You are here

Foreign Policy in Focus

Subscribe to Foreign Policy in Focus feed
A think tank without walls
Updated: 38 min 37 sec ago

On Iran, It’s Trump vs. Trump

Wed, 06/26/2019 - 12:40pm


The ongoing conflict with Iran showcases all the reasons why Donald Trump remains a hit with his base. 

First of all, the guy tells a ripping yarn. While critics of U.S. policy drone on about complex agreements with opaque acronyms, Trump boils down the problem to a TV episode with a ticking clock. The bad guys shot down a U.S. drone. The good guys prepare to strike back. But the greatest president of all decides at the last moment — with only ten minutes to spare — to take his finger off the trigger and save the day. Or, at least, that’s how The Donald tells it.

Trump also presents himself as all things to all people. He threatened Iran with war. But he also promised to restart negotiations with the country. He opposed the nuclear agreement that the Obama administration, among others, patiently negotiated. But he offered (however implausibly) to put a better one in its place. He decided to rescind his authorization of airstrikes on Iranian infrastructure. But he also went ahead with cyberattacks and additional economic sanctions, all of which add up to a war with Iran in everything but name.

What should ordinarily be a defect — Trump’s rapid oscillation in positions — becomes a virtue in this era of instantaneous news. The country hangs on the man’s every tweet. Which Trump will emerge the winner in the battle among the president’s many avatars: Killer Trump, Dealmaker Trump, Madman Trump, Joker Trump? The man keeps you guessing, which is an indispensable element in this age of infotainment.

In the end, Trump has successfully made politics all about himself. It’s not just that he has asserted executive privilege over the legislative branch. It’s not even that he’s ignored the advice of his cabinet and concentrated decision-making power in his own hands. 

It’s worse than that.

When it comes down to a potential war with Iran — or one with North Korea or Venezuela or China — even Trump’s opponents are left rooting for…Trump. They hope that, in the end, the better angels — or at least the more opportunistic ones — of the president’s nature will prevail over the lesser angels of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo.

The only person who can stop Trump, in other words, is Trump. This is not democratic politics. This is the politics of the man on the white horse, of the caudillo, of the generalissimo

It’s bad enough that Trump dominates politics. He also dominates the political imagination.

The Triumph of Conflict

Barack Obama is an intellectual. Even when he waxed martial, he did so in an intellectual way, like when he supported the just war doctrine in his Nobel Peace Prize address. Obama was judicious to a fault. He went back and forth on issues as he weighed the various pros and cons. He didn’t push ahead with a program unless he thought it had a very good chance of success and widespread support. 

Trump is another creature altogether. He doesn’t think through problems. He thinks around them. He keeps the nation updated on the various unformed ideas in his head on a regular basis. The result of this process is endless conflict. There’s the conflict of positions inside Trump. But there are also the conflicts that Trump generates with everyone around him — the appointees that he’s always on the verge of firing, the institutions of government, large swaths of the American population, a variety of international institutions, and virtually every major country of the world.

In the same way that Marx turned Hegel on his head, Trump has turned Marx on his head. The president wages class struggle virtually every minute against his enemies, which are essentially the 99 percent (of the United States and of the world).

Of course, there’s another way of looking at this triumph of conflict. For all his invocations of a golden age of the past, Donald Trump is actually a Futurist.

Consider, for example, these lines from the Futurist manifesto, written by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti:

We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman… Beauty exists only in struggle. There is no masterpiece that has not an aggressive character. Poetry must be a violent assault on the forces of the unknown, to force them to bow before man.

Trump might have a personal aversion to military conflict. He opted out of the Vietnam War. He once claimed, to Howard Stern, that having sex with lots of women, and risking sexually transmitted diseases, was somehow more courageous than going into battle. He has occasionally voiced skepticism about U.S. military engagements overseas, such as the Iraq War.

But the man pursues all sorts of other wars. He has declared war on undocumented Americans. He is battling Congress over various investigations (and, occasionally, legislation as well). He has declared trade wars against allies and adversaries alike. He continues to struggle against Hillary Clinton, however ludicrous that might seem. 

