The unreliability of American foreign policy under the Trump administration

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PHOTO: MARTIN H. SIMON/ZUMA PRESS

On May 8, commonly known as Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day), the American President, Donald Trump announced his decision to leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran deal.  The US departure from the deal is a blow to the transatlantic community, multilateralism, and the non-nuclear proliferation regime. On V-E Day, the US president directly told his European counterparts that the word of the United States is unreliable, and that any commitment/deal made by the United States is effectively worthless. One caveat, in foreign policy, credibility is as important as interests.

Trump’s foreign policy has been in the making for now over a year. Early on, experts, including myself have framed Trump’s approach to world affairs as transactional. That was in the first 6-month of his presidency when he was still under tutelage of the traditional American foreign policy establishment. In year 2 of his mandate, Trump is now surrounded by his choosing, that includes John Bolton, as national security advisor, and Mike Pompeo, as US Secretary of State. Both opposed to the Iran deal. James Goldgeier is correct when emphasizing that “Bolton and Pompeo joining the team left [US Secretary of Defense] Mattis isolated in arguing the Iran deal was working.” Year 2 is about the implementation of the pledges made on the campaign trail. One major pledge and a driving force behind Trump’s foreign policy has been erasing Obama’s legacy.

President Obama understood that American foreign policy and interests can better be served via multilateralism and diplomacy. Obama had learnt the mistakes of foreign p071415ps-0184interventions made by his predecessor and favored in fact the used of targeted operations (for better or worst). Under his two mandates, President Obama managed to finalize the COP-21 agreement, the JCPOA, rebuild transatlantic relations (one attempt was the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and solidifying the US position in Asia with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). President Obama’s accomplishments had united the right and the Republican party and fuelled the message of candidate Trump on the campaign trail based on some sort of anti-globalist and anti-foreign policy elite defending the liberal order.

Once elected, President Trump did not wait too long before leaving the Paris climate deal, retrieving the US seat from the negotiation of the TPP, putting tariffs and quotas on aluminum and steel, moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and finally leaving the Iran deal. On the climate deal, the international community responded by reaffirming its commitment to meeting the goals defined in Paris without the US, one of the largest polluters. It was a disappointment for European allies. But many were not surprised considering the perceptions and rhetoric on climate change in the American political debate. The US withdrawal from the Paris climate deal sent the initial signal to Europe and the world about US foreign policy under Trump. But the successions of policy rebuttals are now building up in increasing tensions and discomfort between the two sides of the Atlantic. On the Iran deal, both French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been intensively lobbying the US president to reconsider its decision.

President Trump’s argument was that the Iran deal was one of the worst deals ever and that it did not do enough to address Iran’s ballistic program and curb Iranian foreign policy in the region. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial sums up very well the voice of the anti-Iran deal advocates. The Trump administration expects that by re-implementing the sanctions it would put so much pressure on the regime that it will ultimately bring it to collapse. President Trump and national security advisor Bolton are in fact hoping for regime change. When President Macron prepared his visit to the US a couple weeks ago, he talked on Fox News about not having a Plan B with regards to the Iran deal. The US neither has a Plan B today, nor one for tomorrow if the Iranian regime further radicalizes or even collapses.

From Europe’s point of view, the exit of the US from the Iran deal implies several dimensions: first, it undermines European commitment to multilateralism and more importantly the rules-based order, the centerpiece of European foreign policy. The Iranian nuclear deal is a “key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture.” It embodies a success for European diplomacy, which has been the main driver over 12 years of negotiations beginning with HR Javier Solana (E3+1). The Iran deal represents “the foremost proof of their [European] capacity to act coherently and effectively.”

Second, it creates a considerable financial and economic dilemma under the current circumstances. With the US departure and re-imposition of US sanctions, European companies could be in violation of such sanctions. It comes at the time when of the Trump administration unilaterally increased tariffs and quotas on aluminum and steel and the Europeans are currently receiving a temporary exemption. As mentioned by EU chief foreign policy Frederica Mogherini, “the European Union is determined to act in accordance with its security interests and to protect its economic investments.” French, British and German officials must now navigate some tricky waters as EU companies, such as Airbus, Danone, Renault, Total and Sanofi, could be facing penalties under US sanctions. The US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, told “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operation immediately.” The lack of understanding of diplomatic protocol by the American diplomat is quite telling.

chartoftheday_13783_iran_deal_the_eu_has_the_most_to_lose_n.jpg

Third, there are considerable geopolitical ramifications in a highly volatile region. The nuclear deal has played a role in maintaining a certain level of stability (at least status-quo). The Europeans are seeking to maintain the deal and are committed to “work collectively on a broader framework” covering Iran’s nuclear activity, ballistic missile program and seeking for greater stability in the Middle East.

