Warning: Text contains spoilers.
The new season of Netflix’s House of Cards launched on the 27th of February and it is good to have Frank and Claire Underwood back on our televisions/laptops/smartphones. As with many American series that start out really well, House of Cards season 3 is somewhat less good than its previous seasons, but it still brings enough political drama to the table and it has some strong dialogues. The first episode opens with Frank Underwood peeing on his father’s grave and that sets the tone of ruthlessness that characterizes the rest of the season.
The series may not be a totally accurate representation of Washington, but some of its characters and story lines have an uncomfortable close link to reality (noticed how the Russian president Petrov has issues with Pussy Riot and likes to be in weird pictures?) Even though House of Cards is all fiction and paints a quite cynical and pessimistic picture of politics, part of the broader storyline points out issues that we also have to deal with in real politics.
1. Russia is a bully in the UN Security Council
Frank Underwood tries to make a pact with Russia that would have the Russian Federation and the United States at the centre of a peace settlement in the Middle East. But pacts for peace with Russia do not come easy. Not in Frank Underwood’s world nor in ours.
The Russian Federation has veto powers in the Security Council of the United Nations, as one of the five permanent members. And it isn’t afraid to use this power to its own advantage. In a time where new perspectives on sovereignty are presented in favour of the protection of populations and human rights, the Russian Federation still plays a realist game in the SC. It notoriously opposes humanitarian intervention and only supports UN resolutions when there is something in it for Russia. More states play UN politics like that, but because Russia has veto powers and a stubborn understanding of sovereignty, it exerts major power when it comes to the authorization of interventions in conflict zones. At the moment, there are two major conflicts that cannot count of the support of a peace enforcing or peace keeping mission with SC authorization because of Russia. In both the cases of Ukraine and Syria, Russia would be very likely to use its veto.
2. Israel values its own interests above peace
Claire Underwood, as the US ambassador to the UN, tries to circumvent Russia in the Security Council in her attempts to put a peacekeeping force in the Middle East, in the Jordan Valley to be precise. Just when that seems to work out, Israel attempts to scuttle the plan by paying off Zimbabwe. Israel only wants to give its accord if American troops will be stationed in the Jordan Valley and when the president commits to protecting Israel to all costs.
Last week’s speech by Israel’s president Netanyahu in the United States, which was controversial from the outset because he was invited by a Republican who did not consult the White House (a scheme like Frank Underwood could pull), Israel has shown again that it wants to negotiate only when there is an asymmetry in the deal in their favour. Having close historical relationships with the US, Israel is used to getting what it wants. Now that the US is open to negotiations with Iran, Netanyahu behaves like a barking dog. He even went so far to intervene in US politics by stating that Congress should block the agreement with Iran if one is made.
3. The welfare state is under pressure
Frank Underwood needs to be re-elected for his second term now that he is president. He proposes a plan, America Works, to get the American citizens to vote for him. Its main aim is to eradicate unemployment by creating jobs with government money. But where does he get this? Frank’s first thoughts are by putting a stop to pensions and cutting down the social security system (as far as the US has one), but he decides to use the federal disaster fund to finance the creation of jobs.
In reality, many countries in the West have trouble maintaining their welfare states and battling unemployment. Especially after the crisis that hit in 2008, the pressure on these welfare systems is high. The countries in Northern Europe seem to do it the best, employment is low and people are happy. The so called Danish model is one based on ‘flexicurity’: a flexible labour market, with social security focused on ‘positive incentives’, such as training courses and training for the unemployed and short term social assistance for when people are out jobs. Frank Underwood’s plan is out of this world and too radical, but at least he is not scared of pressing for reforms, like so many of our real-life politicians are.
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