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A few foreign policy issues that should had more emphasis during the run-up to the U.S. Election

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]part from the major issues that have been discussed by the Presidential candidates, there are a few foreign policy issues which have not been discussed. At least they were not discussed with the intensity with which they should have been done.

In one of the debates, Donald Trump argued that the Iran nuclear deal (announced on 14 July, 2015) was the worst ever deal and should never have happened. Hillary Clinton did not counter that effectively at all. It was after all a major achievement by Obama. The White House has said that the deal will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. In July 2015, Iran had almost 20,000 centrifuges. After the deal, they can only install a maximum number of 5,060 centrifuges. One other condition is that these centrifuges are least efficient. Iran’s uranium stockpile should also be reduced by 98 per cent to 300 kg for 15 years. It must also keep its enrichment at only 3.67 per cent. By January 2016, Iran had drastically reduced the number of centrifuges installed at Natanz and Fordo, which are Iran’s key nuclear sites. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will continuously monitor the nuclear facilities in Iran.

Hillary Clinton could have well argued that the Iran nuclear deal is a success and is not the failure as was portrayed by Donald Trump. Probably she did not do this because of an eye for the votes of the Jewish community in America. Israel is totally against the nuclear deal. It is important that America continues to back Israel. One does not want Israel to be isolated. But at the same time, America does not have to support Israel blindly either.

The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is seen as a moderate abroad. With the next elections in June 2017, the deal might help him get re-elected because he is seen to be having the support of the majority of the people. Any country should be allowed to transition and develop peacefully. Hence why should Iran not be given an opportunity to evolve peacefully? Unfortunately, this argument was not addressed at all by Hillary. She committed a mistake by not taking on Donald here. People would have appreciated if Hillary had aired her views on this issue frankly.

The Cuba-U.S. deal which led to restoration of diplomatic ties between them was also seen as a significant achievement by Americans in large and by the international community. Obama reversed the U.S.’s 50 year isolationist policy towards Cuba after he became the first president since Calvin Coolidge to visit the country. The two countries severed their ties in 1961. In December 2014, both the Cuban and the American heads announced that diplomatic ties would be restored. The agreement came following eighteen months of secret talks between the U.S. and the Cuban officials brokered and encouraged by Pope Francis. But the U.S. trade embargo, which requires congressional approval, still stays and is unlikely to be lifted in the near future.

A Pew research poll showed that a majority of Americans favoured supported resuming the diplomatic ties and also were for removing the trade embargo. What would the U.S. gain from it? As Carla Robbins from the Council on Foreign Relations puts it rightly, “We’re taking away an excuse – the ability to blame the United States for all of their failings”. Again, this was totally ignored by both the candidates. One can understand Trump ignoring it. But Hillary ignoring it was puzzling to say the least.                    

Trump referred to the Syrian conflict. But he could have emphasised on that a lot more than what he did. This is a conflict which Russia clearly is getting it right. The U.S. and the western powers along with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey by insisting that there can be no resolution to the conflict until Assad steps down, exacerbated a conflict that could have been resolved at least a few years back. There was a proposal by Russia in 2012 (reported by ‘The Guardian’ on September 15 2015) saying that Assad will step down at some point once the talks begin between the opposition and the government. The Russians also proposed that the west should not arm the rebel groups. But the western powers rejected this because they were so confident that Assad would fall down quickly. The U.S. and Europe continued to arm the opposition groups.

All the people who were very confident that ‘Assad would go’ have / will quit power. David Cameroon has quit. Barack Obama will be leaving in January of 2017. Francois Hollande, in all probability, will lose power in the next elections in April/May of 2017. But Assad is still hanging on and there are no indications that he is leaving anytime soon. Assad has committed war crimes. But the question ‘who after Assad’ has been completely ignored by the west. Syria might become another Libya if Assad falls. At least Libya had a leader in Gaddafi when he was there. Now it is in total chaos thanks to the west.

The Syrian conflict will have to end as soon as possible. The conflict has become a catastrophe of the worst kind. 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict. It is a waste of human lives. Large scale migration into Europe is happening and the conflict is at least partly responsible for this. The conflict cannot be resolved without the cooperation of Russia. Only one of the two candidates seems to be capable of doing that. Donald Trump is absolutely right on this when he says that fighting the ISIS and not Assad would be his top priority. Whether Trump delivers on this, if he becomes President, remains to be seen. But at least he is saying it…..

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author

Harish Venugopalan is a Research Assistant with the Observer Research Foundation. He has done his Masters in International Relations from the Dublin City University (DCU) in 2011-2012. His current research interest is ‘Conflict Management in Africa’.