Fourth, it demonstrates one more time the lack of willingness by European powers to assume their European sovereignty in advancing and defending European interests. President Macron in his acceptance speech of the Prix Charlemagne, asked this criticalMacron-PrixCharlemagne question: “Are we accepting the rule of the other or the tyranny of the events or are we making a choice by ourselves of a deep autonomy and yes, of a European sovereignty?”  The US-EU relations are deep and have evolved over time. Since the 1950s, Washington has called on Europeans to build up their power and influence, and Europe has struggled with such task. Now with the current administration, the EU and Europeans are facing a complex conundrum: developing a tough and united position against the Trump administration without damaging its relationship with the United States.

On V-E day, a day of commorancy of transatlantic unity defeating Nazism and fascism, the American president made a case for an America first, America alone (at the exception of Israel and Saudi Arabia), and for undermining the interest of the international community. The case made by President Trump and some of his foreign policy allies, like Senator Marco Rubio, is that the Iran deal was a political agreement signed by President Obama and not by Congress (which is true). For instance, Senator Rubio emphasized in a tweet that the deal was “not a binding agreement under US law b/c never submitted for Senate approval. It is a political agreement made by the previous administration.” This is a dangerous game to start playing and to justify major diplomatic shifts.

Now the concept of ‘America First’ may play very well with a specific segment of the American electorate, however, it is not effective with the international community. Reciprocity is a core dimension of international relations. Under the liberal order, the US has certainly advanced its interests, while having positive and beneficial outcomes for American allies. In the case of the Iran deal, the Paris agreement, the tariffs/quotas, American allies are obvious losers. President Trump wants to keep his promises to his base, but what about his European counterparts? How can a European leader defend transatlantic cohesion under the terms and conditions advanced by this administration?France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said EU states would propose sanctions-blocking measures to the European Commission. He even asked “Do we accept the vassalization of Europe in commercial matters? The answer is no.”

President Trump mentioned in withdrawal speech that his action sends a critical message that “the United States no longer makes empty threats.” We will see on this point as so far US interventions abroad under President Trump have been so limited and frivolous. Trump is making unilateral decisions with lasting consequences without any grasp of the issues and policy outcomes. In year 2, President Trump is continuously isolating the US by proving that American commitments are in fact empty promises.

(COPYRIGHT 2018 BY POLITIPOND. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED WITHOUT PERMISSION).
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2016 State of the Union – Obama’s Foreign Policy: A Patient and Discipline strategy?

Credit: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Credit: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

In his final State of Union, President Obama reflected on his past seven years in office, but most importantly tried to shape the debate on the campaign trail and for the next decades. On the question of foreign policy, President Obama raised two aspects: threats facing the country and his conception of leadership and American’s role in the world. One of his initial questions early in the address was  “How do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?” Such question has driven Obama’s foreign policy choices these last seven years and will continue to live on.

ISIL – The Non-Existential, but Omnipresent Threat

His contextual framework was very narrow and limited. President Obama skipped over most of the regions of the world in order to pinpoint terrorist networks like the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL). “In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states.”  Since the implosion of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the US has evolved in a unipolar and more recently multipolar world order. In this new global order, many states have failed and are now the roots of today’s regional chaos causing civil war, mass murders, fueling mass migration, and hosting terrorist networks.

In addressing the threat represented by ISIL, President Obama underlined that the first priority is protecting American people and going after terrorist networks. American foreign policy makers, as well as European partners, have been using tough rhetoric in order to defend their actions against ISIL, such as “rooted out, hunted down and destroyed.” Such argument fits in the continuous war that the United States has been waging against terrorism since President Bush in 2001. But how constructive have these ‘tough’ rhetorics been in addressing the problem?

A Disciplined Leadership

Once again, President Obama has called for restrain in using extensive military force in fighting ISIL. He recalled the lessons learned in Vietnam and Iraq. And this brought Obama to talk about his vision of leadership and the way the US should be using its power. “There’s a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy” argued Obama “that uses every element of our national power.” Such statement does reflect on the way President Obama has responded to emerging and pressing crises like Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Iraq, and so forth. Many experts and political leaders have compared such reflective type of leadership as a sign of weakness and

Credit: Politico.eu
Credit: Politico.eu

inaction contributing to the decline of American power and grandeur. But this reflective type of leadership ought to be merged with the Obama doctrine, which has been a foundation of his presidency.

Part of Obama’s foreign policy has been to increase cooperation with international partners especially European and some Asian powers. Obama underlined the need for the US of “rallying the world behind causes that are right.” In order to describe – and sale to a skeptical American electorate – the positives of international cooperation, President Obama listed a series of ‘successes’ like international efforts in Syria, the Iran nuclear deal, the fight against Ebola, the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TTP), the re-opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba and so forth (read several analyses on Iran, the TPP, Cuba, and Syria). Each issue, at the exception of the fight against Ebola, is still ongoing and requires legislative approval/support. Interestingly enough, President Obama did not mention one core international partner like the European countries, deeply involved in the fight against terrorist networks, or international organizations and so forth. Obama’s multilateralism was principally an American definition of the term, which could be summed up by his comments about the TPP. “With TPP, China doesn’t set the rules in that region, we do.”

