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Looking Beyond Current Crises: American Policy, Global Chaos and Collective Will

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Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti’s Man Pointing extends his finger accusingly. But where is he pointing, where exactly, in what discernible direction and toward whom or what in particular? At one level, these are silly or unfair questions. Still, at another oft-ignored and more penetrating intellectual level, these same questions might represent fruitful queries.

Taken as metaphor, the presumed object of any such artistic “accusation” could prove well worth discovering.

 But why?

L’Homme au doigt, Alberto Giacometti

A preliminary answer must be made ready and available, reliably at hand. In principle, at least, this sort of artistic indirection could begin to lead us beyond the narrowly ad hominem assessments of day-to-day Washington gossip and beyond the usual appraisals of a largely rancorous interest. Conspicuously, it could give rise to assorted creative hypothesesabout world politics and collective survival.

Without such hypotheses or tentative scientific explanations, Americans – and especially their dissembling president – will continually fail to look anywhere beyond the “tip of the iceberg;” that is, behind the narrowly episodic daily news. That would mean, among other unwelcome outcomes: (1) experiencing endlessly incremental assaults by disjointed arguments and unhelpful gossip; and (2) not experiencing any authentically meaningful analytic learning .

Several serious issues are involved in this assessment. Any such prospectively lethal failure would prevent us from creating (3) a more tolerable system of international relations and (derivatively) (4) a more sustainable US foreign policy. Ultimately, this particularly intolerable kind of failure should be prevented at all costs.

Some pertinent observations are now plain and unassailable. Ideally, all of our national leaders should begin at the beginning. World politics, inter alia, is most immutably and consequentially a system.[1]

There is more. In all geopolitical struggles for power, everything is overlapping, intersecting or interpenetrating. For the United States, the critically  salient issues arising within these complex configurations are not ones of personality, party, partisanship or ideology. Rather, they are factors that reflect various broad-based aspects of a universal human behavior.

Such factors can be successfully challenged and managed, not by any usual manipulations of public sentiment (i.e., propaganda or “public relations”), but by more genuinely diligent applications of “mind.”

Always, truth is commendable, and not just “in principle.” Here, truth, exculpatory and self-fulfilling, can bestow multiple advantages. True, we are disturbingly far from displaying what American Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson had once called “high thinking.” Nonetheless, depending upon specific assignments of meaning, or definition, we may still stand some reasonable chance of achieving a partial or residual “redemption.”

There is more. Before any mind or intellect-based rescues could be taken seriously, Americans will require more than distressingly shrill screams of collective encouragement[2] What will be required is a new-found or perhaps even resurrected respect for science and reason. To be sure, as current examples, Iranian nuclearization, North Korean threats, climate change and generally imperiled human survival are calculably real problems.

They are anything but “fake news.”

In essence, America’s increasingly perilous place in world politics can never be secured by a willfully anti-intellectual president, one who conspicuously loathes literally any dispassionate, and systematic approach to problem solving.

Conceptually, we will need to begin our pertinent analyses at the beginning. This means, among other things, with the individual human being, with the world system’s most readily recognizable and determinative microcosm. Quite plausibly, this “little world” is the authentic object of Swiss artist Giacometti’s tell-tale finger pointing.

Some obligations never change.

Accordingly, the singular individual represents the core foundation of all politics, whether national or global.

Always.

From the specific standpoint of the United States, the questions that most seriously bedevil foreign policy decision-making are not fundamentally about Trump, Putin, Assad, Erdogan, Kim Jung Un, China, Russia, the Middle East, immigration, aggression,[3] nuclear arms racing, nuclear war,[4] bipolarity vs. multipolarity,[5] barrier walls, elections, identifiable crimes or misdemeanors, etc. Intractably, these personalities and issues appear “up front” in our daily news summaries or appraisals – and are obviously of very great significance –  but they are still mere reflections of what is deeply underlying. While seemingly urgent in their own right, these distractions are the most visible “symptoms” of much more complex world system “pathologies.”

It is these underlying “diseases,” and not their multiple and tangible symptoms, that should now galvanize refined analytic attention.

As with any such carefully planned tasks, true learning must have its correct (and revered) place. In terms of classic western philosophy, we should think here of Plato’s long-famous parable of the cave, an instructive tale still told routinely to first year undergraduates in order to illustrate certain still-timeless life lessons. Most valuable here would be the core Platonic distinction between “reality” and variously dissembling “shadows” of reality.

There is a more than reasonable argument for offering such distinctions in present-day American society and politics.

“Art,” offered Pablo Picasso, “is a lie that can tell us the truth.” In this regard, certain elements of truth may still lie latent in the finger-pointing representations of Alberto Giacometti. Most significantly, these elements could reveal that the effective shape of global politics (the relevant macrocosm) is always contingent upon the flesh and blood expectations of singular or individual human beings.

