It will soon be a year since the July 2018 Mexican presidential elections that saw Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as the new head of the Executive. Has he lived up to the expectations 7 months after his inauguration? His popularity is real for now, it is largely based, however, on promises that have not yet been fulfilled, and that perhaps will be impossible to in his term.
One of the most striking features of his term so far is the fact that AMLO has displayed a serious disinterest in foreign affairs. AMLO won’t be attending the G-20, nor the WTO General Council Meeting to be held later on this year in Japan and Switzerland. This move risks the international presence of Mexico in the world. AMLO simply passed on the opportunity to negotiate potential trade deals with world leaders and show the world that he is indeed dissimilar from mainstream populists his outspoken opponents associate him with.
He has also effectively taken Mexico out of key regional groups in Latin America: Until his inauguration day, on December 1st, 2018 Mexico had played a central role in the Lima Group, formed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. Guyana and Saint Lucia, countries pushing for the restoration of democracy, peace and security in Venezuela. Mexico has stopped participating in most of the Group’s meetings. Mexico has also stopped its active participation in the International Contact Group on Venezuela that seeks a negotiated solution to the Venezuelan problem. This group was the result of the conference jointly sponsored by the governments of Mexico and Uruguay; and that include other participating countries such as Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. AMLO has then pulled Mexico out of 2 of the most important international groups dealing with one of the most pressing issues in Latin America.
AMLO has self-imposed an awkward international isolation that has left Mexico in a fragile diplomatic position and has undermined Mexican strength to defend from Trump’s threats and tantrums.
It is hard to understand AMLO’s inward-looking strategy. Mexico has let the opportunity go to form alliances with Europe, China, or other countries suffering from Trump’s equally protectionist foreign policy. The Mexican president during his first 7 months in power has not made any single trip abroad, nor did he visit any countries prior to his inauguration. AMLO seems determined to isolate Mexico from the international community for the sake of his increasingly worrying populist-like policies at home. Mexico and the United States have built a very odd political and economic marriage. They both share an insistence to put their own country first. Alike Trump, AMLO claims that his supporters have been mistreated by past administrations and economic and political elites. Similarly, both also have very little patience for established norms, institutions, checks and balances.
AMLO has also made domestic governmental austerity another of his core administration values. If well-targeted, following years of financial profligacy, this would be a more than welcome initiative. AMLO’s austerity has been ill-targeted and non-sensical. The way he allocates funds seem to follow a vengeful and populist attitude aimed at appeasing his electoral base that elected him. He has lowered wages; he has fired a large number of civil servants and has slashed the budgets of several ministries and organisations to centralise spending and fight public sector corruption. Health, Science and Technology, Home Affairs, the military have all faced severe budget cuts. He also cancelled the construction of Mexico City’s airport, which had already been partially built, at an enormous cost. Mexico’s economic growth is slowing down, and the current administration’s ill-planned decisions will mean that AMLO will face tighter budget constraints than previous administrations.
The two most worrying aspects of AMLO’s administration so far are the hyper-centralisation that he has carried out to return all the threads of power to presidential hands; and his absolute control of the Congress, meaning that they are able to amend the Constitution in any way they please. He is also attempting to establish a parallel system of power and government in each of the 32 states by naming a personal delegate. Such delegates will oversee the disbursing of federal funding becoming de-facto local officials accountable only to the president. He is also intending to pull back funding from pre-existing social programmes for victims of domestic violence, nurseries, and sport and academic activities.
AMLO’s strategy is nothing new. It bears a striking resemblance to the PRI’s heyday when the party kept a tight control over every sector of society. This power grab has been accompanied by an aggressive expansion of his political base. He has been handing out monthly stipends to nearly 10 million retirees, more than 7 million young people, and disabled that made up a large portion of his electorate. He also sacrificed the Education Reform to gain the loyalty of one of Mexico’s most numerous, corrupt and politically influential trade unions, the National Trade Union of Teachers (SNTE).All these policies are a throwback to Mexico’s old politics of clientelism, nepotism and authoritarianism.
