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FOREIGN POLICY POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES

The Foreign Policy Domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with US treaty obligations, relations with other countries, engagement with international organizations, and trade policies. The domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the Department of State, United States Agency for International Development, Office of the US Trade Representative, and Office of the US Representative to the United Nations.

Latest Foreign Policy Posts

 

Where Do Things Stand with Iran?

Brief #102—Foreign Policy
By Will Solomon
A central premise of the Biden candidacy was reentering the JCPOA (the Iran Nuclear Deal), which was negotiated and signed by the Obama administration in 2015, and subsequently exited by the Trump administration in 2018. This goal was seen as both a rebuke to Trumpism, as a means for international diplomatic re-engagement, and as practical step to avoid increased nuclear proliferation and potential war in the Greater Middle East.

read more

Will the US Approach to the Security Council Change with the Biden Administration?

Brief #106—Foreign Policy
By Will Solomon
The relative weakness of the Security Council can be ascribed to multiple factors: its limited budget, differing interests among members, the veto power of permanent members. With respect to the US, its weakness of late is certainly due in part to the aggressive anti-internationalism of the Trump administration. But the problems in the Security Council have far deeper roots, many of which stem from a long history of US (in particular, but other states’ as well) unilateralism as regards the UN and other international institutions.

read more

The Prosecution of Alexei Navalny

Brief #105—Foreign Policy
By Tim Irwin
Alexei Navalny was recently sentenced to three and a half years in prison for violating his probation from a 2014 case in which he was convicted of embezzlement. He violated probation because he was unable to contact his parole officer was because he had been poisoned . The poisoning occurred in Siberia and Navalny was flown to Germany where he was able to recover. Investigative reporters eventually were able to conclude the poisoning, caused by a military nerve agent, was carried out by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). Navalny himself says that Vladimir Putin spearheaded the effort.

read more

Yemen and Cuba- 2 Foreign Policy Challenges for the Biden Administration 

Brief #104—Foreign Policy
By Brandon Mooney
With Pompeo and Trump’s State Department now a thing of the past, the Biden administration has turned to the long, arduous task that has faced every incoming administration throughout American history: the review and either reversal or preservation of foreign policies. However, the Trump presidency was anything but typical, and it has left behind a complicated legacy that will take serious time and effort to sift through. This legacy is only made more difficult by the feverous, diplomatic equivalent of a closing sale that occurred in the final month of the Trump presidency. Two items of particular interest are the declaration of the Yemeni Ansar Allah, or Houthis, movement as a foreign terrorist organization and the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. “Terrorism” has become a loaded and dangerous label that comes with justifiably serious repercussions and should not be taken lightly. This brief will discuss whether these designations were called for, and whether they should be maintained.

read more

The American-Chinese Relationship & the Incoming Biden Administration

Brief #103—Foreign Policy
By Will Solomon
Over its nearly four years in office, the Trump administration’s relationship with China has been nothing if not visibly inconsistent. Trump has, on the one hand, appeared to cultivate a dynamic personal relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping—he has publicly praised Xi on multiple occasions and, broadly speaking, clearly appears to revere the “strongman” image.

read more
Where Do Things Stand with Iran?

Where Do Things Stand with Iran?

Brief # 102

 

Foreign Policy

Where do Things Stand with Iran?

By Will Solomon

February  24, 2021

Policy Summary:

A central premise of the Biden candidacy was reentering the JCPOA (the Iran Nuclear Deal), which was negotiated and signed by the Obama administration in 2015, and subsequently exited by the Trump administration in 2018. This goal was seen as both a rebuke to Trumpism, as a means for international diplomatic re-engagement, and as practical step to avoid increased nuclear proliferation and potential war in the Greater Middle East.

There were always logistical challenges in doing so—among them, that Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement led Iran to stop complying with aspects of the deal. Still, the onus was clearly on the United States, who had breached the agreement, to take the first steps towards re-engagement.

Why, then, has the Biden administration been slow to adopt practical measures demonstrating its intent to re-enter the deal?

Analysis:

The Iranian government continues to be clear that they expect all Trump-era sanctions to be lifted before re-engaging with the JCPOA. But the Biden administration has resisted taking this step. One likely issue for their intransigence seems to be domestic politics; the Biden administration presumably desires not to be seen as weak or caving to Iranian demands. Long-standing bipartisan hostility to Iran make this absurd policy more practicable.

Whatever the case, there is no good excuse. These tired debates over whether engagement emboldens Iranian leadership are of another era. The fact is that the United States reneged on a vital and complex multilateral agreement, and the burden has since been on the United States to (attempt to) make good on its previous failure.

This position is largely shared by American allies and other signatories to the deal. Other signatories have done what they could to keep the deal alive since the 2018 American withdrawal, though America unquestionably retained the most power in the agreement. This said, President Macron of France recently expressed support for strengthening the deal and bringing in other regional states, like Saudi Arabia, a position Iran is likely to refuse

Despite an effective months-long delay, the Biden administration has recently taken steps to indicate they wish to re-engage with Iran. But as noted above, Iran justifiably insists that sanctions imposed by Trump be removed prior to good faith negotiations.

There clearly is potential, in this moment, for renegotiation on this crucial issue. Multilateral diplomacy was successful in the past, and could be once again. But as Joe Cirincione writes in Responsible Statecraft: “Biden can’t simply put Iran on hold. Time is not on his side. There are too many things that could go wrong and too many saboteurs in both nations that want to kill the deal. The longer he waits, the more likely it is that an incident in the Middle East wars, such as Israeli attacks on Iranian sites and personnel, or the recent Iraqi militia attack that killed an American contractor in Erbil, will trigger a larger conflict.”

Indeed, the Biden administration must act quickly; there is no good reason for a delay. In doing so, they must implicitly acknowledge US fault in exiting the accord by committing to re-enter the deal in good faith—and this almost certainly will involve removing Trump-era sanctions. It is incumbent upon Biden’s supporters, and those who simply voted for him seeking a change from Trumpism, to push him to make the right decision.