Foreign Policy, or the Impossible Task

Obama’s comments on foreign policy were a long segment of his address. The section illustrated the overall tone of the address: a response to the constant attacks on the campaign trail and an assertion of the results of his strategy and policy choices. For such reason, it was a weak part. Narrowing the foreign threats at ISIL and other terrorist networks, and briefly mentioning climate change, was a disappointment. As mentioned, ISIL does not represent an existential threat to the US. The war on terrorism is seriously affecting and limiting the grand strategy of the US.

On the strategic aspects of the Obama doctrine and the successes of his foreign policy, once again it is difficult to identify any clear successes (as it is for any presidents). The Obama doctrine has permitted the US to use lethal force around the world without waging war on country, while violating core principles of international law. Merging the concept of multilateral successes and the issues from Ukraine, to Syria, to Iraq, to Colombia in the same sentence may be far stretched as well. Historically, this segment of the address has been used in order to comfort the democratic base, infuriate the hawks, and sadden the foreign policy experts.

(Copyright 2016 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Interview with O Globo on Russia in Syria

Earlier this week, Henrique Gomes Batista, the foreign correspondent of the O Globo in Washington D.C., a daily major national newspaper in Brazil, wanted to talk about Syria, Russia and the West. Politipond previously posted an analysis on the Russian incursion in Syria and what it means for the West. Here is the interview below (in Portuguese):

 

O Globo

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Global Survey on the Migration Crisis – The European Project on the Brink of Collapse?

Photo: Virginia Mayo / AP
Photo: Virginia Mayo / AP

The migration crisis is not ending and is in fact increasing the divide between EU Member States, overstretching the fondations of the EU (Schengen agreement), and underlining the lack of solidarity among European actors. If Germany was the model, or at least the moral authority of Europe, in terms of receiving asylum seekers (expected to be over 800,000 this year), Chancellor Merkel and her Minister of Interior, Thomas de Maizière, have announced over the weekend that Germany will be reinstating border control between Germany and Austria. Such move goes against the principles of the Schengen agreement and illustrates a needed response by Chancellor Merkel to domestic pressures. Interestingly enough, the implementation of border control comes a day prior the EU ministers meeting seeking to find a common solution to the current migration crisis.

After a month of data collection, the survey created and monitored by Politipond on the question of the migration crisis has finally closed (here is the link to the survey). The questionnaire was designed in a way that would permit to identify and analyze several variables: actorness of the EU; role and influence of the Member States; influence of domestic politics; European push towards greater integration; and European identities.

Sample and Questionnaire

The survey was composed of 10 mandatory questions with multiple-choice answers. The questionnaire was designed in order to analyze how global participants feel about the crisis, understand the crisis, and perceive the way EU Member States and institutions try to deal with the issue. The survey counts 38 participants from all around the world. None of the participants were solicited and most of them found out of the survey by either receiving the Politipond‘s newsletter or through social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin).

Source: Politipond. 2015
Source: Politipond. 2015

After a month of data collection, the largest participating countries were Portugal, the United States, France and Germany. These countries are an interesting sample as they incorporate the US, the quiet superpower, the Franco-German engine, and Portugal a member of Southern Europe. The US is an interesting actor as it has been very absent actor on the crisis, even though President Obama has recently announced some participation in welcoming refugees. Nevertheless, American media (The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, NPR, the Miami Herald, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times) have been covering the issue in depth for months and the American public opinion is deeply divided on the question. The issue of migration and immigration have been an important dimension in the current presidential campaign for 2016.

In the case of France and Germany, both countries are important historical partners that usually shape the direction of the Union. If Germany has proven to be the most welcoming EU Member State, with Sweden, France has been a much more cautious and observing actor. In recent days, France has expressed its support to Germany. Last but not least, Portugal is part of the infamous PIGS group (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) or Southern Europe. Portugal has, like his southern partners, faced serious socio-economic degradation since the collapse of the world markets. Portugal at the difference of Greece, Italy and Spain, is not a recipient of migrants due to its geographical position. However, the debate in Portugal has been focusing on the migration crisis.

Variables – Power, Institutions, and Identity

Credit: Politipond. 2015
Credit: Politipond. 2015

Each variables can be measured by countries and see if participants have diverging position based on their country of allegiance (see graph below). These variables sought to identify several aspects: institutional design and power; identity; and actors’ behaviors and actions. Question 1 and 3 received an overwhelming yes vote with 90% in favor of a common European asylum policy (which needs to be reformed as the current Dublin regulations are showing signs of weaknesses) and that solidarity is required in order to address such pressing issue. However on the question of mandatory national quotas promoted by the Commission, one third of the participants are opposed to such policy move by the supranational European body.

