Tag: US foreign policy

For Rex Tillerson in Russia, stakes are high and outlook is dim

Donald Trump entered office in January vowing to improve US relations with Russia. Less than three months into his presidency, however, the prospects for a rapprochement with Russian President Vladimir Putin seem to be as remote as they were under any of his predecessors.

The extent of tensions and disagreements between the United States and Russia will be on display on Wednesday when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in a much anticipated encounter.

Where’s the love now?

Tillerson’s April 12 visit to Russia is the first by a top Trump administration official. A former oilman who made many trips to Russia while CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson is still learning the ropes as America’s top diplomat.

Just a few weeks ago, Tillerson’s trip was seen as a test of Trump’s commitment to developing a better relationship with Moscow. But after a week of diplomatic fallout following US military strikes against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the summit’s main goal now is to avoid a dangerous escalation of the situation in Syria and in US-Russia bilateral relations.

The US bombing came in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack on rebel-held territory in Idlib Province on April 4 that killed at least 80 civilians, including women and children, and sickened hundreds more. The United States and other Western governments claim the Assad regime was responsible. American warships in the eastern Mediterranean fired 59 cruise missiles against the military air base in western Syria believed to be where the attack originated.

Secretary Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Bonn, Germany in February 2017.
US Department of State

Russia called the missile strikes an act of aggression and a violation of international law. Assad remains Moscow’s main ally in the Middle East and one of its only allies outside the post-Soviet sphere.

Tillerson’s ties to Russia aroused scrutiny from both Democrats and Republicans during his confirmation hearings in January, and almost derailed his nomination. But since then he has emerged as one of the Trump administration’s strongest Russia critics.

He has called Russia “incompetent” for allowing Syria to maintain a stockpile of chemical weapons following a 2013 agreement to disarm Assad of banned weapons, and suggested that the Russians may have been “outmaneuvered” by the Assad regime. The White House on Tuesday April 11 went further, accusing Russia of trying to cover up the attack.

Over the past week, Tillerson and other US officials have accused Russia of playing an increasingly disruptive role not just in Syria but also across Europe, just as it interfered in last year’s US presidential election.

Most difficult relations since the Cold War

In response to a surge of violence in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russia separatists, Tillerson is likely to remind Russian officials of their commitments under the 2015 Minsk agreement, namely the importance of enforcing the ceasefire. Pentagon officials have also accused Russia of violating an important arms-control agreement signed in the 1980s.

In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday, “It is obvious that Russian-American relations are going through the most difficult period since the end of the Cold War.”

At Tuesday’s G7 meeting in Lucca, Italy, Tillerson said the reign of the Assad regime was “coming to an end,” and called on Russia to end its support for it. Continued support for Assad will only serve to embarrass Russia, he said, and make it irrelevant in the Middle East.

Still, Washington is sending mixed signals on how it plans to deal with Syria. The Trump administration does not yet have a clear policy regarding the conflict, or what the level of US involvement will be going forward. It is not yet clear whether last week’s strike will be a one off – a warning to Assad not to use chemical weapons against his own people again – or whether it signals a broader strategic shift in the US approach to the civil war there, which is now in its sixth year.

Russia, on the other hand, is concerned that the US strike might signal the emergence of a more assertive foreign policy under the Trump administration. It could signal Trump’s willingness to use military force, and perhaps even a readiness to pursue military interventions and regime change. They see their interests clashing with the United States not just in Syria but possibly over North Korea and Iran as well.

What’s possible

So what can Tillerson achieve in Moscow? Neither government expects any breakthroughs on the issues that currently divide them. Russia has moved closer to Iran, Assad’s other main backer, and it is unlikely that the Kremlin will be willing to distance itself from the Assad regime.

A thaw in relations between the United States and Russia seems unlikely, and even common ground will be hard to find. Both countries increasingly see the other as an adversary, convinced that each is out to undermine the other.