 In other words, these singular individuals represent the pertinent but protean microcosm who must ultimately give both political activity and law[6] their calculable form.

In the end, all global politics – including the refractory and seat-of-the-pants foreign policies being fashioned by US President Donald Trump – must be recognized as reflective of something more expressly causal. This still-necessary recognition, in turn, must be based upon a more consciously theoretical[7] understanding of the specific wants and behaviors of human beings, either singly or as parts of some determinable “collective will.”[8] Indisputably, though the individual person is always the primal “microcosm” of any particular nation’s foreign policy decision-making, it is the collective expression of this microcosm that becomes sorely problematic and correspondingly subject to assorted forms of “misuse.”[9]

There is no shortage of apt examples. For appropriately historic and present-day instances, we may recall together the 1934 Nuremberg gatherings of the Third Reich and Donald Trump’s contemporary “rallies.” In examining each worrisome case, what matters most is not the specific content of any political speech, past or future, but rather the reassuringly common warmth of some surrounding “mass.” The fact that what is being rhythmically chanted at all such rancorous gatherings is plainly nonsense (Trump rallies) or overtly genocidal (Nuremberg rallies) is pretty much beside the point.

What truly matters here is that individual human thinking is no longer required (indeed, it generally becomes a despised object or an object of collective execration) and that individual responsibility can quickly be swallowed up in its entirety by a well- orchestrated “herd.”

“Intellect rots the brain,” said Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels in 1934.

“I love the poorly educated” said 2016 presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

For the United States, adopting a more distinctly cosmopolitan orientation could help matters, but an antecedent question must first be posed and then correctly answered: From what available intellectual font could such an indispensable vision of human “oneness” actually be drawn? In an American nation encouraged by both its prevailing culture and its crushing politics to loath intellect (e.g., President Trump never reads a single book – any book), even the most vaunted universities are unlikely to offer some suitable platform for transformation.

It’s not bewildering. In today’s United States, even higher education has become commoditized. And commodities, as everyone is well aware, exist only to be bought and sold.

In these United States, it’s all about commerce –  not always for its own sake, but sometimes for the sake of individual self-esteem or what ordinary street hooligans would call “respect.”

The Talmud reminds us all: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.” Yet, we are now left for policy guidance with only the skeletal structures of a desperately-needed cosmopolitanism, that is, with only the bitter residue of what is genuinely needed. This dissembling president, ignoring the vital presence of system, has a conveniently misleading name for this trickling residue of meaningful thought.

By ignoring that everything in world politics and global economics is interconnected, he disingenuously calls such posture “America First.”

Although cheerful and seemingly sensible, any zero-sum mantra is the manifestly negative fulfillment of a society that had once been able to take itself seriously. At its core, this slogan stands for declension, for the grim triumph of endless belligerence,[10] balance-of-power politics,[11]  expanding chaos[12] and a blindly destructive collective will.[13]

For the United States, there will likely be multiple injurious consequences. Left in place by an administration that continuously fails to acknowledge its most incorrigible failings, America First  (suddenly or incrementally) will injure our interests and ideals at the same time.[14] It follows that a non-theoretic American foreign policy premised upon illogical extrapolations and a perversely proud ethos of anti-thought would produce only negative outcomes.

In more expressly technical terms, we would call such unwelcome results “force-multiplying” or “synergistic.”

By definition, in these fully predictable outcomes, the “whole” of any national injury would be greater than the aggregated sum of its policy “parts.”

Plausibly, in the aftermath of these unacceptable outcomes, Alberto Giacometti’s accusing finger will not be retracted. Instead, it will point, convincingly, at all of us. But by then it will already be too late.

For Americans imperiled by a darkly corrosive collective will, intellect or “mind” must remain uniquely vital. Among other possible contributions, intellect could reveal certain generally hidden relationships between individual human death fears and a stubbornly antagonistic nationalism. In the nineteenth century, as part of his posthumously published lecture on Politics (1896), Heinrich von Treitschke had looked insightfully beyond the daily news. Citing to Johan Gottlieb Fichte, the German historian opined prophetically: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.”

Fichte understood something here of uncommon (and incomparable) importance. It is that there can be no greater power on earth than power over death. Never.

Still earlier, correspondingly, the German philosopher Georg F. Hegel had commented famously: “The state is the march of God through the world.”[15]

These complicated insights are not at all easy to grasp (they are intended not for the many, but for the few), but they remain stunningly important nonetheless.

“Art is the lie,” says Pablo Picasso, “that lets us see the truth.” At its core, Alberto Giacometti’s Man Pointing offers a prospectively illuminating representation of isolation and alienation, a troubling image that could help to lead us toward much deeper human understandings of war, terrorism and “collective will.” Reciprocally, such understandings could produce more thoughtful and auspicious foreign policies than what is currently being fashioned both ex nihilo and ad hoc.

