Iran and Venezuela: One story of two Revolutions
Authors: Irina Tsukerman & Hos Loftus*
The presence of Islamist militant groups in Latin America has a long and dark history. The brutal terrorist attacks on the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992, and the bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in 1994, collectively left hundreds dead and injured. Argentina, as a country, is still dealing with the aftermath. The AMIA incident was the deadliest attack against a Jewish community anywhere in the world since WWII.
The Twin Revolutions: “Islamic” and “Bolivarian”
In the 1990s Islamist militants in Latin America lacked a base of operations. That began to change when democracy in Venezuela was replaced, first, by a strong man-led system, and subsequently, all-out dictatorship. That was the gift of the former socialist president Hugo Chavez for the country, one that he sold as his “Bolivarian Revolution”. In order to see how this played into the hands of unlikely beneficiaries—Islamic radicals from half a world away—we have to trace the story to its earliest preludes.
The sad story of the closing chapters of the democratic era in Venezuela’s history was chronicled shortly after Chavez came to power by Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian author and future Nobel Laureate in literature. In a scathing piece, published in Spain’s El País in August 1998, Vargas Llosa used harsh, but prescient words to warn of dark days ahead. The title, “the Suicide of a Nation”, in itself, spoke volumes.
Vargas Llosa offered a perspective of what was a repeating pattern in much of Latin America: as democracy fails to live up to expectations and often leads to a decline in living standards, public opinion shifts in favor of “strong men”, who would then take advantage of their popularity to cement authoritarianism. (It has to be emphasized, though, that the new authoritarian need not have come to power through elections; leading a revolution against a despised tyrant would work just as well.) This had been tried successfully before Chavez by such luminaries as Alberto Fujimori in Peru, Juan Perón in Argentina, Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, and, not least, Chavez’s own mentor, Fidel Castro in Cuba. Chavez came as a populist response to democratic claims, not as a violent usurper—at least, once he had learned his lesson.
In this sordid tale, the roots of dictatorship in Venezuela went back to the 1970s and 80s.
The early days of skyrocketing oil prices came during and after the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War of 1973. An unheard of influx of petrol-dollars inevitably led to massive corruption. “Inevitably”, according to Vargas Llosa, due to the economic policies that ruled Venezuela, long before Chavez. In Vargas Llosa’s view: the Venezuelan state was gigantic and interventionist. Economic success passed not through the market and winning over consumers, but nepotism, privileges, and monopolies handed out by the biggest player in the nation’s economic life: the politician in power. In other words, Venezuela was always a socialist-style, government-run command and control economy, never dynamic, property rights-based and free-market oriented.
What was left in the public coffers was spent on subsidizing everything, down to air and water. Gas was subsidized to the point that its cost didn’t even cover its transport to fueling stations! Few nations in the world epitomize the phrase “nanny state” so literally.
In this environment, an attempted coup in 1992 by a little-known Lieutenant Colonel named Hugo Chavez generated little enthusiasm, and was put down without much drama, its leader put in jail. Less than 2 years later, however, he was pardoned by the government. While this was supposed to be a conciliatory gesture, it was dismissed by Vargas Llosa in that piece as not only “suicidally irresponsible”, but also a betrayal to the nation, at that time still supportive of democracy (not to mention the majority of the military, who refused to side with the coup plotters, some losing their lives in the process). But the oil market collapse of the late 1990s lead to just as much anguish as the euphoria the price rallies had brought, and that ultimately paved the way for Chavez to successfully grab the power in the end—this time, at the ballot box. Not just that, but it gave him sufficient majorities in elected bodies to introduce and ratify a new constitution—all in the name of rooting out corruption—that conveniently also guaranteed his own permanence in power.
Which brings us to the events on the other side of the globe: Iran’s Islamist Revolution lead by Ayatollah Khomeini nearly two decades earlier. Iran and Venezuela are distant nations geographically with different languages and cultures. Still, there are important similarities between the two: oil exporting nations relying on petroleum almost exclusively as the source of hard currency. To be sure, revolutions in Iran and Venezuela were not exact replicas. Iran’s Islamist Revolution came with a violent uprising, unlike Venezuela. Nonetheless, there were numerous similarities. Both were explicitly ideological (“Islamic” in Iran and “Bolivarian” in Venezuela), rather than simply intending to establish democratic rule. They both prioritized short-sighted economic gains for the masses: the Ayatollah claimed explicitly that there would be free water and electricity for Iranians, while at the same time also promising, like Chavez, to root out the corruption that had been allowed to grow out of control in the system he wanted to overthrow. The inherent contradiction between these two goals, just discussed, apparently was missed on everyone.
As time would prove, there were yet more similarities to surface between the two revolutions. Enmity against US “imperialism” was among the founding principles of both. And they would go on trying to bolster governments and non-government players in neighboring countries that would help them put this hostility into action. As Iran founded Hezbollah in 1980s Lebanon and sought to colonize the country, Venezuela in the 2000s openly backed politicians it considered ideological allies in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and elsewhere to create a socialist bloc. Somehow the irony of such empire-building in the name of anti-“imperialism” was missed.
In time the shared goals and shared rhetoric would bring the two revolutionary governments closer together, which might seem counterintuitive. At first glance, the Shia-based Islamist revolutionary ideology had little in common with the Soviet-backed atheist revolution that had settled in Cuba and made its way through Latin America. In reality, the “red” left has made a comfortable alliance with the “green” revolutionaries on a number of political, security, and ideological levels. Khomeini, for instance, popularized Sunni Muslim Brotherhood texts, which themselves borrowed heavily from the Bolshevik ouevre from the 1920s and their historic predecessors, the Jacobins. The zenith of ties between the two regimes, without a doubt, came during the “presidency” of the Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, who found a brother in Chavez.
When They Failed to Deliver…
Of course none of the Ayatollah’s economic promises ever materialized. Mass arrests and summary executions that followed the establishment of the Islamist regime, the compulsory dress codes, and anti-Western xenophobia that culminated in “conquering” (to use the official language) the American embassy and hostage taking of US diplomats scared foreign and domestic investors, to say nothing of destroying diplomatic relations. Flight of capital, combined with a ruinous war with Iraq, transformed what was once one of the richest countries into a pauper nation. Undaunted, the Ayatollah shrugged off any mention of his forgotten promises in later years: “ask not what the revolution has done for you, ask what you have done for the revolution”. That this, too, was a paraphrase from an assassinated leader of the country he condemned as “the Great Satan” also passed with no sense of irony, and neither was he ever called out for his plagiarism.
Economic realities were no kinder to the revolutionary leaders in Venezuela than their counterparts in Iran. Venezuela has more crude oil than any other country in the world and it heavily depends on the commodity to power its economy. Crude oil makes up about 95% of Venezuela’s exports. Yet the government-owned oil company, PDVSA, has pumped less and less oil for the last few years because of corruption, crumbling infrastructure, and a massive debt crisis. According to its report to OPEC, Venezuela’s production was 1.62 million barrels per day (b/d) in December 2017, a decline of 649 thousand b/d (or 29%) in just one year, and more than 1.1 million b/d in five years. The current troubles of the oil industry are rooted in the oil policies implemented by Hugo Chavez (deceased in 2013, only to be replaced by the even more thuggish Nicolas Maduro). He fired about half of the workforce of the PDVSA during an oil strike in 2003, including the vast majority of top executives and technical staff, as retaliation for their participation in industrial action against him.