Question 5 and 6, looking at nationalist policies, received a high degree of no vote with an average of 85%. Participants seem to find counterproductive for Britain to put the blame on France for his lenient approach to addressing the number of refugees in camps in Northern of France. In addition, participants overwhelmingly expressed their opposition (90%) towards nationalist policies of closing borders and forcing migrants out.

7Countries
Source: Politipond. 2015

This graph above is identical to the previous one, but is looking in the way the four countries, with the highest degree of participants, responded to the same questions. On question 1 and 3, all four countries responded similarly. On question 2, Germany appears to be the least favorable towards national quotas promoted by the Commission. Question 6 on blaming French for not doing enough in Calais, both the US and Germany believe that France has been lenient and has not done enough in addressing the number of migrants in the camps. 12% of Portuguese participants claim that nationalist policies of closing the borders and forcing migrants out is an appropriate solution in addressing the migration crisis. On the last question of cooperation at the European level, French participants (32%) tend to believe that European leaders are working towards a common European solution.

Who is Responsible for the Crisis?

Source: Politipond. 2015
Source: Politipond. 2015

Not surprisingly, most participants blamed the Member States (29%), minus Italy and Greece (a total of 0%), for failing to address the crisis. The most interesting dimension is that failed countries, like Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, are seen as a large part of the blame with 26%. The EU is regarded to have failed in dealing with the crisis (with 13%). However, it is unclear what exactly the EU means as the Commission and the Parliament are not considered as responsible, which leaves the Council of Ministers and the European Council. Ultimately, the EU is usually considered as a black box without clear materialization of who does what. The traditional blame of the EU for failing to address a crisis is reflected in this study. But the graph demonstrates that participants tend to mis-understand the EU and what it is.

Call for Foreign Military Interventions?

4.Intervention
Source: Politipond. 2015

A missing aspect of the talk on solving the migration crisis has been foreign interventions. Most of debate consists in addressing the flows of migrants inside the European territory and the failed European asylum policies. However, one core dimension in solving, at least in the long term, the migration crisis will be to address the root causes in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Eritrea, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and so forth by stabilizing these territories, rebuilding the states and their authorities, lowering corruption and cronyism, and dealing with neighboring countries (read here an analysis on failed states published by EU Center at the University of Miami).

These conditions are central in order to permit future migrants to live productive lives in their home countries. The big question is how much the Euro-Atlantic community can be efficient in such missions in so many countries and are their public opinion in favor of such ‘sacrifice’? According to the results of the survey, 62% of participants consider that either military (27%) or civilian (35%) CSDP missions would permit to address some of the root causes. And with 14% of the votes, participants feel that national missions, like the ones deployed by the French army in Mali and Sahel regions, could be effective operations of stabilization and peace-building.

Interestingly, 76% of the participants are in favor of foreign interventions, either military or civilian, as opposed to 24% against any type of foreign interventions. Regardless of the small sample of the participants, 3/4 of them favor foreign interventions. The French government has expressed its position in favor of the use of force in Syria through air bombing. It seems that the French public opinion is in favor of such military road.

From a Fortress to a Borderless Union

5.Image
Source: Politipond. 2015

Images have been an important variables in shaping public opinion and creating an emotional reactions to the migration crisis (read a previous analysis on the topic here). Based on the results, the leading image in identifying the EU in dealing with the crisis is

Cartoon: Plantu
Cartoon: Plantu

‘Fortress Europe’ (with 43%) followed by ‘borderless Europe’ (34%). The identification of the EU as either a soft power or civilian power falls well behind and demonstrates the irrelevance of such terms. If Fortress Europe implies huge wall protecting the European territory, borderless Europe is its absolute antonym. The words borderless and fortress are fascinating as, despite their fundamental opposition, European citizens are using both concept interchangeably.

Normative Europe appears to be a construction by the EU to justify its moral behavior implying a certain degree of inaction and risk-averse foreign policies. If the concepts of ‘soft power’ and ‘civilian power’ are heavily used by European diplomats and experts, they are only part of the European dialect. In a recent work, that I participated on, on perceptions of the EU in the US (expected to be published in the Fall or early spring), it was demonstrated than ‘normative Europe’ barely exist outside Europe.

Leaders and Policy-Makers – Who Matters?

Source: Politipond. 2015
Source: Politipond. 2015

With an overwhelming majority (61%), participants argue that no European leader is in measure of making a difference in dealing with the current crisis.  Chancellor Merkel of Germany (11%) and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the Commission (8%), are the leading candidates in being the ones with the greater influence in the shaping of policy-making. Both players share a common vision of quotas and redistribution across the Union as well as opening the countries to the refugees. The interesting aspect is British Prime Minister Cameron (5%) coming into fourth position, with the Italian Prime Minister (5%). If the Italian PM is facing a serious crisis with the large influx of migrants crossing the country (it is estimated that 1/4 of them will eventually stay in Italy), British PM is trying to keep them outside of the island.

