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Item: The Republicans won’t and Needn’t do anything to derail the Democrats. The Media, including mainstream high end newspapers like THE WASHINGTON POST and THE NEW YORK TIMES are doing a very good job of doing it for them.
View this email in your browser October 25, 2021 | by Chris Cillizza and Lauren DezenskiThe sneaky biggest issue of the 2022 election For all the talk of Covid-19 and President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda, there’s an issue that may well wind up being more powerful to sway voters next November than any other: inflation. That’s according to a new polling memo from Democratic pollster Joel Benenson and Republican pollster Neil Newhouse — two of the top in their profession — for Center Forward, a centrist, bipartisan nonprofit aimed at fostering discussion between the two parties on key issues. Asked about inflation, nearly 7 in 10 voters (68%) nationally agreed with the statement that “inflation is a problem and people will continue to pay more money on everyday expenses unless the government becomes more fiscally responsible.” (By contrast, just 22% said they agreed most that “inflation is only temporary, and as we recover from the pandemic things will fall back in line.”) The vast majority of Republicans (88%) and independents (71%) agreed that inflation isn’t going anywhere unless and until the government becomes more fiscally responsible. Interestingly, 48% of self-identified Democrats said the same. And the news is even more sobering when you consider voters in battleground states, with 71% saying they believe inflation isn’t going to disappear without the government tightening its belt. Experts agree inflation isn’t going away anytime soon. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said over the weekend that inflation, which was above 5% in September, won’t be back to more acceptable levels — around 2% — until the second half of next year. Major companies are saying the same. “Inflation will continue to be a key theme for the remainder of this [year] and for next year,” predicted Unilever CEO Alan Jope recently. The Benenson/Newhouse data suggests that when — and if — inflation returns to normal could have a lot to do with Democrats’ chances of holding their House and Senate majorities next November. The Point: Concerns about inflation, and a belief the government is to blame, are already considerable in the electorate — and across party lines. High inflation when people begin voting next year could well spell doom for Democrats. — Chris
The sneaky biggest issue of the 2022 election
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Both the New York Times and the Washington Post today ran op-eds from Republicans or former Republicans urging members of their party who still value democracy to vote Democratic until the authoritarian faction that has taken over their party is bled out of it.In the New York Times, Miles Taylor and Christine Todd Whitman wrote, “We are Republicans. There’s only one way to save our party from pro-Trump extremists.”
Taylor served in the Department of Homeland Security and was the author of the 2018 New York Times piece by “Anonymous” criticizing former president Trump. Whitman was governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001, after which she headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush.
Taylor and Whitman note that “rational Republicans” had hoped after Trump’s defeat that they might take back the party, but it is clear now, they write, that they are losing the party’s “civil war.” But while they originally hoped to form a new party, they now agree that the only way to stop Trumpism “is for us to form an alliance with Democrats to defend American institutions, defeat far-right candidates, and elect honorable representatives next year—including a strong contingent of moderate Democrats.”
To defend democracy, they write, “concerned conservatives must join forces with Democrats on the most essential near-term imperative: blocking Republican leaders from regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives” and the Senate.They call for Republicans to put country over party and back moderate Democrats, while also asking Democrats to concede that “there are certain races where progressives simply cannot win and acknowledg[e] that it makes more sense to throw their lot in with a center-right candidate who can take out a more radical conservative.”At the Washington Post, Max Boot takes an even stronger stand: “I’m no Democrat—but I’m voting exclusively for Democrats to save our democracy.”
Boot is a Russian-American specialist in foreign affairs who identifies as a conservative but no longer supports the Republican Party. He writes: “I’m a single-issue voter. My issue is the fate of democracy in the United States. Simply put, I have no faith that we will remain a democracy if Republicans win power. Thus, although I’m not a Democrat, I will continue to vote exclusively for Democrats—as I have done in every election since 2016—until the GOP ceases to pose an existential threat to our freedom.”
