You are here

Foreign Policy in Focus

Subscribe to Foreign Policy in Focus feed
A think tank without walls
Updated: 10 min ago

Italy’s Election Is All About Immigrants, and It’s Getting Ugly

11 hours 40 min ago

Daniele Testa / Flickr

Italian elections are always complex affairs, but the upcoming March 4 vote is one of the most bewildering in several decades: the right is resurgent, the left embattled, and the issue drawing the greatest fire and fury has little to do with the economic malaise that has gripped the country since the great economic crash of 2008.

These days predicting election outcomes in Europe is a fool’s game because the electorate is so volatile — a state one hardly can blame it for, given the beating people have taken from the almost decade-long policies of the European Union.

The organization’s rigid economic strictures for dealing with the debts incurred from the 2008 crisis — social service cutbacks, tax hikes, massive layoffs, and privatization — have sharply increased economic inequality throughout the continent and created a “lost generation” of young people: poorly educated, unemployed, and locked into low paying part-time jobs (if they manage to find one).

There has been a surge of right-wing parties throughout the EU, but the analysis that voters are turning right is too simplistic.

Voters in Germany did put the Nazi Alternative for Germany in the Bundestag, but mostly because they were fed up with the “stay-the-course” mainstream parties that offered them little more than austerity and more austerity. Dutch voters demolished their social democratic Labor Party, not because it was left, but because it was timidly centrist. Much the same was true for the French Socialist Party.

When center-left and left parties challenge austerity, voters reward them, as they did in Britain and Portugal. It’s not so much that the compass is swinging right, but rather that it is spinning.

The Italian elections are a case in point.

The Front Lines of the Refugee Crisis

Italy has one of the highest debt ratios in the EU, distressing unemployment figures — 11.4 percent nationally, and up to 36 percent among the young — a troubled banking sector, and a deteriorating infrastructure. Garbage — quite literally — is overwhelming Rome.

But instead of seeking solutions, most parties are talking about African and Middle East immigrants, a focus that is revealing an ugly side of the peninsula.

Hate crimes have risen 10-fold since 2012, and 20 percent of Italians admit to being anti-Semitic. The anti-fascist organization Infoantifa Ecn has recorded more than 140 neo-fascist attacks since 2014.

Italy currently plays host to some 620,000 immigrants — and since France, Austria, and Switzerland tightened their borders, those people are stuck in Italy. The EU has been little help. While Brussels was willing to shell out over $6 billion to Turkey to deal with the flood of immigrants generated by the wars in Syria and Yemen, Italy has been left to deal with the problem by itself.

A Cry in the Wilderness

Immigrants not only have virtually nothing to do with the crisis in banking, the slow growth of the economy, or the persistently high numbers of unemployed, they are a solution to a looming “apocalypse”: Italy’s extremely low birth rate, the lowest in the world after Japan.

Italian women give birth to 1.39 children on average, but the replacement ratio for the developed world is 2.1.

“If we carry on as we are and fail to reverse the trend, there will be fewer than 350,000 births in 10 year’s time, 30 percent less than in 2010 — an apocalypse,” says Italian Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin. “In five years we have lost more than 66,000 births” per year, Lorenzin told La Republica — the equivalent of a city the size of Siena. “If we link this to the increasingly old and chronically ill people, we have a picture of a moribund country.”

A major obstacle to increased birth rate is that Italy has the second lowest percentage of women in the workforce in the EU, only 37 percent. The EU average is between 67 percent and 70 percent. An 80-euro a month baby bonus has flopped because many schools let out at noon and childcare is expensive.

The problem is EU-wide, where the average replacement ratio is only 1.58. The Berlin Institute for Population and Development estimated that Germany would need at least 500,000 immigrants a year for the next 35 years to keep pensions and social services at their current levels.

“A Social Bomb”

But Lorenzin’s warning is a cry in the wilderness.

Immigrants are a “social bomb that is ready to explode,” says former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose right-wing Forza Italia Party is in coalition with the xenophobic Northern League and the fascist Brothers of Italy. The coalition is currently running in first place, with about 36 percent of the vote. “All these migrants live off of trickery and crime,” he told Canale 5, a station he owns.

Not to be outdone by Berlusconi, Giogia Meloni of the nationalist Brothers of Italy party calls for a “naval blockade” and “trenches” to ward off migrants. Meloni launched her campaign for prime minister in Benito Mussolini’s city of Latina, and the late dictator’s granddaughter is a party candidate.