And, of course, he has bombed Syria (twice), considered air strikes against Iran and North Korea, contemplated military action against Venezuela, and blocked congressional efforts to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Like his Futurist forebears, Trump is aggressive, misogynistic, hyper-patriotic. Governance, for him, is a violent assault on the forces of the unknown in order to force them to bow before none other than Trump himself. As Marinetti once wrote about art in his manifesto, Trump approaches politics as if it were “nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice.”

Marinetti penned his Futurist manifesto in 1909. His movement applauded Italy’s entry into World War I. The Futurists who survived that war would eventually rally around the political figure who best embodied the movement’s fascination with militarism, masculinity, and modernity. In their support for Benito Mussolini, the Futurists morphed into fascists. 

There but for the grace of America’s remaining democratic institutions goes Trump.

Countering Trump

Fact-checking Donald Trump is truly a Herculean effort: as in the Augean stables, there’s always more bullshit to deal with. And the fact-checkers are largely preaching to the converted. Itemizing all of Trump’s mischaracterizations of Iran, for instance, is like pointing out all the ways that Star Trek departs from the rules of verisimilitude. Fans don’t care. And everyone else doesn’t listen.

Nor is it possible to out-Trump Trump. He can’t be outshouted. He can’t be out-insulted. He can’t be shamed into doing anything, for he lacks shame, and he can’t be goaded either, since he bristles at any attempt to push him in one direction or another.

Some world leaders have opted for flattery. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, for instance, has gone out of his way to praise Trump’s leadership, statesmanship, and all-around sagacity. That hasn’t prevented the U.S. president from squeezing South Korea hard on trade and the financial contributions that Seoul makes to the maintenance of U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula. And Trump hasn’t pulled off an agreement with North Korea yet. So, flattery will only get you so far.

What’s left, for those who can’t stomach flattery, is storytelling. 

Trump, remember, tells a compelling story. Those who want to prevent a war with Iran have to tell a better story, without technical terms, without acronyms, without the usual inside-the-Beltway vocabulary. Such a story should do an end run around Trump’s reduction of politics to what’s going on inside his own head — by not mentioning Trump at all. 

It’s also not a story about Iran. A deep vein of suspicion runs through the American public about the country that held U.S. hostages for 444 days four decades ago. As with North Korea, most Americans simply don’t care about the fate of Iranians.

Rather, this must be a story of what has made America (occasionally) great — Nixon shaking hands with Mao, Reagan shaking hands with Gorbachev, George W. Bush setting up an AIDS relief program in Africa, Republican senators (other than John McCain) supporting rapprochement with Vietnam. It’s the story that puts a Republican face on diplomacy. It’s a story and a set of visuals that should attract support from precisely the base that speaks to Trump. It’s a story that would not look out of place as a PSA on Fox News. 

To prevent a war with Iran, you can’t fight Trump’s fire and fury with an equal but opposite fire and fury. But you can just possibly win with a ripping yarn about peace. 


The post On Iran, It’s Trump vs. Trump appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

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

A Wounded Erdogan Could Be Even More Dangerous

Tue, 06/25/2019 - 1:44pm


For the second time in a row, Turkish voters have rebuked President Recep Tayyir Erdogan’s handpicked candidate for the mayoralty of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest and wealthiest city. The secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, swamped Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate Binali Yildirim in an election that many see as a report card on the president’s over 16 years in power.

So what does the outcome of the election mean for the future of Turkey, and in particular, its powerful president? For starters, an internal political realignment — but also maybe a dangerous foreign policy misadventure.

The AKP Stumbles

Erdogan and his party have been weakened politically and financially by the loss of Istanbul, even though the president did his best to steer clear of the campaign over the past several weeks. Since it was Erdogan that pressured the Supreme Election Council into annulling the results of the original March 31 vote, which the CHP also won, he owns the outcome whether he likes it or not.

His opponents in the AKP are already smelling blood. Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, whom Erdogan sidelined in 2016, has begun criticizing the president’s inner circle, including Berat Albayrak, his son-in-law and current finance minister. There are rumors that Davutoğlu and former deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan are considering forming a new party on the right.

Up until the March election that saw the AKP and its extreme nationalist alliance partner, the National Movement Party (MHP), lose control of most the major cities in the country, Erdogan had shown an almost instinctive grasp of what the majority of Turks wanted. But this time out the AKP seemed tone deaf. While Erdogan campaigned on the issue of terrorism, polls showed most Turks were more concerned with the disastrous state of the economy, rising inflation, and growing joblessness.

