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American views on Europe’s geopolitical clout

Attila Marjan

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What have American politicians had to say about Europe, its role, significance or insignificance and its relationship with America? Naturally, the USA has had different views of Europe over time: early in its history when it was a colony; later, as the weaker and less developed half of the western world watching Europe colonize the world in awe or with contempt; and, later still, as a global power shielding Europe from the Russian threat.

Our concern here is with the present and the recent past, the post-war period. In an excellent book, John L. Harper, professor at Johns Hopkins University, compares the visions of Europe of three influential American statesmen: President (1933-45) Franklin D. Roosevelt, the diplomat and political scientist George F. Kennan and  Secretary of State (from 1949-53) Dean Acheson. [1] The views of these three men on Europe’s significance and role and thus about US foreign policy show striking contrasts. Roosevelt’s vision reflected America’s Euro-phobia. He believed that Europe’s time was over and the old continent belonged in a retirement home. Roosevelt was almost as hostile to France’s aspirations to play an independent role as to Nazi Germany. He was also opposed to Churchill’s idea of a United States of Europe on the grounds that an integrated Western Europe with all kinds of independent aspirations was not in America’s interest. Roosevelt saw the world as a quasi-unipolar one in which the USA controlled international politics, nominally within the United Nations framework, together with China, Russia and the UK, but in reality as the unquestionably dominant actor. There were some contradictions in Roosevelt’s views: he would have liked a weak Europe but did not want to station US troops on the continent, simply because he did not consider it strategically as important as the Middle and Far East. The President was convinced that, with WWII, Europe had virtually written itself off and become irreversibly irrelevant. At this time, the idea of European integration and a European Union existed only as thought experiment in a handful of minds.

The main champions of the other fundamental US approach to Europe in the 20th century were President Eisenhower and the eminent diplomat George F. Kennan (the author of the famous “Long Telegram” from Moscow of 1946, which helped to galvanize awareness of the dangers posed by the Soviet Union). Their position was directly opposed to Roosevelt’s: they were convinced that Europe should be strengthened, not weakened, therefore it was essential to maintain an interim US military presence on the continent and encourage its economic and political integration. Only a reinforced Western Europe could resist the Soviet Union in the long run. Only a strong and prosperous Europe could solve the problem of a divided Germany and lure the satellite states of central and Eastern Europe with its positive example. But they insisted on the temporary nature of a US presence, arguing that eventually Europe should provide for its own defense: Europe should not get soft and used to the idea of having America protect it in any situation. As Eisenhower put it in the fifties: “It is not possible, and most certainly not desirable, that Europe should be an occupied territory defended by legions brought in from abroad…” The task of the USA was to encourage the emergence of a third great power bloc which would. become America’s friend and help it solve the international problems of a multipolar world order. But even the pro-Europe Kennan found it difficult to tolerate France’s vehement geopolitical ambitions to build a Europe keeping an equal distance from the USA and the Soviet Union. As he once quipped: I was a Gaullist before de Gaulle.

Dean Acheson’s Europe policy was a synthesis of the previous two, the one to subordinate Europe and the other to restore its strength and make it an equal partner. Acheson believed that the fate of Europe was too important to the US to be left to Europeans alone. And this would have been true even if the Soviet Union had not existed. Consequently — and this was in line with what he was hearing from most realistic European politicians — a Western alliance was needed in which Europe did not play an equal role with the USA. In other words, instead of a tripolar world order, Europe would become part of America’s western empire by invitation. The Acheson view, which became the predominant one from the 1950s onwards, was based on the following key assumptions: a certain degree of (Western) European integration was useful for the West and opposing it would trigger an anti-American reaction, nonetheless, US hegemony had to be maintained to guarantee that Europe could withstand Russia’s pressure. NATO was the key western institution of this setup as the guarantor and executor of America’s dominant role.

Harper calls this world order a semi duopoly, in which Europe recognized that it could not guarantee its own geopolitical position and security and the USA recognized that it needed Europe as its key ally to maintain this world order. It was within the framework of this paradigm, which existed for decades, that the European Union carried out its internal construction. Naturally, the end of the Cold War forced a reevaluation of many things, including the international order and EU-US relations in it. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the western world lived in euphoria for years. For a brief while it was even believed that the “end of history” had come, inasmuch as Professor Fukuyama’s theory was widely accepted that western liberal democracy, as the final form of human government, had claimed the ultimate victory. The United States had won the Cold War, which for Europe meant a significant devaluation of its geopolitical importance: the USA could finally turn its attention to emerging parts of the world and start consolidating a new unipolar world order. Europe could continue its ever-closer integration, introduce the euro as a single currency and allow in the former satellite countries of Central and Eastern Europe as fully-fledged members of the EU. The USA became intoxicated by unipolarity and allowed its frustration over grievances (for example during the Iraq conflict) to lead its relations with European countries to deteriorate. The paradigm of semi-duopoly was replaced by the unipolar worldview of the neoconservative Bush era. In other words, America no longer felt the need to have Europe by its side to manage the world’s affairs.