Matteo Salvini, the Northern League’s candidate for prime minister, kicks it up a notch: immigrants, he says, bring “chaos, anger, drug dealing, thefts, rape, and violence,” and pose a threat to “the white race.”

Nationwide, crime rates are falling in Italy.

The idiosyncratic Five Star Movement — polling at 28 percent — is less bombastic, but it has taken to immigrant bashing as well. Its candidate for prime minister, Luigi Di Mario, also calls immigrants a “social bomb,” and the party was conspicuously silent when a neo-fascist recently gunned down six African migrants in the town of Macerata.

The center-left Democratic Party was initially open-armed to immigrants, but it has since pulled up the welcome mat and started returning refugees to Libya.

Italy is very much a country of regions: a prosperous north, a generally well-to-do center, and an impoverished south.

Five Star is doing well in the south, but so is Berlusconi’s coalition. Five Star’s call for a minimum wage is popular in Calabria, Puglia, Basilicata, and Sicily — the so-called Mezzogiorno macro-region of the south — but Berlusconi won last spring’s elections in Sicily, just edging out Five Star.

The Northern League — which is polling at around 15 percent — has dropped “Northern” in an effort to appeal to voters in central and south Italy, but the latter are not likely to cast ballots for Salvini. Up until recently Salvini routinely referred to southerners as “terroni,” a derogatory term. Southern Italians have long memories.

Left on the Rocks

It is the left and center-left that is in trouble.

Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s wing of the Democratic Party moved to the center, and is now paying the price for that maneuver. While critical of the EU’s austerity policies, the party nevertheless implemented them, bailed out banks, and did little about joblessness. The Democratic Minister of Labor, Giuliano Poletti, encouraged unemployed young Italians to emigrate “rather than get under our feet,” not a comment likely to endear the party to the young.

The Democratic Party is not xenophobic like Five Star and Berlusconi’s coalition, but neither is it willing to directly challenge the myths around immigration. The party is allied with the Free and Equal party, representing the left of the Democratic Party, but the party is brand new and it is not clear how well it will poll.

There is, as well, a center to center-left coalition of eight parties built around the Popular Civic party and its candidate, Health Minister Lorenzin. But Popular Civic is also a new party, and how it will do March 4 is uncertain.

There is also a new electoral law that combines proportional representation with first-past-the-post results, and it is not clear how that will translate into seats in the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies and 315-seat Senate. A party needs 3 percent to be represented in the parliament.

It is doubtful that anyone will “win” outright. Five Star may get the most votes, but it will have to ally itself with another party to form a government. In the past it has rejected doing so, but it’s recently moderated its opposition to joining with another party — possibly the Northern League.

Berlusconi’s coalition might take the largest number of votes, but enough to win a majority? If the South goes Forza Italia rather than Five Star, maybe. There is a caveat here: right-wing parties tend to do better at the ballot box than they poll.

Forza Italia has positioned itself as the defender of the EU against the “populists” of Five Star, but most of the anti-EU parties — Five Star included — have trimmed back their threats to withdraw from the Union or abandon the euro currency.

Inclusion, Not Austerity

In the end it might be a hung government, and “fractious” would be an understatement. Whoever comes out on top will still have to tackle the underlying crisis, on which immigration has no bearing.

The central problem is the economic policies of the EU, whose austerity-driven solutions are costing the organization support. Only 36 percent of Italians have a favorable opinion of the EU, and that viewpoint is not restricted to Italy. Faith in the EU has fallen from 38 percent to 32 percent in France.

As for the immigrants: Not only are they not the problem, they are a long-term solution to Italy’s — and the EU’s — looming demographic crisis.

The post Italy’s Election Is All About Immigrants, and It’s Getting Ugly appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Conn Hallinan can be read at and

The Ideology That Unites Trump and the Authoritarians He Admires

12 hours 40 min ago

Donald Trump with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: White House / Flickr)

Washington and New Dehli are having a mutual lovefest these days.

Donald Trump is popular in India — where only 17 percent of the population considers the president “intolerant,” compared to a global average of 65 percent — and he has warmly welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House. Both leaders are eager to bump up bilateral security cooperation to the next level.

Even Donald Trump, Jr. is getting in on the act. He’s visiting India this week as part of the Trump organization’s myriad economic connections to the subcontinent. Indians, treating the president’s son as a representative of the White House, are paying a lot of rupees to gain access to his ear.

