Dhaka Courier

The writing on the wall

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Now that everybody and their grandma has gleefully seized on the opportunity to take a potshot at the United States over its election, let us acknowledge the truth of the matter: while under attack, incessantly, from the man at the top, its institutional structure has by-and-large held up, and you wouldn’t bet against it prevailing now. No matter what the lame duck President Donald J. Trump may have been cooking in what has surely been the quietest 10 days the world has witnessed from the brash New Yorker since he landed in Washington. We should have known he was being quite literal when he pronounced his belief, over and over again on the campaign trail, that the only way he could be removed from the presidency was through a rigged election. In future, anyone who insists they can’t be fairly beaten, out of an inability to conceive defeat should set off alarm bells in a democracy.

To be sure, it is the resilience of the U.S. system that allows him to dispute certain results on grounds of documented anomalies. No one must be left in doubt as to the integrity of an election. Even unfounded doubt potentially sullies the process. And so if it is to take the courts to convince Trump of his loss, so be it. Let us not forget, despite our own Chief Election Commissioner’s flippant remark, that here the disputes that get raised go nowhere. Before you even get the chance to find one of the Electoral Tribunals that are set down in the law to rule in such disputes, the Commission is likely to have certified the results and brought out the gazette notification. Pursuing these disputes in the courts is within his rights.

But when at the same time he alleges fraud and rigging in his tweets, that is what undermines the process. His supporters take their cue from the man himself, so as long as Trump insists there was fraud, a sizable chunk of America will believe the same. An election doesn’t have to be stolen; the perception that it has been stolen is enough to undermine people’s confidence in democracy. We shall await to see what relief the courts can provide him – he has never hidden the fact that he is relying on the Supreme Court that increasingly bears his stamp. But if he has no case, that will not save him.

Nor will it suffice to prove some irregularities in some places. The case that his lawyers take to the Supreme Court eventually, must be what is termed as ‘outcome-determinative', that is to say, likely to overturn the result, to be worth all that leads up to it. A few dead people’s votes in Michigan won’t make up the margin of 145,000 that Trump trails by. Even 10,000 postal ballots reportedly received after election day in Pennsylvania will not be enough to overturn the deficit that at the time of writing stands at 45,000. And those aren’t even illegal yet.

The amount of interest this election drew this time in Bangladesh, and in fact the world, was quite unprecedented. The whopping turnout figure, although not as high as initially thought, surely reflected the interest within America itself. As of the last count, at 62 percent, it was just about shading the turnout at the 2008 election by half a percent. Tuning in for the first time, many would appear to have been quite struck by some of the peculiarities of the system, many a nod to the federal structure that the United States must adhere to. An election is meant to provide above all, a resolution. Its magic lies precisely in that promise – that it will resolve disputes within the citizenry, mainly to do with the larger questions that populate the public sphere and the direction of the nation. When it can’t do that, and do so promptly, the exercise is rendered futile. When the people have voted, and things are left hanging, that is antithetical to the stated objective, and detrimental to the need for both those who have voted for the winners and those who have voted for the losers to come together and move on, which is of paramount importance.

That is why the US media, including the Associated Press, have developed highly advanced methods of calling elections before the certification that takes place through a quite arcane process, up to a month after the vote.  So the Republicans’ grimes about ‘the media not deciding who is president-elect', while technically true, are entirely misplaced. When the call has been possible to make, no one has waited for the certification process before declaring a winner. And here, as the count wore on, it became increasingly clear that the sitting president’s paths to the White House for another four years were being quickly cut off. In 2000, when the entire election swung on result in Florida, obviously you had to wait till the verdict in the Supreme Court. That is not the case here. Trump is suing in multiple states. Even if he succeeds somehow in flipping the result in 2 states, it would not be enough to get him past the finish line. He is most welcome exhaust his options in court, but the words of Jay Sekulow, who is the man to watch in Trump’s legal team, has acknowledged what a tall order they face. The following quotation is from his weekly radioshow, Jay Sekulow Live, last Monday (November 9):

“I need to tell everybody this: that this is not a simple task. It’s a tall order. … It’d be a miracle, in one sense, because everything has to line up, but you don’t stop fighting until there’s a point where the courts rule against you. That’s it. We respect the rule of law.”

Addressing the prospect of the litigation reversing the result in favour of Biden, Sekulow was circumspect: “You have to line up a lot of dominoes, as we say, would have to fall in the right direction for that to happen.”

You cannot ask the public to wait on a miracle. And so it is, ‘Arise President-elect Biden’.

Bangladesh to Biden

The United States' approach to Bangladesh under a Joe Biden administration will return to being shaped within the broad Asia-Pacific policy, within which it will be good for countries like Bangladesh if economic cooperation gets priority in the region slowing down militarization efforts, say analysts.

