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. Our Principal Analyst in Jacob Malinowski who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Latest Foreign Policy Posts
Brief #58—Foreign Policy Summary President Trump and Chairman Kim’s departures from Hanoi last week, Trump by plane and Kim by way of an over 60-hour train ride, signaled the disappointing conclusion to the second in-person meeting between the two leaders. The first,...read more
Brief #58—Foreign Policy Policy Summary On February 5, President Trump gave his second State of the Union address. Russia itself garnered few remarks during the speech, with Trump only referring to it in the context of his decision to withdraw from the 1987...read more
Brief #57—Foreign Policy Summary Over the past three months the United States has begun the process of ending its military involvement in both Afghanistan and Syria. In December, Trump announced that Isis had been defeated in Syria and the United States would begin...read more
Brief #56—Foreign Policy Policy Summary On January 23rd, Venezuelan lawmaker Juan Guaido surged from relative obscurity to the focus of international attention when he declared himself the interim President of the crisis ridden nation. Just weeks before, Guaido was...read more
Brief #55—Foreign Policy President Trump’s campaign was defined by the complete rejection of international cooperation and multilateral agreements. According to Trump’s mindset, in every deal the United States was either being cheated or doing the cheating, and his...read more
Brief #54—Foreign Policy Policy Summary With Syria nearing the eighth year of its brutal war, one which has claimed the lives of an estimated 300,000-500,000 people, President Trump declared on December 19th that Isis was defeated and the United States would withdraw...read more
Brief #52—Foreign Policy Policy Summary In a show of bipartisan support, the “Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development Act of 2018”, or the BUILD act, was passed on October 5th and later signed by President Trump.. First introduced in February by...read more
On March 25th, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House, President Trump formalized a statement made the week before recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a territory which lies to the north-east of Israel. The contested region was first seized from Syria during the Six Day War of 1967, leading to a decades-long diplomatic dispute. During a joint press conference with Netanyahu, Trump stated “We do not want to see another attack like the one suffered this morning north of Tel Aviv”, referring to a series of rockets fired from Gaza which killed seven civilians. Trump’s stated goal was to ensure Israel’s strategic position in its ongoing conflict against Iran. The decision was not received well by the international community, with the UN Security Council, the EU, China, and multiple Middle Eastern nations all decrying Trump’s announcement. Thousands of Syrians gathered in multiple cities to protest the recognition.
After Syria failed to retake the Golan Heights during the 1973 Yom Kippur war the territory was divided and a disengagement agreement was made in order to calm hostilities. Soon after, Israel began construction of settlements on the two-thirds of the territory they occupied. In 1981 Israel annexed the region and extended the civil administration over it, a move which was never recognized internationally and provoked the UN Security Council to demand its retraction. Now, the buffer zone is monitored by a 1,000 strong UN Disengagement Observer Force. Throughout the Syrian Civil War, Israel used its side to covertly funnel arms and funding to twelve rebel groups operating in southern Syria. While Syrian forces were sometimes aided by Israel in their fight against local ISIS affiliates, most of Israel’s firepower was focused on Iranian and Syrian government forces, including air strikes on Iranian bases deep within Syria towards the end of the war.
Considering Israel’s preeminence over the portion of the Golan Heights they currently occupy is uncontested, this decision has no material consequences at this time. However, the precedent it sets is a major shift from the international consensus on the rule of law. Upon landing at Ben-Gurion airport after meeting with Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu told reporters that “Everyone says you can’t hold an occupied territory, but this proves you can.”
The UN Charter, however, states that territory cannot be acquired through force. By blurring the lines on the legality of such aggression Trump provides cover for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and encourages Israel to move forward with its long considered goal of annexing the West Bank. It’s important to remember here that land such as the Golan Heights is more than just a state’s possession, another bargaining chip for geopolitical maneuvering, but a home to thousands of people. When Israel first occupied the Golan Heights 95% of the native population was forced to flee. Now, the Arab Human Rights Centre In Golan Heights asserts that “Syrians in the occupied Golan face calculated Israeli efforts to restrict their building and land use, destroy their enterprises, cleanse their Arab culture, manipulate their Syrian identity, and suffocate their freedom of movement.” While Trump’s decree may advance the military goals of an ally and give Netanyahu a needed boost in next week’s election, he is once again stepping on the right to peace and self-determination for thousands of people.
● Al-Marsad, the Arab Human Rights Centre in Golan Heights: An independent, not-for-profit, international legal human rights organization that operates in the Occupied Syrian Golan.
● UN Relief and Works Agency: The UNRWA was founded in 1949 to support those Palestinians displaced by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Photo by Robert Bye
Last February, Nancy Pelosi led a bipartisan delegation of over 50 US lawmakers on a trip to Brussels in order to reaffirm US support for NATO and US-European relationsThere, at the Munich Security Conference, a senior German official anonymously spoke with the New York Times about the diplomatic crisis to which Pelosi was responding, stating “No one any longer believes that Trump cares about the views or interests of the allies. It’s broken”. This division among American leadership shows just how far off Trump stands in relation to many traditional conventions of US foreign policy.