The contemporary neoconservative view of Europe is influenced not only by geostrategic considerations but also by moral value judgments: Europe is becoming objectively weaker, on top of which its leaders are seen the same way as those soft and feeble Europeans who appeased Hitler in the 30s and watched with their arms folded while the Nazis extended their power. Europe is a decadent society living in a postmodern dream world leading to complete decay. In addition, Europe continues to sabotage the international policy and ambitions of the USA, the only remaining standard bearer and defender of western civilization (just think of America’s sense of mission). Naturally, the post-9/11 atmosphere of revenge present in American political circles and society greatly contributed to the dominance of neoconservative principles. Much of Europe responded to various US military actions coldly, with rejection or sabotage, which stirred in US government circles a degree of anti-Europeanism unseen for a long time. The opinion of Richard Perle, an influential neocon political advisor, reflects these sentiments well. He once said that Europeans were unwilling to invest in the defense industry because they were only interested in their own comfort. Europe’s wariness of excessive American power, however, pre-dates the neocon era; it developed gradually in Western Europe, especially France following World War II. The contemporary French critique of the United States as a “hyperpuissance” did not begin during the Bush administration but was already to the fore during the Clinton administration, which maintained friendly ties with Europe. Its main outlines were strongly marked in Gaullism and indeed the historical roots are deeper still: as early as 1817, John Quincy Adams, who went on to become US President, forewarned that Europeans would one day see the USA as a “dangerous nation”.

Although they may not admit it, neocons are bothered by the fact that Europe rejects a foreign policy based on sheer force and presents an alternative approach to the world and its problems. The neoconservative era had brought about one psychological novelty for Europeans: their covert anti-Americanism has been an almost natural element of trans-Atlantic relations but, during the war in Iraq, they experienced the same resentment from the side of the USA. The election of President Obama seemed to hold the promise of a fresh start in trans-Atlantic relations, not only because of the President’s personality but also because his advocacy of a new rulebook for the new world order would necessitate close cooperation between the two western power blocs.

How do American politicians and commentators see Europe’s present and future geopolitical role and relations with the USA? Once again, there are plenty of theories to choose from.

Fareed Zakaria, the prominent foreign affairs columnist, believes that Europe could greatly contribute to the world’s stability by accepting Turkey’s bid for EU membership, but as it holds Turkey in limbo (with an eventual “No” more likely than not), it contributes to increased international instability. But above all, Europe is missing the opportunity to regain its status as a key geostrategic actor to be reckoned with.

Robert Zoellick, former deputy Secretary of State and President of the World Bank since 2007, is a popular figure in Europe. He is convinced that Europe’s worldview is distorted by its own self-identity. International negotiations and consultations are a successful means of solving problems in an EU context but do not always work in every case elsewhere in the world. The innate European attitude means a clear preference for maintaining the status quo, whatever the international issue. This attitude makes it difficult to adapt to a rapidly changing world. Europeans are convinced that any effort to change the world is doomed to fail.

Henry Kissinger, the former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor who shaped American geopolitical thinking for decades, is a member of the right-wing realistic school. He sees a growing gap between the US and Europe in military capabilities, as well as technological and economic development. Europe is going downhill, without the political will and the ability to pursue its geopolitical interests successfully or protect itself in the swiftly changing circumstances of the 21st century. Its troubles are further aggravated by its catastrophic demographic prospects. At first glance, it is not easy to distinguish between the realist and the neocon views of Europe, but there is a huge difference: realists are saddened by Europe’s decline, while neocons are pleased about it. Kissinger believes that the future shape of the world is going to be fashioned by three geopolitical processes (revolutions, as he calls them). Firstly, the drift of the center of gravity of international affairs from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Secondly, the radical Islamist challenge to historic notions of sovereignty. Thirdly, the transformation of the traditional state system of Europe. All of these may even lead to the creation of a European political union.

It was Henry Kissinger, the then National Security Advisor, who in 1972 famously posed the oft-quoted rhetorical question: “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” The question remains unanswered; Europe still does not speak with a single voice, it still does not have a common foreign policy and the political union is still not a reality. Europe’s economic unity is tangible both within its boundaries (for European companies and citizens) and outside. However, the Kissinger question pertained to the lack of political unity. It is unlikely that — as many Europeans believe — Kissinger was trying to poke fun at Europe.