 

Resources:

https://www.armscontrol.org — “The Arms Control Association, founded in 1971, is a national nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies.”

https://quincyinst.org — “The Quincy Institute is an action-oriented think tank that will lay the foundation for a new foreign policy centered on diplomatic engagement and military restraint. The current moment presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring together like-minded progressives and conservatives and set U.S. foreign policy on a sensible and humane footing.”

https://thebulletin.org — “The Bulletin equips the public, policymakers, and scientists with the information needed to reduce man-made threats to our existence.”

Will the US Approach to the Security Council Change with the Biden Administration?

Will the US Approach to the Security Council Change with the Biden Administration?

Brief # 106 Foreign Policy

Will the US Approach to the Security Council Change with the Biden Administration?

 By Will Solomon

 Feb 12, 2021

 

Policy Summary:

The UN Security Council (UNSC) was established at the founding of the UN, in 1945, and first met in 1946. The Security Council is arguably the most powerful organ within the UN, as it is the only body that can pass binding resolutions, including the power to approve military action and sanctions. It is comprised of fifteen states, five of which are permanent—the United States, Russia (originally, the USSR), China, Britain, and France—and can exercise a veto on any potential resolution.

This veto power, coupled with the widely varying interests of its member states (often the United States, versus Russia, and/or China) make the task of promoting a functional and potent Security Council extremely challenging. The UNSC’s history has indeed been marked by significant failures of consensus: for instance, the inability to achieve peace, or prevent massacre, in Rwanda, Bosnia, Myanmar, Syria, and other states. When deployed, its peacekeeping forces have on multiple occasions been embroiled in severe accusations of sexual and child abuse, among other crimes. The United States has also faced accusations of bribery, exchanging foreign aid for support from non-permanent members of the Security Council.

 

Analysis:

The relative weakness of the Security Council can be ascribed to multiple factors: its limited budget, differing interests among members, the veto power of permanent members. With respect to the US, its weakness of late is certainly due in part to the aggressive anti-internationalism of the Trump administration. But the problems in the Security Council have far deeper roots, many of which stem from a long history of US (in particular, but other states’ as well) unilateralism as regards the UN and other international institutions.

As the bribery point above suggests, the US has exhibited a tendency in the post-World War II era to treat international institutions as tools of American global policy. Broadly speaking, the US is willing to support an international consensus so long as it aligns with US interests, but will act unilaterally, against and outside the UN, when desired. This policy has wide bipartisan support in the United States government and long predates the Trump administration; in many respects, Trump’s policy towards the UN was merely an intensification of longstanding American policy.

This said, an oft-expressed intention of the Biden administration has been to meaningfully engage multilaterally. What might this mean with respect to the Security Council?

First, we ought to acknowledge that meaningful reform of the UNSC is quite unlikely. Two-thirds of UN member states would have to agree on any reform, as would all permanent members of the Security Council. This said, moves toward meaningful multilateral engagement through the Biden administration may be possible through existing institutions. One obvious move  would be to acknowledge international consensus on significant issues, one of which might be Israel. The UN Security Council has passed over 200 resolutions with respect to Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. The United States has been a reliable ally for Israel, consistently shielding it from sanctions—particularly regarding Israeli settlements and occupation of Palestinian land—or even condemnation, a pattern that has intensified in recent years and particularly under the Trump administration. Among others, UN Security Council Resolution 242, passed in November 1967 after the Six-Day War, called for Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders (prior to capture of the West Bank and Gaza). It’s over a half century later, and this still has not been enacted.

Another relevant topic is Iran. While not a UN agreement, UN Security Council Resolution 2231 endorsed the Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA), negotiated by the Obama administration  Rejoining the accord that Trump exited would express a meaningful commitment to multilateral engagement adjacent to the UNSC. However, despite repeated campaign pledges that he would re-enter the accord, Biden recently indicated that he would not lift sanctions imposed by the Trump administration unless Iran returns to the deal, a position Iran refuses to support. It is difficult to find any meaningful justification for Biden’s action, given that the United States reneged on the deal, and signals a potentially growing blemish on a commitment to multilateral engagement.

In short—the globe faces countless challenges now, including the pandemic,  a series of recent regional wars, failed states,  domestic upheaval in many countries,  climate change, and  a collapse of multilateralism itself. Despite institutional limitations, the Security Council could have a role to play in addressing some of these challenges. To live up to a meaningful conception of promoting American leadership in a multilateral 2021 world, the US ought to abide by international norms and look for new ways to collaborate with other countries..

 

Resources:

https://quincyinst.org — “The Quincy Institute is an action-oriented think tank that will lay the foundation for a new foreign policy centered on diplomatic engagement and military restraint. The current moment presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring together like-minded progressives and conservatives and set U.S. foreign policy on a sensible and humane footing. Our country’s current circumstances demand it.”

https://thebulletin.org — “At our core, the Bulletin is a media organization, publishing a free-access website and a bimonthly magazine. But we are much more. The Bulletin’s website, iconic Doomsday Clock, and regular events help advance actionable ideas at a time when technology is outpacing our ability to control it. The Bulletin focuses on three main areas: nuclear risk, climate change, and disruptive technologies. What connects these topics is a driving belief that because humans created them, we can control them.”

https://www.democracynow.org — “Democracy Now! produces a daily, global, independent news hour hosted by award-winning journalists Amy Goodman and Juan González. Our reporting includes breaking daily news headlines and in-depth interviews with people on the front lines of the world’s most pressing issues.”

The Prosecution  of Alexei Navalny

The Prosecution of Alexei Navalny

Brief #  105 Foreign Policy

Title: The Prosecution  of Alexei Navalny

By Tim Irwin

February 4rd, 2021

Summary

Alexei Navalny was recently sentenced to three and a half years in prison for violating his probation from a 2014 case in which he was convicted of embezzlement. He violated probation because he was unable to contact his parole officer was because he had been poisoned . The poisoning occurred in Siberia and Navalny was flown to Germany where he was able to recover.  Investigative reporters eventually were able to conclude the poisoning, caused by a military nerve agent,  was carried out by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). Navalny himself says that Vladimir Putin spearheaded the effort.

