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US Foreign Policy: Transactional or Value-Based

Luis Durani

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The 2016 elections presents a divergence in US foreign policy between the two major candidates. On one hand is the continuance of the status-quo by Hilary Clinton, who is pushing for a value-based foreign policy, as all presidents have done for decades while Donald Trump is looking for a shift in US foreign policy that hearkens backs to a time when the US was less interventionist and more explicit about its interests rather than claiming to cultivate democratic governments.

While many critics harangue Trump’s plans as isolationist and destructive, in reality, his policies appear to be more in line with realism or power-politics, where foreign engagements are intended to be more transactional and in favor of the nation’s interest.

Whether one argues one way or another for either philosophies, it can be contended that a value-based foreign policy would be prudent for any major power but especially for a superpower to set a global agenda as long as they acted in such a manner. The United States foreign policy is enunciated via the State Department’s mission statement:

“The Department’s mission is to shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.”

Echoed throughout the statement are the ideals of peace, stability, and a just world. This value-focused statement projects to the world what the US stands for and how its actions are contextualized on a global scale. Yet, this continuous claim by US officials on how the importance of a systematized foreign policy based on a set of beliefs is essential to world peace has yet to manifest itself in reality. This false belief propagated by many US politicians on the need for such a policy and abhorrence towards Trump’s approach is perhaps one answer to the continuously asked question, “Why do they hate us?”

Despite America’s help in the progression and development of global societies, US foreign policy, in particular, has been largely a false narrative painted by politicians to the American people. Instead, it might be prudent to have a more power-centric foreign policy as proclaimed by Donald Trump rather than a false goal propagated for the last few decades that has had anything but positive returns.

US Foreign Policy

While the State Department explicitly states a mission to sustain democracy, stability, and peace for everyone, the actions of the US abroad largely contradicts its mission. In this context, the world sees a double standard that sometimes Americans become largely blind to. While Americans believe the government is intervening in their interests and benevolence of other nations to further the cause of democracy and peace, in reality, the opposite is happening. Instead, if the US explicitly claims to be more transactional like China, there would perhaps be less resentment of US actions around the globe and fewer Americans asking, “Why do they hate us?”

Instead unbeknownst to most Americans unfortunately, politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, have dragged the US into useless wars at the cost of American treasure and more importantly, American blood. While these wars are perceived by the public, thanks to the mainstream media, as wars of necessary to ensure the continuity of American values and way of life, in reality, these wars have created more instability, precarious and less democratic regions.

While the protagonists will argue that the world will be amiss without American leadership, which is true to an extent, the continual proclamation that American leadership and actions exhibit the necessary values for peace is farthest from the truth. This gap between values and actions is what is typically not impressed upon the overwhelming majority of Americans due to the ineptness of mainstream media. As a result, Americans are bewildered and sometimes even angered, justifiably, by what they perceive as ungratefulness by foreign nations and people in their vitriol hate for the US, but what they do not see is that the actions of their government does not align with the words necessarily.

A brief review of America’s action in recent decades will all but demonstrate that American intervention has been an impediment to peace and contradicts many of America’s values and moral standards. These wars have resulted in nothing but death, destruction, instability, and a great waste of money:

Restoration of the Shah in Iran – The US-led overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran was a direct contradiction of the State Department supposed policy goals. While the CIA led the overthrow, the State Department was not blind to what was going on. The US instigated an uprising that led to the downfall of a populist leader and ushered a dictatorial king back into power, which eventually led the way for Khomeini and his group of religious fanatics to take over. This led to the transformation of the US’s greatest ally in the Middle East after World War II to one of its most contentious enemies.

Vietnam – One of the most infamous wars the US has fought was purely based on a false premise, the North Vietnamese attack on US military ships or Gulf of Tonkin incident never took place. Yet under the guise of a false attack, almost 60,000 Americans died in a war that ended in defeat for the US and a loss of credibility amongst its allies and enemies. The war was supposedly fought in the name of safeguarding freedom and democracy instead more than 2 million Vietnamese died and Communism was further emboldened after the war. The war was concocted to be a necessary battle to stop the onslaught of Communism. A fear of sorts was fabricated that helped make everyone become sympathetic to the war initially only later when more information came out did the public rail against it.

