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The Corrosive Effect of Rightwing Populism on National Security

Posted on the 23 February 2024 by Shahalexander
The Corrosive Effect of Rightwing Populism on National Security

Right-wingers frequently boasts their passion for patriotism and devotion to national defense over their political opponents at home. However, their self-righteous way of governing is prone to put the nation at risk. When Hamas invaded Israel to brutally kill and abuse kibbutz residents and music festival participants near the border of the Gaza Strip last October, Professor Yuval Noah Harari of Hebrew University who has written "Sapiens" and "Homo Deus" commented that it was the mismanagement of the government by the Netanyahu administration that created an information vacuum against terrorist intrusion. To begin with, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed his cabinet members based on loyalty, as he prioritizes his personal interests over the national interest. In his sixth term of his cabinet from December 2022, the team had become so extremist and religiously dogmatic that they were obsessed with blaming the "deep state" through agitating political divide and spreading conspiracy theories. Consequently, Netanyahu failed to gather necessary information about impending national security threats from security forces, intelligence agencies, and numerous experts. Through such corroded policy making interactions, Israel failed to take effective measures of deterrence against Hamas ( "The Hamas horror is also a lesson on the price of populism"; Washington Post"; October 11, 2023). Former South Korean Unification Minister, Professor Kim Yeonchul at Inje University makes a similar point that the divide and rule technique simply agitates demonization of others among the public and obstructs intersectional communications within the government. In other words, Netanyahu's failure of intelligence in the Hamas attack is an inevitable consequence of his failure in democracy ( "Why is the far right so incompetent at national security?"; Hankyoreh Newspaper; October 30, 2023).

Furthermore, the Gaza war has revealed that Netanyahu self-deceived that Russia would hold tight grips on Iran, which enabled Israel to air raid Iranian proxies in Syria in 2015. Actually, Vladimir Putin just wanted to demonstrate Russian presence in the Middle East by striking a balance between Israel and its strategic enemies like Iran and Syria. In return, Israel refused to join Western sanction against Russian invasion of Crimea. But his friendship with Russia turned out empty when the war in Ukraine broke out, and the Kremlin was forced to depend on the Axis of Evil, notably, Iran, Syria and Hamas ( "Israel and Russia: The End of a Friendship?"; Carnegie Politika; November 11, 2023). Former center left Zionist Union member of the Knesset Ksenia Svetlova comments that isolated Russia today needs Iran more than the other way around, and Israel has no reason to help Putin's ambition lead the anti-Western bloc geopolitically ( "Russia's priorities are clear after Netanyahu-Putin call, and Israel isn't one of them"; Times of Israel; 11 December, 2023). Netanyahu pursued pseudo-realism to deepen strategic relations with Russia while maintaining close ties with the United States, which made Israel a useful pawn for Putin's manipulation to divide the Western alliance ( "Putin's Gaza front"; ICDS Estonia Commentary; October 30, 2023).

In the United States, rightwing populists misidentify the enemy likewise. Just as Netanyahu, Donald Trump is charmed by Putin so much that he even considers withdrawal from NATO. Also, they fondly resort to autocratic measures against democratic rule of law. Trump agitated the January 6 riot, and Netanyahu launched the "judicial reform" to enable the government to override the supreme court decision to implement his policy beyond checks and balances ( "Israel judicial reform explained: What is the crisis about?"; BBC News; 11 September, 2023). Netanyahu wanted to advance Jewish settlement in the West Bank along with his coalition partner Religious Zionist Party, without judicial checks. Just as Trump's credentials for primary candidacy is denied in Colorado and Maine, Netanyahu's judicial reform has been turned down at the supreme court to defend the foundation of democratic governance of Israel ( "Israel Supreme Court strikes down judicial reforms"; BBC News; 1 January, 2024). Remember that rightwing populists denounce responsible stakeholders of democracy the "enemy of the people" as communist revolutionaries do. That leads to critical failure of strategic communication among governmental and national security organizations once they take office, as mentioned by Harari and Kim.