Security and violence also remain as one of the most pressing issues in contemporary Mexico and that the last 3 administrations have been unable to thwart. AMLO’s strategy seems equally doomed to fail as he offers nothing new. None of his current plans will mean a real difference without a radically different approach to the justice and rule of law system and institutions currently in place. He needs the political will to build the capacity for real independent prosecution, and an internationally backed commission against corruption, impunity and human rights violations would be AMLO’s best chance to keep violence and security from ruining his other priorities.
Many of the current administration plans will, in all likelihood, fail to come to fruition. The popularity of AMLO is not rooted, however, in good economic decisions, nor in confidence in its government. In Mexico, popularity does not go hand in hand with governmental efficiency and effectiveness. Nevertheless, his popularity will soon end when people realise that he is unable to solve Mexico’s myriad of problems. The inability of the current administration to deal effectively with pressing challenges will only expose the country to greater domestic and international vulnerabilities.
AMLO might be on a dangerous path towards a point of no return. He continues to display authoritarian, demagogic inclinations, and there are virtually no counterweights as political opposition is in disarray. He, nonetheless, lacks the strong economic backup that once sustained the regime of the old state party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Therefore, he is forced to look for alternative ways to fund his ambitious political project or he will be doomed to fail. In the end, finances will be his make or break. Maintaining a patronage network to obtain votes require serious financial backing. With sufficient funds at his disposal, he could solidify his electoral base for years; without it his popularity and power will slowly erode. The damaging consequences to Mexico’s fragile institutions will last though as democratic checks and balances are harder to build than to break as the slow, protracted consolidation of democracy in Mexico has shown.
Transition 2021: How Biden is likely to approach the Middle East
In terms of foreign policy, the new President of the United States, Joe Biden,is likely to face numerous challenges, especially when it comes to the Middle East because of the disastrous policies of the former President, Donald Trump, in the region. Even in his inauguration speech, Biden made it clear that it was going to be testing time. Some of the challenges that the new administration would be facing includethe nuclear deal with Iran, the ongoing war in Yemen, issues of human rights issues and the current deadlock between Israel and Palestine. There is some possibility that Biden’s foreign policy towards the Middle East would either be a revival of Barack Obama’s former policies or new strategies would be formulated based on the nature of the challenges faced. However, it is certain that Biden will address or undo Trump’s terrible policies in the region.
The Biden administration’s top foreign policy agenda is the policy towards Iran. The Iran nuclear deal (2015) or JCOPA was considered to be a milestone in multilateral diplomacy that was irresponsibly abandoned by Trump in 2018. Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign” of sanctions against Iran aimed to please the traditional allies as they faced a common enemy in Iran. Biden has promised to return to the 2015 JCPOA agreement, and he would also discuss Iran’s nuclear program and exchange for sanctions relief. In this process, it is expected that Washington might pressure Iran to withdraw its support for regional proxies in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Moreover, the US would also seek to curb Iran’s export of precision guided missiles to her regional allies. Iran though, has already made it clear that these issues would not be discussed in the event of a renegotiated JCPOA. Furthermore, this plan may be complicated by the recent assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, which was not condemned by the White House that Iran blames on Israel. Public outrage had not even subdued at the point due to the assassination of Qasim Sulemani. Currently, the architecture of the Middle Eastern region is even more complex and challenging than it was four years ago butthe fact is that Iran cannot afford military conflict at this point when its economy is already crippling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic along with the sanctions imposed by the US.
Trump administration’s “Israel-first” approach in the region brought severe criticism at the global level. The Abraham Accord, signed in September of last year,which normalized Israel’s relations with UAE & Bahrain, is widely seen as Donald Trump’s most significant foreign policy achievement. This Accord altered the decades long regional perception that Arab-Israel peace could not be achieved without first addressing the issue of statehood for Palestinians. Biden has said that he supports more countries recognizing Israel but at the same time Israel needs to work towards genuine solutions between the two states. Moreover, the new administration at the White House will not show the same tolerance for Israel’s settler expansionism as its predecessor. However, there are certain foreign policies by the Trump administration that the new US leadership does not want to renew. The normalization of Arab-Israel relations is something that enjoys bipartisan support. And also, the shift of the US embassy to Jerusalem seems unlikely to be undone.
