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Is America First?

Igor Ivanov

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Late last year, President of the United States Donald Trump presented the country’s new National Security Strategy. The unveiling was handled with the kind of pomp typical of the current U.S. head of state. Nevertheless, the first reaction to the new Strategy, both within the country and abroad, proved generally lukewarm. There are reasons for this.

First, the new Strategy, like the ones before it, is a result of complex bureaucratic agreements and compromises between different departments. As a rule, such agreements and compromises result in the dilution of the wording, and sometimes even in outward inconsistencies in the final document. Experience suggests that, in practice, the National Security Strategy is rather a set of broad guidelines than a concrete action plan.

Second, a more detailed look at the text of the National Security Strategy makes it clear that the new document lacks originality. The entire document boils down to a set of measures that are intended to preserve the leading role of the United States in the world. But has this not been the goal of all U.S. administrations ever since the end of the Cold War? Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in particular sought leadership supported by military might, whereas Barack Obama wanted to impose partnership relations on other countries that would serve Washington’s interest first and foremost.

In other words, the new National Security Strategy has proved unable to either mitigate the political tensions within the United States or allay the international community’s serious concerns about the current U.S. administration’s global policy.

The international situation is delicate in a sense that all kinds of security threats continue accumulating and require urgent collective to address them. However, not only is the leading global power unprepared for such collective efforts, it is, on the contrary, consistently demonstrating a willingness to act unilaterally, disregarding the interests of other countries, including its allies. This follows not only from the National Security Strategy, but also from Washington’s actions. The most telling recent example was Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

At the same time, there can be no doubt that for a long time to come the United States will remain one of the leading global players whose constructive input will be required, or even indispensable, in resolving many burning problems the international community faces.

The logical next question is how to build relations with the United States in these circumstances. Russia is not the only country asking itself this question. There can be no simple and unequivocal answer. At the same time, it might be useful to look at how individual states went about building relations with the new U.S. administration during the first year of Trump’s presidency.

European countries were at first taken aback by the insolence of the new president. However, they gradually came to the realization that the best approach at this stage would be a flexible combination of a firm stance on matters of principle with active behind-the-scenes work with the U.S. administration at various levels of Washington’s bureaucratic machinery. European countries united against Washington’s attempts to pull out from the multilateral nuclear accord with Iran, and opposed the United States’ initiative to introduce new sanctions against Russia that would have directly affected European interests. Europe also refused to support Trump’s proposal to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and distanced itself from the White House’s belligerent rhetoric towards North Korea. On the other hand, European leaders use every opportunity to voice their desire to preserve and strengthen allied relations with the United States.

China has reacted to the US administration’s attacks with little more than official statements, and seeks to avoid public controversies with the White House over specific issues. The country’s leader, Xi Jinping, visited the United States and treated Trump with utmost respect during the latter’s visit to Beijing. In the course of the talks, Xi Jinping made it clear that, even though China is not going to compromise on its interests, it is prepared for mutually beneficial cooperation, something the United States should be equally interested in.

As for the United States’ two closest neighbours, Mexico and Canada, their initial emotional reaction to Trump’s threats to introduce protectionist measures and revise the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement gradually transformed into diplomatic talks. It is still too early to guess where these talks will lead, but the crisis phase has been overcome for now.

These and other examples indicate that as long as the acute domestic political crisis in the United States continues and the Trump administration seeks to develop its own foreign policy and ways to implement it, the majority of countries prefer to take a wait-and-see approach. They are avoiding direct confrontation with Washington, while making it clear that, if the concept of “America first” is indeed becoming the foundation of U.S. foreign policy, then other countries also have interests they do not intend to compromise on. It is still too early to predict the results of this “silent” standoff, but the results of Trump’s first year in office demonstrate that such tactics can at least offset the destruction of the existing international system and avoid an outright confrontation between the United States and other major global players.

Russia’s relations with the United States under Trump administration are aggravated by a number of additional factors that do not exist in Washington’s relations with other countries. In addition to the well-known disagreements on some key aspects of international relations, the anti-Russian sanctions imposed by Washington over the past several years with overwhelming support from the United States Congress present a serious obstacle to the normalization of bilateral ties. Unfortunately, relations with Russia became one of the primary international and domestic political issues for the United States in 2017, which further complicates the possibility of Washington taking any constructive steps in its interaction with Moscow.

