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Trumped by Dr. Sreeram Chaulia- Book Review

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“The Liberal Leviathan is shuttering up behind walls and a brave new world is out there to be carved by those who dare.” No one sentence in this book could best highlight the crux of the argument that Dr. Sreeram Chaulia presents. Trump is a contradiction to the very values that “Liberal America” has upheld since the World Wars and his contradictory nature has served to provide immense opportunities to emerging powers. In an era of uncertainty, the author thus provides immense clarity into the changing dynamics of the International world order. With the coming of Trump, there is an unprecedented scenario in world politics where emerging powers have a chance of filling the vacuum created by his isolationism. This is the crux of Trumped.

The international order that has been built up under the leadership of past American Presidents, is today being brought down brick by brick by another. Empires have crumbled in the past due to leaders who turned isolationist. Perhaps the best examples of these are Ashoka, Dom Pedro of Brazil and Gorbachev and, according to Chaulia, the American lead world order is suffering the same fate under Trump. His disregard for past US foreign policy and his heightened affinity towards his domestic populace is what defines both him and his policies. Linking most of Trumps actions and statements to his belief in America first, provides a firm understanding into what Trump is.

Trumped brings credence to the fact that the US President’s twin mission is to both deconstruct and unravel the American state apparatus along with breaking the world order to free American people. Trump believes in putting American politics first, but more importantly, he puts the American economy above all. Making America great revolves around making America richer and whether “ally or foe, whoever shells out cash, gets Trump’s, thumbs up.” However, it is not only the money that matters and Chaulia shows how Trump’s allegiance to his domestic populace is a defining factor in his foreign policy. He has supported the state of Israel, along with democracy in Venezuela, in order to lobby either evangelicals or anti-Maduro Venezuelans in the state of Florida respectively.

Most literature disregards and does not bring much focus to emerging powers and rather looks at current great powers in analysing effects of changing international dynamics. Chaulia therefore provides unique perspectives to the Trump problem. By looking at it through the eyes of four major emerging powers he brings emphasis to the fact that the Trump factor has provided a unique opportunity for these middle countries to utilize upon.

India, Turkey, Brazil and Nigeria are all key powers in their neighbourhood and have been strategic partners of the US at one point or the other. Today, Trump has upended the balance in these flourishing relationships and put the onus of adjusting to the same on the leaders of the emerging countries.

Highlighting the difference in their actions and decisions in dealing with this, Chaulia showcases the circumstantial nature of the relationship between Trump’s America and these emerging powers. They have chosen paths unlike each other in an attempt to stay abreast with the changing dynamics. However, though they have at times been pushed into corners in accepting Trump’s dictation of terms, it is clear that they refuse to be pushed around or walked over. In the words of the author,“Emerging powers are difficult customers for any hegemon because they are unwilling to play second fiddle.”This puts emerging powers on a pedestal and it is only through the manoeuvring of the challenges presented to them that they will either emerge victorious or diminished. Each country that the book highlights has a different set of challenges posed to it and only time will tell whether they treat the Trump factor as a bane or boon.

In the chapter on India he portrays extensively the stance that the country is forced to take in facing Trump. He seems almost disappointed by the actions of the populist president. Two things seem to bother the author in this chapter. Firstly, the fact that his actions have at times left the Indian establishment “scratching its head” and secondly the fact that Trump may be fine with a unipolar Asia dominated by China. Though it is clear that Trump’s withdrawal has forced India to look towards self-reliance, Chaulia advocates for something more. He urges India to take cognizance of the fact that the regional dynamics are changing and perhaps diversify its approach to the region. Any likelihood of such a move taking place is debatable. Nonetheless, he seems highly optimistic of the endeavours undertaken by Narendra Modi in both building India’s regional image and countering China.

In Turkey things seem to be quite the contrary. Chaulia has looked at Modi favourably however, he looks at Erdogan very differently. While Modi has tried to keep out of Trump’s bad books, Erdogan placed tremendous faith in the non-judgemental populism of Trump. Becoming openly confrontationist has seen Turkey turn heavily towards Iran and Russia, America and NATO’s key opponents at the moment. By attributing the cause of stagnating Turkey to Erdogan’s neo-Ottomanism he emphasizes the need for a change of leadership in Turkey to facilitate the countries rise.

In the case of a third emerging power, Trump has once again overturned previous US foreign policy with Nigeria as well. As has already been highlighted above, Trump cares more for economic gains than anything else. While previous governments condemned human rights violations, Trump was happy to provide the country with arms nonetheless. However, that is seemingly the only upside with the US today. In this aspect, Chaulia provides perspective from both sides of the coin. Trump will provide arms to anyone who shells out money or fights jihadists and yet he is casually racist towards Africans. Nigeria is thus also in a time of uncertainty and is seemingly backed into a corner as well.

Brazil is in another league altogether. If Modi has sought to keep out of Trump’s bad books, Bolsonaro has jumped right into his good books. While Bolsonaro believes he is doing the right thing by riding on Trump, he is in fact laying down Brazilian autonomy at the feet of the US. The author describes the Brazilian far right as lacking independent thinking in their understanding of the relationship with Trump and in a way, almost ridicules them. In this scenario Chaulia prescribes a change in Brazilian policy in moving back to south-south cooperation rather than its current motive of promoting a north-south axis.

This seems to be the only issue with such a book. Advocating changes, prescriptions or providing for possible futuristic scenarios could fall flat with the forever changing decisions of Trump. Professor Chaulia deserves credit for looking at almost every alternative posed to these emerging powers. However, one cannot think of all circumstances or foresee the events of the future. Trumped provides detailed insight into the events of today but how much longer will it still be relevant is highly debatable.

An interesting aspect of this book is that while it focuses on the four countries highlighted above, he also looks at the effects on others in the region. From China, Afghanistan and Pakistan in India’s neighbourhood to Iran and Syria in Turkeys neighbourhood. Trumped therefore focuses on the effect of the Trump factor on most regional actors and diversifies the scope of the book, bringing narratives from multiple recipients of Trump’s blundering foreign policy.

Dr Chaulia paints the current changes in the international order in a very straight forward way. His suggestions and rhetoric bring all focus to the situation at hand, and though Trumped may focus on a multitude of issues, it does not deviate from the main crux of the matter at all which is, that the coming of Trump has drastically affected the world order as we know it. His suggestion that “Trump has dealt the post-cold war liberal international order a hard kick in the solar plexus” perhaps best describes the current scenario.

This in fact brings one to another important aspect of the book. The author’s use of metaphors and innuendos throughout the book brings forth a sense of humour in the way in which he perceives international politics. Not many have looked at China as being akin to an 800 pound gorilla or indeed compared getting votes in the Senate for international endorsement as being equal to boiling the ocean. One would expect a book written by such a renowned scholar to be highly academic. However, the language used and the explanations provided portray the book in a very differently light. It is a book that can be read by all and keeps the reader engrossed in the unique perspectives provided.

Zeus Hans Mendez is a Research Associate and Centre Coordinator at the Centre for Security Studies (CSS), Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global Univeristy. He is also a Research Assistant at the Centre for Security and Strategy Studies (CeSCube).

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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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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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