Boot singles out the dueling reports from the Senate Judiciary Committee about the nine ways in which Trump tried to pressure then–acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen to backhis claims of election fraud. The Democrats on the committee established these efforts with an evidence-based report, only to have the Republicans on the committee, led by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), respond that the president was simply trying to promote confidence in the election results and that since he did not ultimately replace Rosen with another lawyer who promised to use the Justice Department to challenge the election—after the other leaders of the Justice Department threatened to resign in a mass protest—he did not actually abuse his office.
Boot writes, “It is mind-boggling that a defeated president won’t accept the election outcome…. What is even more alarming is that more than 60 percent of Republicans agree with his preposterous assertion that the election was stolen and want him to remain as the party’s leader.” Taylor, Whitman, and Boot are hardly the first to be calling out the anti-democratic consolidation of the Republican Party.
Yesterday, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, managed Trump’s first impeachment trial, and sits on the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, gave an interview to CBS’s Face the Nation in which he called the Republican Party “an autocratic cult around Donald Trump” that is “not interested in governing” or “maintaining the solvency of the country.”
But what makes today’s op-eds stand out is that they are from former Republicans, that they are calling not for a separate party but for Republicans to shift their votes to the Democrats, and that their identification of the Republicans as an existential threat to our democracy is being published in major newspapers. Mainstream television and newspapers have been slow to identify the radicalization of the Republican Party as a threat to democracy.
The Eastman memo, uncovered by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa at the end of September in their new book Peril, flew largely under the radar screen, explained away as more of Trump being Trump even as it laid out, in writing, the steps to overturn the 2020 election and even as we knew that the former president tried to put that plan into place. A study by Media Matters showed that ABC, NBC, and CBS all chose not even to mention the memo; they reach more than 20 million Americans.
On Saturday, a monologue by comedian Bill Maher about the Eastman memo titled “Slow Moving Coup” laid out in 8 minutes how Trump tried to steal the 2020 election and how, when officials resisted him, he set out to solidify his power for 2024. Maher woke people up to the ongoing crisis in our democracy. Maher’s monologue, along with the draft Senate Judiciary Committee report, which sets out in detail the efforts the former president made to bend the Department of Justice to his will, seems to have driven home to members of the press the fact that they cannot present today’s news as business as usual, especially after their presentation of the debt ceiling crisis as a political horse race when one side was trying to save the country and the other to destroy it. In the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday, journalist Will Bunch wrote: “The future of American democracy depends, frankly, on whether journalists stop burying their head in ‘the work’ of balanced-but-misleading reporting and admit that, yes, actually, we are at war.”
Bunch pointed out that on Friday, the Nobel Peace Prize went to two journalists, Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia. Both have braved political persecution and threats to hold the autocratic leaders of their countries—Rodrigo Duterte and Vladimir Putin—to account, battling against the online disinformation and attacks on the press that shore up their support.”In a battle for facts, in a battle for truth, journalism is activism,” Ressa said in 2020. Disinformation, she said, “is how you transform a democracy.
This is death by a thousand cuts. The same thing is happening in the United States. I think the goal of influence operations or information operations is to seed it, repeat it, incite hate and…change the way real people think, and that impacts the real world. This is happening all around the world. That’s what the research has shown us, that’s what the data shows us.”In 1854, the elite slaveholders who controlled the Democratic Party at the time pressured Congress to bow to their will and overturn the Missouri Compromise that had kept enslavement out of the western territories. Northern men, who disagreed among themselves on party allegiance, and immigration, and economic policies, and women’s rights, and Black rights, recognized that the acquisition of new western slave states would mean it was only a question of time until the enslavers took over the federal government and made their oligarchical system national.
Northern men recognized they must put their political differences aside until they saved democracy. Abraham Lincoln later remembered that men were “thunderstruck and stunned” by the passage of the law that overturned the Missouri Compromise, “and we reeled and fell in utter confusion. But we rose each fighting, grasping whatever he could first reach—a scythe—a pitchfork—a chopping axe, or a butcher’s cleaver…. “‘[O]ur drill, our dress, and our weapons, are not entirely perfect and uniform,” Lincoln said, but “[w]hen the storm shall be past, [men] shall find us still Americans; no less devoted to the continued Union and prosperity of the country than heretofore.”—
Perhaps Biden and other Democratic leaders feel that the scale of the Trump regime’s obvious criminality is so great that to reveal the truth in full would cause an even greater crisis of legitimacy in the country’s governing institutions. In essence, the Democrats may be trying to “protect” the American people from the truth.