François Hollande of France and his European counterpart, HR Mogherini, are not perceived as being influential players. In the case of the French President, the number could be different a month later, however, the situation in Calais with the refugee camps is not playing in favor of the French President. HR Mogherini has not been as visible to the general public, but has been playing an important role in the deployment of the CSDP mission of EUNAVFOR Med off the coasts of Italy and Greece. She has been active on dealing with the foreign dimensions of the crisis. This aspect of the crisis has not been properly covered by the media, and most citizens are not concerned about such dimension.

The End of the European Dream?

The reinstatement of border control by Germany on the segment shared with Austria has led to a snowball effect with now Slovakia, the Netherlands and Austria announcing similar measures. Such political decision made by Berlin and now other EU Member States is a direct attack on a core principle of the EU, the Schengen agreement, which guarantees the free movement of people across the Union. Even though the Treaties offer the possibility for EU Member States to lift the open borders in case of emergency or national security, it is always a controversial move. In the case of the migration crisis, a lifting a the Schengen agreement, demonstrates the obvious:

  • inability to protect European borders and the neighborhoods,
  • inability to enforce the Dublin Regulations, which demonstrates the weakness of the integration process;
  • lack of solidarity among the 28 EU Member States,

The migration crisis underlined all the weaknesses, which have been denounced by experts for decades, of the EU all at once. It shows that the EU and its Member States have lived in this perpetual belief of post-sovereignty world and denial of the world shaped by hard power. In some ways, it seems that EU Member States and the EU have incorporated all the components described and advanced by Francis Fukuyama in his 1998 book of The End of History. Today, the refugees, seeking for a better world and a chance to raise their kids in a stable and secure environment, have brought the EU to the brink of failure, tear down the concept of European solidarity (if it ever existed), and brought the worst of European societies with the continuous rise of nationalism and xenophobia.

To the defense of the EU, it has one element in its favor, ability to adjust and reform in the worst of the storm. After over 60 years of existence, the EU has gone through several deep divides, like the period of the empty chair, the end of the Cold War, the divide over the Iraq crisis, the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty, the Euro crisis, and now the migration crisis. In each crisis, the Member States have been able to adjust and advance. But will this time be an other example of Europe’s ability to adapt? or, will it break? The results of the survey conducted over the month of August validate these comments and show that European citizens are highly dubious about the future direction of the Union and ability of their leaders to address the root causes of the crisis, while maintaining European cohesion. The migration crisis is overwhelming and stretching the European unity and structures to a level never experienced before.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Does the World Hate Russia?

Photo: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A large segment of the academic literature reflects on the power of attraction, known as well as soft power, of the European Union and the United States. But what about Russia? and Putin? What are the global perceptions of Putin’s Russia since the turn of the century? In a recent survey produced by the Pew Research Center, most of the world – aside from China, India, Ghana and Vietnam – has a largely unfavorable opinions of Russia and Putin (see below).

Russia-Image-World Opinion

The concept of soft power is a very theoretical concept famously developed by Joseph Nye in his book ‘Soft Power: The Mean to Succeed in World Politics’ (1998). His argument is directly connected with the earlier work produced by Antonio Gramsci. But Nye was able to take the core of Gramsci’s argument and bring it at the global level in order to talk about foreign policy. Gramsci was mostly concerned about domestic Italian politics and non-change in the 30s. When talking about opinions and perceptions, the concept of soft power is certainly directly connected as it does influence state’s foreign policy. But let’s take a look at the way the transatlantic community see and perceive Russia and Putin.

Transatlantic Perceptions of Russia and Putin

The US-Russian perceptions are very much aligned with change of leadership in the US (from Bush to Obama), policy change (failed 2009 reset policy and the pivot), and the regional crises (Ukraine, Syria) and domestic narratives controlled by Putin. The graph below claims that the opinions have worsened on both sides of the Altantic. The last two years of the Bush administration were a period little more stable between the two superpowers despite the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia. With the election of President Obama and his tentative to soften and deepen the relationship with Russia, the opinions of one another become more favorable in Russia (+13 point of %) than in the US (+6 point of %) though. From 2010 to the invasion of Crimea, the options were pretty stable. The lowest point was in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the war in Eastern Ukraine.

Russia-Image-US-Russia

Considering the European views and opinions of Russia, the Pew did not produce a graph, but included a set of numbers at the end of the survey. The transatlantic opinion is very homogenous since 2007 (since chart below). Not surprisingly France and the United Kingdom have had the most favorable opinion of Russia, and Poland the lowest in recent years. The US is in the mix of the transatlantic opinion. However, it would have been interesting to see how the Baltic and Nordic EU Member States (Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Denmark) and Eastern EU Member States (Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Austria) perceive Russia over the years. The survey failed in providing the data for these states.

Source: Pew Research Center. 2015. p.11
Source: Pew Research Center. 2015. p.11 / Data compiled by Politipond

Vladimir Putin, Global Villain?

