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Donald Trump’s Iran policy and the global order

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This is a conversation between Dr.Sajad Abedi from Université Saint-Joseph de Beyrouth and Dr.Payam mohseni from Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Dr.Payam Mohseni is Iran Project Director & Fellow for Iran Studies in Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Are you surprised by the choice of Donald Trump?

The election of President Donald Trump was never out of the question and he clearly presented a strong electoral threat to the American political establishment–whether to the Democratic or Republican parties. His election, therefore, while surprising, was always in the realm of possibility especially as popular disillusionment against the current state of affairs grew. While the election was shocking to the majority of political analysts in the United States and the world, a longer view of America’s history reveals that anti-establishment candidates have been elected at critical junctures, including perhaps most prominently Andrew Jackson who features on the $20 bill and whose portrait Trump displayed in the oval office shortly after assuming the presidency.

Trump was anti-establishment in both the primaries and the final elections. We have to remember that Trump was spurned by the Republican political elite and opposed by most of the top leadership yet was able to sweep the primaries within his own party, defying the odds against him, before moving on to the general elections where he was financially and institutionally outmatched by Hillary Clinton by a wide margin. That being said, Trump did lose the popular vote by about three million votes and his election does reveal a serious divide within the American electorate and increasing polarization of world views in the country.

Finally, Trump also represents a unique blend of populism and capitalism which is specific to the American context. Historically and even in contemporary times, populism and capitalism do not run hand in hand but Trump was able to simultaneously show himself as champions of both.

What is the meaning of this choice for America’s role in the world?

Trump strongly critiqued American commitments abroad, including the war in Iraq as well as America’s security subsidies provided through NATO. He also critiqued global trade agreements such as NAFTA passed under the Clinton administration which he saw as betraying the American worker for cheaper labor abroad. He promised to put “America first” which means have other countries bear the costs and burdens of upholding global security. However, at the same time, he has surrounded himself with hardline advisors and appointed officials to head the Defense Department and CIA who are known for their aggressive posture towards Iran and policy in the Middle East.

In short, Trump’s policies are partly contradictory and not fully cogent. His critique of American involvement in the sovereign affairs of other countries and anti-liberal cultural stance contradicts his privileging of a hawkish foreign policy team and much of his other bellicose rhetoric. These are currently competing elements that must find an uneasy equilibrium in his administration. I suspect that his policies will be largely ad-hoc and shifting with a strong tilt towards brinkmanship in the Middle East but with a simultaneous desire not to get bogged down in yet another expensive war in the region. His balancing act of these two sides will be determinative of his overall foreign policy.

What is your biggest worry about global stability due to this choice?

This is an important stage in global order and security and the long term effects of Trump’s policies will not be seen for a while. For the near future, global institutions are here to stay: the dollar is the world’s reserve currency, institutions such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and IMF are still supreme players, the world’s largest economic powers (America, China, the EU, Japan, etc.) have stable relations and capitalist-based economic systems, and American security umbrellas stretch across the entire world including SE Asia, the Persian Gulf, and much of Europe.

Trump believes that America is subsidizing this system at far too steep a cost and wants his global partners to share more of the burden. Whether this will fundamentally deter and undermine the current international order is yet to be seen but it seems unlikely that Trump’s policies alone will contribute to the undermining of global stability as it is currently understood. There are larger forces at play than Trump’s election which will affect global stability in the near future. In addition to the structural implications the Trump presidency will have on global order, there is also the ideological implications in terms of US values. Trump has moved away from liberal discourse and has prioritized US interests over the spread of US values such as democracy and human rights. He is not restrained from working with autocratic partners as long as it serves US interests. This will have global implications as to the future of American values in the world and the rise of other political and cultural thought systems.

Is the ISIL threat becoming more serious with regards to Trump’s election?

