Chatham House’s new report on elite perceptions of the US in Latin America and the post-Soviet states – which follows a previous survey of Asia and Europe – underlines the uniquely daunting task of expectation management task that awaits anyone in charge of America’s image in the world.

It’s tricky to ask other countries to be realistic about the US’s national interests without pushing them into disillusion and resentment. Small wonder then that those consulted for the report say they’re more cheerfully disposed to Americans outside government than they are towards agents of the American state, who have no choice but to confront the hard cases.

Underlying the critiques offered by respondents, one can make out the same perceived American qualities about which those on the receiving end of US foreign and economic policy have complained for generations: presumptuousness, overconfidence in how much they know, a degree of obliviousness. And naturally, the respondents make clear that history casts a long shadow over the US’s image in both regions.

Many decades of quasi-imperial US intervention in its southern neighbours’ politics – sometimes calculated, sometimes blundering – has understandably made Latin Americans intensely sensitive to this sort of thing. Those from the former USSR, especially Russians, seem to have followed a journey from naive Soviet-era curiosity about the US to disappointment at the reality of it.

Western-leaning people and states in the post-Soviet sphere now regard the US as an inconstant ally on whom one would be ill-advised to bet everything. At the same time, Russia’s leadership and those in its political orbit have started to slip back into some old Cold War ways, which have played out visibly in the Ukrainian and Syrian conflicts.

Along with disappointment, the report’s respondents level a longstanding charge against America: hypocrisy. Besides the highly chequered history of US interventionism, the report’s respondents are well aware of the US’ contemporary domestic shortcomings, including racial division, police violence and social inequality, which undermine its standing as an exemplar.

Casting the first stone

One can imagine mixed reactions among Americans who read the report. On the one hand, few informed people among them will be shocked by the news that their country has some shady interventionist episodes lurking in its past, or that its domestic conflicts look ugly when projected on a screen for the globe to see.

On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine many being eager to take notes on civil and political shortcomings from Brazil, Venezuela or Cuba, or criticisms of self-interested cynicism from the Russian elite and their post-Soviet neighbours.

This speaks to a key point that also gets a prominent mention in the report: that the US is often held to a higher standard than any other country.

When American intervention in a conflict fails to secure a final resolution – or worse, when Washington simply pursues its own interests rather than serving as a neutral arbiter – it seems to provoke a sense of entitled disappointment in those “let down” that other countries rarely encounter.

This is partly its own doing, thanks to its leaders’ fondness for “American exceptionalism” and the grandiose idealistic rhetoric that sometimes goes with it. It’s also a function of American power: any state that has played a major role in shaping the internal politics of so many other places is liable to be ascribed a sort of God-like omnipotence, rather than judged as just another country with its own interests to pursue.

The Marmite of nations.
EPA/Arshad Arbab

The report suggests that US leaders might mitigate this problem by taking a more “nuanced” approach to presenting and promoting their country. It also notes that it might help to “build awareness” among the world’s elites of the realities of “the US political system and its limits”.

This could help remedy the all-too-common exclusive focus on the presidency at the expense of the full complexity of American government. Such focus gives outsiders a myopic view, and can fuel the perception that the US is deliberately mendacious or unreliable when in fact it’s often simply bogged down by acrimonious or deadlocked domestic rivalries – a phenomenon familiar to almost every country on the planet.

That foreign elites’ limited grasp of American politics should present as a serious problem for the US’s image is of course an irony, given that foreigners often criticise US leaders for ignorance about other countries. But diplomacy is, perhaps, the business of letting such minor hypocrisies slide.

A final point worth highlighting is that notionally “domestic” issues (such as immigration policy) can clearly affect American relations with other countries. This year’s presidential campaign has seen the most inflammatory rhetoric on that issue in generations, with Latin Americans in particular bearing the brunt of verbal assaults from Donald Trump and his nativist supporters.

This reminds us that it’s not just overseas actions that affect the US’s international reputation: the way people of other nationalities are discussed within America’s domestic political discourse reverberates around the world.