The “terrorist threat” strategy — shorthand for demonizing Turkey’s Kurdish minority — not only alienated conservative Kurds who once reliably voted for the AKP, but forced the opposition into a united front. Parties ranging from the leftist Kurdish People’s Democratic Party and the Communist Party, to more conservative parties like the Good Party, withdrew their candidates from the Istanbul’s mayor’s race and lined up behind the CHP’s Imamoglu.

The AKP — long an electoral steamroller — ran a clumsy and ill-coordinated campaign. While Yildirim tried to move to the center, Erdogan’s inner circle opted for a hard right program, even accusing Imamoglu of being a Greek (and closet Christian) because he hails from the Black Sea area of Trabzon that was a Greek center centuries ago. The charge backfired badly, and an area that in the past was overwhelmingly supportive of the AKP shifted to backing a native son. Some 2.5 million former residents of the Black Sea region live in Istanbul, and it was clear which way they voted.

Erdogan at Bay

So what does the election outcome mean for Turkish politics? Well, for one, when the center and left unite they can beat Erdogan. But it also looks like there is going to be re-alignment on the right.

In the March election, the extreme right MHP picked up some disgruntled AKP voters, and many AKP voters apparently stayed home, upset at the corruption and the anti-terrorist strategy of their party. It feels a lot like 2002, when the AKP came out of the political margins and vaulted over the right-wing Motherland and True Path parties to begin its 17 years of domination. How far all this goes and what the final outcome will be is not clear, but Erdogan has been weakened, and his opponents in the AKP are already sharpening their knives.

An Erdogan at bay, however, can be dangerous. When the AKP lost its majority in the 2015 general election, Erdogan reversed his attempt to peacefully resolve tensions with the Kurds and, instead, launched a war on Kurdish cities in the country’s southeast. While the war helped him to win back his majority in an election six months later, it alienated the Kurds and laid the groundwork for the AKP’s losses in the March 2019 election and the Istanbul’s mayor’s race.

The fear is that Erdogan will look for a crisis that will resonate with Turkish nationalism, a strategy he has used in the past.

He tried to rally Turks behind overthrowing the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but the war was never popular. Most Turks are not happy with the 3.7 million Syrian refugees currently camped in their country, nor with what increasingly appears to be a quagmire for the Turkish Army in Northern and Eastern Syria.

In general, Turkey’s foreign policy is in shambles.

Erdogan is trying to repair fences with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, because he desperately needs the investment that Gulf monarchs can bring to Turkey. But the price for that is a break with Iran and ending his support for the Muslim Brotherhood. While the Turkish president might be willing to dump the Brotherhood, Erdogan feels he needs Iran in his ongoing confrontation with the Kurds in Syria, and, at least at this point, he is unwilling to join Saudi Arabia’s jihad against Tehran.

In spite of the Turkish president’s efforts to normalize ties with Riyadh, Saudi Arabia recently issued a formal warning to Saudi real estate investors and tourists that Turkey is” inhospitable.” Saudi tourism is down 30 percent, and Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia are also down.

Erdogan is also wrangling with the U.S. and NATO over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system, a disagreement that threatens further damage to the Turkish economy through U.S.-imposed sanctions. There is even a demand by some Americans to expel Turkey from NATO, echoed by similar calls from the Turkish extreme right.

Talk of leaving NATO, however, is mostly Sturm und Drang. There is no Alliance procedure to expel a member, and current tensions with Moscow means NATO needs Turkey’s southern border with Russia, especially its control of the Black Sea’s outlet to the Mediterranean.

Crisis in Cyprus — And Greece

But a confrontation over Cyprus — and therefore with NATO member Greece — is by no means out of the question. This past May, Turkey announced that it was sending a ship to explore for natural gas in the sea off Cyprus, waters that are clearly within the island’s economic exploitation zone.

“History suggests that leaders who are losing their grip on power have incentives to organize a show of strength and unite their base behind an imminent foreign threat,” writes Greek investigative reporter Yiannis Baboulias in Foreign Policy. “Erdogan has every reason to create hostilities with Greece — Turkey’s traditional adversary and Cyprus’s ally — to distract from his problems at home.”

