American Daily: October 1, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

1 October 2015

  • John Boehner's failed speakership.
And what did Boehner’s cowardice in the face of the Tea Party stalwarts get him? They forced him out anyway. Boehner built his career around keeping his job, and he still failed. If Boehner had allowed the passage of immigration reform, it’s entirely possible that the Tea Party would have rebelled and evicted him—but at least he would have had a substantial accomplishment to his credit. Instead, Boehner tried nothing, accomplished nothing, and lost his job anyway. It’s the legacy he deserves.
  • How effective are criticisms of Marco Rubio's Senate voting record likely to be?

Presumably, there will be some conservatives who consider that the above information does not so much let Rubio off the hook as make an excellent case for the unflappability of Ted Cruz. And perhaps it does! Cruz, after all, did not make a mistake on immigration, and, from some rightward-leaning perspectives at least, has a pretty much perfect record on all other fronts as well. What it does not do, however, is to suggest that Rubio is a “moderate” or that Donald Trump is his superior in any way — both of which contentions are implied in Trump’s critique. Au contraire: Over the last five years, Rubio has amassed a consistently conservative record that has on its face a single major blot — a blot, it should be said, which Rubio now claims to regret. Donald Trump, by contrast, has compiled a long and ugly history as a cynical “foot in both camps” moderate, to which he has now added six months of embarrassingly ersatz “conservatism.” If we are to be encouraged to more closely examine the political records on offer, whose do we think will come out ahead?

But Jeb’s efforts to challenge Trump failed to capture the imagination. Now, suddenly, the internet is abuzz with talk about how Marco Rubio is the one who is drawing blood from Trump, and talk of Rubio having a plausible shot at the nomination is on the rise.
In the short time since Trump declared his candidacy, he has performed a public service by exposing, however crudely and at times inadvertently, the posturings of both the Republicans and the Democrats and the foolishness and obsolescence of much of the political culture they share. He is, as many say, making a mockery of the entire political process with his bull-in-a-china-shop antics. But the mockery in this case may be overdue, highly warranted, and ultimately a spur to reform rather than the crime against civic order that has scandalized those who see him, in the words of the former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, as “dangerous to democracy.”

For Warren to get into the race at this point after shying away from running and then letting Sanders do the dirty work of demonstrating Clinton's vulnerability would be a little dishonorable. It's reminiscent of when Bobby Kennedy jumped into the 1968 primary only after Eugene McCarthy took the risk of challenging Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire primary. But Kennedy took the plunge for a good reason. He — like Warren, but unlike McCarthy or Sanders — actually stood a decent chance of beating the establishment favorite.

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Smart phones, smarter reporting

By Leah Craven in Chicago, Illinois

30 September 2015

Leah Craven is the recipient of the 2015 US Studies Centre–World Press Institute media fellowship and is contributing to the blog while in the United States. This post was originally published at the World Press Institute blog

They're everywhere, and almost everyone has one. Perhaps even your grandmother.

It's no secret that smart phones have changed the way journalists work.

It has also changed the way the public can engage with mainstream media, or produce their own content.

Anyone with a smart phone can upload their "cats behaving badly" videos to YouTube, but the smart phone revolution has also played a crucial role in defending the rights of the oppressed.

Capture and upload — it's never been easier.

The human rights group WITNESS sees advances in technology as a way of empowering those who — until recently — had no way of accessing a wide audience to tell their story.

Now the narrative has changed. From capturing atrocities and war crimes in Syria, to unprovoked police brutality in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, smart phones have helped shift the power dynamic between authorities and the common person.

As a journalist I've been noticing a growing trend over the past five years among the public, particularly the young and tech savvy. It's becoming instinctual for bystanders to pull out their phone and record things that are dramatic, out of the ordinary, or unjust.

With smart phones it's easier to film incognito, rather than a more conspicuous handy cam.

In the United States there have been several examples of a video recording challenging the "official" version of events, and setting the record straight.

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The man who filmed the shooting of Walter Scott released his vision publicly after police reported that Scott had attacked them. The footage showed this was not the case, and changed the official narrative.