Irrespective of the election of Trump, ISIS is on the decline and will be defeated in its current state. However ISIS-like mutants very well could reemerge over the long run due to chronic state breakdown in large swaths of the Middle East, the funding of radical proxy groups by outside powers, and the incentive for the remnants of the Baathist regime in Iraq to create instability in the region.  In the areas which have Iranian influence and partnership, salafi-extremism will be largely stifled as we have seen the trend in Iraq and Syria–however its threat will remain in the short term. The larger question is what will happen to the future of US-Saudi alliance and the stability of the Gulf States. So far Trump seems to have given a prominent signal of support to Saudi Arabia in his recent trip to the region. But how this will play out in Syria and in regional posturing and proxy warfare against Iran is still unclear.

What will be the response and reaction of Iran?

Iran has paired with its local partners in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen to turn back the tide against ISIS, and other extremist salafi groups. Under the umbrella of the “Axis of Resistance,” an organic ground up structure is being built to create order and stability in the Middle East and overcome the conditions that breed extremism and instability. The continuation of this policy will see Iran’s power and influence grow in the region as it fills in the vacuum left by a defeated ISIS and the vacuum of state power in the Arab world. Due to the trend line of increased instability and weak state power in the Arab world, the potential for conflict as well as for the potential of Iran increasing its influence by supporting local popular armed movements is high.

What is Trump’s policy on Iran sanctions?

Trump has been very vocal against the Iran deal and routinely has questioned it in public. He believes it should be renegotiated or scrapped.  As such the Trump administration does not oppose the furthering of sanctions against Iran and in fact sees them as a necessity to constrain Iran and keep the country in check. In particular, sanctions will be increased regarding Iran’s ballistic missile program, regional activities, and human rights–however this is not because of Trump but there is nearly united elite consensus for this in the United States. A Clinton victory would have very likely resulted in increased non-nuclear sanctions as well on Iran. Trump however more anti-JCPOA than Clinton is and will try to find ways to undermine the agreement.  It is possible that Trump will not continue verification of Iranian compliance with the JCPOA, but it is less likely that he would not continue waiving nuclear sanctions as agreed to in the terms of the JCPOA. The White House would like to increase pressure on Iran with the hopes that Iran itself will break out of the agreement and will thus be blamed for violating the JCPOA. The bigger question is thus how Iranian elites will react to the continuing series of sanctions against the country and what their toleration will be of such moves.

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Middle East

Process to draft Syria constitution begins this week

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The process of drafting a new constitution for Syria will begin this week, the UN Special Envoy for the country, Geir Pedersen, said on Sunday at a press conference in Geneva.

Mr. Pedersen was speaking following a meeting with the government and opposition co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, who have agreed to start the process for constitutional reform.

The members of its so-called “small body”, tasked with preparing and drafting the Constitution, are in the Swiss city for their sixth round of talks in two years, which begin on Monday. 

Their last meeting, held in January, ended without progress, and the UN envoy has been negotiating between the parties on a way forward.

“The two Co-Chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting for constitutional reform,” Mr. Pedersen told journalists.

“So, the new thing this week is that we will actually be starting a drafting process for constitutional reform in Syria.”

The UN continues to support efforts towards a Syrian-owned and led political solution to end more than a decade of war that has killed upwards of 350,000 people and left 13 million in need of humanitarian aid.

An important contribution

The Syrian Constitutional Committee was formed in 2019, comprising 150 men and women, with the Government, the opposition and civil society each nominating 50 people.

This larger group established the 45-member small body, which consists of 15 representatives from each of the three sectors.

For the first time ever, committee co-chairs Ahmad Kuzbari, the Syrian government representative, and Hadi al-Bahra, from the opposition side, met together with Mr. Pedersen on Sunday morning. 

He described it as “a substantial and frank discussion on how we are to proceed with the constitutional reform and indeed in detail how we are planning for the week ahead of us.”

Mr. Pedersen told journalists that while the Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process, “the committee in itself will not be able to solve the Syrian crisis, so we need to come together, with serious work, on the Constitutional Committee, but also address the other aspects of the Syrian crisis.”

