Saturday 16 April 2016

Trump & Sanders face lobbyist fire (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical notes from India
M D Nalapat
HIS front-runner status has generated a barrage of attack ads against Republican Party Presidential hopeful Donald J Trump. Each of these is anchored in claims that the public interest is what motivates such publicity, and that the US would lose ground were the real estate mogul to get sworn in as Head of State and Government of the world’s most consequential country on January 20, 2017.

In reality the primary “sufferers” would be the phalanxes of lobbyists that infest Washington. Some of these are directly affiliated to either the Democratic or the Republican Party, but most are ambidextrous, ensuring continuing relevance no matter which party makes it to the White House. They are assisted in this by the governance system in the US, which segments and distributes power between different branches of the state, such as the US Senate, the White House, the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives. Other power centres include corporate and financial interests, as well as a variety of specific lobbying groups that over time have cultivated cosy relationships (usually under the surface) with both major political parties and their hangers on. Their nightmare is in the form of two individuals who are for the present at least impervious to the influence of lobbying groups.

In ensuring a firewall between Big Money special interests and themselves, Bernie Sanders is a bit ahead of Donald Trump, who has off and on been given the attention of lobbying groups seeking to tap into his dirigible-sized public persona. However, the problem they face is that Trump has both money and influence of his own, lots of it, and has, therefore, the potential to be resistant to the wiles and lures of lobbyists in a manner not possible for Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz, the other major contestants in the race for nomination as Presidential candidate of either the Republican or the Democratic Party.

While it is understandable that the Republican hopefuls would be going slow on their barbs at the Clinton Foundation, what is less so is the way in which Bernie Sanders has given Hillary Clinton almost a free pass on the issue. The Clintons are a single political entity, taking decisions together, and this was clear during the period when the former First Lady was Secretary of State. This at a time when huge dollops of money were accruing on a regular basis to the Clinton Foundation (as well as in the form of speaking fees and other payments) from locations that had a direct interest in the direction of US foreign policy. Perhaps entirely might be coincidence, the policy pursued by Secretary of State Clinton in the Mideast matched perfectly with the requirements of Riyadh and Doha.
The record shows that Washington was lockstep behind Qatar and Saudi Arabia, whether this be the removal from office of Muammar Kaddafi in Libya and his replacement with a regime steeped in the traditions of Wahabbism, or an effort to push Bashar al-Assad down the same road as the Libyan dictator was made helpless by his own destruction of WMD on the request of the very powers that subsequently took the lives of himself and all but one of his sons. The Secretary of State using an email account that was accessible to officials of a foundation that was the recipient of billions of dollars of foreign money, constituted a security risk to US interests that this far does not appear to have been intensively examined, perhaps because President Obama does not wish to damage his former Secretary of State’s chances of becoming his successor.

Donald Trump is spending his own money in the Presidential primary, and this makes him unique among the other candidates. Ted Cruz has, through his spouse, links with the financial conglomerates that helped cause the 2008 financial crash which saw the demise of NATO-bloc dominance in global geopolitics. As for Hillary Clinton, she has made no secret of the act that millions of dollars have been paid to her and Bill Clinton by such conglomerates. In the case of Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont has shown a disregard for riches that is almost totally absent in US politics, which as in some other democracies, is entirely about making money for oneself, family and friends through the use of state power and influence. A contest between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders would represent an entirely different choice to US voters than a match-up between two Goldman Sachs favourites, Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton.

However, precisely for this reason, efforts are intensifying to ensure that Trump and Sanders lose steam. Daily, there have been attack ads against Trump, usually filled with innuendo, while in the case of Sanders, the reason why these are not so common is the view that he will lose to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Presidential primary contests. Should this take place, a heavy chunk of the blame would fall on Sanders himself, because he has shown himself too much of a country gentleman to match the aggression of his opponent. The Clintons are political fighters of the most superior kind, and across the years, have perfected a political machine that is expert at deciphering what the voters want to hear and in ensuring that contests be won. It is a tribute to Bernie Sanders and to the innate decency of the US voter that the Vermont politician has survived this far.

Had this columnist a vote in the US primary, he would have backed Trump over Cruz in the Republican primary and Sanders over Clinton in the other. The US needs a Head of State and Government who is as free of lobbyists as Sanders is, or even Trump has the potential to be. In healthcare, ensuring access to cheap drugs at the expense of Big Pharma would work wonders for the budget, while in matters of security, delinking from big money interests in the Mideast would help make the US and the globe more secure.

The policy of relying on religious extremists to carry out tactical and strategic objectives on behalf of the US and its partners has run its course, and needed to have been discontinued after 9/11, rather than revived during 2003 in Iraq and later in 2011 to terminate Kaddafi. The best hope of such a pragmatic policy vests in Bernie Sanders or even Donald Trump following the telegenic and likeable Obama clan into the White House. Rather than the paid views of lobbyists, what US policymakers need to give preference to, is the need of US citizens for a government that treats them fairly.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

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