Who can blame them? It’s virtually impossible to disaggregate the different components of the Trump megaplex.

The U.S.-India love connection, which predates Trump, is based on mutual economic interest and similar concerns about Pakistan and China. But Trump and Modi bring something else to the equation. Both leaders share a personalistic, business-friendly governing style best captured by Modi’s phrase “minimum government, maximum governance.”

But there’s another, underlying similarity. Trump is borrowing a page from Modi’s book on how to advance majoritarian politics in a multiethnic country.

“Majoritarianism insists on different tiers of citizenship,” writes Mukul Kesavan in The New York Review of Books. “Members of the majority faith and culture are viewed as the nation’s true citizens. The rest are courtesy citizens, guests of the majority, expected to behave well and deferentially.”

This kind of majoritarianism is most prominently on display these days in Myanmar — where the government considers the Rohingya minority to be foreigners, not citizens at all, and thus has no problem expelling them (or, in some cases, killing them). Majoritarianism has also been a major feature of political life in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

In India, meanwhile, Modi heads a right-wing nationalist party that believes that the country is essentially Hindu with no particular obligation to guarantee minority rights. Indeed, several disturbing examples of mob rule have taken place during Modi’s tenure, and the government has both explicitly and through various dog whistles appealed to Hindus over (and against) Muslims.

As Kesavan points out, majoritarianism is not simply Islamophobia — in India or Myanmar or anywhere else.

Majoritarian politics results from the patiently constructed self-image of an aggrieved, besieged majority that believes itself to be long-suffering and refuses to suffer in silence anymore. The cultivation of this sense of injury is the necessary precondition for the lynchings, pogroms, and ethnic cleansing that invariably follow.

The besieged majority: What better way of capturing the appeal of Trumpism in the United States? In the looking-glass world of 2018, Donald Trump, too, has a dream: to make white people, regardless of the contents of their character, once again supreme.

Of course, majoritarianism looks a little different in the United States than in South Asia. But this malign philosophy helps explain not only some political dynamics in America, but also the pattern of friendships that Trump has developed around the world.

Deplorables vs. Dreamers?

The underlying message of “Make America Great Again” is to return the country to an age of majoritarian politics, when white people controlled everything on behalf of white people and when everyone else was accorded second-class citizenship.

After the victories of the civil rights movement and other social movements, some white people have acquired the mentality of a besieged majority: They fear that they will lose their remaining privileges, like members of an elite frequent flyer program forced to sit back in economy class. Perhaps only a minority of white people — mostly white men — feel like a besieged majority. But for the next decade or so, before demographics decisively downgrade white status, this group will continue to flex its political muscle.

Trump’s appeals to this group follow in a sordid American tradition of racist and anti-immigrant movements such as the Know-Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan. The conflicts that swept through the United States in the 19th and early 20th century resembled, avant la lettre, the communal strife that accompanied the consolidation of modern nations in South Asia. America narrowly avoided partition in the 1860s, but not the “lynchings, pogroms, and ethnic cleansing” of majoritarian politics that followed. Even the mass population transfers that took place between India and Pakistan could be detected in the Great Migration of African Africans to the North beginning in the Jim Crow period.

Today, Trump has cleverly given the “besieged majority” a platform on immigration, economic policy, and the “history” question. On the economy, Trump promised to revive sunset industries that have traditionally been white bastions, such as coal in Appalachia and manufacturing in the Midwest. On history, Trump has argued that by removing the statues of Confederate heroes, “they’re trying to take away our culture.” The “our” is a telling touch, since it could refer equally to the U.S. or to white people.

The immigration question in particular continues to bedevil the administration and Congress. To get a deal that would allow the Dreamers — young people brought to the United States as children who remain undocumented — liberals have even been willing to approve funding for Trump’s famous wall along the border with Mexico. Basically, the Democratic Party was poised to pay a ransom of almost $14,000 a head to save the Dreamers (that’s $25 billion for the wall in exchange for 1.8 million Dreamers staying in the United States).

Trump, however, said no, despite all sorts of assurances that he cares very deeply about the Dreamers. You’d think that the president would be concerned about the public opinion polls that show a large majority of Americans — around 70 percent — in favor of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

But that’s the problem with a president who has such low favorability ratings. He doesn’t need to compromise to maintain his base of support because that base is so narrow in the first place. Only 18 percent of Americans support Trump unconditionally, according to a recent CBS poll, and another 23 percent do so only when he delivers what they want.