To non-Europeans, “European foreign policy” is an obscure, complicated, multi-tier system. On the one hand, it incorporates member states’ own traditional foreign policies (especially of those who are significant actors internationally); on the other hand, it includes the nominally common EU foreign policy as well as the defense policy (launched in the wake of the wars of former Yugoslavia). In other words, it is the sum of principles and actions that member states consult each other on or adopt with unanimity. Finally, it even includes those truly common foreign policies that are more commercial in nature, such as development policy or trade policy, both of which are run from Brussels.

With member states taking turns at the helm of the EU for six-month stints, its international partners find it difficult to take Europe seriously. Member states have never really warmed to the idea of a common foreign policy; most of them persist with their own national foreign policies. These are far more important than Community projects, which are slow and cumbersome to implement. In a European Union of 28 one cannot seriously talk about equal diplomatic partners, even if that would be formally correct. The foreign policy horizon of smaller member states rarely extends beyond relations with neighboring states or emergencies; therefore they can add little value when it comes to deciding global issues. The key problem remains that nobody knows who makes the common foreign policy, who speaks for Europe. This issue has not been solved by the Lisbon treaty and the establishment of the post of the European foreign policy representative and the EU external action service.

The evolution of a “common” European foreign policy is a painfully slow process: the so-called European Political Cooperation (a synonym for consultations between foreign ministries) was only superseded by foreign policy coordination — misleadingly labeled the common foreign and security policy — a quarter of a century later. European defense cooperation is in an embryonic stage. Europe’s total defense spending is about half of the USA’s 350 billion, but the main reason behind its military weakness is the fragmentation of its national armies. The number of American soldiers readily deployable oversees nears half a million, compared with less than a hundred thousand in the EU.

When World War II ended and the Cold War began, the European powers realized that their glory days were over and they desperately needed the American nuclear umbrella. With the Cold War over and former satellite countries inside the EU, the former relative cohesion loosened and during the Iraq crisis European foreign policy failed spectacularly. The old continent split into two camps along the lines of their position on the war; trans-Atlantic relations fell to their lowest ebb in decades. In November 2003, Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary who was later forced to resign because of failures in Iraq, put Germany in the group of “problem countries” together with Iran and Libya. In return, the German Minister of Justice compared him to Hitler. Who would have thought just a few decades earlier that such a thing could ever happen? Statements like “you are either with us or with the terrorists” by President Bush or the “old Europe — new Europe” classification by the Defense Secretary did not exactly help either. Implicit or open messages, covert or overt threats of armed response, sophisticated economic sanctions and abusive statements escalated on both sides of the Atlantic. Europe’s response to the US policy of “divide et impera” was a surge of anti-Americanism. The two nests of Western culture seemed to have drifted apart. America’s arrogance only stoked the fire of Europe’s deep-seated anti-Americanism. Displays of American-friendliness by Central and Eastern European countries, which had just shaken loose of Russian oppression, earned them reproaches from Western Europe and the ratings of the British prime minister fell fast. During the second term of the Bush administration and especially after the election of President Obama things began to return to normal, but the US still does not consider the EU a potent foreign policy actor capable of unified and determined action.

