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Vienna and Munich Agreements: Does History Repeat Itself?

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Robert A. Heinlein’s assertion “A generation which ignores history has no past; and no future,” is a good starter to understand the issue of the Vienna Agreement. After the Munich Agreement was signed, in September 1938, Britain and France deliberately abandoned Czechoslovakia to Hitler, believing this was the only way to save the world from another war. However, Winston Churchill: ““You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war. ”Exactly as in 1938, Obama had to choose between dishonor and war, and he chose dishonor. Now we all will have both the dishonor and the war.

One of the great wonders is how people translate information into knowledge. In fact, history proves that lack of knowledge stems from mental blindness, ignorance, selective hearing and information. We recycle and circulate information we hear and read without any inquiry and criticism, and believe this is the truth and the whole truth. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson declared, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Wolfgang von Goethe reiterated this, “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”

All that Obama wished was to establish a legacy for his foreign policy, but he got the opposite, and we will get the disaster. This is a colossal failure. Not only has he betrayed U.S. allies in the Middle East, mainly Israel, Saudi-Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Persian Gulf states; not only has he deliberately strengthen Iran’s power to become a regional hegemon at the expense of these states; not only he has created a huge vacuum and brought the failed states of Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria; not only to the vacuum created entered all the Jihadi Islamic fanatic groups – Obama actually has also accelerated the nuclear race in the Middle East, and inevitably the outbreak of regional war in the future. This is only in the Middle East, but the decisive failure is domestic, in the American society and economy.  

What happened in the late 1930s? The shameful Allied refusal to confront Nazi aggression bestowed Hitler what he wanted time and again in exchange for his eternal promise of “peace in our time.” The shameful appeasement resulted in the outbreak of the Second World War. Most important to note: nevertheless the appeasement and the capitulation, still the aggressor, Germany, initiated the war. This is the lesson to deeply learn and adopt: appeasement never works. Appeasement comes out of defeatism and it also breeds defeat and colossal failure. Appeasement, said Winston Churchill, is feeding the dragon hoping it will devour you last. However, even being the last, the dragon will eat you, because he is dragon, and he is hungry.

If we take Winston Churchill’s saying: “In war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity;” it seems that Obama operates just the opposite: in war – magnanimity; in defeat – resolution; in victory – defiance. This is exactly what happens today. By deliberately abandoning Israel, Saudi-Arabia and Egypt’s security concerns, Obama has paved the way for Iran not only to develop a nuclear weapon, but worse than that, he encouraged Iran’s desires to become a political and military hegemon in the Middle East. As in WWII, war will breakout in the Middle East, and the initiator will be the aggressor, Iran. That is exactly because you can never change the dragon’s character, and because appeasement means horror and it yields catastrophes.

One needs only to look now at Iran’s ideology (as no one looked at Germany’s under the Nazis): Iran is mandated by Islam to conquer the world; to make all men convert, submit or die. Ayn Rand was correct by declaring: “The spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. Whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise with evil on basic principles.”

The Munich agreement was called by Churchill a “total and unmitigated defeat.” This is exactly the case of the Vienna Agreement of July 14, 2015, with Iran. In the 1930s Britain and France had sought every possible way to evade confronting Germany, by giving up and giving in and capitulating to Nazi Germany. Today the Obama Administration has been following the same track with the same results: it evolved from the assertion that “no deal is better than a bad deal” to the policy of any deal, even a bad one that can be reached, is better than having no deal at all.

During this period of time the US has proven that it is much more eager to reach an agreement with Iran than the Iranians. This is amazing because the Iranians were under the pressure of economic collapse and the depression of diplomatic isolation. Indeed, history repeats itself, as Europe before the Second World War, the US has been willing to compromise on all of its own principles, while the Iranians compromised on none. Iranian negotiators understood this bizarre situation and extorted more and more concessions. This is proof of Aldous Huxley’s assertion, “Facts do not cease to exist simply because they are ignored;” and the resulting ware will prove Ayn Rand’s, “You can ignore reality; but you cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.” Perhaps this situation belongs to George Orwell’s declaration, “There are notions that are so foolish that only an intellectual will believe in them.”