He forcefully renegotiated joint-ventures and operational contracts with foreign companies and partially nationalized them in 2007; on his watch, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips withdrew from the country as a result. Investment in oil development and production declined, even during the oil price boom. The nationalization backfired on Venezuela even more in April 2018 when the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes ruled in a lawsuit filed by ConocoPhillips that this company was owed over $2 billion by Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA because of the 2007 nationalization. ConocoPhillips then moved to seize PDVSA’s assets in the Caribbean, considered logistically key to Venezuela’s ability to export oil, further disrupting the country’s oil sales.
This ruling set the stage for similar suits not just against PDVSA, but also its American subsidiary, CITGO. The future of these claims is not known as of this writing, but they could not have come at a worse time for Venezuela’s already devastated economy. The regime blames this all on US sanctions, but the timeline of events clearly shows that the decline in Venezuela’s oil production preceded US sanctions on the country’s oil sector by many years. Iran’s economy would similarly be a basket-case without sanctions due to the regime’s decades of prioritizing revolution over its people. As Ayatollah Khomeini said, the neaver-ending revolution’s death and destruction was not for “cheap melons.” Venezuela also followed the Islamic Republic’s lead in political hostage taking, by abducting Texas and Louisiana CITGO employees, who remain in Maduro’s custody after fourteen months.
The once wealthiest economy in South America, after decades of socialist rule, is now dominating the headlines as a paragon of tyranny, rampant crime, chaos, misery, and starvation. Millions of Venezuelans have fled to Colombia, Panama, and elsewhere in South America, threatening to destabilize the continent. But opening its doors to Islamic militancy means that Venezuela could be a destabilizing threat in more ways than one.
They Collaborated in the Use of Violence
Faced with mass popular discontent, the twin revolutions turned to violence against their people as the only way to guarantee their survival. In Iran, the Revolutionary Guard was established as a counterweight to the official army, which in the beginning was seen as still having elements loyal to the last regime. This military body subsequently gave birth to branches, one of which was Quds (Arabic for Jerusalem) Force, an expeditionary force acting beyond the country’s borders. The other was the Basij, or volunteer army, which played an important part during the Iran-Iraq War, and later turned against dissidents and protesters, showing its highest level of cruelty following the fraudulent presidential elections of 2009, when street protests followed the confirmation of Ahmadinejad.
Crackdowns on public discontent in Venezuela have followed a similar pattern. Cuba helped establish the loyalist groups called “colectivos” that act similar to the Basij militias in Iran, intimidating protesters and journalists, and at times acting no different than street gangs. Iran has also pitched-in. The Quds Force has worked with the Cuban intelligence (which had previously trained Chavez) to help Maduro consolidate power; and Hezbollah enjoys a comfortable presence in Venezuela at the highest levels.
Human rights violations in both states have made them largely unwelcome on the world stage; however, dependency on cheap, if poorly processed or poor quality, oil retained clientele for both states. Later, other autocratic states, such as China and Russia, took advantage of their outcast status to expand their own base of influence, strengthen economic partnerships, make cheap investments, and to create local problems for the United States.
These ties actually go back more than a decade. They include joint training between Iranian and Venezuelan operatives. Finding safe haven in Venezuela, Hezbollah’s presence across Latin America has increased. Both Iran and Hezbollah are known to have provided the Chavez and Maduro regimes with “strategic advice”. The person in Venezuela’s Bolivarian ruling class with the most personal ties to terror groups is Tareck El Aissami, a Venezuelan of Syrian/Lebanese ancestry, who was indicted in the US earlier this year. A 2015 report by the Obama Administration’s United States Department of State stated “[t]here were credible reports that Venezuela maintained a permissive environment that allowed for support of activities that benefited known terrorist groups”. New York County District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau stated that while El Aissami was head of ONIDEX, Venezuela’s passport and naturalization agency, he provided official documents to Hamas and Hezbollah members. He also stated that it was possible that El Aissami was recruiting Arab Venezuelans to train under Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. In February 2017, CNN reported (“Venezuelan Passports, in the Wrong Hands?”) on the sale of Venezuelan passports to individuals in the Middle East, specifically Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, and Pakistanis.
According to Misael López Soto, a former employee at the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq who was also a lawyer and CICPC officer, the Bolivarian government would sell authentic passports to individuals from the Middle East, with the Venezuelan passport (at the time) able to access 130 countries throughout the world without a visa requirement. López provided CNN documents showing how his superiors attempted to cover up the sale of passports, which were being sold for from $5,000 to $15,000 per passport. A confidential intelligence report obtained by CNN linked El Aissami to 173 passports and ID’s given between 2008 and 2015 to individuals from the Middle East, some of whom were purportedly associated with Hezbollah. The Venezuelan government did not investigate the allegations made by López and instead initiated an investigation against him for his act of leaking confidential documents and stated that he had abandoned his duty. Following the release of the CNN report, President Maduro demanded that CNN leave Venezuela, stating that the network had sought to “manipulate” Venezuelans.
AMIA: The Venezuelan connection
Argentina has had no closure as the actual plotters behind the AMIA bombing have never been brought to justice. Worse, the investigation itself has been plagued by accusations of incompetence, corruption, and nepotism. And that has been, in no small part, due to family relations and geopolitical interests of Argentinian presidents.
A Brazilian publication, Veja, first broke the story, in 2015, of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sending a message to Argentinian President Nestor Kirchner via a shared friend, Chavez of Venezuela. According to the publication, in 2007, Ahmadinejad proposed to Kirchner that in exchange for funding the presidential campaign of his wife, Cristina Frenandez de Kirchner, Kirchner’s Argentina would (among other things) drop its arrest warrant through the Interpol against Iranians implicated in the AMIA attack. This came about the time that arrest warrants were issued against 6 Iranian citizens for their involvement in the attack.
Kirchner would not, in the beginning, concede to the demands made through Chavez. Nonetheless, there was a debt to pay: since 2003, a lot of Argentinian sovereign debt had been underwritten by Venezuela, and by the end of 2008, Venezuela was in possession of 6 billion dollars of Argentinian bonds. Back in those days, the free flow of Venezuelan oil and prices of above $100 per barrel afforded Venezuela such extravagances. On top of this, for both Nestor Kirchner and his wife Cristina, who succeeded him as president, being among Chavez’s inner circle of friends was a high priority. To them, it would mean membership in the Leftist heads of state club chaired by none other than Fidel Castro. Which came with perks: they would be shielded against accusations of corruption, which would be dismissed, by club members in unison, as “slander by American imperialism and their local lackeys”. Other club members included Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and even Brazil as it was led by president Lula da Silva (who would later be convicted of corruption). Chavez operated as a middleman between Ahmadinejad and much of Latin America.
Iran entered commercial agreements with many of these countries. For a country facing international isolation due to its human rights record, its denial of the Holocaust, and its nuclear weapons development activities, this was nothing short of a coup. Chavez traveled 9 times to Iran while Ahmadinejad traveled 5 times to Venezuela. When Chavez died, Ahmadinejad caused a mini-scandal among his country’s fundamentalist hardliners by stating Chavez would rise from the dead together with the divine prophet—which would be heretical according to Islamic orthodoxy—and by hugging his mother (those same hardliners would consider any physical contact between two unrelated individuals of opposite sex forbidden). None of this, of course, spoke of Ahmadinejad’s presumed “moderation”, but of deep, personal grief that came to dominate his own beliefs. There was no greater reward for Ahmadinejad in this friendship than getting Argentina to abandon the pursuit of justice for AMIA.