The scrutiny that bystander video facilitates now puts pressure on a would-be perpetrator, for example a police officer, to obey the rules and treat people respectfully.

In Syria, human rights advocates are compiling footage that may one day be used as evidence to prosecute for war crimes. WITNESS aims to help these citizen journalists film safely and effectively in such a dangerous and unpredictable environment.

The organisation is also teaching people how to archive the evidence, and automatically back it up through apps like iCloud.

This was invaluable in the case of Kianga Mwamba, who was spotted by police as she filmed Baltimore officers kicking a handcuffed man. She continued to record when police officers objected to her filming, capturing herself being tasered and arrested, while officers hurled expletives at her. She knew the vision would prove her innocence, but when she was released from the police station she found officers had deleted it from her phone. Fortunately, it was recovered through her iCloud account. Charges against her have been dropped.

Advances in technology, such as Periscope, facilitate live streaming. From anywhere in the globe it's possible to watch events unfold with a virtual eyewitness view.

From a news perspective the immediacy is fabulous. But the ability to upload or live stream can also pose ethical dilemmas. Privacy is a huge issue. WITNESS is working with YouTube to develop a face blurring app to protect the anonymity of innocent people who did not consent to being filmed, and having their image shared online.

But when this technology is used by those with sinister motives, the outcomes can be disastrous.

In Australia, in 2011, a female Army cadet engaged in consensual sex with one of her colleagues. What she didn't consent to was the live stream of the act played via Skype to several young men in a nearby room.

After an investigation the two young men who masterminded the screening were convicted of criminal actions, the five voyeurs were later expelled. But the gross violation of privacy has destroyed the young women's career, caused incredible humiliation and distress, and therefore affected the direction her life has taken.

As journalists, we embrace technological changes and how they can enhance the way we engage with the public. And the positives for human rights defenders is clear to see. But, like many things in life, if technology and social media isn't used responsibly the consequences of the misuse can be horrific.


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American Daily: September 25, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

29 September 2015

  • Hillary Clinton is building up endorsements, even while Bernie Sanders surges.
The paradox there — that Democratic officials are swinging in line behind Clinton even as Sanders is showing strength in polling — speaks both to the skill Clinton's demonstrated as an inside political player and the kind of advantage that gives her in a primary race that many pundits insist is closer now than it really is. It's also one of the many factors that could figure in Vice President Joe Biden's decision about whether to jump into the race.
Like many scholars and activists, Fortner is profoundly disturbed by our modern system of criminal justice, calling mass incarceration “a glaring and dreadful stain on the fabric of American history.” But he thinks this history is incomplete if it ignores what he calls “black agency”: he wants us to see African-Americans not merely as victims of politics but as active participants in it, too. At a moment of growing concern about how our criminal-justice system harms African-Americans, Fortner seeks to show that African-American leaders, urged on by members of the community, helped create that system in the first place.
  • Could North Korea follow in the footsteps of Iran and Cuba in improving its US relations?

From the outset of his presidential campaign, President Obama made clear he would pursue a different form of diplomatic strategy with countries that had traditionally been regarded as foes of Washington: He was willing to negotiate with them “without preconditions.” And coming after the “axis of evil” years of the George W. Bush administration, that gave hope in some circles that a breakthrough could finally be on the cards between Pyongyang and Washington under Obama’s watch.

The University of Texas at Austin college football team—that would be the Longhorns—are worth more than any other team in the league: that college football cash cow is worth $131 million. Feminist writer Jessica Luther lives right in the heart of Texas football country, and she’s a big football fan herself. When she’s not organizing pro-choice protests at the state Capitol or busily blogging about reproductive rights, Jessica Luther is likely watching a football game. She’s hard at work right now on a book about violence in sports culture, an especially critical topic given the pattern of domestic abuse and sexual assault seen among college and pro football teams.

