Is America meeting the moment?
President Biden "And I honest to God believe that 50, 75, 100 years from now, from — people who will look back to this week, they’ll know that we met this moment."
Fundamental change is taking place today — politically, economically, and technologically — change that can either strengthen our sense of control and security, of dignity and pride in our lives, in our nation; or — or change that weakens us so that people are left behind, causing them to question whether or not the very institutions — our economy, our democracy itself — can still deliver for them, for everybody.
This is the moment we face.
President Biden's remarks from the White House south lawn after the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act on August 9, 2022
Meanwhile in Europe..
Western European Allies are suffering through an extreme summer heatwave sparking wildfires across France burning 41,400 hectares, destroying up to 80% of Italian farmers’ harvest, blanketing Spain in extreme heat warnings and causing so many grass fires in the British capital that the London Fire Brigade described the city as “tinderbox dry.” And while 9 out of 10 European households lack air conditioning, the main focus remains on the war without an end in sight.
At the start of the week, the US State Department announced another $1 billion aid package for Ukraine:
This package provides a significant amount of additional ammunition, weapons, and equipment that Ukrainians are using so effectively to defend themselves and will bring total U.S. security assistance to Ukraine to approximately $9.8 billion since the beginning of this Administration.
Of the billions in security aid the US has given Ukraine, a still troubling statistic is how much aid is actually reaching its intended destination. Thanks to CBS News reporting, we know now that in April 2022, “just ‘30-40%’ of the supplies coming across the border reached its final destination.” And though the article (after backlash) had been updated to reflect the situation has “significantly improved,” it is unclear whether even 75% is now reaching its final intended destination, which should be a cause for alarm.
Case in point - Ukraine denies responsibility for explosions on a Russian airbase in Crimea. Elsewhere in Ukraine, the shelling around the largest European nuclear power plant, the Zaporizhzhia Power Station, has prompted the IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi to announce the situation has reached a “grave hour.”
Despite not taking responsibility for the explosions in Crimea, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pledged to retake Crimea, and in an interview with the Washington Post this week said that Western countries should ban all Russian citizens’ travel to even further punish Russian aggression and unlawful territory seizures. From that interview, Zelenskyy said of the Russian people:
The population picked this government and they’re not fighting it, not arguing with it, not shouting at it.
Estonia has already followed Ukraine's lead, with Latvia and Finland not far behind. Dismissed by the Russian Foreign Ministry as “animalistic xenophobia,” the ban may be considered by the European Union for a vote.
In the Middle East..
Shortly after President Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia in July, Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman next week. And though China’s Foreign Ministry will neither confirm nor deny reports of the upcoming meeting, the US State Department continues to reinforce the message that America is here to stay in the Middle East.
Tim Lenderking, U.S. special envoy for Yemen, on one of the worst ongoing global atrocities:
..Yemen is a crisis in which otherwise adversarial relationships can be overlooked, and welcomed collaboration with China and Russia in that area.
China “want to see progress in Yemen during their presidency on the Security Council,” Lenderking said, referring to Beijing’s current role as head of the United Nations Security Council.
“I think that’s an important element where we can find commonality between us – China, Russia, the United States – working together on a political solution to the Yemen conflict,” he added.
Lurking in the background is the real prospect Iran may develop a nuclear bomb, which gained steam in recent days after the failed assassination attempt on former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton.
All this follows Biden’s Sunday remarks on the ceasefire in Gaza:
The reports of civilian casualties in Gaza are a tragedy, whether by Israeli strikes against Islamic Jihad positions or the dozens of Islamic Jihad rockets that reportedly fell inside Gaza. My Administration supports a timely and thorough investigation into all of these reports, and we also call on all parties to fully implement the ceasefire, and to ensure fuel and humanitarian supplies are flowing into Gaza as the fighting subsides.
In Sub-Saharan Africa..
As a ship will soon depart Ukraine to deliver 23,000kg of much needed grain to Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa (which includes Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia) is currently facing starvation and the worst regional drought in 40 years.
Regarding the region as a whole, the White House published its strategy on Monday:
It is impossible to meet today’s defining challenges without African contributions and leadership. The region will factor prominently in efforts to: end the COVID-19 pandemic; tackle the climate crisis; reverse the global tide of democratic backsliding; address global food insecurity; promote gender equity and equality; strengthen an open and stable international system; shape the rules of the world on vital issues like trade, cyber, and emerging technologies; and confront the threat of terrorism, conflict, and transnational crime.