A big part of the negative views of Russia in the US and Western Europe is directly connected to the person of Vladimir Putin. The press, academia, and think tank communities (here are some excellent works and examples such as book by Fiona Hill, and a book review of Karen Dawisha’s manuscript) have created some type of admiration/incomprehension around the person of Vladimir Putin. There is a certain fascination about Putin in the US and Western Europe as Vladimir Putin has been framed as either an irrational actor, or a master of realpolitik (read here and here previous analyses). In any case, the US and Americans have never had the highest degree of confidence in Putin.

Even though the impacts of Russian influences on the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine and 2008 war in Georgia were not major, as demonstrated by the data below, in affecting the confidence in Putin, the turning point was the incursion in Crimea and ultimately its annexation. Then with the lingering war in Eastern Ukraine, and even the ‘accidental’ targeting of the civilian Malaysian flight last summer, they have contributed in lowering the confidence and trust in Vladimir Putin. In some ways, the low degree confidence has been materialized in the isolation of Vladimir Putin, whom has been absent (or more accurately kick out of the G-8) of the recent G-7 meeting. In addition, Putin has not demonstrated being serious in trying to solve the Ukrainian crisis, as he was never committed to make the Minsk Protocol II work.

Russia-Image-Putin & US

All these graphs and data provided by the Pew highlight one common trend, most of the world share a common negative perceptions of Russia and his president. In the 21st century, it is quite rare to find such unanimous position on an issue. More seriously these data demonstrate that Putin’s Russia is not concerned about global perceptions. Putin has a vision for Russia and has demonstrated that he can not only remain in power (which he has done since 2000), control the domestic narrative (through playing the nationalist card and  limiting the freedom of press and civil society), and advance Russian interests where and when required.

European and American sanctions are certainly hurting the Russian economy, already weakened by the historically low prices of hydrocarbons, but Putin has been tactical in choosing which issues are important to fight for. For instance Ukraine is, but Iran was not so much as Putin, with his Chinese counterpart, agreed on the Vienna agreement in July. Putin will continue to fascinate and certainly won’t stop in leading Russia where he desires, with or without the approval of global opinions.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Cuba and Iran – Obama’s Legacy or Diplomatic Victories?

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

President Obama appears to be working on solidifying his legacy in the last years of his second mandate. His two real diplomatic victories are coming at the last mile of his presidency with the closing of the nuclear deal with Iran and the reopening of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Even if the future looks bright for President Obama in starting his last year in office, and especially for his legacy, his administration has been looking for a clear diplomatic identity throughout the reigns of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry at the helm of the US Department of State.

The Cuban-Iranian Files

In a matter of weeks, the US diplomatic body has offered the US two great diplomatic victories starting with the nuclear deal with Iran and the resumption of diplomatic

Photo: U.S. Department of State
Photo: U.S. Department of State

relations between Cuba and the US. In the case of the nuclear deal with Iran, it began in 2003 with a European diplomatic mission, the EU 3+1 (France, the United Kingdom, Germany + the High Representative Javier Solana). In 2003 the US had just waged war against Iraq and was not inclined in participating in the nuclear talks with Tehran (still today the members of the Bush administration are still fighting against a diplomatic deal with Iran as illustrated in the recent piece by John R. Bolton). China, Russia and the US joined the Europeans in 2006 as part of the P5+1 format (5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany). In September 2013, the US initiated the first direct talks between Washington and Tehran since 1979. From 2013 to July 2015, both capitals with Paris, London, Moscow and Beijing worked on finding a deal. Even though a large part of the success goes to Kerry and his team, the Europeans, lead by three successive High Representatives with Javier Solana, Catherine Ashton and Federica Mogherini, played a crucial roles throughout the process. At the lowest point of the relations with Iran, the EU was axiomatic in initiating and maintaining the negotiations at least alive. The last two years of negotiations led by John Kerry and the US demonstrated to be essential in the agreement of a deal. Despite missing the original deadline of June, the world powers and Iran finally agreed on the Vienna accord, which now needs to be approved by the US, Iran and other powers.

The re-opening of the relations with Cuba is a second landmark for the Obama administration. If the Iranian file was not certain to translate into an agreement, the

Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

opening of relations with Cuba was only a matter of time. Aside from the powerful Cuban lobby and its two republican spears, Senator and presidential hopeful Marco Rubio and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, wanting to maintain the 55 year old embargo, the rest of the US does not really feel any emotional connection to this reminiscence of the Cold War (read here an interesting piece by Simon Kuper about the perception of the US policy towards Cuba in Miami). In his December 2014 speech, President Obama announced the change of this “rigid policy” towards Cuba and that “a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban.” On July 20th, the Cuban embassy officially opened in D.C.

