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The Matrix We Live In

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] D [/yt_dropcap]o you want the blue pill or the red pill?” Since the election, social media has exploded with a special type of visceral hate by people on both sides of the political spectrum. While the situation appears to be worsening with each president, this post-election devolution is of special note.

While the right to protest is essential and inherent in any true democracy, the rioting accompanying some of the protests has rendered the intent of the protest futile. While the protest of unconstitutional actions is justified, it begs the question where were such protests when President Obama were in office doing things much worse than President Trump has done thus far.

Political ideology has become further divided and more partisan. The lack of ideological empathy is non-existent. The attempt to understand the other side or compromise is no longer an option; it is almost heretical for anyone to attempt to be moderate. The last couple of decades have led to the disenfranchisement of Americans due to globalization, the great economic recession, 9/11, wars, etc. Trust has been lost in governmental and non-governmental institutions. Today, the culmination of all these events has created a pseudo-matrix reality for many of us in America. In the West, we are engaged in a neo-tribalism that in some part transcends race and religion but more focused on ideology regarding the economy, government, and social policy. Perhaps, it is our natural predisposition towards tribalism that has been ingrained into our genetic constitution over tens of thousands of years.

The coup de grace for me was seeing the implosion of everyone on Facebook and devolution of civic conversation into ignorant vitriol arguments that possess no substance but purely ad hominin. If there is a supposed debate about anything political, it is typical parroting of what the mainstream media spews to the public without an actual conversation taking place. When was the last time you truly questioned something you believed in? When was the last time you sought out more evidence for your belief, perhaps even a contrarian point of view on that topic?

Politics Awry

Democracy is the Schrodinger’s Cat of politics. It is simultaneously perhaps the greatest system ever bore and yet perhaps the worse. In theory, the former is witnessed by the fact that the will of majority is implemented to lead the country instead of one or a few people. It can be a debilitating and regressive system as witnessed here in the US. If that same majority is not well-informed and willing to engage in debate, the outcome is that the pragmatic few can use the supposed mandate of the majority to curry the system to their own favors.

Instead of electing well-informed and true leaders, our system has crumbled into career politicians who enrich themselves off the tax revenue of the public and further increase their wealth after they leave Washington thanks to the incestuous relationship that exists between politics, the media, and big corporations. In the recent decades, the political arena has reached new lows. Our election system is now nothing more than a popularity contest akin to high school. Whoever is the “coolest”, best dressed, and best looking is most likely to win, superficiality has officially outdone substance. This failure in the electoral system is no one’s fault but ours for allowing the status quo. The level of cognitive dissonance is unreal. A recent Gallup poll found that public support for Congress is near an all-time low yet incumbents are reelected at its highest rate, hovering around 90%+. This paradox demonstrates not only a discord in our understanding of politics but even hypocritical in some aspects.

Perhaps the bifurcation of the political system into two parties and furthermore into two rigid ideologies has created this “us versus them” mentality that reaches into the inner tribal nature. The fact that these two parties have oversimplified the principles and beliefs of people by compartmentalizing them into black and white touches at the heart of the issue. While some people can adhere to the entire platform of either party, which there is nothing wrong with, the majority of Americans do not. We are complicated and intricate beings, who cannot be boxed in here or there, instead perhaps we are blurred in the middle somewhere. The relegation of political power in the hands of these two parties essentially ensures that power always resides in both of their hands at all time. One will be a party in power and the other will be the only opposition in town, thus power is balanced. These two parties have done everything to ensure no rival third party can emerge. As a result, money and influence has help create a further veneering of the parties and their ideology relative to everyday Americans.

Due to the insulation of our political system, influence of corporations in the mainstream media, and the continued ignorance towards researching our political decisions, most Americans live in an alternative reality.

The Liberal Matrix

The fallout of the 2016 election has culminated in almost unprecedented level of protest and anti-Trump demonstrations. The foundation of any true democracy is the ability of its people to coalesce and protest, albeit peacefully. The protesters believe Trump epitomizes racism, hate and ignorance. They see Trump as the catalyst that will not only make the US regress but empower the fringe minority that spews hatred and disgust. The ascension of Trump, in their eyes, is the downfall of the Republic.