Turkey has just finished large-scale naval exercises — codename “Sea Wolf” — in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean and, according to Baboulias, Turkish warplanes have been violating Greek airspace.

Cyprus, along with Israel and Egypt, has been trying to develop Cypriot offshore gas resources for almost a decade, but Turkey has routinely stymied their efforts. The European Union (EU) supports the right of Cyprus to develop the fields, and the EU’s foreign policy head, Federica Mogherini, called on Turkey to “respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus to its exclusive economic zone and refrain from such illegal actions.” While Mogherini pledged “full solidarity” with Cyprus, it is hard to see what the big trade organization could do in the event of a crisis.

Any friction with Cyprus is friction with Greece, and there is a distinct possibility that two NATO members could find themselves in a face off. Erdogan likes to create tensions and then negotiate from strength, a penchant he shares with U.S. President Donald Trump. While it seems unlikely that it will come to that, in this case Turkish domestic considerations could play a role.

A dustup with Ankara’s traditional enemy, Greece, would put Erdogan’s opponents in the AKP on the defensive and divert Turks’ attention from the deepening economic crisis at home. It might also allow Erdogan to use the excuse of a foreign policy crisis to strengthen his already considerable executive powers and to divert to funds from cities the AKP no longer controls to the military.

Budget cuts could stymie efforts by the CHP and left parties to improve conditions in the cities and to pump badly needed funds into education. The AKP used Istanbul’s budget as a piggy bank for programs that benefited members of Erdogan’s family or generated kickbacks for the party from construction firms and private contractors.

Erdogan has already warned his opponents that they “won’t even be able to pay the salaries of their employees.” The man may be down, but he is hardly beaten. There are turbulent times ahead for Turkey.

The post A Wounded Erdogan Could Be Even More Dangerous appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

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

China’s Belt and Road of Science

Mon, 06/24/2019 - 8:51am

Scientists at the Center for Excellence in Molecular Plant Sciences, Shanghai Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive Chinese initiative for cooperation and for economic and technological integration among the nations of Asia, defies simple categorization by dint of its scale. It’s expected to involve trillions of dollars of investment over the next decade. The “road”   part, also known as the “Maritime Silk Road,” is an effort to modernize ports and logistic routes from China, through Southeast Asia and across to the Middle East and North Africa, and upgrade infrastructure and facilities at the ports. The road hearkens back to a time when China engaged in a deep cultural exchange with the rest of the world by sea.

The “belt” meanwhile, is an initiative to finance, design, build, and operate transportation corridors and new infrastructure overland, thereby drawing together China, the nations of Central Asia, Russia, the Middle East and Europe. It is designed as a renaissance of the fabled Silk Road that thrived at the time of the Tang Dynasty.

The Belt and Road Initiative has grown by leaps and bounds at the same time that the America’s geopolitical vision has become increasingly isolationist, paranoid, and confrontational. Currently, 20 African Nations have joined BRI, and it has even established a beachhead in Europe with investments in Greece and agreements with Italy.

BRI has been interpreted as a strategic effort by China to avoid being cut off from shipping routes by the United States and its allies in Northeast Asia in the case of a military confrontation. Others have suggested that BRI is a plot to catch developing nations in a debt trap (in the manner that Europeans and Americans have done for decades). According to a third interpretation, this expansion of trade and transportation is simply a means to relieve the pressures of overproduction within China itself.

More to the point, however, are concerns that such development, especially highways and fossil-fuel power plants, will have a negative impact on the environment and on the Earth’s climate.

Nature magazine recently launched a series of articles on the impact of Chinese-supported initiatives for international scientific cooperation as part of BRI, focusing on Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Europe, South America, and Africa. Although this new approach to global collaboration in science is still taking shape, it’s not focused on the familiar groups of elite research institutes in the West and it is less concerned with the profits to be gained from private-sector investments. The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has taken the lead in this effort, recently teaming up with the World Academy of Sciences in Trieste, Italy, to start a regular research program to bring 200 experts from nations involved in the BRI to study in China.