“Normally,” as Giacometti’s art hints obliquely, each individual person can feel empty and insignificant apart from membership in some sort of reassuring crowd. Sometimes, the sustaining crowd is the State. Sometimes, it is the Tribe. Sometimes, as with ISIS, Hezbollah or Hamas, it is, at least ostensibly, the Faith (always, of course, the “one true faith”). Sometimes, it is the self-proclaimed “Resistance Movement,” as in certain aptly similar examples of Fatah, Islamic Jihad or certain other present-day terror groups.

Whatever the particular aggrandizing crowd of the moment, it is largely a craving to belong that threatens fatal subversions of individual human responsibility, and, correspondingly, the commission of truly monumental crimes. The cumulatively lethal consequences of such cravings is a convulsive and sometimes orgasmic triumph of “collective will.” Often, the proximate cause of these unmanaged cravings is an expanding fear of “chaos”[16] in the persistently Westphalian state of nature.[17]

In each and every case, the triumph of an insidious collective will must be built upon an unhidden loathing of intellect or mind. Concretely, this is the sort of seat-of-the-pants decision-making celebrating (to use Donald Trump’s own words about US foreign policy processes) “attitude, not preparation.”

Art is a “lie” that may still help us to see more clearly. “Deconstructing” Giacometti’s emaciated figure, the outlines of a pragmatic conclusion may appear, either suddenly, as a riveting “bolt from the blue,” or gradually, in certain welcome increments. It could then prod informed analysis as follows:

 Unless we humans can finally learn how to temper our overwhelming and nearly-universal desire to belong at all costs, our recurrent military and political schemes to remedy war, terrorism and genocide will fail.

Without substantial augmentation by variously basic sorts of human transformation – namely, changes that could produce more expressly individualistic human beings – alltime-dishonored schemes for national security, collective security or collective defense will continue to be ineffectual.

They will remain pretty much beside the point.

They will have no helpful impact on reducing global chaos or the most grievously omnivorous forms of collective will.

Oddly enough, all this should finally be obvious. Foreign policy making requires some serious erudition. Yet, relevant learning must embrace much more than a wholly unprepared American president’s inclinations to snap back viscerally to assorted complex questions with appealingly shallow and simplistic phrases.

Before American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson had exhorted capable national governance by “high-thinking,” Thomas Jefferson, lacking both a computer and a smart-phone, still managed to read Grotius, Vattel, Pufendorf, Hobbes and Locke – together, significantly, the interwoven intellectual mainsprings of his Declaration of Independence. What does US President Donald Trump read or write?

The answer is as plain as it is incontestable. This particular answer should also be deeply humiliating; still, it is anything but that for many millions of the insistently malleable American “crowd.” The fact (unassailable) that tens of millions of Americans remain content with an effectively illiterate presidency is a symptom and reminder of a much deeper civilizational “pathology.” In possibly useful explanation, we may recall philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s unvarnished aphorism in Zarathustra: “When the throne sits on mud,” warned the 19th century German thinker, “mud sits on the throne.”

Where, today, is there any still-discernible intellectual life among the American people?

How many Americans have even any lingering acquaintance with the founding documents of the United States?

How many of our citizens expect their president to be even remotely familiar with the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution?[18]

How many Americans have ever bothered to look at such musty old documents themselves?

This president proudly introduced Duck Dynasty as keynote “speaker” at his nominating presidential convention.

This same president was recently described by US General (ret.) Michael Hayden, a former head of CIA, as “the useful idiot of Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

These are not trivial observations, nor are they being seriously disputed. Furthermore, can anyone still credibly maintain that Donald Trump has even a remote inkling of what is contained in the basic literatures of law, science or history? Do many (or any) really care that he obviously knows nothing of importance, and most conspicuously wants to know nothing? Shouldn’t Americans reasonably expect, as an utterly bare minimum, a president who reads something, anything?

“In the market place,” reminds Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, “nobody believes in higher men.”

US President Donald Trump came to the White House by way of the “market place.” For him, the self-demeaning world of bargaining and bullying was not just the only world he had ever known; it also represented the only world he had ever wanted to know. For his still numerous supporters, the presumed benefits of  belonging to the Trump “crowd” outweigh the harder-to-measure costs of American collective insecurity.

Observed Sigmund Freud: “Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics, and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind, and not merely when the accident of birth had bequeathed them sovereignty.”

Nietzsche had longed openly for a world “beyond Good and Evil.” Freud, who preferred the term “primal horde” to Nietzsche’s “herd,” sought steadfastly to identify a habitat in which this longed-for transcendence might have sometime been applied. His discovery turned out to be his own “lived-in” world, one where Eros was not allowed to play any unifying role, and reinforced baneful or “narcissistic” identifications with an always- terrorizing mass.[19]

“The crowd,” observed the 19th century Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, “is untruth.” Nowhere has this seminal observation remained more stubbornly correct than politics, both national and global. To be fair, not every human crowd or herd or mass need be insidious or destructive. Still, ominously ongoing crimes of war, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity could never take place in the absence of such primal or even primordial manifestations of collective will.