With such mindsets, rightwing populists do not hesitate to prioritize their partisan agendas at the expense of national security. That is typically witnessed in the obstruction of military appointment by MAGA Republicans. The Republican Party had assumed their strength in defense before the Trump era. However, rightwing populists detest political correctness and human rights liberalism so much that they even dare to put critical national interest at risk in exchange for pushing their agendas to overjoy their rock-solid supporters. Notably, Senator Tommy Tuberville delayed military personnel nomination to defend "freedom" of white nationalist thoughts and to stop promotion of anti-abortion officers. As Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations comments, he is not interested in accelerating military personnel arrangement to defeat external threats, but defeating domestic opponents of the culture war within armed forces ( "The GOP claims to be strong on defense. Tommy Tuberville shows otherwise."; Washington Post; June 19, 2023). In addition, Retired Admiral James Stavridis of the US Navy deplores about Tuberville's pork barreling as he manipulates to attract Space Force headquarters to his district Alabama, in obstruction of the military plan to build the facility in Colorado ( "Tuberville slams lack of decision on Space Command headquarters, blames politics"; Stars and Stripes; July 26, 2023).

Much more problematically, far right House Republicans are blocking the budget deal for military aid to Ukraine and Israel in exchange for tightening border control at home. However, as Retired General Jack Keane of the US Army comments, both are issues on their own, and the risk of Russian victory in Ukraine is critically great to national security ( "What would a win in Ukraine look like? Retired Gen. Jack Keane explains."; Washington Post; March 6, 2023). More deplorably, Representative Troy Nehls objects to Ukraine aid simply because he wants to stop reelection of Biden ( "A border deal to nowhere? House GOP ready to reject Senate compromise on immigration"; CNN; January 3, 2024). Those moves are extremely partisan as to be the conflict of interests with the state. It is such narrow-sighted partisanship that led to diplomatic vacuum when Hamas attacked Israel, as those right-wingers precluded the appointment of the ambassador to Jerusalem ( "Jack Lew, Ambassador to Israel"; Wikipedia).

Furthermore, let me talk about the fallacy of rightwing perception regarding Ukraine and Israel. Former Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, currently at the Atlantic Council, commented that a Putin victory in Ukraine would embolden Russia to reinfiltrate into the former Soviet republics and former Warsaw Pact nations, many of which are NATO members. He also stressed that it is NATO that has ensued security in Europe after two World Wars, which ultimately ensure security of the United States. Therefore, Ukrainian victory is a vital national interest. Most importantly, an appeasement so as not to provoke Russia and China is the most provocative diplomacy because they count on weak leadership of America.

In the past, Republicans understood the principle that Herbst mentioned. But MAGA Republicans today have no hesitation to impress such weakness to the enemy as Nehls does in the House. More disastrously, Trump's long-time desire of withdrawal from NATO raises critical concerns between America and Europe. Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Marco Rubio introduced a bill to stop any US President from withdrawing from NATO, which has already passed at the Senate. But the problem is psychological, and allies would see America unreliable if Trump were elected, which would weaken deterrence of the Western alliance. Furthermore, Anne Applebaum of the Atlantic quotes a comment by former US Ambassador to NATO Alexander Vershbow that Trump could paralyze NATO by obstructing meeting attendance of American diplomats and cutting the budget for its headquarters before stopped by the Congress ( "Trump will abandon NATO"; Atlantic; December 4, 2023).