Let me cite one example to illustrate my point! In 2008, The Wall Street Journal called the EU’s ultimatum to Russia on Georgia a joke. “Stop! Or we’ll say stop again! With apologies to comedian Robin Williams, that’s the line that comes to mind when weighing the European Union’s declaration Monday on Russia’s continued occupation of Georgia.” — the front-page article ran.
“At a special meeting in Brussels, EU national leaders told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to abide by the terms of a French-brokered cease-fire, including a pullback of Russian troops to their pre-conflict positions. If he doesn’t do so, they warned they will hold another meeting. It’s been almost three weeks since Mr. Medvedev signed the cease-fire, and five days since Moscow broke with the world by recognizing the self-declared independence of Georgian provinces South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Yet European leaders evidently need more time to ruminate over the situation in the Caucasus.”
The Wall Street journal added that during a post-summit press conference Nicolas Sarkozy was justly posed the question: Is the EU a “paper tiger”? Mr. Sarkozy, visibly angered, responded: “Demonstrations of force, verbal aggression, sanctions, countersanctions . . . will not serve anyone.” “What Europe needs is political will”, the conservative paper wrote, adding that “Mr. Sarkozy would do better to name and shame those member states whose desire to curry favor with Moscow keeps the EU from taking a firmer stand.”
The same thing happened a few years later at the time when the Ukraine crisis hit: US foreign policy staff was very disappointed by the slow and timid reaction of the EU.
Would Americans be irritated by a move towards closer political integration in the EU, making it a federation of states with a more united and robust foreign policy and a higher profile? This was the question I put to all the analysts, diplomats and political scientists I met over the last few years. Much to my surprise, they all said: No. On the contrary, the USA has an interest in ensuring that the EU can respond in a united way to conflict situations and play a diplomatic and military role that its economic might entitles it to.
The idea of creating a European political union has intrigued both European and American leaders for centuries. George Washington, whom Napoleon deeply admired, prophesied in his correspondence to the Marquis de Lafayette that one day Europe would follow the example of the United States of America. It looks like we are in for a long wait.
During the Cold War it was the Soviet Union, in the 21st century it will be Asia, and in particular China that will lie at the heart of American foreign policy. The China-focused nature of US foreign policy is the consequence of geopolitical realities, which Europe can do little about. Nonetheless, by being fragmented, Europe devalues its international role and makes it difficult for the US to consider it an actor with as much influence as its real weight would justify. Europe does not have a face, does not speak with one voice, does not even speak the same language and cannot be relied on when help is needed quickly. This is roughly how I can summarize the criticism of American diplomacy.
The interests and positions of big EU member states often differ on strategic issues such as involvement in military intervention or managing the global financial crisis. A more important, albeit less obvious problem is that major European powers have different visions about Europe’s role and future. These differences make it extremely difficult to forge common, coherent and effective international action.
America is aware of Europe’s key dilemma of “deepening or widening”: push on with enlargement and let new members in or focus on building a political union instead? The United States faced a somewhat similar situation in the 19th century when the original 13 states acquired new territories through wars and land purchases, expanding their influence and principles of state organization to a growing area. This expansion was the key to America’s success: it created the world’s largest single market, which spawned the world’s largest corporations in just a few decades’ time. A vast economic and political bloc was formed, which was protected by oceans both from the east and the west, making the USA inward looking in many aspects.

By the end of the Bush era, the United States looked like a bust state with no self-confidence. The intervention in Iraq was not only and primarily a military and political failure; it isolated the United States internationally and sparked anti-American sentiments globally. By the end of 2008, the economy was badly shaken, the world’s biggest banks were wiped out in days, and the stock markets went into freefall. President Bush delivered a dramatic televised speech explaining to the American people why a record-size 700 billion dollar government rescue package was needed and why — against the most fundamental of Republican and American instincts — large corporations needed to be nationalized. The country wanted change and wanted it badly, which led to the election of a Democrat as President with an impressive margin unseen since the victory of Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

But Barack Obama (called simply “the post-imperial president” by Newsweek [2]) could not do wonders. He inherited the leadership of a country with a dented image, which was spiritually uncertain and economically on its knees. It says a lot that, in the run-up to Election Day, Barack Obama’s bedside reading was Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World. The situation of Obama’s America is very similar to the situation of Great Britain in his grandfather’s time, when it was on the eve of its 20th century decline. The economic challenges of today are comparable to those that Franklin D. Roosevelt had to face at the time of the Great Depression – except that, in the 1930s, the United States was a rising power in geopolitical terms. “America is like a company on the brink of bankruptcy. In the last eight years we have lost most of our credibility”.”Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” These words come from Roosevelt’s inaugural address in 1932, but could just as well have been from Obama at the start of his presidency in 2009.

Today it is universally accepted that, after the end of the Cold War, in turn the unipolar world order and America’s hegemony are coming to a close. American foreign policy must respond to the changing realities. The Obama administration has declared its intention to adopt a “smart power” approach to foreign policy, which puts diplomacy and foreign aid on an equal footing with military action.

Obviously, the previous administration’s stance was incompatible with the new administration’s commitment to multilateral, cooperative international politics. More money is devoted to improving the linguistic skills of American diplomats – in particular for languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and Urdu, which gives us a broad idea of the new diplomatic priorities. A number of American authors, among them the pro-European Democrat Sven Steinmo, warned Europe not to have exaggerated expectations, arguing that the United States will not be radically different under Obama. As Steinmo points out, America’s laws are passed by Congress and the President only has the right of veto. Members of the House and Senate are elected to serve the interests of their voters in their respective constituencies and states and most of them have little insight into international affairs. Moreover, the United States remains divided.