Like the Munich Agreement that culminated in the victory of the aggressor at the expense of the appeaser, the Vienna Agreement is a total defeat of the US and a great victory of Iran. Now a nuclear arms race has begun. Saudi Arabia will have a nuclear weapon from Pakistan. Egypt and Turkey will perhaps turn to Russia and China for nuclear bomb or purchasing its devices. Russia and China have both proven eager to play the double game: trading with Iran and supplying nuclear reactors to anyone who seek for it, in due prices. Another actor is North Korea, as demonstrated by Iran, is willing to engage in nuclear proliferation.

There are two kinds of Iran: nuclear Iran and conventional war-mongering aggressive Iran. Nuclear Iran is built as a strong-threatening support to war-mongering aggressive Iran. Despite the miserable propaganda message delivered by the US, the reality is that it has exacerbated the regional and the international situation. Not only it has paved the way for Iran to continue its nuclear weapon program, but it also helped Iran to strengthen its strategy of the two-track axes fronts: the “Levant Axis,” the northern one, by controlling Iraq, Syria and Lebanon; and the “Maritime Axis,” the southern one, by controlling the Hormuz and Bab al-Mandeb straits.

Both are aimed at directly threatening militarily Saudi-Arabia, Egypt and Israel, and even strangling them militarily and economically. These states know exactly the dangerous situation, however, the US has become blind and deaf, as its eyes are widely shut on Islamic Jihadi terrorism and Islamic millennialism. Moreover, the northern Axis Iran is building is also meant to constrain and contain Turkey, while the southern Axis is a direct way to influence and control the strategic area leading to Africa.

Iranian influence and stature will grow and flourish thanks to the lifting of sanctions and the resulting hundreds of billions of dollars of economic investments in Iran which will finance their terrorist activities and allies, and sustain their tyrannical regime. There is nothing in the agreement that addresses Iran’s continual violation of basic human rights. We must always recall Karl Popper’s eloquence: “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them… We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”

It must be recalled: the Vienna Agreement was between the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia on the one side, and Iran, on the other. Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Persian Gulf States are not signed partners to the agreement as if it does not bind them. Now they are free to defend themselves. Though deliberately abandoned by its only ally, Israel is no Czechoslovakia. It has the power and the ability to defend itself, to deter and to retaliate against Iran. It is worth quoting Winston Churchill’s, “If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.”

We must cry out loud and clear: ‘Never again.’ It must also be recalled that in the Middle East Western-Oriented rationalism is not common, and there are not only suicidal Shi’ites and Sunnis, but wars also start unintentionally or from miscalculation. Add to this grave situation the emergence of the Islamic Caliphate State (ICS. There is no longer DAESH, ISIS, ISIL), which threatens the existence of the Middle Eastern nation-states, and the possibility that al-Qaeda will seek to regain its power and prestige among the Muslim Salafi-Jihadi groups by performing a “super-blast.”

Hear is exactly the formula to world disaster. The Vienna Agreement, like the Munich Agreement in the 1930s, and the North-Korean agreement on October 21, 1994, has a tremendous impetus to bring these horrors into reality. The Middle East is not susceptible to the discipline of mutual deterrence let alone to abiding by written agreements.

Many will say, the Iran deal is really a high-stakes, a strategic bet. This is not the situation. The Vienna Agreement is worse than that. Not only does it give Iran free license to have nuclear weapons, it also allows it to become the regional hegemonic power. Senator Lindsey Graham describes Obama’s approach to Iran as “dangerously naïve… I think he is misjudging what the Iranians want… and the best evidence of what they want is what they’re doing right now to destabilize the region without nuclear weapons.”

However, Senator Graham is mistaken. Obama does this deliberately. It seems he believes that powerful Iran as a regional hegemon will bring stability to the Middle East. Totally, the other side happens. What drives Iran the most is the need for the religious victory of the Shi’ite version of Islam against the Sunnah. Iran’s top enemy is Saudi-Arabia and the Iranian target is controlling Mecca and Medina religiously. That is, if are we honest enough to admit, Saudi-Arabia and not Israel is the primary target of Iran’s nuclear capability. That does not mean that Israel can relax. On the contrary Israel’s very existence is at stake, however Saudi-Arabia should be much more concerned as it is a greater prize for Iran.