Liberalism is a political philosophy that predates the conception of the US as a nation. It is built upon many facets but most importantly the pillars of liberty and equality. Liberalism has deviated somewhat from its classical definition within the American experience. Liberals in the US still stress the notion of equality, the need to enshrine civil liberties as well as individual and human rights. Most importantly, liberals in the US view the government as a means to every end. While liberals claim to hold such principles as their raison d’être and as a result their much vocal and sometime violent opposition to Trump, they could not display a greater show of cognitive dissonance than in their actions against both President Bush and now President Trump.

The Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq perhaps opened the greatest tidal wave of instability for the region, the world and the US. The great and immeasurable toll it took on human life and catastrophe is markedly one of the larger events that will go down in history. From that illegal and unwarranted invasion unravels the world we see today around us. The long-term economic ramifications of the wars will be perhaps the more detrimental effect to the US. The combined wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, which was inconspicuously expanded by Obama despite promising to the contrary, will cost us about $10 Trillion dollars, more than half of the current national debt. This daunting amount as well as the ramifications on our way of life is lost on almost everyone in the country including the supposed experts.

As a result of the buildup to the war the public protested, rightfully so, yet, almost ¾ of the country supported this action, albeit falsely misled. Yet similar protests by this same anti-war faction are no longer visible. Under the 8 years of President Obama, such opposition that is visibly viewed today against Trump was absent. This is what I call hypocrisy. Although the true principled opposition still continued their grievances against President Obama, nevertheless that faction drastically was reduced. Many were sad to see President Obama depart, why? The following actions by President Obama should have raised the ire of so called liberal-oriented Americans more so under Obama, who falsely disguised himself a progressive and champion of change, than Bush who never campaigned on such things. President Obama was not only to a large extent a continuation of the Bush administration, it became the Bush administration on steroids. The following points demonstrate how liberals are either ignorant or hypocritical of how both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama are perhaps anathema to their ideology than champions:

•Guantanamo Bay – Despite claiming that the site was a stain on America’s image and credibility and he would eliminate the prison, President Obama didn’t do anything. While he claimed that Congress impeded him from doing so, in reality President Obama could have employed executive action to justify the closure like he had done for his endless covert wars.

•War – Today many fear the rise of Trump in on part that he will cause the US to engage in more wars. Yet under the tenure of President Obama, at least 7 conflicts were initiated by the Nobel Peace Prize winning president who promised to sow peace for a nation distraught in war.

•Drone – One of the most horrible, amoral and perhaps least discussed policies by the media, is President Obama’s drone war. President Obama essentially outsourced his entire War on Terror campaign to drones whereas it was intended to be supplementary to an actual war plan. To put it in perspective, for every drone strike Bush had done, Obama carried out ten of them. Despite violating international law, the worse fall out from all this is that it has been reported that 90% of those killed as a result of drones tend not be the target, but mainly civilians. Aside from the tragic fallout, such a policy has been creating more terrorist than reducing it. In 2016, Obama ended the year with dropping 3 bombs every hour.

•Economy – During the 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama claimed that adding nearly $4 trillion dollars to the national debt was unpatriotic. He was referring to the enormous growth to the national debt under President Bush. Yet, 8 years later President Obama doubled the national debt and added nearly $10 trillion dollars. Despite claiming reduction in the unemployment number and helping the economy “grow.” President Obama, similar to his predecessors, used statistical voodoo to conceal the real state of the economy. President Obama helped further inflate the already bubble economy.

•Social Policy – Despite claiming to be a progressive administration that will represent all Americans, President Obama reneged on many policies he had initially promise to support. Whether it was immigration, marijuana legalization and civil liberties, President Obama became one of the most regressive presidents in some of these categories. Especially in the civil liberties arena, Obama took Bush’s Patriot Act and put it on steroids creating the NDAA, curtailing American civil liberties in all aspects. While appearing to be forward-looking and progressive, President Obama was perhaps one of the most Foucauldian presidents making the country more like his philosophical panopticon.

•Transparency – One of Obama’s most signature claims was that he would be the most transparent administration ever, yet he ran one of the most opaque administrations. He punished whistleblowers more harshly than his predecessor. In some cases, it was grossly punitive.