Trump ran for President on a platform which blamed China and Mexico for the lack of economic security in the US, but it didn’t take long for his derision to spill over onto Europe. Central to Trump’s ideology is a strong skepticism of multilateral agreements and a transactional view of foreign relations – a position which does not fit with the European strategy of previous presidents. In July of 2017, Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, citing the restrictions it placed on US production capabilities. Last year, Trump went on to end the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran Deal – two deals Europe depended on for assurances of security. The INF treaty reduced the danger of further Russian expansion into Eastern Europe, while the Iran Deal prevented Iran from developing a nuclear weapons program that could easily target Europe. Trump has also tried to leverage Europe on trade, including them last year on steel and aluminum tariffs originally targeted against China, and more recently threatening to tariff automobile imports.
Any possible interpretations of these actions as the rectifying of an uneven but collaborative alliance were negated last July when Trump named the EU first when asked who he sees as being the “foes” of the United States. “In a trade sense, they’ve really taking advantage of us and many of those countries are in NATO and they weren’t paying their bills,” Trump told the BBC.
EU leaders have slowly accepted this new paradigm, with French President Emmanuel Macron stating last November that “We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia, and even the United States”, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel joining him in advocating for the creation of a European Army which would complement NATO. These leaders no longer see a point in combating Trump over the issue of American defense expenditure in Europe, and would rather take threats such as that posed by Putin into their own hands.
However, it hasn’t only been rivals that Trump has found across the Atlantic. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Polish President Adrzej Duda have both earned Trump’s appreciation as they drift further from the EU and take a more nationalist tone. Duda is hoping to have a US military base built in Poland to deter Russian aggression, publicly offering to name it “Fort Trump”. Trump also complimented Poland for “standing up for their independence, their security, and their sovereignty” while the country was in the midst of a conflict with the EU over its undermining of its own Supreme Court. Viktor Orban has earned the support of Trump due to his similar policies of blaming immigration and globalism for the breakdown of Hungarian identity. Trump also complimented the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK, viewing it as a parallel accomplishment to his own election later that year.
While Trump often picks out specific issues with the EU, it seems that his eventual goal is the dissolution of the Union. What is less clear is how much of Trump’s support for these nationalist, anti-EU movements is rooted in his desire to surround himself with like-minded heads of state or the belief that a more fractured global order will be easier to dominate economically and militarily.
- Human Rights Watch – An international human rights organization which has worked to support Crimean autonomy against Russian aggression.
- Roots Action – An online activist group devoted to pushing US domestic and foreign policy in a progressive direction.
Photo by Hoil Ryu
Brief #58—Foreign Policy
President Trump and Chairman Kim’s departures from Hanoi last week, Trump by plane and Kim by way of an over 60-hour train ride, signaled the disappointing conclusion to the second in-person meeting between the two leaders. The first, held last June in Singapore, prioritized the achievement of symbolic cooperation over the arrangement of concrete policy agreements. One major question left unanswered was whether nuclear production or sanctions would be suspended first. The Trump administration hoped to settle these uncertainties and plan the specificities of the peace process during this second summit, which was held from February 27-28th.
Stating the week before that “I’m in no rush for speed. We just don’t want testing”, Trump arrived in Vietnam with an outlined proposition for the codification of the goals outlined last June: the Korean War would be formally ended, North Korea would return the remains of US troops killed during the conflict, both countries would establish liaison offices as quasi-embassies in each other’s countries, and North Korea would stop producing nuclear materials at the Yongbyon facility in return for the lifting of some sanctions.
This last objective proved to be too great a point of contention, with both parties leaving with different versions of the dividing issue. According to Trump and Pompeo, Kim wanted the erasure of all sanctions in return for the suspension of nuclear production in the Yongbyon facility, said to be the heart of North Korea’s nuclear program. According to North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, Kim only asked for the lifting of the most recent five of the eleven UN Security Council sanctions levied against the country. Ultimately, no deal was reached and a planned lunch and signing ceremony were canceled.
This lack of accomplishment can come off as a major defeat in the context of such a drawn-out peace process. The fact that almost a year after Trump and Kim declared to the world their willingness to work towards peace and denuclearization neither could gain any concessions from each other is disheartening. If Trump and Pompeo’s account of the issue is correct, and Kim expected the complete eradication of the greatest leverage the US holds besides military action in return for the closing of a facility which doesn’t even constitute the entirety of North Korea’s nuclear production, it doesn’t bode well for North Korea’s actual willingness to compromise.