There is also the raw and ugly fact that rich white men in America are rarely held accountable for their actions, and that goes double for Republicans and conservatives. If Trump were black or brown or a Democrat, he and his cabal would in all likelihood have been convicted and sent to prison months or years ago.
In this conversation, Painter explains why there appears to be little if any interest from the Department of Justice in prosecuting Donald Trump. This is partly because its leadership under Attorney General Merrick Garland is afraid of setting such a precedent, but more importantly, the DOJ is now institutionally committed to the idea that there are few limits on presidential power.
Painter also discusses the absurdity of the Department of Justice under Biden choosing to defend Donald Trump in court against the many lawsuits that are being brought against him, including those concerning his role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and larger coup attempt.
Painter also warns that this refusal to investigate and prosecute the Trump regime, which will only empower future presidents to commit crimes without consequence, could lead to the collapse of American democracy and its descent into authoritarian rule — not altogether different from the fate of Ancient Rome.
This conversation has been edited, as usual, for clarity and length.Advertisement:
Given all their public crimes and other misdeeds, more of which are emerging every day, why are Donald Trump and his inner circle not in jail?
I am not sure that prosecutors want to go after Donald Trump and his cohorts. We will have to see what happens in New York. But at this point in time, it has been pretty obvious that the U.S. Department of Justice, if anything, is going to be defending Trump in a number of civil lawsuits. These include the Lafayette Park case, and the Freedom of Information Act requests from CREW [Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington] over the DOJ memo about whether they could indict Donald Trump back in 2019 [at the time of the Mueller report].
The DOJ will not disclose that memo. CREW has sued, and guess what? The Biden Department of Justice is defending the executive privilege of the Trump administration with respect to that memo. They do not want to release it. Biden’s Department of Justice also restrained former White House counsel Don McGahn about what he could say when testifying before Congress, even though he had been subpoenaed by the House of Representatives.Advertisement:
The Department of Justice once again is asserting attorney-client privilege and executive privilege over some of the communications between Trump and McGahn. There is now a rumor that the Department of Justice might actually defend Donald Trump with respect to his conduct on Jan. 6 and during the insurrection, in the private litigation against him.
I believe that the Department of Justice should indict former President Trump for obstruction of justice, as laid out in the second part of the Mueller report. He should also perhaps be indicted for inciting the insurrection and riot on Jan. 6, among other criminal offenses. But the Department of Justice is going in the opposite direction. Biden’s DOJ wants to defend Donald Trump and the idea of presidential power and presidential prerogatives. I think that’s most unfortunate. There is a great deal of timidity and apprehension about going after a former president.
How do DOJ lawyers and other legal professionals and scholars reconcile protecting Donald Trump when he was and is a dire threat to the country’s democratic institutions? There is this obsession with “institutions,” but those institutions will be further imperiled if Trump and members of his cabal are not held responsible for their obvious crimes. In essence, not to punish them is to encourage another coup.Advertisement:
That is the danger. I believe that the lawyers and legal scholars can be separated into two distinct groups. There are those who are worried about too much presidential power. I am among that group. I believe that a sitting president should be indicted for any crimes he commits in office. A former president should certainly be indicted if he committed crimes while in office. The notion of executive privilege — keeping communications confidential from Congress and from prosecutors — is way overblown. And the idea that the president could somehow fire the FBI director, or threaten to fire Bob Mueller, is clearly obstruction of justice. The president of the United States is not above the law.
There is another view of these questions. Sometimes the phrase “unitary executive theory” has been used to describe this belief in heightened presidential power. There are both liberals and conservatives in that camp.