When a country – and in particular a superpower – has opted for so long to define itself by reference to liberal values, any perceived betrayal of them is all the costlier to its image. This will remain a challenge no matter who wins the coming election.

The Conversation

Adam Quinn, Senior Lecturer in International Politics, University of Birmingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Donald Trump is not a normal American presidential nominee, and there has been very little normal about the Republican convention that has now officially confirmed his nomination.

Trump’s defining attributes have always been intemperance, divisiveness and indiscipline, so it should surprise no-one that “his” convention was so intemperate, divided, and close to outright farce.

But however “eventful” the convention might have been, Trump’s formal nomination was always to be the centrepiece of the occasion. With due respect to the cast of reluctant colleagues, relatives and d-list celebrities spread out over the days before, Trump was always centre of attention.

Likewise, it was during his acceptance speech that the largest part of the general public tuned into proceedings – many perhaps paying full attention to the campaign for the first time.

For his committed supporters, meanwhile, Trump played exactly the tunes they wanted to hear, his performance coloured by a dark intensity. He painted a bleak (and inaccurate) picture of an America overwhelmed by violent crime, before declaring himself “the law and order candidate” and promising that upon his election “safety will be restored”.

He told tales of Americans tragically killed by illegal immigrants, affirming one of his longest-standing pledges: to build a “border wall” and find and deport those already illegally in the country.

He blamed his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state during president Obama’s first term, for the rise of Islamic State and other agents of radical militant Islamism. Lamenting that “America is far less safe and the world is far less stable” than it was when she took charge of US foreign policy, he reassured the crowd that he would “defeat them fast” if he were elected.

He warned of the threat of terror attacks in the US, but pledged to neutralise them in part by suspending immigration from any country “compromised by terrorism” – without specifying what countries this would include.

And he extended sympathy to the plight of workers whose jobs had been taken away by “disastrous” trade deals, promising to get rid of current “bad” agreements with the likes of China and replace them with “great” ones instead.

In short, Trump used his address to stoke fear, to blame his political opponents for that which is frightening, and to offer himself as the singularly capable agent of change and renewal demanded by the times.

Scorning any imperative to offer realistic solutions to the problems he railed against, Trump delivered a clear pitch: that, flying in the face of a “corrupt” establishment, he alone can speak for the “forgotten” working men and women who have suffered at the hands of a “rigged” system. “I am your voice!” he proclaimed.

As the blogger Andrew Sullivan summarised it: “Everything is terrible. I alone can solve [everything]. Just don’t ask me how.”

A crisis in waiting

That Trump should present himself as the candidate of law and order is darkly ironic, since his campaign has provided ample evidence that in office he would be a threat to both.

Even many on the right have questioned whether his proposal for a ban on immigration by Muslims is constitutional. He has threatened to use the law to curb media organisations that subjected him to unfavourable reporting. He has encouraged violence against protesters at his rallies and offered to pay the legal fees of those who commit it (not reassuring in someone who if elected would acquire the power of presidential pardon).

In his discussion of foreign policy, he has demonstrated at best ignorance and at worst active hostility to the institutions and arrangements that underpin the liberal world order. He has said that he would order those under his command to commit torture and war crimes in pursuit of his security policy. He has, in effect, threatened to mount a trade war against China and others.

Hair me now.
EPA/Michael Reynolds

He has suggested that the US might not live up to its security commitments to Europe under NATO, while cultivating mutual admiration with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s authoritarian strongman.

His discussion of the national debt and how he might seek to renegotiate it suggests a dizzying ignorance of the rudiments of how national and international economics work.

In short, if Trump wins, a major global crisis – whether economic or military, and whether caused by design or by cluelessness – would become dramatically more likely.

Fear and loathing

One of the most disturbing themes of the convention was the sheer venom with which Trump Republicans attacked Hillary Clinton, whom they regard as not merely a political opponent but a criminal. And not just a petty one; in Trump’s phrase, she is guilty of “terrible, terrible crimes” that have been swept under the carpet by a corrupt FBI.