Quite importantly, many political scientists and historians in America say that the Republican Party was gradually returning isolationist after the Cold War. In such a circumstance, Dan Caldwell at pro-Trump Center for Renewing America comments that Republicans are increasingly supportive of the changing role of America in the world based on "realism and restraint", instead of leading the free world. Accordingly, the Heritage Foundation once advocated Ronald Reagan's "Strong America", but today, its president Kevin Roberts not just opposes the Ukraine aid, and even argues for defense spending cuts. Such America First momentums resurge among conservatives, as typically seen in Pat Buchanan's bid for presidency, according to Nicole Hemmer of Vanderbilt University. Quite troublesomely, some isolationist conservatives like Senator Josh Hawley insist "The problem is not there but here" to urge American foreign policy makers to disengage from Europe and to focus on Chinese infringement on the well-being of the middle class and the working class at home. That is beyond the rivalry between trans-Atlanticist and Asia-Pacificist. China hawk views among those rightwing populists come from Trump-like cost and profit thinking, and thus, they regard allies as the burden to America. Also, their strategic shift to China reflects the anger of the working class who feel themselves victimized by globalization. Foreign policy internationalists including Robert Kagan rightly refute their stupid idea ( "A Republican 'civil war' on Ukraine erupts as Reagan's example fades"; Washington Post; March 15, 2023). Also, ex-General David Petraeus spoke against their pseudo realism and fake small government thinking, both of which are based on property dealer's cost and profit mindsets, when he visited the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The man who made America win in the War on Terror urges defense planner to upgrade the procurement system to manage multifaced threats around the world.

Their arguments sound so NIMBY as those of Japan bashers from the 1960s to the 1980s Asian allies should not trust those NIMBY China hawks who are willing to appease Putin and to abandon Ukraine and the whole of European allies. The Kishida administration of Japan is right not to bandwagon with them, as Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa correctly stated "the security of the Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific are inseparable", which is naturally interpreted "the treat to Ukraine and East Asia are inseparable", in the foreign policy speech at the Ordinary Session of the House on January 30. Deplorably, late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a pseudo-realist mistake as Netanyahu of Israel did to befriend with that bloodthirsty Moscovite autocrat to counter the Chinese threat. The war in Ukraine has revealed that his assumption was wrong from the beginning.

Regarding the Israel-Hamas war, Trump relinquished Netanyahu bluntly for poor deterrence and preparation against terrorist invasion. It has turned out that Netanyahu's loyalty to Trump for shared rightwing values was one-sided, while President Joseph Biden helps Israel's fight against Hamas ( "Trump's turn against Israel offers stark reminder of what his diplomacy looks like"; CNN; October 13, 2023). But the problem was actually created by the Abrahams Accord which Trump boasts of his success. While urging Israel and Arab emirates to normalize diplomatic relations to encircle Iran, Trump aggravated Israeli-Palestinian tensions by endorsing Israeli right-wingers' expansionism, notably, approving Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem, Jewish settlement in the West Bank, and the annexation of Golan Heights. Meanwhile, he cut American aid to Palestinians. Therefore, Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations comments that those Arab-Israeli normalizations do not resolve other grave conflicts in the Middle East, including those in Yemen, Syria, and Libya, and more importantly, the Israeli-Palestinian clash itself ( "So much for the Abraham Accords. Trump made things worse in the Middle East."; Washington Post; May 12, 2021). Despite that, Trump irresponsibly blamed Netanyahu when the war broke out. Trump and Netanyahu appeared like-minded, when the accord was reached, but their clash is a natural consequence of right-wing nature, which is to pursue maximum self-gain at the expense of others. That is not in fit for bilateral or multilateral partnership.