As it normally does, the Obama’s popularity started to fall, but he still could secure a second term. As for the EU-USA relations and the perceptions of the US government of the EU: those who predicted that no miracle would occur in this respect were right: the Obama administration did not alter the geopolitical focus of the US in the favour of Europe. Notwithstanding the fact that some of his political opponents portrayed Obama as a closet European (there were remarks such as why doesn’t he run a Western-European country, or he seems to agree with the European, anti-American sentiment, or even that he wants to build the United States of France) his government’s geopolitical focus further drifted towards the Pacific from the Atlantic. At the same time, the honeymoon between Europe and Obama’s America was over as well. By October 2009, The Economist [3] had already started to speak again about the Atlantic divide. Obama shocked Europeans by staying away from the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and humiliated the EU by refusing to come to Madrid to the EU-US summit. These were strong and clear negative signals to Europe already half a decade ago. By the end of 2010, Obama mania seemed to be over in Europe.

The new and robust impetus for the reinforcement of bilateral relations is the grand trade and economic agreement the so-called TTIP. A lot will depend on how this is being managed and how successful this partnership will become over the next decade.

A smooth and mutually fruitful economic partnership will nevertheless not solve everything in itself. Better geopolitical cooperation is also necessary to mend fences and to guarantee the delivery of mutually accepted foreign policy objectives. The US clearly expects Europe to pledge to stand by its main ally if firm action becomes necessary.
America wants Europe to take a firmer stance against China, and an ever more provocative Russia. In essence, the United States would like the European Union to cooperate more closely and operate more effectively as a partner by its side. The USA would not mind an EU with a more pronounced international political profile, especially if it meant a quicker and more efficient response to international crisis situations.

[1] American Visions of Europe: Franklin D. Roosevelt, George F. Kennan and Dean G. Acheson New York, Cambridge University Press 1994.
[2] Newsweek, 14 December, 2009. p. 1.
[3] The Atlantic gap.” The Economist, 1 October 2009.

Hungarian economist, PhD in international relations. Based in Brussels for fourteen years as diplomat and member of EU commissioners’ cabinets. Two times visiting fellow of Wilson Center in Washington DC. University professor and author of books on EU affairs and geopolitics. Head of department, National University of Public Administration, Budapest.

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Iran crisis test drives fundaments of Trump’s foreign policy

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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At the core of US president Donald J. Trump’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran lies the belief that Iran can be forced to negotiate terms for the lifting of harsh US economic sanctions even if it has no confidence in US intentions and adherence to agreements.

The Trump administration’s belief, despite the conviction of much of the international community that maximum pressure has failed and risks provoking a devastating all-out war in the Middle East, says much about the president’s transactional approach towards foreign policy that rests on the assumption that bluster, intimidation and the brute wielding of power can protect US interests and impose US will.

Richard Goldberg, an Iran-hawk who this month resigned as the official on the president’s national security council responsible for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction, signalled in an op-ed in The New York Times, entitled “Trump Has an Iran Strategy. This Is It,” that Mr. Trump attributes no importance to deep-seated Iranian concerns that he is gunning for regime change in Tehran and that building trust is not needed to resolve the Iran crisis.

“The Iranian regime doesn’t need to trust America or Mr. Trump to strike a deal; it just needs to act as a rational actor to avoid collapse,” said Mr. Goldberg, who backed by former national security advisor John Bolton, served for a year in the White House.

Mr. Goldberg appeared to ignore the fact that the US withdrawal 20 months ago from a 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program sparked doubts not only in Iran but across the globe about the value of a US signature on any agreement.

He also appeared oblivious to the fact that Iranian suspicions were reinforced by alllegations that his salary, while at the White House, was paid by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a hardline Washington-based think tanks that is believed to have close ties to Israel and the United Arab Emirates. So did anecdotes about how his hardline views provoked clashes with other administration officials.

In his op-ed, Mr. Goldberg suggested that any new agreement with Iran could be ratified by the US Senate.

The Trump administration and Mr. Goldberg’s misreading of what it would take to steer the United States and Iran off a road of more than 40 years of deep-seated mutual distrust and animosity and towards the turning of a new page in their relationship was evident in indirect responses to the former national security council official’s assertions.

”Even if one day we negotiate with the US, the talks will not be with Trump, won’t be strategic (no normalization of ties) and will be done only by conservatives not reformists. We need to see changes in the (US) Congress; whether Democrats will pursue a fair policy by which Iran is not under pressure over its missile program,” said a regime insider.

The Trump administration has demanded among other things that Iran curb its ballistic missile program, a core element of the Islamic republic’s defense strategy given that its armed forces lack a credible air force and navy.

Hardliners, who rather than moderates have proven in other Middle Eastern conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to be the ones capable of cutting deals, are expected to win next month’s parliamentary elections in Iran. The likelihood of hardline advances was enhanced by the fact that scores of moderates have been barred from running for office.

Iranian reformists argue that the accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps demonstrates the risk of an Iranian strategy that is pre-empted on eternal hostility towards the United States.