However, there are a number of peripheral signifiers which allow for more optimism than this recent failure suggests. For one, the quality of the rhetoric between American and North Korean leadership has progressed significantly from the threats and hostility of years before. While this has sometimes gone too far (take for instance Trump’s willingness to deny Kim’s complicity in the murder of American student Otto Warmbier), the fact that the immediate threat of nuclear war is no longer at the front of every conversation regarding US-North Korean relations is a welcome relief. Perhaps it’s simply Trump’s dream of winning a Nobel Peace Prize, but our typically impetuous President has continued to refrain from criticism of North Korean leadership after the failed summit, and scrapped two joint military exercises previously planned to be held on the DMZ alongside South Korea. While the mood of North Korean officials is far more opaque, their state media continued to voice support for peace with the United States. North Korea has also avoided any missile testing since late 2017.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in responded to the summit with confidence, stating that “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and permanent peace will definitely come”, and South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon announced that “South Korea will talk to the United States about preparatory work for the future resumption of two key inter-Korean economic projects and about waiving sanctions on North Korea if necessary”.
However it is worth noting that two days after completion of the Summit satellite images reveal that North Koreas has started rebuilding key missile test-facilities at its Yongbyon nuclear complex north of Pyongyang, according to the New York Times
- United for Peace and Justice: The UFPJ is a network of hundreds of peace and justice organizations with the shared goal of promoting a culture of demilitarization and cooperation.
- Veterans for Peace: VFP is a global organization of military veterans and allies working to shift the rhetoric regarding war. One of their projects, the Korea Peace Campaign, has stood in opposition to American hawkishness regarding Korea since 2002.
This Brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS Foreign Policy Analyst Colin Shanley: Contact Colin@usresistnews.org
Photo by Jonathan Simcoe
Brief #58—Foreign Policy
On February 5, President Trump gave his second State of the Union address. Russia itself garnered few remarks during the speech, with Trump only referring to it in the context of his decision to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). The President explained, the United States had “no choice” in the matter. Trump continued, “Perhaps, we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others, or perhaps we cannot, in which case, we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far.” He went on, disparaging Iran as a “radical regime,” and he stated that Tehran would never obtain nuclear weapons. Last week, NATO Secretary-General Jen Stoltenberg confirmed warning that US military forces would indeed respond to Russian breaches of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty via withdrawal.
President Trump’s announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) elicited criticism from many quarters, including from Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev, the leader who signed the landmark agreement on behalf of the Soviet Union in 1987 with then U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Initially, the treaty sought to rid the US and Russian of land-based ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and missile launchers. Eventually the result led to both sides dismantling missiles, with the Soviet Union demolishing 1,846 and the US 846.
Since 2005, Russia has approached the United States, on multiple occasions about jointly agreeing to withdraw from the INF Treaty. Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed that the INF treaty did not fit his country’s demands in regards to numerous, perceived international threats. Moscow’s argument has remained much the same: they believe the treaty only applies to the two nations and not to Russia’s neighbors, such as China or Pakistan. In the past America has always declined. For years, The United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty with its Novator 9M729 missile. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo has recently said, “Russia has jeopardized the United States’ security interests, and we can no longer be restricted by the treaty while Russia shamelessly violates it”. However Russia has stated the U.S. is also in violation of the terms spelled out in the treaty due to the use of armed drones, ballistic missile target missiles used in missile defense tests, and the land-based Mk41 vertical launch system.
Many analysts have stated that without the INF Treaty, the U.S. may be tempted to return to producing intermediate-range missiles, potentially including nuclear weapons, in order to counter Moscow’s nuclear threat. However, many experts who support the U.S. allegations toward Russia have warned that rejection of the treaty holds substantial risks, for the United States and Europe. Those in support of the treaty claim that even a flimsy agreement still promotes limitations in the development and use of such weapons, jeopardizing the safety of numerous European capitals and military bases.
The Trump administration deserting the INF Treaty void of any discussed alternatives, only sets to undermine general world stability. Currently, without sufficient political will and desire from both Moscow and Washington to save the treaty, it is proposed to end in approximately six months. Without the precautions of the INF treaty, we may be on the brink of an unnecessary arms race, leaving the world in a dangerous place.
- The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons is a coalition of non-governmental organizations in one hundred countries promoting adherence to and implementation of the United Nations nuclear weapon ban treaty.
- Property of the People is an organization ensuring transparency and accountability for the Administration of Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States
- The Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, nonpartisan membership is an organization dedicated to being a resource for those interested better understanding the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.
- Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament is a non-partisan forum for parliamentarians nationally and internationally to share resources and information, develop cooperative strategies and engage in nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament issues, initiatives and arenas.
This Brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS Erin Mayer, Policy Analyst Contact ErinMayer@usresistnews.org
Brief #57—Foreign Policy
Over the past three months the United States has begun the process of ending its military involvement in both Afghanistan and Syria. In December, Trump announced that Isis had been defeated in Syria and the United States would begin sending troops home immediately. Some US officials did not entirely back up the President’s statements. John Bolton insisted that the US would remain “as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias”. The Pentagon stated that they would “continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region”. Concurrently, the US has initiated talks with the Taliban to negotiate the withdrawal of at least half of the 14,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan. The meetings, held last month in Qatar and last week in Moscow, have both failed to include the involvement of the Afghan government, which currently holds roughly half the country. Pentagon Chief Patrick Shanahan has stated that there is currently no order to withdraw from Afghanistan, but any such actions would be fully coordinated with our allies. Both of these decisions have provoked a firestorm of controversy among both allies and opponents of President Trump
Withdrawal from Syria
- US involvement in Syria, which began with the arming of rebels in 2014 and grew into the military suppression of the development of Isis in the region has helped lead to the deaths of over 400,000 people and the creation of a humanitarian crisis
- Continued US presence in the region has been a destabilizing force, preventing the state from providing security to its populace and creating a hotbed of extremist militant groups.
