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Saving The Republic: A Titanic Struggle For Mind

Arthur Schopenhauer

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“Truth cannot appear naked before the people.”-Arthur Schopenhauer, On Man’s Need of Metaphysics[1]

If America’s core problems could be reduced to their barest essentials, they would coalesce around issues of mind. What this implies, especially in the “Trump Era,” is the secondary or reflective nature of all politics. More precisely, it suggests that fixing American society calls for more than repairing or changing presidents.  Rather, any such fixing must be a matter of seeking truth dispassionately by intellectual or analytic means.

Always, it is a requirement for serious and capable thinking, optimally via well-established and appropriate methods of science.

For the moment, of course, Americans are most focused on elections. Still, whatever the outcome, the country’s most deeply underlying debilities will remain more-or-less unchanged. To be sure, there may be certain palpable improvements at one life-level or another, but these improvements will almost certainly be distressingly partial and transient. Before this can change, much more will be needed than any such quadrennial change of personalities. 

Somehow, the United States must be willing to restore suitable intellectual standards of policy assessment to their proper and indispensable place.

Though counterintuitive, this unvarnished expectation is not far-fetched. Ipso facto, for Americans to continue to select reflexive obedience over critical analytic thought would represent the literal opposite of what Thomas  Jefferson and other Founders had in mind for the New Republic. More to the point, any such selection would present a potentially lethal “insult” to a steadily weakening United States.[2] Eventually or suddenly, by hard-to-see increments or as a dramatic bolt-from-the-blue, such an insult could include a full-blown nuclear war.

“The worst,” says Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt (as if we should really need such an obvious reminder) “does sometimes happen.”

 There is more. Even in the conspicuously unraveling Trump years,  truth is exculpatory. In this connection. real American renewal can never emerge from endlessly barren presidential promises or from embarrassingly empty presidential witticisms.

What does America really seek? In the final analysis, every society represents the sum total of its individual “souls” seeking some sort or other of redemption. Under no foreseeable circumstances can these individuals be “mended” by governments that willfully eschew science and the humanities and regularly undermine the rudimentary protocols of citizen integrity.[3]

 It’s not all that dense or mysterious.  We Americans now inhabit a society so numbingly false, so disturbingly rancorous, that even our all-too-abundant melancholy lacks credibility. Steeped in the assorted misfortunes of ritualistic national conformance, we the people have shown infinite forbearance for imitation and falsehood, but none for the overriding challenges of cooperation and coexistence.

With no apparent calculations, our lonely American mass hides from its most prospectively lethal characteristic.[4] This trait is the country’s uncontested preference for believing over thinking.[5]

 There is more. We the people ought not express any surprise at the measureless breadth of our collective failures. For many years, the tangible requirements of wealth and “success” have become the unsteady foundation of America’s economy and polity. In essence, American well-being and “democracy” sprang from a debilitating posture of engineered consumption. We are what we buy.   End of story.

It follows, among other things, that today’s American political scandals are largely the product of a society where anti-intellectual and unheroic lives are “measured out,” dolefully, not by any rational accretions of mind or spirit, but without cheer, anaesthetized, without any discernible general satisfaction.

It’s not dense or mysterious. What most meaningfully animates American politics today is not any commendable interest in purpose or progress, but rather a steadily-escalating fear of  personal failure or (far worse) insignificance. To be properly analytic, such insignificance could be experienced individually, alone, or collectively, as a nation. Either way, it must concern deeply-felt human anxieties about not being “wanted at all.”[6]

For us, candor is indispensable. Incessantly ground down by the babble of pundits and politicos, we the people are only rarely motivated by intellectual insight. Just now, we are learning to understand that our badly injured Constitution is subject to variously dissembling intrusions by a head of state who “loves the poorly educated,”[7] who reads nothing at all, and yearns openly not to serve his country,[8] but himself.

Let us remain candid. This is a president who wants to be an “emperor.” Plainly and desperately.