Here, then, is the most dangerous consequence of a president embracing majoritarian views held by only a minority of the majority. Trump sees no reason to reach beyond his base. As The Washington Post put it:

The president, along with Mr. McConnell, is intent on a blame game, not a solution. He suggested no compromises and engaged in no negotiations, preferring to stick with maximalist demands. Despite barely mentioning it as a candidate, Mr. Trump has not budged from insisting on a plan to reduce annual legal immigrants to the United States by hundreds of thousands, to the lowest level in decades.

The last line contains the kicker — the population transfer that Trump yearns to orchestrate.

In addition to deporting the Dreamers, the undocumented, and those with temporary protected status like Salvadorans and Haitians, Trump wants to keep out as many folks from “shithole” countries as he can. If he gets his way, the administration is looking to “transfer” several million people out of the country, nearly comparable to the population transfer out of India at the time of partition in 1947. Going the other way in Trump’s dream world would be a trickle of Norwegians and other racially acceptable immigrants.

White House / Flickr

Majoritarians of a Feather

Trump and Modi are only two of the new global leaders who have come to the forefront championing the interests of the “besieged majority.”

Vladimir Putin came to power in Russia by going after the Chechens, whom he blamed for a series of suspicious apartment building bombings. Putin has since taken aim at all manner of minorities, from the LGBTQ community to the liberals that oppose his concentration of power. He’s emphasized that traditional values serve as a bulwark against what he’s called “aggressive minorities.”

Benjamin Netanyahu has driven Israel into a corner by rejecting Palestinian (and international) demands for a two-state solution. The Jewish majority is fast on its way to becoming a minority within Israel. Once constituting 87 percent of the population in 1950, Jews are now close to parity with Arabs if you count everyone in the Occupied Territories and Gaza (6.1 million Jews and 5.8 million Arabs). Yet Netanyahu continues to advocate on behalf of the “besieged majority” by supporting illegal settlements, rejoicing in the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and kowtowing to the country’s religious right.

Saudi Arabia, a Sunni majority country, is also home to a large Shiite minority of about 10 percent of the population. Riyadh has systematically discriminated against this minority — in part because of fears of its links to Iran. The Saudi government has imprisoned and executed leading members of the community and has even effectively waged war against Shi’ites in the city of Awamiya.

I’ve chosen these three countries because Donald Trump has formed strong bonds with Putin, Netanyahu, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. But there’s no shortage of other leaders that fall into this category — Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. They all aspire to follow the South Asian example.

Majoritarianism has morphed into one of the 21st century’s greatest threats. The “tyranny of the majority” that America’s founding fathers warned about has become a reality thanks to the failure of left liberalism to sell multiculturalism more effectively.

Majoritarianism has evolved into a knee-jerk response to what globalization offers, for better or worse — from increased trade and greater flows of immigrants and refugees to the freer exchange of information behind both rapid technological transformation and the demands of transnational human rights movements. Nationalism, a disguise that the majority dons to make their demands somehow more palatable, is a bunker that a country can crawl into to survive the high winds of change.

The institutions that stand against the majoritarians are old and in need of some serious overhaul.

The United Nations was formed in the aftermath of World War II. The European Union and other regional organizations were in part responses to the Cold War. The international financial institutions were likewise forged in a different era. Meanwhile, the institutions that form the nervous system of our brave new world, like Facebook and Twitter and Google and Amazon, view multiculturalism as a way to maximize profit, like those old “United Colors of Benetton” ads that featured a multicultural array of models that made the clothes seem chic and edgy. At least Benetton was willing to ruffle some feathers with its campaign.

Combatting majoritarianism requires a new campaign and new institutions. That’s my dream: a world that recognizes that multiculturalism isn’t just cool but essential to democratic politics, strong economies, and healthy societies that don’t tear themselves apart from the inside.

Where, oh where has this internationalism gone?

The post The Ideology That Unites Trump and the Authoritarians He Admires appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands.

The Rohingya, R2P, And Civilian Protection

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 8:30am

Displaced Rohingya mother (Wikimedia Commons)

Imagine being forced to flee your home because the military is attacking and killing your neighbors, burning down your village, and raping and abducting your wife and children. You want to turn to your government for help, but it doesn’t even recognize you as a citizen. Your only options are to flee, or be killed. This is the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar.