First presidential debate:
Monday, September 26, 2016
Wright State University, Dayton, OH

Vice presidential debate:
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Longwood University, Farmville, VA

Second presidential debate:
Sunday, October 9, 2016
Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO

Third presidential debate:
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV

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Don't look now, but there's a campaign going on

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

23 September 2015

Scott Walker

The Republican presidential campaign — as it has existed on the debate stage and in the press, at least — has largely been the Donald Trump show. Considering I quit watching The Apprentice when season two launched back in 2004, I haven't found this a particularly interesting state of affairs. Donald Trump will not be the Republican nominee and as entertaining as his circus is, his popularity doesn't do much more than demonstrate that when the media gives attention to someone saying outrageous things, a certain number of people who aren't really thinking about an election yet will tell pollsters they like him.

While Trump has been exploring new avenues of obnoxiousness and offensiveness, however, Republicans have been trying to focus on picking a presidential candidate, and, yesterday, they made a major step towards doing that. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was a major contender; he has now suspended his campaign.

Walker's announcement follows declining polling numbers, fundraising dollars, and public interest in the Wisconsin Governor. He looked good on paper: an ideological conservative who had taken on public sector unions, survived massive protests and a recall election, and then won a second term in a state Democrats have held in the Electoral College since 1988. He could credibly claim to unite the disparate factions of the Republican Party, appealing to the religious right, economic conservatives, and Tea Partiers. Yet when it came to running an actual campaign, in the words of Centre lecturer David Smith on ABC Radio National last night, "It turned out he was completely devoid of charisma and nobody liked him."

As such, despite the apparently vast field of fifteen contenders remaining in the Republican race, only a few of these have a genuine chance of taking the nomination next year. I think Marco Rubio, even with his apostasies on immigration, is currently best placed, but the as-yet lacklustre Jeb Bush and the conciliatory dark horse John Kasich are also well positioned. The remainder are either not in serious contention (Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina) or need a major change in fortune over the next few months (Chris Christie, Rick Santorum) to be placed anywhere near the top tier.

So why did Scott Walker drop out now when politicians with far less promise like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz remain in the race? I'd suggest that when the Governor saw diminishing returns from the significant effort and great deal of money he was expending, he accurately determined that his party wasn't interested in nominating him. There are plenty of candidates in the race who are in the same situation and either don't realise they're not wanted or don't care, but Walker has more incentive than most of them to make a dignified exit. 

Scott Walker looks as good on paper as he did the day he declared his candidacy and his current gubernatorial term extends until January 2019. He will turn 54 in 2020 and is still a realistic chance for the Republican nomination then if he wants it. But what sort of candidate has he been in this cycle? We don't know. He might have been like Tim Pawlenty in 2012 — a conservative Midwesterner who proved too bland for the big stage. Or has his early exit excused him from Rick Perry status — a high-profile contender whose gaffes in 2012 severely diminished his 2016 hopes? But maybe he could actually be Mitt Romney in 2008: a first-timer who made a decent effort that readied him for a much more successful run four years on. If so, better to leave now, while he's only uninteresting, not unwelcome.

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American Daily: September 22, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

22 September 2015

  • Scott Walker is suspending his campaign for the presidency. 
His four-minute statement invoked his political hero, Ronald Reagan, and then his nemesis, Donald Trump. Walker said the Republican front-runner threatens his party and nation, while calling on other candidates to also exit the race so voters can coalesce behind someone who can beat the billionaire.
The Democratic Party is embroiled in an increasingly loud argument over the schedule of presidential debates, one that flared up in New Hampshire over the weekend when DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz got heckled by audience members. Senior Dems such as Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean have criticized the DNC. Hillary Clinton’s rivals have charged that the DNC has only scheduled six debates to deny them airtime and protect front-runner Clinton, who has subsequently said she’s open to more debates but won’t say whether she actively wants more of them.
  • Batman takes on police brutality.
The latest issue of DC Comics’ flagship Batman series throws itself headfirst into the agonizing conversations roiling America more than a year after Ferguson officer Darren Wilson killed 18-year old Michael Brown. The globally iconic superhero confronts racialized police brutality and its intersection with urban poverty and gentrification — problems Batman comes to realize he exacerbates in his secret identity as billionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne.