The civil war in Syria has claimed more than 400,000 lives. Half the population has been displaced, and it has led to one of the worst refugee crises since the second world war. The latest ceasefire, reached in December 2016, is faltering, and UN-backed peace talks have accomplished little.

An end to the slaughter will require the active coordination of the United States and Russia. But, given current tensions between Moscow and Washington, this possibility seems more unlikely than ever.

Richard Maher, Research Fellow, Global Governance Programme, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Media and liberals: Changing words to change the narrative

By Robert J. Garrison 

The biggest news story the past few days has been President Trump’s signing of an executive order banning immigration from seven middle eastern countries.

I want to make the record clear this is NOT a Muslim ban, it is an immigration pause! Yet every protester and media outlet is calling it a Muslim ban. It’s a small yet significant change. It is also a popular psychological tactic. This is a psychological tactic is used by an opposing faction to gain control of the narrative. Also, this is only a temporary ban imposed for 90 days.

So many people are talking about an issue that they don’t even have a clue about. They believe the talking points of the MSM like MSNBC, CNN, or the Huffington Post. So many protesters and media outlets haven’t even read the text of the executive order.

For my readers, here is the text of the executive order.

I understand that we are busy with work, texting, posting on social media or running out to protest but let us stop and take the time to actually read the text without viewing it through the filter of news commentators and writers.

I also implore that we all take the time to actually study the topic or issue rather than allow our emotions whip us into a frenzy. For instance, this is not a permanent ban. It is a temporary one, so the new administration can review the vetting process and make tweaks to the vetting process if needed. Also, the government is not stopping everyone from coming in, they are granting waivers to those that were in transit or have already been cleared. Now that we have cut through the hysteria a little, let us look at the premise of the executive order.

So what’s the big deal with these seven countries that President Trump banned immigration for 90-120 days? Well, the commonality between the majority of these countries is that they do not have a stable centralized government.

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Well, the commonality between the majority of these countries is that they do not have a stable centralized government. These countries are known as hotbeds of terrorism and since they do not have a strong centralized government it is hard to nearly impossible to get reliable intelligence on those wishing to come into the US. Let us not forget that ISIS has stated that they will use the refugee crisis to infiltrate the West. Places like France and Germany have felt the impact of ISIS’ plan to infiltrate the refugees and President Trump is taking measures to make sure that the US doesn’t. It is not like he made that decision on a whim.

The State Department reported last summer that ISIS tried to enter the US posing as refugees. Also, ISIS bragged back in 2015 that it has successfully infiltrated 1000s of terrorist among the refugees entering Europe. Since ISIS knows that they couldn’t possibly get to the US from countries like Syria, Iraq, or Libya they need to get into Europe and try to get into the US from there. This is the heart of what the executive order is trying to prevent. Now, why only these seven countries? Why wasn’t an obvious country, Saudi Arabia added to the list?

Now, why only these seven countries? Why wasn’t an obvious country, Saudi Arabia added to the list?

Some suggest that it is because of Trumps business ties with Saudi Arabia as to why it wasn’t on the list. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus denied that accusation on Meet the Press by explaining how they came up with those seven countries:

“Just like I said very clearly, the countries that were chosen in the executive order to protect Americans from terrorists were the countries that have already been identified by Congress and the Obama administration,”

White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer on Monday also suggested that other countries could be added to the list at a later date.

Saudi Arabia should be added to the list, not only because 15 of the 9-11 hijackers were from there but because of their government sponsor of Wahhabism, which is a very extreme form of Islam. Also, Saudi Arabia sponsors 100s of madrasas (Islamic education institutions such as elementary/high schools or colleges) that teach this extreme form of Islam here in the US!

So, are Trump’s business ties the reason why Saudi Arabia wasn’t added to the list? I don’t think so and here’s why. What is more likely the reason why and fits the Trump method is leverage.