Alexei Navalny has been a thorn in the side of Putin ever since he came onto the political scene. He has been involved in a multitude of anti-corruption campaigns across Russia. These efforts have led to a number of criminal charges,, levied against him, he most recent and relevant being the embezzlement charge of 2014.

The  European Court of Human Rights ruled Navalny’s  embezzlement trial was a violation of his right to a fair trial. However, after this ruling,  a Moscow  court repeated its’ sentencing, causing Russia’s Central Electoral Commission to bar him from running for president in 2018. Since then, he has led a number of other movements to combat  corruption within Russia’s government, which we believe led  in his poisoning. The Kremlin denies any involvement in the attack.

The poisoning occurred in August of 2020 while Navalny was on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow. The chemical weapon used was a Novichok agent developed by the USSR  during the cold war. It was the same agent as the one used in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer just two years earlier. After being sent to a hospital in Moscow, Navalny was flown to Berlin to get further treatment. On December 29th, 2020, the Russian government a announced that Navalny was wanted on account of violating his probation period. Navalny was undaunted by this announcement, and chose to return to Russia where he was immediately arrested. A court recently has sentenced him to spend 3 years in a Siberian prison camp.

Analysis:

The responses to Navalny’s detainment and subsequent conviction were met with massive backlash both internally and internationally. From the moment he was arrested after touching down on January 18th, there were huge protests in Moscow, resulting in the arrests of over 5,000 people.

The call for his immediate release was echoed throughout the western world, with many countries pledging their support for Navalny. The new Biden Administration has followed suit and done the same. The U.S. Secretary of State has condemned the sentencing and has called for Navalny’s release, along with the many thousands arrested during the protests. The initial poisoning back in August resulted in many European countries placing sanctions on a number of Putin’s inner circle. According to Navalny’s Chief of Staff, Leonid Volkov, this is exactly the type of action needed to produce a desired change within Russia. Volkov has stated that using personal sanctions targeting Putin’s inner circle could incite infighting among the wealthy elites. However, sanctions, unless specific, such as what Volkov is stating, can be harmful to the general population because the government can easily shift the burden to them.

The Biden Administration and the administration’s  National Security Team is currently reviewing the best course of action to take against Russia. Besides Navalny, the review also includes the SolarWinds hack as well as the alleged bounties placed on American troops

Engagement Resources:

https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/navalnys-arrest-is-bidens-first-big-test-heres-how-he-can-pass-it/ – Article detailing specific sanctions.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsAw3WynQJMm7tMy093y37A – Navalny’s YouTube Channel

https://joebiden.com/2020/09/02/statement-by-vice-president-biden-on-the-poisoning-of-alexey-navalny/

Yemen and Cuba- 2 Foreign Policy Challenges for the Biden Administration 

Yemen and Cuba- 2 Foreign Policy Challenges for the Biden Administration 

Brief #104  Foreign Policy

Yemen and Cuba- 2 Foreign Policy Challenges for the Biden Administration 

By Brandon Mooney

January 29, 2021

With Pompeo and Trump’s State Department now a thing of the past, the Biden administration has turned to the long, arduous task that has faced every incoming administration throughout American history: the review and either reversal or preservation of foreign policies.

Policy Summary:

With Pompeo and Trump’s State Department now a thing of the past, the Biden administration has turned to the long, arduous task that has faced every incoming administration throughout American history: the review and either reversal or preservation of foreign policies. However, the Trump presidency was anything but typical, and it has left behind a complicated legacy that will take serious time and effort to sift through. This legacy is only made more difficult by the feverous, diplomatic equivalent of a closing sale that occurred in the final month of the Trump presidency. Two items of particular interest are the declaration of the Yemeni Ansar Allah, or Houthis, movement as a foreign terrorist organization and the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. “Terrorism” has become a loaded and dangerous label that comes with justifiably serious repercussions and should not be taken lightly. This brief will discuss whether these designations were called for, and whether they should be maintained.

Turning first to the Ansar Allah movement, some quick history to set the scene. Yemen has been trapped in a gruesome civil war since 2014, which pits a Western-supplied coalition of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) against rebel Ansar Allah forces. The Saudi coalition is attempting to reinstate deposed Yemeni president Adbrabbuh Mansour Hadi, and the Ansar Allah insurgents having once supported former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, but are now fighting for their own regime. I would encourage readers to do their own research into the conflict, as it is vastly more complicated than the watered-down rendition I just gave. But, putting that aside, the Ansar Allah movement is an Islamist Shia faction, and due to Saudi Arabia and the UAE being Sunni-majority states, they perceive a Shia-controlled Yemen as a dangerous regional threat in their wide-ranging Middle Eastern proxy war against Shia-majority Iran. The fact that Yemen shares a border with Saudi Arabia does not help matters. The U.S. and the U.K. have been providing the Saudi coalition with weaponry for years, and Trump’s rather chummy relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is notorious.

With the history laid out, it is perhaps no wonder that the Trump administration declared the Ansar Allah movement to be a terrorist organization. Not only do they threaten a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, but they have been restricting aid, placing arbitrary taxes on aid, and utilizing civilians in their war tactics. Such was the explanation for the designation. The now-newly designated Secretary of State for the Biden administration, Antony Blinken, has publicly stated that Biden wishes to terminate U.S. support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, with the justification being that it not in our national interest. The choice to declare Ansar Allah a terrorist organization is under review.

