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Mexico’s Nonsensical Security Policy

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Contradictory, that is how one could define the current administration’s security approach. The president inaugurated his presidential term by declaring the end of hostilities towards criminals. He decided to pursue a “Hugs not Bullets” approach based on moral principles rather than on policies aimed at reducing crime rate. Just a few months later, and in view of the deteriorating security circumstances, he backtracked and decided to send in the military to the streets to pacify the country. This decision went against what he initially promised and meant he put in place the very same security policies he once was fiercely critical of from previous administrations.

Despite the clear militarisation of the country, he keeps saying it is best to attack the roots pf violence: poverty, unemployment, and inequality. His governmental record however, shows his time in the presidency has caused severe deterioration in all those three aspects. The result has been an unprecedented explosion in violence that has reached record levels.

The statistics of his first 2 years in the presidency could potentially be pointing at the fact that Mexico is on its way to becoming a failing state.

There are 3 factors that characterise a failing state:

  1. Loss of control over the territory

Mexico’s Head of Security, Alfonso Durazo, has himself acknowledged that there are regions in Mexico that are in full control of criminals. Even before the pandemic hit Mexico, federal and state authorities were largely absent from rural areas across the country, namely in the states of Michoacán, Jalisco, Sinaloa, Estado de México, Guerrero, and Guanajuato. Opposing drug cartels and their push for dominance helped drive murders and overall violence rates to an all-time high during the first 6 months of 2020.

  • Erosion of a legitimate authority

The pandemic has exposed the government’s lack of control over certain regions. Those power vacuums have been filled, unfortunately, by drug cartels. Criminal groups show extreme fragmentation, however, they exert a powerful influence on municipal, state and federal authorities. They have limited the effective governing authority of elected officials through bribing and infiltration to ensure their own impunity.

Additionally, in states and municipalities with lower degrees of political and multiparty participation, locally dominant political actors often govern in a highly opaque way that constrains citizens’ rights. Official corruption also erodes legitimate authority as any attempts to prosecute acts of corruption have often failed due to widespread impunity and weak rule of law.

  • Inability to provide public services

Security is one of the core public services any state should be able to provide and guarantee. Mexico is clearly failing in this. However, it isn’t the only service it isn’t providing. The current pandemic has also exposed the government’s health deficit as a result of his policies

The government has become utterly ineffectual. Andres Manuel López Obrador has stubbornly gone ahead slashing budgets under the name of austerity  aimed at increasing savings and improving wealth distribution.

These cuts, however, are destroying the efficiency and effectiveness that the government once had to provide essential public services. These resources are now being rerouted as gifts to various segments of the population not with the goal of reducing poverty but to solidify adherence and support to the president’s movement, and that will, in turn, pay handsomely during the 2021 midterm elections.

The president’s decision to cancel the new Mexico City Airport, to build a Maya Train that will destroy local habitat, and the construction of a new refinery built by Pemex, Mexico’s state-run oil company, and that is on the verge of bankruptcy has led to massive strains, especially as the economy has been on a standstill since the start of his administration. This will eventually force the government to incur in large fiscal deficits that will result in higher poverty, unemployment and inequality.

He hasn’t stopped cutting budgets in crucial ministries while increasing spending on social programmes. There are no signs he will rethink his approach. However, unless he changes strategy soon, his managerial incompetence and ideological absurdity will lead Mexico to a fast track towards bankruptcy and becoming a failed state.

The president cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the worsening reality in Mexico. Security should be looked at not as a separate part but as an integral one of the process of democratisation and state reform. Making Mexico safe again is not as simple as strengthening the police; police has to be supported by a strong and efficient judicial and prosecution systems. These 3 factors combined make up a solid and effective rule of law. If one fails, any effort to improve security is bound to fail. In Mexico, unfortunately, these 3 factors are severely fractured. Without an effective state reform and attempts to get rid of widespread impunity and corruption, the prospects look bleak.

This administration hasn’t broken away from the vices and malpractices of the past, on the contrary, these undemocratic practices are entrenching. The president has failed to get a grip on his institutional and legitimacy crises, along with an increasing leadership deficit.

The current presidency keeps piling failure after failure in security, economics, and politics. The sheer amount of destruction a self-centred, egotistical, dogmatic, narcissistic and Trumpian president will inflict in Mexico over such a short period of time will indeed be remarkable, and this along with the president’s short-sightedness and stubbornness to rectify will remain as the legacies of this presidency.

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza is a politics and international relations tutor at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She gained her Bachelor's in International Relations at the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City and her MA in International Relations and World Order at the University of Leicester, England. She holds a PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She has spoken at numerous international conferences and has written on topics such as democracy, migration, European politics, Contemporary Mexican Politics and the Middle East. Her research interests include: Democratisation processes, governance and theories of the state, contemporary Mexican politics, Latin American politics, political parties, international relations theories, contemporary USA-Latin America foreign policy.

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Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics

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The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.

Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.

These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.

The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.

“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.

The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.

To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.

Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.

In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.

Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.

To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting;  guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.

“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.

Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.

The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”

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Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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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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