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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

 

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.

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Trump’s Erratic Military Policies

Brief #95—Foreign Policy
By Colin Rugg
In the wake of Jeffrey Goldberg’s September 3rd Atlantic report lambasting Trump for his disparaging comments about the United States Military, the president has come under fire from Military commanders and politicians on both sides of the aisle.

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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

The American War on Venezuela

The American War on Venezuela

By Will Solomon

November 22,2020

Policy Summary:

On April 12, 2002, Hugo Chávez, then President of Venezuela, was briefly removed from power in a military coup. Chávez returned to power two days later, buoyed by popular support, largely from poor and working-class Venezuelans. At the time, American officials denied involvement and largely blamed Chávez for instigating the instability that led to his downfall; only two years later, redacted CIA documents revealed that the United States was aware of the coup well in advance, and likely had some amount of communication with the coup plotters.

To believe otherwise would have been naive; the long history of American involvement in Latin America is common knowledge at this point, and it has continued into the 21st century, if often more subtly. But this is an illustrative recent example, and Venezuela is a particular case.

The oil-rich nation’s recent history was largely defined by the government and policies of Hugo Chávez. Although not without blemishes, Chávez’s early policies had a dramatic ameliorative effect on the poorest members of Venezuelan society: unemployment and poverty dropped significantly during his early tenure, oil exports boomed, and per capita GDP more than doubled. Chávez was an outspoken opponent of US imperialism and aligned Venezuela with other “pink tide” Latin American leaders, like Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Evo Morales in Bolivia, as well as much older US antagonists like Fidel Castro in Cuba.

This is not to say suffering disappeared: violence was and remains high in Venezuela, inflation has been consistently high, and of course, the vast majority of the growth that took place was the result of high oil prices and an entirely oil-dependent economy. Things in the country have gotten dramatically worse since Chávez’s death in 2013 and Maduro’s ascension to power, clearly due in part to mismanagement of the economy by the government.

However, this situation has been dramatically worsened by US sanctions, beginning in 2014. Officially US sanctions have largely been in response to political repression and alleged links to drug trafficking by members of the Venezuelan government. In practice, the US maintains cozy links with far more repressive states than Venezuela, and it is difficult not to see Venezuelan socialism—and its opposition to US hegemony in the Western hemisphere—as a thorn in the side of Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

The noose around Venezuela has been increasingly tightened over the course of the Trump administration. Trump has repeatedly floated a military invasion of Venezuela, and in early 2019—along with numerous other Western nations—recognized Juan Guaido, the de facto leader of the Venezuelan opposition and self-proclaimed president of the country, as the legal president of Venezuela, an essentially unprecedented move.

While Venezuela has (temporarily) moved out of the national spotlight, the efforts to oust the government continue; in March of this year, the US State Department offered a $15 million reward for the capture of the current President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, ostensibly for connections to drug trafficking, and in May of this year, a small and essentially privatized military invasion of Venezuela—with the goal of ousting  Maduro—was stopped by the Venezuelan military. Indeed, in the last several days, Trump’s legal team has absurdly alleged that supposedly anti-Trump voting machines were created by Hugo Chávez.

Analysis:

In light of these ongoing destabilization attempts, it is with some nuance that we must consider the situation in Venezuela and the American relationship with that nation. Venezuela, perhaps more so than any other similar foreign nation (like Iran, or North Korea), holds a special status as a pariah in US media. The Venezuelan government is loathed and considered illegitimate by nearly as many Democrats as Republicans; even those towards the more progressive ends of the US electoral system, like Elizabeth Warren, have recognized Guaido as President of Venezuela.

None of this is to absolve the Chávez or Maduro governments from blame. The situation in Venezuela over the last several years has become catastrophic; the best one might say is that they took a bad situation and made it worse. But as Noam Chomsky has said, we ought to apply pressure to the leaders for whom we are responsible, not moralistically condemn foreign actors. With a nation like Venezuela—an oil-rich country with its own long history of American imperial aggression —this is even more true. If the United States had any serious interest in helping the people of Venezuela, sanctions would be lifted, or at least drastically altered, and humanitarian aid would genuinely be offered; the emphasis on regime change would be dropped, and a diplomatic detente would be pursued. We ought to be suspicious of anything short of that.

Resistance Resources

The Center for Economic and Policy Research—“The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) was established in 1999 to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people’s lives.”

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.”

Democracy Now!—“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.”

