The third and final US presidential debate took place this week in Las Vegas, Nevada, marking the end of four and half hours of under-moderated candidate-on-candidate discourse.
Though he was the best host by far, even Fox's Chris Wallace eventually struggled to control the masochistic bull in a china shop that is Trump, and most chalked it up as win three out of three for Clinton. Norman Bell:
Clinton correctly called Trump on his habit of seeing himself as a victim. He’s previously claimed rigged Republican primaries, rigged judicial processes in the matter of Trump University, rigged media, rigged polling, even a rigged process for deciding not to hand an Emmy award to his TV show. The good news for Trump (and the bad news for America) is that The Donald is not the only one who feels victimised. It is a trademark of the Rust Belt men who have seen their jobs go offshore, the Southern states still playing catch-up 150 years after the Civil War, the under-educated who see immigrants getting ahead of them. These voters form the backbone of Trump’s support.
James Bowen examined what was potentially the scariest bit of rhetoric from Trump – the notion that he would not respect the final result of the election, were it not to go his way:
'I will look at it at the time' is bound to be the lasting line from the third and final debate of the 2016 US presidential campaign, and it's a worrying one. Donald Trump's refusal to confirm that he will accept the results of the election on 8 November, in keeping with his accusations of a rigged process, will have many concerned about how his supporters will react to what still seems a likely defeat.
In light of Trump's claims, there has been widespread media promotion of the fact that cases of voter fraud in the US are extremely rare, and that its decentralised electoral system makes it virtually impossible to coordinate such a campaign on a national level. It has also been commonly pointed out that Republicans have long engaged in widespread suppression of votes from minorities and gerrymandering efforts that put a fairly heavy thumb on the scale ahead of election day.
Matthew Sussex examined Trump's extremely baffling unwillingness to condemn Russian interference in the electoral process:
Trump has absolutely nothing to gain by defending the Kremlin. Russian citizens don’t vote in US elections. While there are some on the American far right who admire Putin and wish for a strong man in the White House, they are not numerous enough to tip the balance in Trump’s favour. Ironically, they are the same constituency that Russia has been assiduously courting in order to undermine confidence in American political institutions. At a more structural level, Moscow has been for some time now a bete noir (and sometimes a convenient one) for Western policymakers. Focusing attention on the perceived threat from Russia can be a useful distraction from the more pressing geopolitical competition emerging in the Indo-Pacific strategic space.
Pre-debate, Emma Connors covered the havoc Trump is wreaking on the GOP:
The Republican party machine has its hands full trying to keep the pro- and anti-Trump factions from tearing each other apart (and putting off voters in the process) before the election. The inter-party friction ratcheted up after the audio surfaced of Trump making lewd comments but a few weeks earlier, another swathe of Republicans came unstuck when Ted Cruz announced, finally, he would support Trump.
Allira Attwill argued that there is more to do to combat Zika:
Overall, the initial response to Zika was both prompt and coordinated. Though it has failed (as yet) to mobilise the finances sought, the WHO is demonstrating its ability to lead a collaborative global health response. Likewise, even resource-constrained countries appear to be leveraging cost-effective control, prevention and detection campaigns, though they often require additional support to reach the most vulnerable populations. The scientific community and pharmaceutical industry (the latter albeit enticed by market forces) responded hastily and in line with the WHO’s call. The most significant failure so far is the delayed US response and lack of stewardship within the region, though this is symptomatic of the reliance on political lobbying in US decision-making processes.
Hannah Wurf said Australia is downplaying its commitment to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals:
But in Australia, the SDGs have been a non-event. In 2015, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop didn't attend the critical Addis Ababa conference to determine how the SDGs were to be financed. It is not yet clear if Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has any well-formed views on the goals (though one development enthusiast tried to cherry-pick from previous speeches how he might support the goals in theory).
Malcolm Cook noted the alarming pivot from Philippine President Duterte:
In an interview with Chinese state television released on Wednesday, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte doubled down on his embrace of China and dismissive attitude towards the US-Philippine alliance. Duterte pronounced his state visit to China as 'the defining moment of my presidency', expansively claimed that a quarter of the Philippine population (including himself) are Chinese descendants, contended that China was the Philippines' 'only hope economically', and hoped that President Xi Jinping would find it in his heart to give the Philippines a railway.
In a speech to an overseas Filipino audience on the same day, Duterte repeated his 'son of a whore' reference for President Obama while stating 'No more American influence. No more American exercises. It's time to say goodbye, my friend. Your stay in my country was for your own benefit'.
As Duterte rachets up the rhetoric on Manila's pivot away from the US and towards China, there are early signs of problems back home.
It's business as unusual in China, wrote Greg Earl:
Packer's advisers may regret not paying attention to analysis like this new study from University of California academics, which suggests the graft crackdown is 'primarily an attempt to root out systemic corruption problems' rather than a factional powerplay. Whatever the reason, this episode underlines how the old backroom way of doing business with authoritarian Asian governments is losing its efficacy, as public opinion, the actual law and shifting economic circumstances have the potential to suddenly undermine deals. Alastair Nicholas and Geoff Raby make good points about the real operating landscape in China.
Matthew Dal Santo on why Russia is unlikely to back down on Syria:
One of the problems with assumptions about a 'new Cold War' may be that they're not scary enough. After all, from a Western point of view, the Cold War not only passed without cataclysm, but also (according to the conventional wisdom) ushered in a triumph that apparently vindicated, perhaps for all time, the ultimate victory of the West's social, political and economic liberalism.