Truth is exculpatory.  In these fragmenting and deeply-polarized United States, a  willing-to-think individual is little more than a quaint artifact of some previous or previously-imagined history. More refractory than ever to refined intellect and learning, our mass society sustains absolutely no decipherable intentions of taking itself seriously.

Not at all.

For Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, things in America could not possibly be better. Manipulating those too-ample parts of an American society that yearn to believe rather than think, a sweeping Putin victory in “Cold War II” is all but inevitable.[9] Though counter-historical, such a fearful triumph could end up being celebrated at the Trump White House as well as at the Kremlin.

Credo quia absurdum, announced the ancient philosophers.

“I believe because it is absurd.”

 There is more. It is possible for the American people to be lonely in the world or lonely for the world, and our unchallenged mindset of “mass” has brought forth both. Before a better America could ever be born from any such bifurcated loneliness, a willing “gravedigger” would have to wield the civilizational forceps. But where shall we find such a person or persons?

 What next for the increasingly imperiled Republic?  Consider that we the people may wish to slow down and smell the roses, but a self-battering country now imposes upon its exhausted people the breathless rhythms of a vast machine.We witness, each day, an endless line of trains, planes and automobiles, transporting weary Americans to yet another robotic workday, a day too-often bereft of any pleasure, of reward and possibly of any hope itself. How long can this be expected to go on?

 There are additional questions. What can be done now to escape the pendulum of our own mad clockwork? We pay lip service to the high ideals of the Declaration and the Constitution, but almost no one cares about these musty old documents.  Invoked only for ostentation, the doctrinal foundations of the United States are today the province of a handful of people. Nothing more.

Presently, we the people lack any genuine sources of national cohesion except for celebrity sex scandals, local sports team loyalties, and the comforting brotherhoods of war.[10] As for the more than seven million people stacked cheek to jowl in our medieval prisons, two-thirds of those released return promptly to violent crime and mayhem. Increasingly, at the same time, “senior” and recognizable white collar criminals look forward to presidential pardons.

Oddly, we Americans inhabit the one society that could have marked a different trajectory. Once we had unique potential to nurture individuals to become more than a mere crowd.[11] Then, Ralph Waldo Emerson had described us as a people animated by industry and self-reliance, not by paralysis, fear and trembling.

 Bottom lines? In spite of our proudly clichéd claim to “rugged individualism,” we Americans are shaped almost exclusively by demeaning patterns of visceral conformance. Amusing ourselves to death, our voyeuristic society fairly bristles with annoying jingles, insistent hucksterism, crass allusions and telltale equivocations. Surely, we ought finally be able to inquire:  Isn’t there something more to this yelling country than abjured learning, endless imitation and expansively crude commerce?

If there is something more fulsome, where can it be discovered?

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” intoned the poet Walt Whitman, but today the American Selfis created by a generally stupefying “education,” by far-reaching patterns of utter tastelessness and by a pervasively rancorous culture of gratuitous obscenity.

Though not generally understood, credulity is America’s very worst enemy. Our unchanging inclination to believe that societal redemption lies in politics (especially the presidency) has already become a potentially fatal disorder. Social and economic issues do need to be addressed by government, but our deeper problems must still be solved by individuals and as individuals.[12]

 For the moment, this key requirement is not even faintly appreciated.

 While allegedly a democracy, only a rare few can actually redeem America, and these quiet souls remain hidden, even from themselves. You will never see them engaged in the frenetic and agitated self-advertisements of presidential politics. To be sure, our necessary redemption as a people can never be found among the crowd, or mass, or herd or horde. There is a way to fix our fractionating country, but not while we inhabit our pre-packaged ideologies by rote, without mind, and without virtue.[13]

A starkly diseased civilization compromises with its afflictions. To restore us to long-term societal health and prosperity in America, we the peoplemust first look far beyond a futile faith in politics. Only when such a desperately required swerve of consciousness can becomes a compelling and irreversible gesture – that is, only when we can restore a meaningful, central and deserved faith in ourselves as individual thinkers – can we the people hope to fix a land in crisis.