America Needs to Rethink Its Use of Military Force

America Needs to Rethink Its Use of Military Force

America Needs to Rethink Its Use of Military Force

By Will Solomon

November 4, 2020 

Policy Summary

It can be difficult to find coherence in Trump’s agenda, foreign policy included. In contrast to almost every prominent Republican since at least World War II, Trump has espoused (at least rhetorically) a doctrine of isolationism since his run for and during his time as president, railing against NATO and American involvement in the Middle East—and specifically bucking Republican orthodoxy in vocally criticizing the Iraq War. (Arguably, this latter position was a major reason Trump won the Republican primary in 2015-16).

One of the more bizarre aspects of the Trump presidency has been the increased militarism and aggressiveness by Democrats in response to both this rhetoric and Trump’s actualized foreign policy. But does this quasi-role reversal reveal a genuine strategic shift by the Trump administration, and a significant move away from a previously-existing bipartisan consensus on American overseas commitments? It is helpful to examine two regions in which Trump has sought to reduce American troop commitments.

First, the War in Afghanistan, which remains the longest-running war in US history. As noted above, a major feature of Trump’s 2016 campaign was a rhetorical commitment to reducing American involvement in the Greater Middle East. However, over the first two years of the Trump Administration, the number of soldiers in Afghanistan actually increased, possibly to a maximum of over 15,000 soldiers. This number has reportedly decreased over the past two years and was listed around 8,600 earlier this year—roughly the level they were at when Obama left office—after the February 2020 peace deal with the Taliban. Earlier this fall, Trump announced without warning that all US troops would be out of Afghanistan by Christmas—and yet it appears there is no substance behind the claim, and a gradual if indefinite process of withdrawal will continue.

Trump has also repeatedly made a spectacle of criticizing NATO allies for not contributing enough to the mutual defense pact. This summer, the US announced its intent to remove 12,000 troops out of Germany. While Trump claimed this was because of German failure to sufficiently pay into the treaty, Pentagon officials stated this was consistent with long-term strategy—and it is noteworthy that about half those troops were to be redeployed to Belgium and Italy, which pay a lower percentage of GDP towards their defense budgets than does Germany. This is arguably also consistent with the “pivot to Asia” that began during the Obama Administration.

Policy Analysis

While Trump’s rhetoric has signaled a marked shift from prior postwar American presidents, thus far, his actions with regards to military deployments overseas have been fairly consistent with recent precedent. Like Obama in particular, Trump has relied heavily on airstrikes, drone warfare, and special forces raids in military engagements across the globe.

Which is not to say this is good: despite frequent proclamations to the contrary, the seventy-five years since the end of World War II have been marked by violence and destabilization around the globe, much of it directly instigated by the United States. The most significant war of the twenty-first century—the War in Iraq—was the result of a largely unilateral American decision to invade a sovereign nation. The war may have resulted in a million dead, including several thousand American troops, and Iraq remains a broken nation. The War in Afghanistan—frequently characterized as the more just war—has, again, become the longest-running war in US history, and is acknowledged by senior US government officials as unwinnable.

Trump’s rhetoric should not be downplayed, and having an erratic mouthpiece at the head of government is a major threat to international security. But the media ought to pause on its reflexive opposition to Trump and ask, broadly, whether American military engagements overseas are achieving their aims. Indeed, what exactly are these aims? This does include questions like: what is the purpose of NATO in the year 2020? Are these deployments of American soldiers helpful, or destabilizing? While answers may vary by case, recent history (not just including Trump’s tenure) would suggest that this broad strategy ought to be reconsidered, regardless of who is president.

Resistance Resources

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.”

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.”

America Needs to Rethink Its Use of Military Force

Trump’s Erratic Military Policies

Brief # 95 Foreign Policy
Trump’s Erratic Military Policies
By Colin Rugg
October 23, 2020

Policy Summary

In the wake of Jeffrey Goldberg’s September 3rd Atlantic report lambasting Trump for his disparaging comments about the United States Military, the president has come under fire from Military commanders and politicians on both sides of the aisle. Trump has a reported history of mocking veterans, calling soldiers who lost their lives abroad “losers,” making disparaging remarks about prisoners of war, and complaining that “nobody wants to see” disabled veterans injured in the line of duty at a military parade. On a Memorial Day visit to the grave of Lt. Robert Kelly, son of Gen. John Kelly, the president reportedly turned to the general and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” The president denies these claims. But actions speak louder than words and the president’s lack of respect for domestic and international military norms goes much deeper than the claims of disrespectful language.