While liberals continue to protest about the Trump presidency, they need to come to term that living in a democracy has such consequences like losing in elections. While protesting policies and actions one disagrees with is an important aspect of any democracy, it is also necessary to reconcile principles with actions such as coming to term with respect to those who they prefer such as Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton, whose nearly decade in power brought destruction and ruin to many places around the world including further deterioration to the US. Liberals need to escape the matrix that they have encapsulated themselves in.

The Conservative Matrix

The 2016 election results have given new vigor to the Republican Party and Republicans everywhere. To many conservatives, the past 8 years has been what they see as the end of America and Western Civilization.

Conservatism is a political ethos that believes in free markets, individual liberty, limited government, and traditional American values. Government, according to conservatives, is a necessary evil that should be utilized only to help individuals pursue their own goals.

The Trump administration and his atypical approach whether to the presidency or the party, will redefine how the presidency is viewed and potentially redefine the party going forward. In the same vein that liberals miss the target, conservatives extend support for candidates or policies that stand in direct contradiction to their principles. The following points demonstrate how conservatives either are negligent about what they are supporting or “selective” in how they choose what they stand for.

Guantanamo Bay – The notorious torture camp came into being under the Bush administration. While the camp contains terrorists guilty of heinous crimes, it also contains many innocent people who were picked up under false pretenses. The approach by the administration to offer money to anyone that can bring a “terrorist” resulted in many innocent people being picked up. The prison symbolizes the antithesis to what it means to be American and all its values. The Supreme Court in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld affirmed that the prisoners are entitled to basic protection per the Geneva Convention. In addition, the lack of habeas corpus defeats the main premise upon which this War on Terror is being predicated upon, preservation of Western values. All these reasons run contrary to core Republican beliefs, yet 84% of Republicans have expressed support for continuing the site. President Trump had vowed to continue to operate the facility and fill it up.

Economy – Republicans always tout the importance of being fiscally responsible and ensuring a balanced budget. However, under the Bush administration the national debt almost doubled, increasing by $4 trillion dollars. The government deficit grew and nothing was done to help curtail fiscal irresponsibility. The Tea Party arose from the fact that President Obama’s policies would result in financial ruin. While such protest and gripe was legitimate, surprisingly this same group of conservative protesters never arose during the Bush administration’s heydays, when the unlimited spending spree of the government was taking place.

War – While conservatives stress a strong national defense, historically unnecessary or offensive war has led to the enlargement of government. This is the biggest threat to what it means to be conservative. In the last couple of decades, the party has been hijacked by neoconservatives who have been bent on expanding American regions of influence. This has led to a division in the party. On one side are those who support the war hawk agenda because they see it as a necessary means to safety; peace through strength. On the other side, are the old Eisenhower Republicans, who are not pacifists but believed in a strong America not an imperial one. Nevertheless, it appears the majority of Republicans support the former, offensive war to supposedly ensure national security, which in itself is contradictory. As demonstrated, the last couple of wars have made us weaker in all aspects of being a nation.

The Constitution – Republicans position themselves to be staunch advocates and defenders of civil liberties and the Constitution. Under the Bush administration, the beginning of a new America came into being. It was no longer the in statu pacis that existed prior to 9/11, instead it was a hybrid war and police state. The War on Terror combined with the Patriot Act and other similar laws helped normalize a state that would have been unacceptable to most Americans prior to 9/11 as well as those who stood for defending civil liberties and the Constitution. But politicians used the fear that Americans had to pass laws that ran contradictory to what the Constitution wanted. Yet the continuation of the Patriot Act that evolved into a more stringent law, the NDAA under Obama, continues to this day unimpeded by the majority of Republicans.

Government – The underlying governing principle for any conservative is government by its nature is inherently evil, thus ensuring that it is as small as possible is the best way to impede the bureaucracy from swallowing up progress. Conservatives always aim to minimize government and not allow the leviathan to grow. While Republicans were up in arms over the ever-expanding Obama government, they were moot when President Bush not only raised government spending through the roof, he helped create additional layers of bureaucracy as well as an entire new department. Now President Trump appears to be on the same path to expand the government through social works program like FDR, no major conservative group has thus far voice any concerns with that plan.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The famous Greek historian and political philosopher, Thucydides wrote that it’s a habit of human beings to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy. What he was referring to was confirmation bias. Today, with the advent of the internet and social media, society has become further entrenched into partisanship than before. This blind abyss that we have entered into is what psychologists refer to as confirmation bias. We build these philosophical and intellectual silos to protect us from those whom we do not agree with or notions that we are ignorant of. The internet perhaps contains the greatest tool for humanity to reach its full potential but at the same time it has become a double edge sword. It has also allowed us to fortify this mental prison of confirmation bias even further. We search for sources that will “vindicate” what we consider our truth, the supposed good truth, rather than seeking out sources that will perhaps challenge us and make us reconsider what position we hold.