There are people who believe, as [former] Attorney General Barr does, that a president can fire anybody at will, because he is in charge of the executive branch. For example, the president can just fire the FBI director in the middle of an investigation if he wants to — that’s what Barr has said.Advertisement:
There are supposed liberals who believe pretty much the same thing. Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School is among that group. He has also said that you cannot indict a sitting president for a criminal offense he commits while in office. Sunstein is working for Joe Biden right now.
Many people in the Justice Department — and who filter in and out of the Justice Department in different administrations — are committed to this latter view of presidential power. As such, the unitary executive theory tends to be the predominant view in the Department of Justice. I think it’s wrongheaded. It’s not consistent with the United States Constitution to have that much power and privilege, in essence legal immunity, in the hands of the president.
How would they respond to the basic observation that the president of the United States is not a king or an emperor? Their commitment to the unitary executive theory basically means, in practice, that a president, especially a Republican president, can overthrow the government if they do not like the result of an election.Advertisement:
That is where we could end up as a country, where the president can do anything he wants while in office. If the president cannot be indicted and has broad power to hire and fire anybody he wants without criminal accountability, and he can use the military for whatever he wants, then he will commit crimes and use his official powers to stay in office. That is a pattern in countries that become dictatorships. It happened with the Roman Empire almost exactly that same way, with power being concentrated in the hands of a single individual.
What if Biden had exercised bold leadership by immediately signaling to the Department of Justice that they should aggressively pursue Donald Trump, his inner circle and others who have committed crimes?
If I were Joe Biden, I would not have done that. Instead, I would have said, “We’re going to bring in an independent counsel who will make this decision. It’s not a political decision.” If Donald Trump committed crimes, he should be prosecuted. That should not be a political decision. I do not believe that Joe Biden or any appointee of Joe Biden should be making that decision.Advertisement:
Again, if someone commits a crime they should be prosecuted. They should go to jail if they committed a felony. The second part of the Mueller report shows that there was obstruction of justice by Trump and his inner circle. Part two of the Mueller report is an outline of an indictment. But the Department of Justice does not want to do it.
If Donald Trump committed crimes, he should be indicted. It is pretty clear to me that is in fact the case.
What are these “institutionalists” afraid of when it comes to prosecuting Trump, his coup plotters and other members of his regime?
Part of it is that the DOJ’s lawyers have been defending presidential prerogative, presidential privilege, and the like across many administrations. They have been doing this in both Democratic and Republican administrations. These people are political appointees of the president, which explains the ideology at work. These political appointees may have different views on political issues and different political affiliations. But many people in the DOJ have a view that they are there to protect presidential privilege and power and immunity. It is very bad for our democracy. We are not getting the pushback from Congress that we need right now. It is a very frustrating situation.Advertisement:
Why didn’t more people in the federal government who were a witness to these crimes, and Trump’s assaults on democracy more generally, stand up and speak out? We needed many more whistleblowers and other patriots.
The real problem is the people in Congress who supported Donald Trump and the extremists and the conspiracy theorists. It is very hard to root out the people who are from congressional districts that are extremely conservative and consistently vote Republican.
I hope the Republican Party will clean out the worst people, like Marjorie Taylor Greene and others who spread conspiracy theories. I do not know if it’s going to happen, but we need to hold the Republican Party accountable. I was a Republican for 30 years. They still have some good people. But it’s very, very hard now, because Republicans either endorse Trumpism or they are scared and therefore won’t speak up against it. We need some courage in this country, and we are not getting it right now.
What were your thoughts as you watched those events on Jan. 6? How do you assess the investigation so far?Advertisement:
A bunch of Trump followers invaded the Capitol. Those people were being held to account, such as the Proud Boys. But at this point, the only people being indicted are the people who were actually there. I have not seen a lot of activity going to the next level and finding out who the political operatives were, whether from the Trump campaign or other people behind the scenes, who were orchestrating the events of Jan. 6.
This was a conspiracy. It’s pretty obvious that people were planning some of this in advance. Donald Trump inspired them to go down there to the Capitol and do what they did. Trump did not say, “Go kill a police officer,” but it was pretty clear he was instigating a riot, an insurrection, with the false rumors about election fraud and the rest of it. I want to see investigation from the DOJ go to the next step. But thus far, we are not seeing that.
