South America shows unease about Biden

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All the South American countries that have been engaged by Vice-President Kamala Harris have either boycotted the US-hosted event or only sent low-level officials to attend, writes Prof. Madhav Nalapat

Donald J. Trump designed the surrender of US and European forces to the Taliban in 2020, although former National Security Advisor John Bolton seems to believe that it was then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was the person guilty of that disaster. The Doha accord signed between Pompeo and a Taliban representative will figure among the most shameful or shameless acts committed by a US administration in the 21st century.

Outdistancing Trump in shamelessness as he had in electoral votes, President Biden operationalised the surrender in a manner that has led to the deaths of uncounted numbers of Afghans who had been trusting enough to believe US assurances of their safety. Unlike in the case of the Ukrainians, a population segment towards which Biden as also leaders of several countries in Europe appear to have an affinity not seen towards Afghans. Including those who resisted the Taliban and were now in mortal danger as a consequence.

Hillary and Bill Clinton are Europeanists in the way Colin Powell was while Secretary of State, and Biden is as President. Looking at his approach towards consequential issues both domestic and foreign, it would appear that President Biden has yet to outgrow the mindset developed during his three decades in the US Senate. While he was a Senator, China was the shining light of opportunity and Russia the wicked adversary, a mindset that appears to remain unchanged in large swathes of Team Biden.

Ever since the allegation surfaced that Vladimir Putin was instrumental in the defeat of Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump, the US President’s Cold War 1.0 thinking has become turbocharged, assisted by Europeanist aides such as Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, whose ties to the Clinton rather than to the Obama ecosystem have remained substantial.

What made President Biden decide to unilaterally exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the Summit of the Americas? While dealing with Europe, Biden searches for a consensus, while in dealing with Asia, Africa and South America, he usually makes it clear that it’s his view or the highway. Hence his attempts to get countries in Asia to hobble themselves the way the EU has, by not buying cheap oil and gas from the Russian Federation. Judging by their statements, Biden, Johnson and Von der Leyen appear to be in denial that it is the type of sanctions imposed by them on Russia that have caused dislocation in global supply chains in a manner not seen since the Covid lockdowns in 2020.

The UK, Canada and the US, which are largely self-sufficient in gas and oil, have a collective interest in ensuring that Russian competition be kept out, so that there will be more customers of the high-priced oil and gas produced by Canada, the US and the UK. Unfortunately for them, not just India but even Japan has refused to stop buying Russian oil and gas, or to abandon the investments made by Japanese companies in securing Russian oil and gas.

In the sermons they give on almost a daily basis to poorer countries, neither Biden, Johnson nor Von der Leyen, key “Cancel Russia” protagonists, seem to understand the consequences for the underprivileged across the world of the manner in which the sanctions they have imposed on Russia impact supply chains and thereby reduce access even to food stocks. Ukrainian policymakers bask in the glow of NATO appreciation and continue to live and operate in a fantasy world. In their world, Vladimir Putin is regarded as just another clone of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi. Those in authority in Kiev are bewildered that NATO is not using the military to impose “Zero Access to Russia” sea, land and air zones across not just Ukraine but the nearby land, airways and seas.

After all, NATO carried out such measures swiftly against Gaddafi and Saddam in the past, so why not against Putin? They do not seem to yet comprehend the fact that President Zelenskyy would have had to surrender to Russia only what was already a reality when he took office, about 18% of the territory of Ukraine, had his team ignored advice from Johnson, Biden and Von der Leyen and worked out a peace agreement with Moscow rather than follow their suggestion that Ukraine embark on a quest to recover the lands that had been lost to Russia since Russophobic elements such as Petro Poroshenko took over the Ukrainian government in 2014.

The consequence of such a miscalculation by the luckless President Zelenskyy is that Ukraine is on course to lose nearly 40% of its territory once the fighting stops. No territory would have been lost, including Crimea, had ousted President Viktor Yanukovych remained in office. Once Zelenskyy took over, the damage was done, and nearly a fifth of Ukrainian territory had been lost to Russia since the Maidan coup in 2014.His policies have only added to this figure.

Ukraine has been a diplomatic disaster not just for Joe Biden but for his EU counterparts. The chasm between their treatment of refugees from South America, Africa and parts of Asia and those from Ukraine has been an important factor in the groundswell of opinion in Africa, Asia and South America that all that the US, UK and EU care about are European concerns at the expense of others.

Witness their efforts at preventing Asian access to cheap Russian gas, oil and through upending logistics. For non-NATO continents, it is not “Putin’s War” but the US-UK-EU war on Russia conducted through Ukraine that has resulted in so much additional misery. Understanding the mood of his voters, President Lopez Obrador of Mexico has boycotted the Summit of the Americas being held in Los Angeles. As for the efficacy of camouflaging a Europe First policy by showcasing a non-European face, the South American countries that were engaged by Vice-President Kamala Harris have either boycotted the US-hosted event or only sent low-level officials to attend.

What next for Biden after deciding for all the Americas that Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela would not be invited to the 2022 Summit of the Americas? Prevent them from attending UN sessions? Should a Trumpian become the next US President in 2024, that too may well happen. Blocking three countries in South America from taking part in the deliberations in Los Angeles is a slap not just to their governments but even more so, to their people as well as to the entire continent of which they are a part. Not to mention that sanctions punish not regime leaders but the ordinary people of the country against which such measures are targeted.

There is still time for President Biden to fashion a better legacy by awakening from his 20th century Senatorial reverie so as to frame policies that are relevant to the Indo-Pacific world of the 21st century. Not just people in the US, but those across the world who see Washington as the most essential of partners in the current era (just as it was in the previous period) are still hoping for such a transformation.

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