The reason that more likely fits the Trump method of doing deals, is leverage. President Trump last weekend made calls to many major world leaders, one of them being the King of Saudi Arabia, King Salman. During this call, King Salman agreed to provide safe zones in Syria and Yemen and to provide help for displaced refugees. President Trump during the election campaign has always called on the Arab world to step up and help the refugees themselves and not leaving only the West to deal with it. So, the leverage theory is more in line with what President Trump has stated before and his political tactics than the business dealing ties.

While the implementation of the executive order was not perfect nor was the list of countries, the reasoning behind the order was. The Trump administration is erring on the side of caution when it comes to the nation’s security and for that, we should be grateful.

While some might be inconvenienced because of this order isn’t that better than being inconvenienced by an attack on US soil?

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Robert J. Garrison is a political and religious writer for The Systems Scientist. You can connect with him directly in the comments section, follow him on Twitter or on Facebook, or catch up on his articles in the Archives.

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Donald Trump’s ban will have lasting and damaging impacts on the world’s refugees

US President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration fundamentally alters decades of bipartisan US practice. It blocks immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and stops all refugee resettlement for at least 120 days.

Trump’s justification for the order is:

… the US must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles.

The first element includes blocking any immigration from seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – for at least 30 days.

The first day after the order was approved dual citizens and US permanent residents – usually called green card holders – were prevented from boarding flights to the US and even detained on arrival. A temporary injunction has provided at least some protections, though it is being applied patchily and only to those people who have already entered the US.

The order also suspends all refugee admissions for a minimum of 120 days. After that the US will still admit only nationals of countries where the government has “procedures [that] are adequate to ensure the security and welfare of the US”.

In a continuation of current congressional practice, the US will also prioritize refugee claims based on religious-based persecution, where the person is a member of a minority religion in their own country. And no Syrian refugees will be admitted until the US refugee admissions program aligns with the national interest.

Finally, the US will limit the number of refugees it admits in 2017 to 50,000. So, what does this all mean for refugees?

What does it mean for refugee acceptance?

The UN Refugee Convention provides refugees with a strong set of rights. However, it applies only when a refugee is within a signatory country’s territory or jurisdiction. The convention does not oblige any signatory to accept other refugees.

However, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) considers resettlement to be one of three “durable solutions” for refugees, alongside voluntary repatriation and integration in a host community. These solutions enable refugees to live their lives in dignity and peace.

The UNHCR has determined, in most cases, that the people awaiting resettlement are refugees. Resettlement is used especially in cases where a refugee’s:

… life, liberty, safety, health, or fundamental human rights are at risk in their country of refuge.

Thus resettlement can be critical to provide refugees with protection.

Resettlement also has important geostrategic implications. It helps, as several former US government officials have noted, support the stability of allies that are struggling to host large numbers of refugees.

Similarly, in a call with Trump on Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly argued that:

… the necessary, decisive battle against terrorism does not justify a general suspicion against people of a certain origin or a certain religion.

The US resettlement program has long had strong bipartisan support. But it is also critical to global refugee resettlement. The US takes in by far the most resettled refugees of any country. Canada and Australia are a distant second and third.

Top ten countries for refugee resettlement in 2015.

The justification for the shutdown is to improve the US’s own security measures by introducing, as Trump has previously argued, “extreme vetting”.

But this already exists for resettled refugees. As part of the Refugee Admissions Program, individual refugee cases are screened through a seven-step process, including security and background checks, personal interviews with agents from the US Department of Homeland Security, and other measures. This process can take up to two years.

This system has worked; virtually no terrorist attacks on US soil have been caused by refugees. As a September 2016 report by the Cato Institute, a right-leaning think-tank, noted:

The chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is one in 3.64 billion per year.

Similarly, in 2015, a State Department spokesperson said of the nearly 785,000 refugees admitted to the US since 2001:

Only about a dozen – a tiny fraction of 1% of admitted refugees – have been arrested or removed from the US due to terrorism concerns that existed prior to their resettlement in the US. None of them were Syrian.