The Cuban and Iranian openings share one element in common, Obama’ strategic intelligence of cautious diplomatic negotiations. With both countries, the US has some serious concerns about democratic principles and values, the lack of free press, the oppression by the state of individuals and civil societies, their human rights records and so forth. But both countries are important for the US for several reasons: first, they are important regional players. Iran is central for the stability of the Middle East and finalizing wars in Iraq and Lebanon. Cuba is so close from the US southern borders that a failed state could be disastrous in terms of human and drug trafficking. Then, in order to bring ‘change’ or at least transformation in societies that have been locked since the 50s for Cuba and 79 for Iran, it will take time. The best way to open up the countries and permit from a bottom-up transformation is to bring them back into the community of nations.

Now the chances that both countries become allies of the US in the future remain thin. The Ping Pong Diplomacyopening of the US-China relations initiated by Nixon was central for the current relations between both superpowers. There are certainly not always peaceful, but both countries are today so interdependent and intertwined. However, China is not the type of country that the US dreamed of, an open-democracy. With almost five decades of cooperation between China and the US and a clear reflection on the level and depth of the current tensions between both partners, one could imagine how they could have been without the implementation of the ping-pong diplomacy leading to the visit of Nixon to China in 1972. So let’s apply this model on the Iranian and Cuban case.

Diplomacy in the 21st century

Diplomacy in the early 21st century has become a dirty word in American politics. In a field, that is extremely conservative and principally framed and informed by realists, for Obama to have implemented and closed, almost simultaneously, on two diplomatic deals is a real accomplishment in such. However, Obama’s foreign policy has certainly lacked of a clear identity and direction since 2008. For instance, Obama initiated once arriving in power a shift, or pivot, to Asia requiring American’s partners, namely the Europeans, to increase their power and influence in the neighboring regions. Aside from the French, the Europeans were unwilling (look at the Brits) and unable to perform such missions in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Obama and the US were brought back in the European sphere of influence quickly considering the crises in Eastern Europe, Middle East and North Africa (Syria, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon), Iraq and Yemen. The US foreign policy appears to be, yes successful, but less influential in shaping world events. Obama could not do what he had envisioned and had to instead settle for what was possible/achievable.

Now let’s be clear on the fact that both diplomatic efforts are directly aligned with American interests. In the case of Iran, bringing back Iran into the community of nations is already a positive step. The Obama administration was right on focusing solely about the issue of nuclear production and avoiding Iran to get the bomb, at least in the next decade, instead of trying to include all types of prerogatives requesting for domestic reforms and change. Sticking to the nuclear deal was the main reason for a successful agreement. Certainly the US will have to reassure its regional allies, namely Israel and Saudi Arabia, which will materialize through new arms deal and commitment of eventual engagement in case of serious tension. In the case of Cuba, the US has nothing to lose and will instead gain more. The US has to position itself considering that European governments have been shifting their positions towards the island. Both diplomatic openings with Cuba and Iran are not an approval of the regimes and their ideologies, but simple diplomatic success on important regional and global security matters.

In the 1960s, France and Israel were extremely closed allies. So close that France provided

Photo: Fritz Cohen / GPO
Photo: Fritz Cohen / GPO

the nuclear bomb to Israel. After a long friendly relations between David Ben-Gurion, Israeli Prime Minister and French President Charles de Gaulle, France started to shift from Israel to Arab nations as the country needed gas and oil. After this shift, Ben-Gurion wrote a letter to Charles de Gaulle, saying that he thought that they were friends. To this, de Gaulle responded that people have friends; nations have interests. By working with the Iranians and with the Castro regime, President Obama is not seeking for friendship, he is simply working on advancing American interests. Obama has certainly advanced American interests on both issues, but what about his legacy?

The concept of legacy needs to taken with some lightness for two reasons. First, legacies are made because of time. Historians are more inclined to validate one’s legacy than other social scientists much more focused on the present. A serious historical reading of Obama’s achievements can only take place in several decades (read here a piece by Robert Dalleck in Politico raising some caution about using the concept of legacy too soon). Second, one’s legacy is usually solidified by his/her successor. A continuation of Obama’s foreign policy, most likely with the election of Hillary Clinton, would ultimately play in favor of Obama in engraving his domestic and international landmarks. Until then, President Obama has sealed two diplomatic victories.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

British Elections, or the Illustration of a National Malaise

Source: Euronews
Source: Euronews

Is the United Kingdom, especially Britain, sick? For years, the media has called France the sick man of Europe, it appears that Britain has caught a similar cold. If France is facing dire economic conditions and is unable to implement real reforms launching the economic engine once and for all, Britain has for its part disappeared from the European and international stage. Britain is on election mode and these elections are serious for the future of Britain and its future within the European Union. Because Britain has fallen from the table of relevance, the general European public is unaware of them. May 7th will be a big day for Britain, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.

