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The voice for multilateralism in the U.S. never fades out



As the U.S. presidential election of 2020 approaches unpredictably, people around the world wonder if the United States would continue its current foreign policy reiterated by the Trump administration over the past years. If so, whether the United States would return to its so-called unilateralism with the theme of “America first” policy or not? This is a tough question related to the globalized international community and particularly in view of the devastating effects of the Covid-19 to the world. Accordingly, how to defend multilateralism effectively will be one of the main challenges to all the countries of the world.

As a matter of fact, the debate between unilateralism and multilateralism is not a new issue. Two decades ago, Joseph Nye put it, there are three main approaches in terms of the global governance: isolationism, unilateralism, multilateralism. The first one persists in public opinion, but it is not a major strategic option for American foreign policy. Given this, the main battle lines are drawn between two kinds of internationalists, those who advocate unilateralism and those who prefer multilateral tactics. Politically and ideologically, some unilateralists advocate an assertive “damn-the-torpedo-approach” to promote American values, calling for multipolar moment into a unipolar era by all means. In brief, unilateralists hold that American intentions are good and its hegemony is benevolent. In contrast, pro-multilateralism groups have argued that since the beginning of the 20 century, America has risen to world power and then acted as the world leader. As Teddy Roosevelt advised that the United States should speak softly but carry a big stick. Due to the overarching power possessed by America, it is necessary for the U.S. to work with other nations on global issues in a multilateral manner whenever possible. For sure, multilateralism involves costs, but in a long run and in a larger picture, they are outweighed by the benefits. In a word, action to shape multilateralism now is a good investment for the future of the United States. No doubt, even some of the multilateral advocates put it that “not all multilateral arrangements are good or in America’s interests, and the United States should occasionally use unilateral tactics in certain areas or on some issues.”

In light of the previous argument, it is fair to say that “multilateralism is not under threat in most of the world. It is under threat because of the United States,” as economist Jeffrey Sachs remarked at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on February 5, 2020. As a prominent scholar and also a seasoned advisor to multinational corporations and foreign governments, Sachs believes that the U.S. was the predominant economic and technological power in the world for decades. Yet, with the emerging powers or regional economic blocs, this is no longer the case. For sure, the United States is still the most powerful country economically, technologically, and in particular militarily. But the prospect is that the EU is not only a larger market but also intends to be a responsible “civilian power” globally in the 21st century. Meanwhile, China is a comparable market and equally a determined rising power in an overall terms. In addition, it is a blunder to ignore the military power of Russia and the technological weight of Japan.

Turning to the domestic issue, Sachs frankly said that the U.S. by far is the most powerful military country in the world; and, no doubt, it has 6,000 nuclear warheads, 800 military bases around the world, let alone the U.S. have been evolved in 14 shooting wars right now. But it learns war after war that the military eventually can solve no political problems. He admitted that “the U.S. is a problem. It has been a far more significant problem with Donald Trump.” No matter if he may or may not be the President after November of 2020, the question is that the U.S. has become exactly more complicated for the world since 2017. For example, the United States has blocked every multilateral initiative in recent years. It is the only country pulling out the Paris Climate Agreement. It is the only country that pulled out the JCPOA Agreement with Iran. Moreover, Sachs openly recognized that the so-called trade war between China-U.S. is a fake or a joke. It is essentially a U.S. trade war on China. In doing so, Sachs is seen as an honest and respectful scholar with wide popularity across the EU and China as well.

Unlike the Trump administration or many other scholars if you like to call them as scholars, Sachs deemed that the U.S. attack on China is an unpremeditated and even not unitary in the United States. Due to the fact that China’s rising technological capacity such as Huawei and ZTE, the unilateralists in the U.S. policy-making began to realize that China is gaining massive technological capability in artificial intelligence and other security related areas. Because China’s talented youths are so huge with the great potentials, such as each year’s well-trained PhDs in the fields of sciences and technologies, the United States makes all efforts to maintain its solo hegemony which is itself at odds with the principle of the balance of power. As Sachs argued that historically there is no monopoly of knowledge, there is no monopoly of talent. This is driving U.S. strategists crazy because its grand strategy is based on primacy rather than shared responsibilities with other major powers or multilateral organizations.

It is self-evident that Sachs is a scholar but his vision is far-reaching and much more inspiring than any pundits in the U.S. He is a truly patriotic American but never be unilateralist. He argued that there is no U.S. primary, European primary or Asian primacy and likes. It is just fantasy of unilateralists who ignore the age of globalization and that is not how the world works anymore in the new century. Looking at what the Trump administration had done internationally, it has dismembered the WTO and abandoned the WHO. Accordingly, the U.S. has arbitrarily manipulated the exchange rate. Another case is that in January 2020 when Iraq requested the U.S. military forces out, the U.S. Treasury Department warned that it would confiscate Iraqi foreign exchange reserves at the New York Federal Bank, if Bagdad persists in pushing the U.S. troops out.“This is a complete violation of every international rule and this is also a reflection of an imperial power in decline,” as Sachs observed.

It is true that for many reasons the world can’t stop America’s hegemony even though it is a dangerous power or country. Yet, the nations over the world need to realize that it is beneficial to them to work together to promote the Paris Climate Agreement along with the G20 summits. In addition, the world needs to strengthen the role of the United Nations and other multilateral organizations such as IMF, the World Bank, WTO and currently the WHO. At the present time, the world should also be confident in China and other emerging powers. As Sachs put it, Trump and his team don’t have a majority backing at home and abroad as well. There is no attack on multilateralism as a policy that he could discern anywhere when traveling. But it is true that there is a fear of the United States and its irrational president in the White House today.

Looking into the future, we can see that although the world faces the multiple problems now, it is not in a dire time of multilateralism. Yet, the key problem is that if each country backs down one by one, then the bully from the unilateralism gets the way. Fortunately, the EU openly supports multilateralism, China has reiterated its resolve to defend the world order in line with the multilateralism and democratic global governance. Russia and Japan along with many other countries all over the world reject any arrogant claim of the “new Rome” or the title like the sole superpower. Meanwhile, since the United States is the indispensable nation in reconstructing the world order, the world always welcomes a powerful and responsible U.S. as one of the key players rather than a “new Rome” in the world affairs.

In sum, perhaps a Chinese saying serves a motto for the global village: “harmony with no uniformity”. This is not only the consensus of the international community or society but also a coordinated move forward to a shared future of community.

*Xie Hongyan & Jia Yumei are currently studying International Relations at School of International & Public Affairs, Jilin University. Meanwhile they are research assistants to the national security & development projects.

Xie Hongyan currently studying International Relations at School of International & Public Affairs, Jilin University. Research assistant to the national security & development projects.

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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer



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



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



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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