’t mean the American people want her policies put into effect wholesale. Now the argument is flipped. The American people literally voted in plurality for Trump’s opponent.
– Still, the idea of “mandates” is overrated. Politics is about power, and the Republicans control Congress and the presidency. But Democrats hold enough Senate seats to filibuster legislation.
– The 2018 midterm elections will be extremely important. Democrats have to defend 25 Senate seats, compared to 8 Republican seats.
– Conservatives in Congress, partnering with Democrats, must unite to block those aspects of Trump’s agenda that would be destructive like plans for a wall and massive tariffs. We need to come together.
– The Democrats need to realize that elections are decided on emotions and cultural attitudes more than policies. Hillary Clinton may have been smart and knew her stuff, but she didn’t have “charisma,” and she couldn’t connect with the mythical white lower-middle class voters of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan who have rural conservative cultural values. Past Democrats have been able to, and other Democrats like Joe Biden might have been able to this year. It may be stupid, but it’s a fact of campaigning. Republicans learned that lesson the hard way when they nominated a smart wonk who seemed stiff in 2012.
– Trump’s supporters paint themselves as downtrodden, but the downtrodden actually voted overwhelmingly for Clinton. Clinton won by 10 points among those earning less than US$50,000 a year. Trump won every group earning more than US$50,000 a year.
– The Democrats seemed wedded to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Few credible alternatives entered the race, and there was always a suspicion that Clinton’s allies tried to limit scrutiny of Clinton. It could have hurt their chances. Next time they should choose party (and country) over personal loyalties.
– There could be a civil war on the left, as on the right. Already there are Sandersnistas, feeling done and ready to vent, suggesting that Sanders could have won and that the party’s problem was it didn’t go left enough. Nevermind universal healthcare, we should have single-payer and universal college education! It’s a complete misreading of why the Democrats lost and the exact opposite of what they should do next.
– As such, they should think long and hard before nominating far-left longtime Ivy League law professor Elizabeth Warren.

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