Somali War – Under the auspices of President Clinton, the US engaged in a short-lived war with a faction of Somali forces in their internal conflict that ended badly. While Somalia still remains a failed state decades after that intervention, the root of the problem lies in the fact that different regional and global powers pawned different factions against each other instead of forcing them to a peace table.

Rwanda and Bosnia – While the intervention of the US in the Bosnia genocide cannot be denigrated and more so applaud, the US was not solely being a gracious power, it had to do with regional geopolitics in the Balkans as well as a balance of power issue between Russia and Europe. While there was a massacre in Southeast Europe, a larger genocide was taking place in central Africa but was neglected because it did not matter. Such a large negligence on the part of a nation self-appointing itself as the guarantor of global security and democracy has left many to beg the question, what happened there?

Afghanistan – While the war in Afghanistan was perhaps the only war in the post-World War era that was justified in terms of national defense, it has evolved into a dismal failure based on how the US conducted the entire situation. Promising to rebuild the war-torn nation and helping create democratic institutions, the US turned a blind eye and allowed corrupt warlords to run the country with a blank check from the American taxpayers to fund their lavish and decadent lifestyle. As a result, many Afghans that use to abhor the Taliban now see them as the lesser of two evils.

Iraq – Arguably the biggest blunder in US history, Iraq epitomizes the failed US foreign policy narrative of being value-focused. The nation was to be a bastion of democracy in a corrupt region of the world. Instead, it went from being a stable poor country ruled by an impotent dictator, who wielded no power after his decimation in the first Gulf War, to a region that churns out fanatics and terrorists by the day. As a result of the false narrative that ushered America into war, the region has spiraled into chaos, masses of immigrants have flooded Europe from the afflicted nations, terrorists are emboldened, and the US’s regional enemy, Iran, is greatly empowered. No conflict can attest more to the failed value-centric goals of the State Department than the war in Iraq. It is this failure that Secretary Clinton thinks was a necessary war and potentially can get the US embroiled in more similar situations in the name of democracy and nation building.

Egypt – As the Arab spring swept the region, no nation was greatly affected by the events than Egypt. After decades of dictatorial rule by the Mubarak dynasty, Egypt finally had democracy. For whatever reason, the democratic rule led to the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was shortly deposed by General Sissi and his military junta. Instead of the US condemning the overthrow of a democratically-elected government, it remained largely quiet. Despite contravening US laws of not providing financial aid to a coup sponsored government, the US continues to work with Sissi to this day. Once again, the Obama Administration claiming to be more value-focused contradicted what they claim to adhere to.

Syria and Libya – Two other nations, Libya and Syria, came out worse after the US intervention in their nations. Despite being promised liberation from tyranny, the nations are both now worse off than prior to the US intervention and totally decimated. Europe and the US failed to learn from the Iraq war. Instead, they repeated the mistakes of President Bush, which both President Obama and European leaders largely condemned. Today the immigrant afflictions that are endured mainly by Europe are largely a result of Europe and the Obama administration’s unnecessary actions in these nations. These events were largely led by then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

Ukraine – A democratically elected government was overthrown by a portion of the country who disagreed with certain actions of the government. But that is democracy, if you disagree with your government; you take to the ballot box to voice your grievance not initiate a civil war and kill people. Here was a situation the US could display its commitment to its stated values by supporting the existing democratic government but instead it supported the insurrection since it was more pro-West than the government at that time. Today, Ukraine is still mired in a civil war and much worse off than prior to its conflict, this is due to power politics between Russia and the US.

While the premise of world peace and stability are great notions, the reality of the world and human nature has demonstrated time over that perpetual peace can never be achieved. Instead, the world operates under a zero-sum game in which if you are not advancing your nation’s interest then you are losing out. Operating under such a notion, a nation can ensure their interests are not only safeguarded rightly so but advanced when needed. Despite what people think of Trump, his foreign policy approach of letting the world know that he is more focused on America’s interest rather than other nations is a better approach than doing the same thing but cloaked under a veil of values. Being focused on power politics and stating explicitly so would be more prudent for the US since the world and American public would know how each action pertains to its interests. Rather the US creates a false illusion of a value imperative integrated with its actions but in reality, almost all of America’s actions in the foreign policy realm have acted in the opposite manner.