Science research related to water quality, transportation, and energy has tremendous appeal for poorer nations, but strikingly, a substantial part of the funding covers pure science. The Bulletin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has become a major source of information on work in advanced scientific fields such as nanotechnology. CAS’s Institute of Biophysics has developed together with researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute a new approach to observing the workings of a cell. CAS has pursued relations with the National Herbarium of Uzbekistan, launched anti-desertification projects with Mongolia, Israel and Kazakhstan, and started a program with Tribhuvan University in Nepal for the study of climate change. In fact, climate change is an important theme in CAS research. For example, a China-Brazil Laboratory for Weather has been set up as part of BRI to monitor weather with direct applications to understanding the impact of climate change.

On November 4, 2018, 40 national and international research institutions gathered to establish the Alliance of International Science Organizations (ANSO) to oversee international large-scale scientific research. The stated purpose of ANSO is “sustainable economic and social development” and a “green and innovative path” for the “shared future of humanity.” CAS President Bai Chunli put climate change, biodiversity and disease as the new alliance’s top priorities. There was no mention of profits for business or the sales of products. Moreover, although the promotion of energy consumption in the development of BRI has been an issue of considerable concern, China is addressing this concern directly in its recent scientific initiatives.

The Second Belt and Road Forum in April highlighted the Digital Belt and Road, an effort to make the exchange of information throughout Asia faster and more convenient. Part of that project is the development of BeiDou-2, a Chinese global navigation system that will have 35 satellites up by 2020. This system, which will rival the U.S. Global Positioning System, has already been adopted by Pakistan, Laos, and Thailand.

Even more impressively, China will make the data from the satellites available to nations like Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as part of a shared platform for environmental monitoring. The eight challenges identified for this collaborative project are: adaptation to climate change, mitigation of disaster risk, managing water supplies, making agriculture secure, protecting cultural heritage, encouraging sustainable development in urban areas, managing marine areas, and understanding climate change in the mountains and in the Arctic.

The United States and other countries have criticized the Digital Belt and Road for serving as a possible platform for surveillance, via facial recognition technology and other means of harvesting information. True, the potential for such misuse is real in new technologies like 5G. But the failure of the United States to propose any international protocols regarding the use of information makes such criticisms less convincing. No doubt China’s greatest strength in the promotion of science is its willingness to abide by international treaties even as the United States is actively abandoning them.

But the more fundamental shift in the United States has been away from basic science, which requires steady government funding to work on a large scale. The Trump administration has been at war with science since it took office. The denial of climate change has been the core example of that contempt for the scientific method.

Recently, Gale A. Buchanan and Catherine E. Woteki, former chief scientists at the Agricultural Department, coauthored an op-ed in The Washington Post lamenting the brutal manner in which the administration has eliminated science from that agency. In addition to drastic reductions in budgets, two of the department’s major research institutes were suddenly relocated from the DC area to remote locations far from Washington D.C. on extremely short notice, causing many experts to quit in what they describe as an intentional move.

Congress is making it increasingly difficult for U.S. scientists to engage in international collaborations, with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) demanding extreme scrutiny of foreign scientists granted funding by the National Institute of Health. And the NIH has already had its funding reduced by $5 billion. The National Science Foundation had its budget cut by 12 percent to $7.1 billion, and the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent to $8.8 billion. NASA will be cut by only 2 percent, but since Trump’s focus is on returning astronauts to the moon, something that will be likely outsourced, the funding for actual science will be slashed, especially in astrophysics.

Ultimately the issue for the United States will not be about emotional responses to what China says or does, but rather in its ability to stay on the frontiers of science, the wellspring of future technological development. The federal government is incapable of setting the pace during the dark ages of Trump. It is the decline of scientific thinking, rather than any particular technology, that has made the Trump administration’s policies possible. The citizens of the United States need to recognize the critical importance of science for the future of humanity and not be too proud to learn something from China.

The post China’s Belt and Road of Science appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Emanuel Pastreich is the director of the Asia Institute ( and a senior scholar at FPIF.

Whistling by the Drug War’s Graveyard

Fri, 06/21/2019 - 2:42pm

Mexican armed forces in an operation in Matamoros (Roberto Galan via Shutterstock)

As Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador begins transitioning his country away from its decade-long drug war, which has killed more than 100,000 Mexican citizens since 2006, officials in the Trump administration have remained largely silent about his moves. Washington is continuing its public relations strategy of saying very little about the war while helping Mexican security forces continue to fight it.

