14-20 July 2017 #867

Manchurian candidates

Foreign policy runs on the principle that it is OK to install a sonofabitch to power in another country as long as he is your sonofabitch
Damakant Jayshi
Nepalis are all too familiar with frequent rise and falls of governments: we have had 24 governments in 26 years since the restoration of democracy in 1991.

Sometimes coalition partners switch so dizzyingly fast even veteran political analysts are left befuddled. And there are some political leaders (Kamal Thapa of the RPP and Bijay Kumar Gachchhedar of the MPRF-D spring to mind) who seem to somehow get to be ministers no matter which coalition is ruling.

Many in Kathmandu see an Indian hand in the creation or the collapse of successive governments in Singha Darbar. The Indians definitely have preferences, but it doesn’t always go according to plan as we saw with the so-called ‘covert and overt’ attempts to prevent the UML’s KP Oli from becoming prime minister in 2015.

Helping install or perpetuate a government, which is perceived to be ‘friendly’ to a country’s interest is not unique to India in Nepal. The United States has done that globally and for a long time. Indeed, US governments have installed war criminals in power because they are anti-communists, opening Washington to accusations of hypocrisy: that it purports to uphold human rights and democracy in its own land, but turns a blind eye to dictatorships around the world if they happen to suit their economic, strategic and security interests.

The Soviets did the same thing, and after a brief pause following the collapse of the USSR, the meddling has resumed again with Vladimir Putin. The Russian president isn’t just trying to influence who gets to govern Ukraine or Georgia anymore, but seems to want to have a say in who doesn’t get to be US president. To many Americans, perhaps with the exception of white supremacists, this has come as a shock. The former KGB operative Putin must be satisfied that he has taken his revenge against a cold war enemy and an adversarial power for the national humiliation of the disintegration of the once mighty Soviet Union.

American democracy has a lot of flaws, some silly ones like its electoral college; others more serious, like allowing partisan gerrymandering after every 10-year census. But its elections were thought to be safe from foreign meddling. That it was Russia which did this on the United States is galling to many Americans. Leaders of the Republican Party which prides itself in matters related to national security and global dominance, however, have only mumbled some unintelligible remarks. Trump, for his part, has never hidden his admiration for Putin and has dismissed Russian attempts to influence the elections outright despite credible and mounting evidence. The last episode of Russian revelations ensnares his eldest son and son-in-law.

Trump’s victory owes in no small part to Russia’s covert meddling in the US presidential election in 2016. It weaponised misinformation, fake news and systematic trolling from a building in St. Petersburg. Russia-backed hackers got into the Democratic National Committee’s email server as well as Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, stole information and passed it on to Wikileaks which then let out the information drip by drip, always casting a shadow over Clinton. She had to contend with that even as she was embroiled in a controversy over her own private email server as Secretary of State made it worse. The dominant word, according to a credible post-election survey, was Email, and that appears to have affected the outcome.

Of course, there were other factors, but Russia played a role in helping install a friendly government in America. Whether Putin will get rewarded by Trump – allowing Russia a total and unchallenged sway in eastern Europe and Syria, lifting or at least easing of sanctions imposed on Russia and returning of its two seized diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland, among others, will depend on the Congress, though Trump is moving to act on these.

Russia has succeeded in helping install a friendly government in an once-enemy country.

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