The US policy inthe Middle East under the new leadership will be less ideological and would be more based on fundamental principles. These principles will greatly focus on human rights as some analysts view human rights as the core foreign policy agenda of the Biden administration. Thus, it does not seem not to be good news for the traditional allies of the US including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Israel. There are a variety of issues in addition to the human rights issues: the KSA intervention in Yemen, arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the lingering mistrust, the jailing of activists and Jamall Khashoggi’s murder case, which are creating uncertainties between the Washington and Riyadh. Hence, KSA is going to have a very difficult time with the Biden administration. Similarly, the new administration can also be expected to take a less tolerant view towards Moscow and Ankara because of the extraterritorial activities in the Middle Eastern region.
Certainly, returning to the Iran nuclear dealofficially, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action-will take a longer time to review because of the complexity of the issue and the domestic problems that the US is currently facing. There is also a possibility of a dangerous escalation without a nuclear deal due to Iran’s aims of buildingmilitary scenarios. Therefore, multilateral diplomacy is the best option for regional peace and security, which has been tried in the previous years.Even the JCPOA was a result of such diplomacy. The US ending its support to Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen might turn away the traditional allies for some time but not permanently due to the common interests in the region. Biden is also likely to alter Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from the region as it would decrease US influence in the region. The top priority of the US administration in the Middle East would be to try and manage Iran’s problems and to maintain reasonable relations with Israel. Traditional allies of the US in the Middle East were content and supportive of Trump’s policies in the region but they view Biden, not as a President, but Vice President of the Obama Administration. Trump’s bilateral relations were often based on personal ties with the foreign leaders while Biden is expected to adopt a more multilateral approach in engaging with the allies. Still, scholars believe that there would be no fundamental change in the US foreign policy towards the Middle East, especially when it comes to protecting its vested interests in the region.
Rejoining the UNHRC will be the State Department’s first diplomatic mistake
As over the last days US Vice President Harris swore in Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the new US Ambassador to the UN, US Secretary of State Blinken announced in parallel that the US is now seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council, in an attempt to rejoin the UN system. But that’s not the right first move back at the UN that the US should be making. And that’s not what the progressive left had in mind when the real left groups put in office the new Biden Administration.
My perspective comes from having worked in the UN human rights system and as a finalist for UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech last year – but also as a progressive left voice.
The days when UN engagement defined Democrats vis-a-vis Republicans are over.
Shunning the UN has always been a Republican hallmark but backing and pouring so much funding into an old style, corrupt bureaucracy that has little to do with “diplomacy” is not what the new, awaken progressive left wants either.
Several weeks ago, I made the estimate that the 10bln dollars which the US government pours into the black hole called the UN equals the Covid relief that 16mln struggling American people could be getting now. The Biden Administration’s State Department diplomats have to remember who put them in office.
Democrat centrist diplomats have more in common with the UN in terms of ways, goals, style and world view than they do with the progressive left. Backing the UN means backing the old, corrupt ways, which the real progressive left voted to break last year.
The decision to announce the US’s goal to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council comes in the same week when President Biden finally announced his real stance on the Black Lives Matter ‘defund the police’ goals. Biden, it turns out, unsurprisingly does not support that. That’s not what the progressive left signed up for, either.
The UN institutional funding inertia by the US government does not define the Democratic Party anymore. That’s not what the left voters want.
The left’s reasons for not embracing the UN and the UN Human Rights Council have little to do with the usual Republican ‘go it alone’ at the international stage.
Yes to diplomacy and multilateralism. No to the corrupt, faceless UN. “International diplomacy” is no longer the same thing as the UN system.
The wave that rose across American political life last year, with so many young black activists and so many people voting for the first time, signaled a big resounding No to old ways and old institutions, which have little concern for the actual needs of the people.
The new US Ambassador to the UN, Thomas-Greenfield, will have the tough job of reforming the UN, and in my opinion, even defunding the UN.