Whenever individuals join together and form a crowd or herd or mass, certain latently destructive dynamics of mob psychology become available. Among other things, this fateful combining of “membership” with destructiveness lowers each affected person’s ethical and intellectual level to a point where even the most monstrous crimes can quickly become acceptable. In the case of insistently barbarous groups, rabidly murderous behavior is not merely agreeable to the membership. It is also deeply welcome, satisfying and sometimes even palpably lascivious.

However unseemly, this behavior offers a continuous source of ghastly collective celebrations and excruciatingly private ecstasies.

On the surface, ongoing brutalities in our dissembling world order represent fragmenting struggles between warring herds. These herds, in turn, are the “natural” product of various underlying individual human needs to belong. Such critical needs are themselves derived from the most primary human want of all. This, our national leaders must finally learn to understand, is the generally unquenchable human yearning for immortality.[20]

It goes without saying that any such difficult understanding still lies far beyond the ken of our current national leaders.

What else ought we to expect from an American president who celebrates “attitude, not preparation?”

Understood as “pathology,” our steadily growing global chaos remains only a symptom. But, as an aesthetic start to more promising and enduring national policy solutions, Giacometti’s Man Pointing may be taken as an imaginative signpost of what is most determinative in spawning war, terrorism and genocide. Sooner or later, what is deteriorating on this fragile planet will need to be “fixed” at the most “molecular” level of conflict; that is, at the ever-needful level of each individual human being.

In the end, there can be no guarantees that even more deeply thoughtful analyses of global politics could be made “operational.” Still, unless we begin to acknowledge the ubiquity and core importance of individual human longings for membership (belonging) and immortality (power over death), America’s most critical foreign policies will inevitably fail.

If, however, this crowd-oriented country could begin to place greater emphases on intellect and learning, our collective survival odds would improve correspondingly.

To make any country “great again” in isolation represents a shamelessly misconceived objective, if only because virtually all countries – including the United States – have just a partial or dubious “greatness” to revive. The only legitimate US goal, therefore, must be to make the entire world system more tolerable for all of its interdependent inhabitants. The pertinent Talmudic message here is not new. But as a conspicuous reminder: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.”

America’s unavoidable task can be accomplished only after we begin to search for useable meaning and truth well beyond the daily news. Giacometti’s emaciated figure points not only at world leaders of one generation or another, but more widely at millennia of individual and collective human error. Without a willingness to finally understand the rudimentary human bases of America’s “collective will,” such evident disregard for intellect or “mind” could produce once-unimaginable levels of chaos.

By definition, therefore, such a primary willingness is now indispensable.


[1] In this connection, recall the unchallengeable observation of Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: “The existence of `system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature, no matter whom….”

[2] Such “democratic” screams would no doubt have horrified the Founding Fathers of the United States. Nurtured by the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and the religion of John Calvin, the Fathers began their Constitutional deliberations with the core notion that an American citizen must inevitably be an unregenerate being who has to be continually and strictly controlled. Fearing democracy as much as any form of leadership tyranny, Elbridge Gerry spoke openly of democracy as “the worst of all political evils,” while William Livingston opined: “The people have been and ever will be unfit to retain the exercise of power in their own hands.” George Washington, as presiding officer at the Constitutional Convention, sternly urged delegates not to produce a document to “please the people,” while Alexander Hamilton – made newly famous by the currently popular Broadway musical – expressly charged America’s government “to check the imprudence of any democracy.”

[3] For the crime of aggression under international law, see: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, adopted by the UN General Assembly, Dec. 14, 1974. U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 UN GAOR, Supp (No. 31), 142, UN Doc A/9631 (1975) reprinted in 13 I.L.M., 710 (1974).

[4] For authoritative early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018).

[5] For earlier but still useful comparisons of polarity in world politics, by this author, See: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4, December 1973, pp. 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[6] This includes international law or the law of nations. such law remains a “vigilante” system, or “Westphalian” law. The historic reference here is to the Peace Of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty Years War, and created the now still-existing decentralized, or self-help, state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

[7] “Theory is a net,” observes the German poet Novalis, “and only those who cast, can catch.” This apt metaphor was embraced by philosopher of science Karl Popper as the epigraph to his classic Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934).

[8] In modern philosophy, the evident origin of this useful term lies in Arthur Schopenhauer’s writings, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration (and by his own expressed acknowledgment), Schopenhauer drew freely upon Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely (and perhaps still more importantly) upon Schopenhauer. Significantly, Goethe also served as a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, author of the prophetic work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the occasion of the centenerary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948), and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).