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Americas

Trump’s New Wall? Mexico’s Southern Border

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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For much of modern history, Mexico defined itself in opposition to the United States. In recent years, the two countries stepped up cooperation on almost all relevant issues, and the two nations are now deeply intertwined politically, economically and culturally. This is bound to change. After months of ignoring Donald Trump’s provocations, López Obrador reacted rapidly to Trump’s shakedown and agreed to a number of resolutions of extraordinary scope and urgency: the new Mexican administration agreed to deploy the country’s federal police to its southern border to crack down on immigration; and opened the door to the controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy that would turn Mexico into a Third Safe Country in less than a month from now.

As stated in the agreement, Mexico would take in all the refugees that the US decides to send back to Mexico to await resolution of their asylum process. This could take years, given the substantial immigration backlog in American courts. The agreement goes further: Mexico is responsible for the provision of education, health care and employment for such refugees. This could easily lead to a serious humanitarian crisis that Mexican institutions will be unable to deal with.

This approach contradicts previous Mexican presidential vows for regional development and humanitarian relief rather than confrontation and enforcement. Conditions on the ground in Mexico are far harsher than the Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister, Marcelo Ebrard and the President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, would like to admit, and this is partly due to the current administration’s miscalculations: López Obrador has dramatically cut the budget for governmental agencies responsible for managing refugees and processing removals. Mexican border towns are also ill-equipped for handling transient migrant populations; and Mexico also faces other more systematic challenges, such as corruption and lack of rule of law enforcement. The new policy agreed with the American government is likely to result in a significant increase in claims filed for asylum in Mexico. Mexico’s immigration bureaucracies are utterly overwhelmed, and López Obrador’s misguided budget cuts have exacerbated their failings.

Mexico’s immigration policy is now bound by an immoral and unacceptable deal that will effectively turn Mexico into Trump’s border wall. The global system for the protection of refugees is based on the notion of shared responsibility among countries. It is very dangerous for the US to use Mexico as a pawn to set an example and ignore its international responsibility. This agreement also violates international law on refugees: Mexico is a life-threatening country for undocumented migrants. Human trafficking, recruitment for organised criminal organisations, abduction, extortion, sexual violence, and disappearances are some of the issues migrants face in Mexico. Finally, Mexico’s National Guard, the agency that will be in charge of monitoring the southern border, was created by López Obrador to tackle domestic crime. Its members have no training nor knowledge on immigration matters. It is an untested new military force that could end up creating more problems than the ones it is trying to solve.  Deploying agents to the border could also have a high political cost for the president.

The agreement with Trump gives López Obrador 45 days to show progress. If Mexico fails, Mexico will be forced to set in motion some version of Safe Third Country agreement, or face further tariff bullying from the US. This deal has been sold by the new Mexican administration as a victory over the US. More migrants, less money, extreme violence and a recalcitrant, unpredictable northern neighbour are the ingredients for a potential, impending refugee crisis, not a diplomatic victory.

Could Mexico have taken a different approach? Yes. Trump’s decision to impose tariffs would exacerbate the underlying causes of immigration in the region and do nothing to address it. His bullying to force Mexico to crack down on immigration was a cheap electoral ploy to mobilise its base with a view to winning the 2020 elections. This is nothing new. Trump is not seeking a solution; he is seeking a political gain. He built his first presidential campaign on an anti-Mexico and an anti-immigrant rhetoric. It worked in 2016, and he is planning to repeat the same formula.

The Mexican administration lack of knowledge on diplomatic matters, and their inability to play politics let a golden opportunity go. Using trade to bludgeon Mexico into compliance with an immigration crack down makes no sense: Mexico is not responsible for the increase in migratory flows. Central America’s poverty and violence trace back to American policies in the 1980s. Mexico is not responsible either for America’s famously dysfunctional immigration system. Trump’s economic threats against Mexico may not even have been legal: both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the newly agreed US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) require most trade between members to be tariff free.

Mexico could also have hit back with by levying tariffs that would have hurt swing-state voters, and in turn hurt Trump. This was the golden opportunity Mexico let slip from its hands. Mexico could have responded by hitting Trump where it hurts: Tariffs on American goods heading south. Mexico responded in a similar manner in June last year in response to the steel and aluminium tariffs. Mexico could have raised those tariffs each month in tandem with American levels.

This retaliation would have highlighted the gap between Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric and the underlying interdependence of the US and Mexico with stark consequences for the US presidential elections of 2020. Many of the biggest exporters to Mexico such as Arizona. Florida. California, Michigan and Illinois are swing states. New tariffs could have thrown Texas into recession and put its 38 electoral votes into play. It is all too late now, Mexico could have inadvertently helped Trump to get re-elected. Mexico has less than a month left to show some backbone and demand real American cooperation on the region’s shared challenges and rejecting Trump’s threats once and for all. The relationship between Mexico and the US could have been an example of cooperation under difficult conditions, but that would have required different American and Mexican presidents.