Do you think a signal was sent by the Biden administration to not prosecute the ringleaders for reasons of “stability” and protecting the “institutions”?Advertisement:
There are a number of signals at play here. Primarily that “we’re going to look forward.” The Obama-Biden team sent that message with respect to the torture lawyers in the Department of Justice.
And guess what? They just came back in the Trump years, pushing for more executive power. This is not a good situation. We need to have a clear message that people who violate the law, when they hold positions of public trust, are going to be prosecuted and the lawyers involved will be disbarred.
What happens next if such presidential power is not curtailed?
If the Democrats want to put a stop to it, they need to rein in executive power and make it clear that even with a Democrat in the White House, we’re not going to put up with it. We’re not going to defend presidential privilege and confidential communications of criminal conduct. We’re not going to do that. We do not need to have an all-powerful president to live in a democracy. Congress passes the laws, the president signs the laws. But we don’t need to have a president who can do anything he wants, whether he’s a Democrat or a Republican. That needs to be the overriding principle here.Advertisement:
If the Department of Justice actually ends up defending Trump against civil and other charges for his role in the coup and the Capitol attack, what does that do to the DOJ’s credibility? What message does it send to the public about the presidency?
It creates the impression that presidents are just interested in power. And that means that the concept of presidential power and presidential prerogative and privilege is what really matters to the Department of Justice. By implication, it means that is what’s important to Joe Biden. That he’s willing to defend everything Donald Trump did so that he in turn can do what he wants. That’s the impression it’s going to give. Now, I do not see Joe Biden abusing his power. But there is no reason for the DOJ to defend Donald Trump.
What advice would you give Joe Biden about Trump’s crimes and this torrent of new information about his extreme wrongdoing while in office?
I’d say, Mr. President, you need to have the attorney general appoint an independent prosecutor. Or maybe it’s going to take two or three independent prosecutors because of the amount of criminality here. Have those independent prosecutors make the decision about whether Donald Trump ought to be indicted or not. I’d say, second, the Justice Department should stop defending Donald Trump in any and all civil litigation, or defending his presidential privilege. His communications with his White House counsel should be revealed to the United States Congress. CREW should get a copy of that memo the DOJ wrote in 2019 about whether Donald Trump could be indicted. There needs to be complete transparency, no more secrets. That’s the bottom line.
Nikki Haley is not just the former Governor of South Carolina; she also more recently served as ambassador to the U.N. under former President Donald Trump. Tuesday night, she spoke at the Reagan Library and gave a speech that many saw as her first step back into the political spotlight, perhaps with ambitions of running for President in 2024 in mind.
But Brianna Keilar isn’t buying what she’s selling. Or at least, she clarified that many of the positions laid out in Haley’s speech were inconsistent with what she said in the past. Yes, Keilar dismantled Haley’s political rhetoric thoroughly and dispassionately and even brought receipts to her viewers.
“A large portion of our people are plagued by self-doubt or even by hatred of America. It’s a pandemic much more damaging than any virus,” Haley said at the Reagan Library, a clip of which played on New Day. Keilar noted how “the former ambassador to the U.N. is not letting more than 700,000 covid deaths and counting get in the way of minimizing a pandemic politicized by the administration she served, as she suggests liberals hate America, and the country doesn’t have a racism program, as she recounted growing up in the South.”
Haley grew up in rural South Carolina as a member of a Sikh family, and it’s fair to say that her positions on racism that she experienced and then ostensibly has later ignored have been inconsistent. This was on full view as Keilar introduced a clip of Haley insisting that America is not racist, but then followed with earlier clips in which Haley described her youth, and her run for Governor, that any reasonable person would see as, you know, racist.
But the coup de grace was Keilar’s noting how Haley came out strong against Trump shortly after the Capitol attack on January 6th, saying that she and other Republicans were at fault for following him down an unjust and dangerous path. Later Haley tried to visit Mar-a-Lago and “kiss the ring” of Donald Trump, said Keilar, but was denied.
“She may be right that history will judge Donald Trump harshly,” Keilar concluded, “but Nikki Haley will not because she’s too busy trying to ride his coattails.”