[9]https://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://search.yahoo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1151&context=ilr

[10] This brings to mind the closing query of Agamemnon in The Oresteia by Aeschylus: “Where will it end? When will it all be lulled back into sleep, and cease, the bloody hatreds, the destruction”?

[11] The concept of a balance of power – an idea of which the nuclear-age balance of terror is a  more recent variant – has never been more than a facile metaphor. Further, it has never had anything to do with any calculable equilibrium. As such a balance is always a matter of individual and more-or-less subjective perceptions, adversary states may never be sufficiently confident that strategic circumstances are “balanced” in their favor. In consequence, as each side must perpetually fear  that it will be “left behind,” the search for balance continually produces wider insecurity and disequilibrium.

[12] Although composed in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan still offers an illuminating vision of chaos in world politics. Says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII, “Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery:”  During chaos, a condition which Hobbes identifies as a “time of War,”  it is a time “…where every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” At the time of writing, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition existing among individual human beings -because of what he called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature being able to kill others – but this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the global spread of nuclear weapons.

[13] Consider, in this regard, the relevant observation of Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.”

[14] Says Emmerich de Vattel, in his The Law of Nations (1758),  “The first general law, which is to be found in the very end of the society of Nations, is that each Nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness and advancement of other Nations.”

[15] In more complete citation: “The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth….We must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the Divine on earth, and consider that, if it is a difficult to comprehend Nature, it is harder to grasp the Essence of the State….The State is the march of God through the world….” See: See: Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, as quoted by Karl R Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, 4th ed., 2 vols. (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963), vol. 2, p. 31.

[16] Ironically, whether described in the Old Testament or in other sources of ancient Western thought, chaos is as much a source of human betterment as of declension. In essence, it is that which prepares the world for all things, both sacred and profane. Further, as its conspicuous etymology reveals, chaos represents the yawning gulf or gap wherein nothing is as yet, but also where all civilizational opportunity must inevitably originate. Appropriately, the great German poet Hölderlin observed: “There is a desert sacred and chaotic which stands at the roots of the things and which prepares all things.” Even in the pagan ancient world, the Greeks thought of such a desert as logos, which indicates to us that it was presumed to be anything but starkly random or without conceivable merit.

[17] Apropos of Thomas Hobbes’ argument that the state of nature is worse among individuals than among states, the philosopher Spinoza suggested that “…a commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” See: A.G. Wernham, ed., The Political Works, Tractatus Politicus, iii, II; Clarendon Press, 1958, p. 295.

[18] We may usefully recall here Jean Jacques Rousseau’s timeless warning about intellectual responsibility in his The Social Contract: “I warn the reader that this essay requires to be read very seriously, and that I am unacquainted with any art which can make the subject clear to those who will not bestow on it their serious attention.”

[19] Freud was always darkly pessimistic about the United States, which he felt was “lacking in soul” and was  a place of great psychological misery or “wretchedness.” In a letter to Ernest Jones, Freud declared unambiguously: “America is gigantic, but it is a gigantic mistake.” (See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (1983), p. 79.

[20] The Spanish existentialist philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno (Tragic Sense of Life, 1921) has called it “the hunger for immortality.”

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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Americas

As Refugees Flee Central America, the Mexican Public Sours On Accepting Them

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Authors: Isabel Eliassen, Alianna Casas, Timothy S. Rich*

In recent years, individuals from Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) have been forced out of their home countries by extreme poverty and gang violence. While initial expectations were that the Lopez Obrador administration would be more welcoming to migrants, policies have slowly mirrored those of his predecessor, and do not seem to have deterred refugees. COVID-19 led to a decrease in refugees arriving in Mexico, and many shelters in Mexico closed or have limited capacity due to social distancing restrictions. Now that the COVID-19 situation has changed, arrivals could increase again to the levels seen in late 2018 or 2019, with overcrowded refugee centers lacking in medical care as potential grounds for serious COVID-19 outbreaks.

Mexico increasingly shares a similar view as the US on this migration issue, seeking ways to detain or deport migrants rather than supporting or protecting them. For instance, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has been conducting raids on freight trains to find and detain migrants. Public opinion likely shapes these policies. In the US, support for allowing migrants into the country appeared to increase slightly from 2018 to 2019, but no significant majority emerges. Meanwhile, Mexican public opinion increasingly exhibits anti-immigrant sentiments, declining considerably since 2018, with a 2019 Washington Post poll showing that 55% supported deporting Central Americans rather than providing temporary residence and a 2019 El Financiero poll finding 63% supportive of closing to border to curb migration.

New Data Shows the Mexican Public Unwelcoming

To gauge Mexican public opinion on refugees, we conducted an original web survey June 24-26 via Qualtrics, using quota sampling. We asked 625 respondents to evaluate the statement “Mexico should accept refugees fleeing from Central America” on a five-point Likert scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. For visual clarity, we combined disagree and agree categories in the figure below.