The wider effects

Trump’s ban will also have two wider effects.

It appears not to be affecting the November agreement between Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, to resettle refugees from Nauru and Manus Island in the US in exchange for Australia accepting a group of Central American refugees. Many of those on Nauru and Manus Island come from Iran, Iraq and Somalia.

The Australian government remains keen for the deal to go ahead. But US Republican politicians have previously been critical of the deal. Republican congressman Brian Babin said earlier this month he was confident that Trump:

… will do everything in his power to put an immediate stop to this secret Australian-US refugee deal that should have simply never happened in the first place.

But in a phone call between Trump and Turnbull on Sunday, Trump appears to have given assurances the deal would still go ahead. The order gives the power to the secretary of homeland security to continue to admit refugees for resettlement on a case-by-case basis, irrespective of the wider shutdown.

Globally, the shutdown will have lasting and detrimental effects for refugees. In the Middle East, it may prove to be a boon to the Islamic State. The terrorist group has long sought to disrupt refugee movements.

The ban will also put more pressure on refugee-hosting countries. About 90% of the world’s refugees are in the developing world. The international refugee system works through burden-sharing: host countries know that at least some refugees will be resettled and that they will receive financial assistance for the refugees from the UNHCR and other organizations and governments.

Trump’s move challenges this directly, and will likely lead to further restrictions on the ability of refugees to receive basic protections.

The Conversation

Phil Orchard, Senior Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies and International Relations; Research Director at the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, The University of Queensland

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Trump’s inaugural speech: Is it morning or mourning in America?

President Donald Trump’s inaugural speech – a brief address, which, at 1,433 words, was the shortest since President Carter’s – combined his trademark combative populism with shades of Ronald Reagan.

Though sprinkled with calls for unity, it also relied upon creating a sharp divide between his self-declared “movement” and forces aligned with the “Washington establishment.” He also implicitly distinguished between those whom he dubbed “patriots” and everyone else.

In a sense, the speech mimicked today’s political climate. For his base, it will be received as a call for all Americans to unify around his agenda. For his opponents, it will be seen as not only negative but divisive. Whether one believes that his speech echoed the high ideals of the Gipper or the acrimony of the campaign trail may depend on whether you are a person who believes it is once again morning in America or a person who is mourning America.

In the end, if it was a call for unity, it was a divisive one.

Still mired in campaign rhetoric

According to Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, two leading experts of presidential rhetoric, an inaugural address functions to: (1) bring together the country; (2) rehearse common values; (3) set forth guiding presidential principles; and (4) demonstrate the presidential persona can be competently performed. Typically, the primary purpose of unification is achieved by rehearsing common values. On that foundation the presidential principles and persona are advanced.

For this reason, inaugural speeches usually don’t name domestic enemies. Trump’s inaugural was remarkable because of his stark use of direct scapegoating.

For example, although Ronald Reagan decried the “Washington establishment” in his 1981 address, he was deliberately vague:

From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people.

Trump, however, was very direct:

For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered – but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

The “us versus them” framing defines “the people” not by what they are for, but by whom they are against. There is a call for unity, but it’s a call for unity against the establishment and the other forces that conspire to “steal” America – American jobs, American security and American prosperity.

Of course, the unity-through-exclusion approach was the foundation of Trump’s campaign. (What else does a wall do?) And while the possibility of the political pivot has been torpedoed by the tenacity of Trump’s tweeting, it was still reasonable to expect the historical inertia of the inaugural form might even carry Trump.

Instead, the contradiction between a desire to repeat Reagan’s inaugural and a desire to repeat campaign trial performances carried the day.

A dark vision

Trump not only identified an enemy in the establishment but, as on the campaign trail, he spent a good portion of his time focusing on a list of examples of the “the American carnage” wrought by Washington.

The list is striking for its length and detail, especially given the brevity of the address.

