The weaknesses of American democracy, which the Trump presidency has so powerfully exposed, can’t be entirely blamed on the constitution or on political procedure. They are rooted in the defeat of Reconstruction after the Civil War and the enduring power of white supremacy. In recent years, they have been amplified by deindustrialisation, the collapse of organised labour and the rise of social media. The Democratic Party bears a share of the responsibility for this. Since the Clinton administration, it has prioritised free trade and globalisation over jobs and economic equality, becoming a party of college-educated middle-class professionals, and largely turning its back on working-class voters.
For Trump, one advantage of Soleimani’s assassination is that the Iranians will be more cautious about launching limited attacks on the US and its allies, though this isn’t to say that they will cease altogether. Iran cannot permanently de-escalate as long as sanctions continue. The intensity and length of the crisis means that accidents are likely to happen, as demonstrated by what appears to have been the unintentional shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane. At the same time, Trump and his administration are peculiarly ill-equipped to judge the likely outcome of any escalation of the conflict, or predict how the Iranians are likely to respond. This makes blundering into war a more than usually likely outcome. Iran has drawn the greater profit from the crisis so far, since Soleimani’s death goes some way to re-energising the nationalist and religious credentials of the regime: Trump’s policy of ‘maximum pressure’ and economic sanctions is now less likely to force Tehran to negotiate what would amount in effect to a capitulation. In Iraq, it is too early to say whether the demand for revolutionary reform expressed in mass street protests will be marginalised or capsized by the crisis, but it will certainly be weakened, perhaps permanently.
Boko Haram explained.
When I travelled to Maiduguri last November, a journey I wouldn’t have contemplated two years earlier, I couldn’t get to Gwoza, Boko Haram’s former capital – a five-hour drive south-east from Maiduguri: Boko Haram may have been in retreat, but there had been no ‘final crushing’ and the roads were still unsafe. I couldn’t do the three-hour drive south to Chibok either: some lecturers from a local university had recently been abducted. But I did make a 14-hour roundabout journey to the town, with many military checkpoints along the way. It turned out that the story wasn’t in Chibok any longer. But if I hadn’t made the trip I might never have understood that the kidnapping of the schoolgirls in 2014 is now a slow-burn revenue source, not just for the military, but for numerous NGOs: this once insignificant town is full of white four-by-fours, driven by aid workers.