To understand the president’s current cagey relationship with the US military, it is important to understand the context in which he interacts with it. During his presidential campaign in 2016, Trump promised to swiftly pull troops back from “endless wars” The American people,  tired of seemingly endless conflict with billions of dollars spent on a national defense budget in lieu of domestic needs, were generally in favor of the sentiment despite concerns of military top brass and Republican lawmakers. But the urgent demands of addressing the insurgence of the Islamic State and rising tensions between the Afghan government and the Taliban pushed the president to increase foreign military presence, raising the Obama-era cap of 8,400 troops stationed in Afghanistan to 15,000.

Now, under the shadow of a looming presidential election, Trump has been hasty to make good on his promises to reduce the foreign US military presence. In contrast to Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden’s stated goals to support longtime NATO allies and to pull out of the Middle East “in a manner that ensures we both guard against threats to our homeland and never have to go back,” Donald Trump does not seem concerned about such long-term  concerns. Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top US military commander for the Middle East claims that at the current rate, the number of troops in Afghanistan could fall below 4,500 in November, and down to 3,000 in Iraq.

Analysis

While the withdrawal of troops might sound like good news to humanitarian and the America-First movements alike, the policy’s carelessness should be of concern to both parties. Iraq and Afghanistan are both in critical political moments that require support beyond what local governments can provide.

The Afghan-Taliban peace talks are only just beginning and are already steeped in contention. President Trump is clearly eager to disengage, proclaiming victory as soon as the Taliban came to the negotiating table, already having lowered the number of troops well in advance. In the wake of the president’s hasty retreat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that the negotiations will be deeply contentious. They have already been marred by increased Taliban attacks on Afghan soldiers and assassination attempts, with scores of civilians killed in the crossfire.

Iraq has also seen Trump declare premature victory only to disengage with no thought for long-term consequence. The president announced in late 2018 that the US would withdraw nearly all its troops from Syria under the pretense that the Islamic State was decimated. And while the radical terrorist movement indeed lost all its territory and their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, military commanders from Iraq and the Pentagon urge caution. Both put the current number of Islamic State members between 14 and 18 thousand – 4 to 8 thousand more than when the organization first proclaimed a caliphate.

Not only is the Islamic State still growing and organizing underground, but those who survived the initial conflict have been further radicalized and trained in live combat. Masrour Barzani, the Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan and former leader of the Kurdish paramilitary force known as the peshmerga, claims the Islamic State is reorganizing at an alarming rate. Even at its nadir, the organization continued to launch an average of 60 attacks a month on Iraqi security forces. It is under these circumstances that Trump is removing antiterrorism forces from the country, leaving a nascent anti-American Islamist terrorist organization to develop undisturbed.

Trump’s ham-fisted attempts to make good on his electoral promises will have disastrous consequences in the Middle East. It has already cast doubt on the United States’ reputation as a loyal ally following the president’s removal of troops stationed in longtime NATO allied countries like Germany.

But the most frustrating aspect of the president’s military policy is the fact that these actions are deeply hypocritical. Trump boasts about delivering on his campaign promises to cut foreign military spending and bring American forces home, while in the same breath he signs into law the National Defense Authorization Act which drastically increased the military budget, redeploys soldiers elsewhere around the world, and bullishly enflames conflicts with the potential to pull the United States into deeper military entanglements. He recalls and redeploys forces to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on a whim, baiting Iran into conflict. According to the Congressional Research Service, Donald Trump’s history of conducting unilateral military action against Iran could easily lead to future military conflict, including action against Iranian allies or proxies, retaliation against Iranian key targets and facilities as seen in the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, blockades, or even outright invasion. With the current breakdown of international military cooperation as well as the lack of communication and support between the United States and its NATO allies, it is likely that a regional conflict would be deeply taxing for the United States.

Trump’s blatantly hypocritical approach to military policy will have disastrous results for the American people and our allies abroad. It will risk American lives by pushing away our allies, enflaming our regional rivals, and allowing anti-American terrorism and instability to grow deep roots abroad, while skirting around the stated goal of decreasing the military budget. These policies were put in place to stroke Trump’s ego by allowing him to grandstand on an international stage, spend exorbitantly on nothing more than a show of force, and lend false legitimacy to the claim that he made good on his promises to the American people.

Resistance Resources

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) – TAPS provides a variety of programs to offer compassionate care to those grieving the loss of a loved one who died while serving in the Armed Forces, or as a result of service. TAPS has helped more than 70,000 surviving families, caregivers, and casualty officers since the nonprofit was founded in 1994.

https://www.un.org/en/sections/about-un/how-donate-united-nations-system/ – In the absence of a multilateral military mission from the United States, the best hope at maintaining stability and decency abroad is through the support of international organizations like the United Nations.

https://www.usa.gov/confirm-voter-registration – Vote in the upcoming 2020 presidential election. Foreign and Military policy are inextricably linked to the Commander in Chief. We need a responsible steward of our nation now more than ever.