Once, and only once, in 2011, have I attended the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington, D.C., on the grounds, as I explained then, that Voltaire is said to have cited when he declined a second invitation to an orgy: once a philosopher, twice a pervert. Luckily for the philosopher in me, it turned out to be an auspicious night. Not only, as we did not know then, was President Obama in the midst of the operation that would lead shortly to Osama bin Laden’s killing; it was also the night when, despite that preoccupation, the President took apart Donald Trump, plastic piece by orange part, and then refused to put him back together again.

  • Australian live-tweets NFL debut of Jarryd Hayne; Americans are enthralled.

Former Australian rugby league star Jarryd Hayne made his NFL debut for the 49ers on Monday and thank god we had an Australian there to help us make sense of it all.

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American Daily: September 16, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

16 September 2015

Two senior analysts at CENTCOM signed a written complaint sent to the Defense Department inspector general in July alleging that the reports, some of which were briefed to President Obama, portrayed the terror groups as weaker than the analysts believe they are. The reports were changed by CENTCOM higher-ups to adhere to the administration’s public line that the U.S. is winning the battle against ISIS and al Nusra, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the analysts claim.

  • Have women lost the "War on Women" when it comes to abortion rights?

This is what 2015 looks like: Abortion providers struggle against overwhelming odds to stay open, while women "turn themselves into pretzels" to get to them, as one researcher put it. Activists have been calling it the "war on women." But the onslaught of new abortion restrictions has been so successful, so strategically designed, and so well coordinated that the war in many places has essentially been lost.

For The Times, Bernie Sanders’s entry into the presidential race was almost a nonevent. Although many candidates’ declarations were treated on the front page with considerable fanfare, Mr. Sanders’s was tucked inside the paper on Page A21.
Since that time, the Vermont senator has received considerable attention from The Times, but for his supporters, not nearly enough. And the tone of the coverage, many complain, has sometimes been derogatory or dismissive, and has been focused on personality, not issues.
DJ DV One (Seahawks): I've been DJing for them since probably the 2004-2005 season — so, ten years at least. When Pete Carroll came on, things changed. I was DJing in Touchdown City, an event center where people go before the game starts. Pete Carroll realized there was a DJ there, and he was like, "We need this energy at our practices." One of the upper management guys came to me and said, "Are you available for three weeks in the summer to do our public practices?" I came and I would do those gigs -- he sort of used me as a tool to motivate and get the players pumped up for the public practices. Then, after that, he was like, "This shit works -- we need you on the field before the game starts."

Paint with Donald Trump

[artwork by Max Halden]

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American Daily: September 10, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

10 September 2015

The decisions come on the day lawmakers are reassembling after a month-long break, with the Iran deal at the top of a high-stakes list of September business. Six Democrats remained undecided at the close of the holiday weekend. With 38 senators already publicly in favor of the deal — enough to sustain a presidential veto — none of those senators was expected to derail it. But the question of whether Democrats would cobble together enough support to prevent a disapproval resolution from reaching Obama's desk has been closely watched on Capitol Hill.

But this is not an argument for Trump as a serious presidential candidate. It is really no argument at all. It is catharsis masquerading as principle, venting and resentment pretending to be some kind of higher argument. Every principle used to defend Trump is subjective, graded on a curve. Trump is like a cat trained to piss in a human toilet. It’s amazing! It’s remarkable! Yes, yes, it is: for a cat. But we don’t judge humans by the same standard.

  • What the Fed should remember about the 1990s before it lifts interest rates.

Well, consider the situation in 1997, when the unemployment rate dropped through 5 percent. The Fed did raise rates a quarter point, but then stopped, waiting for inflation to become a problem — which it never did, even though unemployment continued to fall, eventually to 4 percent.

What should we make of the closely related — though not identical — compromises sought by the federal judge and by the county clerk? Should we be satisfied in the long run if gay couples are able in practice to marry as easily as straight couples, but certain public officials recuse themselves from issuing the licenses or performing the ceremonies on grounds of religious objection?

  • Should NBC release its raw footage of Donald Trump from The Apprentice?

