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Opinions of Monday, 7 November 2016


US election: What does the rest of the world think?

As the voting day in the US approaches, the world's attention is focused on perhaps one of the most polarised elections in US history. Not only will the winner seal the fate of Americans for the next four years, but the result will also have important ramifications for the rest of the world. We asked experts from six regions to share their thoughts on the US election.

Rodrigo Nunes is a lecturer in modern and contemporary philosophy at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio).

Whatever political direction is taken by the world's only - if somewhat beleaguered - superpower, it has repercussions elsewhere, and especially in Latin America, a region often referred to as "America's backyard".

Brazil's foreign policy during the Lula da Silva years exploited the rise of the so-called Pink Tide, or rise of the left, and the domestic problems of the United States, using them to its own advantage.

On the one hand, Brazil presented itself as both the biggest regional player and the "sensible one" among Latin America's left-leaning governments, positioning itself as a mediator between the US and the likes of Venezuela and Bolivia.

On the other, the country aggressively pursued what could be described as a "sub-imperialist" project in Latin America and Africa, beneficial above all to a small number of large companies. While the first of these tactics waned during Dilma Rousseff's tenure, the second continued apace.

With Venezuela seemingly approaching meltdown, Mauricio Macri's election in Argentina and Dilma Rousseff's ousting in Brazil, the region's left-wing cycle is drawing to a close.

Gone are the days of relative independence and confrontation; more or less automatic alignment with US interests and a more timid international stance are back in. It is generally expected that a Hillary Clinton victory will usher in a more hawkish, interventionist stance; if so, Latin America's new governments will be ready to meet it more than halfway. Whatever left-leaning governments remain in the region will find themselves increasingly isolated.

Donald Trump, in turn, is something of an unknown quantity. While his dalliance with racism and xenophobia is a cause for concern, he, like Clinton, is unlikely to introduce serious changes in one of the key issues in US-Latin America relations: the woefully misguided "war on drugs".

Clinton is seen as at least marginally better in regard to climate change. Trade might be the area in which a greater difference between the two is projected: whereas Clinton is expected to push the global free trade vision that she and her husband were key to building in the 1990s, the Republican candidate appears to chime with the more protectionist tone coming from Europe post-Brexit.

And it is perhaps in terms of such resonances that this election attracts the most interest. Since the 2008 crash exposed finance's control over politics, most countries have faced an acute crisis of representation. Brazil is no exception.

All over the world, the political system's incapacity to respond to popular protests demanding democracy and greater equality has made it possible for relative outsiders such as Bernie Sanders and Trump to have an impact.

Yet, that same unresponsiveness and the continuing effects of the global crisis have also soured the mood and paved the way for a brand of right-wing populism that had long been cast to the margins of mainstream debate.

So in Brazil, as in most other places, people are following this election drawing possible parallels and wondering whether their country might be the next to face political uncertainty of this magnitude.

Robtel Neajai Pailey is a Liberian academic, activist and author of the anti-corruption children's book, Gbagba.

As the two most unlikeable presidential candidates in US history go head-to-head in this week's elections, it is clear that a Clinton or Trump presidency will result in few changes, if any, for the continent of Africa.

Although there is mounting uncertainty about the result of November 8, one thing remains clear to me. Trump's tax evasion tendencies and Clinton's philanthro-capitalist shadiness prove that the US lacks the moral authority more than it ever has to lecture Africa on the tenets of "good" governance, transparency, and accountability.

It is safe to say that just as Barack Obama regarded Africa as an afterthought, so too will Clinton or Trump. As Obama clearly demonstrated, regardless of a person's race, gender, or socioeconomic position, US presidents always protect US interests.

Nowhere is this doctrine more apparent than in my own country, Liberia, where the US corporation Firestone cemented its stronghold in our economy from the 1920s, a Voice of America relay station was built in the 1980s to influence opinions across the continent, and the CIA had a major base for surveillance in Africa. We Africans have sobered up to the reality that "America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests".

US militarisation in Africa will most likely continue in a Trump or Clinton presidency, with the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) hovering over insecure areas of the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. Clinton's unapologetic backing of the 2011 NATO-led military intervention in Libya is an indication of her hawkish support for regime change at all costs, even though the African Union advocated a more measured political solution to that crisis.

Similarly, the US under Clinton or Trump will continue to promote its economic interests through free and unfair trade deals such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows limited access to US markets for African exports of low-value goods and raw natural resources.

While Clinton's presidency is likely to be more outward facing and "development-oriented", with a slight pivot to Africa given the political alliances formed during her tenure as US secretary of state, Trump may shun Africa altogether, given his blatantly racist overtures towards people of colour.

