Tom Arms’ World Review

United States

The ripple effects following the ejection of Kevin McCarthy from the Speaker’s chair in the US House of Representatives are severe and wide-reaching. The issues most affected are moderates in the Republican Party, Ukraine and the credibility of the United States.

The mainstream of the Republican Party – or at least the congressional caucus – is not as unreasonably far-right as it is portrayed. Out of the 221 Republican members of the lower house, only 40 are signed up members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus. And of those, only about 20 could be considered extreme right by American standards.

The problem is that the Freedom Caucus – especially the far-right 20 or so members – are really a separate political party using the broad coattails of the Republican establishment to pursue policies which are antithetical to their own party. They can succeed in their aims because the Republicans’ majority as a whole is so narrow that the Freedom Caucus holds the balance of power.

In practice this means that the next Speaker could easily be Congressman Jim Jordan, a rabid Trump supporter and founding member of the Freedom Caucus. He has already secured the ex-president’s endorsement.

It also means that Ukraine will find it difficult to secure the next tranche of US military aid it has been promised. For the Freedom Caucus and Donald Trump the issue of self-determination and respect for the rule of law comes after support for Vladimir Putin.

The ejection of McCarthy also makes a US government shutdown almost certain.  It was McCarthy’s successful 11th-hour deal to prevent a shutdown which provided the straw that broke the back of the caucus camel. Any future Speaker will be all too aware that he will suffer the same fate if he allows Biden’s budget through Congress.

All of the above bolsters the belief that political divisions are rendering the US ungovernable. This in turn undermines credibility at home and abroad. America is the recognised standard bearer of world democracy. Alternative systems—especially Russia, China and Iran—argue that if democracy can’t work in America… then it can’t work.

Ukraine

Support for Ukraine this week suffered a blow on the European side of the Atlantic as well as the American.

It came in the form of an election victory for the pro-Russian Slovakian politician Robert Fico and his Direction-Social Democracy (or SMER-SD) Party. Fico’s party failed to win an outright majority in parliament, but with 24 percent of the votes it is the largest single party and is currently in coalition talks with smaller pro-Russian parties.

They have until 16 October to form a government and in the interim period have announced an end to all aid to Ukraine; a block on Ukrainian membership of NATO and an end to Slovakian support for EU sanctions against Russia.

Unlike most of the current batch of European populist parties, SMER-SD is left as opposed to right-wing. This, however, has not prevented Hungary’s populist right-winger Viktor Orban from welcoming Fico’s victory. Clearly common ground on the populist positions on the EU, Russia, gay rights, woke culture, immigration, media restrictions, curbs on the judiciary, sanctions and the war in Ukraine trumps the political spectrum issue.

This is not Fico’s first run at Slovak prime minister. He was initially elected to the job in 2012 with a whopping 83-seat majority. He was forced into coalition after the 2016 election and shortly afterward ran unsuccessfully for the presidency. In 2018 he was forced to resign as prime minister after the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak. He had been investigating the Slovakian mafia and police later linked Maria Troskova, Fico’s assistant, to the gangs.

Another one of the casualties of Fico’s victory is Zuzana Caputova. She was seen as a liberal hope for Slovakian politics when she was elected in 2019. The post is largely ceremonial but the Slovakian president does make the top judicial appoints, ratifies international treaties, is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and can veto legislation.

There is no love lost between Caputova and Fico. During the recent parliamentary campaign, Caputova and her family were subjected to repeated smear campaigns and death threats. Fico has branded her an “American agent.” After Fico’s victory, President Caputova said she would not stand for re-election.

India

India’s press freedom suffered another blow this week. And because a free press is a vital component of democratic government – so did its claim to be the title of the “world’s largest democracy”.

The Indian media has for years been under attack from Narendra Modi’s government and Hindu-nationalist Baharatiya Janata (BJP) Party. But the attacks have been relatively subtle in nature.

If the government disliked what a journalist was writing then a quiet word was whispered into the editor or publisher’s ear. If they didn’t listen then access to officials would be reduced or, in some cases, the tax authorities would launch an investigation into the company or individual’s finances.

The anti-media activities have even been  extended to the foreign media. Recently the BBC offices in New Delhi were raided by the tax authorities after the BBC aired a two-part documentary critical of Modi’s time as chief minister of Ghopal.

But this week the government took the wholly unsubtle step of swooping on the offices of an anti-Modi news website called Newsclick. Forty-six people were detained and the editor and key personnel have been arrested on terrorism charges. Police claim that they were using the website to carry Chinese propaganda.

Newsclick’s editor – who is also its founder – denies the charges. But there is not much he can do to fight it because under India’s draconian terrorism laws it is almost impossible to receive bail.

Traditionally India has one of the world’s biggest newspaper readerships. But the World Press Freedom Index ranks it at 160 out of 180 countries – and dropping.

