Putin’s Permanent Power Structure

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

By Yan Graf
Staff Writer

For the past few months, the world’s attention has been fixed on the brutal war in Ukraine. While Ukrainian and Russian citizens continue to bear most of the brutality wrought by the war, it has become clear that one man is responsible for starting the conflict: the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. With hopes for a peaceful diplomatic settlement dwindling, many in the West have begun speculating that the war in Ukraine will only end if it goes hand in hand with Putin’s resignation. While some hope that he is forced out of power through protest or political pressure, others, such as South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, have clamored for Putin to be assassinated, asking on Twitter, “Is there a Brutus in Russia?” sparking backlash from Republicans and Democrats alike. But such hopes of Putin leaving power are unfounded. While the Russian President has certainly been put under pressure by Western sanctions, Putin has built a “counter-intelligence state” that secures his iron grip on Russia’s political future. 

Continue reading “Putin’s Permanent Power Structure”

Op-Ed: French Failures: A Warning to the Left Worldwide

Photo credit: Pierre-Selim Huard 

By Matthew Risley
Staff Writer

On Sunday, April 24th, French voters re-elected Emmanuel Macron for another five-year presidential term. For the second straight election, he defeated his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen, becoming the first president re-elected in France since Jacques Chirac in 2002. Running on a platform of centrist rhetoric, Macron won by a significant margin, even though the gap between him and Le Pen closed to 15.2%, demonstrating the waning appeal of the status quo in France. The French left missed out on a brilliant opportunity to publicize its positions and potentially take power, squandering the chance due to its inability to cooperate—a lesson for left-wing parties around the world. 

Extremist candidates—Eric Zemmour and Le Pen of the Far Right and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Far Left—received a majority of the vote during the first round of the election, taking 52.3%. Valérie Pécresse, who represented the center-right party of Les Republicains (The Republicans), received only 4.8% of the vote, despite polling at 12% percent in early March. This stands in stark contrast to the first round vote in 2017, where François Fillon, the representative for Les Republicains, received 20% of the vote, only missing out on the second round of voting by 1.3%.  

Mélenchon failed to reach the second round by a mere 1.2%, which could have certainly materialized if the other left-wing parties had dropped out and endorsed his campaign. Anne Hidalgo of the Parti Socialiste (Socialist Party) received only 1.8% of the vote, the lowest ever for a candidate for the Socialist Party and an abysmal performance compared to the 28.6% won in 2012. Yannick Jadot received 4.6% of the vote for the Europe Écologie Les Verts (The Green Party). Meanwhile, three other parties—Parti Communiste Français (French Communist Party), Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anti-Capitalists), Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle)—combined for only 3.7% of the vote. 

Taken individually these numbers are meager, yet when combined, the candidates on the left earned a significant 32.1% of the vote. In fact, it is surprisingly higher than Macron’s 27.8%. If only half of the voters from these five left-wing parties had voted for Mélenchon, he would have moved onto the second round of voting in place of Le Pen. Yet, in lieu of uniting to endorse Mélenchon—or even simply withdrawing and letting the voters decide—the left ran four separate campaigns with 0% chance of advancing to the second round.

Of course, not all the voters from these parties would have voted for Mélenchon if the field had been vacated, but he only needed an additional 1.3 percentage points in order to qualify for the second round of voting. This also would not have guaranteed Mélenchon a second round run-off victory—in fact, he would have most likely lost—yet, simply forcing Macron to face a left-wing candidate, rather than a far-right candidate, would be a victory for the French left. The strength of the left would have proved more pressing than that of the right, and this certainly would have shifted Macron’s policy pursuits. 

Nonetheless, this election demonstrates the eroding appeal of the status quo for French voters. The massive rise in support for radical political parties unequivocally points towards discontent with France’s neoliberal, pro-EU stance. Even in defeat, Le Pen has won her own battle: her right-wing platform has been established as a serious threat to the political center. It is clear that many of Macron’s votes come from unhappy voters who would have strategically picked any candidate other than Le Pen, although far from their first choice.

To an extent, the left has realized its error since the election. A new coalition—the Nouvelle Union Populaire écologique et sociale (New People’s Ecologic and Social Union)—is forming, attempting to deny Macron a Parliamentary majority. Macron has rebranded his party the Renaissance, hoping to ally with the center-right to combat this newfound threat. The union under Mélenchon is commendable; the combined force of the left in France is significant, and Macron’s maneuvers demonstrate his fear and betray the confidence he publicly projects. Fracturing Macron’s power with a win in Parliament would mark an incredible accomplishment for a coalition that seemed unlikely to materialize only a few weeks ago. Though it remains to be seen if it will do so, this coalition is the perfect vehicle for the left to win. 

Although comparisons to the United States’ contemporary political battle are loose, the American left can learn from this election. The inability of French left-wing elements to cooperate during the presidential election remains a warning for the American left as well as other left-wing parties around the world. However, their speedy commitment to a coalition and seeming ability to unite for the purposes of a Parliamentary majority should give their counterparts in the United States and elsewhere good reason to think that they too can reconcile differences to avoid electoral defeat at the hands of their ideological opponents.

Despite the limiting nature of the U.S. political system and culture, one rule transcends borders in truth: you must take power in order to enact the change you wish to see. Ideological concessions are an unfortunate necessity in politics. The New People’s Ecologic and Social Union is an excellent response to the situation, and an exemplary display of leftist unity that will hopefully set an example for leftist parties worldwide going forward. 