A Trump presidency, firmly cemented on the pillars of anti-immigration, anti-women, anti-gays and anti-intellectualism, may galvanise ultra-conservative leaders in Africa and elsewhere to turn their bigotry and repression up a notch. Yet, there is sure to be a push-back from African citizens.

Despite Obama's ironic proclamation to the Ghanaian parliament in 2009 that "Africa doesn't need strongmen; it needs strong institutions", the US has a long history of supporting "strongmen" such as Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. Under a Clinton or Trump presidency, the US will probably continue supporting African regimes - authoritarian or otherwise - that facilitate American security and economic interests with impunity.

However, if the "Arab Spring" in Egypt and "Black African Spring" in Burkina Faso are anything to go by, Africans will not tolerate the US' hard-line stance in this regard.

Thorsten Benner is director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin.

Trump is Germany's gift to America. After all, his grandfather left Germany for the US where Friedrich Drumpf morphed into Frederic Trump. So if he becomes president, in all likelihood German Chancellor Angela Merkel will feel a special responsibility to help make the world safe from a Trump presidency.

Let's imagine this scenario. "Engagement" and "resilience" will surely be the twin pillars of Merkel's approach. She will engage Trump using her even-keeled temper perfected during long negotiations with Vladimir Putin. It is likely that Vice President Mike Pence will have to try to talk President Trump out of accepting German right-wing populist leader Frauke Petry's invitation to a "peace and stability summit" with Russian President Putin.

In March 2017, Merkel will welcome Trump to the family's ancestral German hometown in the Palatinate region.

Sharing a meal featuring Helmut Kohl's favourite local Saumagen pork dish, Merkel will get a first-hand impression of Trump's plans for US alliances in Europe and Asia.

The conversation will leave her sombre and determined. Working closely with Canada's Justin Trudeau, Merkel will set out to ring-fence as much as possible the Western alliance from the Trump wrecking ball.

Together with the newly elected French President Alain Juppe, Merkel will accelerate European defence cooperation. Germany will become part of a British-French-German nuclear deterrent thereby reaching the 2 percent GDP goal in terms of military spending faster than planned.

Across Europe, the Trump shock will serve as a wake-up call for centrist politicians and citizens alike to finally muster the necessary passion to get to work on containing the populist right-wing challenge.

In the alternative scenario, having escaped the Trump spectre, Merkel will happily welcome President Clinton to her first Europe trip with a joint appearance at the Munich Security Conference in mid-February.

Here, Clinton will stroke the needy egos of the assembled Transatlantic cheerleaders and will assure them that the US will always have their back.

She will also promise a tough stance on Russia. In a very cordial private meeting with Merkel, Clinton will call Germany "America's indispensable No 1 partner in Europe".

She will explain the high hopes she has for German leadership: toughening sanctions on Russia, helping secure a no-fly zone in Syria, shrinking Germany's trade surplus and ending the austerity fetish.

Merkel will thank the US president for her kind words and the commitment to the US role in Europe. She will then politely remind Clinton that Germany has elections in the autumn of 2017 and that there are very clear limits to what she can do.

So early on President Clinton will learn that Germany does not quite see its leadership role as implementing a US wish list.

Lijia Zhang is the author of "Socialism is Great!" A Worker's Memoir of the New China.

The Americans complain a great deal about China, accusing it of taking away their jobs and manipulating its currency. During the election campaign, the complaints only intensified. The Republican frontrunner Trump even accused China of "raping" the US and threatened to punish it.

Being accustomed to the pre-election "China-bashing", the leaders in Beijing know that it is unlikely that the words will translate into action. They are closely following the election, which certainly poses an element of uncertainty to China and Asia Pacific region.

Although the pre-election anti-China rhetoric has remained the same over the years, what has changed is that China has grown more influential. The two most powerful nations on earth simply have to work together. Without their close cooperation, no meaningful progress can be achieved, be it anti-terrorism, climate change, or non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Despite the vast differences, the cooperation between them has deepened in economics, trade, culture, science and global governess, except in the area of Asia-Pacific security.

China regards the "strategic pivot" or "rebalancing" in Asia Pacific region as the US' effort to contain China and it is suspicious of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which it is excluded from.

The US pivot was welcomed by some countries, particularly Japan, Vietnam and Philippines, which have territorial disputes with China.

Overall, however, Asian countries would rather focus on economic development than be forced to choose between China and the US.

The pragmatic Asians prefer engagement to containment, especially at a time when China's stable, if slowing economy, has offered relief to its neighbours. Since 2005, Chinese imports from Asian countries have grown steadily.

Perhaps being pragmatic is the best approach when dealing with an economic powerhouse. History has proved that US presidents usually softened their stance against China after securing their presidency.