Unfortunately the agreement makes the war in the Middle East more probable. Iran’s successes will encourage the leaders of the regime to be more confident in their strategy and that they are on the track of fulfilling their mission. The Western world is nearly irrelevant, as the US is weak and Obama acts to destroy its presence as a world power. Europe suffers even more a lack of leadership, and continues its policy of appeasement and defeatism; Russia under Putin wishes to be back a world power, and it automatically confronts America on every issue. China grows more aggressive and assertive in the face of American weakness.

Moreover, the Middle East is in anarchy and chaos, with many failed states, like Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria; while Egypt and Saudi-Arabia are under direct threat: sub-conventional (by Salafi-Jihadi and Salafi-Takfiri Islamic groups); conventional (the consequences of the Islamic Anarchic Tribal Winter, mistakenly referred to as “Arab Spring”); and unconventional (Iran’s nuclear capability, and the following nuclear arms race). The Middle East has lost the most from Obama Administration’s faults.

This situation was clearly reflected in the negotiations. Obama offered almost unlimited concessions while ignoring all its own red lines. This was exactly the situation between Britain and France on the one hand and Germany on the other, in the late 1930s. The current colossal capitulation of the US to Iran is also marked by the fact that Russia, the EU and China will highly benefit from the deal economically. This is the only reason why they go together. The words of Douglas MacArthur fit this situation: “I am concerned for the security of our great Nation. Not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within.”

Vienna repeats the shameful October 1994 agreement of President Clinton with North Korea. The same syndrome; the same results; and still the same unlearned lessons by the political system as much as by academic “experts”, who endorsed the agreement with North Korea as successful and prolific. Unfortunately, this syndrome is worse, as in the 1930s’ issue of what to do with Nazi Germany aggression; and as in the 1990s’ issue of what to do with the North-Korean aggression; and like today’s issue of what to do with Iran’s aggression — the media and the academia have betrayed their role and took one-sided policy, that of supporting the appeasers and ignoring the aggressors threats.

These two important players have bestowed the political systems the impetus and rationalized their policies to continue their failed policies. This reality has become a syndrome. The academia-media have been betraying their balancing role of giving sense to the functioning political system. They have become, as Norman Dixon indicates in his book, Our Own Best Enemy, by denying the severe hazards coming from the aggressive states, and by rationalizing the failed policies adopted. It is the right place here to quote Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The agreement signed on Tuesday, July 14, 2015, known as “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA), is weak and dangerous; it undermines American national security and discredits the US foreign policy among its allies; it poses grave threats to Israel, Saudi-Arabia and Egypt, and it promotes all-out war, perhaps nuclear, in the Middle East. From its beginning Iran’s nuclear program was acquired by deception, evasion and concealment. Iran continues this pattern today, and now it has an international legitimacy to successfully fulfill its strategy.

The only barrier left to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state is the new elected President in the US and the Congress act together to prevent this agreement from moving forward. The US Congress must invalidate this agreement. It has to learn the consequences of the agreement with North Korea and never to betray its balancing role in the American web of government.

Albert Einstein’s assertion is correct: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” After the Nazi invasion to Poland in September 1, 1939, the British Parliament understood the huge disastrous failure of Chamberlain, and replaced him with Churchill, in May 1940. His speech at the Parliament was of historic importance. “All I can promise you is blood, sweat, and tears… We shall outlive the menace of tyranny; we shall not flag or fail; we shall never surrender… You ask: what is our aim? I can answer only in one word. It is victory; victory at all costs; victory in spite of all terror, however long or hard the road may be. For without victory there is no survival.”

The US Congress has to recall that Noah built the Ark before the Deluge. This is of utmost importance: before the Deluge, and not after it. The Free World desperately needs leaders like Winston Churchill; courageous and realist leaders to save us out of this madness. The Congress should tell President Obama loud and clear: with this signed agreement, you have become like Neville Chamberlain instead of being Winston Churchill. You lead the US and the Free World to a huge disaster.