There is a difference between being a flip flop and someone who has become more knowledgeable on a topic and wants to shift their opinion. What should guide us is not so much positions but principles that act as our guiding compass. Principles should never be forsaken instead we can us them to navigate through the turbulence of the times.

As we go forth under a new presidency, the future for Americans has never been so bleak as it has been for the past couple of decades. Instead of parroting intellectualism, we should attempt to emulate it through challenging every political position and role model we hold dear. Why are you a liberal or conservative? Why are you a Democrat or Republican? Has your party lived up to its political tenets or just satiated with a veneer of claiming so?

Will Trump be the worst or best president ever? Nobody knows. He is like a blind date, yet knowingly or unknowingly he has been a cosmetic bless to rock the political establishment to its roots. No other candidate on either party could have done so much shaking up of the status quo. He has taken the system and turned it upside down and once again reminded them, albeit in an uncouth manner, that the exercise of power in a democracy rests with its people. Ultimately, they must serve at the pleasure of it nation’s citizens or face the wrath of the masses.

While protest is an important pillar of any democracy, those who protest Trump, must take a minute and see what they protest and if that really meshes with what they stand for. Where was their protest when President Obama joined his predecessor and ran this country into insolvency or when he was immorally and secretly initiating wars in at least 7 countries while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize? Where was the protest when the policy of drone strikes reached more than a 90% civilian death rate or when Secretary Clinton and President Obama illegally invaded Libya for no reason and created the state of anarchy and destruction that continues to this day. The same could be said about their tampering into Syria and other Middle Eastern countries resulting into the mass migration crisis we see that that wreaks havoc not only on Europe but has devastated the lives of those afflicted.

Similarly, while conservatives gloat about their victory, they need to watch President Trump and ensure he does not violate the Constitution and values America stands for similar to Republican presidents in the past by increasing the debt or starting wars or infringing upon our civil liberties.

In order for all of us to escape the abyss that we reside in now, we need to realize that the overwhelming majority of us nowadays reside in a mental matrix that we have created and the only escape is becoming cognizant of it first. So do you want the blue pill or the red pill?

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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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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As Refugees Flee Central America, the Mexican Public Sours On Accepting Them

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Authors: Isabel Eliassen, Alianna Casas, Timothy S. Rich*

In recent years, individuals from Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) have been forced out of their home countries by extreme poverty and gang violence. While initial expectations were that the Lopez Obrador administration would be more welcoming to migrants, policies have slowly mirrored those of his predecessor, and do not seem to have deterred refugees. COVID-19 led to a decrease in refugees arriving in Mexico, and many shelters in Mexico closed or have limited capacity due to social distancing restrictions. Now that the COVID-19 situation has changed, arrivals could increase again to the levels seen in late 2018 or 2019, with overcrowded refugee centers lacking in medical care as potential grounds for serious COVID-19 outbreaks.

Mexico increasingly shares a similar view as the US on this migration issue, seeking ways to detain or deport migrants rather than supporting or protecting them. For instance, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has been conducting raids on freight trains to find and detain migrants. Public opinion likely shapes these policies. In the US, support for allowing migrants into the country appeared to increase slightly from 2018 to 2019, but no significant majority emerges. Meanwhile, Mexican public opinion increasingly exhibits anti-immigrant sentiments, declining considerably since 2018, with a 2019 Washington Post poll showing that 55% supported deporting Central Americans rather than providing temporary residence and a 2019 El Financiero poll finding 63% supportive of closing to border to curb migration.

New Data Shows the Mexican Public Unwelcoming

To gauge Mexican public opinion on refugees, we conducted an original web survey June 24-26 via Qualtrics, using quota sampling. We asked 625 respondents to evaluate the statement “Mexico should accept refugees fleeing from Central America” on a five-point Likert scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. For visual clarity, we combined disagree and agree categories in the figure below.