Whether a Trump presidency is something to fear is another argument, but a shift in foreign policy towards a more explicitly stated realist-based approach to the international arena would help create a less unstable world as well as a government that is more transparent and accountable to the American people. The world would then understand the US’s intention in interventions rather the belief it is there for democracy and nation building, which has been anything but great. Perhaps then people would know the answer to the long asked question, “why do they hate us?”

Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani

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Americas

U.S. Elections: Trump’s Strategy of “Peace” might help

Sojla Sahar

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Presidential elections in the United States are around the corner and campaigns by the presidential candidates are in full swing in whole of the United States. The Republicans have nominated Donald Trump as their presidential candidate whereas the Democrats have chosen the seasoned politician Joe Biden who has also served as the vice president under the Obama administrations. Over here, a fact shouldn’t be forgotten that the so-called Democrats have also imposed an unnecessary war and burden of foreign intervention on the people of America. Let it US intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria this has imposed huge financial burden on the American people that is being pay by their taxes. United States has around 200,000 troops scattered in the world. There are around 38,000 in Japan, 34,000 in Germany, 24,000 in Korea, 5,000 Bahrain, 5,000 in Iraq, 3,000 in Spain and 12,000 in Afghanistan. Under the Trump administration, much needed decision was taken by the administration for pulling out of troops from all the unwanted and unwelcomed foreign interventions. This has cost huge monetary burden and heavy taxes on the people of US. These interventions were a gift by Democrats to its people that led American to nothing.

Under Trump administration, US decided to withdrawal its troops from Northern Syria. US have around 1,000 troops positioned in the Northern Syria for deterring Iranian influence and countering ISIS expansion in the country. They have decided only to leave special operations force in Syria and will pull out the rest from the conflict zone. It is not the task that will come to an end in days it will take years and huge budget to relocate the troops. This decision might be a breath of fresh air for the Americans but it might weaken the US military positions in front of the Russian military on the globe. United States also has American military troop’s presence in Germany as well. Trump administration is willing to reduce the troops in Germany by around 25%. There is around 11,900 troop’s present in Germany for securing Europe’s security. The Trump administration is focused on relocation and strategic repositioning of the US troops in the world. For this, the Trump administration has decided to pull out its 6,400 troops from Germany as they whole burden is on the US shoulders for costs maintaining alliance and Germany is not paying its share in the defense budget of NATO putting all the burden on the US citizens. Trump administration also slammed the European countries of not paying their due share in NATO defense budget. Italy spends about 1.22% from its budget and Belgium spends around 0.93% from its GDP on the NATO defense budget.

In addition, the Trump administration has shown that they do not want war and conflict. They have also retreated themselves from the foreign intervention drama that has led to damage to the peace of the world. Trump has given an impression that he aims to bring peace in the world not by arms but through negotiations with the conflict actors. Its example is US negotiations with Taliban’s for ending the endless war fruitless war that brought destruction for Afghanistan and brutally damaged the standing of US in the world.

There are around 12,000 American troops in Afghanistan that are now reduced to 8,600 troops. The rest are sent home and some are being settled in Italy and Belgium. The Trump administration has declared to reduce the number of troop in Afghanistan by 5,000 by November and will reach 4,000 by June 2021. They are aiming to completely withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months if a concrete peace deal is signed between Taliban’s and United States.

There were more than 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan that went there to fight war on terror but are coming back empty handed. But still in even in these circumstances it will benefit the American people and their issues will be addressed in a better way. Not just this, Trump administration has also decided to withdraw its troops from Iraq that has been there for more than 19 years now putting a burden on American shoulders.

 All of this decision by the Trump administration shows that under Trump USA will go for the isolationist impulses that will help them to rebuild domestically and resolve the problem of its people who are indulged in unemployment, poverty, crumbling health system particularly after the outbreak of COVID-19. The health system of United States has proven to be fragile. Despite of being the wealthiest country, its health system crumbled within days leaving thousands of people to die in waiting for their appointment. Many of the people had severe financial crisis that refrained them to go to the hospital and get them treated.