Trump decried that “Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth”; “jobs left and factories closed” (a theme that received mention four times in the speech); “there was little to celebrate for struggling families across the land”; “forgotten men and women”; “mothers trapped in poverty”; “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones”; “an education system…that leaves our students deprived of all knowledge”; “crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen lives”; “enriching foreign industry at the expense of American industry”; “the depletion of our military”; “infrastructure that has fallen into disrepair and decay”; “the wealth, strength and confidence of our country [dissipated]”; “millions of workers left behind”; “the wealth of the middle class ripped from their homes”; and the threat of “radical Islamic terrorism.”

It is a long list and one that is more striking for the appearance of a number of words, according to the Washington Post, that had never appeared in an inaugural before. It wasn’t just “carnage”; there was “bleed,” “sad,” “ripped,” “trapped” and “stolen.”

Is it morning in America? Or are we mourning in America?

The paradox of Trump’s address is that it broke from the more inclusive calls to national unity that previous presidents have made to all Americans, instead aligning himself and the people against an amorphously defined “establishment.”

Trump’s speech was a near-perfect example of the contradictions he will face as president. How will a candidate who has run against the establishment, who then excoriated it in his first address as president, be able to work with members of the establishment to generate a consensus around a governing agenda? Who exactly counts as “the people”?

If there was uncertainty during the transition, there’s now even more uncertainty about how President Trump will govern.

The Conversation

Christian Lundberg-Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Communication Consultant, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and Joshua Gunn-Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Affiliate Faculty in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing, University of Texas at Austin

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why is the South China Sea so important to the US?

Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made some surprising remarks about China and the South China Sea during his recent Senate confirmation hearings. He said the US should “send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”

His comments created a furor in the international media as it seems the US might resort to force by blockading the Chinese-occupied features in the South China Sea.

James Mattis, Trump’s defense secretary nominee, was more circumspect in his remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee. He identified defense of so-called “international waters” as the “bottom line” for the US, suggesting the US would defend freedom of navigation in the South China Sea without challenging the Chinese presence there.

Mattis’ comments were in line with US policy towards the South China Sea while Tillerson’s remarks were not. But why is the South China Sea so important to the US anyway?

The Chinese regularly castigate the Americans for “meddling” in the area and have difficulty understanding why the US takes a stand on the issue. In their view, the US is making trouble for China and preventing its rise as a great power. The Chinese want to see the Americans abandon the South China Sea and withdraw from the western Pacific.

Some commentators in the US and elsewhere agree. They argue that this would allow America to forge an accommodation with China, which would remove the prospect of conflict between the world’s two largest economies and bring peace and stability.

Others have called for a G-2 or a US-China accord that would settle global problems. They claim that the US is already overstretched and should return to the “offshore” position that it had before the Korean war broke out in 1950. Why let the South China Sea get in the way of this possible accommodation?

Chinese regional presence

The South China Sea has become important to the US because of China’s challenge to the liberal rules-based order that America has promoted since the Pacific war. The post-war regional order was based on the American presence, which set the stage for impressive economic growth and regional prosperity without the threat of war or conflict.

It ensured that maritime disputes and territorial claims would be resolved through negotiation and not military power. And it served as the basis for the development of trade and regional economic relations from which all countries in the region benefited.

America’s concern with the South China Sea is a result of China’s effort to secure control over the maritime territory and the resources it contains. China insists on “indisputable sovereignty” over the area but a number of other claimants – Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines – have the law on their side.


All have exclusive economic zones (EEZS) in the South China Sea, which is their right under UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and which the Chinese dismiss. To clarify the matter, the Philippines appealed to an tribunal convened under UNCLOS to rule on the situation.

In July 2016, the tribunal issued its judgement and upheld the rights of the ASEAN claimants to their EEZs, noting that the Chinese claim had no legal basis. China, however, has ignored legality in this dispute and is prepared to back its claim with military power. If it does not recognize the rules, the regional order that the US has been promoting breaks up.