However, the problem is more aggravated, as Chamberlain stepped down from office quietly even willingly, as he understood his failure. Obama continues to believe arrogantly that he is not mistaken, that his policy is righteous. Like President Carter, He deludes himself that he is carrying out a divine mandate. But whose? And to whom? Obama proves Barbara Tuchman’s assertion in her March of Folly, of leaders who bring disasters on their own peoples out of stupidity, blind stubbornness, and permeability of mind.

July 14, 2016 was the one-year anniversary of the nuclear agreement with Iran. In his new book, Obamabomb: A Dangerous and Growing National Security Threat, Fred Fleitz, of the Center for Security Policy detailed analysis of the dangers this agreement continues to pose to U.S. and international security, including: why the threat from Iran’s nuclear weapons program is growing despite the JCPOA; how the nuclear agreement gave Iran a pass on its nuclear weapons work and led the IAEA to dumb down its reports on the Iranian nuclear program; how the agreement has made Iran a greater regional and international threat; and how the Obama administration is trying to grant further concessions to Iran.

Fleitz’s detailed analysis of this agreement not only proves the growing danger that the agreement poses to U.S. national security. For Fleitz it is clear: the nuclear deal is so dangerous that the next president should tear it and re-negotiate another nuclear pact: Iran must cease all uranium enrichment and its research. Iran must not have a heavy-water reactor or a plant to produce heavy-water. Iran must robust real and effective verification and inspections; Iran must curtail and agree to limitations on its ballistic missile program. Iran must agree to end its meddling in regional conflicts and sponsorship of international terror.

Now we hear of the cash payment of $400 million to Iran. Obama, Kerry, and others in the administration, claim it was not ransom money and had nothing to do with the release of hostages. The decision to unfreeze the money in cash was made because “the nuclear deal [was] done” and the prisoners were released. Contrary to many others, I believe in what they say. The reason is Obama’s ideological and strategic policy of bringing Iran to a regional hegemony. He has never abandoned this target. In his naïve deep misunderstanding of the situation, he still believes that Iran and Saudi-Arabia can walk together in leading the Middle East, with the US is the force “behind.”

The US continues to support the forces of evil in the Middle East, like Iran; the Jihadi groups in Syria that oppose Bashshar al-Asad but identified with al-Qaeda; and Turkey under the Erdogan dictatorship caliphate. At the same time the US continues its policy of suppressing Egypt’s al-Sisi; embarrassing Saudi Arabia; and coercing Israel to adopt policies that compromise its security.

On July 8, 2016, a Washington Post columnist wrote, “The reality that many Republicans have still not come to terms with is this: that Barack Obama was elected and reelected, fair and square, and that the American public knew what it was doing.” He is absolutely right. And that is exactly the reason the US has so deeply deteriorated in all webs of American life. To make it short: domestically, there is misery and wretchedness among the society, being on the verge of internal racial war. In foreign policy, the US has become weak and unimportant in international relations, while it has ruined the Middle East. World balance of power has vanished. The balancer of the balance of power, according to Hans Morgenthau, has ceased to exist, and the international relation is in a state of chaos.

The records of history will show that Obama has been perhaps one of the greatest failed President in the history of the US. He has changed America – for the very bad. He has stolen America from its citizens, and abandoned their cherished values: the family (“the American way of life”); the military (patriotism and believing in the greatness of America); and the country (“God Bless America”). Obama has transformed every aspect of American values to the bad.

This is not the American dream or the American spirit. According to Philip Haney, Obama is an anti-civilizational agitator whose primary goal is to create destruction and tyranny. Obama ‘dismantles’ America’s defenses. Now the big question is how America fell out in love with him from the beginning? The answer seems paradoxically simple. The majority of people is gullible, brainwashed by the Big-Left-Media, uninformed, historically illiterate, uncurious, incompetent to do background research, and possessed of an extremely slow learning curve.

Obama’s policy of coercing and forcefully imposing his Muslim believers on America is painful, awful and tragic. Muslims don’t want to assimilate or to adapt themselves to American (or any Western) principles and values, they want the US (and Europe) to adapt itself to Islam and adopt their 7th century desert values.