It should be noted worldwide vaccination against COVID-19 has reached 63% but the following Sub-Saharan African nations are still below 25% - Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Togo.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived on South Africa on Monday for a three country tour, which follows his Russian counterpart having concluded his African nations tour in July. According to Alex Vines, director of the Africa program at Chatham House, the purpose of Blinken’s trip is “to try to contain Russian and Chinese geopolitical influence on the continent.” In recent years, Russia has built multiple military alliances in the region, which likely caused many African nations (34 to be precise) to abstain from the UN vote criticizing Russia for invading Ukraine. The United States wants to be seen as a force of democracy, as Blinken says:
African nations have been treated as instruments of other nations’ progress, rather than the authors of their own.
The United States will not dictate Africa's choices, and neither should anyone else.
While that intent may be genuine, it must be noted that the US is vitally concerned about “strategic and crucial minerals” in the region falling into Russian and/or Chinese hands. And as many know, America’s past history of wanting critical natural resources and protecting democratic rule at the potential expense of losing said resources is troubled, at best.
And in the far East..
Does Taiwan have the right to self-determination? China is extremely adamant in its POV as exemplified by its bellicose actions towards the island nation shortly after Speaker Pelosi's recent visit. Will America openly reject the One China policy by defending Taiwan against a far superior military opponent?
According to the Financial Times:
Bonnie Glaser, a Taiwan expert at the German Marshall Fund, said Beijing had become “hypersensitive” about Congress, which has introduced an “unprecedented” number of anti-China bills in recent years. “China has become convinced that Congress and the executive branch are colluding to contain its rise,” said Glaser. “Since Speaker Pelosi is a Democrat and from the same party as President Biden, her trip is interpreted as part of a strategy of using Taiwan as a card against China and providing official support for Taiwan independence.”
Glaser made these comments in July, the month prior to Pelosi’s visit. Despite China’s showy response, the Pentagon maintains China will not invade Taiwan for (at least) 2 years. And that is critically important as Reuters reported at the end of last year that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd currently produces more than 90% of all global semiconductor chips. (FYI - even with the recently passed CHIPS and Science Act, US global market share is projected to only grow to 10% over the next decade.)
Last, but always first, in the United States:
If Congress passed this many pieces of legislation in a normal week, perhaps significantly less than 80% of the public wouldn’t disapprove of how the nation’s leading legislative body does its job.
Officially expanding NATO to include Finland and Sweden, the CHIPS and Science Act, the PACT Act and of course the Inflation Reduction Act (alongside the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) could be the legislative highlights of Biden’s presidency - and 4 of them came in 1 week! And in the same exact week, the Justice Department raided the home of former President Donald Trump for what we are starting to learn could be confidential documents potentially violating the Espionage Act. As the Associated Press states:
The seized records include some marked not only top secret but also “sensitive compartmented information,” a special category meant to protect the nation’s most important secrets that if revealed publicly could cause “exceptionally grave” damage to U.S. interests. The court records did not provide specific details about information the documents might contain.
A momentous week in the United States to be sure; chess pieces moving around the globe; but meeting the moment? I believe Biden’s speechwriters stated it correctly in his remarks this week:
Fundamental change is taking place today.. causing [people left behind] to question whether or not the very institutions — our economy, our democracy itself — can still deliver for them, for everybody.
A kind interpretation of this week’s events is that President Biden and the Democratic party are keeping the neoliberal world order intact - global democracies are uniting to stand up to authoritarianism economically and militarily (when needed), and radical elements at home will face justice and be voted out in favor of a political party that delivers.
Perhaps a more honest take - is the US just playing catch-up? The Summit for Democracy, often forgotten, could have solidified a bold global demarcation against authoritarianism and provided more texture and nuance to the conversations at home regarding NATO expansion (to democracies outside of Europe?) and how the US approaches Yemen and Iran. Meanwhile, Senator Manchin may be enjoying his 15 minutes but his rare valid point when brokering the Inflation Reduction Act (while gleefully cremating Build Back Better) is America's continued reliance on foreign supply chains (specifically those in authoritarian nations) is a real and growing national security risk. CHIPS chips away at the problem (forgive the pun); but will US corporations relocate manufacturing outside-of-China to bolster democratic nations in spite of potential short-term economic pinches? And while the US (and others) should continue to focus on human suffering due to climate change, ongoing COVID vaccination shortcomings and a looming recession, what is America’s strategy to avert nuclear war with Russia or China?
To put it another way, if the US was truly concerned with military escalation in Ukraine, why did the majority of legislators strike down the notion of an Inspector General to monitor Ukrainian aid? Or how about this - which seems more likely - Speaker Pelosi visited SE Asia as part of her farewell tour or in a coordinated strategy with the White House and Defense Department to send China a message about Taiwan?
All this while a political nuclear bomb could explode in front of our eyes - if the FBI does not have evidence to convict former President Trump and/or prevent him from running for President in 2024, whatever America witnessed in Trump’s first term will be nothing compared to his second term.
To borrow Biden’s phrase, this is the moment we face.