China has militarized the Spratly Islands by engaging in reclamation projects in the South China Sea. The Chinese have been dredging sand from the ocean floor and extending the size of seven reefs they have occupied.

They have constructed three airfields there, two are 3,000 meters in length, one is 2,600 meters. These airfields can support military aircraft including bombers and large transport aircraft. With this military presence, China would be able to control the South China Sea. And its strengthened position has geopolitical consequences for the US.

The way ahead

The South China Sea has become an important area for the implementation of China’s naval strategy, including blockading Taiwan, and power projection into the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It also has some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

The Chinese often say that they respect freedom of navigation but can they be trusted? The Japanese think not. During a territorial dispute with Japan in 2010, the Chinese banned the supply of rare earths, which were necessary for Japan’s electronics industry, to the country.

The Chinese could block Japanese trade, which would need to be diverted elsewhere at considerable cost. Indeed, control of the South China Sea would allow China to interfere with Japanese and South Korean trade conducted through the area.

For America, then, the future of the current regional order and the security of its allies – Japan and South Korea – is at stake. To maintain its geopolitical position in the western Pacific, the US is obliged to defend the regional alliance system, and reassure local powers who are concerned about China’s intentions.

Leaving the South China Sea to the Chinese would undermine that alliance system and America’s presence in the western Pacific. China would become the dominant power in the area and regional countries would gravitate towards it.

In October 2015, the Obama Administration responded to China’s actions by launching “freedom of navigation” naval patrols in the South China Sea, sending a clear signal that America would not be chased out of the area.

By all indications, the Trump administration is likely to be more aggressive in resisting China in the South China Sea and more forceful about preventing the erosion of America’s position in the region.

Trump has already broken with diplomatic convention by speaking with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen over the phone. More can be expected to demonstrate a new American assertiveness.

One possibility is the formation of an American South China Sea naval squadron that would maintain a regular presence in the region to show the Chinese that they cannot dominate the area. The Trump administration might also strengthen security ties with Japan and attempt to orchestrate the creation of a coalition of powers bringing together Australia, India, as well as Japan, to stand up to China.

The Conversation

Leszek Buszynski, Visiting fellow, Australian National University


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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How will Mexico deal with The Donald?

What is Mexico’s plan for facing incoming US president Donald Trump, whose presidential campaign included heated anti-Mexican rhetoric? How is the country’s government preparing for threatened changes to the US-Mexico relationship in terms of policy, immigration and trade?

If they’re any insight into Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s strategy for the coming years, two key decisions in this realm have been disconcerting to say the least.

Rolling out the red carpet

The first, in August, was to invite then-candidate Donald Trump to Mexico, responding to his hostility with conciliatory gestures and goodwill.

The results were not good. Rather than moderating his views, Trump jumped on the occasion to imply that the Mexican president actually supported his positions. After the meeting with Peña Nieto, in a speech made later that night in Phoenix, Arizona, Trump told supporters:

I’ve just landed having returned from a very important and special meeting with the president of Mexico, a man I like and respect very much. […] We will build a great wall along the southern border. And Mexico will pay for the wall. One hundred percent. They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for it. And they’re great people and great leaders but they’re going to pay for the wall. We will use the best technology, including above and below ground sensors that’s the tunnels….Towers, aerial surveillance and manpower to supplement the wall, find and dislocate tunnels and keep out criminal cartels and Mexico you know that, will work with us. I really believe it. Mexico will work with us.

This episode did not play out well in Mexico. According to the Reforma newspaper, 81% of Mexicans disagreed with Trump’s visit. The daily El Universal found that 74% of citizens felt offended that the government had invited him to Mexico.

The stunt also ended badly for its mastermind, Luis Videgaray, a scandal-tainted confidante of president Peña Nieto since his days as governor of the State of Mexico (2005-2011); he was forced to resign his post as Secretary of Treasury.