Now to the issue of Cuba. I assume that most know of the fraught relationship between Cuba and the U.S., stretching back to Castro’s socialist revolution and the Cold War, so I will leave that for another day. The explanation for the label of state sponsor of terrorism was that Cuba has allowed terrorists to live within its borders and has sponsored international terrorism. The fingered terrorists are a Black Panther who escaped prison in 1979 after killing a police officer, and guerillas wanted in Colombia in connection with the bombing of a police academy. The charge of sponsorship of international terrorism is specifically attributed to Cuba’s support for battered Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, and more vaguely attributed to a harmful influence in the Western Hemisphere. It is expected that the Biden administration will overturn the state sponsor of terrorism designation.

Analysis:

Firs, there is absolutely no doubt that Ansar Allah forces bear significant responsibility for the grievous humanitarian crisis and various war crimes that have been committed in Yemen. This is not up for debate. However, when reviewing the designation of Ansar Allah as a terrorist organization, we must also ensure that it does not impede or stop the provision of humanitarian assistance. The United Nations estimates that as of March 2017, 69% of the population requires humanitarian aid, with 8.4 million Yemenis being identified as severely food insecure or at risk of starvation. To put that into perspective, that’s the entire state of Virginia starving to death. In addition, Yemen has little domestic agriculture, importing over 90% of its staple foods. If the international community does not provide aid, we are condemning millions to death.

To their credit, the Trump administration had been supportive of aid to Yemen in the past. In 2019, the U.S. alone gave Yemen $700 million. However, efforts were complicated by the Saudi coalition attempting to blockade relief from entering the country and the U.S. itself selling weaponry that was then being used against said civilians. And when aid did enter, the coalition attempted to make the journey so arduous and checkered with fees that it never reached Ansar Allah-controlled territory. A large portion of the Saudi coalition’s strategy is to starve out the rebel forces, and by extension, the civilians. Yet the rebels have done little better, as they have regularly demanded taxes for transporting supplies and re-directed significant aid resources into their own networks at the expense of starving civilians.

To put it simply, relief supplies must flow unrestrained into Yemen. The cost of attempting to stem supplies would spell disaster for millions of innocents. Marking Ansar Allah as a terrorist organization means that such aid will slow to a dribble and possibly even cease. The situation is far too murky to really tell if one is providing relief to the rebels or civilians. Distinction is wholly impossible on the ground. It would lead to humanitarians abandoning Yemen because they are too afraid of the U.S. government’s wrath. There are other ways to punish Ansar Allah for its transgressions and bring them to the bargaining table. In addition, it is hypocritical and signals significant political favoritism to not discipline the Saudi coalition, which is equally at fault.

Looking at Cuba, there is similarly justification for the designation of state sponsor of terrorism. It is harboring terrorists. Colombia most certainly considers the paramilitaries to be terrorists. However, the entire issue is complicated by Cuba currently brokering a peace agreement between the paramilitary group in question and the Colombian government, with the guerrilla’s leadership residing in Cuba. There is also a good argument that one should return escaped murderers to their country of origin. The accusation of sponsoring international terrorism due to Cuban support for Maduro is tenuous, however, and the accusation of having a damaging influence is far too vague. Yet many of the consequences Cuba suffers from now being placed on the terrorism list have already been and continue to be inflicted by the American embargo of Cuba. If anything, the label is more symbolic as a result.

I do not claim to know the right answer when it comes to Cuba. Does returning a criminal now well into their 70’s warrant worsening an already fraught relationship that many in the U.S. wish to mend? If you want to view the Trump administration in the worst light, placing Cuba on the terrorism list was an attempt to make Biden-Cuba relations more difficult. If you wish to view it from a calculated political position, it was likely an attempt to curry favor with anti-Castro Cubans in Florida ahead of the election.

In summary, both of these foreign policy decisions are damaging to the credibility of the designation of terrorism by the U.S. They clearly display that the label of terrorist can and is affected by political leanings. Sure, most of us know that, but it is a wholly different affair to make it plain and clear. Although I would argue that Ansar Allah should not be deemed a terrorist organization at the moment due to the humanitarian repercussions and would lean towards improving our relationship with Cuba, this is a decision left up to the new leadership at the State Department. I have more faith that they will act in the national interest than I had in the Trump administration, but then again, only time will tell.

 

Engagement Resources: 

Amnesty International – a good source for information about the humanitarian situation in Yemen.

Action Against Hunger – an NGO working to address starvation in Yemen.

Paramilitary Bombing – a news article about the bombing in Colombia.

 

The American-Chinese Relationship & the Incoming Biden Administration

The American-Chinese Relationship & the Incoming Biden Administration

Brief # 103

Foreign Policy

The American-Chinese Relationship & the Incoming Biden Administration 

By Will Solomon

January 4, 2021

Policy Summary:

Over its nearly four years in office, the Trump administration’s relationship with China has been nothing if not visibly inconsistent. Trump has, on the one hand, appeared to cultivate a dynamic personal relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping—he has publicly praised Xi on multiple occasions and, broadly speaking, clearly appears to revere the “strongman” image. His offhand comments about a desire to be “president-for-life,” akin to Xi, should probably not be dismissed so easily. On the other hand, Trump has taken a number of aggressive and inflammatory steps towards China—including imposing numerous tariffs, working to prohibit access to the US for certain Chinese companies and apps, cultivating a closer relationship with Taiwan—and perhaps most recently, consistently maligning China for being the source of the novel coronavirus, routinely in plainly racist ways.

The often incoherent approach, while characteristic of Trump’s general style, does reflect longstanding trends in US policy. Chief among these, in recent years, might be the Obama Administration’s so-called “pivot-to Asia.” The central component of this strategy involved a redeployment of American military and economic force towards Asia and the Pacific, in order to counter emergent Chinese power. In other words, the bilateral relationship has involved a high degree of recent competition and antagonism that predates Trump—including actions like reaffirming military relationships with countries like South Korea and Japan (and Taiwan, which China does not recognize as independent), calling out China for development in areas like the South China Sea, and bolstering American regional alliances and trade agreements. Broadly, these actions have wide bipartisan support.