How Foreign Countries Are Hacking the US Election

How Foreign Countries Are Hacking the US Election

Policy Summary:

Although some of us may have missed it with all of the covid-19 news, in early August, U.S. intelligence reported to Congress that Russia, China, and Iran are attempting to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. Russia appears to be launching the largest offensive, with China and Iran making smaller, more limited incursions. Both sides of the aisle have now turned the report into an excuse for partisan grandstanding and factional ammunition. Democrats have used the report as further evidence that Trump is Putin’s desired candidate. Republicans have fired back with the fact that Biden is Iran and China’s desired candidate.

However, in the cases of China and Iran, it is wholly over-simplifying to say that they are running the same manner of interference as Russia. Facebook’s head of security has said that on their platform, the accounts linked to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were more focused on generating an audience and then dividing said audience rather than supporting Biden in particular. Beijing certainly favors Biden, but their backing seems less concerted than Russia’s support for Trump. This may be due to Biden’s hardline statements against CCP human rights violations in Xinjiang or the fact that he is viewed more favorably by other democratic nations, threatening coalition-building potential. China’s efforts are also largely focused on political issues specifically related to Chinese business interests. For instance, the TikTok ban, the closure of Chinese consulates over accusations of industrial espionage, and resistance against Huawei’s 5G network. And for Iran, although the efforts certainly favor Biden, they appear to be more focused on encouraging mistrust in public institutions and circulating anti-American content than expressly denigrating Trump.

Compare this to Russian efforts, which have been the long-term continuation of the weaponization of social media through deep fakes, bot farms, disinformation, and trolling to support the Trump campaign since the 2016 election. Although Trump’s administration and the Republican party’s record on Russia has been largely harsh, Trump has personally expressed positive rhetoric and admiration for Putin. In addition, Biden was involved in anti-Russian policies based upon the invasion of Ukraine and pro-Putin opposition under the Obama administration.

Analysis:

It would appear that China and Russia are the key players in this election interference, with Iran played a subordinate role. Chinese efforts have been defined as being different from Russian. Although China is currently following Russia’s lead in weaponizing social media platforms, some worry that it may choose to follow a soft-power strategy that has shown promise in Australia and is far harder to combat under a democratic framework. In Australia, Chinese immigrants with connections to the CCP were found donating large sums of money to pro-Beijing political campaigns and attempting to influence Chinese-language media, civic groups, and on university campuses. These efforts are largely conducted through proxies and brushed aside by Beijing with rebuttals of plausible deniability. China has been promoting a positive public image in the U.S. for years through personal exchanges, relationships with American business leaders, retaliatory threats, lobbying, disinformation campaigns, and more.

All of this partisan mud-slinging obscures the real issue, however. To put it simply, Iran, China, and Russia are attempting to realize political outcomes in the U.S. that are advantageous to their respective regimes while concurrently damaging and ultimately shattering ordinary American’s faith in their public institutions. They appear to be succeeding, although the degree to which this is due to foreign interference is debatable. Doubt has been cast on the electoral process and this threatens all of us. Democracy is built upon confidence in the voting system and the integrity of public institutions, and to be frank, we were already on shaky ground due to controversy over the electoral college and big money’s influence on political outcomes.

In addition, we as liberals should not be downplaying China and Iran’s efforts to support the Biden campaign in favor of spotlighting Russia and Trump. These practices, no matter the source, should not be normalized or seen as less dangerous than Russian exertions. It also distracts from real infrastructure problems facing the coming 2020 election, such as the lack of poll workers and the weakening of the U.S. postal service’s capacity.

Despite the threat to our elections, however, U.S. intelligence sources have reiterated that it is unlikely that America’s enemies abroad can currently manipulate voting to the point of altering true results. The U.S. has greatly improved its cyber election defenses since 2016 and much of the public is aware of the threat from foreign interference. The bulk of disinformation is actually coming from domestic sources rather than abroad, with mostly right-wing sources copying and employing tactics made popular by Russia in 2016. This is probably a far greater threat than foreign interference, as social media companies cannot easily clamp down on private citizens within the U.S. who claim that they are simply disseminating their political opinions. 

Resistance Resources:

  • Rand Corporation – more information on voter consensus and the importance of public trust
  • Center for American Progress – discussion of Russian foreign interference in the 2016 elections and how we should approach interference in 2020
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