In an interview with IQNA, Professor Stephen Chan expressed his view about the recent incidents in the US, including Wednesday’s mob attack on the Capitol in Washington, DC, and the problems Biden will face when assuming office on January 20, including the situation in the Middle East.
Stephen Chan is a professor of world politics and international relations at SOAS, University of London. He was awarded an OBE for “services to Africa and higher education” in 2010. He has published number of books on international relations and articles and reviews in the academic and specialist press, as well as journalistic feature articles.
Born to Chinese refugees to New Zealand, Stephen Chan began his academic career in Africa at the University of Zambia in 1983, and has subsequently been a visiting lecturer at the University of Wellington and held academic posts at the University of Kent and Nottingham Trent University, before joining SOAS in 2002.
Following are Professor Chan’s views:
What we have (recently) seen in the USA is a President whose narcissism is greater than his respect for constitutional propriety. Even right wing policy-makers and former advisers - people far removed from liberalism - have written at length about how President Trump's vanity consistently overclouds his judgement.
Having said that, the very real problem for the USA is the very large number of people who believe the ungrounded propaganda the President publishes - and has published in all four years of his tenure. Far from technology making the American people a more sophisticated constituency, it seems to have made them into 'true believers' of whatever information best suits their prejudices and biases. The plenitude of news sources means that people can pick and choose whichever one they favor and absorb often completely fictionalized accounts of reality. Legislation that allows 'open carry' of weapons also gives many people a sense of power - as if they still lived in the days of the Wild West - only many carry not Colt 45s but assault rifles that properly belong in an army.
What this means is that the new President (Joe Biden) will have to work very hard indeed to impose a liberal agenda both domestically and internationally. Domestically he has selected a very diverse Cabinet. For the first time, it resembles the handpicked French Cabinets, where the pluralism of the population at large is reflected. Whether pluralistic technocracy is enough in these troubled times remains to be seen. And the COVID pandemic means that it will take at least a year for the USA to begin recovering its economic dynamism - whereas China is now a year ahead, having controlled the pandemic and understanding, from President Trump, that competition with the USA is inevitable.
In foreign policy Biden will move to reassure his European and other Western allies. Because of Brexit, the US will gravitate to Europe more than towards the UK. Trade wars will continue with China, but be conducted along aggressive economic lines, as opposed to the Trump use of political instruments to constrain Chinese export capacity and share-listing capacity.
However, precisely because of the need to work with Europe, there will be a genuine search for some sort of way forward with Iran. John Kerry has been included in the Biden Cabinet. European leaders like Macron will press upon Biden the sense of a negotiated way forward. But this will not involve a magic formula. Some months of delicate and hard negotiations lie ahead, and both sides must show restraint at critical moments. But there will be more goodwill than during the Trump years.
What Biden will do regarding Israeli expansionism in Palestine, and towards the Trump practice of effectively bribing Arab states to recognize Israel, is an open question. But one good sign in the Middle East has been the Saudi acceptance that it must end its blockade of Qatar. This was due at least in part to signals sent by the incoming Biden team. I would not be surprised if Doha becomes the setting for many Middle Eastern negotiations, and also negotiations between the US and Iran. Confidential bilateral meetings at occasions like the Doha Forum may well constitute the first steps forward and these may involve discussion of 'confidence building' measures - no matter what superficial rhetoric hangs over from the Trump years. For the Iranians, working with Qatar and France becomes the prelude to working with the USA.
Interview by Mohammad Hassan Goodarzi