Overall, a plurality (43.84%) opposed accepting refugees, with less than a third (30.08%) supportive. Broken down by party affiliation, we see similar results, with the largest opposition from the main conservative party PAN (52.90%) and lowest in the ruling party MORENA (41.58%). Broken down by gender, we find women slightly more supportive compared to men (32.60% vs. 27.04%), consistent with findings elsewhere and perhaps acknowledgment that women and children historically comprise a disproportionate amount of refugees. Regression analysis again finds PAN supporters to be less supportive than other respondents, although this distinction declines once controlling for gender, age, education and income, of which only age corresponded with a statistically significant decline in support. It is common for older individuals to oppose immigration due to generational changes in attitude, so this finding is not unexpected.

We also asked the question “On a 1-10 scale, with 1 being very negative and 10 very positive, how do you feel about the following countries?” Among countries listed were the sources of the Central American refugees, the three Northern Triangle countries. All three received similar average scores (Guatemala: 4.33, Honduras: 4.05, El Salvador: 4.01), higher than Venezuela (3.25), but lower than the two other countries rated (US: 7.71, China: 7.26) Yet, even after controlling for general views of the Central American countries, we find the public generally unsupportive of accepting refugees.

How Should Mexico Address the Refugee Crisis?

Towards the end of the Obama administration, aid and other efforts directed at resolving the push factors for migration in Central America, including decreasing violence and limiting corruption, appeared to have some success at reducing migration north. President Trump’s policies largely did not improve the situation, and President Biden has begun to reverse those policies and re-implement measures successful under Obama.

As discussed in a meeting between the Lopez Obrador administration and US Vice President Kamala Harris, Mexico could adopt similar aid policies, and decreasing the flow of migrants may make the Mexican public respond more positively to accepting migrants. Lopez Obrador committed to increased economic cooperation with Central America days into his term, with pledges of aid as well, but these efforts remain underdeveloped. Threats to cut aid expedite deportations only risks worsening the refugee crisis, while doing little to improve public opinion.

Increasingly, the number of family units from Guatemala and Honduras seeking asylum in Mexico, or the United States, represents a mass exodus from Central America’s Northern Triangle to flee insecurity. Combating issues such as extreme poverty and violence in Central American countries producing the mass exodus of refugees could alleviate the impact of the refugee crisis on Mexico. By alleviating the impact of the refugee crisis, refugees seeking asylum will be able to navigate immigration processes easier thus decreasing tension surrounding the influx of refugees.

Likewise, identifying the public’s security and economic concerns surrounding refugees and crafting a response should reduce opposition. A spokesperson for Vice President Harris stated that border enforcement was on the agenda during meetings with the Lopez Obrador administration, but the Mexican foreign minister reportedly stated that border security was not to be addressed at the meeting. Other than deporting migrants at a higher rate than the US, Mexico also signed an agreement with the US in June pledging money to improve opportunities for work in the Northern Triangle. Nonetheless, questions about whether this agreement will bring meaningful change remain pertinent in the light of a worsening crisis.

Our survey research shows little public interest in accepting refugees. Public sentiment is unlikely to change unless the Lopez Obrador administration finds ways to both build sympathy for the plights of refugees and address public concerns about a refugee crisis with no perceived end in sight. For example, research in the US finds public support for refugees is often higher when the emphasis is on women and children, and the Lopez Obrador administration could attempt to frame the crisis as helping specifically these groups who historically comprise most refugees. Likewise, coordinating efforts with the US and other countries may help portray to the public that the burden of refugee resettlement is being equitably shared rather than disproportionately placed on Mexico.

Facing a complex situation affecting multiple governments requires coordinated efforts and considerable resources to reach a long-term solution. Until then, the Central American refugee crisis will continue and public backlash in Mexico likely increase.

Isabel Eliassen is a 2021 Honors graduate of Western Kentucky University. She triple majored in International Affairs, Chinese, and Linguistics.

Alianna Casas is an Honors Undergraduate Researcher at Western Kentucky University, majoring in Business Economics, Political Science, and a participant in the Joint Undergraduate/Master’s Program in Applied Economics.

Timothy S. Rich is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Western Kentucky University and Director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL). His research focuses on public opinion and electoral politics.

Funding for this survey was provided by the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University.

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Americas

Indictment of Trump associate threatens UAE lobbying success

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This month’s indictment of a billionaire, one-time advisor and close associate of former US President Donald J. Trump, on charges of operating as an unregistered foreign agent in the United States for the United Arab Emirates highlights the successes and pitfalls of a high-stakes Emirati effort to influence US policy.

The indictment of businessman Thomas  J. Barrack, who maintained close ties to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed while serving as an influential advisor in 2016 to then-presidential candidate Trump and chair of Mr. Trump’s inauguration committee once he won the 2016 election, puts at risk the UAE’s relationship with the Biden administration.