There has been a great deal of denial out of Myanmar’s government about the violence inflicted on the Rohingya—who is responsible, who is being harmed—but the facts speak for themselves.

Between August 25 and September 24 of 2017 alone, approximately 6,700 civilians were killed in Rakhine State on Myanmar’s west coast. Human Rights Watch reports that 215 villages have been burned. Civilians have been fleeing for their safety, and now there are currently upwards of 870,000 Rohingya refugees in neighboring Bangladesh.

There is no denying what is happening to the Rohingya. For the first time in years, the UN Security Council is in agreement about the scope of the atrocities, and the secretary general is referring to the situation as “catastrophic.” According to a U.S. State Department official, “it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine State constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.” Officials have steered clear of using the term “genocide,” but seem to be in agreement that a targeted ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya is taking place.

Violence against the Rohingya population is not new. They have been continuously discriminated against, oppressed, and violently attacked over the past few decades. With no recourse, and with the violence often coming from the military itself, they are left with few options.

In a situation such as what’s unfolding in Myanmar, the international community must look to established mechanisms to respond. In the case of ethnic cleansing, and potential genocide, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) should guide that response. R2P offers three pillars—the responsibility to prevent, to respond, and to rebuild—as guidelines to addressing looming and already occurring atrocity crimes. With ethnic cleansing unfolding in Myanmar, a determined commitment to R2P could save the Rohingya’s lives.

How Has the U.S. Responded to the Crisis?

Having signed the 2005 World Outcome Document, which included text about the Responsibility to Protect, the U.S. has stated that it believes that each state has a responsibility to protect its citizens from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Further, if states are unable or unwilling to do so, the United States accepts that the international community has a responsibility to step in and protect those civilians.

In terms of the Rohingya crisis, according to a senior State Department official, “efforts by the United States on this crisis have focused first on ending the violence; second on ensuring a path for repatriation for those displaced; third, expanding access for humanitarian assistance and the media in Rakhine State; seeking accountability for reported atrocities; and supporting longer-term solutions for the root causes of tensions and conflict in Rakhine State.”

Although not specifically referencing R2P in statements and reports, the U.S. has implemented aspects of the doctrine as it responds to the crisis in Myanmar through talk, aid, and sanctions.

There has been a great deal of talk—as there always is—condemning actions, making expectations clear, expressing alarm, welcoming cooperation, and so on. One of the key strategies seems to be a focus on building strong communication with the fledgling democratic government in Myanmar. There has been an effort to sustain the young government, working with the new—though controversial—leader Aung San Suu Kyi. In his testimony to Congress, Patrick Murphy of the State Department noted, “It is in our interests, and those of the diverse populations of Burma, including the Rohingya, to see the new, elected government succeed.”

Additionally, the U.S. has been sending financial assistance to the region. During 2017, the U.S. government gave nearly $104 million in aid through the State Department and USAID to assist both internally displaced peoples and refugees—most of whom have ended up in Bangladesh. This is a good start, but will likely not be enough to sustain the hundreds of thousands of refugees. The flow of people continues, and the reality is that the Rohingya will not be able to safely return home in the near future. Thus, continued and substantial aid will be needed for years to come.

Lastly, the U.S. began implementing targeted sanctions. As a part of R2P’s efforts to stave off military intervention, targeted sanctions are among the strategies that can help minimize the movement and effectiveness of perpetrators. Thus far, the U.S. has implemented sanctions on Maung Maung Soe, former chief of the Burmese Army. Congress has asked for broader sanctions with the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act (S. 2060), barring military assistance as well as some trade. To date, however, only the one military leader has been sanctioned.

In the statement from the State Department official, the U.S. government also expressed interest in facilitating the repatriation of the Rohingya. A deal to that effect was recently signed between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar, but it’s too soon and too dangerous. When asked about it at a press briefing, Heather Nauert of the State Department responded, “I can’t imagine that anyone would feel safe at this point in returning to their homes.”

Where is the Bold Leadership on Atrocity Prevention?

On paper, the U.S. is committed to civilian protection in Myanmar. It is sending aid, it is working in coordination with the UN, and working with the government in Myanmar. But the U.S. is not boldly acting in the interest of the Rohingya. And it’s not earnestly committed to real atrocity prevention and civilian protection as a whole.

Why has the U.S. sanctioned only one member of the Myanmar military, someone moreover who is no longer in charge? Why is the U.S. not putting greater pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi, who refuses to protect, or for that matter even say the name of, the Rohingya? And where is the push for immediate protection of those Rohingya still living in Myanmar who have yet to flee?