Overall, a plurality (43.84%) opposed accepting refugees, with less than a third (30.08%) supportive. Broken down by party affiliation, we see similar results, with the largest opposition from the main conservative party PAN (52.90%) and lowest in the ruling party MORENA (41.58%). Broken down by gender, we find women slightly more supportive compared to men (32.60% vs. 27.04%), consistent with findings elsewhere and perhaps acknowledgment that women and children historically comprise a disproportionate amount of refugees. Regression analysis again finds PAN supporters to be less supportive than other respondents, although this distinction declines once controlling for gender, age, education and income, of which only age corresponded with a statistically significant decline in support. It is common for older individuals to oppose immigration due to generational changes in attitude, so this finding is not unexpected.

We also asked the question “On a 1-10 scale, with 1 being very negative and 10 very positive, how do you feel about the following countries?” Among countries listed were the sources of the Central American refugees, the three Northern Triangle countries. All three received similar average scores (Guatemala: 4.33, Honduras: 4.05, El Salvador: 4.01), higher than Venezuela (3.25), but lower than the two other countries rated (US: 7.71, China: 7.26) Yet, even after controlling for general views of the Central American countries, we find the public generally unsupportive of accepting refugees.

How Should Mexico Address the Refugee Crisis?

Towards the end of the Obama administration, aid and other efforts directed at resolving the push factors for migration in Central America, including decreasing violence and limiting corruption, appeared to have some success at reducing migration north. President Trump’s policies largely did not improve the situation, and President Biden has begun to reverse those policies and re-implement measures successful under Obama.

As discussed in a meeting between the Lopez Obrador administration and US Vice President Kamala Harris, Mexico could adopt similar aid policies, and decreasing the flow of migrants may make the Mexican public respond more positively to accepting migrants. Lopez Obrador committed to increased economic cooperation with Central America days into his term, with pledges of aid as well, but these efforts remain underdeveloped. Threats to cut aid expedite deportations only risks worsening the refugee crisis, while doing little to improve public opinion.

Increasingly, the number of family units from Guatemala and Honduras seeking asylum in Mexico, or the United States, represents a mass exodus from Central America’s Northern Triangle to flee insecurity. Combating issues such as extreme poverty and violence in Central American countries producing the mass exodus of refugees could alleviate the impact of the refugee crisis on Mexico. By alleviating the impact of the refugee crisis, refugees seeking asylum will be able to navigate immigration processes easier thus decreasing tension surrounding the influx of refugees.

Likewise, identifying the public’s security and economic concerns surrounding refugees and crafting a response should reduce opposition. A spokesperson for Vice President Harris stated that border enforcement was on the agenda during meetings with the Lopez Obrador administration, but the Mexican foreign minister reportedly stated that border security was not to be addressed at the meeting. Other than deporting migrants at a higher rate than the US, Mexico also signed an agreement with the US in June pledging money to improve opportunities for work in the Northern Triangle. Nonetheless, questions about whether this agreement will bring meaningful change remain pertinent in the light of a worsening crisis.

Our survey research shows little public interest in accepting refugees. Public sentiment is unlikely to change unless the Lopez Obrador administration finds ways to both build sympathy for the plights of refugees and address public concerns about a refugee crisis with no perceived end in sight. For example, research in the US finds public support for refugees is often higher when the emphasis is on women and children, and the Lopez Obrador administration could attempt to frame the crisis as helping specifically these groups who historically comprise most refugees. Likewise, coordinating efforts with the US and other countries may help portray to the public that the burden of refugee resettlement is being equitably shared rather than disproportionately placed on Mexico.

Facing a complex situation affecting multiple governments requires coordinated efforts and considerable resources to reach a long-term solution. Until then, the Central American refugee crisis will continue and public backlash in Mexico likely increase.

Isabel Eliassen is a 2021 Honors graduate of Western Kentucky University. She triple majored in International Affairs, Chinese, and Linguistics.

Alianna Casas is an Honors Undergraduate Researcher at Western Kentucky University, majoring in Business Economics, Political Science, and a participant in the Joint Undergraduate/Master’s Program in Applied Economics.

Timothy S. Rich is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Western Kentucky University and Director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL). His research focuses on public opinion and electoral politics.

Funding for this survey was provided by the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University.

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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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