- Trump’s intermittent proclivity for ending military interventions is somewhat of an anomaly in Washington, and despite his tactical clumsiness we may lose the chance for a withdrawal in the event of a change in political leadership in the near future.
- The US has no plan to protect the Kurdish people living in Northern Syria. The Kurds were an invaluable ally in combating Isis on the frontlines, and Turkey, a US ally with a history of repressing the Kurds, has been attempting to coordinate with Russia in the interest of enforcing its dominion over the region.
- The Pentagon estimated last month that 20,000-30,000 Isis forces remain in Syria, posing a significant predicament for the still somewhat weakened Syrian government.
- President Trump has neglected to lead a withdrawal with any kind of political settlement with the many actors in the region, surrendering any kind of leverage the US may hold in leaving Syria in a less fractured state.
Withdrawal from Afghanistan
- The United States has spent almost two decades and over a trillion dollars on the war, and has yet to defeat the Taliban.
- US presence in the country may be a galvanizing force for the Taliban. The group’s extremism, alliance with Pakistan, and primary association with the Pashtun ethnic group is alienating to many Afghani when not juxtaposed with an occupying force. Much of the persistent resistance to the Afghan government is due to its perception as a US puppet.
- Isis has been increasing activities in eastern Afghanistan and some fear that Isis fighters forced out of syria will join them
- The US wants to pull out on the conditions that the Taliban will join the government and the country won’t be used by independent armed groups such as Al Qaeda and Isis. However, many doubt that the Taliban is even willing to commit to working directly with the government.
- If the Taliban retakes power it may mean the return of harsh repression of Afghan women.
- Veterans for Peace – An international organization made up of military veterans, military family members, and allies, working to building a culture of peace, exposing the true costs of war, and healing the wounds of war. Read their statement on our withdrawal from Syria here.
- Codepink – A women-led grassroots organization working to end US wars and militarism.
This Brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS Foreign Policy Analyst Colin Shanley: Contact Colin@usresistnews.org
Photo by Ahmed Abu Hameeda
Brief #56—Foreign Policy
On January 23rd, Venezuelan lawmaker Juan Guaido surged from relative obscurity to the focus of international attention when he declared himself the interim President of the crisis ridden nation. Just weeks before, Guaido was appointed the leader of the Venezuelan National Assembly, the legislative body representing the opposition to President Nicolas Maduro. Guaido’s Presidential legitimacy was immediately recognized by President Trump, after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro similarly declared his recognition five days before Guaido even made the pronouncement himself. European Union nations including Britain, Germany, France, and Spain followed suit in the subsequent weeks when Maduro neglected to call a new election to placate critics of his dubious re-election in May of last year, which was boycotted by the opposition.
With Maduro still in control of the government, Guaido’s international allies are driving pressure against him by targeting the state’s resources. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton asked the Bank of England to deny the Venezuelan government’s withdrawal of $1.2 billion in gold. A Portuguese bank similarly blocked a $1.2 billion transfer of assets to Uruguay. The White House has added new sanctions against the state oil company PDVSA, allowing US companies to continue to buy oil from them but preventing that money from reaching Venezuela until Guaido takes power. On Monday, the EU said that additional sanctions were being considered. These would accompany other sanctions ordered by Washington in 2014, 2015, and 2018. With economic ties to many western countries severed, the Venezuelan government is leaning more on allies in China, Russia, and Turkey. One US official warned on Thursday that the White House would “take action” if Turkey violated sanctions in supporting the Venezuelan government.
In the past five years, the Venezuelan economy has endured an economic collapse, marked by shortages of food and medicine, as well as rising poverty and inflation. The political system has become completely polarized. The roots of these issues are not new, and are in many ways familiar for a post-colonial Latin American nation. Before Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” in 1999, the country exhibited many of the symptoms it shows today, with frequent economic crises, massive inflation and corruption, and a lack of consideration for constitutional rights. The country had been developed largely on the strength of oil exports alone, and Chavez attempted to direct oil revenue towards the funding of social programs which provided healthcare, education, food and social mobility to the masses, making him widely popular. This enthusiasm was not shared by all Venezuelans, and in 2002 a faction of the military, with the support of much of the Venezuelan upper classes and United States, staged a brief coup, during which businessman Pedro Carmona was installed as interim President and the constitution and legislative bodies were abolished, before Chavez retook power. With Chavez’s death and replacement by Maduro in 2013 and oil prices dropping from $160 per barrel in 2008 to $51 in 2019, the Venezuelan government suddenly no longer held the same political mandate or financial resources to maintain its path towards international independence and an egalitarian society.