Over the years, the U.S. government has tried to put into place atrocity-prevention mechanisms—most notably the Atrocity Prevention Board (APB). But where President Obama struggled to implement prevention strategies put forth by the APB, the current State Department has little interest in the body, preferring instead to consolidate and eliminate what it sees as excess, such as the Office of Global Criminal Justice.

Some in the U.S. government are committed to civilian protection. Representative James McGovern (D-MA) held what he hopes to be the first in a series of hearings on mass atrocity prevention on February 6, 2018. Experts such as Naomi Kikoler, deputy director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Charles Brown, the managing partner for Strategy for Humanity, spoke about ongoing mass atrocities and how the U.S. government can better respond to them.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) gave opening statements, but McGovern was the only member of Congress who sat and listened to the testimonies in their entirety. With the number of mass atrocity situations right now around the world—Syria, South Sudan, the Rohingya—this sort of hearing should be at the center of congressional attention. Instead, the room was full of congressional interns sent to take notes. Good on McGovern for holding these hearings, but he can’t do this alone.

The U.S. needs to start making atrocity prevention a priority—from Congress, to what’s left of the State Department, to the president.

Moving Forward

The failure of R2P is not in the doctrine, but in the states that are unwilling to live up to their commitment to civilian protection. It is in cries of “Never Again!” followed by inaction as people suffer in some far off land. If the United States wants to be a world leader, it ought to start by being a world leader on atrocity prevention. The knowledge and the resources are there: what’s required is courage.

A great deal of the discussion from McGovern’s hearing focused on the failure to prioritize prevention specifically. Most people outside inner government circles only hear of R2P in the context of military intervention, but its creators meant for it to be used as a tool in the prevention of these crimes. The violence against the Rohingya was not a surprise; it was unfortunately predictable. Reports from December 2016 detail the military burning villages and raping women, and civilian fleeing for their lives, after the current offensive began on October 9, 2016. With the available resources and technology, lack of early warning is rarely a problem. The problem arises in responding to that information. The R2P report itself states, “lack of early warning is an excuse rather than an explanation, and the problem is not lack of warning but of timely response.”

Moving forward, the U.S. ought to recommit to its goals of atrocity prevention, bringing the Atrocity Prevention Board back to the forefront and taking seriously the studies and legislation on atrocity prevention. When a hearing is held on atrocity prevention, it should be packed with members of Congress. This should be at the top of their agenda. Those in harm’s way don’t need a veneer of genocide prevention—they need actual genocide prevention.

The post The Rohingya, R2P, And Civilian Protection appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Corrie Hulse is the managing editor of The Mantle and author of When We Let People Die: the Failure of the Responsibility to Protect. Photo: Displaced Rohingya mother (Wikimedia Commons).

Trump’s Racist View Of Russia And Mexico

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 7:47am

I first came to Mexico in 1964 and have visited probably a dozen times. With each succeeding visit, I’ve seen the country grow richer and more developed, expanding its educational and cultural institutions and growing its middle class. Many of us know that Mexico is far more than its many poor people and its endless drug wars.

That of course doesn’t include Donald Trump. His view of Mexico is of a pathetic and inept country, full of dark and menacing people, broken only by an archipelago of attractive resorts. And he sees it as disgracefully poor—else why would so many want to rush north and take our jobs. If it’s not exactly in the shithole league, it’s nearby.

On the other hand, to Trump and his acolytes, Russia is a mighty power with a much-feared arsenal and a legendary space program. It’s led by a fearsome and unopposable dictator who dispatches his enemies with the help of an army of thugs. And, it’s agreeably filled with nouveau-riche billionaires and suppliant, glimmering women. Oh, and it’s thoroughly and proudly white.

If these views were confined to Trump, it would be merely another of his appalling views. Unfortunately, these are held to some extent by a large segment of the country, and they distort our relations with both.

Why compare these two seemingly disparate nations? Because, in many respects, they’re surprisingly similar, being differentiated much more by image than salient characteristics. Let’s compare.

For one thing, they have roughly comparable populations: Russia 144 million; Mexico 127 million. This may surprise people with enlightened views of Mexico because of the vastly different geographical sizes of both countries—exaggerated by the Mercator maps we all grew up with.