However—this is only part of the story. The more complex component is obviously the interconnection of global capitalism, which inextricably enmeshes China with Western multinational corporations. Indeed, China’s entry into the global capitalist system was often supported by elite sectors within the USA and the West, for various reasons. We are seeing a particularly horrific example of the negative consequences of this recently, as a number of multinational companies have come under scrutiny for apparently profiting off slave labor in China’s Xianjiang region, where a mass internment program has been underway for several years.

Analysis:

When one considers the complexity of the American-Chinese relationship, it becomes increasingly clear that a change in administration in the United States may not dramatically alter the dynamics underlying the bilateral relationship. A cooling of rhetoric is certainly good, but represents only one aspect of a complex, competitive, (and at times, ideally cooperative) relationship.

It is noteworthy that one of Biden’s first ads once he clinched the Democratic nomination was a highly aggressive indictment of China. While not as vulgar or racist as Trump’s references to the “China Virus,” the ad was nationalistic and certainly did not signal a significant drawdown of tensions with China.

Indeed, Biden’s approach towards China has tended to ebb and flow over time, conforming to the orthodoxy of the moment. Thus, for much of his career Biden enthusiastically supported integrating China into the global economic order, under the then-widespread notion that such integration would help to spur reform and liberalization within China. That approach has now largely been abandoned as China has hewn to an anti-liberal approach, and the dominant political mood of the moment is, at the very least, mildly hostile to China.

Thus, it seems likely that Biden will continue to pursue a confrontational approach towards China, if a less erratic one than Trump. Recognizing this reality, it remains imperative that a Biden administration work with China on crucial international challenges: climate change, the global response to the pandemic, and denuclearization, among others. Biden may be limited in his ability to maneuver, and on some level, the ideal engagement that many progressives desire is unlikely to be pursued. Yet the seriousness of these issues demands collaboration, and a Biden administration would do best to pursue an approach that takes this seriously.

 

Engagement Resources:

https://quincyinst.org — “The Quincy Institute is an action-oriented think tank that will lay the foundation for a new foreign policy centered on diplomatic engagement and military restraint. The current moment presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring together like-minded progressives and conservatives and set U.S. foreign policy on a sensible and humane footing. Our country’s current circumstances demand it.”

https://www.democracynow.org — “Democracy Now! produces a daily, global, independent news hour hosted by award-winning journalists Amy Goodman and Juan González. Our reporting includes breaking daily news headlines and in-depth interviews with people on the front lines of the world’s most pressing issues. On Democracy Now!, you’ll hear a diversity of voices speaking for themselves, providing a unique and sometimes provocative perspective on global events.”

https://chinadialogue.net/en/ — “China Dialogue is an independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting a common understanding of China’s environmental challenges.”

Biden Brings a Fresh Perspective to US China Policy

Biden Brings a Fresh Perspective to US China Policy

Brief #  102 Foreign Policy

Biden Brings a Fresh Perspective to US China Policy

By Brandon Mooney

As President-Elect Biden and President Trump squared off during the past campaign, we got a front-row seat to the past and current versus the future U.S. foreign policy strategy regarding China.

Policy Summary: 

As President-Elect Biden and President Trump squared off during the past campaign, we got a front-row seat to the past and current versus the future U.S. foreign policy strategy regarding China. Both candidates were hawkish, with Trump maintaining his customary “tough on China” narrative and Biden breaking from his Obama-era neighborly tone to one of heavy condemnation. It would appear that Biden will steer the U.S. in a more joint, multilateral direction, juxtaposed by Trump’s largely go-it-alone strategy. This Brief will examine and then discuss the contrasting foreign policy styles of the present Trump and incoming Biden administration, and muddle over what Biden’s strategy could mean for the rapidly deteriorating U.S.-China relationship.

Of late, Biden has spoken repeatedly about the importance of strengthening international ties and allying with democracies across the world to stymy China’s rising power. He has also threatened economic sanctions and taken a tough line against the CCP, arguing that Trump’s measures have been largely ineffective and that the withdrawal of American power from the world stage has given China free reign. Biden has specifically called for the strengthening of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), with the U.S. taking a stronger role and providing greater military and economic support to the alliance. Biden has denounced the CCP’s mass incarceration of Uyghur Muslims and various human rights abuses, pushing for a foreign policy strategy founded around coalition-building. The apparent hope is that with more reinforcement, the U.S. can force China to the bargaining table through collective power and more effectively punish behavior that is deemed to be against its interests.

This multilateral approach is juxtaposed by that of the Trump administration, which has adopted a largely go-it-alone approach centered around tariffs and other financial penalties. Trump and his administration have enjoyed an essentially favorable view of being tough on China through the implementation of a widely publicized tariff campaign against Chinese goods. The trade deficit between China and the U.S. has been a significant talking point, with the leveling of tariffs being the supposed solution to balancing the books. Trump also famously went to bat against Chinese-owned social media giant TikTok. Less famously, the Trump administration also sanctioned Chinese officials in retaliation for CCP oppression in Hong Kong, has supported Taiwan’s independence and sovereignty claims, and banned Huawei from operating within the U.S. All of these moves were taken unilaterally, as Trump has been dismissive of and even combative towards international partnerships. 

Analysis:

Biden and Trump engaged in a brutal tit-for-tat campaign battle over who was to be crowned the “toughest on China.” Trump relied heavily upon his track record in office and conspiracy theories surrounding the supposed China-Biden cabal, while Biden attempted to distance himself from the rather chummy talk espoused during the Obama administration and laid out a more put-together strategy than his opponent.

However, when you take a step back and look at what Trump’s strategy achieved, one finds that it had little intended effect. Following Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the World Health Organization (WTO), citing the organization’s kid-glove handling of China’s role in the pandemic, China promised to give $2 billion to the WTO for covid-19 relief. It would appear that by retreating, Trump has only strengthened China’s position. Turning to the sanctions, they have had little to no impact. China still put their national security law into practice in Hong Kong, has not let up on its sovereignty claims in South China Sea (despite its lack of blue power and obvious sword rattling), and has not reduced their theft of intellectual property. The Trump administration has said that China will buy more than $200 billion in U.S. goods and services by 2022, and yet China has only bought $56 billion so far. China has also refused to pay any tariffs and imposed tariffs on U.S. farm goods in response, forcing Trump to bail out American farmers with $28 billion in consumer tariffs. The trade war has cost 300,000 American jobs so far as well.