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Scandinavia Veers Left plus D-Day Reflections as Trump Storms Europe

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Mette Frederiksen of the five-party Social Democrat bloc won 91 of the 169 seats in the Danish parliament ending the rule of the right-wing Liberal Party group that had governed for 14 of the last 18 years.  The election issues centered on climate change, immigration and Denmark’s generous social welfare policies.  All parties favored tighter immigration rules thereby taking away the central issue dominating the far-right Democrat Freedom Party which has seen its support halved since the last election in 2015.

Ms Frederiksen promised more spending to bolster the much loved social welfare model and increased taxes on businesses and the wealthy.  A left wave is sweeping Scandinavia as Denmark becomes the third country, after Sweden and Finland, to move left within a year.  Mette Frederiksen will also be, at 41, the youngest prime minister Denmark has ever had.

Donald Trump has used the 75th anniversary of D-Day commemorations to garner positive publicity.  The supreme promoter has managed to tie it in with a “classy” (his oft-chosen word) state visit to the UK spending a day with royals.  It was also a farewell to the prime minister as her resignation is effective from June 7.  Add a D-Day remembrance ceremony at Portsmouth and he was off to his golf course in Ireland for a couple of days of relaxation disguised as a visit to the country for talks — he has little in common with the prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who is half-Indian and gay.

Onward to France where leaders gathered for ceremonies at several places.  It is easy to forget the extent of that carnage:  over 20,000 French civilians were killed in Normandy alone mostly from aerial bombing and artillery fire.  The Normandy American cemetery holds over 9600 soldiers.  All in all, France lost in the neighborhood of 390,000 civilian dead during the whole war.  Estimates of total deaths across the world range from 70 to 85 million or about 3 percent of the then global population (estimated at 2.3 billion).

Much has been written about conflict resolutions generally from a cold rational perspective.  Emotions like greed, fear and a sense of injustice when unresolved lead only in one direction.  There was a time when individual disputes were given the ultimate resolution through single combat.  Now legal rights and courts are available — not always perfect, not always fair, but neither are humans.

It does not take a genius to extrapolate such legal measures to nations and international courts … which already exist.  Just one problem:  the mighty simply ignore them.  So we wait, and we honor the dead of wars that in retrospect appear idiotic and insane.  Worse is the attempt to justify such insanity through times like the “good war”, a monstrous absurdity.

It usually takes a while.  Then we get leaders who have never seen the horror of war — some have assiduously avoided it — and the cycle starts again.

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To Impeach Or Not To Impeach? That Is The Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Robert Mueller let loose a thunderbolt midweek.  Donald Trump had not been charged, he said, because it was Department of Justice policy not to charge a sitting president.  Dumping the issue firmly into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lap, he reminded us of the purpose of the impeachment process.  According to Mueller there are ten instances where there are serious issues with the president obstructing justice adding that his report never concludes that Trump is innocent.

So here is a simple question:  If Mueller thought the president is not innocent but he did not charge him because of Justice Department policy, and he appears also to favor impeachment, then why in heaven’s name did he not simply state in his report that the preponderance of evidence indicated Trump was guilty?

Nancy Pelosi is wary of impeachment.  According to the rules, the House initiates it and when/if  it finds sufficient grounds, it forwards the case to the Senate for a formal trial.  The Senate at present is controlled by Republicans, who have been saying it’s time to move on, often adding that after two years of investigation and a 448-page report, what is the point of re-litigating the issue?  They have a point and again it leads to the question:  if Special Counsel Mueller thinks Trump is guilty as he now implies, why did he not actually say so?

Never one to miss any opportunity , Trump labels Mueller, highly conflicted, and blasts impeachment as ‘a dirty, filthy, disgusting word’,  He has also stopped Don McGahn, a special counsel at the White House from testifying before Congress invoking ‘executive privilege’ — a doctrine designed to keep private the president’s consultations with his advisors.  While not cited anywhere in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has held it to be ‘fundamental to the operation of government and inextricably rooted in the Separation of Powers under the Constitution.’  Separation of powers keeps apart the executive branch, the legislature and the judiciary, meaning each one cannot interfere with the other.

Nancy Pelosi is under increasing pressure from the young firebrands.  Rep Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has already expressed the view that it is time to open an impeachment inquiry against Trump given the obstruction of lawmakers’ oversight duty.

Speaker Pelosi is a long-time politician with political blood running through her veins — her father was Mayor of Baltimore and like herself also a US Representative.  To her the situation as is, is quite appealing.  Trump’s behavior fires up Democrats across the country and they respond by emptying their pockets to defeat the Republicans in 2020.  Democratic coffers benefit so why harm this golden goose — a bogeyman they have an excellent chance of defeating — also evident from the numbers lining up to contest the Democratic presidential primaries, currently at 24. 

Will Trump be impeached?  Time will tell but at present it sure doesn’t look likely.

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