Watch above via CNN.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.
It is amazing how little we know about goings on in Africa, especially in the United States. There is far more coverage of masking disputes on US airplanes than there is about this continent of over 1 billion people. The British do a much better job on this (BBC).
Africa has never been a top priority for the United States. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W.Bush, and Barack Obama all launched impactful initiatives there—helping advance trade, health, and energy, among other things—but their administrations devoted only limited, episodic attention to the continent. President Donald Trump gave it even less thought: he was the first U.S. president since Ronald Reagan not to travel to Africa, and his Africa policy, to the extent it could be discerned, focused on the narrow goals of competing with China, reducing the U.S. military footprint, and expanding private-sector engagement.
President Joe Biden’s administration has been similarly slow out of the blocks on Africa. Aside from its focused diplomatic response to the horrific civil war in Ethiopia and a few hints about other areas of emphasis, such as trade and investment, Biden has not articulated a strategy for the continent. Yet powerful demographic, economic, and political changes are sweeping across Africa, expanding the opportunities for positive U.S. engagement there and underscoring the need to elevate Africa on the list of U.S. foreign policy priorities.
In the coming months, the Biden administration should set out a bold strategy that reframes American thinking about Africa from a focus on the sub-Saharan region to a wider look at the continent as a whole and from an overemphasis on U.S.-Chinese competition to a broader engagement with Africans themselves. Doing so will require lengthening the time frame for U.S. objectives, especially those concerning democracy and human rights, and focusing more on bolstering institutions than on preserving relationships with individual African leaders.
In a speech on the eve of the new millennium, former South African President Thabo Mbeki called this the “African century”—and for good reason. Between 2020 and 2050, Africa’s population is expected to roughly double, growing far faster than the population of any other region. Nigeria alone is expected to exceed 400 million people by 2050, overtaking the United States as the third most populous country. Africa’s population is also overwhelmingly young compared with other regions, meaning that it will have a substantial workforce well into the future. The COVID-19 pandemic has dampened short-term economic growth, but the long-term outlook is strong: population growth—especially in cities, where most innovation happens—combined with the continent’s enormous capacity for creativity and innovation translates into tremendous economic potential. Furthermore, Africa’s 54 countries can form a powerful political block on the global stage and are showing an increasing ability to act in unison—through the newly formed African Continental Free Trade Area, for instance. If African countries, especially the most influential ones, can find a truly united voice, they will be a political force.
Demographic, economic, and political trends all make Africa increasingly important to the United States.
These demographic, economic, and political trends all make Africa increasingly important to the United States. In addition to powering growth and innovation, the continent can be an engine of democratic expansion—including in unexpected places, such as Sudan and Zambia—that can advance U.S. and global efforts to reverse democratic backsliding. Prominent African countries also are potential allies with the United States on many of the most pressing global issues, such as climate change.
At the same time, however, security concerns are growing in the Sahel and in eastern and southern Africa along the Indian Ocean: by some estimates close to 70 percent of the UN Security Council’s agenda is devoted to peace and security in Africa. China, Russia, Turkey, and Middle Eastern countries are expanding their spheres of influence on the continent, often strengthening authoritarian governments and factions that are hostile to American interests.
Moving Africa up the list of priorities on the U.S. foreign policy agenda will require rethinking how the continent is framed—both geographically and geopolitically. Most of the U.S. government draws an imaginary bureaucratic line between sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa, with the latter being treated as part of the broader Middle East. But this delineation is increasingly illogical. People, goods, and arms all flow freely across the Sahara desert, and the power vacuum in Libya has contributed to instability in Sahelian countries such as Chad, Mali, and Niger. The African continent, in other words, is a single interconnected entity.