In the interest of giving the public as accurate an understanding as possible of a leading presidential candidate, NBC’s news division should upload all of the raw footage from The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice to the web. Let voters see what Trump was really like while the show was being filmed, for better or worse; let them judge if the hours that they spent with the billionaire left an accurate impression or constituted a false portrayal of someone less presidential than he seemed.

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Does America need to do more in the Middle East?

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

10 September 2015

Elliott Abrams

Yesterday, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations Elliott Abrams visited the Centre for a roundtable. Afterwards, I sat down with him for an interview where we discussed the US and Australia's increased military efforts against Islamic State, the refugee crisis emanating from the Middle East, and the Iran nuclear deal. 

Prior to joining the CFR, Abrams was a member of the George W. Bush administration, serving most recently as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for global democracy strategy. Abrams also served as an assistant secretary of state in the Ronald Reagan administration. This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. 

Jonathan Bradley: We'll start with the news of the day: Australia will be making air-strikes in Syria with US support. Is this what needs to be done to properly degrade and attack ISIS? 

Elliott Abrams: I think it is what needs to be done, in two senses. First, you can't allow them to have a safe haven in Syria, so that when things get rough in Iraq, if they're under attack in Iraq, they go across the border and they're, in a sense, magically now immune, so it just doesn't make sense. They've obliterated the border between Syria and Iraq; we have to be realistic about that. Secondly, their popularity, their expansion, is based partly on the idea that they're replicating, in a sense, the life of the Prophet, they are building an Islamic State — a caliphate. We have to defeat that militarily. That is, we have to shrink the territory that they're able to control, because that underlines the fact that it's a false story and they're not replicating the life of the Prophet at all; they're losing, not winning. So I think that this is the logical extension of what Canada, the UK, the United States, and Australia have been doing.

Is it going to succeed?

I think they're vulnerable militarily and I think in that sense in can succeed. I think that there is another piece of this that we have to think about, which is that the a lot of the killing is being done by the Assad regime, and we need to question of What about that regime? — the barrel bombs, chlorine being dropped on residential neighbourhoods. But I think the idea that you can't deal with the Islamic State military is wrong. You can't deal with it politically unless you deal with it militarily.

You mention the Assad regime, which brings us to the larger refugee crisis from the region. Is the solution to Islamic State going to be a solution to the refugee crisis, or are there two  different issues there?

They're clearly related, but I think there are two separate issues. Most of the refugees are fleeing not the Islamic State but the Assad regime. It's the Assad regime that has driven so many Sunnis from Syria by attacking them. It's an Alawite regime, supported by Iran and Hesbollah, viewed by the people of Syria as essentially a Shiite regime. So the refugee problem isn't solved merely by dealing with Islamic State. I think the Assad regime, as President Obama and many other people have said, really must go. I think the Assad regime is, in a sense, a refugee manufacturing machine and a jihadi manufacturing machine, because of its incredibly vicious attacks on the population of Syria, and, here we are, now, with about eight million refugees and about three hundred thousand dead. So we have to deal with the Islamic State and I think we also have to think of ways of dealing with the Assad regime, which is so much at the centre of these problems.

If you were advising President Obama, what would you tell him needs to be done?

First, to do what we're doing with respect to the Islamic State. Indeed to do more. But, second, to begin to think of a plan for getting rid of the Assad regime, which means helping non-jihadi rebels a lot more than we've been doing, and it means sitting down with, at least, the Jordanians, the Turks, the Gulf Arabs, and starting to think through what's a replacement regime? You don't want to collapse the state: you saw what happened when that was done in Iraq and in Libya. You don't want chaos because there's Islamic State ready to move in. And I'm not suggesting these are simple questions — they're unbelievably complex — but if we're serious about dealing with the terrorist threat and the humanitarian problem, then I think the Assad regime really cannot remain in place.

Turning away from Syria, I wanted to ask you about the Iran deal. Is it going to work? Should Congress pass it?