The Mexican government’s second move to prepare for Trump, just a few days ago, was to sack Secretary of Foreign Relations Claudia Claudia Ruíz Massieu. Mexico’s top diplomat for only 16 months, she had recently shown herself reluctant to work with Trump. So, on the eve of the inauguration, Peña Nieto decided to put in her place none other than Luis Videgaray.

Given the new secretary’s admitted lack of international diplomacy experience, the press has speculated that his alleged relationship with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is his main “qualification” for the job. Some commentators are also suggesting that this high-profile appointment reveals Videgaray as Peña Nieto’s preferred Revolutionary Institutional Party successor for the presidency in 2018.

Why not play a two-level game?

So what’s going on here? And what does it mean for Mexico, just days away from four years of President Donald Trump?

To start with, it shows that the Mexican government does not, for whatever reason, find it necessary to correct its course or to recruit new personnel in order to regain some of the credibility it has lost both nationally and internationally.

In this delicate moment, when Mexico will require the talent and experience of the best men and women its foreign service has to offer, the president’s most recent appointment leaves no doubt: Luis Videgaray is Mexico’s response to Donald Trump. The man is the policy.

Here the government has squandered an opportunity to take diplomatic advantage of the Mexican people’s disregard for Trump to strengthen the relative power of Los Pinos, Mexico’s presidential palace, vis-a-vis the White House.

As Robert Putnam outlined in his classic study on diplomacy, domestic and international politics can interact as a “two-level game”. Just as external events and pressures can help impel national policies, governments can also leverage internal pressure to strengthen their stance in foreign negotiations.

That is, Peña Nieto could have used Mexicans’ repudiation of Trump to place hard and very credible limits on what Mexico will – and won’t – accept from the US going forward. But he didn’t do it. Picking a figure so friendly toward his American counterpart, and so disliked at home, Mexico’s president missed his chance to put domestic discontent to good use. Instead, he made the government even more vulnerable.

Finally, there’s the issue of the so-called “constituencies of foreign policy”. In reiterating his position of collaborating instead of confronting, Peña Nieto turned his back on a multitude of potential American allies of Mexico’s cause.

Numerous American churches, cities and universities have declared that they will defend undocumented immigrants. There are border states whose economies are deeply integrated with Mexico’s and industries that would collapse without NAFTA. And hundreds of communities and hometown associations send remittances to Mexico. Peña Nieto’s government could coordinate with these actors to look after their shared interests and present a united front against Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-NAFTA agenda.

Instead of building relationships and alliances, however, Peña Nieto’s administration seems determined to isolate itself – to give up. It’s as if the only constituency for Mexican foreign policy were one person: The Donald.

The threat that Trump represents to Mexico is, or could be, an extraordinary platform for demonstrating political leadership. But based on the disquieting decisions that President Peña Nieto has made thus far, it is impossible not to ask: who is Mexico’s government working for?

The Conversation

Carlos Bravo Regidor -Associate Professor, Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to manage Russia becomes one of the most pressing questions in US, and world, affairs

At last Donald Trump has conceded publicly that Russia sought to influence last year’s US presidential election by hacking the website of the Democratic National Committee and distributing material illicitly gained from those breaches of cyber-security.

To what extent this harmed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is difficult, if not impossible, to assess. But it would hard to argue credibly that damaging leaks had no effect on her campaign’s momentum.

US news organisations seized on these morsels to reinforce a narrative – already present in voters’ minds – that Clinton was shifty, duplicitous, and untrustworthy.

Julian Assange’s contention that information damaging to Clinton dribbled out during the election campaign by his WikiLeaks organisation did not originate from Russian hackers is scarcely believable.

WikiLeaks might have more credibility if it had also published material sourced from the Republican National Committee. It did not.

What Assange has to say about these matters should be regarded in the same way as the utterances of a “Kremlin spokesman”.