The African Union, in which North African countries wield substantial influence, makes no distinction between North Africa and the rest of the continent. North African countries could make greater economic and diplomatic contributions across the continent if they turned more attention south—a shift that the United States should encourage. To its credit, U.S. Africa Command has already done away with this anachronistic division, but the rest of the U.S. government should do the same. Treating the continent as a whole will help officials respond to challenges, such as migration and terrorism, that cross the Sahel and the Sahara—an unstable region poised to grow substantially in population and geopolitical importance in the coming decades—unencumbered by bureaucratic seams. Doing so would also drive more attention to a continent that borders the Mediterranean and Europe, helping secure more resources for understaffed teams focused on Africa within the U.S. government.
The United States should abandon the narrative that it is battling China for primacy in Africa.
Washington should also reframe its geopolitical understanding of Africa, especially its understanding of how many African countries relate to the Gulf states across the Red Sea. Over the past decade, political and economic ties between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East have greatly expanded. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have increased much-needed investment in the region as well as in the Sahel, but rivalries among those countries have been exported to the Horn, especially to Somalia, further destabilizing already fractured political systems. The trajectories of Ethiopia and Sudan—arguably the two highest priorities in Africa for Biden so far—have been strongly influenced by Middle Eastern interests. Many Sudanese fear that their revolution, which overthrew the dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019, could be hijacked by outside forces opposed to a democratic Sudan. Biden was right to create the new position of U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa and to fill it with the seasoned diplomat Jeffrey Feltman. The Biden administration should reinforce that move by enhancing collaboration across bureaucratic departments and agencies in order to elevate both shores of the Red Sea to core national security priorities.
Finally, the United States should abandon the narrative that it is battling China for primacy in Africa. To be sure, there is an element of strategic competition animating both countries’ activities there, and Chinese actions clearly bolster authoritarian regimes. But framing U.S. Africa policy this way, as the Trump administration did, treats the continent’s more than 1.3 billion people as bystanders to a larger geopolitical collision in which they have little stake. It also ignores the fact that China engages in Africa in ways that the United States does not, offering loans and other forms of support that are not matched by others. The terms of those deals may be stacked against the recipients—although there is debate on this point—but in many instances the United States simply does not offer an alternative, making its criticism of Chinese behavior ring hollow. The United States needs to demonstrate to Africans that it cares about them because of their inherent value and potential, not because of their role in great-power competition. That will mean abandoning tired talking points and offering competitive alternatives to Chinese economic support.
VALUES IN FOREIGN POLICY
On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to put values at the center of U.S. foreign policy. To remain true to that commitment in Africa, his administration will have to do more than reframe its understanding of the continent; it will have to elongate its policy timetable and focus more on strengthening institutions than on maintaining relationships with individual leaders. Advancing values such as democracy and respect for human rights is a long-term endeavor. Too often, however, these objectives have taken a back seat to short-term interests, especially those tied to security. When the leaders of Guinea, Ivory Coast, the Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda all manipulated term limits in recent years to extend their rule, for instance, the U.S. response was muted. Washington issued some carefully crafted statements, and U.S. diplomats surely conveyed their feelings behind closed doors, but none of these leaders faced any meaningful consequences for evading their term limits. Opinion surveys show that Africans overwhelmingly support two-term limits for their leaders. Yet U.S. policymakers weren’t willing to risk a short-term disruption in U.S. relations with these leaders (and the supposed stability they guarantee) to defend the integrity of African democratic institutions.
Survey data also shows that a majority of Africans share many of the values that the Biden administration seeks to emphasize, such as support for democracy, free and fair elections, freedom of association, and freedom of expression. In many cases, it is their leaders who don’t believe in these values. Too often, the United States has sided with the authoritarians because of short-term uncertainty about who will succeed them, fear of chaotic transitions, or the desire to preserve security partnerships. Such was the case when Mahamat Déby, the son of Chad’s longtime strongman Idriss Déby, seized power upon his father’s death earlier this year contrary to the succession plan laid out in the country’s constitution. The United States chose not to call this what it was—a coup—presumably in order to preserve its long-standing counterterrorism partnership with Chad.