The days when love for the UN defined Democrats are certainly over. It’s time for the Biden Administration to do what it was elected for, which is to not simply go back to the same old, same old corrupt, faceless bureaucratic institutions swimming in money. This is not what we want. The progressive left voted for change and now that also includes the UN.
U.S. Climate Policy Could Break the Ice with Russia
“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity” — Albert Einstein
Within the climate crisis lies strategic opportunity for the United States. Climate change offers the chance to earn back the good will of allies, to prepare American cities for an urgently needed increase in immigration, and to reinvent U.S.-led institutions that have gone stale. Perhaps most of all, foreign policymakers should remain cognizant of how climate action can help the U.S. navigate relations with the other great powers.
As a recent report from the Center for a New American Security details, synergy between China and Russia is more problematic for U.S. interests than the sum of the challenges that each nation poses individually. Similarly, a recent Atlantic Council publication observed that “allowing Russia to drift fully into China’s strategic embrace over the last decade will go down as the single greatest geostrategic error.” Chinese and Russian interests do currently align on defense, economics, and the degradation of the U.S.-designed world order, but the nature of their alignment does not constitute an alliance.
In characterizing the relationship, this distinction is paramount. For as long as China and Russia remain merely convenient partners, rather than ideologically kindred allies, it is possible to keep these neighbors at arm’s length. To this end, the U.S. must reorient its approach to Russia. It is the Russian perception that world politics are rigged to benefit the U.S. at Russia’s expense that has prompted its support for China.
Russia’s national interests are rooted in the desire for respect. With this in mind, Russia could pull back from synergy with China if a better opportunity to advance these interests presented itself. Ultimately, the ability of the U.S. to offer a mutually acceptable alternative will hinge on two related factors: the Arctic and NATO. Critically, the issue of climate change is central to both of these factors.
In the Arctic, rapid warming removes barriers to resource exploitation, shipping activity, and great power competition. This has drawn many non-Arctic states to the region. Yet, even with China inserting itself as a “Near-Arctic State,” Russia has expressed the need for a hierarchy of regional influence in which the interests of Arctic states are prioritized over non-Arctic states. On this, American and Russian interests align.
Russian distrust of the U.S. complicates matters, however. Arctic military assertiveness from Russia is evidence of its sensitivity to the NATO alliance. In response, U.S. military branches have been releasing strategies for Arctic-specific forward defense. Such militarism is not conducive to improving relations, securing sovereign influence, or addressing climate change.
In order to limit undue Chinese influence in the region and stabilize its relations with Russia by securing a multilateral agreement that formalizes an Arctic hierarchy, the U.S. will need to alter its foreign policy so that Russia perceives it to be a viable partner. The alteration should be sufficient for reducing friction with Russia’s core interests, but not so extreme that liberal values or American security are put in jeopardy. Such transactional considerations should include fashioning a new climate-positive role for the U.S. in NATO. After all, the permanent physical presence of roughly 76,000 U.S. troops on the European continent not only irks Russia, but this posture is also expensive, carbon-intensive, and perhaps not even the most effective approach to conflict deterrence.
Indeed, research has shown that rapid deployment of new forces is significantly more likely to stymie aggression. This suggests that the U.S. should reduce its troop levels in Europe by at least 75 percent while bolstering rapid deployment readiness. This would allow the U.S. to simultaneously reduce its military’s fuel demand and greenhouse gas emissions, earn the good will necessary for stronger diplomacy with Russia, and still honor its security commitment to NATO in the event of a crisis. Moreover, the U.S. could then reinvest the potential savings into both Arctic sustainability and NATO’s capacity to manage climate insecurity.
Through the establishment of a bounded Arctic order and the greening of American leadership in NATO, the U.S. can dispel Sino-Russian synergy in the region and help maintain balance between the great powers. Specifically, these actions would both politically distance China from Russia and give the Kremlin substantial reason to begin feeling more optimistic about its relations with the West. To be sure, similar measures will be necessary in other regions to fully assure balance. However, the Arctic is a natural place for the U.S. to begin this endeavor. Usefully, the themes of climate mitigation and adaptation provide a blueprint for what countering Sino-Russian synergy elsewhere ought to generally entail.
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