“Lock her up” was an enthusiastic chant, reappearing during Trump’s speech but originating in New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s audition for the job of Attorney General in a Trump administration, in which he staged a mock show-trial of Clinton for supposed crimes ranging from corruption to “bad judgment” skirting the edges of treason.

As others have noted, demands for the jailing of opponents do not form a normal part of politics in a healthy democratic society, and for good reason. That they are now the stock-in-trade of a major party’s nominee speaks to a serious erosion of the US’s liberal democratic norms.

Experts are uncertain about just what has to happen at a convention to benefit the nominee, but this was an especially unedifying week, with enough unpleasant surprises and unforced embarrassments to give any professional political stage manager an ulcer.

And Trump, obliged to adhere more closely to a fixed script than in his free-associative primary-night rants, was at times strained and halting in his delivery. But we won’t know how it has been received by the public until the first post-convention polls come in.

Whatever they say, the most important point is abundantly clear: Trump is a terrifying candidate.

He is skilled in the dark arts of fear, agitation, and insecurity; he is duly marketing himself as an avenger of law and order to meet the demand he has inflamed. His constituency is shockingly large. But a Trump presidency would be a greater danger to American security than any threat it proposes to address – perhaps even an existential threat to American democracy itself.

The Conversation

Adam Quinn, Senior Lecturer in International Politics, University of Birmingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

I think Tony Blair is telling the truth that his decision to invade Iraq was made in good faith, for what that’s worth. And I think his critics (which is, at this point, everyone) are now proven right beyond all doubt that it was a terrible decision, based on shoddy analysis, slanted public presentation and wholly inadequate planning. Blair’s failing wasn’t that he didn’t believe. His failing was that he so *wanted* to believe that it got in the way of all due reflection, caution and contemplation of the alternatives.

This is important: if the debate focuses on whether or not Tony Blair was an evil liar, he is gifted a deflective talking point, since that’s the one criticism he has reasonable basis for denying. And it gives him great comfort to be able to repeat ad nauseam his sincerity in deciding as he did. What he is is a reckless zealot who was responsible for the corralling of British institutions into one of the worst and worst-made decisions in modern history.

The lesson here that will serve us better and more often in the future isn’t that people with malign intentions do bad things. It’s that people with good intentions – people who *know* they’re right – are sometimes terribly wrong. And the grim consequences of their false certainty fall far and wide.

Strong institutions are needed to force the kind of reflection and rigour that individuals may be disinclined to apply to their own thinking unless compelled to. The key point is that you need that kind of procedural restraint even when there isn’t a ‘bad actor’ in the system knowingly trying to do something malevolent.

Political science truths for the day: 1. No one needs to want the bad outcome for the bad outcome to happen. 2. No one needs to be lying for untrue beliefs to spread.

New post by me at PSA blog:

“Some past presidential candidates – including Barack Obama – have travelled abroad seeking opportunities to look statesmanlike. Trump may the first to break from the campaign trail to make a sales pitch for his investments in the leisure industry. Although not packaged primarily as a political event, Tump’s Scottish visit nevertheless served to highlight four key features of his candidacy.

…His past bad behaviour means clouds of anger and hostility will follow wherever he goes; his business record is a trail of overblown promises followed by disappointment and recrimination; his ignorance of the world combines with his brash manner to make him an endlessly productive generator of crass and provocative verbal missteps; and when it comes to campaign discipline, he simply does what he likes, when he likes, without regard for how it will affect others, or even common sense about how it will affect himself.”

See full thing here.

So everyone with institutional power wants one thing, but there’s been a referendum saying to do the opposite. If Britain were a different sort of country I feel pretty confident there’d be a coup around now. I guess its absence is something to celebrate? Is letting the electorate make shitty, self-destructive decisions the acid test for respecting democracy? Maybe.

I’m of the view that ‘democracy’ is one virtue among several (including multiple centres of power; liberal rights; religious tolerance) important to a good and functioning society, not a trump card that beats everything. There are lots of things 51% of the electorate would approve of that we shouldn’t do. I’m sure I don’t need to list examples; your imagination can do the work.