James A. Lyons, retired Admiral, put it on May 9, 2016: How Obama transformed the military. There is no question that America’s worldwide leadership, power and influence have been significantly degraded over the last seven and a half years. The basic reason is that Obama has been very successful in the implementation of his goal to fundamentally transform America. In so doing, he has undercut the Judeo-Christian foundation of this great country while at the same time promoting the advancement of Islam throughout our society — including the U.S. military. This transformation, at its core, is anti-American and anti-Western. Yet it is also pro-Islam, pro-Iranian and pro-Muslim Brotherhood. Compounding this travesty is Mr. Obama’s decision to embrace our sworn enemies. Unbelievable.

The ‘multicultural’ makeover of our military threatens to undermine the very fabric of our military forces, and is being accelerated with no apparent opposition from military or congressional leaders. Mr. Obama has used the military’s founding principle of civilian control to impose his debilitating directives which are destroying the military’s warrior mentality and the ‘will to win.’”

Maureen Scott has called Obama “the Architect of Destruction.” Obama appears to be a tormented man who is filled with resentment, anger, and disdain for anyone of an opinion or view other than his. He acts in the most hateful, spiteful, malevolent, vindictive ways in order to manipulate and maintain power and control over others. Have we ever heard Obama speak lovingly of the U.S. or its people, with deep appreciation and genuine respect for our history, our customs, our sufferings and our blessings? Obama is void of the basic emotions that most feel regarding this country and is insensitive to the pride we have in our national heritage. Not a day goes by that he is not attempting to defy our laws, remove our rights, over-ride established procedures, install controversial appointees, enact divisive mandates, and assert a dictatorial form of power. Obama thrives on tearing us down, rather than building us up. He is the Architect of the decline of America, and the epitome of a demagogue.

This paper has only one aim: to introduce the similarities between leaders in the process of creating a political vacuum that enables the onslaught and encroachment of evil forces to ruin the existing world order and balance of power.

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Indictment of Trump associate threatens UAE lobbying success

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This month’s indictment of a billionaire, one-time advisor and close associate of former US President Donald J. Trump, on charges of operating as an unregistered foreign agent in the United States for the United Arab Emirates highlights the successes and pitfalls of a high-stakes Emirati effort to influence US policy.

The indictment of businessman Thomas  J. Barrack, who maintained close ties to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed while serving as an influential advisor in 2016 to then-presidential candidate Trump and chair of Mr. Trump’s inauguration committee once he won the 2016 election, puts at risk the UAE’s relationship with the Biden administration.

It also threatens to reduce the UAE’s return on a massive investment in lobbying and public relations that made it a darling in Washington during the last four years.

A 2019 study concluded that Emirati clients hired 20 US lobbying firms to do their bidding at a cost of US$20 million, including US$600,000 in election campaign contributions — one of the largest, if not the largest expenditure by a single state on Washington lobbying and influence peddling.

The indictment further raises the question of why the Biden administration was willing to allow legal proceedings to put at risk its relationship with one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East, one that last year opened the door to recognition of Israel by Arab and Muslim-majority states.

The UAE lobbying effort sought to position the Emirates, and at its behest, Saudi Arabia under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed’s counterpart, Mohammed bin Salman, at the heart of US policy, ensure that Emirati and Saudi interests were protected, and shield the two autocrats from criticism of various of their policies and abuse of human rights.

Interestingly, UAE lobbying in the United States, in contrast to France and Austria, failed to persuade the Trump administration to embrace one of the Emirates’ core policy objectives: a US crackdown on political Islam with a focus on the Muslim Brotherhood. UAE Crown Prince Mohammed views political Islam and the Brotherhood that embraces the principle of elections as an existential threat to the survival of his regime.

In one instance cited in the indictment, Mr. Barrack’s two co-defendants, a UAE national resident in the United States, Rashid Al-Malik, and Matthew Grimes, a Barrack employee, discussed days after Mr. Trump’s inauguration the possibility of persuading the new administration to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a designated foreign terrorist organization. “This will be a huge win. If we can list them. And they deserved to be,” Mr. Al-Malik texted Mr. Grimes on 23 January 2017.