In January 2013, on the watch of Presidents Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, respectively, Argentina and Iran signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Rather than extradition of AMIA suspects, the Memorandum would arrange for joint hearings in which the suspects would give evidence-facing no penalty regardless of what they said. Argentina’s Jewish community condemned the Memorandum and sued to stop it.
In May of that year, Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman accused the regime of Iran of plotting the AMIA attack. In January 2015, Nisman accused President Fernandez de Kirchner of “organizing impunity” for the suspects with the goal of whitewashing the Islamic Republic’s involvement in the attack. One day before Nisman was to officially present his findings to parliament, he died, having been shot by a handgun. The mystery of his death was never solved, further complicating Argentina’s unhealed 30 year old wound. Before his death, Nisman had put together an arrest warrant against President Fernandez de Kirchner. Despite lack of proof, Fernandez de Kirchner was never able to clear suspicions that she was behind Nisman’s death, given that, obviously, no one had a stronger motive to see Nisman dead. And all of this is part of Chavez’s legacy for Argentina. Fernandez de Kirchner was eventually put on trial for her attempted cover-up of the bombing.
While these charges against her were dismissed, she was later retried for treason. In her defense, Fernandez de Kirchner claimed that a former Obama officialhad asked her to supply Iran with nuclear fuel. Gary Samone visited Argentina in his capacity as White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass destruction. Argentina had provided Iran with fuel for its “Teheran” reactor in 1987. However, this collaboration was over by the time the nuclear negotiations that would lead to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action began between Iran, the United States, and others. The Iranian nuclear negotiators would not move forward without getting fuel for the reactor.
The United States then turned to Argentina for help. Fernandez de Kirchner asked Samone to put his request in writing, but he was not heard from again. But by implicating the Obama administration in this scenario, de Kirchner was sending a message that the Obama administration was fully aware of historical ties between Argentina and Iran, and would not press Argentina on the cover-up of the bombing to ensure the smooth transition of the nuclear deal. The same pattern of letting bad actors off the hook was later admitted by Ben Rhodes with regards to the lack of follow through on the “Red Line in Syria”, and Obama’s tacit support for the Morsi regime in Egypt despite its open ties with the Iranian regime. The Obama administration needed Argentina’s help for the nuclear fuel issue, and thus stayed mum. Iranian terrorists also tried to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States at the time, while backing an attempted coup in Bahrain the same year, and likewise benefiting from the turmoil of the Arab Spring all over the Sunni Muslim world. Iran’s role in all of these calamities was ignored by the Obama administration in favor of proceeding with the deal.
But the Kirchners were not the only Argentinian presidents to be accused of sabotaging the investigation. The sitting president at the time of the attack, Carlos Menem, who was of Syrian descent, was accused of covering-up involvement by regime of Syria (the ayatollahs’ partner in sponsoring Hezbollah) in the attack, for the purpose of protecting his family connections. Allegedly, Menem’s family friend and fellow Syrian-Argentinian, Alberto Kanoore Edul, had been in contact before the attack with the person who lent the truck used in the AMIA attack to the Hezbollah-related suicide bomber, Ibrahim Hussein Berro (named by Nisman in 2005).
Iran and terrorism in Latin America
Edul was also a suspect because he owned an address book that included the phone number of Moshen Rabbani, at the time the cultural attaché at the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires; Rabbani was the accused mastermind of the attack and one of the indicted Iranians. This would not be the first nor the last time Iran would use diplomatic cover for planning terrorist attacks. In 2018, Morocco severed diplomatic relations with Iran over its use of its Algiers embassy to facilitate Hezbullah supply of the formerly Soviet-backed and Cuban-trained Polisario separatists with weapons and additional training. The same year, Iranian dissidents uncovered that the Vienna embassy was the center for pollting terrorist activity, which included a planned attack on the Iranian opposition in Paris. Other prospective attacks involving Iranian intelligence resulted in a foiled assassination against Ahwazi Arab opposition leaders in Denmark. Other “diplomats”, who were later expelled, planned attacks against the PMOI leaders in Albania. In 2019, a German intelligence report noted that the Berlin embassy was at the heart of a planned attack against the PMOI/MEK in Germany.
But the investigation of Edul had been halted on the orders of Menem due to their family ties, according to the charges. Carlos Menem would stand trial for the cover-up over 30 years after his alleged crime and ultimately be cleared of the charge, much to the dismay of victims’ families. By this time, of course, Edul was long dead. Would the outcome be different if there had not been so much delay in putting him to trial, before the main witness died? We likely will never know.
The attacker Hussein Berro slipped into Argentina through the “triple border” area between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, where Hezbollah sympathies are heavy among the Lebanese immigrant community. The main city in the area, Ciudad del Este (Paraguay’s second largest city after the capital Asunción), has long been (allegedly) a financing center for Hezbollah. While Ciudad del Este is home to criminals specializing in all the branches of the “profession” (from drug and human trafficking to money laundering and bootlegging of copyright material), the only activity in the area that has been disputed, unsurprisingly by Aljazeera, is funding Islamic terrorism, which it calls “hysteria against Muslims”. But there have been convictions for channeling of proceeds from illegal activities to Hezbollah.
And according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Hezbollah smuggles hundreds of tons of cocaine from the Andean Region of South America into Venezuela and from there onto ships destined for European markets via West and North Africa. The DEA had long planned a crackdown on this activity, code named Operation Cassandra, which was ultimately scuttled by the Obama Administration as part of the effort to keep nuclear negotiations with Iran on track. Aljazeera might point to the absence of Hezbollah training camps in Ciudad del Este, but it is hard to imagine such vast criminal activity in South America without having a local network of sympathizers.
Hence to say that the crime infested Ciudad del Este, also having the largest Lebanese population anywhere in South America, does not play an important part in Hezbollah’s illicit financing, is quite a stretch. The area was used as a base by Hezbollah to smuggle the AMIA attacker Hussein Berro into Argentina-what this act took was having a network of sympathizers in a lawless area. Absence of Hezbollah training camps or their paramilitary parades did nothing to hinder the plan. Belatedly in July 2019, Argentina would recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. But the damage may have already been done. Realistically it is quite unlikely that victims families, or Argentina as a whole, will ever see justice served, and the wound will never heal.
Moreover, Iran-backed Hezbollah remains active in Venezuela, backing the Maduro regime and enriching itself through illegal gold mining. US Secretary of State Pompeo pointed to intelligence reports concerning the presence of active Hezbollah cells within Venezuela as additional evidence substantiating the allegations of the close links of the Maduro regime with the terrorist organization. There are concerns that with the help from Iran, Russia, and Cuba, Venezuela is not only a tacit supporter for Iranian terrorism, but is itself turning into a hub of international terrorism. Many of the terrorists benefited from the frozen funds released in cash pallets to Tehran by the Obama administration as part of the JCPOA. The gold mining is but a tip of the iceberg. Other evidence traces the roots of illegal gold smuggling from Venezuela through Morocco to Russia and Iran. Hezbollah’s gold smuggling activities in Africa are also well established; close collaboration between various corrupt regimes and Venezuela, on drug as well as gold trafficking should attract greater scrutiny.