Looking at Biden, he was once a reasonably pro-China pundit, pushing the vision of a mutually beneficial relationship with U.S. hegemony securing economic growth and international recognition for China. For example, he was an outspoken supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) under the Obama administration. Although it is widely condemned by both progressives and blue-collar Americans as a boon to corporations rather than ordinary workers, the TTP was meant to counter China’s regional power and industrial complex by placing the U.S. at the helm of Asia-Pacific economic relations. It would appear that this vision of American supremacy united with Chinese economic power has been extinguished by a more hawkish view of U.S.-China relations, however.

Biden’s push for multilateralism is certainly a welcome change from Trump’s individualistic approach. It would be a boon to other democracies to have the U.S. firmly back in their corner, and with China’s increasing power on the international stage, the U.S. can’t stand to be alone. Collective power and alliance-building made the U.S. what it is today, despite the chest-beating around WWII, the Cold War, and other nationalist lightning rods. Yet I do have some reservations if the Biden administration relies overly upon teamwork. They would likely make headway on containing Chinese ambitions to some degree through global cooperation, but as the Obama administration learned later on, any hope for consequential collaboration with the CCP is a pipedream. The CCP is not interested in democratic change or sharing power with others. It would mean an end to the party’s unchallenged position, and every country ultimately wants to achieve the greatest ends possible. My other qualm is that almost everything Biden has spoken on when it comes to China is environmental and emission treaties. These are important issues, as climate change threatens us all, but there are far more issues facing the highly contentious U.S.-China relationship that require attention. It’s not that I doubt Biden’s willingness to address them, but that he hasn’t explained how he will do so. The publicized appointments of largely Obama-era supporters would suggest that he will tackle them much as Obama did, which does not inspire confidence.

Engagement Resources:

The Diplomat – a solid overview of the challenges facing the Biden administration when it comes to China.

Politifact – a look at the Hunter Biden scandal with China.

Foreign Policy – a pro-Biden but nonetheless interesting read about why Trump’s accusations of Biden being “soft on China” are baseless.

Recently Muzzled Voice Of America Fights to Renew its Voice

Recently Muzzled Voice Of America Fights to Renew its Voice

Foreign Policy

Author: Todd J. Broadman

Title: Recently Muzzled Voice Of America Fights to Renew its Voice

December 28, 2020

POLICY

Voice Of America (VOA) was established in 1942 to counter Nazi propaganda. The VOA is funded by the federal government and is overseen by the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM). As a news broadcaster, the VOA’s mission is to provide “a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.” Since inception, the VOA has grown its weekly TV and radio programming to 1,800 hours in 40 languages with an audience of 236.6 million people worldwide. Its annual budget is $218.5 million and has about 1,050 employees.

In June of 2020, Trump appointed with US Senate confirmation, Michael Pack, as CEO of the USAGM. Pack is a conservative documentary filmmaker and close collaborator with Steve Bannon. Since his appointment, Pack has let go many senior VOA staff including its general counsel, dissolved its Board, begun an investigation of VOA’s chief White House reporter, and held up visas for many of VOA’s foreign journalists. His most flagrant move came recently when he lowered VOA journalist protections, limiting the independence of their reporting.

Significant among his replacements, Pack replaced VOA Director Amanda Bennett with conservative author and veteran broadcaster Robert Reilly as the VOA’s new director. According to Pack, “Bob’s inimitable experience and proven leadership as both a public servant and a private citizen will greatly benefit the entire agency.” Reilly, himself a former VOA director, authored “Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything,” in which he argues that widespread acceptance of gay culture harms society. For the past five years, Reilly has run the Westminster Institute, which focuses on anti-terrorism and the threat from Islamist extremism.

Because of its independent voice, the White House has termed the VOA a “disgrace.” In response, former Director, Amanda Bennet said that, “One of the big differences between publicly-funded independent media, like the Voice of America, and state-controlled media is that we are free to show all sides of an issue and are actually mandated to do so by law as stated in the VOA Charter.” In support of maintaining that charter and the integrity of the “firewall” between VOA journalists and political appointees, a federal judge has recently ruled that Pack’s decision to lower journalist protections was in breach of the VOA’s mission.

ANALYSIS

Pack’s appointment, and in turn, Reilly’s appointment, are in line with the Trump administration’s agenda and its “America First” policies. Due to their extreme views, VOA insiders have voiced the risk of reputational damage to the organization. What will listeners and readers overseas extrapolate from Reilly’s assertion that homosexual behavior is an “habitual moral failure?”

More damaging perhaps is abandoning balanced reporting altogether in favor of using this government media outlet to further an us versus them nationalistic stance. “VOA’s job should be to advance the justice of the American cause while simultaneously undermining our opponents,” wrote Reilly in a piece for the Wall Street Journal.

In stark contrast, VOA journalists who served overseas talk about their vital role in nourishing the many “information deserts” where the populace, particularly the poor, depend upon the VOA to deliver accurate information not only about the U. S., but more importantly, about their own country or area of the globe. Information blocked by governments that do not protect a free press.

In Chief US District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell’s 76-page ruling – originated from a VOA whistleblower lawsuit – he underscored the VOA’s charter to aim for objective journalism even as applied to the US government and the President. Trump’s lawyers argued the opposite: that as an arm of the government and as funded by US taxpayers, the VOA media outlets are not protected by the First Amendment. Objective journalism, in their view, is not to include the “propaganda” of other countries such as a recent VOA report comparing Chinese and American coronavirus deaths or the re-broadcasting of threats issued by the Iranian Foreign Minister.