Meanwhile, India’s relations with Canada continue to plummet in the wake of Canadian accusations that Indian intelligence was behind the murder of a pro-Sikh nationalist Canadian citizen on Canadian soil. The two countries have already ordered out each other’s ambassadors (or High Commissioners as they are both Commonwealth countries). This week India further strained relations by expelling another 41 Canadian diplomats.

Canada meanwhile, is pressuring the US and UK to be more outspoken about alleged extra-territorial murders and the slide in Indian freedoms.

Pakistan

Elsewhere in South Asia, Afghan-Pakistan relations are on the downward slide. This follows this week’s announcement by the Pakistani government that 1.7 million illegal Afghan refugees must leave the country by November. If they fail to do so, say the authorities, they will be rounded up by the army and forcibly repatriated back across the Pakistan-Afghan border.

The interwoven cross border ethnic and tribal ties have complicated Afghan-Pakistan relations since before the days of the British Raj. Whenever problems have arisen in either country, families have crossed the border (mainly from Afghanistan to Pakistan) to seek help from relatives on the other side.

During the ten-year Soviet occupation some 4 million-plus Afghans crossed into Pakistan. These were mainly Islamic militants opposed to communist rule. When the Taliban took over it was the anti-Taliban forces who crossed and when the Taliban was forced out of Kabul the Jihadists were back in Pakistan.

With each shift a proportion of refugees found permanent homes and were given permanent residence status or Pakistani citizenship. There are roughly 2.1 million such Afghans in Pakistan. They are unaffected by the current expulsion order.

The current crop of illegal immigrants tend to be the Afghan group most opposed to the Taliban regime in Kabul and therein lies the problem for Pakistan because these Afghans use Pakistan for cross-border raids into Afghanistan and the Taliban retaliate with destabilising raids into Pakistan.

European Union

Refugees are also a perennial EU problem. But the EU heads of government think they have come with a solution, the details of which they hope to finalise at a summit in Granada this weekend.

The need for action has been underscored by the rapid recent rise in African migrants landing in Southern Europe this year – 190,000 so far this year. Many of them were forced to flee after flooding in Libya left an estimated 40,000 homeless. The UN estimated at 2,500 have died so far this year trying to cross the Mediterranean in small boats.

The problem is that the existing EU agreements place an undue burden on the migrants’ first landfall in Europe. In practice this means Italy where 130,000 refugees have arrived so far this year.

The Italians have been arguing for years that the burden of the refugees should be shared equally between EU member countries. The problem is coming up with the right formula. Commission officials believe that they have found it with a system they call “solidarity contributions”.

Under this new scheme different EU countries can choose how they share the burden of caring for refugees in one of three ways: 1- they can take some of the refugees; 2- they can assume more administrative responsibility for handling asylum claims and/or 3- they can provide financial assistance or other help to countries taking refugees.

This proposal will still be opposed by the staunch anti-immigrant governments in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria. But they can’t block it. The issue comes under the new qualified majority voting rules which means it passes if it receives the support of 15 EU member states representing 65 percent of the bloc’s population.

 

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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7 Comments

  • Martin Gray 8th Oct '23 - 11:44am

    “This proposal will still be opposed by the staunch anti-immigrant governments in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria. But they can’t block it”…..
    They’ll just ignore any ruling that means quota’s, & not much the EU can do about it ….
    Thankfully no such dilemma for us…

  • Every dilemma for us. They will tell EU their preferred destination is UK so France will take them on a temporary basis. Anywhere else would be a more permanent basis.

  • Steve Trevethan 8th Oct '23 - 3:36pm

    As U S support for Ukraine seems to be increasingly vulnerable, might it be worth encouraging a negotiated settlement?

  • Martin Gray 8th Oct '23 - 4:36pm

    @Tim….Of course I was referring to not having to accept an EU Diktat.. Obviously as you’ve pointed out a Hotel with 3 meals a day in the UK , is preferable to a tented village in Calais with a portaloo .That’s if you’re lucky..
    On the Polish border you’d be met with barbed wire water cannon batons & shields – if you didn’t get that far you’d be held in appalling conditions in a holding camp in Libya funded out the EU budget no less..

  • While I believe it’s true that the UK takes in fewer refugees per capita than many EU countries, I think you have to set that in the context that overall net migration per capita (people coming here by successfully applying for visas) is likely to be much higher for the UK. Clearly the higher non-asylum based migration is, the harder it becomes to simultaneously accommodate large numbers of refugees. And as @Martin Gray points out – for all the issues about how the Government deals with asylum seekers, we arguably do treat asylum seekers rather better than some EU countries (Greece being an obvious example).

  • Peter Hirst 13th Oct '23 - 4:06pm

    This seems a sensible compromise. Those nations which are close to the source of migrants will receive more of them. They need help to process them and act humanely. Migrants have rights and will be happier if they can live where they want. There needs to be a central independent body that can offer financial and logistical assistance to those countries that bare the largest share of dealing with asylum seekers.

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