But the longer unpopular leaders (or their offspring) remain in office, the more chaotic the eventual transitions are likely to be. (After evading term limits in 2020, for instance, Guinea’s President Alpha Condé was overthrown in a coup earlier this year.) The Biden administration should therefore pursue a multiyear strategy for the continent that is grounded in the values that Americans and Africans share and have the patience to see that strategy through. That will mean resisting the temptation to let short-term interests drive adherence to the status quo when it is clearly inconsistent with African popular sentiment, keeping in mind that a commitment to democratic principles sets the United States apart from countries such as China and Russia in the eyes of many Africans.
Advancing values such as democracy and respect for human rights is a long-term endeavor.
The United States must also elevate institutions over individuals. Washington has learned hard lessons by doing the opposite. For instance, when South Sudan gained independence in 2011, U.S. policymakers wrongly believed that their long-standing relationships with the country’s most influential politicians would enable them to persuade those politicians to compromise and lead the country toward stability and democracy. But at every turn, South Sudan’s leaders put their own self-interest ahead of the nation’s, defying American appeals.
U.S. officials made the same mistake in Ethiopia, embracing Ahmed Abiy when he became prime minister in 2018 without asking many questions. To be sure, Abiy made a number of early moves that were genuinely encouraging and suggested that Ethiopia was making a turn toward respect for human rights. But the United States—along with many other countries, the Nobel Committee, and some commentators (including this author)—were too quick to elevate Abiy and portray him as a new type of leader. (The United States made the same mistake with his predecessor Meles Zenawi.) Far from leading Ethiopia toward a democratic future, Abiy has fanned the flames of ethnic hatred and led the country into a horrific civil war.
The safer and better bet is on the institutions that check executive overreach, uphold the rule of law, and expose kleptocracy—the courts; legislatures; the media; and commissions that focus on elections, combating corruption, and defending human rights. Many South Africans credit the courts and the media—along with civil society organizations—with helping the country survive the disastrous presidency of Jacob Zuma. Since Zuma’s departure from office in 2018, South African authorities have continued to investigate his administration’s corrupt activities, leading to the former president’s recent imprisonment for defying the courts—a remarkable example of accountability. In Kenya and Malawi, the courts have made bold decisions to invalidate flawed elections, angering sitting presidents. Substantial U.S. aid already goes to supporting these types of institutions, but U.S. policy and diplomacy needs to keep up. Senior officials should invest as much in relationships with these institutions as they do in relationships with heads of state. They should also defend these institutions when they come under attack, including by imposing sanctions. Biden’s upcoming Summit for Democracy should emphasize—and include representatives from—these kinds of pivotal democratic institutions.
AFRICAN VOICES, GLOBAL DEBATES
In August, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland traveled to South Africa to co-chair the Working Group on African and Global Issues, which seeks to elevate South African engagement on pressing global debates. Initiatives such as this one should be expanded. Conversations about the forces shaping the world—from climate change to technology to migration—are dominated by developed nations, but the impact of these forces is universal.
The United States should push for more African leadership in the global institutions where these issues are debated—and then genuinely listen to what Africans have to say. This is not a matter of the United States and other powerful countries being magnanimous: it serves their interests to have African countries that are directly affected by climate change take part in the push for solutions, including by putting pressure on major polluters, just as it serves their interests to include African countries in discussions about the factors that drive migration, such as the lack of economic opportunity.
In the case of climate change, Africa bears the least responsibility of any region but could end up paying the highest price: extreme heat and variable rainfall already threaten human survival in the Sahel, and rising sea levels will soon put whole cities at risk. Each of Africa’s 54 heads of state is a potential voice in the climate debate, as are the continent’s dynamic civil society organizations, which are too often ignored.
Reforming the UN Security Council to give Africa a more prominent role would be a good first step. It is difficult to imagine the Security Council being more dysfunctional than it already is; reform could offer the jolt that is sorely needed while also addressing an important African demand. The G-20, which currently has just one African member (South Africa), should also consider adding Nigeria, which has become an economic force. And in ad hoc gatherings such as Biden’s Summit for Democracy, Africa’s democratic leaders (and not only heads of state) should be featured prominently. The Biden administration should push for these changes proactively, acknowledging that reform of long-standing institutions is overdue. Doing so would go a long way toward demonstrating to Africans that the United States sees their continent’s potential and is invested in their future.