It also threatens to reduce the UAE’s return on a massive investment in lobbying and public relations that made it a darling in Washington during the last four years.

A 2019 study concluded that Emirati clients hired 20 US lobbying firms to do their bidding at a cost of US$20 million, including US$600,000 in election campaign contributions — one of the largest, if not the largest expenditure by a single state on Washington lobbying and influence peddling.

The indictment further raises the question of why the Biden administration was willing to allow legal proceedings to put at risk its relationship with one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East, one that last year opened the door to recognition of Israel by Arab and Muslim-majority states.

The UAE lobbying effort sought to position the Emirates, and at its behest, Saudi Arabia under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed’s counterpart, Mohammed bin Salman, at the heart of US policy, ensure that Emirati and Saudi interests were protected, and shield the two autocrats from criticism of various of their policies and abuse of human rights.

Interestingly, UAE lobbying in the United States, in contrast to France and Austria, failed to persuade the Trump administration to embrace one of the Emirates’ core policy objectives: a US crackdown on political Islam with a focus on the Muslim Brotherhood. UAE Crown Prince Mohammed views political Islam and the Brotherhood that embraces the principle of elections as an existential threat to the survival of his regime.

In one instance cited in the indictment, Mr. Barrack’s two co-defendants, a UAE national resident in the United States, Rashid Al-Malik, and Matthew Grimes, a Barrack employee, discussed days after Mr. Trump’s inauguration the possibility of persuading the new administration to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a designated foreign terrorist organization. “This will be a huge win. If we can list them. And they deserved to be,” Mr. Al-Malik texted Mr. Grimes on 23 January 2017.

The unsuccessful push for designating the Brotherhood came three months after Mr. Barrack identified the two Prince Mohammeds in an op-ed in Fortune magazine as members of a new generation of “brilliant young leaders.” The billionaire argued that “American foreign policy must persuade these bold visionaries to lean West rather than East… By supporting their anti-terrorism platforms abroad, America enhances its anti-terrorism policies at home.”

Mr. Barrack further sought to persuade America’s new policymakers, in line with Emirati thinking, that the threat posed by political Islam emanated not only from Iran’s clerical regime and its asymmetric defence and security policies but also from the Brotherhood and Tukey’s Islamist government. He echoed Emirati promotion of Saudi Arabia after the rise of Mohammed bin Salman as the most effective bulwark against political Islam.

“It is impossible for the US to move against any hostile Islamic group anywhere in the world without Saudi support…. The confused notion that Saudi Arabia is synonymous with radical Islam is falsely based on the Western notion that ‘one size fits all,’ Mr. Barrack asserted.

The Trump administration’s refusal to exempt the Brotherhood from its embrace of Emirati policy was the likely result of differences within both the US government and the Muslim world. Analysts suggest that some in the administration feared that designating the Brotherhood would empower the more rabidly Islamophobic elements in Mr. Trump’s support base.

Administration officials also recognized that the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt constituted a minority, albeit a powerful minority, in the Muslim world that was on the warpath against the Brotherhood.

Elsewhere, Brotherhood affiliates were part of the political structure by either participating in government or constituting part of the legal opposition in countries like Kuwait, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, and Indonesia.

The affiliates have at times supported US policies or worked closely with US allies like in the case of Yemen’s Al Islah that is aligned with Saudi-backed forces.

In contrast to UAE efforts to ensure that the Brotherhood is crushed at the risk of fueling Islamophobia, Nahdlatul Ulama, one of, if not the world’s largest Muslim organization which shares the Emirates’ rejection of political Islam and the Brotherhood, has opted to fight the Brotherhood’s local Indonesian affiliate politically within a democratic framework rather than by resorting to coercive tactics.

Nahdlatul Ulama prides itself on having significantly diminished the prospects of Indonesia’s Brotherhood affiliate, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), since the 2009 presidential election. The group at the time successfully drove a wedge between then-President Susilo Yudhoyono, and the PKS, his coalition partner since the 2004 election that brought him to power. In doing so, it persuaded Mr. Yudhoyono to reject a PKS candidate as vice president in the second term of his presidency.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s manoeuvring included the publication of a book asserting that the PKS had not shed its links to militancy. The party has since failed to win even half of its peak 38 seats in parliament garnered in the 2004 election.

“Publication of ‘The Illusion of an Islamic State: The Expansion of Transnational Islamist Movements to Indonesia’ had a considerable impact on domestic policy. It primarily contributed to neutralizing one candidate’s bid for vice president in the 2009 national election campaign, who had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood,” said militancy expert Magnus Ranstorp.