"In a potential Biden administration, it’s expected that its Asia-Pacific policy will be recalibrated as will be its overall foreign policy orientation," Dr Ali Riaz told our sister newsagency UNB, implying that the ‘Indo Pacific Strategy’, a nascent reordering undertaken by the Trump administration, is set to be ditched. Whether that makes all that much difference in the larger scheme of things is doubtful.

Former Ambassador of Bangladesh to the US M Humayun Kabir said it seems Biden will give much emphasis on economic aspects in the Asia Pacific region though there is a growing militarization effort through Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS).

Warships and aircraft from the four “Quad” nations -- Japan, India, Australia and the US -- kicked off the annual Malabar joint military exercise in the Bay of Bengal on November 3 with Australia rejoining the drills for the first time in 13 years, according to The Japan Times.

Ambassador Kabir said militarization efforts may slow down or can be removed if there is a scope of cooperation between China and the US with a visible improvement in their relations keeping usual competition unhurt.

"It’ll be positive for us as a matter of relief," the foreign affairs analyst said.

Responding to a question, Dr Riaz, a distinguished professor at Illinois State University, said while the US policy will continue to contain China and try to halt its growing influence in the region, it will not be belligerent like the Trump administration.

"I expect a relationship of contest and cooperation will be developed. As such, both defence and economic cooperation with the allies in the region will be strengthened," he said.

Whether it will be done under the IPS or a new framework will be developed is an open question, the analyst added.

Responding to another question, Prof Riaz said the Bangladesh-US relationship has flourished irrespective of whoever is in power in Washington and Dhaka.

"The US-Bangladesh relationship has economic and security dimensions, and they’ll continue," he said.

The analyst said cooperation on counterterrorism between the two countries has strengthened in recent years and it will continue for the benefit of both countries.

However, he said, it is expected that the Biden administration will focus on human rights and democracy issues globally which is likely to have bearing on Bangladesh.

Inter-Dependency

Former Ambassador Kabir said they are living in a world of inter-dependency and they are no more in an era where one can say "I can do alone".

"We’re connected with each other for a number of reasons, including global value chain," he said.

Kabir posed a question whether the US can solve the problems alone that the world is facing today and said it is important to see whether America becomes alone in the name of ‘America first’ policy.

On November 4, the United States formally left the Paris Agreement, a global pact it helped forge five years ago to avert the threat of catastrophic climate change.

The move, long threatened by US President Donald Trump and triggered by his administration a year ago, "further isolates" Washington in the world but has no immediate impact on international efforts to curb global warming.

In July, the Trump administration formally notified the United Nations of its withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO), although the pullout will not take effect until next year, meaning it could be rescinded under a new administration or if circumstances change.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said he would reverse the decision on his first day in office, if elected.

Former diplomat Kabir said the US played a leadership role in the UN, WHO, WTO, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and he believes that Biden will work to reengage with the world if he is elected.

At least, the analyst said, Biden will not try to create tension in the world. "I believe it. And it’ll bring some relief in the world."

 

Kabir said taking all on board, Biden will try to build an inclusive international society as there can be two aspects of protecting national interest -- taking inclusive approach or exclusive.

Biden's Challenges

However, CNN Editor-at-large Chris Cillizza in a latest analysis said Biden's promise of returning things to normal may not even be possible.

Biden will have to grapple with Trump stirring things up from the outside. But even inside Washington, significant hurdles exist to Biden's hopes of making things normal. Control of the Senate, the upper house in the US Congress, will be decided in two races in Georgia that will witness runoffs on January 5 after no outright winner emerged in the state from the November 3 election.

Biden laid out his foreign policy vision for America to restore dignified leadership at home and respected leadership on the world stage.

Arguing that their policies at home and abroad are deeply connected, Biden announced that he will advance the security, prosperity, and values of the United States by taking immediate steps to renew their own democracy and alliances, protect economic future, and once more place America at the head of the table, leading the world to address the most urgent global challenges.

Biden is confident that he will emerge victorious, but said, "This will not be my victory or our victory alone. It will be a victory for the American people, for our democracy, for America."

Dhaka comfortable with either

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has made it clear that Bangladesh does not have any problem whoever wins the US election which witnessed a very tight contest.

"Whoever comes to power, we’ve no problem," Dr Momen said, mentioning that the foreign policy does not depend on any individual.

The Foreign Minister said it is too early to say who will win the election. "This is technically a different type of election. They’ve designed the system pretty nicely, having dignity for each State."

Dr Momen said Bangladesh's economy is doing very well and Bangladesh is geopolitically in a very good situation. "We maintain neutrality. We don't have enmity with any country. We expect good for all."

The Foreign Minister said he thinks Bangladesh will work very well with the US on the trade and investment front. "We’ve good relations.