On the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

Photo Credit: Dragan Tatic

By Pranav Reddy
Contributing Writer

A key element of U.S. foreign policy has been nuclear nonproliferation. In layman’s terms, the United States wants to prevent states that do not already have nuclear weapons from getting them. A notable example was Bill Clinton’s 1998 sanctions on India over its Pokhran-II nuclear device tests. More recently, the United States has focused primarily on preventing Iran and North Korea from acquiring nuclear capabilities. The United States’ favored instrument has been sanctions, which are aimed to force such states to halt their nuclear programs. In the hopes of a diplomatic resolution, the United States, European Union (EU), Iran, and the P5+1—the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany—signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on July, 14 2015 to limit Iran’s nuclear facilities to strictly civilian purposes. In exchange for compliance, the United States and the EU agreed to slowly lift sanctions. However, the Trump administration withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, and despite calls for a revived deal by the current Biden administration, there is no guarantee one will form.

In order to analyze U.S.-Iran tensions, it is necessary to review—albeit summarily—the history of Iran during the Cold War. The original constitutional monarchy shared power between Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and the Pahlavi dynasty. Mossadegh frequently clashed with Reza Shah Pahlavi over several issues, such as cabinet appointees and, most importantly, foreign policy. The most controversial and ultimately fatal decision for Mossadegh was the vote to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951. The Eisenhower administration decided, along with the British government, to depose Mossadegh and replace him with the more pliable Reza Shah Pahlavi. In August 1953, the Central Intelligence Agency organized a coup, and within days the Shah had returned to power. Most importantly to the United States and United Kingdom, oil sales resumed. Mossadegh spent the rest of his life under house arrest after being convicted of treason. The Shah proceeded to rule from 1953 to 1979 and enjoyed generous U.S. support—primarily through arms sales—despite his abysmal human rights abuses, leading Amnesty International to remark, “The shah of Iran retains his benevolent image despite the highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture which is beyond belief.”

However, the Shah would face a popular uprising in 1979 featuring a bizarre alliance between Marxist guerillas, constitutionalist remnants of the National Front, and the Islamic fundamentalist Revolutionary Council, led by soon-to-be leader Ayatollah Khomeini. The coup also facilitated what would later be known as the Iranian hostage crisis. Seizing hostages from the American embassy in Tehran, the newly formed Islamic Republic of Iran demanded the extradition of the Shah to face trial for his crimes. The United States refused and instead granted him asylum. Subsequently, in September 1980, Saddam Hussein launched an invasion of Iran, which the United States supported by providing Iraq with both dual-use biological weapons and diplomatic cover for Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. After a prolonged and bloody stalemate, the war ended with a return to the status quo, and Iran returned all hostages unharmed after 444 days. To this day, animosity between the United States and Iran remains.

With this in mind, the case can be made that the United States has been, at best, an unreliable negotiator or, less generously, an imperial power looking to reestablish a friendly client state in Iran. This fundamental dynamic is at the core of what shapes U.S.-Iran relations, not the nebulous definition of state sponsors of terrorism, nor the Orientalist claims of Sunni-Shia tensions: Shia are the largest denomination in Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain, all of which are U.S. allies. The JCPOA, a product of the Obama administration, is a reversal of previous U.S. legislation. The JCPOA lists several restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. Many of the demands are technical details on the mechanics of producing fissile material, but the overall goal is to restrict Iran to solely civilian energy production. In exchange, Iran expected certain EU and U.S. sanctions to be lifted by 2023.

At the time of U.S. withdrawal in May 2018, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had verified Iran’s full compliance with the deal, and the Trump administration did not mention any violations of the agreement in its statement of withdrawal. IAEA reports show that Iran fully complied until May 2019, when it began to progressively violate the JCPOA limits. In its most recent report released in March 2022, the IAEA indicates that Iran has enriched uranium to 60% purity (the JCPOA limit is 3.67%). Nevertheless, the IAEA reported in February 2022 that Iran was still two years away from a functioning nuclear weapon, and Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated that it may take up to five years. Iranian officials state that if the United States returns to the JCPOA, Iran will also return to the agreed-upon restrictions.

The election of Joe Biden led to renewed hopes of a deal. However, in the United States the agreement faces internal opposition. New York Times Opinion Columnist Bret Stephens argues that “[the Iran deal] leaves us even weaker and meeker than the previous deal.” Additionally, Rand Paul was the only Republican senator who did not oppose the new agreement. Time may not be on Biden’s side in negotiating a new deal. On average, the minority party has gained two Senate seats in a president’s first midterm cycle since 1950, and polling indicates that this trend may continue. Already, the talks in Vienna have hit numerous issues and delays, from protests over Russia’s participation to Iran demanding the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) be taken off the U.S. list of “foreign terrorist organizations.” Iranian officials want guarantees that the United States will not simply leave the agreement again for a second time. Despite this, there is a slim possibility that the removal of oil and financial sanctions may help the Biden administration resolve the current consumer crisis and lift his ailing approval ratings. Project Director of the Crisis Group’s Iran Project and Senior Advisor to the President, Ali Vaez notes that Iran had a slight rupture with Russia over its attempts to insert its own demands for the removal of sanctions from their invasion of Ukraine. These frays may indicate that a new deal could be quickly agreed upon before the November 2022 midterms.

Whether or not a new nuclear deal materializes remains to be seen. What can certainly be said is that the United States’ approach to Iran has failed to produce the desired results and has left Iran more fractured. From destroying the only democracy Iranians knew to the failed sanctions-based strategy that has contributed to its economic crisis, the United States has only pushed Iran closer to nuclear capabilities. At the same time, U.S. influence has only decreased; the Iraq and Afghanistan wars failed to ensure a U.S.-friendly regime remained comfortably in power, and the United States has been left with fewer options to maintain a positive presence in the Middle East. With increasing division over what Amnesty International has explicitly called Israeli apartheid, and the U.S. public very unhappy with the U.S.-Saudi Arabia alliance, the United States’ strategy of tension in the Middle East may soon be coming around in retaliation.