Is this a totally hopeless situation? It is certainly not.

In my capacity as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, I took part in the organization and hosting of President George W. Bush’s first official visit to Russia in May 2002. A Joint Declaration of the Presidents of Russia and the United States was signed as a result of the visit and read: “We are partners and we will cooperate to advance stability, security, and economic integration, and to jointly counter global challenges and to help resolve regional conflicts.” This statement appears dubious today, against the backdrop of the profound crisis in U.S.–Russia relations. Nevertheless, if we look beyond the current differences, which are situational to some extent, we will see that the two countries can, and must, be partners in the fight against terrorism, in nuclear non-proliferation, in settling regional conflicts and in addressing many other problems related to the security of the two states and of the world in general. Concrete facts illustrate that this is possible even in the current complicated situation. The most recent example is the assistance provided by the CIA to the Russian special services in preventing a major terrorist attack on St Petersburg shortly before the New Year celebrations. Everything is possible when there is political will!

Today, the entire world watches anxiously, but hopefully, to see how U.S.–Russia relations will develop moving forward. Everyone understands that any significant step taken by the two countries to meet each other halfway will lead to positive changes in the world and contribute to the strengthening of international security.

To a great degree, U.S.–Russia relations have historically depended on the personal relations between the leaders of the two countries. Each new chapter in cooperation between Moscow and Washington would begin with a summit meeting where the parties would agree on several fundamental issues, alleviate some of the mutual criticisms and old grudges and set relations on a new development course.

Unfortunately, the opportunity to implement this time-tested model has thus far failed to present itself under the current U.S. administration. Trump has held one-on-one meetings with virtually all world leaders. But not the Russian president. We may therefore assume that the President of the United States’ ability to conduct an independent policy with regard to Russia will continue to be extremely limited.

If this is indeed so, then it would be wise to use every opportunity to maintain and possibly expand dialogue. Not only with the executive branch, but with legislators as well. Not just with the Department of State, but with the other departments Russia cooperates with. Not just with Washington officials, but with the numerous independent analytical centres, foundations and public organizations. This dialogue will certainly be difficult and sometimes unpleasant, and there are no guarantees that overnight breakthroughs and radical changes for the better will be made. However, it is only through such dialogue that the foundation of new relations between Moscow and Washington can be laid.

For the American people, America is first. For Russian people, it is Russia that comes first. This was the case long before the Trump administration came to power, and it will remain so after this administration leaves. History demonstrates that this factor is not an obstacle to cooperation, provided that the parties respect each other’s legitimate interests and are guided by the long-term interests of universal security.

First published in our partner RIAC

President of the Russian International Affairs Council. Professor of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) of the Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs (RF MFA). Russian Academy of Sciences Corresponding Member. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation.

Americas

Mexico in the Trump Era: Trying to Deal with and Overcome Social Dominance

Nataliya Warder

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My work with Social Dominance Theory focuses on explaining the most obvious legitimizing myths in maintaining a negative atmosphere between America and Mexico. When it comes to this tension-filled relationnship, there are two varieties of legitimizing myths: hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myths, which promote greater degrees of social inequality, and hierarchy-attenuating legitimizing myths, which promote greater social equality. Depending on the issue or commodity involved, Mexico is faced with both types of challenges when it comes to SDO conflicts with America. (Pratto, Felicia, James Sidanius, Lisa M. Stallworth, and Bertram F. Malle. 1994. Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67, no. 4: 741-763.)