More surprising is their respective GDP. According to 2016 World Bank figures, Russia is twelfth overall with $1.28 trillion. Mexico is not far behind at 15th with $1.04 trillion. And when corrected for population, they grow even closer. As a result, the official per capita GDPs are, according to the bank: $8,748 for Russians and $8,201 for Mexicans. There is some discrepancy between the aggregate and individual figures, but the results show an unanticipated vicinity.

These published numbers are in no way precise. Both Russia and Mexico have large informal economies that, by their natures, evade convincing estimation. But informal economy is more a function of poverty that lives beyond banking and government. And poverty and crime are things both countries have in excess, complicating evaluation even more.

Although the GDPs are similar adjusted for population, their export economies are very different. Russia is primarily an exporter of petroleum products and raw materials, while Mexico has a diversified export economy relying on food, automobiles, heavy machinery, petroleum, electronics and, increasingly, IT. Its once-dominant petroleum sector has diminished as a proportion of its foreign earnings, but its economic future looks bright. Not so Russia, whose only significant manufactures are in aerospace and armaments. In short, what they’re selling, nobody’s buying.

But wealth is much more evident in what’s called, for convenience sake, the middle class. And here, Mexico holds a significant edge.

“According to the Russian State Statistics Committee, the middle class makes up no less than 20 percent of society,” writes Maria Fyodorova of ITAR-TASS. The problem though, is that the Russian middle class is largely populated by civil servants and various functionaries. Professionals and small-scale entrepreneurs are much less in evidence than in most of the developed world.

Mexico, on the other hand, has a middle class that includes many skilled workers, professionals, entrepreneurs, artists and, yes, functionaries. Estimates of the size of this group aren’t consistent. However, according to a 2012 Washington Post story: The OECD “considers Mexico 50 percent middle class, based on median incomes… Then there’s another gauge: self-perception. According to the latest surveys, 65 percent of Mexicans see themselves as ‘middle class’ today.” No comparable statistic exists in Russia.

Let’s look at another comp: life expectancy—except here it isn’t really even close. According to the 2016 CIA stats, Russia’s is 70.3 years and Mexico’s is 75.9. In other words about six significant years separate them.

Russia has about twice as many doctors per capita than Mexico, but most reports say Russia’s system is far more corrupt and underfunded. Mexico made a decision years ago to lower the infant mortality rate and by any measure succeeded, which increased overall life expectancy. In both countries people—that is to say, men—drink a lot, but only in Russia is it a major cause of shortened life spans.

Mexico does indeed have a high murder rate, although it’s not as high as some other Latin American and African countries. But Mexico’s rate is extraordinary because of the more or less permanent peasant revolt financed by the drug trade. In Russia, the murder rate is much lower; Mexicans kill other Mexicans, but Russians kill themselves. The suicide rate in Russia is 18 per 100,000 people, according to recent World Health Organization statistics—the highest of any major European country.

Neither country has an admirable level of democracy, but most Mexican elections bear some resemblance to actual votes cast, and candidates for president aren’t routinely jailed.

Mexico’s culture is well funded and has admirers throughout the world. Its visual arts are recognizable and have historically received federal and state funding. Russia, too, supports and encourages the arts and has a rich history, but Russia exercises greater censorship (although no one actually knows what the rules are or how widespread it is). So, let’s generously call it a draw.

So, what is the principal difference? Guns. Russia has over 3 million people under arms, although more than two-thirds of them are reservists, plus strategic air and naval forces. And it spends an estimated $70 billion a year on them. Mexico, on the other hand, spends $15 billion on a military that’s solely for domestic uses and that has fewer than 300,000 active service members.

So, in short, Russia is highly regarded by the Donald Trumps of the world because it is a military power—and not much else. But that alone seems to qualify Russia for inclusion in BRICS. By most other measures, Mexico, not Russia, should be in that group. However, BMICS doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

And, of course, because it’s white—very white. As I wrote earlier in LobeLog, the bond between the US far right and Russia—or, at least a mental simulacrum of Russia—goes deep. But even those of us who aren’t in thrall to spiritual whiteness can hold views of Russia and Mexico based on stereotypes that obscure a more accurate understandings of the countries. Mexico is not only admirable in many ways and a nation of substance, it’s also our neighbor and a strong part of the US. Russia, too, has its strengths—besides its military—but it’s not as a whole more successful than Mexico.

Time for a reevaluation.

The post Trump’s Racist View Of Russia And Mexico appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Alec Dubro is a writer based in Washington, D.C.