The unsuccessful push for designating the Brotherhood came three months after Mr. Barrack identified the two Prince Mohammeds in an op-ed in Fortune magazine as members of a new generation of “brilliant young leaders.” The billionaire argued that “American foreign policy must persuade these bold visionaries to lean West rather than East… By supporting their anti-terrorism platforms abroad, America enhances its anti-terrorism policies at home.”

Mr. Barrack further sought to persuade America’s new policymakers, in line with Emirati thinking, that the threat posed by political Islam emanated not only from Iran’s clerical regime and its asymmetric defence and security policies but also from the Brotherhood and Tukey’s Islamist government. He echoed Emirati promotion of Saudi Arabia after the rise of Mohammed bin Salman as the most effective bulwark against political Islam.

“It is impossible for the US to move against any hostile Islamic group anywhere in the world without Saudi support…. The confused notion that Saudi Arabia is synonymous with radical Islam is falsely based on the Western notion that ‘one size fits all,’ Mr. Barrack asserted.

The Trump administration’s refusal to exempt the Brotherhood from its embrace of Emirati policy was the likely result of differences within both the US government and the Muslim world. Analysts suggest that some in the administration feared that designating the Brotherhood would empower the more rabidly Islamophobic elements in Mr. Trump’s support base.

Administration officials also recognized that the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt constituted a minority, albeit a powerful minority, in the Muslim world that was on the warpath against the Brotherhood.

Elsewhere, Brotherhood affiliates were part of the political structure by either participating in government or constituting part of the legal opposition in countries like Kuwait, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, and Indonesia.

The affiliates have at times supported US policies or worked closely with US allies like in the case of Yemen’s Al Islah that is aligned with Saudi-backed forces.

In contrast to UAE efforts to ensure that the Brotherhood is crushed at the risk of fueling Islamophobia, Nahdlatul Ulama, one of, if not the world’s largest Muslim organization which shares the Emirates’ rejection of political Islam and the Brotherhood, has opted to fight the Brotherhood’s local Indonesian affiliate politically within a democratic framework rather than by resorting to coercive tactics.

Nahdlatul Ulama prides itself on having significantly diminished the prospects of Indonesia’s Brotherhood affiliate, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), since the 2009 presidential election. The group at the time successfully drove a wedge between then-President Susilo Yudhoyono, and the PKS, his coalition partner since the 2004 election that brought him to power. In doing so, it persuaded Mr. Yudhoyono to reject a PKS candidate as vice president in the second term of his presidency.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s manoeuvring included the publication of a book asserting that the PKS had not shed its links to militancy. The party has since failed to win even half of its peak 38 seats in parliament garnered in the 2004 election.

“Publication of ‘The Illusion of an Islamic State: The Expansion of Transnational Islamist Movements to Indonesia’ had a considerable impact on domestic policy. It primarily contributed to neutralizing one candidate’s bid for vice president in the 2009 national election campaign, who had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood,” said militancy expert Magnus Ranstorp.

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Biden Revises US Sanctions Policy

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

In the United States, a revision of the sanctions policy is in full swing. Joe Biden’s administration strives to make sanctions instruments more effective in achieving his political goals and, at the same time, reducing political and economic costs. The coordination of restrictive measures with allies is also seen as an important task. Biden is cautiously but consistently abandoning the sanctions paradigm that emerged during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The US sanctions policy under Trump was characterised by several elements. First, Washington applied them quite harshly. In all key areas (China, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, etc.), the United States used economic and financial restrictions without hesitation, and sometimes in unprecedented volumes. Of course, the Trump administration acted rationally and rigidity was not an end in itself. In a number of episodes, the American authorities acted prudently (for example, regarding sanctions on Russian sovereign debt in 2019). The Trump-led executives stifled excess Congressional enthusiasm for “draconian sanctions” against Russia and even some initiatives against China. However, the harshness of other measures sometimes shocked allies and opponents alike. These include the 6 April 2014 sanctions against a group of Russian businessmen and their assets, or bans on some Chinese telecommunications services in the United States, or sanctions blocking the International Criminal Court.

Second, Trump clearly ignored the views of US allies. The unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 forced European businesses to leave Iran, resulting in losses. Even some of the nation’s closest allies were annoyed. Another irritant was the tenacity with which Trump (with Congressional backing) threw a wrench in the wheels of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. Despite the complicated relations between Moscow and the European Union, the latter defended the right to independently determine what was in its interests and what was not.