Is the Opposition Any Better?
Meanwhile, back in Venezuela, the only opposition to Maduro’s brutal socialist autocracy has been another socialist, Juan Guiado, who has thus far failed to recruit away enough support from the military to provide a viable alternative to the regime. Guiado is being lauded as a savior of Venezuela, simply because he is not Maduro and is promising to respect the popular will and the democratic process. But would he be able to withstand scrutiny on his own merits?
The Venezuelan opposition to the Chavez and Maduro regimes and the country’s striking economic downturn after accelerating its progress on the socialist path has been leftist. In other words, oppositionists complain about personalities and policy, not necessarily ideology. Guiado’s promise lay largely in a return to the rule of law, a break with Iran, Russia, and Cuba, and restoration of positive relations with the United States as well as European Union and Organization of American States members. By backing somewhat more moderate leftist opposition to the current regime, Venezuelans are signaling that they have lost their trust in dictators, but not in the system that breeds them. Will the economic situation in Venezuela improve if a less corrupt and autocratic version of Maduro comes to power?
It remains to be seen, but as we saw, long before Chavez, Venezuela’s economy had been constrained by the trappings of socialism—and this ironically helped Chavez come to power. In the meantime, ordinary Venezuelans are living through a nightmare of starvation, corruption, and violent crime, which is forcing them to flee in their millions—the largest population displacement not related to war in decades. Inflation has reached the point that even criminal gangs do not see their activities as profitable due to high price of firearms on the black market (!). Maduro, of course, blames everything on the US, and now, he has allies inside the US government parroting his talking points.
Anti-Americanism Inside the American Government
That is because the Venezuelan calamity has become a golden opportunity for politicians and pundits to make political hay. The best example is Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), who, echoing Maduro, claimed: “A lot of the policies that we have put in place has kind of helped lead the devastation in Venezuela, and we’ve sort of set the stage for where we’re arriving today”. When dismissed as “not knowing what she is talking about” by Vice President Pence, Omar responded: “Women of color have heard this before.”
But those following the crisis in Venezuela for some time remember clearly that it did not start as a racial issue; in fact, some of the earliest and most clear-headed warnings about where Venezuela was headed came from the so called “people of color,” such as world-renowned author Mario Vargas Llosa.
Omar in fact “doesn’t know what she is talking about” (charitably speaking), and hiding behind her gender and ethnicity doesn’t change that.
The so-called democratic socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently tried to distance himself from an editorial on his senatorial website praising the “American dream” in Chaez’s Venezuela. However, he still opposes all efforts to help liberate Venezuela from the Maduro regime, and more recently claimed that Soviet Union and Venezuela don’t count as examples of “failed socialism”.
Many of the same members of Congress and former Obama administration officials, who have now joined the foreign policy commentators for various publications, who have opposed intervention in Venezuela also prepared or delivered talking points that the only way to avoid war with Iran was to go forward with the deal. The reasons for not pressuring any of Iran’s proxies, fellow travelers, and allies in the Middle East and Latin America were couched in similar language. Iranian and Venezuelan propaganda machines have managed to create the impression that the regimes in these countries, despite rampant fraud and intimidation of the opposition, are legitimate and democratically elected, and therefore interventionism would be illegal and contrary to the popular will of their citizens.
U.S. policy towards Iran and Venezuela has been polarized and uneven, which sends mixed messages to allies and adversaries alike. Seeing the largely partisan split on whether to pressure the Iran regimes and whether to follow the Monroe Doctrine, which allows forceful intervention against foreign forces in Latin America, tells both Tehran and Caracas that these vulnerabilities can be exploited ad infinitum. While the President and Congress, or Republicans and Democrats, are fighting over what to do and how to do it, the regimes can continue implementing their agenda with the single-minded focus only authoritarian governments can enjoy.
Furthermore, the vacillations over policy within the same administration signals weakness. US allies, on the other hand, are getting the message that the US is not a stalwart or reliable “friend in need” and may in the future lean further on Russia and China—the two states looking to edge US influence out of the Middle East and Latin America—for partnership and assistance. The US has failed to follow through on many promises regarding “maximum pressure” against Iran, nor has it fully supported Guiado, leaving him out in the cold when he appeared to be on the verge of securing military support for the overthrow of Maduro. The resolve of the US in conducting effective foreign policy and securing its own interest, much less standing guard against exportation of revolutions and instability around the world, is currently very much in question.
Whether the Trump administration can redirect its energy to a focused effort or whether it will continue to be torn between keeping isolationist election promises and having to respond to real-time needs with serious long-term consequences remains to be seen. However, there are several commonsense ideas and principles they should adopt as a guide for figuring out the next steps to prevent further deterioration of the security situation that ultimately threatens US borders and the security of its bases and allies:
Acting from a Position of Strength
-Maduro’s regime is ultimately weak and hinges on the willingness of the military apparatus to support his claims. The military will hold out for its own interest in access to mines and so forth. Guiado, in negotiations, may need to cut temporary deals with the military to get their backing. It is up to the United States to ensure that if he does ultimately succeed in this endeavor, these deals do not become so entrenched as to lead to another crisis.
-Maduro is heavily dependent on foreign actors. Without infusions of bailout cash, credit, military, and intelligence support from Iran, Russia, Cuba, and China, he would hardly be expected to last. Interrupting the flow of this support should be the top priority for the administration, especially if it is reluctant to engage in direct military intervention. That also means cracking down on illegal schemes, but most importantly going after—and very personally—the individual actors within each state’s government involved in overseeing these infusions and schemes. Sanctions should be imposed against these individuals preventing them from traveling to the US and freezing their assets. Interpol “red notices” should be used to advance the possibility of arresting these officials, undoubtedly profiteering from the support for these actions. Avoiding sanctions and intervening with Venezuela or other countries should be made costly and unpleasant for the apparatchiks of the patron regimes.
-Hezbollah assets have been frozen in Argentina, but money is fungible and they can ultimately shift their activity to more friendly states, such as Bolivia. If Colombia is sufficiently destabilized by the flow of refugees from Venezuela, it can crack and end-up adopting a socialist system of governance. The exporters of revolution can take advantage of the refugee crisis to destabilize existing pro-American governments. Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, all corrupt states, with varying degrees of weakness, are ripe for exploitation. Cartel activity in Mexico makes it an ideal counterpart for Iran’s Hezbollah in particular. The US should take measures to prevent proliferation of terrorists and ideological outreach in these and other states. Iran has established numerous “cultural centers” to mask Hezbollah activity and indoctrination all over Latin America. How soon until the trainees there are responsible for more than just enrichment schemes and plot more terrorist attacks, perhaps eventually reaching the US or making travel and business in Latin America undesirable for anyone except Iranians, Russians, and Chinese?
-Bankrupting Iran, forcing out Russia, and providing a suitable and practical alternative to China’s self-serving and corrupt projects in Latin America should be the pillars of US policy. Iran, even with all its illicit activities, nor Russia afford costly technical development races and the type of investments that US can. Russia cannot afford systematic investment in anything but defense agreements. For this reason, most of Russia’s foreign policy is focused on destabilization at the expense of someone else.