President Maduro compensated for his government’s weaknesses by pursuing increasingly authoritarian methods of reaching his political goals. When the National Assembly, the country’s primary legislative body, was taken by the opposition in 2015, the outgoing lame duck lawmakers stacked the Supreme Tribunal of Justice – the highest court in the country – with Maduro loyalist judges. When the Tribunal accused three opposition lawmakers of electoral “irregularities”, the charges were disputed by the National Assembly and Maduro formed the Constituent National Assembly in 2017 as a parallel legislative body. While a precedent for forming a similar body had been set in 1999 by Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor had asked for a national referendum first, and used the body to restructure the functions of the government – not simply buttress political support. Maduro has stripped away many of the electoral protections which led former President Jimmy Carter to state in 2012 that “of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”
However much of the US media coverage of the Venezuelan crisis depicts the opposition as the embodiment of the “Venezuelan people”, and the US as a solely emancipatory force. The United States has a history of utilizing a strategy of “making the economy scream” to undermine democratic Socialist regimes. The constant use of sanctions has most likely contributed to food and medicine shortages, an issue noted even by the US Congressional Research Service. John Bolton recently boasted of “$7 billion in assets blocked today. Plus, over $11 billion in lost export proceeds over the next year”, which amounts to 94% of what the country spent on imports last year.
The State Department has spent millions of dollars funding the Venezuelan opposition, even before democratic norms had begun to erode. Last year, opposition leader Henri Falcon was warned by US officials that the Trump administration would sanction him if he ran against Maduro, despite the fact that polling showed he had a strong chance of beating Maduro, especially if the election was monitored by UN observers, who were turned away by the opposition.
Now the US and opposition seem to be willing to help drive Venezuela into a deep enough crisis that the population will accept a complete departure from the paradigm of the Bolivarian Revolution rather than participating in a democratic process which would involve the sharing of power between parties. Despite the abuses of the Maduro regime, there is no evidence to suggest that he does not maintain the support of a significant portion of the population who have not given up on the dream promised by Chavez two decades before.
As long as Maduro controls the government and military, there is not a clear situation where the opposition can unilaterally take power without a military intervention from either the United States or Brazil. In a region already habituated to anti-imperialist resistance, this could mean an enormous and destabilizing civil war in the region. The other alternative is a mediated political resolution, most likely involving Maduro stepping down and the holding of new, UN monitored elections. The US government cannot maintain a presence in these negotiations, as it has forfeited its position as both an interventionist force around the globe and a neutral arbiter in Venezuela. The solution to this crisis can only come from the voice and democratic power of the Venezuelan people themselves.
- CodePink: A women-led grassroots organization working to end U.S. wars and militarism, and support peace and human rights initiatives.
- Washington Office on Latin America: A research and advocacy organization providing independent analysis of issues such as the Venezuelan crisis.
This Brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS Foreign Policy Analyst Colin Shanley: Contact Colin@usresistnews.org
Brief #55—Foreign Policy
President Trump’s campaign was defined by the complete rejection of international cooperation and multilateral agreements. According to Trump’s mindset, in every deal the United States was either being cheated or doing the cheating, and his predecessors had been doing too much of the former. This turned out to be a popular message, with many of his supporters believing that these agreements were crafted without the interests of common Americans in mind. Trump once would have had to secure the permission of Congress before withdrawing from these agreements, but precedence has changed over the years, allowing the President to single handedly remove the country from agreements which took years of political maneuvering and Congressional approval to sign in the first place. Below we consider the effects of some of Trump’s most notorious withdrawals.
The Iran Deal
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly referred to as the Iran Deal, was a historic product of the Obama administration’s attempts to build a stable network of international cooperation. The deal placed restrictions on the amount of nuclear energy produced by Iran, in the interest of avoiding the possibility of enriched Uranium being used for nuclear weapons, in return for an end to the crippling sanctions levied against them by the United States, EU, and UN. Despite assurances by the International Atomic Energy Agency, who were granted permission under the deal to inspect nuclear facilities, that Iran remain in accordance, President Trump ended US support of the deal in May of 2018.
In response, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron declared their continued support for the deal, and the EU threatened to sanction firms who abided by new US sanctions. Nevertheless, the Iranian economy now operates under the weight of both the JCPOA’s energy restrictions as well as US sanctions. The Iranian Rial dropped by 14% in the three days following the announcement of the withdrawal of the United States. The destabilizing of the agreement also encouraged Israel to take the opportunity to strengthen its position against Syria, an ally of Iran. Immediately following Trump’s announcement of withdrawal, the IDF launched artillery strikes at the Syrian city of Baath, which lies in the demilitarized zone just outside of the Golan Heights, a region of Syria which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. Iran responded, launching missiles towards Israeli bases in the Golan Heights, to which Israel responded with Operation House of Cards, which involved strikes against over 50 Iranian targets across Syria. Iran may continue to comply with energy restrictions for now, assuming the continued support of EU nations, but with continued military tension against neighboring states, and anti-American sentiment rising in response to sanctions, they may give up the hope of international cooperation, never mind enter into to a future deal.
