The resonance of this U.S. election campaign is truly enormous, in every corner of the world. But despite much disgust about the mudslinging, it is not necessarily all that negative.
Observers everywhere may be astounded that a candidate so arrogantly ignorant in international affairs could gather so much support, but that has also given them a greater understanding of the global stakes in this moment of choice. Paradoxical as it may seem, many people now have greater appreciation of the value of U.S. leadership and of their interest in preserving it. This leadership is indeed indispensable in various troubled areas, from the South China Sea to the Barents Sea, and hot spots, from Mosul to Donetsk, and cannot be taken for granted.
One external actor that claimed a far more prominent role in the U.S. elections than it has any right to is Russia. President Vladimir Putin has loomed like an uninvited shadow in every presidential debate, and while he may take pride in this achievement, it comes at a yet-unknown price. The unprecedented cyber-attack on the Democratic National Committee cannot be left unanswered, and President Barack Obama must deliver a measured response in the remaining months of his term. It will be up to the president-elect to incorporate this response into a course that effectively curtails the ambitions of a declining but dangerously defiant Russia. This, perhaps, will be one of the first and demanding challenges of a new presidency. (On a personal note: Being a white male myself, I have to express profound chagrin about the preferences of this U.S. minority group.)
Sanctions against Russia—which have become a sort of first response on transgressions as diverse as barbaric air strikes on Aleppo or blatant hacking of e-mail accounts—are useful only to a degree. The sanctions policy needs regular fine-tuning, so that the most biting measures are duly amplified, but some more specific pressure could be applied against Russian export of corruption. Putin’s courtiers are material men deeply attached to their material assets safely evacuated to the West, so every squeeze on these sensitivities registers very prominently on the balance sheet of Russian policymaking.
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