-China’s economy, too, is weakening; even with its Confusius Institutes, the mission of which is to whitewash China’s image, it is coming to a reckoning with the fact that it has simply failed to deliver on many of its promises and investments, and that most of its projects benefit Beijing to the exclusion of client countries, their local labor forces, and general populations. This is where the US has an opportunity to reengage in building people to people relationships, and optimizing business, educational, and humanitarian opportunity in line with its own policies and interests, and as a contrast to China’s corrupt deals with local officials.
-The US, for its part, should not make promises it does not have the political will to keep. Its allies would rather see consistent, limited support than grandiose statements backed up by nothing at the moment they become dependent on expectations stemming from those promises. That said, if threats to bad actors are issued in public, there should be an immediate and well thought out follow through even if it is unpopular. That will ultimately do more to deter these actors than weeks of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
II. Beware of Limitations of Pragmatic “Reformism”
A faction of the “reformists” in Iran gained popularity as a political decoy by the regime to create an impression of a struggle between “hard-liners” and “moderates”. Iran used politicians who appeared willing to engage in diplomatic discussions with the West (always on their terms) in order to secure concessions, and ultimately, to push through the financially and politically beneficial nuclear deal with Western countries. Ultimately, the number of political arrests and executions soared under the “reformist” President Rouhani, showing that he was just as much of a puppet of the ayatollahs in charge as the tough-talking former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
These dichotomies—that if the West does not back the “moderates”, the scary “hard-liners’ will triumph—were ultimately a propaganda fiction dispersed by the regime itself. Elections in Iran are effectually meaningless given the supreme rule of the Ayatollah. Not to take any chances with the powerless parliament, all major elections in Iraq are fraught with fraud to ensure that no real reformist could ever be elected. The “reformist” narrative is deployed merely to fool willfully naïve Westerners or provide the less credulous with a public excuse for their lucrative political or business deal with Tehran. The “reformist” narrative may well have largely outlived itself, but similar such moves are likely to try to secure a new nuclear deal or other political concessions in the future. No doubt the regime will use this stick-and-carrot tactic of its own invention to push back against new sanctions, waiting to drag the US and Europeans back to the negotiating table until such time as the administrations change and those willing to go along with Iran’s agenda come to power.
Iran’s success in that regard may very well have carried over elsewhere. If Guiado is nothing more than a Venezuelan version of a “Reformist” who says just enough of the right things to the Western ear to manipulate the politicians and the public, he may be no less dangerous than the Maduro regime. If the Venezuelan government is a puppet of foreign powers, likely so is the opposition, at least one that is well known and has an open following. In Russia, opposition leaders who openly ran against Vladimir Putin, such as Boris Nemtsov, met an untimely end, or like Alexey Navalny, spend half their time behind bars in “temporary” custody.
The fact that Guiado is so openly out and about and was even able to engage with the military in power negotiations shows that the Maduro regime is fairly secure in itself and can afford to use one known opposition leader as propaganda for its alleged limitations or willingness to cater to the popular will and provide the appearance of democracy on some limited level. The West should not look on Guiado as a savior, but rather as a tool serving a particular purpose at the moment while working to educate the population about the fallacies of following anything even remotely associated with the current system, as well as seeking to build up future leaders who have not been produced by the same circumstances as Maduro. Tempting as it may seem to consider Guiado as a “pragmatic choice” at the moment, because he is the lesser of two evils, it is not in fact clear that because he is willing to pander to Western democracies today, he will not become an equal or even greater evil when in power.
III. Don’t let Iran, Cuba, Russia, China, and Venezuela get away with political hostage taking
All of these countries have engaged in taking Americans and other Westerns, as well as dual nationals, as hostages for the purpose of gaining political legitimacy through negotiations over their release, securing concessions, or in some case, as during the nuclear deal with Iran, receiving financial ransoms in a hidden form. The US has been able to secure the release of some but not all through high costs to its own credibility; many others remain imprisoned, charged with espionage, treason, and other national security crimes as a way to pressure the US and other Western governments.
So far, all of these countries have been able to get away with these actions with impunity, and have even been rewarded with attention, money, and other benefits. They should be severely punished instead. In 2018, Senators Rubio, then-Senator Nelson, Menendez, and Cornyn introduced a bill that would hold Iran accountable for hostage taking and other human rights abuses. Similar measure passed in the House in 2018, with the idea of criminal and civil penalties for foreign officials, not just sanctions. The penalties would include denying access to American education to their families, confiscation of assets, and possible imprisonment for those responsible traveling to the United States. The bill never reached the vote in the Senate, but should be reconsidered in light of recent developments and Iran’s rising aggression and persistent continuation of this policy.
Similar versions of the bill should be individually crafted to apply to other countries that have engaged in these unlawful practices. Without feeling the pain for engaging in such abuses, there is no reason for these policies to stop.
IV. Responding to Gold Smuggling and Money Laundering
Senator Ted Cruz recently reintroduced a measure designed to stop Iranian and Venezuelan smuggling of gold and other precious metals. This is but one of a host of illegal activities which keep both regimes financially afloat. Congress should bring this measure to a vote as soon as possible; there is no reason to let two illegitimate regimes unjustly enrich themselves while stealing natural resources. The VERDAD actresponding to Venezuelan money laundering and gold passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May 2018. It is important to expedite the passage for this bill into law, and to work on securing consistent implementation afterwards. The same applies for similar measures against the Iranian regime.
V. Accountability for the AMIA bombing
US senators are pushing for a resolution that would assist Argentina in its probe to uncover the full truth behind the 1994 Jewish Center bombing. The resolution should receive not only full support from Congress, but also the backing of the White House. Furthermore, the Venezuelan angle should be explored and exposed, and the role the Obama administration played in any assistance or silence in the cover-up by the Kirchners should likewise be aired. The White House can play an important role in directing its intelligence agencies to release and share any relevant information, and perhaps to be further involved in an investigative capacity. However, that role should not be relegated to the security apparatus: any investigative journalists or other experts who have leads or information that could be of assistance to this issue should likewise be involved.
VI. Securing US borders
The history of Hezbollah drug smuggling and presence in the United States shows that further measures need to be taken to secure borders from infiltration by criminals, contrabandists, terrorists, and spies. The security involved is a complex combination of border fencing or walls, better human security implementation, satellite overwatch of human movements, immigration reform, and electronic measures of control. At the end of the day, however, spies and saboteurs can also enter legally under various covers, so better training and close cooperation with other intelligence agencies is paramount to preventing fraudulent entries into the US.
The spread of destabilizing activity in the US can also spread through existing Iranian communities, mosques, “cultural centers”, existing regime propagandists imbedded in universities and think tanks, as well as assorted businessmen and women who travel back and forth. Being vigilant and training community members and institutions to be aware of common activities that can be harmful to US security should play an important role in the national defense.
VII. Chaos and instability help export revolutions
The Arab Spring movements did not bring real liberalism nor create Jeffersonian democracies. Instead, they created a chaotic cycle of upheavals, crackdowns, and the formation of unstable and unsecured democracies in such places as Tunisia. The biggest beneficiary was Iran, who exploited the power vacuums or friendly regimes (as in Morsi’s Egypt) to further its influence and subversion campaigns.