The Paris Climate Accord
On June 1st, 2017, President Trump announced that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords, a historic 2015 international agreement to reduce emissions in an attempt to avoid the worst effects of climate change. In response to the withdrawal, Syria and Nicaragua signed onto the agreement, making the United States the only non-participatory country in the world. Technically, the US is still included in the agreement, and must remain so until after the 2020 elections, as per the initial rules of the agreement. For now, State Department officials continue to show up at all periodic meetings concerning the future of the agreement, but no longer take a leadership role in the proceedings. Trump has continued to cut environmental protections, rolling back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and canceling a planned $2 billion payment to the Green Climate Fund, which would have helped developing countries transition to renewable energy production. However, the environmental movement in the United States has been invigorated in the face of these cutbacks, with freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement pushing climate change action to the front of the Democratic party’s platform and calling for a Green New Deal to build a new non-extractive economy.
Signed in 2016, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a sweeping trade agreement which would have strengthened economic ties between the United States and twelve Pacific nations, primarily through reduced tariffs. The agreement was signed but never ratified, with Trump withdrawing in the first week of his presidency, a month before it would have gone into effect. During his campaign Trump frequently denounced the TPP, along with the modern consensus of low barriers on the international flow of capital from which it came. This globalist tradition was seen to have helped cause the domestic evaporation of manufacturing jobs from which Trump drew so much support.
The remaining nations ended up proceeding without the US, signing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. The EU has also been forming trade agreements with many of the TPP signatories, and China has been moving forward with their own version of the TPP, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Trump suggested last August that the US might rejoin the deal after receiving pushback from Republican lawmakers concerned over the profits of exporting companies in their states. Japan and Vietnam are both major food importers who would have been included in the TPP. Lawmakers were also concerned that the US had given away a strong tool for competing with China in the Pacific region. Returning now would mean that the United States would have given away much of the leverage it built in the original preparation for the deal.
The UN has always been a specific target of Trump’s ire, partially due to the significant funding we have provided for its support. This has so far manifested in our withdrawal from two important UN councils. One is The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which promotes international respect and awareness for the importance of human rights, education, and peace. UNESCO originally lost US funding in 2011 when its members voted to recognize Palestine as an independent participant in the agency. Trump pulled the US out of UNESCO in October of 2017 after it designated a Palestinian region of the West Bank as an endangered World Heritage Site. Now the US cannot contribute to the management of the 1,073 World Heritage Sites around the world, and surrenders any possibility of resuming funding for the many programs UNESCO operates to reduce illiteracy and oppression.
The United States is now also the only country other than Iran, North Korea, and Eritrea to refuse to participate in the United Nations Human Rights Council. Former Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley justified the withdrawal last July by denouncing the council’s five resolutions passed against Israel that year, particularly one which condemned US and Israeli businesses investing in illegal Israeli settlements in the West bank. By removing itself from the Human Rights Council, our government reduces both international oversight over its actions as well as international legitimacy in its criticism of others.
- Human Rights Watch – An organization dedicated to fighting oppression from a global perspective
- Roots Action – An online activist group devoted to pushing US domestic and foreign policy in a progressive direction
Photo by Kyle Glenn
Brief #54—Foreign Policy
With Syria nearing the eighth year of its brutal war, one which has claimed the lives of an estimated 300,000-500,000 people, President Trump declared on December 19th that Isis was defeated and the United States would withdraw the 2,000 soldiers still deployed within the country. The announcement came as a surprise to much of Washington, given that the Pentagon estimated last month that Isis forces, who continue to hold pockets of territory across Iraq and Syria, remain somewhere in the number of 20,000 and 30,000 fighters. Just last week, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat Isis Brett McGurk told reporters that the US wanted “to stay on the ground and make sure that stability can be maintained in these areas”.
The White House has been vague in its plan for withdrawal since the initial announcement with one official disclosing an intent for departure within 60-100 days, and another suggesting it could come sooner. Trump tried to clarify on the 23rd that the withdrawal would be a “slow & highly coordinated pullout”, and on Sunday Senator Lindsey Graham suggested that Trump was now more willing to maintain a presence in Syria in order to deter Isis. Senator Graham, who previously called the withdrawal a “huge Obama-like mistake” and “a big win for Isis, Iran, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and Russia” is not the only one outraged by Trump’s decision. The announcement unleashed a storm of indignation from nearly every corner of Washington, providing the opportunity for every liberal pundit to brandish their best John Bolton impression and decry the threat of Iranian influence in Syria. Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis tendered his resignation, using his resignation letter to condemn China and Russia for their desire to “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions – to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies” and insisting that the United States “must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values”.
Announcing unprovoked that the United States would withdraw its military presence from Syria was certainly a rash decision. The country is awash with loose ends and instability, and the United States could have maintained a certain temporary strategic position to provide a better outcome for the Syrian people. By announcing an unconditioned withdrawal, Trump is giving away his leverage in negotiating a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
As it stands, the mostly Kurdish militia YPG (People’s Protection Units), is under siege from the Turkish army, who view them as a threat due to their potential to provoke the many Turkish Kurds vying for self-autonomy and an end to their repression. The YPG has been one of the primary forces facing Isis on the battlefield, and is in the process of building a semi-autonomous region in northern Syria known as Rojava, where ethnic Kurds are protected from both the immediate threat of Isis and the potential repression of the Syrian government.