To start the process, we can at least acknowledge the limitations of a democracy now based insecurely upon multiplying geostrategic fallacies and utterly inane slogans.[14] 

Most emphatically, we must insist upon expanding the sovereignty of a mindful and virtuous[15] citizenry. This insistence will not succeed overnight, but the time to finally begin is now.

—————-


[1] Arthur Schopenhauer warned, in his “On Man’s Need of Metaphysics” about “…the great majority of men who are not capable of thinking, but only of believing, who are not accessible to reasons,  but only to authority.”

[2]On this growing threat of nuclear war, by Professor Beres, see:  https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2017/08/louis-rene-beres-trump-nuclear/  See also https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/  For early authoritative accounts, by the author, of expected consequences of a nuclear attack, 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).

[3] Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the intangible essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provided any precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either in some ordinary religious sense. For both, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of both mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by various express references to “soul.” Freud was plainly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect, literature and history), and even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological misery.

[4] “The mass-man has no attention  to spare for reasoning;” warns Jose Ortega y’Gassett in The Revolt of the Masses (1930, “he learns only in his own flesh.”

[5] Apropos of this preference, see Oswald Spengler: “I believe is the one great word against metaphysical fear” (The Decline of the West, 1918). Here, Spengler underscores humankind’s utterly primal search for an ultimate victory over death.

[6] “It is getting late; shall we ever be asked for?,” inquires the poet W H Auden in The Age of Reason. “Are we simply not wanted at all?”

[7] Said candidate Trump in 2016, “I love the poorly educated.” This strange statement appears to echo Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels at Nuremberg rally in 1935:  “Intellect rots the brain.”

[8] This brings to mind the timeless observation by Creon, King of Thebes, in Sophocles’ Antigone: “I hold despicable, and always have….anyone who puts his own populate before his country.”

[9]Regarding the effects of Cold War II on security matters in the Middle East, by this author, see:  https://besacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/162-MONOGRAPH-Beres-Israeli-Nuclear-Deterrence-CORRECTED-NEW.pdf

[10] War, of course, is arguably the most worrisome consequence of an anti-intellectual and anti-courage American presidency. For the moment, the most specifically plausible area of concern would be a nuclear war with North Korea. https://mwi.usma.edu/theres-no-historical-guide-assessing-risks-us-north-korea-nuclear-war/

[11] “The crowd,” said Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “is untruth.” Here, the term “crowd” is roughly comparable to C.G. Jung’s “mass,” Friedrich Nietzsche’s “herd,” and Sigmund Freud’s “horde.”

[12] See, by Professor Beres, at The Daily Princetonian:  https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/02/emptiness-and-consciousness

[13] “There is no longer a virtuous nation,” warns the poet William Butler Yeats, “and the best of us live by candlelight.”

[14] The worst of these limitations concerns the growing risks of a nuclear war occasioned by an American unprepared president. In this regard, we may recall the words of “beat poet” Lawrence Ferlinghetti back in 1958 (A Coney Island of the Mind): “In a surrealist year some cool clown pressed an inedible mushroom button, and an inaudible Sunday bomb fell down, catching the president at his prayers on the 19th green.”

[15] As used by ancient Greek philosopher Plato, the term “virtuous” includes elements of both wisdom and knowledge as well as morality.

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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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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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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US Economic Turmoil: The Paradox of Recovery and Inflation

The US economy has been a rollercoaster since the pandemic cinched the world last year. As lockdowns turned into routine...

EU Politics13 hours ago

Commission proposes draft mandate for negotiations on Gibraltar

The European Commission has today adopted a Recommendation for a Council decision authorising the opening of negotiations for an EU-UK...

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South Asia15 hours ago

Why France holds the key to India’s Multilateral Ambitions

Authors: Prof. Nidhi Piplani Kapur and K.A. Dhananjay As Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla pitches for permanent membership and reforms...

Americas17 hours ago

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

Authors: Isabel Eliassen, Alianna Casas, Timothy S. Rich* In recent years, individuals from Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala,...

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