Ideologies that promote or maintain group inequality are the tools that legitimize discrimination. To work smoothly, these ideologies must be widely accepted within a society, appearing as self-apparent truths. Hence, we call them hierarchy-legitimizing myths. (Social Dominance Orientation: A Personality Variable Predicting Social and Political Attitudes Felicia Pratto, Jim Sidanius, Lisa M. Stallworth, and Bertram F. Malle, 1994, 741)There is substantial evidence that social dominance orientation (SDO) has several consistent attributes: (a) it can be measured reliably, (b) it is stable over time, (c) it is higher among men than among women, (d) it is higher among those who support hierarchy-enhancing ideologies and is lower among those who support hierarchy-attenuating ideologies, (e) it is higher among those who support hierarchy-enhancing policies and lower among those who support hierarchy-attenuating policies, (f) it is higher among those who choose hierarchy-enhancing social roles and lower among those who choose hierarchy-attenuating social roles, and (g) it serves to orient new social and political attitudes. (Pratto, Felicia, James Sidanius, Lisa M. Stallworth, and Bertram F. Malle,1994. Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67, no. 4: 741-763)

In general, America stakes great pride in its reputation for steadiness, reliability, commitment to a positive-sum global order in which all countries that play by the rules can prosper, soft power, identification with the advancement of democratic values, and an image as a dependable ally and country committed to solving the world’s toughest problems.In the past two years, however, the U.S. policy towards Mexico has changed from this course and is now leaning toward support of hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myths. This contributes to normalizing group-based inequality, which helps to destabilize partnerships. A particularly ugly hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myth was the campaign rhetoric uttered by now President Donald Trump, who labeled certain Mexicans as rapists, criminals, and “bad hombres.” This rhetoric still degrades and negatively impacts the latest immigration debates in the United States.

On January 23, 2017,Trump issued a Presidential Memorandum Regarding the Mexico City Policy: I hereby revoke the Presidential Memorandum of January 23, 2009, for the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (Mexico City Policy and Assistance for Voluntary Population Planning), and reinstate the Presidential Memorandum of January 22, 2001. Along with his earlier ugly verbalization, this order reinstates and dramatically expands the “Mexico City Policy” adopted under previous Republican administrations since 1984. This policy is also widely known as the “Global Gag Rule” due to the restrictions it places on how non-state organizations use their own non-US government private funds.

On February 7, 2017, the US State Department released a “six-month review” of the implementation of this policy, even though it admitted that six months was not nearly enough time to truly assess any effective change. Among the policies meant to be enforced: hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myths that would make it more likely that Mexican asylum seekers would demonstrate credible fear about returning to their home. Add on to this environment the blunt imagery of building a ‘wall’ along the southern U.S. border with Mexico and it is obvious that current American foreign policy is utilizing these hierarchy-enhancing myths to create an atmosphere where Mexicans are meant to feel subordinate if not outright inferior to Americans. This was only intensified by the failed attempt to achieve a policy compromise on immigration earlier this year where approximately 800,000 ‘Dreamers’ (children of illegal immigrants born in America and having no negative criminal record whatsoever) would be allowed to legally remain in the United States. The White House and Republicans in the U.S. Congress could not ultimately create the compromise they themselves said they were hoping to achieve. Indeed, some of the leading figures on Trump’s team who voiced opposition to strengthening innovations in border security were ultimately fired, creating an administrative environment where people openly felt they had to follow the groupthink or be let go. As a predictable response to all of these political inconsistencies and outright open hostilities, Mexico can theoretically exercise multiple opportunities to establish and maintain closer relations with American economic and political competitors, most notably Russia.

To the detriment of harmonious international relations, the current American policies toward Mexico have comingled human social injustice with the threatened cancellation of The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was originally intended for increased commerce and trade and meant to be a positive for all of North America. NAFTA was originally signed by Mexico, Canada, and the United States in 1994 and has led to greater North American economic/financial integration and stability. The extensive U.S.-Mexican border area, an increasingly efficient supply-chain management industry, and millions of Mexican migrants now living in the United States (legally and illegally), have all contributed to Mexico’s growing positive integration with the U.S. economy. At present, America is Mexico’s largest global trading partner. Mexico is America’s third-largest, behind China and Canada. Mexico supplies approximately one third of America’s crude oil. Thus, Mexico works diligently with many vital U.S. trade/business interests that are have historically been enthusiastically supported by most Republicans. These should be potential negotiation strong points for Mexico, reminding the American Congress that it would not just be Mexico to suffer should relations between the two nations continue to worsen.