The suggestion is hardly original, but surely the years before World War I provide a better, if more sobering, analogy for the state of US-Russia relations today. From the Bosnian crisis of 1908 to the contested outcome of the First and Second Balkan Wars in 1912-13 and the 1913 German military mission to the Ottoman Empire, Russia saw itself as suffering a series of deliberate international humiliations at the hands of the Kaiser's Germany.
Why is Australia so opposed to a UN resolution prohibiting nuclear weapons? Richard Lennane:
Australia has been curiously reluctant to engage honestly with other governments about its true objection to the ban treaty. Instead of frankly expressing their concerns about the implications that an absolute prohibition of nuclear weapons might have for Australia's defence doctrine, Australian officials have continued to trot out one flimsy and transparent pretext after another. Ambassador John Quinn told the First Committee that a ban treaty 'would not rid us of one nuclear weapon. It would not change the realities we all face in a nuclear-armed DPRK'. This is a ludicrous criticism from a country that supports the 'step-by-step' or 'building blocks' approach to nuclear disarmament. A fissile material cut-off treaty would also 'not rid us of one nuclear weapon', but Australia (rightly) supports it as one of a range of measures needed to move closer to a world without nuclear weapons.
The Mosul offensive was launched this week. Lauren Williams says it will be hard, but future challenges will be harder:
Intelligence reports suggest many of the IS command have already left Mosul and slipped across the border into Syria (a border they destroyed two years ago) well ahead of the offensive. There, they are likely to remain unmolested for now. The fear is that from the relative safety of its Syrian capital of Raqqa, IS will be able to regroup and frustrate efforts to restore order in Mosul down the track. It is essential that once the Iraqi Army and its allies secure Mosul, they work to restore governance and regain the cooperation of the local civilian population by restoring infrastructure and functionality, and addressing the urgent humanitarian needs of the population.
A failure to restore such order and trust (and it's far from clear there is a workable plan to do so) raises the spectre of Shiite militia-led reprisals against the Sunni host population in Mosul (it’s happened before) that could sow the seed for the same kind of dissatisfaction that gave rise to IS in Iraq two years ago. Perhaps even more concerning for the West, there is every chance a depleted IS may shift its attention to exporting terrorism attacks abroad from its safe base in Raqqa.
Jim Molan also wrote on Mosul, and how the battle is likely to play out:
The militias are a real concern, especially the Iranian backed Shia militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Units (or PMU). There were accusations of war crimes towards Sunnis following the Tikrit and Fallujah battles, and Abadi tried to stop them from participating in the Mosul fight. He was not able to do this. While the PMU nominally answer to him, many Shia militias are really controlled by Iranian Quds Force officers. Abadi seems to have allocated these militias a task on the West flank of the Mosul offensive in the area of Tal Afar, but what they will do there, and whether they will be content to stay there, is yet to be seen. For both these reasons, it’s imperative that a carefully planned Raqqa campaign closely follows the Mosul offensive.
Simon Heffer argued that a new Anglosphere is not out of the question:
...when the campaign to leave the European Union formally organised itself about a year ago, and started to outline what life would be like if it achieved its aims and, indeed, left, the Commonwealth started to assume an importance it had not had for more than 40 years. The talk was now of trading globally: with China, and Brazil, of course, but more to the point with those nations with whom the British share ties of history, blood and language. The new British prime minister, Theresa May, appointed a Secretary of State for International Trade in her cabinet; Dr Liam Fox, who had been one of the most ardent campaigners to leave, and who had been closely associated in his earlier days with the late Lady Thatcher. Dr Fox immediately got on a plane to India, and since then has continued to travel the world to discuss possible trade deals for Britain. He is not permitted to conclude any such deals yet – that cannot happen until Britain has left the EU, which may take another two and half years – but his travels will also include the US, where he has fostered close political links for the last 20 years.
Euan Graham analysed Australia's domestic FONOP debate:
Last year, I argued that a distinctly Australian FONOP was worth it on balance to underline concerns and interests that are defined independently of the US. However, the surface environment near China's artificial features in the Spratlys is becoming more complex and potentially threatening . This is informing US preferences for a 'rainbow' coalition approach to FONOPs with allies and partners, not simply for reasons of political solidarity but out of a basic need for force security. A solo Australian surface FONOP, while still possible, will entail operational risk. This may reinforce Canberra's caution, although overflight is legally clear cut and, for the moment, less risky.
Realistically, no multi-national operation on a significant scale is likely to happen before the next US administration can formulate its policy on the South China Sea. That does not mean that US allies and partners should simply wait. This is precisely the time for allies to show leadership, not by launching uncoordinated quixotic actions – that would suit China – but by consulting and coordinating on ways to demonstrate rights of access to international air and sea-space in the South China Sea, within heightened but acceptable bounds of risk. For a concerted international approach to have meaningful effect it cannot be composed only of Asian treaty allies and European powers, like France or the UK. Asia including Southeast Asia needs to be represented. Canberra should also continue to explore ways to keep The Hague tribunal ruling alive, creatively maximising the value of Canberra's seat at the tables of ASEAN-plus summitry.
Finally, sledging globalisation may suddenly everyone's favourite pastime, but many of the proposed solutions would diminish the benefits of globalisation, argued Stephen Grenville:
Once globalisation has become the accepted punching bag, everyone can proffer their favoured nostrums, some of which make little sense. Jared Bernstein and Lori Wallach offer a 'progressive' response; stipulating that there should be rules covering everything from currency manipulation to international rules on labour and environmental conditions, and that countries that didn't play by said rules should be ostracised. Some of their criticisms are valid; trade deals like the TPP should be negotiated for general benefit rather than vested interests. But it is still a rag-bag collection of ideas.
This debate still has a long way to run. Here is some tentative guidance on how to evaluate the multitude of suggestions.
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