According to some sources many hospitals in New York were running out of financial and had to send people on leave because they were unable to pay them. This led to massive unemployment during such desperate times of the year. Developing countries like Pakistan coped with the virus in a better way despite of having poor health facilities.

Under Trump, USA is moving towards “American First” strategy that will lead towards massive shrinkage in the defense budget of US military. The strategy of retrenchment and aversion of foreign intervention might help Trump in winning the next elections because right now United States has more domestic issues than international problems. The flag of truce in the hand of Trump and aim of brining peace in the world might bring him back in the oval office. It seems like Trump will make USA resign from its self-proclaimed post of “world policemen” that will benefit the world and the people of USA.

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Mistrust between Russia and the United States Has Reached an All-Time High

Igor Ivanov

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In August 2020, Politico magazine published three letters outlining their authors’ views of the ways the United States, and the West in general, should build relations with Russia. The first, published on August 5 and signed by over 100 prominent American politicians, diplomats and military leaders, states that Washington’s present policy towards Moscow “isn’t working” and that it is time that the United States “rethink” it. The gist of the proposals is that the United States “must deal with Russia as it is, not as we wish it to be, fully utilizing our strengths but open to diplomacy.”

This letter prompted a response, first from another group of former American ambassadors and political scientists (Politico, August 11) and then from several eminent politicians from Poland, the Baltic states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (August 13). Both groups agree that now is not the time to reconsider policies toward Russia.

I am well acquainted with many of the signatories to these three statements. I worked closely with some of them during my tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and met some of them during negotiations. I still keep in touch with several of them, as we participate in various informal international projects. Since most parties to the emerging discussion are both highly experienced professionals and public figures, their stances on Russia are well known. The list of signatories under each statement hardly came as a surprise to anyone.

I do not think it makes sense to dwell in too much detail on the arguments presented by the parties. At the same time, proceeding from my own experience of U.S.–Russia relations, I would think that I have the right to put forward some considerations of my own.

First of all, on whether a “new reset” in relations between Washington and Moscow is either possible or desirable. One gets the impression that the authors of the letters see the “old reset” spearheaded by the Obama administration as a kind of bonus or advance offered by the United States to Russia in the hope that the latter would “behave” properly. The debate focuses on whether or not Russia has justified this “advance,” and whether or not it deserves a new bonus. Personally, I cannot recall a single instance where the United States (during Barack Obama’s presidency or under any other administration) gave Russia a “bonus” or “advance” of any kind, made a unilateral concession or indeed did anything that was not in the interests of the United States.

As I see it, the “reset” fully met the long-term interests of both states, particularly in security. Only a very biased observer would claim that the New START Treaty constituted a unilateral concession to Moscow on the part of Washington. Similarly, NATO’s call at the 2010 Lisbon Summit for a true strategic partnership with Russia can hardly be viewed as a unilateral concession. In both instances, the interests of both parties were taken into account, as were the interests of international security in general.

Russia and the United States remain the world’s leading nuclear powers, boasting the largest strategic weapons capabilities. Moscow and Washington have been engaged in mutual deterrence for decades now. However, an objective analysis of the challenges and threats to Russian and U.S. security shows that the very real dangers that do exist emanate not from the two countries themselves, but rather from processes and trends that lie outside the bilateral relations. Accordingly, any predictions about the possible and desirable prospects for interaction between the two states will be incomplete at the very least if they are taken out of the overall context of the development of the international system.

We have to admit that mistrust between Russia and the United States has reached an all-time high. It will take years, maybe even decades, to rectify this situation. However, I am confident that, sooner or later, we will have to start moving in that direction, not because one party will “wear” the other down, forcing it to make unilateral concessions or even throw itself at the mercy of the winner. First, each side has a large safety margin and is willing to continue the confrontation for many years to come. Second, history shows us that peace achieved through unilateral concession rarely lasts.

Life itself, by which I mean each side understanding the long-term need of its own security, will force the United States and Russia to resume progress towards cooperation. Such an understanding, in my opinion, has nothing to do with the elections in the two countries, or with the opportunistic calculations of individual political forces. Regardless of these calculations, the world is rapidly moving towards the line beyond which a global disaster looms with increasing clarity. Once we take a peek beyond this line, the entire world, primarily its leading states, which bear special responsibility for the fate of the world, will have to make decisions that go beyond their own immediate interests.