Mexico can and must respond to these threats by attempting to redefine its own national interests and economic options with the United States. The dominance of the U.S. in its own regional neighborhood is difficult to overcome. But the current administration, and its continued use of hierarchy-enhancing social dominance position, is clearly a trend Mexico cannot support and must strive to actively undermine. Of the two varieties of legitimizing myths discussed earlier, it is the hierarchy-attenuating legitimizing myths, which promote a sense of social equality have to be embedded within any and all political gestures coming out of Mexico City toward Washington. If Mexico does not find a willing or cooperative partner just to its north when it comes to this benevolent policy, then it will have little choice but to pursue its own Mexican version of hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myths, casting America in a much less flattering light and seeking to establish Mexico’s own form of social dominance vis-à-vis Americans in general. The fact that this will seem almost implausible to most Americans simply illustrates just how deep the implied assumption of social dominance and inequality has become to Mexico’s neighbor to the north.

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Americas

Tom Cotton: What’s the Reason for AIPAC’s $ 4.5 Million Support for the Young Senator?

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In recent months, news sources in the United States have reported the possibility of the appointment of the young Arkansas senator, Tom Cotton, as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the US National Security Advisor. 40-year-old Cotton is considered the youngest American senator, and, of course, many of the active Israeli lobbies in the United States count on his role-making in American political-security equations. In April 2015, the New York Times admitted that the Zionist lobbies’ financial support for Tom Cotton was much higher than that for other Republican senators. The New York Times has announced that the amount of this financial assistance was around $ 2 million.This is while some informed sources in the US say the AIPAC lobby has spent $ 4.5 million for Tom Cotton to insure his winning against “Mark Pryor” in the 2014 Senate elections.

In August 2013, Tom Cotton, with AIPAC’s green light and support, entered the political scene against former Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor. In the meanwhile, some prominent personalities and politicians in the Republican Party of America, such as “Marco Rubio” and “Mitt Romney”, by the order of AIPAC leaders, had also fully supported Tom Cotton.

Eventually, Cotton won 56.5% of the vote (against 40 percent of Pryor vote), and thus defeating his rival, entered the Senate. However, the main question is, what’s the reason for this huge, unnatural support of Zionist lobbies, AIPAC in particular, for Tom Cotton? In other words, what capacity did these organizations and lobbies see in Tom Cotton, that they have been willing to use their full power to help him enter the US Senate? Is AIPAC’s goal of such widespread support merely Cotton’s gaining the Arkansas seat in the Senate? The answer to this question is negative.

A security analyst in the United States who didn’t want his name to be revealed told our reporter:

“Given the young age of Cotton compared with other American politicians, and his commitment to Tel Aviv, the Israeli authorities have tried to use him as an influential factor in US domestic security and foreign policy. AIPAC has always named Cotton as a trend-making agent in its calculations. This Zionist lobby’s recent attempts for Cotton’s presence as the CIA Director can also be analyzed in the same vein.”

This analyst added:

“It is likely that the AIPAC lobby would ask Cotton not to run for the Senate in the congressional elections in 2018, so that he can be employed by the US government as the National Security Advisor, or CIA Director in Trump’s government.”

In January 2015, Tom Cotton played an important role in leading and managing the anti-JCPOA movement in the US Senate in the midst of nuclear talks between Iran and the members of the P15+ 1. On March 8, 2015, Senator Cotton wrote and sent a letter to Iranian leaders. In this letter, it was insisted that any nuclear deal without the approval of the US Congress would only be valid until the end of Obama’s presidency in 2017, and the next president may easily cancel it. Another 46 Republican senators also signed the letter.

The existing evidences suggests that such a letter was ordered by the direct order of the AIPAC lobby, and was designed to negatively influence the negotiation process. However, Tom Cotton’s commitment to the AIPAC lobby, and beyond that to Israel, is much more than that.