Even Clinton, hawkish as she is, sacrificed her principle when the economy looked dim. As regarding Trump, he is certainly far more unpredictable. But his shrewd business instinct probably wouldn't allow him to carry out the threats he has made against China if he did win.

Besides, as China is shifting towards a more consumption-driven economy, it would be less at risk from the protectionist US.

So I doubt the leaders in Beijing are losing much sleep over the election.

Leonid Ragozin is a freelance journalist based in Moscow.

Russia at the centre of the presidential debate in the US? Who would have imagined that just a year ago? Yet, here we are, with the Russian government openly rooting for one of the presidential candidates and the other being openly sympathetic of Russia. All of that is happening at a time when bilateral relations are about as bad as they were during the Prague Spring of 1968.

It might be tempting to reduce this anomaly to the interaction between two outstandingly charismatic personalities, Trump and Putin, but there is more to it.

Nearly half of Trump's supporters see Russia as an ally or a friendly nation, according to a poll released by Politico magazine. This is the last thing one would expect from the electorate of the Republican Party, which has traditionally been more hawkish towards Russia than the Democrats.

The poll was conducted after US security agencies suggested that the Russian government might have been behind the hackers responsible for the attacks on the Democratic Party and other US institutions.

Russians respond in kind: They are world's only nation that wants Trump, rather than Clinton, elected, according to Gallup poll published in October.

This is, of course, the result of a massive brainwashing effort by state-run propaganda TV, but it's not like Russians are subjecting themselves to this brainwashing unwillingly, while being completely deprived of other sources of information.

The difference between propaganda during the Soviet era and today is that modern Russian TV is telling its viewers what they are willing to hear, rather than what they must think. It works in the same way as Fox TV in the US or right-wing tabloids in Britain do.

The US and Russia might feel worlds apart, but there are some striking similarities between Putin's and Trump's constituencies.

Both are nostalgic about the post-war, baby boom decades, which they perceive as the time when there were many manufacturing jobs and fewer illegal immigrants, and when their respective countries were strong and widely respected.

Trump's "Make America great again" line echoes Putin's "Russia raising from its knees" in the sense that both mottos create an image of a country that was at some point diminished and defeated.

The other similarity is the shamelessness with which both Trump's campaign and Russian propaganda twist facts and appeal to the evil side of human nature, presenting clear-cut evil as cool alternative thinking.

The fact that Putin's regime, Trump and far-right populists in Europe - such as Marine le Pen, leader of the National Front in France, and Nigel Farage, the former UK Independence Party leader, in Britain - act as a single front manifests the emergence of a global alt-right movement that opposes liberal democracy in every corner of the world.

In the next decades, politics will be less and less domestic, and coalitions will be more and more supranational. Welcome to the brave new globalised world.

Yezid Sayigh is senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut.

The attempt to maintain a low profile in the Middle East, only to get pulled back in, was a hallmark of US foreign policy under the Obama administration. The incoming US administration will fare no better, no matter who wins the presidential election.

Contrary to speculation about what Clinton or Trump might do in Syria, looming crises elsewhere in the region present a far greater challenge, from which neither can walk away.

The most immediate threat lies in Iraq, where the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) faces imminent defeat in Mosul. Many rightly stress the importance of preventing gross human rights abuses, providing humanitarian relief and reconstructing war-torn cities.

But the real danger is that none of the deep failings of the Iraqi state that led to the rise and initial successes of ISIL has been fixed. The fight against ISIL will give way to intra-sectarian struggles - above all between rival Shia factions - for control of the state, which means a vicious struggle for Baghdad.

Egypt is often labelled "too big to fail", but that is precisely what it may do during the term of the next US president. The regime in power since July 2013 shows no signs of comprehending, let alone resolving, the deep structural problems that have taken the most populous Arab state into continuous political crisis since 2011. A social meltdown is in the making that will dwarf anything seen so far and generate unprecedented outward migration flows.

The ambitious plan to transform Saudi Arabia's economy by 2030 offers the one bright spot in the regional picture, but comes with significant risks.

Resistance from those with a stake in the ideological, economic, and political status quo will inevitably build up as the plan progresses, and could derail it. The reform plan moreover seeks transparency regarding oil income, but not how money is spent or policies are made. To succeed, the reform plan must go even further, but if it falters or is deliberately held back, it risks destabilising the kingdom rather than transforming it.

The US does not possess the means or experience to tackle complex challenges of this scope and scale. But because the repercussions for the security and stability of major partners in Europe and the Gulf will be so dire, the next US president will find herself or himself retracing Obama's reluctant steps.

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