The Trump administration’s silence, which has been enabled by a lack of coverage in the U.S. mass media, has not gone entirely unnoticed. Some members of Congress have begun to question the Trump administration’s strategy, arguing that the administration does not have an effective plan for winning the war.

“We are whistling by the graveyard if we don’t address and talk about an effective strategy for crushing the drug cartels,” Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) said during a congressional hearing in April.

To say that the Trump administration has simply been “whistling by the graveyard” as violence increases is not entirely accurate, however. Although the administration has kept mostly quiet about the growing violence, it has been working closely with Mexican military forces to crush the country’s drug cartels, exactly as Senator Johnson demanded.

As one of his very first moves in the White House, President Trump urged then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to “knock the hell” out of the cartels, even proposing a U.S. military intervention. “Our military will knock them out like you never thought of,” Trump said.

The drug war began in December 2006, when then-Mexican President Felipe Calderón began deploying tens of thousands of Mexican military forces across Mexico. Calderón’s move sparked a dramatic increase in drug-related violence, leading to some of the worst violence in Mexican history.

Although Mexican officials have often portrayed the violence as a matter of criminals killing criminals, human rights officials have insisted that the country’s military forces have killed countless civilians. Daniel Wilkinson, the managing director of the Americas Division at Human Rights Watch, wrote last year about “a vast cover-up” by the Mexican government to hide the truth about the violence, particularly its impact on civilians.

Through it all, the U.S. government has been helping the Mexican government wage the war. By supporting the Mexican government with the multi-billion dollar Mérida Initiative, the U.S. government has provided Mexican security forces with military equipment and training. The Pentagon has provided another half-billion dollars of additional support in amounts that closely correlate to the level of drug-related violence.

With the additional funding, U.S. military forces have extensively trained the Mexican Marines, who have grown more lethal over the past several years. “I am proud of the fact that every Mexican Marine has trained with a U.S. Marine,” U.S. General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the Commander of U.S. Northern Command, told Congress earlier this year.

Not everyone has looked as favorably on the growing ties between U.S. and Mexican military forces, however. Last month, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) called for a complete overhaul of the Mérida Initiative, saying that the program should be reoriented to provide Mexico with funding for economic development rather than military assistance.

“It hasn’t worked,” AMLO said, referring to the Mérida Initiative. “We don’t want cooperation in the use of force, we want cooperation for development.”

So far, officials in the Trump administration have said very little about AMLO’s proposal. President Trump is trying to maintain the impression that the war will continue, insisting that the Mexican government is going to intensify its operations against the cartels. “I think Mexico is going to start hitting them much harder,” the president recently commented.

In fact, some signs indicate that AMLO intends to keep fighting the war. Although he has declared an end to the drug war, even proposing the decriminalization of all drugs, he has overseen the creation of a new National Guard to take over military operations.

Human rights organizations, which have strongly criticized the move, argue that it perpetuates the failed strategies of past administrations. Earlier this year, a coalition of international organizations called on AMLO to consider alternatives.

As the debate continues, officials in Washington and their supporters in the U.S. mass media have remained largely silent. Although the drug war continues to produce record-breaking violence, U.S. officials appear content to keep “whistling by the graveyard,” as they continue funding the very same programs that have been driving the violence for so many years.

This year, Congress provided another $145 million for the Mérida Initiative, providing $68 million more than the White House requested, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. “There has been bipartisan support in Congress for the Mérida Initiative, which has accounted for the majority of U.S. foreign assistance to Mexico provided over the past decade,” the report noted.

The post Whistling by the Drug War’s Graveyard appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Edward Hunt writes about war and empire. He has a PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary.

The Time Has Come for a Global Minimum Wage

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 6:00am

 (Image: Kheel Center / Flickr)

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this June. In the wake of a devastating world war, its mission was transformational: to realize social justice and the rights of workers everywhere.

But now, 100 years later, exploitative working conditions remain the norm, more people than ever live in poverty, and the richest 1 percent are on track to own two-thirds of all global wealth in a decade. While no single policy could solve these problems entirely, one in particular would be a decisive step forward.

At its centenary conference, the ILO should call for a global minimum wage.