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North Africa: Is Algeria Weaponizing Airspace and Natural Gas?

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In a series of shocking and unintelligible decisions, the Algerian Government closed its airspace to Moroccan military and civilian aircraft on September 22, 2021, banned French military planes from using its airspace on October 3rd, and decided not to renew the contract relative to the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which goes through Morocco and has been up and running since 1996–a contract that comes to end on October 31.

In the case of Morocco, Algeria advanced ‘provocations and hostile’ actions as a reason to shut airspace and end the pipeline contract, a claim that has yet to be substantiated with evidence. Whereas in the case of France, Algeria got angry regarding visa restrictions and comments by French President Emmanuel Macron on the Algerian military grip on power and whether the North African country was a nation prior to French colonization in 1830.

Tensions for decades

Algeria has had continued tensions with Morocco for decades, over border issues and over the Western Sahara, a territory claimed by Morocco as part of its historical territorial unity, but contested by Algeria which supports an alleged liberation movement that desperately fights for independence since the 1970s.

With France, the relation is even more complex and plagued with memories of colonial exactions and liberation and post-colonial traumas, passions and injuries. France and Algeria have therefore developed, over the post-independence decades, a love-hate attitude that quite often mars otherwise strong economic and social relations.

Algeria has often reacted to the two countries’ alleged ‘misbehavior’ by closing borders –as is the case with Morocco since 1994—or calling its ambassadors for consultations, or even cutting diplomatic relations, as just happened in August when it cut ties with its western neighbor.

But it is the first-time Algeria resorts to the weaponization of energy and airspace. “Weaponization” is a term used in geostrategy to mean the use of goods and commodities, that are mainly destined for civilian use and are beneficial for international trade and the welfare of nations, for geostrategic, political and even military gains. As such “weaponization” is contrary to the spirit of free trade, open borders, and solidarity among nations, values that are at the core of common international action and positive globalization.

What happened?

Some observers advance continued domestic political and social unrest in Algeria, whereby thousands of Algerians have been taking to the streets for years to demand regime-change and profound political and economic reforms. Instead of positively responding to the demands of Algerians, the government is probably looking for desperate ways to divert attention and cerate foreign enemies as sources of domestic woes. Morocco and France qualify perfectly for the role of national scapegoats.

It may be true also that in the case of Morocco, Algeria is getting nervous at its seeing its Western neighbor become a main trade and investment partner in Africa, a role it can levy to develop diplomatic clout regarding the Western Sahara issue. Algeria has been looking for ways to curb Morocco’s growing influence in Africa for years. A pro-Algerian German expert, by the name of Isabelle Werenfels, a senior fellow in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, even recommended to the EU to put a halt to Morocco’s pace and economic clout so that Algeria could catch up. Weaponization may be a desperate attempt to hurt the Moroccan economy and curb its dynamism, especially in Africa.

The impact of Algeria’s weaponization of energy and airspace on the Moroccan economy is minimal and on French military presence in Mali is close to insignificant; however, it shows how far a country that has failed to administer the right reforms and to transfer power to democratically elected civilians can go.

In a region, that is beleaguered by threats and challenges of terrorism, organized crime, youth bulge, illegal migration and climate change, you would expect countries like Algeria, with its geographic extension and oil wealth, to be a beacon of peace and cooperation. Weaponization in international relations is inacceptable as it reminds us of an age when bullying and blackmail between nations, was the norm. The people of the two countries, which share the same history, language and ethnic fabric, will need natural gas and unrestricted travel to prosper and grow and overcome adversity; using energy and airspace as weapons is at odds with the dreams of millions of young people in Algeria and Morocco that aspire for a brighter future in an otherwise gloomy economic landscape. Please don’t shatter those dreams!

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Middle East

Breaking The Line of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

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The conflict between Israel-Palestine is a prolonged conflict and has become a major problem, especially in the Middle East region.