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Americas

Biden Revises US Sanctions Policy

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

In the United States, a revision of the sanctions policy is in full swing. Joe Biden’s administration strives to make sanctions instruments more effective in achieving his political goals and, at the same time, reducing political and economic costs. The coordination of restrictive measures with allies is also seen as an important task. Biden is cautiously but consistently abandoning the sanctions paradigm that emerged during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The US sanctions policy under Trump was characterised by several elements. First, Washington applied them quite harshly. In all key areas (China, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, etc.), the United States used economic and financial restrictions without hesitation, and sometimes in unprecedented volumes. Of course, the Trump administration acted rationally and rigidity was not an end in itself. In a number of episodes, the American authorities acted prudently (for example, regarding sanctions on Russian sovereign debt in 2019). The Trump-led executives stifled excess Congressional enthusiasm for “draconian sanctions” against Russia and even some initiatives against China. However, the harshness of other measures sometimes shocked allies and opponents alike. These include the 6 April 2014 sanctions against a group of Russian businessmen and their assets, or bans on some Chinese telecommunications services in the United States, or sanctions blocking the International Criminal Court.

Second, Trump clearly ignored the views of US allies. The unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 forced European businesses to leave Iran, resulting in losses. Even some of the nation’s closest allies were annoyed. Another irritant was the tenacity with which Trump (with Congressional backing) threw a wrench in the wheels of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. Despite the complicated relations between Moscow and the European Union, the latter defended the right to independently determine what was in its interests and what was not.

Third, concerns about sanctions have emerged among American business as well. Fears have grown in financial circles that the excessive use of sanctions will provoke the unnecessary politicisation of the global financial system. In the short term, a radical decline in the global role of the dollar is hardly possible. But political risks are forcing many governments to seriously consider it. Both rivals (Moscow and Beijing) and allies (Brussels) have begun to implement corresponding plans. Trade sanctions against China have affected a number of US companies in the telecommunications and high-tech sectors.

Finally, on some issues, the Trump administration has been inconsistent or simply made mistakes. For example, Trump enthusiastically criticised China for human rights violations, supporting relevant legislative initiatives. But at the same time, it almost closed its eyes to the events in Belarus in 2020. Congress was also extremely unhappy with the delay in the reaction on the “Navalny case” in Russia. As for mistakes, the past administration missed the moment for humanitarian exemptions for sanctions regimes in connection with the COVID-19 epidemic. Even cosmetic indulgences could have won points for US “soft power”. Instead, the US Treasury has published a list of pre-existing exceptions.

The preconditions for a revision of the sanctions policy arose even before Joe Biden came to power. First of all, a lot of analytical work was done by American think tanks—nongovernmental research centers. They provided a completely sober and unbiased analysis of bothха! achievements and mistakes. In addition, the US Government Accountability Office has done serious work; in 2019 it prepared two reports for Congress on the institutions of the American sanctions policy. However, Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election significantly accelerated the revision of the sanctions instruments. Both the ideological preferences of the Democrats (for example, the emphasis on human rights) and the political experience of Biden himself played a role.

The new guidelines for the US sanctions policy can be summarised as follows. First, the development of targeted sanctions and a more serious analysis of their economic costs for American business, as well as business from allied and partner countries. Second, closer coordination with allies. Here, Biden has already sent a number of encouraging signals by introducing temporary sanctions exemptions on Nord Stream 2. Although a number of Russian organisations and ships were included in the US sanctions lists, Nord Stream 2 itself and its leadership were not affected. Third, we are talking about closer attention to the subject of human rights. Biden has already reacted with sanctions both to the “Navalny case” and to the situation in Belarus. Human rights will be an irritant in relations with China. Fourth, the administration is working towards overturning Trump’s most controversial decisions. The 2020 decrees on Chinese telecoms were cancelled, the decree on sanctions against the International Criminal Court was cancelled, the decree on Chinese military-industrial companies was modified; negotiations are also underway with Iran.

The US Treasury, one of the key US sanctions agencies, will also undergo personnel updates. Elisabeth Rosenberg, a prominent sanctions expert who previously worked at the Center for a New American Security, may take the post of Assistant Treasury Secretary. She will oversee the subject of sanctions. Thus, the principle of “revolving doors”, which is familiar to Americans, is being implemented, when the civil service is replenished with personnel from the expert community and business, and then “returns” them back.

At the same time, the revision of the sanctions policy by the new administration cannot be called a revolution. The institutional arrangement will remain unchanged. It is a combination of the functions of various departments—the Treasury, the Department of Trade, the Department of Justice, the State Department, etc. The experience of their interagency coordination has accumulated over the years. The system worked flawlessly both under Trump and under his predecessors. Rather, it will be about changing the political directives.

For Russia, the revision is unlikely to bring radical changes. A withdrawal from the carpet bombing of Russian business, such as the incident on 6 April 2018 hint that good news can be considered a possibility. However, the legal mechanisms of sanctions against Russia will continue to operate. The emphasis on human rights will lead to an increase in sanctions against government structures. Against this background, regular political crises are possible in relations between the two countries.

From our partner RIAC

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