I'm an opponent of the deal. I think Congress will disapprove it, but the President would veto the resolution of disapproval, so it will go forward. I don't think it will work in this sense: it may slow down the Iranian nuclear program — may — but in the end it legitimises that program. That program is now an outlaw program, under global sanctions. Under this deal, ten years from now, it comes out from under those strictures and is limitless in size, and meanwhile, this terrible regime, which is a regime that supports terrorism, gets a huge shot in the arm of maybe a hundred billion dollars, a lot more trade, a lot more investment. We're strengthening the regime. Among the losers here I think are the Iranian people, who do not support that regime, but, of course, are never permitted a free vote against it. So I don't think it's a good deal and I wish Congress were able to override the veto, and we'll see what happens under the next president. Because this is not a treaty. A treaty would be the law of the land and binding on all future presidents. This is just an agreement that President Obama signed, so the next president is free to say, "I don't like it," and annul it.

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A tale of Twin Cities

By Leah Craven in Saint Paul, Minnesota

9 September 2015

Leah Craven is the recipient of the 2015 US Studies Centre–World Press Institute media fellowship and is contributing to the blog while in the United States. In this, her first video blog for the Centre, she takes us through Minneapolis's newsrooms, the Minnesota State Fair, and a live broadcast by Midwestern radio perennial Garrison Keillor.

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Obama's Russia policy: playing the long game

By Edward Acton Cavanough in Sydney, Australia

8 September 2015

The blog is currently featuring posts written by post-graduate students from the USSC 6903 Foreign and National Security Policy class, taught by Centre lecturer Sarah Graham. You can see more of their posts here

The Obama administration’s "reset" with Russia is a distant memory. Tensions have escalated between the White House and the Kremlin throughout Barack Obama’s presidency and, in particular, since Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea and exacerbated conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The US response has been economic: sanctioning Russia, in coordination with Europe, isolating it, and targeting those close to Putin in order to place pressure on the Russian leadership. This approach looks to be strengthened in coming weeks, with a fresh round of sanctions on the horizon.

Many argue, however, that economic isolation is ineffective: Putin’s hold on the leadership is strengthened, and the sanctions have fuelled the anti-West rhetoric that legitimates his presidency. Likewise, the sanctions are affecting other European economies, exacerbating tensions within the European Union during a period of heightened economic uncertainty.

But despite these criticisms, Obama’s sanctions regime is demonstrating its effectiveness in crippling Russia’s long-term foreign policy objectives.

Putin has long held ambitions to restore Russia’s legitimacy as a power on the international stage, and strengthening Russia’s magnetic pull on Central Asia is a central component of this. The Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is the mechanism that aims to reunite Central Asia under Russian leadership, and potentially, under the Russian rouble.

The US sanctions have, however, rendered Russia’s Central Asia power play mute. Only four states have joined Russia’s union — Armenia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan. None have developed economies. And all are incapable of generating the lucrative economic pull that would be required to entice other developing Central Asian states to link their economic future with the EEU.

Potential EEU signatories are looking elsewhere to shore up their prosperity: Tajikistan, the weakest economy in the region, has recently walked back on a previous commitment to join the union, stalling as they look to take advantage of renewed great power interests in the region. Kazakhstan, while a signatory to the EEU, has recently joined the World Trade Organization, undermining its commitment to the Russian initiative and broadening its economic engagement with the world.

The United States has fostered this approach by the Central Asian republics, having used Putin’s incursions in Eastern Europe to impose a sanctions regime that fundamentally undermines Russia’s economic credibility. Putin’s long-term aim — to absorb the former Soviet states back into a solely Russian sphere of influence — has been thwarted.

In a panel discussion in March 2015, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed Washington’s interests in Central Asia. A central theme was his acknowledgment that the US sanctions were hitting the Central Asian economies hard.

Blinken, aware of the impacts of the sanctions, encouraged Central Asian states to take advantage of Russia’s downturn and look elsewhere in the region — beyond Moscow and beyond the EEU — for economic security. His statements display a tacit acknowledgement of a US policy that seeks to drive the Central Asian states into the arms of other economies. 

The Obama administration is playing the long game with Russia, using its retaliatory sanctions — justified through Putin’s Ukraine incursion — to undermine Russia’s long-term interests in the former Soviet Union. And as Central Asia continues to demonstrate reluctance to join the EEU, this strategy seems to be paying off.

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