Third, concerns about sanctions have emerged among American business as well. Fears have grown in financial circles that the excessive use of sanctions will provoke the unnecessary politicisation of the global financial system. In the short term, a radical decline in the global role of the dollar is hardly possible. But political risks are forcing many governments to seriously consider it. Both rivals (Moscow and Beijing) and allies (Brussels) have begun to implement corresponding plans. Trade sanctions against China have affected a number of US companies in the telecommunications and high-tech sectors.

Finally, on some issues, the Trump administration has been inconsistent or simply made mistakes. For example, Trump enthusiastically criticised China for human rights violations, supporting relevant legislative initiatives. But at the same time, it almost closed its eyes to the events in Belarus in 2020. Congress was also extremely unhappy with the delay in the reaction on the “Navalny case” in Russia. As for mistakes, the past administration missed the moment for humanitarian exemptions for sanctions regimes in connection with the COVID-19 epidemic. Even cosmetic indulgences could have won points for US “soft power”. Instead, the US Treasury has published a list of pre-existing exceptions.

The preconditions for a revision of the sanctions policy arose even before Joe Biden came to power. First of all, a lot of analytical work was done by American think tanks—nongovernmental research centers. They provided a completely sober and unbiased analysis of bothха! achievements and mistakes. In addition, the US Government Accountability Office has done serious work; in 2019 it prepared two reports for Congress on the institutions of the American sanctions policy. However, Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election significantly accelerated the revision of the sanctions instruments. Both the ideological preferences of the Democrats (for example, the emphasis on human rights) and the political experience of Biden himself played a role.

The new guidelines for the US sanctions policy can be summarised as follows. First, the development of targeted sanctions and a more serious analysis of their economic costs for American business, as well as business from allied and partner countries. Second, closer coordination with allies. Here, Biden has already sent a number of encouraging signals by introducing temporary sanctions exemptions on Nord Stream 2. Although a number of Russian organisations and ships were included in the US sanctions lists, Nord Stream 2 itself and its leadership were not affected. Third, we are talking about closer attention to the subject of human rights. Biden has already reacted with sanctions both to the “Navalny case” and to the situation in Belarus. Human rights will be an irritant in relations with China. Fourth, the administration is working towards overturning Trump’s most controversial decisions. The 2020 decrees on Chinese telecoms were cancelled, the decree on sanctions against the International Criminal Court was cancelled, the decree on Chinese military-industrial companies was modified; negotiations are also underway with Iran.

The US Treasury, one of the key US sanctions agencies, will also undergo personnel updates. Elisabeth Rosenberg, a prominent sanctions expert who previously worked at the Center for a New American Security, may take the post of Assistant Treasury Secretary. She will oversee the subject of sanctions. Thus, the principle of “revolving doors”, which is familiar to Americans, is being implemented, when the civil service is replenished with personnel from the expert community and business, and then “returns” them back.

At the same time, the revision of the sanctions policy by the new administration cannot be called a revolution. The institutional arrangement will remain unchanged. It is a combination of the functions of various departments—the Treasury, the Department of Trade, the Department of Justice, the State Department, etc. The experience of their interagency coordination has accumulated over the years. The system worked flawlessly both under Trump and under his predecessors. Rather, it will be about changing the political directives.

For Russia, the revision is unlikely to bring radical changes. A withdrawal from the carpet bombing of Russian business, such as the incident on 6 April 2018 hint that good news can be considered a possibility. However, the legal mechanisms of sanctions against Russia will continue to operate. The emphasis on human rights will lead to an increase in sanctions against government structures. Against this background, regular political crises are possible in relations between the two countries.

From our partner RIAC

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Sea Breeze 2021: U.S. is worryingly heading closer to conflict with Russia in the Black Sea

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On July 10th, the 2021 iteration of the joint military exercise, Sea Breeze, concluded in the Black Sea. This exercise, which began on June 28th was co-hosted by the Ukrainian Navy and the United States Navy’s Sixth Fleet. According to the U.S. Navy, the annual Exercise Sea Breeze consists of joint naval, land, and air trainings and operations centered around building increased shared capabilities in the Black Sea.