Dr Momen said Bangladesh wants to see stability everywhere. "We want solid stability."

In this interconnected world, he said, it will be good for Bangladesh if stability prevails everywhere.

The Foreign Minister said many countries, including the Trump Administration, remained busy with their respective countries since the Covid-19 pandemic. "It seems this trend will continue for many days."

The Foreign Minister recalled that President Donald Trump cancelled the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

At that time Trump fulfilled a campaign pledge by signing an executive order to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The 12-nation trade deal was a linchpin of former President Barack Obama's Asia policy.

The Foreign Minister said whoever comes to power after the US election, the US government works in line with their people's and country's interest.

Bangladesh is hopeful of continuity on discussion with the United States on strengthening economic ties as the election results are unlikely to have any impact on it.

Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen said as far as Bangladesh-US relationship is concerned, the US' relationship does not depend on individual or party.

Rather, Masud Momen said, such a relationship goes through an institutional framework.

He said the government will work on maintaining the stable relationship with the US keeping economic ties unhurt and there will be efforts to restore the facilities that remain suspended.

Former Ambassador Kabir said Bangladeshis in the US might get benefit if the immigration policy is changed under a possible Biden administration.

The analyst said Biden might take an initiative to regularize irregular migrants and not abolish chain migration, even extending benefits towards families of the migrants.

No giving up on Rashed Chowdhury

One reason that may leave a bad taste within the current government of Bangladesh is that they were starting to make some headway with the Trump administration on the possible extradition of Bangabandhu killer Rashed Chowdhury, who declined to return home from a diplomatic posting in Brazil when the Awami League returned to power in independent Bangladesh for the first time after the assassination of the country’s founder along with most of his family members in August 1975. Instead he fled to the United States, where he has been staying in the Bay Area in California, having been granted asylum in 2005. In the summer, Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, reopened that file,  and it was widely felt to be the first step towards what would ultimately be a ‘political favour’ from one government to another. Chowdhury’s lawyers in America were resigned to their client losing his asylum status and being sent back. That is now in jeopardy.

The move by Barr was said to carry such clear political overtones, that it’s hard to see it being carried through with a change in administration. But the government has insisted that its efforts will continue unabated.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam said Bangladesh will continue urging the US Administration to send back Bangabandhu's killer Rashed Chowdhury to execute the court verdict.

"We expect the Administration in democratic country like the US will not give shelter to a killer or promote a killer," he told reporters the day after Biden’s victory was called by the media networks, most importantly by our international news partners, the venerated Associated Press.  He mentioned that Bangladesh-US relations deepened and broadened over the last ten years – that is, AL government has dealt with both kinds, in Obama and Trump.

Shahriar said Bangladesh held the expectation of the US government in this regard for a long time now, and it will continue to expect Rashed Chowdhury's repatriation.

During US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E Biegun's visit to Bangladesh, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said self-confessed killer Rashed is residing in the USA and the US should not be the home for murderers.

Biegun assured Bangladesh of extending cooperation in repatriating Rashed Chowdhury, the killer of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The problem is, a Democrat administration would also be reluctant to send somebody back to face the death penalty, which is the point of departure between the US bipartisan system.

Shahriar Alam also raised the issue with the US Deputy Secretary of State during their meeting and sought support from the United States in repatriating killer Rashed Chowdhury.

Talking to reporters on Sunday, the State Minister said the two key parties of the US were in power in the last ten years and the Bangladesh government remained engaged with both the Administrations.

"There'll be scope to work deeply with the US on some common grounds (in taking forward the relations)," he said mentioning issues like migration, climate change, trade and investment.

The State Minister said there was no such advantage for Bangladesh in the TICFA but hoped to see no discrimination in the world market against Bangladeshi products.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already congratulated US President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President-Elect Kamala D. Harris saying she foresees the relationship reaching higher heights in the coming days.

"Indeed, I look forward to working closely with you in attaining those ideals as well as in effectively confronting the evils of terrorism, violent extremism, hatred, forced displacements as of the Rohingyas, and for the realization of a safer and a better world," the Prime Minister wrote in her message to Biden.

Hasina extended a very warm invitation to Biden, First Lady Dr Jill Biden, Kamala Harris and Douglass Emhoff to visit and experience Bangladesh and its overall progress achieved by its own efforts, the strength of its people, and the support of its good friends as the USA.

As we file this story, we are now hearing that Biden has failed to receive them, as the State Department has deliberately not passed on such congratulatory notes or mail from other world leaders that are meant to be channelled through what is essentially the US equivalent of a foreign or external affairs ministry, headed by Secretary of State and arch-Trump loyalist Mike Pompeo. Surely now we have seen everything.

  • United State of America (USA)
  • Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen
  • Joe Biden
  • Donald J. Trump
  • Election
  • Dr Ali Riaz

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