A series of ceasefires and peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine that occurred repeatedly did not really “normalize” the relationship between the two parties.

In order to end the conflict, a number of parties consider that the two-state solution is the best approach to create two independent and coexistent states. Although a number of other parties disagreed with the proposal, and instead proposed a one-state solution, combining Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip into one big state.

Throughout the period of stalemate reaching an ideal solution, the construction and expansion of settlements carried out illegally by Israel in the Palestinian territories, especially the West Bank and East Jerusalem, also continued without stopping and actually made the prospect of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis increasingly eroded, and this could jeopardize any solutions.

The attempted forced eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah district, which became one of the sources of the conflict in May 2021, for example, is an example of how Israel has designed a system to be able to change the demographics of its territory by continuing to annex or “occupy” extensively in the East Jerusalem area. This is also done in other areas, including the West Bank.

In fact, Israel’s “occupation” of the eastern part of Jerusalem which began at the end of the 1967 war, is an act that has never received international recognition.

This is also confirmed in a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council Numbers 242, 252, 267, 298, 476, 478, 672, 681, 692, 726, 799, 2334 and also United Nations General Assembly Resolutions Number 2253, 55/130, 60/104, 70/89, 71/96, A/72/L.11 and A/ES-10/L.22 and supported by the Advisory Opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004 on Legal Consequences of The Construction of A Wall in The Occupied Palestine Territory which states that East Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian territories under Israeli “occupation”.

1 or 2 country solution

Back to the issue of the two-state solution or the one-state solution that the author mentioned earlier. The author considers that the one-state solution does not seem to be the right choice.

Facts on the ground show how Israel has implemented a policy of “apartheid” that is so harsh against Palestinians. so that the one-state solution will further legitimize the policy and make Israel more dominant. In addition, there is another consideration that cannot be ignored that Israel and Palestine are 2 parties with very different and conflicting political and cultural identities that are difficult to reconcile.

Meanwhile, the idea of ​​a two-state solution is an idea that is also difficult to implement. Because the idea still seems too abstract, especially on one thing that is very fundamental and becomes the core of the Israel-Palestine conflict, namely the “division” of territory between Israel and Palestine.

This is also what makes it difficult for Israel-Palestine to be able to break the line of conflict between them and repeatedly put them back into the status quo which is not a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The status quo, is in fact a way for Israel to continue to “annex” more Palestinian territories by establishing widespread and systematic illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today, more than 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In fact, a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council have explicitly and explicitly called for Israel to end the expansion of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territory and require recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the region.

Thus, all efforts and actions of Israel both legislatively and administratively that can cause changes in the status and demographic composition in East Jerusalem and the West Bank must continue to be condemned. Because this is a violation of the provisions of international law.

Fundamental thing

To find a solution to the conflict, it is necessary to look back at the core of the conflict that the author has mentioned earlier, and the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to encourage Israel to immediately end the “occupation” that it began in 1967, and return the settlements to the pre-Islamic borders 1967 In accordance with UN Security Council resolution No. 242.

But the question is, who can stop the illegal Israeli settlements in the East Jerusalem and West Bank areas that violate the Palestinian territories?

In this condition, international political will is needed from countries in the world, to continue to urge Israel to comply with the provisions of international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and also the UN Security Council Resolutions.

At the same time, the international community must be able to encourage the United Nations, especially the United Nations Security Council, as the organ that has the main responsibility for maintaining and creating world peace and security based on Article 24 of the United Nations Charter to take constructive and effective steps in order to enforce all United Nations Resolutions, and dare to sanction violations committed by Israel, and also ensure that Palestinian rights are important to protect.

So, do not let this weak enforcement of international law become an external factor that also “perpetuates” the cycle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It will demonstrate that John Austin was correct when he stated that international law is only positive morality and not real law.

And in the end, the most fundamental thing is that the blockade, illegal development, violence, and violations of international law must end. Because the ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict is only a temporary solution to the conflict.

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