The FSA (Free Syrian Army), a loosely associated collection of Sunni militant groups still fighting the government, have been mostly cornered in the north-western province of Idlib, and their numbers dwindle as many attempt to return to their former lives. Isis still holds one major pocket, but is in the process of transitioning from an actual Islamic state to a simple insurgency. Both Russia and Iran, countries allied with the Syrian government, have provided support in returning territory to the control of the Syrian army, who currently hold 2/3rds of the country, including all major cities.
Ideally, Trump would try to leave Syria in a more stable condition, suited to returning some sense of stability and normalcy to those who have yet to flee the country. This would first mean cutting off support for the Turkish government. We should not be handing over territory, expanding trade, or selling a $3.5 billion weapon system to a country who has exploited a humanitarian crisis to backstab the most democratic force in the country that are on the frontlines fighting Isis. Trump should be working to support the Kurdish political umbrella group Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their recent talks with the Syrian government to address Turkish encroachment, and continuing to provide them with funding to defend their nascent democratic experiment. Trump should also try to negotiate critical support for the Syrian government in their attempts to rebuild their country after almost a decade of war.
The United States has a strong responsibility to help the Syrian people in their struggle for peace, just not through more war. The war fully erupted when the Obama administration chose to capitalize on the relatively minor upheavals of 2011 by flooding the country with arms. The UN has certified that the FSA is not a mass democratic movement, but rather little more than a brand name encompassing a multitude of interest groups, and that foreign intervention has led to the rise of an extremist Salafi insurgency. The US ignored the fact that many of these militias were not the agents of freedom and democracy that they would have liked, and became cavalier in their willingness to hand out arms and support for any group willing to target the Syrian government. This led to the rise of militias such as the al-Qaeda offshoot al-Nusra Front, who took a leading role in the uprising. In 2012, a classified memo was distributed by the Defense Intelligence Agency which warned of a “Salafist principality in eastern Syria” caused by the power vacuum created by an internationally funded uprising. This would be proven painfully true the next year, as Isis took hold of large swaths of territory. The United States took a leading role in destabilizing and provoking war in Syria in order to remove Assad from power, and there is no reason to believe that our military is in any way capable of cleaning up its own mess.
A sudden withdrawal of forces , as proposed by President Trump, does nothing to make amends for the mistakes our country has made in Syria. It leaves the anti-ISIS coaltion of coutries, that the US assembled, in a lurch without leadership; and it abnegates our ability and responsibility to support the reconstruction of a country that we helped to destroy. Foreign policy made by a tweet and a whim is a poor substitute for foreign policy made with a well coordinated and thought out strategy.
- Veterans for Peace – An international organization made up of military veterans, military family members, and allies, working to building a culture of peace, exposing the true costs of war, and healing the wounds of war. Read their statement on our withdrawal from Syria here.
- Codepink – A women-led grassroots organization working to end US wars and militarism. Read their statement on our withdrawal from Syria here.
Brief #52—Foreign Policy
In a show of bipartisan support, the “Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development Act of 2018”, or the BUILD act, was passed on October 5th and later signed by President Trump.. First introduced in February by Republican Senator Bob Corker and Democratic Senator Chris Coons, the act creates the International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) as a successor to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), with an increased budget of $60 billion, and the intent to facilitate public spending and federal support to encourage private investment in foreign markets. Supporters have promised that this will lead to sustainable, broad-based economic growth, and an increase in public accountability and transparency.
The most apparent absence from the BUILD act is the lack of enforceable restrictions preventing investments from supporting regimes which participate in the abuse of human rights and/or have corrupt ineffective governance systems.. The bill promises to ensure an increase in social stability and decrease in poverty, but it’s mostly worded in vague aspirations. It’s also questionable whether the intent of the bill is even to benefit the host countries of these investments. Part of the billions in taxpayer money apportioned to the IDFC will be used to reduce risk for companies investing in foreign countries, but many of these risks are caused by the instability created by US exploitation of the labor and resources of the global south. The strategy of funneling private capital into these economies has been the modus operandi of the US for years, and rather than resulting in greater development in poor countries, it has reduced access of the residents of those countries to their own land and resources, while pushing them further into debt. If there is a surplus of taxpayer money which can be used to benefit those living outside our borders, perhaps it could be better allocated canceling foreign debts and supporting foreign businesses trying to build a stable economy within the confines of their own border.
- International Labor Rights Forum: The ILRF is a US-based nonprofit advocacy organization working to develop a safe working environment for the international working poor.
- International Centre for Trade Union Rights: The ICTUR is an international NGO that brings together trade unions, human rights organisations, research institutions, and lawyer’s associations to defend the rights of workers around the world to organize.