Our institutions are designed to provide accountability to the population while acknowledging that informed representatives are better placed to make decisions on specific complex issues than voters. It would have been completely legitimate for parliament to remain in the EU and not ask the public directly for an opinion on the issue. But is it ‘democratic’ to ask them first and *then* not do it? That I rather doubt.

Finding a way to overturn this result is, basically, looking for a way to circumvent majority will democratically expressed in the most direct form (in as much as those concepts have practical meaning). Sure, the electorate was poorly informed and focused on the things we’d prefer they didn’t. But those aren’t soluble problems. When it comes to referendums that’s a feature, not a bug.

Don’t misunderstand me: perhaps given the importance of this issue, finding a way to short-circuit the result via parliamentary side-step or the farce of a second referendum is the right thing to do nevertheless. Maybe it’s because we correctly intuit that the majority one day may not be the majority the next. Or maybe it’s because we believe that sometimes, in a crunch, there are more important things than majoritarianism and the popular will. But if that’s what we’re saying, let’s be honest with ourselves about it, not dress it up. We’re saying there should be limits on the role of the general populace in making decisions, because we don’t think they’re equipped to make them right.

As both right and left have been very keen to point out, the European Union is a liberal project, in the broad sense of the word. I think it would be healthy if those of us who favour it, and grieve this result, accept that what’s been offended against here is our liberalism, not our democracy. And that perhaps, though the two overlap more often than not, when they conflict the former is more important to us than the latter. I for one think I’m ok with that.

Wow. Well I doubt I’ll see many days bigger than this in UK politics. Like so many votes in referendums – which are almost always a terrible idea – the vote has been based in large part on grievance, stoked by populist campaigns offering disingenuously soothing visions of the future available if the public would follow their lead. It’s also been about identity: a great many Leave voters, even low information ones, didn’t go into this blind – when pressed by the media, pollsters or focus group leaders about the economic costs, and forced to acknowledge their reality, many fell back to a position that basically said “doesn’t matter; identity and immigration concerns trump those, as does kicking the ‘establishment'” One can share or reject (as I do) that worldview, but it is a choice, and it’s proven to have more appeal than anyone expected.

What worries me most as of today is that so many of the reassurances Leave voters have been given about what it means either don’t reflect the real policy intentions of our likely post-Brexit leaders, or aren’t within the realm of what could possibly be delivered even if they tried. There is a nostalgia-flavoured Utopianism running right through the world of national community and economic security promised by Leave. Not having expected to win, I doubt those who will now take charge have the first idea how to go about meeting the expectations they have raised. In many regards I doubt it is possible. And Utopian visions curdled into fury at perceived betrayal can be among the most dangerous forces in politics. We’re already half way there.

The fan-fiction writer in me wants to imagine a world in which an early election is forced, the electorate surprises everyone by plumping for Labour, and the Lexit fantasy of a left-wing govt free of all EU constraint is elected. If only because then everyone will have had a taste of unintended consequences and been acquainted with the danger of romanticising the electorate’s impulses. But I rather doubt that or anything like it is coming. Instead I think we shall see further movement to the right in government, failure to deliver on most of what Leave voters believed they were promised, and another cycle of escalating popular discontent and demagoguery. All against the backdrop of at the very least harmful economic instability, at worst a painful recession.

Unless the Conservatives blink, decide this was all much more fun in theory than now it’s their circus to run, and try to find a way of diverting the snowball now more than half way down the mountain before the Leaving is actually done. In which case all bets are off. In fact, what am I saying?: All bets are off already. Good luck out there, people. I’m quite certain we’ll be needing it.

Those who’ve been wondering when Donald Trump would switch from the wild bombast of his primary campaign to the sober mode traditionally demanded by a general election now have their answer: never.

The dreadful gun massacre at the Pulse club in Orlando, Florida on June 12 presented Trump with as clear an opportunity as he will ever have to rise above his well-earned reputation for bigotry and divisiveness and to find the presidential voice more becoming of a major party nominee.