The election is being disputed between seven candidates. The two main candidates belong to the two big parties: conservative led by Prime Minister David Cameron; and the Labor led by Ed Miliband. The others are from smaller parties, which have nevertheless shaped the debate, like the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, the Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland, the Greens, and UK Independence Party (UKIP). These smaller parties may not produce the next Prime Minister, but “could hold the balance of power in the next Parliament, making government policy subject to negotiation.” The expectation is to see either Miliband or Cameron winning the popular vote. So far, the campaign has revolved around the following three issues: the economy, health care, and immigration.

Risk-Aversion or Pessimistic Isolationism?

Since the election of Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010 Britain has lost some of its grandeur and relevance. Just on foreign and defense policy, Britain has disappeared from

Credits: Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Credits: Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

the international arena. From a mid-size power to a small power, Britain lost its appetite for international relevance and action. The turning point was the no vote by the Parliament for a military intervention in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad in August 2013. Since then, Prime Minister Cameron has just looked inward and tried to clean up the house letting foreign affairs aside. Ed Miliband, Labor Party Leader, has described Cameron’s foreign policy of “pessimistic isolationism,” and for electoral purposes argued that Cameron has “weakened Britain.”

In terms of foreign policy, Britain has been a no-show on really important issues like Ukraine (France and Germany signed the Minsk agreement with Russia), on sanctions against Russia, on Libya, on the migration crisis, on Africa, on fighting ISIS in Syria and Libya and so forth. Britain is only assisting the US on bombing ISIS in Iraq. In Africa, Britain is barely assisting the French in the mission in Mali and has expressed very limited interests in fighting Boko Haram. The absence of Britain and Cameron on dealing with Putin and Russia over the question of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine has been damaging to the credibility of the country and the EU on trying to solve serious regional crises.

One reason for such risk-aversion by Britain is the Iraq and Afghan campaigns. The costs on going to war in Iraq with the Americans in 2003 are still being felt. Then the mission in Afghanistan lasted over a decade and Britain does not want anymore to get drag down in another foreign campaign with no success at the end, which Syria and Libya could very much be. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Britain has not been able to justify the size and length of both missions and the population has grown opposed to another foreign intervention.

Letting your Allies down

The US is now extremely worried about the future of the ‘special relationship.’ Britain may tend to believe that the ‘special relationship’ is set in stone, but like any relationship, without discussion and connection they tend to dry out and die. Britain cannot expect the US to be its closest ally when Britain does not reciprocate. Maybe the British leadershiparticle-0-0C42551000000578-462_634x393 believes that all GOP candidates ought to pass by London in order to be presidential, but so far none of them has been successful at it – recall McCain and Romney – and a talk in London by a non-elected and/or elected official in his personal capacity does not make up for the core of the ‘special relationship.’ Additionally, the US saw the move by the Foreign Office to decide to make Britain a founding member of Beijing’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a competitor of the World Bank, as some sort of backstabbing. France, Italy, and Germany have followed the UK on this policy-choice.

For France and Europe, an inward looking Britain is a real concern as well. France and Britain have certainly a long past fighting one another, but there is one core dimension wherein Paris and London see eye to eye: defense and foreign policies. European defense was created, functioned and has deepened thanks to the Franco-British couple. The Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) was established ensuing the 1998 bilateral Saint-Malo meeting. Since the disappearance of Britain on common defense questions, France has become anxious. For instance, top French expert, Camille Grand of the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique argued in the New York Times that “We in Paris understand that Germany is a complicated partner on defense, but the assumption is that Britain is a like-minded country ready to intervene, would spend enough on defense and remain a nuclear weapons state. All this is being challenged, and it makes Paris feel lonely.” Despite some historical and cultural divergences, Paris and London have always shared a common acute sense of foreign affairs and valued their cooperation in foreign, security and defense policies.

So Long Britain?

Britain is an interesting European case for two reasons: first, the raison d’être of its political class has become so anti-European that it goes against its national interest; second, there is no long-term vision for Britain in interacting with Europe and the world.

Britain must for once and for all accept its role and place within the European Union. If it wants to leave, the referendum ought to be implemented and the country will adjust accordingly towards a Brexit or not (see the short video above). But having Britain being so anti-European and

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Credits: Olivier Hoslet/AFP/Getty Images

blocking any initiatives (against the CAP, against a large common budget, against police and judiciary cooperation, against the Schengen agreement, and so on) in Brussels is counter-productive for Britain, the EU, and the 28 EU Member States. For instance, having London fighting for the increase of the budget of Operation Triton is counterproductive. The perpetual fear of lost of sovereignty and stripping away British independence cannot last any longer. A balance ought to be found between anti-EU and constructive bargaining.

Second, the British political class, as its French counterpart, is composed of visionless politicians. There is no long-term vision for their respective countries with serious political, economic, social and financial agendas. There are only bureaucrats seeking for perpetual reelection at great cost for the country. Hopefully, the May 7th elections will allow British citizens and politicians to reflect on the role of Britain in Europe and the world. This is only wishful thinking, as in reality the general election appears to be another wasted opportunity for a clear national reflection on Britain’s future.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).