A recent global poll from the International Trade Union Confederation found that an overwhelming 84 percent of all respondents judged their national minimum wage to be insufficient for a decent life. A global minimum wage — not uniform across countries, but based on a common formula for a living wage — would raise millions out of poverty by ensuring all workers the resources necessary for a decent quality of life. But the real potential of a global minimum wage lies in its capacity to correct a dynamic that has, for decades, been eating away at the power and wellbeing of workers everywhere: the global race to the bottom.

Since the 1980s, a “neoliberal” model of globalization has empowered investors and corporations to cross borders at will in search of the most profit-friendly environments. Because capital is mobile while workers are not, nations are forced to compete to attract investment by slashing labor regulations, environmental protections, and wages. If workers in one country win improvements, mobile corporations simply move to another country where wages are lower.

A global minimum wage would set a floor to the downward spiral. Corporations could still leave for other reasons, but they would no longer have the option of moving to a country with less than livable wages.

This would dramatically strengthen the position of labor around the world, allowing workers in individual countries to fight for wage increases with less risk of capital flight. If the global minimum wage formula is tied to median wages, it may even set off a climb to the top, as rising minimums in other countries provide further leverage for workers to push for gains in their own.

In conjunction with stronger global regulations on tax havens and an alternative trade policy to protect workers and the environment, a global minimum wage might help end the race altogether.

Such a policy would benefit workers everywhere, not just those in low-income countries. For much of the 20th century, strong labor unions and the corporate class had little choice but to stay in the United States — which meant steady, middle-class manufacturing jobs with reasonable wages. With the suppression of labor rights and the rise of neoliberal globalization in the 1980s, corporations were suddenly free to leave for countries where wages were lower. This shift in corporate power is one of the major drivers behind the decline in American manufacturing. While a global minimum wage may not reverse the trend entirely, it would help stem the tide.

Importantly, it would do so without appealing to nationalism. Right-wing demagogues from Donald Trump in the United States to Marine Le Pen in France to Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil capitalize on the failures of the neoliberal global system by scapegoating workers in other countries. Even many erstwhile progressives have fallen into the nationalist trap.

A campaign for a global minimum wage, by contrast, would expose the reality: that workers share more interests with other workers across borders than they do with capital in their given country. Such a movement would help catalyze global solidarity, and build the working-class power necessary to achieve any number of other global goals — including an alternative trade policy and a New Bretton Woods.

There is no doubt that the realization of a global minimum wage faces many obstacles.

Determining how it would actually work – from calculating the actual wage to defining an enforcement mechanism — is crucial. Some have proposed a simple formula based on a percentage of national median wage. Others suggest a more complex measurement that accounts for cost of living and national living standards. Implementation may be modeled on international trade law, with a body like the World Trade Organization acting as a forum for multilateral agreements on targets, and an arbiter of state-state disputes. Such technical questions present challenges, but they are not insurmountable.

More difficult is the building of the necessary political will. But there’s precedent for global institutional change of this scale. From the creation of the ILO after the First World War to the United Nations after the Second, moments of crisis breed political opportunities. With the neoliberal world order teetering on the edge, right-wing nationalism on the rise, and climate catastrophe fueled by and fueling both, this is definitively such a moment.

Respected academics from Thomas Palley to Jason Hickel to Nobel-Prize winner Muhammad Yunus are already vocal proponents of a global minimum wage. At the grassroots level, the International Convention for a Global Minimum Wage, the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, and Justice Is Global are pushing the policy into the mainstream. Left-leaning parties in the EU have proposed a continental version. And existing campaigns, such as those for a Global Green New Deal and a New Social Contract, could fittingly incorporate a global minimum wage as a part of their program. The movement for a GMW has already begun.

On the 100th anniversary of its creation, the ILO has a unique opportunity to become a leader in this nascent movement. By calling for a global minimum wage, the ILO would be taking a crucial step forward in its mission of global social justice as it enters another century.

The post The Time Has Come for a Global Minimum Wage appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Michael Galant is the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy 2019 Economics and Trade Fellow, and a recent graduate of the Master of Public Policy program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is interested in building global solidarity for left alternatives to neoliberal models of globalization and “development,” and can be found on Twitter at @michael_galant.