Mr. Goldberg offered a rare indication that the Trump administration recognizes Iran’s strategy of gradual escalation that, based on the assumption that neither the United States nor Iran wants an all-out war, aims to bring the two countries to the brink of an armed conflict in the belief that this would break the logjam and force a return to the negotiating table on terms acceptable to Iran.

Noting that Mr. Trump had failed in the past nine months to respond to multiple Iranian provocations, including the downing of a US drone and attacks on tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and on key Saudi oil facilities, Mr. Goldberg asserted that Mr. Trump “recognized those traps for what they were and exercised strategic patience.”

Mr. Trump’s patience ended in December when he responded to the death of an American contractor in an attack by Iranian-backed Iraqi militias and the militias’ siege of the US embassy in Baghdad by first authorizing air strikes against militias bases in Iraq and Syria and then the killing of Iranian general Qassim Soleimani.

Mr. Goldberg would likely describe the president’s decision not to respond to a subsequent Iranian retaliatory attack on housing facilities for US military personnel in Iraq as a renewed act of strategic patience.

Mr. Trump’s strategic patience is bolstered by his retention of options to further increase maximum pressure on Iran. “Many wrongly believe the United States has already reached full ‘maximum pressure on Iran,” Mr. Goldberg said.

Mr. Goldberg pointed to sanctions targeting Iranian state shipping lines that are set to take effect in June, the administration’s recent identification of Iran’s financial sector as a “primary jurisdiction of money-laundering concern,” this month’s imposition of sanctions on its construction, mining and manufacturing sectors, and Europe’s triggering of the nuclear accord’s dispute mechanism that could lead to the return of United Nations-mandated sanctions.

Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Trump’s belief that imminent economic collapse and international political isolation could prompt Iranian leaders to suddenly place a call to the White House turns Mr. Trump’s handling of the Iran crisis into a litmus test of the president’s approach to foreign relations.

There is little in the torturous history of relations between the United States and the Islamic republic that suggests that pressure will persuade Iran, convinced that Washington is gunning for the fall of the regime, to gamble on an unconditional return to the negotiating table.

Nor does North Korea’s failure to succumb to US pressure even if Mr. Trump, in contrast to his remarks about Iranian spiritual leader Ali Khamenei, professed his love for Kim Jong-un.

Mr. Trump’s policy towards Iran, rather than reinforcing Gulf confidence in the United States’ reliability as a guarantor of regional security, has sparked a wait-and-see attitude and nagging doubts about US reliability.

If anything, risky US and Iranian strategies are likely to prove that the crisis can only be defused if both sides garner an understanding of the others’ objectives and some degree of confidence that both parties would remain committed to any agreement they conclude.

So far, US and Iranian policies amount to a dialogue of the deaf that is likely to perpetuate the risk of hostility getting out of hand and incentivize regional players to think about alternative  arrangements that ultimately could weaken US influence and reduce tensions with Iran by including it, despite US policy, in a more multilateral security architecture.

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The power of symbolism: Mexico’s Foreign Policy

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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A few weeks ago, the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) took the decision to grant asylum to Evo Morales after he fled the country amidst allegations of vote tampering and electoral fraud. The decision of Morales to flee Bolivia clashed with several internal crisis in other Latin American countries. This has made the region highly unstable and harder to predict:  Argentina is struggling with a power transition; massive demonstrations that have led to widespread violence in Chile, Colombia and Ecuador; the unlikely possibility to restore democracy in Venezuela; and an early rift between the Argentinean and Brazilian presidents that may deteriorate soon. Polarisation seems to be taking its toll on the region.

AMLO’s decision should not come as a surprise. Mexico has a long tradition of providing asylum to leftist leaders that can be traced back to the 1930s: Leon Trotsky, José Martí,  Fidel Castro, Spanish refugees fleeing the 1936-1939 civil war; Mohammed Reza, Rigoberta Menchu, among others. So, what made the situation of Evo Morales different?

Mexico’s asylum tradition goes hand in hand with a doctrine of non-intervention: The Estrada Doctrine that means that Mexico should take no position on another’s government legitimacy. AMLO violated this precept by being vocal about his support to Evo Morales and his regime in Bolivia. Secondly, while in Mexico, Morales, far from keeping quiet on politics, he simply felt at home and openly urged his supporters to boycott the new administration of Jeanine Añez.