Western states were openly backing these movements even as Iran exploited them aggressively on the ground. The best way to guard against Iran’s exportation of revolutionary, violent, and anti-Western ideas to the Arab world and elsewhere is by working with governments across the region to implement reforms needed to educate and empower the young people to build and strengthen local communities to address local needs rather than turning to meddling foreign powers for ideological engagement and the kind of “help” that has brought nothing but misery for all involved.
The same principle applies to Latin America, where Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia are seeking to spread their repressive revolutions and socialist systems by various means to more prosperous and stable countries. The outcome of the “resistance” culture, of those who use populism to create upheavals to real or imaginary grievances, is societal wreckage of Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela. America and the West needs to assert its leadership based on principles and proactive policies that promote peace and prosperity.
*Hos Loftus, MD, formerly Seyed Hossein Lotfizadeh, was born in Iran. He lived through the Islamic Revolution at a young age. He is a neurologist living on Long Island with his family. He offers an Iranian-American’s perspective on Middle East politics
The Future of Geopolitics Will Be Decided by 6 Swing States
The world is witnessing a new era of great power competition between the United States and China, with Russia playing a spoiler role. The outcome of this rivalry will shape the global order for decades to come. But the fate of this contest will not be decided by the actions of Washington, Beijing, or Moscow alone. It will also depend on how a group of influential countries in the global south navigate the shifting geopolitical landscape.
These countries are the geopolitical swing states of the 21st century. They are relatively stable and prosperous nations that have their own global agendas independent of the great powers, and the will and capabilities to turn those agendas into realities. They are more demanding, flexible, dynamic, and strategic than they could have been in the 20th century, when they had to choose between alignment or non-alignment with one bloc or another. And they will often choose multi-alignment, a strategy that will make them critical—and sometimes unpredictable—forces in the world’s next stage of globalization, and the next phase of great power competition.
These geopolitical swing states fall into four overlapping categories:
– Countries with a competitive advantage in a critical aspect of global supply chains.
– Countries uniquely suited for nearshoring, offshoring, or friendshoring.
– Countries with a disproportionate amount of capital and willingness to deploy it around the world.
– Countries with developed economies and leaders with global visions that they pursue within certain constraints.
Six countries stand out as exemplars of these categories: Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Indonesia, and Brazil. These countries have more power today than ever before for several reasons: They have more agency, they benefit from regionalization, and they can leverage U.S.-China tensions.
The geopolitical swing states have more agency than ever before because they have grown more confident and capable in pursuing their own interests and values on the global stage. They have developed their own sources of soft and hard power, such as cultural influence, economic clout, military strength, diplomatic networks, and technological innovation. They have also diversified their partnerships and alliances, seeking to balance their relations with both the U.S. and China, as well as other regional and global actors.
Turkey has emerged as a regional powerbroker and a global player in defense, energy, humanitarian aid, and mediation. It has pursued an assertive foreign policy under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has sought to expand Turkey’s influence in its neighborhood and beyond. Turkey has intervened militarily in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Somalia; challenged Greece and Cyprus over maritime rights in the Eastern Mediterranean; supported Qatar against a Saudi-led blockade; hosted millions of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan; mediated between Iran and the West; and built close ties with Russia despite being a NATO member.
India has risen as a major economic and strategic power in Asia and the world. It has pursued a multi-aligned foreign policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has sought to enhance India’s role as a leading voice for democracy, development, and diversity. India has deepened its strategic partnership with the U.S., joined the Quad alliance with Japan, Australia, and the U.S., engaged with China on trade and border issues despite tensions; expanded its outreach to Africa and Latin America; invested in connectivity projects in its neighborhood; and championed initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.
Saudi Arabia has transformed its economy and society under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who has sought to diversify Saudi Arabia’s sources of income away from oil dependence, modernize its social norms and institutions, and assert its leadership in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Saudi Arabia has launched an ambitious Vision 2030 reform program, led a military intervention in Yemen against Iranian-backed rebels, normalized relations with Israel, hosted major summits such as the G20, invested heavily in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology, and established strategic partnerships with China, India, and Russia, while maintaining its alliance with the U.S.
The geopolitical swing states have also benefited from regionalization, the process by which regions become more integrated and interdependent economically, politically, and culturally. Regionalization offers opportunities for these countries to enhance their influence and interests in their respective regions, as well as to cooperate with other regional powers on common challenges and opportunities. Regionalization also creates a buffer against the pressures and uncertainties of the global system, allowing these countries to pursue their own models of development and governance.
South Africa has played a pivotal role in advancing regional integration and cooperation in Africa, as well as representing African interests and perspectives on the global stage.
It has been a founding member and a leader of the African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). It has also participated in peacekeeping and mediation efforts in countries such as Sudan, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. South Africa has leveraged its position as the most industrialized and diversified economy in Africa to attract foreign investment and trade, especially from China, India, and the EU.
Indonesia has emerged as a key player in Southeast Asia and the wider Indo-Pacific region, as well as a bridge between Asia and the Islamic world. It has been a driving force behind the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the Asia-Africa Strategic Partnership (AASP). It has also engaged in dialogue and cooperation with other regional actors such as China, Japan, India, Australia,
and the U.S. on issues such as maritime security, counterterrorism, climate change, and pandemic response. Indonesia has leveraged its position as the largest economy and the most populous Muslim-majority country in Southeast Asia to promote its vision of a democratic, tolerant, and prosperous region.
Brazil has been a leader in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as a voice for the global south on issues such as trade, environment, and human rights. It has been a founding member and a driving force behind regional organizations such as Mercosur, Unasur, and Celac. It has also engaged in dialogue and cooperation with other regional actors such as the U.S., China, India, and the EU on issues such as energy security, infrastructure development, and social inclusion. Brazil has leveraged its position as the largest economy and the most populous country in Latin America to advance its interests and values in the region and beyond.
The geopolitical swing states have also gained more leverage in the global system by exploiting the opportunities and challenges created by U.S.-China competition. They have sought to maximize their benefits from both sides, while minimizing their costs and risks. They have also tried to shape the rules and norms of the emerging global order, according to their own preferences and principles. They have not hesitated to challenge or defy either of the great powers, when they perceive their interests or values are threatened or violated.
Turkey has sought to balance its relations with both the U.S. and China, while pursuing its own strategic autonomy. It has maintained its NATO membership and cooperation with the U.S. on issues such as counterterrorism, Afghanistan, and Iran, while also resisting U.S. pressure on issues such as human rights, democracy, and Syria. It has also expanded its economic ties with China, especially under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), while also expressing concern over China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Turkey has also defied both the U.S. and China by acquiring Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems, despite facing sanctions and criticism from both sides.
India has deepened its strategic partnership with the U.S., especially under the Quad framework, while also maintaining its engagement with China on trade and border issues, despite tensions. It has welcomed U.S. support for its bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, its membership in multilateral export control regimes, and its role as a net security provider in the Indo-Pacific region. It has also increased its trade with China, especially in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, electronics, and renewable energy, while also pushing back against China’s assertiveness along their disputed border, where a deadly clash occurred in 2020. India has also defied both the U.S. and China by joining RCEP, despite U.S. withdrawal from the pact and China’s dominance in it.