So now we have arrived at something of a crossroads in the debate about Russia’s interference in the politics of western democracies. One of the questions it raises is how the west might deal with a country that plays by its own set of rules.

What we are talking about are threats to a western liberal consensus that has served the world passably well since the end of the second world war. These include agreements on a global financial architecture at Bretton Woods, and the establishment of the United Nations in which Australian statesman Herbert Vere Evatt played a leading role.

In the months ahead, Russia will no doubt seek to meddle in the politics of western Europe – as it did in the US – to bring about outcomes that will serve its own interests. This comes as it grapples with the same anti-establishment forces that have roiled the American system and put at risk a global liberal consensus based on open borders and open trade.

In a gloomy leader on the years ahead, The Economist warned of a “new and darker global order” in which the newspaper observed “Trump’s appeal is rooted in anger and division” in contrast to Ronald Reagan’s sunny vision of his country as a “shining city on a hill”. It concludes:

The question is not whether the world will turn back towards openness, but how soon – and how much damage will be done in the meantime.

Needless to say Russia, less so China whose miraculous economic expansion has been fuelled by a liberal trading consensus would regard a fragmenting western leadership as an advantageous development as its seeks to restore its own hegemonic impulses in its immediate neighbourhood and further afield.

In Australia, no less than in other countries, a breakout debate has started on how, in a new post-Barack Obama world, the west might deal with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and in the process look beyond the Putin regime’s corruption, its disregard for human life in its bombing campaigns in Syria in support of its client Bashar al-Assad, and its annexation of Crimea.

In The Sydney Morning Herald last week, under the headline “Russia isn’t the bad guy you’ve been led to believe it is”, the author argued for a reset in relations with Putin’s Russia. This is based on acknowledgement the country is a “great power”, with legitimate interests that overlap those of the west.

Leaving aside the debate about whether Moscow’s interference in a US election is any worse than multiple occasions on which Washington has sought improperly – sometimes with disastrous consequences – to affect the outcomes of democratic processes, how to manage Russia should be a preoccupation of all western liberal democracies.

The salient point that seems to have escaped those advocating a form of realpolitik untethered from the sort of values in foreign policy the west might aspire to is that Russia under Putin is a rogue player. Its conduct does not correspond with the norms one might associate with those of a “great power” whose “greatness” is defined by its nuclear arsenal rather than a robust economy that serves its people well.

It might be pointed out that Russia’s financial well-being would be in better shape if billions of roubles were not being syphoned off by Putin and his oligarch cronies.

Dealing with Russia in this latest period does not require a suspension of disbelief, rather an acknowledgement that Russian interests are far from aligned with those of the west, and no amount of revisionist commentary about Russia not being “such a bad guy” after all will alter that reality.

Trump’s belated acknowledgement that Russia was responsible for seeking to influence a US presidential election by hacking a DNC website represents a start in recognising certain realities, but only a start. “I think it was Russia,” he said, contradicting Kremlin spokespeople and Julian Assange.

And, for that matter, challenging those playing down the significance of a foreign actor seeking to put a thumb on the scale of a US election, the most consequential democratic event on the global calendar.

Of various contributions to the debate on how to deal with Putin’s Russia in the new era, I found William Burns of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace most compelling.

A former American ambassador in Moscow, Burns evinces a steely-eyed view of the Putin pathology. He writes:

The ultimate realist, Mr Putin understand Russia’s relative weakness, but regularly demonstrates that declining powers can be at least as disruptive as rising powers. He sees a target rich environment around him.

Rather than playing down Russia’s interference in America’s election “because everybody does it”, Burns believes such an attempt to corrupt a democratic process should be amplified:

It would be especially foolish to think that Russia’s deeply troubling interference in our election can or should be played down, however inconvenient.

Australian policymakers might be encouraged to read Burns’ contribution to the debate about how best to manage relations with Moscow “without illusions”, as he puts it.

The Conversation

Tony Walker-Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University


Photo Credit: The Moderate Voice

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.