It’s been four weeks since Joe Biden was declared the winner of a hard-fought election. The votes have been counted in Georgia. Three times. Yet the incumbent refuses to admit defeat and released a 46-minute video alleging “massive fraud.” He’s made it clear that he’s not going to go quietly. So I’m sure you’re all wondering what I’ve been wondering: When is the international community going to step in and resolve this crisis?
Sure, Joe Biden won both the Electoral College and the popular vote. But the president refuses to give up. He’s got some militias in the north and the south solidly behind him, along with large sections of the country. You know what that means. Conditions are ripe for the secretary of state of some foreign country to parachute in and broker a power-sharing deal. Maybe Trump could serve as chief executive officer of a unity government. Or he could be put in charge of national reconciliation. If that doesn’t work, maybe it’s time for a loya jirga.
Perhaps some Middle Eastern lawmaker out there is already hard at work on a proposal for our political salvation, based on partitioning our country into semiautonomous ethno-states, just like Mr. Biden’s plan for Iraq. But I don’t think so. Aside from a few individual foreign officials expressing sadness or scorn, there’s been mostly a deafening (and awkward) silence from the rest of the world in our hour of need.
Where are the threats of sanctions unless the president respects the results of the election? Where are the stern warnings that the recommendations of international election observers must be implemented? If Mr. Trump barricades himself in the White House, like the Philippine leader Ferdinand Marcos did in 1986, who is going to play the role of Paul Laxalt and advise him that “the time has come”?
“If the United States were a regular country, Joe Biden would be getting massive pressure right now from major powers to update and upgrade the antiquated American electoral system,” Dov H. Levin, assistant professor of international relations at the University of Hong Kong, told me. “There would be hundreds of electoral experts descending to tell the U.S. how to do this. They could require, for example, that the U.S. set up an independent election committee to be in charge of determining who won instead of Fox News and CNN.”
We are not a regular country. We are an exceptional one, so much so that we participate regularly in everybody else’s elections. One out of every 11 elections around the world between 1946 and 2000 featured some sort of U.S. intervention, according to Dr. Levin’s new book, “Meddling in the Ballot Box.” That made me feel all the more neglected. We invaded Iraq to free them from a despot. We helped redesign Kenya’s entire electoral system after its disputed election. Isn’t it time they returned the favor? After all we have done for democracy everywhere, how could the world abandon us now?
Caroline Hartzell, chairwoman of political science department of Gettysburg College, who is an expert on power-sharing agreements, said Americans could take some pointers from other countries that managed to evict unwanted leaders. Some countries entice them into stepping down by promising them fancy titles or symbolic cabinet posts. Others let them leave family members in positions of power. In Nicaragua in 1990, President Daniel Ortega left power after defeat at the ballot box — and after a deal left his brother in charge of the military. That’s a little bit like Trump vacating the White House but leaving Javanka in charge of the State Department or Rudy Giuliani responsible for mowing the grass.
Dr. Hartzell convinced me that we might get by without the African Union or the Organization of American States swooping in to rescue us.
“Thus far, with no thanks to the Republicans in Congress, at the state level, the system is working,” she said. “Even [Attorney General William] Barr finally said there’s no evidence of things going awry.”
But she admitted that it might be a little awkward in the future when, say, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tries to chide another country’s leaders for “election irregularities” (as he did to Tanzania last month) after working for a man who declared himself the winner of the election with millions of votes left uncounted.
What if the ranks of our local election officials looked more like Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, the G.O.P. canvassers who tried to stop the certification of votes from Detroit, than like Gabriel Sterling, the G.O.P. official in Georgia who passionately demanded that the president “stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence?” What then?
Could the world dislodge an American dictator, if it ever came to that? Would France swoop in and spirit him away, as they helped send Laurent Gbagbo to face criminal charges outside of Ivory Coast? Would Spain or the Seychelles make a tempting offer of luxurious exile, like American officials offered Haiti’s leaders in 1994? Would Sudan-born telecommunications billionaire Mo Ibrahim set up a prestigious fellowship for American presidents who peacefully give up power? Would someone just offer Mr. Trump a pile of money to leave? Bill Maher already tried that. It didn’t work.
The reality is that if Donald Trump really did refuse to leave power, there isn’t a whole lot the world could do about it. And Mr. Trump knows that.
“The realist in me says there are no tools that could be used in the U.S.” to pressure an American president to abide by the results of an election, said Daniela Donno, the author of “Defending Democratic Norms: International Actors and the Politics Of Electoral Misconduct.”
Most countries that get rescued from their aspiring despots are poor and weak, easily swayed by the threat of withholding aid or loan guarantees or foreign investment.
“The reason it works in other countries has to do with economic vulnerability that’s just not present in this instance,” Dr. Donno told me. “If the election had been closer than it was, Trump might be making a play for this. There would be a lot of diplomatic pressure and symbolic moves. But I don’t see the E.U. or France or Germany wielding any kind of major economic stick or carrots.”
In other words: The world’s not going to save us, America. So we damn well better save ourselves.
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