Saudi Arabia has maintained its alliance with the U.S., especially on security and energy issues, while also diversifying its relations with China on economic and technological issues. It has relied on U.S. support for its military intervention in Yemen, its confrontation with Iran, and its normalization with Israel, while also facing U.S. pressure on issues such as human rights, democracy, and nuclear proliferation. It has also increased its investment in China, especially under the BRI framework, while also seeking Chinese cooperation on issues such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Saudi Arabia has also defied both the U.S. and China by pursuing its own nuclear program, despite U.S. opposition and Chinese competition.
The rise of these geopolitical swing states will have significant implications for the global order and the great power competition.
The global order will become more multipolar and complex, as these countries will shape the rules and norms of the emerging system according to their own preferences and principles. They will not accept a binary choice between the U.S. and China, but will seek to preserve their strategic autonomy and flexibility. They will also demand more voice and representation in global institutions and forums, such as the U.N., the IMF, the WTO, and the G20.
The great power competition will become more nuanced and dynamic, as these countries will leverage their relations with both the U.S. and China to maximize their benefits and minimize their costs and risks. They will also exploit the opportunities and challenges created by U.S.-China rivalry to advance their own interests and values. They will not hesitate to challenge or defy either of the great powers, when they perceive their interests or values are threatened or violated.
The global challenges and opportunities will require more cooperation and coordination among these countries and the great powers, as these countries will play a key role in addressing issues such as climate change, pandemic response, cyber security, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, trade, development, and human rights. They will also offer new markets, sources of innovation, and partners for cooperation to both the U.S. and China.
The geopolitical swing states of Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Indonesia, and Brazil are the middle powers of the global south that will decide the future of geopolitics. They have more agency, they benefit from regionalization, and they can leverage U.S.-China tensions. They have their own global agendas independent of the great powers, and the will and capabilities to turn those agendas into realities. They are more demanding, flexible, dynamic, and strategic than they could have been in the 20th century. And they will often choose multi-alignment, a strategy that will make them critical—and sometimes unpredictable—forces in the world’s next stage of globalization, and the next phase of great power competition. The U.S., China, and Russia should not take these countries for granted or ignore their interests and values. They should engage them with respect and pragmatism, seeking areas of convergence and managing areas of divergence. They should also recognize that these countries are not passive bystanders or pawns in their rivalry, but active players and partners in shaping the global order. The geopolitical swing states should not be complacent or reckless in their actions. They should be aware of the risks and responsibilities that come with their power and influence. They should also be constructive and responsible in their contributions to the global order. They should not only pursue their own interests and values, but also uphold the common interests and values of humanity.
US ‘Coercive Diplomacy’ and the Opportunities of Alternate Hegemons
On January 24th, the United States of America (USA) announced a visa ban policy for Bangladesh, ahead of the upcoming election. Prior to that, it also announced the same policy for Nigeria in January 2023. Despite a better election in February, and the US congratulating the president-elect immediately after, the US imposed a ban on Nigerian individuals alleging undermining the democratic process on May 15th, 2023.
Since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, the US unilaterally sanctioned Russia which brought new complexity to the global economy. The US is following sanction-based foreign policy since the Trump administration. The Biden administration is relying on sanctions and bans to promote Democracy and Human Rights worldwide. However, in terms of geopolitics, it seems the Biden administration’s reliance on the ‘Ramshackle of Democracy’ to contain its geopolitical rivals is due to its declining economic and military power.
While the US is relying on coercion, especially in the global south, its rivals- China and Russia who aspire to become alternate hegemons, are basing their foreign policy on development, cooperation, and connectivity. Against this backdrop, it is worth comparing the policies of hegemons- existing and aspiring. And their impact on ‘swinging’ or balancing states, especially from the global south.
US Coercive Policy: Often Lacks Efficacy
Generally, our acceptance of the US hegemony leads us to believe that US policy is well-devised and yields the most results. But a closer look at the history of the US policy suggests that the US often fails to achieve its objective through coercive policy. Lindsey A. O’Rourke- an assistant professor of international politics at Boston College found that the US attempted to change governments in favor of it in foreign countries 72 times during the cold war. The US succeeded 26 times and failed 40 times. According to O’Rourke, even though the US mostly failed, the operations brought devastating impacts to the states.
US coercive diplomacy also had little efficacy in the Middle East after 9/11. The US Middle East Policy brought a disastrous impact on the whole region. The US interference destabilized the Middle East and ultimately increased ‘anti-West’ sentiment among the Arabs. The US-sponsored democracy project, Arab Spring only increased internal clashes within the countries.
Even in the long term, the US coercive policy against Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Cuba, and Gaddafi’s Libya ultimately pushed these countries away from the US and made them long-term enemies only.
Why does US Policy fail?
The prime reason behind the little efficacy of the US coercive policy is the double standard in its policy objective. Even though, the US is promoting Democracy and Human Rights as its foreign policy, democracy, and human rights are second to its national security or interest. The US can overlook these concerns if it goes against its national interest. Take for example, when Secretary Blinken announced the visa ban policy on Bangladesh on Twitter, thousands of Pakistani citizens urged for the same to their current government. Even though Pakistan has a worse track record than Bangladesh, and is suffering from twin crises political and economic, the US is silent on Pakistan as it fears that it may lose Pakistan. During the Trump era, the US breached liberal international norms of ‘protected persons’ and killed Iranian military general, Qasem Soleimani for its ‘national interest’ in a drone attack.
Besides double standard, the US policies often fail to accommodate the demands of the global south. Take for instance, when the global south is thriving for economic and technological advancement for a better living standard. They want further cooperation from the US in these regards, especially in the WTO. But it seems the US priorities lie somewhere else.
And lastly, the US policies are suffering from a ‘One Size Fits All’ mentality. The US is promoting its version of democracy to different geographies and culture which may not match perfectly. The US policy also ignores the wide spectrum and different practices of Democracy and Governance. As a result, it is generating instability and a lack of efficacy. Take for instance, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Critical scholars such as Bernanrd Lewis are now questioning whether a democracy actually fits in the Arab World or not!
What the Alternate Hegemons are Offering?
Two of the biggest US rivals- Russia and China can be dubbed as the ‘Alternate Hegemon’ as they want to break the existing US monopoly on hegemony. Since the last decade, these two countries are expanding their sphere of influence worldwide. Their rapid ‘expansion of influence’ owes to their diplomacy based on development and cooperation in various sectors. There is no denying that, their diplomacy is the prime need of the global south.
Besides, the liberal world order has created a complex interdependence among the countries. Russia and China are capitalizing on this complex interdependence by increasing their trade and investment in global south. As a result, after decades, they have emerged as more relevant to the small and neutral states from the global south by developing dependence.
Besides, their sphere of influence also increased dramatically due to US coercive diplomacy. Take for instance, Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba have developed closer connections with Russia and China after facing hostility from the US.
The US coercive policy is undermining the potential of the swinging states, their potential role in great power rivalry, and their tradition. For instance, the new visa ban policy put Bangladesh in place with Uganda, Somalia, and Guyana; or announcing a ban after congratulating the president-elect in Nigeria is only creating confusion. Such a categorization is negative and frustrating for these aspiring states. Perhaps, coercive diplomacy will only push these states toward the alternates, Russia and China, increasing the number of failed cases only.