As for the debates on when and with whom the United States should enter into a dialogue with Russia, I believe such discussions have zero practical value. It would be extremely unreasonable and even irresponsible to defer talks in the hope that more convenient or more accommodating interlocutors will appear in the partner country or, alternatively, that a more favourable general political situation for negotiations will appear.

I would like to refer to my own experience. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I constantly kept in touch with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and then with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. That was in the late 1990s–early 2000s. The bombings of Yugoslavia, the war in Iraq, the Middle Eastern crisis, the expansion of NATO and many, many other events objectively made the U.S.–Russia dialogue more difficult. Obviously, our views on many issues differed greatly. But we never broke off our dialogue, not for a day, no matter how difficult it was. Strictly speaking, this is the art of diplomacy: conducting a dialogue with a difficult partner, achieving agreements where the stances of the parties veer widely and the chances of reaching a comprise appear minimal.

Critics will hasten to say that the U.S.–Russia dialogue in the early 21st century failed to prevent many conflicts and wars, and that is true. But it also helped prevent far graver consequences and, where possible, even led to the signing of important mutually acceptable agreements (New START, etc.). The experience of global diplomacy tells us that the only way to find solutions is through dialogue. The sooner our leading politicians realize it, the faster we will step away from mutual public accusations and destructive information wars waged with cutting-edge technologies and move towards earnest talks on the crucial issues of the 21st-century agenda.

Giving general advice is easy. It is even easier to take the high horse, insisting on staying faithful to one’s values and principles. It is much more difficult for those who have been accorded the requisite powers to make specific decisions. As the great American economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said, “Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” All we can do is hope that politicians in Russia and the United States will prefer the unpalatable to the disastrous.

From our partner RIAC

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The Farce of Post 9/11 U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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This week refugee camps in Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos were set ablaze rendering over 20,000 refugees homeless.  Apparently the fires were started by the refugees themselves who are sick of lives in limbo on the EU periphery.  They want to reach the heartland, get jobs, build lives for themselves.

An inevitable consequence of our modern wars, refugees have become an emblem.  Old newsreels show us their lined, worried faces in the Second World War and TV has them live from Yugosloavia, a country disappeared and reemerged as several ethnic  parts, while numerous principal actors of the time faced judges in the international courts.

Then there is 9/11 in the US — a term meaning September 11 as in the US, unlike Europe and many parts of the world, the month is written first followed by the day and year.  Patriot Day, as it has been labeled, September 11 marks the day when commercial airliners were used as weapons to destroy the World Trade Center, a skyscraper in New York City, and attack the Pentagon, the military’s headquarters in Washington, DC.

If the mastermind of the attack was a turned, non-Afghan, Mujahedin commander camped out in Afghanistan, who following Soviet withdrawal turned his attention to the other major power … committing, in his mind, the unpardonable sin of parking troops on his native soil of Saudi Arabia — no matter, they were there for protective purposes from an increasingly belligerent Saddam Hussein.

The results we know.  A naive George Bush and a populace thirsting for revenge attacked Afghanistan leading to the longest war in American history.  Many presidents later, Donald Trump too is trying to negotiate a pull-out of US troops with the Taliban.  Yes, Afghanistan holds elections and has a president, even a military, but guess what will happen if US troops leave without any resolution with the Taliban.

George Bush’s rival for governor in Texas had a great line.  ‘Poor George,’ she would say, ‘he can’t help it, he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.’  So George went after Iraq and lacking his father’s good sense (who after liberating Kuwait withdrew) he stayed to democratize Iraq without examining the country’s demographics.  Majority Shia, it has a democratic leadership now that is Shia and closely allied with Shia Iran.  Fast forward to the present and the current president, Donald Trump, is withdrawing troops from Iraq and is in a stand-off with Iran. 

Anyone would be forgiven for thinking American foreign policy in the Middle East is a plot from a Gilbert and Sullivan farce.  Except for a sad and sobering fact.  More than a million lives lost, refugees still streaming out and many, many millions of lives displaced … including a Christian Iraqi from Baghdad who runs a 24-hour convenience store a couple of miles from my house.

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