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The United States of America needs to reiterate its global-police role

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In relation to the Trump’s isolationistic assertion, which America should pull back as a world police and according to its diminishing role, Counter Narco-Terrorism Alliance Germany called on Germany, together with France and Canada,to take the lead to keep in place the international liberal order.

The CNT-Alliance did not expect the long-winding pre-coalition debate (Sondierungs-Gespräche) with a number of possible outcomes. Germany is permanently tied up in internal affairs not being able to put much efforts into its self-determined leading role in Europe and the world, with no change being expected at least until mid-April.While Germany celebrates extensive navel-gazing, Angela Merkel tries to keep control within the EU through back room phone calls. Her ministers take advantage of the situation: Christian Schmidt, member of the CDU’s sister party CSU, acted against her directive in an EU decision end of November on Glyphosate, causing a huge fuss in all parties and poisoning the pre-coalition debate. The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, takes his chance too and pushes his agenda of modernizing the EU ahead, much to the dissatisfaction of Berlin. Together with the still not clearly vocalized foreign policy and the raising problems in the much divided German society,we do not expect Germany tobecome part of the joint role of a world leading group soon.

Now the eyes are once again drawn to the America’s leading role as a global-police, but the first year of the Trump administration has been characterized by the lack of clear policy. The great hopes that many countries of the world hung on the change of administration and a new proactive president in the White House have slowly been eclipsed by a sense of confusion, given United States behavior that shows little consistency and no clear strategic objectives.

President Obama, apart from striving for an agreement with Iran, limited his involvement in the Middle East, but was forced to direct new attention to the region due to the Islamic State challenge. In the election campaign, Trump also spoke in favor of limiting United States intervention in various world arenas. However, he too has been forced to confront the spread of Iranian hegemony, continue to fight the Islamic State, and attempt to stabilize Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Libya and Afghanistan (he sent thousands of more troops to fight insurgents in the country).

Consequently, it appears that the Trump administration has no choice but to continue in the role of the global-police to protect American interests. In places throughout the world, a vacuum is quickly filled by elements working against American interests. Under the previous administration, the vacuum was exploited by Iran, the Islamic State, Turkey, North Korea, Pakistan and Russia.

The Iranian regime is working fervently to expand its influence in South-Central Asia and middle-east. It can claim several achievements, due to the weakness of the previous American administration, as shown by the nuclear agreement. Thus, the Iranian regime after the JCPOA, while released from international isolation and economic sanctions and not facing any military or internal challenge, has managed to extend its influence to Afghanistan, Iraq (a Shiite government) and Yemen (through the Houthis); is in control of Lebanon (through Hezbollah); seeks control of Syria; is undermining Sunni regimes in the region, such as those in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia; and is supporting Hamas and Islamic Jihad in their war on Israel.

The Sunni jihadists strive to establish an Islamic caliphate, whether sooner, using the Islamic State (ISIS) model of announcing the caliphate and setting up a civilian system to administer the territories it conquers while continuing the military struggle to retain and expand these territories, or later, using the al-Qaeda method of first eliminating Western intervention in the Middle East and toppling the local “infidel” regimes, in order to establish the caliphate after their destruction. These elements must be defeated, the underground terror infrastructures that remain in their hands, particularly in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and North Africa. This terror will focus not only on Central-South Asian countries including Afghanistan and the Arab world but also on the West.

Given its global scope, the war on Salafist jihadist elements requires a concentrated international effort led by the United States, with intelligence, operational, economic, and political cooperation between all the relevant actors, particularly in the south-central Asia Middle East, to defeat them in the territory they control and to frustrate the terror attacks they intend to mount anywhere in the world.

President Erdogan supports the Muslim Brotherhood not only in the Middle East but also in Afghanistan. He has recently invited Gulbodin Hikmatyar a famous warlord and one of the founding figure of Muslim Brotherhood in Afghanistan to visit Ankara. Erdogan seeks to reposition Turkey as a neo-Ottoman empire based on the movement’s ideology. Under the Obama administration no significant American or international pressure was put on Erdogan, although he acted against American and European interests, his Economic assistance to the Islamic State through purchases of oil from the organization. He did not prevent the passage of jihadists from all over the world through Turkey, either on their way to join the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, or on their way back to their countries of origin, particularly in Europe, as trained and experienced terrorists. The result was a number of serious attacks carried out by these activists in Europe especially in Germany, France and Belgium. Erdogan has encouraged illegal migration of Muslims to Europe (refugees and economic migrants) through Turkey, and particularly to the Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea through a Turkish system of human smuggling. Erdogan does not hide his intention to Islamize Europe through demographic change.

Pakistani Army and the country’s Inter-service intelligence have continued to support insurgency in Afghanistan and has deepened it strategic depth in the country. The country tries to topple the Kabul regime which is ally of Washington and New Delhi. 

It is clear that one of the goals of President Vladimir Putin through his proactive involvement in Afghanistan and Syria is to strengthen the status of Russia as a global power. Nevertheless, Trump and Putin can reach an understanding regarding the division of spheres of influence.

The Arab Sunni camp felt abandoned and even betrayed by the Obama administration. The overthrow of President Husni Mubarak, the failure to support President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt at the start of the counterrevolution, and accommodation with the Shiite camp led by Iran as part of the strategy in the war on the Islamic State all led to a crisis of trust between the United States and those that were until then its natural allies in the region. President Trump reflects a different policy, as shown in his visit to Riyadh in May 2017 and the attempts to provide political, economic, and military support to non-jihadist Sunni elements in Syria, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). It is not clear if the policy of supporting non-jihadi Sunnis is continuing. True, since the start of the campaign in al-Raqqa there were signs of increasing American aid, but as the larger battles have died down and perhaps following Trump-Putin understandings on Syria, there are signs that support and assistance are shrinking. This is a serious error. If this is the case, then once again the United States will be seen by the Sunnis as an unreliable ally, while Putin manages to present himself as a reliable pillar for his allies.

The United States must adopt a clear position in favor of the Sunnis and against the Shiites led by Iran. The positive attempt to support the Kurds in their war against the Islamic State must set an example for similar support for non-jihadist Sunnis. In this context, the United States can obtain help from the Sunni countries, which will act out of their interest in preventing the spread of Shiite, Salafist, and jihadist influence, or the Muslim Brotherhood.

Obama’s eight years of foreign and security policy that weakened US status as a global power, failure by the Trump administration to stand up for its interests and those of its allies reflects badly on the US, particularly regarding North Korea, Iran and Pakistan. A gap between words and deeds showing unwillingness, lack of determination, and lack of seriousness will further weaken the United States. The attempts by previous administrations to postpone dealing with security challenges prove that over time the challenge only becomes more difficult, therefore Trump’s Administration needs to recap its role as a global-police. Whether he’ll be able to pick up the lead and take on his duty is much uncertain since the American President faces a number difficulties in his country and his personal surrounding. The most recent are a tax bill causing much opposition in America’s middle class and Special Counsel Mueller steadily taking out one of his allies after the other, leaving not much room to think about foreign policy. 

Ajmal Sohail is Co-founder and Co-president of Counter Narco-terrorism Alliance Germany and he is National Security and counter terrorism analyst. He is active member of Christian Democratic Union (CDU)as well.

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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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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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