This year’s Sea Breeze included participation from 32 countries, including NATO members and other countries that border the Black Sea, making it the largest Sea Breeze exercise since its inception in 1997. All other countries bordering the Black Sea were included in participating in the joint drills, except Russia.

Russia’s exclusion from these exercises is not unsurprising, due to its current tensions with Ukraine and its historical relationship with NATO. However, it signals to Moscow and the rest of the world that the NATO views Russia as an opponent in a future conflict. At the opening ceremony of Sea Breeze 2021 in Odessa, it was made clear that the intention of the exercise was to prepare for future conflict in the region when the Defense Minister of Ukraine, reported that the drills “contain a powerful message – support of stability and peace in our region.”

These exercises and provocations do anything but bring peace and stability to the region. In fact, they draw the United States and NATO dangerously close to the brink of conflict with Russia.

Even though Sea Breeze 2021 has only recently concluded, it has already had a marked impact on tensions between NATO countries and Moscow. U.S. Navy Commander Daniel Marzluff recently explained that the Sea Breeze drills in the Black Sea are essential deterrents to Russian assertions in region. However, these drills have consisted of increasingly provocative maneuvers that ultimately provoke conflict in the region.

These drills have done anything but act as a deterrent for conflict in the Black Sea. In response to the Sea Breeze drills, Russia conducted its own drills in the Black Sea, including the simulation of firing advanced missile systems against enemy aircraft. As the Black Sea is of utmost importance to Russia’s trade and military stature, it follows that Russia would signal its displacement if it perceives its claims are being threatened.   

Sea Breeze followed another rise in tensions in the Black Sea, when just a week prior to the beginning of the exercise, a clash occurred between Russia and Britain. In response to the British destroyer ship, the HMS Defender, patrolling inside Crimean territorial waters, Russia claimed it fired warning shots and ordered two bombers to drop bombs in the path of the ship. When asked about the HMS Defender, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the ship’s actions as a “provocation” that was a “blatant violation” of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Putin also went on to claim that Moscow believes U.S. reconnaissance aircraft were a part of the operation as well. Despite this, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded with a denial of any wrongdoing.

Russia’s actions to provocations by the United States-led Sea Breeze and interaction with the HMS Defender in the Black Sea signal its resolve to retaliate if it feels as its sovereignty and its territorial claim on Crimea is being impeded on. Despite Russia signaling its commitment to defending its territorial claims in the Black Sea, the United States still willingly took actions during Sea Breeze that would bring the United States closer to a clash with Russia.  

Provoking conflict in the Black Sea does not align with the national security interests of the United States. In fact, it only puts the United States in the position to be involved in a costly clash that only would harm its diplomatic relationships.  

As Russia has signaled its commitment to its resolve and scope of its military response in a possible conflict, any potential conflict in the Black Sea would be costly for the United States. Over the past few years, Russia has increased the size and capabilities of its fleet in the Black Sea. Two of these improvements would especially pose a challenging threat to the U.S. and NATO – Russia’s drastically improved anti-access/area-denial capabilities and its new Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile. This would mean any conflict in the Black Sea would not be a quick and decisive victory for U.S. and NATO forces, and would instead likely become costly and extensive.  

A conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only be costly for the U.S. and its allies in the region, but could irreparably damage its fragile, but strategically valuable relationship with Russia. If the United States continues to escalate tensions in the Black Sea, it risks closing the limited window for bilateral cooperation with Russia that was opened through increased willingness to collaborate on areas of common interests, as evidenced by the recent summit that took place in Geneva. After a period of the highest levels of tension between the U.S. and Russia since the Cold War, this progress made towards improving bilateral relations must not be taken for granted. Even if the U.S. and NATO’s maneuvers in the Black Sea do not ultimately materialize into a full-scale conflict with Russia, they will most likely damage not just recent diplomatic momentum, but future opportunities for a relationship between the two powers.

In such a critical time for the relationship between the United States and Russia, it is counterproductive for the United States to take actions that it can predict will drive Russia even further away. Entering into a conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only engage the U.S. in a costly conflict but would damage its security and diplomatic interests.  

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