Photo by Joakim Honkasalo
Brief #51—Foreign Policy
Last February, Senators Bernie Sanders, Chris Murphy, and Mike Lee introduced legislation to invoke the 1973 War Powers act in order to withdraw the United States from Saudi Arabia’s brutal war on Yemen – a war which has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with three quarters of its 28 million citizens in need of humanitarian aid, 8 million in starvation, and the worst cholera outbreak in modern history. The measure, which hoped to end American provision of arms and intelligence to the Saudi war effort, was defeated in a bipartisan show of support for one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East. Now, eight months later, that support has finally begun to erode with what seems to be the shocking assassination of a world renowned Saudi journalist.
Jamal Khashoggi built a reputation for himself covering Afghanistan, Algeria, and Kuwait in the 1980’s and 90’s for the Al-Hayat newspaper. He formed a relationship with Osama Bin Laden while covering the jihad against the Soviets, and attempted to convince him to pursue peace during the 90’s before cutting ties after September 11th. While often seen as a sort of de facto spokesperson for the Saudi Arabian royal family, and a useful source for Western insight into the relatively closed political society of Saudi Arabia, he periodically ran into trouble for his reformist views. In 2003 he was fired from his editorial position at the Al-Watan newspaper, which some blamed on his editorial policy. Later reinstated, he was fired again in 2010 for “pushing the boundaries of debate within Saudi society” according to his website. His dissent grew stronger during the rise of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) in 2017, when he criticized the hypocrisy of those who “vigorously applaud social reforms and heap praise on the crown prince” but ignore the continued authoritarian policies as well as the history of those who have fought them for years. The 33 year old MBS has received lavish praise for his modest reforms, including allowing women to drive, all the while cracking down on women’s rights activists. His sudden rise to power included the arrests of hundreds of clerics, business leaders, and royal family members who stood in his way.
Fearing being targeted himself, Khashoggi moved to Washington D.C. in 2017 and entered a role as an opinions editor at the Washington Post. He wrote disparagingly of MBS’s regime, beginning with an article titled “Saudi Arabia Wasn’t Always This Repressive. Now it’s unbearable”. Last month Khashoggi published an article entitled “Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Must Restore Dignity to His Country – by Ending Yemen’s Cruel War”. By this time he had become estranged from his Saudi wife and had become engaged to a Turkish researcher. On October 2nd, he flew to Istanbul to obtain documents from the Saudi consulate which would verify his divorce and allow him to proceed with his wedding which was planned for the next day. His fiancee waited outside the consulate but he never left it. Four days later, the Turkish security announced that they believed he had been killed
Khashoggi’s disappearance and presumptive murder have led to a rift between Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the US political establishment, and Trump. The Turkish government has reported that they possess tapes proving that Khashoggi was interrogated, tortured, and killed by a team of 15 Saudis who stayed in Turkey for a brief period and then left. While Turkish President Erdogan has refused to explicitly call for the help of the US, in a country which was economically destabilized by Trump’s recent tariffs, he has refused to take action himself and a Turkish official anonymously conceded that “At the end of the day, the U.S. has to take action.”
Republican lawmakers have begun criticizing the Saudi Regime, with Mitch McConnell calling US-Saudi relations “not great” and Lindsey Graham stating that MBS has “got to go”. Trump has appeared far less concerned with Khashoggi’s death, telling reporters after speaking to Saudi King Salman “it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers – who knows.” He later said “They’re spending $110 billion purchasing military equipment and other things. If we don’t sell it to them, they’ll say, ‘Well, thank you very much. We’ll buy it from Russia.’ ” Trump also took to Twitter to lie that he did not have any personal financial interests in Saudi Arabia. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with MBS on Tuesday to “reiterate the President’s concern”, where they “agreed on the importance of a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation”. Some American CEO’s have backed out of next week’s Future Investment Initiative conference, a major part of MBS’ plan to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil. At this time, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reportedly still plants to attend. Saudi Arabia is reportedly working on a report which will conclude that Khashoggi was killed in a botched interrogation, without clearance from MBS.
Saudi Arabia has long been a strong ally of the United States, only ever receiving minor admonishments for its horrific human rights record. The country serves as a powerful opponent of Iran, a military outpost, and a crucial source of oil. In the past, Saudi Arabia also helped suppress Communist influence in Afghanistan and fought alongside the US in the Gulf War. The fact that MBS has presumably overstepped so far as to murder a high profile journalist on foreign soil suggests that he has overestimated the blank check for terror the US has given him. Khashoggi was not a vital political enemy. His colleagues described him as a moderate reformer rather than revolutionary, a “loyal Saudi” who still hoped to return to his homeland. His editorials mostly fell on deaf ears in a country spoiled by Saudi military spending. MBS’ recklessness may doom him here, as some in Washington seem eager to replace him with a more cautious leader, one willing to continue to support US interests in the region without stirring up this sort of attention.
- Yemen Peace Project – An organization dedicated to promoting self determination for the people of Yemen
- International Federation for Human Rights – Is a federation of 184 organizations working to defend human rights as outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This Brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS Analyst Colin Shanley; Contact Colin@usresistnews.org