Accordingly, Cotton is consulting AIPAC before making any decision in the field of US domestic and foreign policy, and asks for the views of the lobby’s leaders. Even in cases which AIPAC doesn’t express its views on critical issues to American senators, Cotton has the duty to indirectly impose AIPAC’s stances on senators and even on key members of the House of Representatives. It is not without a reason that Tom Cotton is named as the main AIPAC piece in the Senate. For the thorough financial and political support of AIPAC leaders and Israeli authorities, Cotton has turned into Tel Aviv’s agent in the Senate (in the current period), and generally in the political scene of the United States.

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Decoding Pompeo’s words at US senate

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who is nominee for Secretary of State, has recently mentioned meaningful words in his hearing at the Senate on Iran and the nuclear deal. In his words, he acknowledged that Iran was not after nuclear weapons even before the nuclear deal, nor will be in the future.

On the other hand, he has announced that he is seeking to fix and correct the nuclear deal with Iran! This is while the US President Donald Trump is scheduled to announce his final decision on Iran’s nuclear deal by May 12. “I want to fix this deal,” Pompeo said. “That’s the objective. I think that’s in the best interest of [the United States].”

At his recent Senate hearing, Pompeo has emphasized that as CIA Director, he didn’t find any evidences that Iran has violated the nuclear deal. At the same time, he believes that Tehran can’t expand its program shortly after the US withdrawal from the nuclear accord. He emphasized that his goal is to correct the nuclear deal with Iran. Pompeo said:

“If there’s no chance that we can fix it, I will recommend to the president (Trump) that we do our level best to work with our allies to achieve a better outcome and a better deal,” he said. “Even after May 12, there’s still much diplomatic work to be done.”

A simple decoding of Pompeo’s remarks suggests that, despite the opposition to the nuclear accord, he is trying to deal differently with this issue as the future US Secretary of State. Some analysts also believe that Pompeo has adopted such an approach to face the US Senators’ relative opposition to the White House’s withdrawal from the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).

In any case, according to Pompeo, Donald Trump may not make a final decision on the nuclear deal with Iran on May 12, and he will continue to consult with his European allies on what he calls “fixing the flaws of the JCPOA”.

Pompeo’s remarks indicate that the White House hasn’t come to a determined and clear decision on how to deal with the JCPOA yet. On the other hand, numerous consultations by representatives of the four countries, the United States, France, Britain and Germany, continues in silence.

Western sources have argued that these countries are consulting on the three controversial issue, namely “the Sunset clauses”, “limiting Iran’s missile power” and “extensive inspections of Iran’s military sites”. These sources claimed that the only remaining disagreement between the four countries is over deletion of the so-called Sunset clauses from the nuclear deal, and thus putting permanent limitations on Iran’s nuclear program.

Pompeo is currently the CIA director, and ironically, he was one of the foremost critics of the Iran nuclear deal when he served as a House Republican from Kansas. Trump fired Secretary of State “Rex Tillerson” over the raised disagreements, and picked Pompeo as his successor in March, just two months before the deadline on May 12 to decide whether to bring back sanctions that former President of the United States waived when the JCPOA was first implemented.

Before this, many Western politicians and analysts saw the nomination of Mike Pompeo for secretary of state by Trump as a sign of Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal. Beyond that, John Bolton’s appointment as US national security advisor also sent a clear message to the international system that Trump is about to pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran.

John Bolton is now silent about the fate of the JCPOA! The silence seems very meaningful at the current time. It’s obvious that John Bolton is one of the main opponents of the nuclear deal with Iran, and he doesn’t even believe in negotiating with the European Troika on maintaining the JCPOA.

The important question, however, is whether Bolton’s silence reflects the continuing paradoxical and vague approach of the US towards the JCPOA? Or did Trump ask him to be silent in this regard and wait for the final results of their talks with Europe?

American senators still don’t have a clear picture of Trump’s final decision about the JCPOA. Meanwhile, some Republican senators like “Rand Paul” and “Jeff Flake” are worried about the costs and consequences of Trump’s decision to refuse joining other members of P5+1.

Most US senators tried not to mention the nuclear deal with Iran in their speeches during recent weeks. This is while some senators such as “Tom Cotton” and “Ted Cruz” strongly encourage Donald Trump’s government to pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran.

First published at our partner Mehr News Agency

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