What happened in Bolivia and the subsequent diplomatic conflict between Mexico and the new interim administration only served to further divide an already highly fragmented Latin America: There are two sides on the same matter: Uruguay, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela have backed up the idea of a coup d’état; while Perú, Brazil, Colombia and the United States have endorsed the idea that it was an electoral fraud. The decision of the current administration to go to such lengths for Evo Morales contrasts sharply with the questionable treatment migrants have received in the southern and northern border of the country. Morales was soon to abandon Mexico: After just a few days in Mexico, he left for Argentina, a move that should not be taken as a surprise: Argentina is swerving away from the foreign policy the former president Mauricio Macri endorsed. This change is thought to be product of the influence of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, vice-president of Alberto Fernández, the current president. Fernández de Kirchner was known for having a close relationship with Evo Morales. His sudden departure could also be the result of a subtle order from the United States.

The way Mexico dealt with the Morales issue highlights an important change in Mexican foreign policy if compared to the one followed by previous administrations. While AMLO has taken a decidedly non-interventionist stance towards Nicaragua, Venezuela and more recently he declined to comment on the American attack on Iran, he was very eager to make his stance clear in the Bolivian crisis.

AMLO is a president that has relied on symbolic acts to keep his electoral base satisfied. Starting from his presidential campaign, he repeatedly stated that the best foreign policy is domestic policy, and he has, since the start of his administration, stuck to this principle. AMLO has focused on numerous domestic trips that aimed at strengthening his fourth transformation project. Domestically, he has sold his presidency as transformative, however, when it comes to his stance on foreign policy, he is stuck on al old fashioned 1930s principle: The Estrada Doctrine.

If we went by what he promised during his electoral campaign, one would expect a much more aggressive foreign policy towards the United States, and specifically towards Trump. He is, however, focused on symbolic issues which will not translate unto economic or safety improvements to keep his high approval ratings. Apart from the very specific case of Bolivia, AMLO’s foreign policy has remained muted and isolated. We should not confuse his sudden support for Morales as AMLO embracing a leftist foreign policy. He has never had such an inclination. By offering asylum to Morales, he tried to give the impression that Mexico was an inclusive and supportive state that has open doors. Nonetheless, with the US next door, Mexico cannot really remain completely sovereign. This asylum process was more a symbolic action than a real shift in foreign policy.

Just last week, AMLO also declared that he has reoriented his foreign policy towards gender equality. Again, another power of symbolism if one looks at Mexico’s feminicide  and gender-violence statistics, they are shaming. Such a foreign policy would prioritise gender equality, protect human rights of women and marginalised groups along with equal pay, and gender parity. Domestic policies again fail to provide such a framework for Mexican women. It’s hardly likely this will go beyond what it is: another symbolic promise that aims to appease those critical of his administration.

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George Washington’s Advice to Us Now

Eric Zuesse

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U.S. President George Washington’s final words to his fellow Americans, upon leaving office, are now even more timely than when he spoke them, but have been ignored in practise for many decades; and the most recently published popular book about that speech ignores the most enduringly important part, so this part of Washington’s Farewell Address will be quoted from here, and will be placed into its historical context, so as to make clear what the central meaning in that speech is for our times, and for all times.

John Avlon (former speechwriter for Rudolf Giuliani, and before that, schooled at Milton Academy and then Yale) was recently the Editor-in-Chief of the rabidly anti-Russian — or “neoconservative” — ‘news’ (or propaganda) site “The Daily Beast.” He issued on 10 January 2017, right before the neoconservative Donald Trump became President, Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations, which book is an extended essay on President George Washington’s famous Farewell Address. That work wins 4.5 out of 5 stars at Amazon, but I am not linking to it, because that book ignores what will be discussed in this brief article, which is the core of the speech that Avlon devotes 368 pages to butchering.

Here, then, is the key passage from Washington’s Farewell Address, in which our first (and — along with Lincoln and FDR, one of our three greatest) President actually had warned us against the neoconservative path, which our nation has been on ever since 24 February 1990 and the end of the USSR and its communism and its Warsaw Pact military alliance. That’s the path of wars (such as in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine) (which some wags call “perpetual war for perpetual peace”) to conquer, first, all of Russia’s allies, and then finally (once Russia is thus thoroughly isolated), to conquer Russia itself — in other words, George Washington, when retiring from public life, warned us against Mr. Avlon’s own neoconservative foreign-affairs obsession: eternal enmity against Russia (President Washington warned us, instead, to avoid eternal enmity against any nation, including Russia, as is indicated in this passage, which Avlon’s trashy book ignores): 

Nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils. Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Such “temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies” includes The Allies (England, Soviet Union and U.S.) during World War II, but certainly nothing after the Soviet Union and its communism and Warsaw Pact ended in 1991. The entire ‘Western Alliance’ — basically NATO plus Japan — is anti-American policies by the American aristocracy (controlling the U.S. Government) after 1991, and should therefore promptly terminate, and U.S. armed forces be withdrawn from all foreign countries, in accord with the will and intention of America’s democratic Founders including President Washington. Using the U.S. Defense Department, and the U.S. Treasury Department, as (which neoconservatives do) a vast welfare program for the super-wealthy owners of U.S. weapons-manufacturers and for U.S. and other mercenaries, is unauthorized by America’s Founders, and was explicitly condemned by George Washington.