The turmoil within the VOA has not gone unnoticed by President-elect Joe Biden. He has indicated that he’ll replace Pack and “clean house”; his choice may be Richard Stengel, former State Department official and Time magazine managing editor. Stengel is currently tasked with looking into the changes at USAGM wrought by the Trump administration. As with other agencies under this administration, roadblocks are feverishly being put in place to help extend holds on positions of power. One such roadblock is legislation now underway requiring a Senate-confirmed bipartisan board approve appointments to the position of VOA Director.

Resistance Resources:

  • https://www.voanews.com/
  • https://nieman.harvard.edu/  The Nieman Foundation houses a dynamic set of initiatives to promote and elevate the standards of journalism and educate and support those poised to make important contributions to its future.
  • https://freedomhouse.org/  The Freedom House speaks out against the main threats to democracy and empower citizens to exercise their fundamental rights through a unique combination of analysis, advocacy, and direct support.
  • https://cpj.org/  The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide.
The Assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh

The Assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh

Brief # 100 Foreign Policy

The Assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh

By Will Solomon

December 8,2020 

Policy Summary:

On November 27, leading Iranian nuclear scientist and IRGC General Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated in the city of Absard, outside Tehran. Details of the assassination are not entirely clear, but the act was almost certainly carried out by Israel, likely with US (and possibly Saudi) foreknowledge. The killing itself may have been done by remote-controlled device. This is the latest, and most high-profile, in a years-long string of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.

While Iran has not, as of this writing, militarily retaliated, that may well change. The immediate response in Iran has been to further weaken the “moderate” position in the country; the Iranian Parliament voted shortly after the attack to suspend cooperation with IAEA inspectors unless sanctions are lifted. The medium and longer-term effects of this assassination remain to be seen.

Analysis:

While perhaps not quite as brazen as the January murder of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, this latest killing marks a serious escalation of the diplomatic and low-level hot war between Iran (and its regional allies), and the United States, Israel, and the Saudi Gulf monarchies. It is almost certain that an act this inflammatory would not be carried out without US assent, and there is speculation that such assent was given during Pompeo’s recent visit to the region, which occurred just before the attack.

Fakhrizadeh’s assassination serves several overlapping purposes. Clearly, the attack is functionally an effort to destabilize potential diplomacy—or detente—with Iran as a new administration appears to be coming into power in the United States. Iran’s moderates will be increasingly marginalized as calls for retaliation and hostility toward the West grow. Given the brutal American treatment of Iran over the last four years—and frankly, much longer—such a response can hardly be unexpected.

On some level, the assassination was done simply because its perpetrators perceived an opportunity. If indeed carried out by Israel, the decision may have been made with the expectation that a Biden administration might withdraw some of the carte blanche/anything goes provided by the Trump administration. (Whether that is correct is up for debate). But Israel has consistently acted with a high degree of impunity towards Iran and others, with the US providing cover, and this particular act fits the pattern. In any event, the Israelis are certainly aware that the Iranians are already quite marginalized in the region—in other words, Iran has few good options for retaliation.

In the event diplomacy still remains possible, Biden must take concrete steps towards pursuing serious de-escalation with Iran. This would mean offering concessions, above all the removal of sanctions, a step which is more than warranted, given the United States’ reneging on the 2015 JCPOA.

While Trump and his administration have consistently demonstrated extreme hawkishness towards Iran, Biden and his advisors are no doves, and there remains a strong bipartisan current in this country for military action—or something very close to it—against Iran. Assuming they come into power, Biden and his administration must be pressured to avoid a militaristic approach and pursue meaningful diplomacy with Iran.

Engagement  Resources:

https://aboutfaceveterans.org — “We are Post-9/11 service members and veterans organizing to end a foreign policy of permanent war and the use of military weapons, tactics, and values in communities across the country.”

https://ploughshares.org — “For over 39 years Ploughshares Fund has supported the most effective people and organizations in the world to reduce and eventually eliminate the dangers posed by nuclear weapons.”

https://livableworld.org — “The Council for a Livable World promotes policies to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons and to minimize the risk of war through lobbying and by helping elect and support Members of Congress who share our goals. For more than 50 years, the Council for a Livable World has been advocating for a more principled approach to U.S. national security and foreign policy.”

Ending the American War in Afghanistan

Ending the American War in Afghanistan

Ending the American War in Afghanistan

By Will Solomon 

December 1, 2020

Policy Summary:

On November 17, the Pentagon announced that the Trump Administration would plan to reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan to 2500 by mid-January. The plan has been advertised by the administration as a move consistent with Trump’s promise of ending “forever wars” in the Middle East, as well as a redeployment of resources to more pressing security threats. Critics of Trump’s announcement have argued that such a move would further destabilize the region, undercut ongoing peace talks, and allow the Taliban to continue gaining power in the country.

Rhetorical isolationism has been a Trump hallmark since his campaign for president began in 2015—and it is broadly popular. A poll conducted this past summer showed that approximately 3 in 4 Americans support bringing troops home from overseas. Indeed, it seems clear that Trump’s isolationist rhetoric was integral to his winning the Republican primary; his willingness to lambast Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates for their support for the Iraq War and other wars clearly set him apart on stage, and arguably also helped him against Clinton, who was often viewed as more hawkish then Trump.

But rhetoric aside, Trump’s policies in office have been in many respects contiguous with those of his immediate predecessor—eschewing major troop deployments in favor of air power, drone strikes, and special forces raids. While there have been some troop drawdowns, the defense budget has continued to balloon, and Trump’s presidency has not signaled a drastic shift in American policies overseas.

Analysis:

Trump’s cynicism and erratic choices are impossible to ignore in virtually all his policy decisions. With Biden’s victory and likely inauguration, it seems quite plausible that Trump’s move to drawdown troop levels in Afghanistan—and other Middle Eastern conflict zones—at the presumed end of his presidency is a means to demonstrate that he’s fulfilling a campaign pledge. It also enhances his credibility as he continues to emphasize American isolationism , and quite plausibly, support other Republican candidates for office, and maybe run again himself. The concern that such an abrupt move could be disorderly is legitimate, and the concerns of many over what will happen to a fragile Afghan state—will it be overrun by the Taliban or other fundamentalists? what will happen to gains made in areas like women’s rights?—with a lighter US presence is also legitimate.

