Foreign Policy

Biden Units Sights on Trump

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Democratic nominee Joe Biden gears up to face President Donald Trump in November, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is hospitalized after a suspected poisoning, and the officers who staged Mali’s military coup promise to hold new elections.

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Biden Prepares for the Final Stretch of the Campaign 

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden formally accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president on Tuesday, setting up a battle between him and Republican President Donald Trump this November that could dramatically reshape the direction of the country and its place in the world. Biden will deliver his keynote address by video tonight to close the Democratic National Convention.

Reaching across the aisle. Back on the campaign trail, the Biden team’s focus will be on winning back voters in swing states who traditionally voted for Democrats but flipped in 2016 to support Trump. A recent poll from CNN showed that Biden is leading Trump in Florida and Michigan, two key battleground states that voted for Obama twice before backing Trump in 2016.

The Biden team will also look to embrace longtime Republican voters who have become disenchanted with the Trump presidency. In pursuit of that objective, several high-profile Republican figures have spoken at this week’s convention, including Sen. John Kasich; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; and Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Sen. John McCain.

Pivoting left? Perhaps Biden’s biggest challenge will be healing the factional tensions between the party’s moderate and left wings. Biden has already tried to appease progressives by adopting versions of some of their signature policies, and he has recruited several high-profile figures from the party’s left wing to stump for him.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke in support of Biden’s candidacy at the convention, but there remains a hardcore that he’ll likely never reach. A March poll found that 15 percent of those who supported Sanders’s own presidential campaign said they would vote for Trump if Biden was the nominee.

An eye to the future. If Biden wins the vote on Nov. 3 and becomes president, he will be faced with the herculean task of undoing the immense damage caused by the Trump administration. As Foreign Policy’s Michael Hirsh wrote earlier this month, a President Biden will focus his efforts on rebuilding key international institutions while repairing Washington’s relationships with its key allies.

But he won’t ignore the homefront, likely leaving domestic affairs to his vice president, Kamala Harris, who will be tasked with mending the country’s badly damaged race relations and spearheading police reform.

What We’re Following Today 

Russian opposition leader Navalny hospitalized after suspected poisoning. The Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is on a ventilator in an intensive care unit in the Siberian city of Omsk. His plane made an emergency landing after he became ill in flight and ambulances met the plane on the runway to take the unconscious Navalny to a local hospital.

His spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh suspects that his tea had been poisoned prior to the flight. “We assume that Alexei was poisoned with something mixed into his tea. That was the only thing he drank this morning. The doctors say that the toxin was absorbed more quickly because of the hot liquid,” she wrote on Twitter.

It is not the first time Navalny and his staff have suspected foul play. Last year, he suffered a “severe allergic reaction” while in prison. His doctor said it could have been the result of a poisoning, after he was arrested for leading an unauthorized protest.

As Foreign Policy’s Amy Mackinnon wrote after last year’s episode, if the Kremlin is directly or indirectly responsible, there is a logic to its tactics. “Beyond the grisly chilling effect, the amorphous nature of poisonings gives Moscow a veneer of deniability, which has become the cornerstone of Russian malfeasance in recent years,” she wrote.

Malian coup leaders promise new elections. A day after ousting Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and the rest of the government, the military officers who staged Mali’s coup issued a statement promising to form a civilian transitional government to organize and hold new elections. “We are keen on the stability of the country,” said the mutinying soldiers’ spokesman, Col. Ismael Wagué, “which will allow us to organise general elections to allow Mali to equip itself with strong institutions within the reasonable time limit.”

But as Vicki J. Huddleston and Witney Schneidman wrote yesterday in Foreign Policy, unless international actors formulate a comprehensive economic recovery plan, Mali is likely on the verge of a political and social catastrophe and extremist groups could soon threaten the broader region.

EU offers support to protesters in Belarus. Speaking after an emergency meeting with EU officials on the crisis in Belarus, European Council President Charles Michel told reporters that the EU “stands in solidarity with the people of Belarus” and that “we don’t recognize the results” of the Aug. 9 presidential elections, which returned longtime President Aleksandr Lukashenko to office by a landslide amid widespread accusations of fraud. The EU is also preparing a list of individuals to be sanctioned.

Feeling the pressure, Lukashenko is digging in his heels. He accused the EU of “fomenting unrest” in the country, and tightened border security to protect against what he claims are foreign agents infiltrating the protests. On Wednesday, he announced a new police operation to crush the demonstrations, though no further crackdown has yet taken place.

U.S. severing ties with Hong Kong. The U.S. State Department announced on Wednesday that it is ending three key bilateral agreements with Hong Kong in response to Beijing’s passage of the controversial national security law in June, ramping up pressure on the semi-autonomous city over its crackdown on pro-democracy activists. In a statement, the State Department said the agreements covered “the surrender of fugitive offenders, the transfer of sentenced persons, and reciprocal tax exemptions on income derived from the international operation of ships.”

The move comes weeks after Trump signed an executive order ending Hong Kong’s special status with the United States. It also follows a recent decision by the White House to sanction several high-profile individuals in Hong Kong, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Peace negotiator killed in Afghanistan. A car bomb exploded in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Wednesday, killing a prominent Afghan government official who had taken part in several meetings with the Taliban. The death of Abdul Baqi Amin is the latest in a string of attacks on peace activists and other participants in the ongoing peace negotiations in the country.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, and the Taliban was quick to condemn the killing, saying the perpetrators were “the enemies of the Islamic system, prosperity and peace.” For many, the recent spate of violence against peace activists is a reflection of a small but substantial feeling of opposition to the peace process, and a sign that a hardcore group of unreformed militants is working to undermine the process before negotiations begin in the coming weeks.

Netanyahu faces internal opposition over UAE deal. They say the sign of a good compromise is that it leaves both parties unsatisfied, and that might offer some solace to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Led by Hamas, hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets in the Gaza Strip to rally against the recent Israel-UAE peace agreement, which they claim is an abandonment of the cause of Palestinian statehood by a key Arab state and normalizes the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

But Netanyahu is facing pressure from his right, too. He notably made annexation a central plank of his recent election campaigns in an effort to shore up support among West Bank settlers, a constituency that is essential for his Likud party, as Albert Wolf pointed out in a recent FP article on the deal’s weaknesses. “Abandoning annexation altogether would be seen as the ultimate flip-flop, and Netanyahu does not have any available substitutes to satisfy these supporters,” he wrote. “This could lead them to abandon his Likud party and throw their support behind other parties on the right.”

Settlers are reportedly seething over Netanyahu’s decision to shelve annexation as part of the deal, with the head of the Yesha settlers’ council telling Reuters that “he deceived us, defrauded us, duped us.”

Road sleeping epidemic. An odd trend has taken hold in the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa. Local police reported more than 7,000 cases of people found sleeping in the middle of the road last year. The phenomenon is known in the local language as rojo-ne, and it is a surprisingly common occurrence on the island. In most cases, sleepers are simply awoken and directed home, though it has resulted in some fatalities.

Locals and experts alike are uncertain what causes rojo-ne. Some attribute it to the island’s warm tropical climate mixed with the overconsumption of a popular rice-based alcoholic beverage. But coronavirus lockdowns have shuttered bars and are forcing people to stay home, and yet people are still falling asleep in roads, leaving observers at a loss to explain the cause.

That’s it for today. 

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Photo credit: Brian Snyder/Pool/Getty Images

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