If any U.S.-based international corporations need those foreign U.S. military bases, then they should pick up all of the government’s tab to pay for them, because that kind of ‘capitalism’ is mere imperialism, which is nothing that any of our Founding Fathers advocated — it’s un-American, in terms of the U.S. Constitution, and the men who wrote it.

AsAlexander Hamilton wrote on 9 January 1796, in defending the new Constitution, and especially its Treaty Clause: “I aver, that it was understood by all to be the intent of the provision [the Treaty Clause] to give to that power the most ample latitude to render it competent to all the stipulations, which the exigencies of National Affairs might require—competent to the making of Treaties of Alliance, Treaties of Commerce, Treaties of Peace and every other species of Convention usual among nations and competent in the course of its exercise to controul & bind the legislative power of Congress. And it was emphatically for this reason that it was so carefully guarded; the cooperation of two thirds of the Senate with the President being required to make a Treaty. I appeal for this with confidence.”

He went further: “It will not be disputed that the words ‘Treaties and alliances’ are of equivalent import and of no greater force than the single word Treaties. An alliance is only a species of Treaty, a particular of a general. And the power of ‘entering into Treaties,’ which terms confer the authority under which the former Government acted, will not be pretended to be stronger than the power ‘to make Treaties,’ which are the terms constituting the authority under which the present Government acts.” So: there can be no doubt that the term “treaty” refers to any and all types of international agreements. This was the Founders’ clear and unequivocal intent. No court under this Constitution possesses any power to change that, because they can’t change history.

Furthermore, the third President Thomas Jefferson said in his likewise-famous Inaugural Address, that there should be “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.” Jefferson’s comment there was also a succinct tip-of-the-hat to yet another major concern that the Founders had regarding treaties — that by discriminating in favor of the treaty-partners, they also discriminate against  non-partner nations, and so endanger “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations,” which was the Founders’ chief goal in their foreign policies. But, the Founders’ chief concern was the mere recognition that treaties tend to be far more “permanent” and “entangling” than any purely national laws. This was the main reason why treaties need to be made much more difficult to become laws, and so the two-thirds-of-Senate requirement for passing-into-law any treaty was instituted as the Treaty-Clause, Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2

Though this thinking — avoidance of favoritism in America’s foreign policies — was pervasive amongst the creators of America’s democracy (or people’s republic), America’s newly developed aristocracy subsequently in the 20th Century targeted elimination of the two-thirds-of-Senate requirement, because it’s an impediment toward their re-establishing the aristocracy that the American Revolution itself had overthrown and replaced by this people’s republic. And, the big chance for the aristocracy to restore its position via an imperial President, and so to extend their empire beyond our own shores, came almost two hundred years after America’s founding; it came in 1974, which was when a law finally became passed by Congress allowing some treaties to emerge as U.S. law with only the normal 50%+1 majority in the Senate (unConstitutional though that is). Without that Nixonian law, George Herbert Walker Bush’s NAFTA wouldn’t have been able to become law under Bill Clinton in 1993, and Barack Obama’s TPP with Asia and TTIP with Europe wouldn’t have stood even a chance of becoming law in 2016. Both of Obama’s proposed mega-treaties were designed to isolate and weaken both Russia and China in international trade, but all that Obama ended up with, before his leaving office, was economic sanctions against Russia for its having accepted the desire of the vast majority of Crimeans to rejoin with Russia after Obama’s Ukrainian coup overthrew the democratically elected President of next-door Ukraine, who had received 75% of the vote within Crimea.

Avlon’s website, as a mainstream neoconservative ‘news’ site, opposed Donald Trump as being insufficiently against Russia. They actually urged punishing Russia for Trump’s election! What would George Washington think about having a person (Avlon) so partisan against George Washington’s vision for our country as that, becoming the popular modern ‘interpreter’ of his famous Farewell Address? Would he like that? What would George Washington, and America’s other early Presidents, think of a country which advances such a person as that, to be a commentator and host at CNN, Editor-in-Chief at The Daily Beast, and a favorably received ‘historian’ of the United States? 

This is certainly not the nation that they founded. This ship — now become the wrecker of nations and aspiring global dictator — abandoned its home port in 1945, and hasn’t returned ever since.

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