That said, the US has now been at War in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, with little to show for it, and no clear path forward besides maintaining an unsustainable course—a reality well-articulated in this piece from Andrew Bacevich and Adam Weinstein. Much of the country is now controlled by a resurgent Taliban, and newer jihadist groups like the Islamic State have sprung up in different places. The government is weak, heavily reliant on the United States to maintain legitimacy, and inextricably corrupt.

Assuming this drawdown actually occurs and Trump does leave office in January, Biden would be wise not to attempt to restore the status quo in Afghanistan, but to recognize that the strategy governing these wars has failed, and wholly re-approach the Afghan situation. This would mean bringing in new voices, and entirely reevaluating the American strategic position in the Greater Middle East. Given Biden’s decades of hawkishness and present reliance on a coterie of Obama-era advisors, one wonders whether this is the tack he will pursue.

Resistance Resources

https://responsiblestatecraft.org — “Responsible Statecraft is a publication of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. It provides analysis, opinion, and news to promote a positive vision of U.S. foreign policy based on humility, diplomatic engagement, and military restraint. RS also critiques the ideas — and the ideologies and interests behind them — that have mired the United States in counterproductive and endless wars and made the world less secure.”

https://www.codepink.org — “CODEPINK is a women-led grassroots organization working to end U.S. wars and militarism, support peace and human rights initiatives, and redirect our tax dollars into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming programs.”

https://www.veteransforpeace.org — “Veterans For Peace is a global organization of Military Veterans and allies whose collective efforts are to build a culture of peace by using our experiences and lifting our voices. We inform the public of the true causes of war and the enormous costs of wars, with an obligation to heal the wounds of wars. Our network is comprised of over 140 chapters worldwide whose work includes: educating the public, advocating for a dismantling of the war economy, providing services that assist veterans and victims of war, and most significantly, working to end all wars.”

Well, it’s official: the U.S. has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement

Well, it’s official: the U.S. has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement

Well, it’s official: the U.S. has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement.

By Brandon Mooney

November 23, 2020

Policy Summary:

Well, it’s official: the U.S. has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement. If you understandably missed the big news due to the media crescendo that was the 2020 presidential election, don’t feel too bad. The move was more of a whisper than a statement piece, occurring almost two weeks ago on November 4th. It was expected and due to pass, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put through the paperwork that finalized the withdrawal a year ago. Trump had assured his base that he would withdraw from the Paris Agreement during his campaign and followed through, arguing that it was costing American jobs, helping foreign competitors, and limiting domestic industrial potential.

The Paris Agreement has quickly become a partisan lighting rod following the Obama administration’s stamp of approval. But, like many international treaties, it does little in reality. More of a promise ring embellished into sham shackles by conservative pundits, the Paris Agreement requires signatories to set and work towards targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, bending to state sovereignty, there are no methods of enforcement or punishment, with states being free to meet, change, or ignore whatever targets they choose.

Putting aside these criticisms, the Paris Agreement was a landmark moment for the international community in fighting climate change. By signing on, countries at least tacitly admitted that it’s an issue that requires action. It is also a shared commitment, however slight, to reduce emissions and investigate collective ways to mitigate the effects of climate change. It was and still is an important first step towards an international effort.

Analysis:

Putting these facts aside and looking towards the future, it would appear that the incoming Biden administration is willing to and has said that they will rejoin the Paris Agreement. In addition, Biden has touted a plan to combat climate change, aiming to specifically bring about environmental justice and a boom in domestic clean energy. He wants Congress to create enforcement mechanisms to meet as-yet undetermined Paris Agreement targets and set aside federal funding for clean energy subsidies. He has promised to rebuild America’s infrastructure to be climate change resistant, make the U.S. an international model for the environmental movement, and sue polluters and industrial interests. There has also been a call to employ 1 million Americans in the electric car industry and help build over a million so-called “sustainable homes.”

Although all of that is campaign talk at this moment, it is campaign talk that diverges sharply from that of the Trump administration. Trump has personally put a lot of rhetoric behind improving domestic water and air quality, with $38 billion being set aside for clean water infrastructure. He has also rightfully pointed out America’s constantly improving air quality and claims responsibility; while failing to mention that domestic air quality has been improving for decades and that the trend wasn’t overly affected during his presidency. To his credit, Trump has pushed for more federal funding for national parks and state lands, along with calling for ocean clean-ups, but one could argue that his loosening of fracking regulations on state lands, support of the coal and fossil fuel industry at large, and the structural racism that underpins the park systems damages this record. He has notoriously denied climate change and attacked clean energy in speeches. And, relating back to the beginning of this article, withdrew the U.S. from an entirely non-binding, voluntary agreement that in its own piecemeal, half-hearted way attempts to combat greenhouse gas emissions.

As we wait to see what a Biden presidency has in store, I find myself hopeful for improved environmental standards and more importantly, a concerted effort by the government to address what is arguably the greatest existential threat to humanity hand-in-hand with the international community. Although I do have some fears that much of Biden’s tough talk on climate change is hot air and campaign narrative to spin up support among younger voters, I certainly believe that he will bring a welcome improvement over Trump’s unabashed attacks on the environment. I hope he does everything that he has promised and far more, and I would hope that we can all agree that such should be our expectation of the president-to-be.

Engagement Sources:

Joe Biden’s Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice Plan – a quick look-see at Biden’s proposed climate change plan

Paris Climate Agreement Overview – a digestible, quick article about the Paris Agreement

Alliance for Climate Education – a coalition of citizens attempting to educate the wider public on the threat of climate change

Citizen’s Climate Lobby – a centrist lobbying group for climate change solutions that both conservatives and liberals should be able to agree on while both taking issue with certain areas

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