By Robert A. Vella
Two articles I read over the weekend were quite compelling which readers may chew on today. The first is an intriguing exposé on Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and the second is a practical examination of the commonly-held notion that female politicians promote more peaceful national policies than do males. But, before getting to those topics, here’s today’s impeachment and related news stories:
Newly released emails regarding Ukraine defense aid held by the White House show that a request to withhold funds came less than two hours after President Donald Trump’s July phone call with the Ukrainian president that has served as the backbone of the impeachment proceedings against him.
The Center for Public Integrity obtained 146 pages of heavily redacted emails through a Freedom of Information Act request and court order.
The nonprofit released the emails late on Friday, revealing a discussion between the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Pentagon over the defense aid owed to Ukraine just hours after Trump spoke to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“Based on guidance I have received and in light of the Administration’s plan to review assistance to Ukraine, including the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, please hold off on any additional [Department of Defense] obligations of these funds, pending direction from that process,” Mike Duffey, a political appointee serving as associate director for national security programs at the OMB wrote on July 25 to OMB and Pentagon officials.
The assassination attempts in 2015 were remarkable not only for their brazenness and persistence, but also because security and intelligence officials in the West initially did not notice. Bulgarian prosecutors looked at the case, failed to unearth any evidence and closed it.
Now Western security and intelligence officials say the Bulgaria poisonings were a critical clue that helped expose a campaign by the Kremlin and its sprawling web of intelligence operatives to eliminate Russia’s enemies abroad and destabilize the West.
Entering his third decade in power, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is pushing hard to re-establish Russia as a world power. Russia cannot compete economically or militarily with the United States and China, so Mr. Putin is waging an asymmetric shadow war. Russian mercenaries are fighting in Syria, Libya and Ukraine. Russian hackers are sowing discord through disinformation and working to undermine elections.
Domestically, Russia is not a healthy country. Its economy is weak and much too dependent on fossil fuel exports. Its people are immensely prideful, but they are also restless and unsatisfied. In a democratic nation, this would be a recipe for kicking the political leadership out of office. However, Russia is not a democracy. It is an authoritarian state ruled by an autocrat. Vladimir Putin has held power for so long, two full decades now, by using a two-pronged approach to domestic politics: 1) instilling a profound sense of nationalism in the populace, and 2) suppressing dissent through whatever means necessary. But, it is internationally where Putin has rose to his greatest heights of accomplishment. His geopolitical acumen is unrivaled on the world stage, even surpassing his more populous and much more industrially potent ally China. Furthermore, Putin has become both a successful example and a source of envy for would-be dictators across the globe including U.S. president Donald Trump.
“Maybe he’s holding small cards, but he seems unafraid to play them,” said Michael McFaul, a former United States ambassador to Moscow and now a scholar at Stanford. “That’s what makes Putin so scary.”
Mr. Putin acknowledged as much in an interview with the film director Oliver Stone. “The question is not about having much power,” he said. “It’s about using the power you have in the right way.”
All the same, said Gleb Pavlovsky, a political scientist who worked for more than a decade as a Kremlin adviser, Russia under Mr. Putin still reminds him of a sci-fi movie exoskeleton: “Inside is sitting a small, weak and perhaps frightened person, but from the outside it looks terrifying.”
Russia’s economy is dwarfed by that of America’s, which is more than 10 times bigger in dollar terms; it is too small to make even a list of the top 10, and it grew by around just 1 percent this year. Nor does Russia pack much cultural punch beyond its borders, despite excelling in classical music, ballet and many other arts. South Korea, thanks to K-pop and its movies, has more reach.
Yet Russia has become a lodestar for autocrats and aspiring autocrats around the world, a pioneer of the media and other tools — known in Russia as “political technologies” — that these leaders now deploy, with or without Moscow’s help, to disrupt a world order once dominated by the United States. These include the propagation of fake or at least highly misleading news; the masking of simple facts with complicated conspiracy theories; and denunciations of political rivals as traitors or, in a term President Trump borrowed from Stalin, “enemies of the people.”
Are women really political peacemakers?
In western cultures, at least, women are seen as peacemakers. Female politicians have been so egregiously underrepresented in government that such a notion is extremely appealing to war-weary peoples. If only women were in power, so this thinking goes, world peace could be attainable. But, does the actual record of women in politics justify that belief? The results below might surprise you.
From my perspective, I see the differences between men and women as far less significant than our shared humanity. Nature provides great insight into gender roles and social dynamics. In a pride of lions, males are typically more aggressive due to testosterone levels and fierce competition over mating (generally, one dominant male mates with all the females while the other males are evicted from the pride). However, female aggression is also quite common. To a prey animal, such as a wildebeest or zebra, it matters not if the pursuing lion is male or female. In fact, lionesses do most of the hunting for a pride.
In human societies, men have historically dominated politics and their collective record is dismal at best. Functional democracy demands proportional representation by women and all demographic groups. If we ever reach it, government would probably work better. However, the cultural view of women in power is not based on reality. The bottom line is that we all inherently possess the same positive and negative attributes of our species.
By Abigail S. Post
Last week, former president Barack Obama remarked, “If more women were put in charge, there would be less war, kids would be better taken care of and there would be a general improvement in living standards and outcomes.” Obama has made similar comments in the past. For example, he discussed the importance of “putting women in power, because men seem to be having some problems these days.”
My research, co-authored with Paromita Sen, suggests that Obama is both right and wrong. While research indicates that more women in legislatures increase peaceful policies, we find that countries with women as leaders — prime ministers, presidents, etc. — participate in more violent disputes. Because most societies (including Americans) often stereotype women leaders as “weak,” women leaders often compensate for this perceived weakness by acting more aggressively.