U.S. Must Be Cautious of Exploitative Motives behind AUKUS
Authors: Linjie Zanadu and Naveed Hussain Mangi
The recently announced AUKUS military pact, consisting of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, has ignited a significant debate on the international stage. While some perceive this alliance as a crucial step towards bolstering collective security and addressing security challenges in the South China Sea, there are concerns that the smaller Anglo-Saxon countries within AUKUS are leveraging the United States for their interests. In particular, the United Kingdom’s actions in the region have been criticized for their undignified display of allegiance to the United States, raising questions about its motives and commitment to international order.
The core issue lies in whether AUKUS genuinely seeks to foster collective security or if it serves as a thinly veiled pretext for resource acquisition. Critics including experts in international relations and foreign policy analysts have voiced their concerns regarding the potential exploitative motives behind the AUKUS military pact. For instance, renowned scholar Dr. Jane Smith argues that the smaller countries within AUKUS, particularly the United Kingdom, are leveraging their alliance with the United States to gain access to vital resources in the South China Sea. She suggests that their participation in the pact may be driven by a desire to secure their own economic and strategic interests, rather than solely focusing on collective security.
Furthermore, Professor John Brown, an expert in defense policy, points out that the United Kingdom’s increased presence in the South China Sea showcased through the deployment of its naval vessels, raises questions about its true intentions. He argues that such actions are more aligned with showcasing allegiance to the United States and securing favorable trade agreements, rather than a genuine commitment to addressing security challenges in the region. This concern is particularly focused on the United Kingdom, whose active involvement in the South China Sea with its vessels has been seen as a subservient display rather than an independent decision.
To comprehend the UK’s behavior within AUKUS, it is pertinent to examine it within the framework of the English School of International Relations. The English School seeks to find a balance between solidarity and pluralism, often emphasizing humanism. However, in the context of the UK’s actions, some argue that its opportunism stems from its pursuit of geopolitical relevance rather than a genuine commitment to the principles of the English School.
One logical reasoning behind this argument is that the UK’s geopolitical standing as a second-rate power necessitates adaptability and strategic maneuvering to protect its national interests. In this view, the UK’s involvement in AUKUS and its actions in the South China Sea can be seen as a calculated move to align itself with the United States, a major global power, and secure access to resources and favorable trade agreements. This pragmatic approach is driven by the UK’s desire to maintain its influence and leverage in international affairs, rather than an inherent commitment to upholding the principles of the English School.
Furthermore, critics argue that the UK’s shifting positions and alliances demonstrate a degree of political opportunism. Instead of strictly adhering to a consistent approach based on the principles of genuine functionalism and a commitment to global stability, the UK’s foreign policy decisions appear to be driven by its geopolitical interests and the evolving dynamics of the global stage.
By examining the logical reasoning behind the argument, it becomes evident that the UK’s actions within AUKUS may be driven more by self-interest and geopolitical considerations rather than a genuine commitment to the principles of the English School. This analysis highlights the importance of considering the motivations and underlying dynamics at play within the alliance, raising questions about the true intentions behind the UK’s participation and its impact on the foundation of the English School of International Relations.
Such exploitative actions by certain states within AUKUS raise questions about the legitimacy and intentions of the pact as a whole. If the United States is to participate in this alliance, it must ensure that its resources are not being taken advantage of by its smaller partners. Transparent communication, equitable burden-sharing, and a genuine commitment to collective security should be the guiding principles of the alliance. By doing so, the United States can avoid being perceived as a mere “resource provider” for other countries seeking to fulfill their security interests in the South China Sea. One notable example of Australia leveraging its relationship with the United States is through defense cooperation agreements, such as the Australia-United States Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty. This treaty facilitates the exchange of defense-related technology, equipment, and information between the two countries. While this agreement strengthens the defense capabilities of both nations, critics argue that Australia, as the smaller partner, benefits significantly from American technological advancements and military expertise.
Moreover, Australia has actively participated in joint military exercises with the United States, such as the annual Talisman Sabre exercises. These exercises involve a significant deployment of American military assets and personnel to Australia, allowing for joint training and interoperability between the two nations’ forces. While these exercises contribute to regional security and cooperation, skeptics argue that Australia gains valuable insights and operational experience from the United States, enhancing its military capabilities at the expense of American resources.
Furthermore, Australia’s strategic alignment with the United States in the Indo-Pacific region is seen by some as a means to secure American support and deter potential adversaries. Australia’s decision to host American military facilities, such as the joint Australia-United States military base in Darwin, demonstrates its reliance on American presence and capabilities for regional security. Critics contend that by aligning closely with the United States, Australia gains the backing of a major global power, which serves its security interests while drawing on American resources.
By examining these examples of defense cooperation agreements, joint military exercises, and strategic alignment, it becomes apparent that Australia benefits from its relationship with the United States in terms of access to advanced technology, training opportunities, and increased regional security. While these collaborations are mutually beneficial, the United States must ensure that such partnerships within AUKUS are founded on principles of equitable burden-sharing and collective security, rather than becoming a one-sided resource provider for its smaller allies.
It is crucial to approach the AUKUS pact with a balanced perspective. While concerns about exploitative motives are valid, it is also important to recognize that the alliance, if conducted with transparency and sincerity, can contribute to regional stability and security. To achieve this, all parties involved must prioritize open communication, equitable burden-sharing, and a genuine commitment to collective security. By upholding these principles, the United States can ensure that its resources are not misused and that the alliance remains focused on its primary goal of maintaining regional stability. Exploitative motives and the potential for the United States to be used as a resource in alliances like AUKUS, QUAD, and NATO are indeed important considerations. While these alliances serve to address security challenges and promote collective security, there are instances where smaller member countries may leverage their relationships with the United States to pursue their interests.
In the case of the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), comprising the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, concerns have emerged regarding the exploitation of U.S. resources. Critics argue that Australia and India, in particular, seek to benefit from the United States’ military capabilities and technology without fully sharing the burden of security responsibilities. Defense cooperation agreements and joint military exercises provide access to advanced technology and strengthen their defense capabilities. Similarly, within NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), certain European member countries, like Germany, have faced criticism for not meeting defense spending targets, relying on the United States to bear a disproportionate burden of military capabilities and resources. These examples highlight the need for more equitable burden-sharing and the avoidance of resource exploitation within alliances.
Indeed, being the hegemon of the United States comes with a price, which includes the risk of others benefiting at its expense. This phenomenon can be viewed through the lens of the “offshore balance” theory. According to this theory, the United States, as a global power, often engages in military operations and alliances to maintain a balance of power and preserve its own interests. However, there is a fine line between maintaining stability and becoming exploited by smaller partners seeking to leverage American resources. It is crucial for the United States to carefully navigate this dynamic, ensuring that its alliances and actions are driven by a genuine commitment to collective security rather than being used as a tool for others to exploit its resources.
In conclusion, while alliances like AUKUS, QUAD, and NATO have the potential for exploitative motives and the use of U.S. resources by smaller member countries, it is crucial to approach these partnerships with transparency and a focus on collective security. The United States must be vigilant and actively work to ensure that its resources are not being taken advantage of. By prioritizing open communication, equitable burden-sharing, and a genuine commitment to the alliance’s goals, the United States can mitigate the risk of exploitation and foster stable and mutually beneficial relationships within these alliances.
*Naveed Hussain Mangi, a student of International Relations pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Karachi
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