Instead, he opted to double down on the traits that most terrify those who regard the prospect of his presidency as a threat to national security.

This is not hyperbole. To get a full sense of just how unmoored Trump is, let’s just cast our minds back to September 2001, when George W. Bush was called upon to govern in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history.

9/11 put conflict with terrorists citing extreme Islam as their ideology at the centre of US security policy, but on one rhetorical point, Bush kept his feet on the ground: Muslims as a group should never be conflated with the tiny sliver engaged in violent extremism. Moderate Muslims, which is to say, the overwhelming majority of Muslims, both in the US and overseas, must be treated as crucial allies.

In his remarks after Orlando, Donald Trump took this standard of discourse, set light to it and stamped on it.

First, he appeared on Twitter, his favoured medium for rash, unreflective pronouncements, to claim the attack as evidence of his correctness in having called for more aggressive policies and to thank all those he claimed had congratulated him for his prescience.


In interviews and most of all in a speech in the hours that followed, he reiterated his pledge to impose a total ban on Muslims entering the US. He blamed “political correctness” for allowing such attacks to happen. He highlighted the decision to allow the Orlando shooter’s Afghan parents to enter America as the root cause of the threat.

He warned Muslim Americans of “consequences” unless they co-operate with “us” by turning over the terrorist sympathisers in their midst, suggesting that they “know where they are”. He asserted (inaccurately) that refugees and asylum seekers were admitted to the US without background checks, and that his opponent Hillary Clinton favoured admitting hundreds of thousands more Muslim incomers on this basis.

Most outlandish of all, he mused aloud that President Obama might himself be in sympathy with the terrorists. And when it dared to report and parse his semi-coherent remarks, the Washington Post then had its credentials for access to the Trump campaign revoked.

Combined with Trump’s longstanding promises to intensify the bombing of Islamic State-held territory (which could only be done by knowingly bombing civilians), to return to waterboarding and other torture, and to kill terrorists’ families, and one could not design a platform better designed to alienate Muslims worldwide.

It is no exaggeration to say that implementation of Trump’s platform is exactly the Islamic State’s hope: to present Muslims with a binary choice between itself and an irreconcilably hostile West.

Highway to Hell

Trump’s post-Orlando performance has sent a new wave of horror through those senior Republicans who find themselves manacled to him for the rest of the campaign.

Even in the week before the massacre, senior party figures such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had publicly rebuked their presidential nominee for suggesting that federal judge Gonzalo Curiel could not fairly adjudicate in a case against one of Trump’s businesses because he was “Mexican” and therefore biased against him (Curiel is from Indiana). Ryan, who had said he will vote for Trump only days before, said this fit the “textbook definition of a racist comment”.

Now these most reluctant supporters find themselves obliged to say whether they endorse their candidate’s litany of falsehoods regarding Muslim immigration or his plan to abruptly terminate it. Ryan has publicly said that he does not.

There is an argument that Trump is simply the predictable apex of a trajectory the Republican Party has been on for some time. For years its candidates across the country have appealed to their voters’ fear of the threat presented by non-white “others” as a way of mobilising support and attacking opponents.

But Trump is far more frightening than any recent Republican candidate of note. He has not stayed within the rules of the insidious dog-whistle playbook; he has expanded them dramatically, both with the explicitness of his appeals and the extremism of his actual proposals.

His persona seems not to be a calculated act, a front behind which lies a cool and balanced actor with rational plans. On the contrary, his intellectual incoherence and erratic emotionalism appear to be his most genuine features.

Perhaps Trump could have shown a new, restrained and responsible self in his response to Orlando, and simply chose not to – or maybe he is actually incapable of modulation and reflection. Perhaps he simply doesn’t have another face to show the world. What we can now be sure of is that he isn’t going to change.

He is a new departure for modern America: a European-style ethno-nationalist populist of a kind largely alien to either the conservative or liberal camps of American politics. His election would represent a turn away from much of what has hitherto made the US exceptional, and towards the dark side.

The Conversation

Adam Quinn, Senior Lecturer in International Politics, University of Birmingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.