Some anti-globalism proponents naïvely argue that rightwing populists are better than those of leftwing to deter China. That is too superficial. See what happens in Brazil. It was rightwing president Jair Bolsonaro who endorsed the Chinese plan to build the railway and the highway passing through Amazonian forests to Peru for the Belt and Road Initiative, which could be too destructive for the ecosystem for local flora and fauna and the livelihood of indigenous uncontacted peoples ( "Proposed Brazil-Peru road through untouched Amazon gains momentum"; Diálogo Chino; March 10, 2022). Again, I have to stress that right-wingers are obsessed with pseudo-realism to edge out others to win maximum interests for their own tribe, even though at the expense of indigenous people and ecosystem. Consequently, there is no reason for them care about security of other nations and the global community. It was leftwing Lula da Silva who demanded China to reconsider those plans when he was reinaugurated in January last year ( Opinion: Brazil can make green gains from China's 'ecological civilisation' aims; Diálogo Chino; October 3, 2023). I am not in support of leftist Lula over rightist Bolsonaro, as he revealed his indulgence in outdated anti-colonialism ideology to invite Putin to G20 and BRICS summits in Brazil this year. Remember even South Africa's ANC-bound President Cyrill Ramaphosa gave up inviting that Russian criminal to the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, in face of fierce litigation by the Democratic Alliance to demand the government to abide by the rule of the International Criminal Court ( "Lula invites Putin to Brazil, sidesteps on war crimes arrest"; Politico; December 4, 2023). It seems that the Lula administration is so inclined to leftwing ideals that they are disrespectful to the rule of law. Actually, both Bolsonaro and Lula are headaches for the Brazilian foreign service which does not want unnecessary confrontation with the West and indiscreet tilt to revisionist powers. ( "Can Brazil become a major power in international politics? Lula's questionable tilt to authoritarian powers"; Brasil Nippou; September 26, 2023). After all, we have to bear in mind that the fear of China is no reason for taking side with rightwing populists.

Among rightwing populist threats worldwide, the US presidential election is the most critical case. How can America stop Trump from being reelected? Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution warns of pro-Trump fervors among Republican voters. No Republican rivals are capable of destroying Trump's rock-solid base in the primary as he mentions. More problematically, MAGA Republicans justify everything of Trump, including the January 6 riot and other criminal cases on legal charges. Much more absurdly, they blame Biden for their supposed failure in Ukraine, Israel, and Afghanistan, although it is actually Trump who is really responsible for those fiascos. Sane Republicans are completely sidelined, and the "adults in the room" of the last Trump administration are reluctant to denounce him in public ( "A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. We should stop pretending."; Washington Post; November 30, 2023). In order to stop Trump, Republicans, notably Nikki Haley, should question his electability for his disdain to the constitutional democracy. But all the Republican rivals think nothing of denying Trump's credential, as they stress partisan loyalty if he were nominated. Quite noticeably, the more Trump portrays himself a victim of persecution, the more infuriated his supporters are with American judicial system and elite as a whole. Therefore, it is risky for Republicans to provoke those MAGA voters. In view of this, Kagan urges veteran Republican politicians such as Mitt Romney, Liz Cheyney, Condoleezza Rice, and James Baker, and also, former cabinet members like Mike Pence and John Kelly to lead a nationwide campaign to defend democracy in America ( "The Trump dictatorship: How to stop it"' Washington Post; December 7, 2023). The key to stopping Trump is the will of orthodox Republicans. They launch such movements like the Lincoln Project, the Republican Accountability project, Republicans for the Rule of Law. How will veteran politicians align with them?

The key to curb rightwing populism is the resilience of democracy. Last October, Keio Center for Strategy hosted an online dialogue between Professor Yuichi Hosoya of Keio University and Professor Maiko Ichihara of Hitotsubashi University to explore security implication of democracy recession in the world. In the dialogue, both scholars focused extensively on the vulnerability of Western democracy to disinformation by revisionist powers. Currently advanced democracies in Europe and North America are plagued with the rise of populism, which typically appears in the form of anti-establishment outrage and anti-immigrant nativism. Most notably, MAGA Republicans misapply small government ideals to boost hate ideology and to attack such socio-economically and culturally deprived people. Those who feel themselves victimized by globalization applaud rightwing demagogues for tough and resolute postures. But such "I alone can fix it" approaches simply make the government dysfunctional and the nation unsecured as Harari argues.

In the dialogue, Ichihara explained how Russia and China seize those opportunities of disinformation to manipulate domestic politics in the West through effective use of digital technology. Both scholars agreed that democracies need countermeasures to defend themselves from enemy manipulation. Meanwhile, we have to notice that some democracies such as Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, are relatively successful in curbing rightwing populism. Particularly in Japan, people still trust the government, media, and established intellectuals, which deters dubious conspiracy theories from being propagated, as Hosoya mentioned. Can the three Pacific democracies show some hints of how to manage populism to the global community?

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