Trump’s Saudi Arabia speech confirms massive shift in US foreign policy

Dennis Jett, Pennsylvania State University

President Donald Trump studiously avoided the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” in his speech at the Arab Islamic American Summit in Saudi Arabia on May 21. The Conversation

Dennis Jett

He instead accentuated the positive, calling the meeting a “historic and unprecedented gathering of leaders – unique in the history of nations” and stressing mutual respect and a desire to “form closer bonds of friendship, security, culture and commerce.”

He went on to say:

“America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture – we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership – based on shared interests and values – to pursue a better future for us all.”

This elaboration of Trump’s “America First” approach to the world must have been welcomed by foreign policy realists. Realists would like it because it marks a turn away from the emphasis, or at least lip service, that the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations paid to things like human rights and democracy.

In my experience as a foreign policy expert and former U.S. ambassador, I have found that realists believe nationalism is still as much the driving force as it has been since the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the 30 Years War and established a system of international relations based on nation-states.

Under realist theory, every country tries to maximize its power in a zero-sum game because the international system lacks any supervision from any supranational entity. For realists, it’s always anarchy out there. Putting America first is just a recognition that every country puts itself first.

What the Trump doctrine leaves out

Trump’s declaration of his America First approach was mirrored by Secretary of State Tillerson’s recent remarks to employees of the State Department. Tillerson stressed that the job of State Department employees is to promote American prosperity and security with little regard for the internal issues of other countries that are not related to those two goals.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking to State Department employees. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

From these two speeches, it’s clear that our “shared interests and values” do not include things that could be divisive, like respect for human rights and democracy.

The assembled leaders would likely have been pleased to hear that – most of them are autocrats, if not outright dictators. No official list of attendees was readily available, but a careful review of photos from the summit showed that about 55 nations were represented. Looking at where those countries fall on the rankings that the NGO Freedom House every year indicates why the audience was so receptive.

In its annual report, Freedom House assigns a numerical grade to 195 countries and 14 territories based on their score on 25 indicators derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their total grade, which ranges between zero and 100, puts them into one of three broad categories – free, partially free or not free. Nearly half of the countries represented at the summit are rated not free, 40 percent as partially free and only 9 percent free, based on rankings from Freedom House.

Besides the United States, the only other nations at the summit categorized as free were Benin, Guyana, Senegal, Tunisia and Suriname. The U.S. was the most democratic country in the room, according to its Freedom House score of 89. None of the 27 countries in the world that rank higher than that were present.

While considerable progress has been made in recent decades in terms of increasing respect for these rights and liberties, 2016 was not a good year to the Freedom House Report. It registered net declines in these values in 67 countries and improvement in only 36. With the policy Trump described, in my opinion, chances for a better year in 2017 are greatly diminished.

A receptive audience

Many in the crowd must have been enthusiastic about Trump’s speech because governments that have little respect for human rights don’t like democracy. In addition, autocrats prefer decision-making to be confined to a small elite since it improves the economic opportunities provided by corruption.

They won’t have to worry about American criticism under the Trump doctrine, since all that matters to America now is jobs and fighting terrorism. The fact that democracy and respect for political rights and civil liberties is the best way to combat terrorism is something that doctrine fails to take into account.

There was one other thing Trump has said repeatedly in the past that he did not say at the summit. He did not call the press “the enemy of the people.” But that was unnecessary, as nearly everyone in the audience probably already believes that.

Dennis Jett, Professor of International Relations, Pennsylvania State University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cutting UN peacekeeping operations: What will it say about America?

By Dennis Jett, Pennsylvania State University


In a recent speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, the American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, made clear the Trump administration wants to slash U.S. funds to the U.N., including support for peacekeeping. Ambassador Haley also asserted that “The United States is the moral conscience of the world.” The Conversation

Dennis Jett

While only about 40 American servicemen are among the 92,000 peacekeepers currently deployed in 16 active peacekeeping operations, the U.S. pays a little over 28 percent of the cost. That amounts to about US$2.2 billion out of the U.N.‘s peacekeeping budget of $7.8 billion. While that is a lot of money, advocates of peacekeeping point out that the total is less than one-half of one percent of what all the countries in the world spend on their armed forces.

It remains to be seen what the level of funding for these operations will actually be when Congress enacts the new budget. But it is worth considering what operations are actually contributing to peace and what the effects of cutting them would be. If the president and Congress want to spend less on peacekeeping, I believe they should consider starting with the five oldest operations first.

A brief review of the evolution of peacekeeping can help explain why. As a career diplomat, I was involved in a number of such operations around the world. Since I became an academic, it has been one of my areas of research.

Out with the old?

The U.N. engages in two distinct types of peacekeeping that result from two different types of conflict. One is following a war between two countries over territory. The U.N. became engaged in that kind of peacekeeping early on following the war that broke out in 1948 when Israel was created and then immediately attacked by its Arab neighbors.

The other is after a war over political power within a country. Civil wars have become the norm as the first type of conflict has become rare. Only one of 28 U.N. operations initiated in the last 20 years was the result of a war between countries.

Today, of the 16 current U.N. peacekeeping operations, the ones involving wars between countries are the five oldest, with an average age of more than 54 years. In a war over territory between countries, once a ceasefire is established, all the U.N. has to do is monitor the zone between the two armies to ensure that it remains demilitarized. But after so many years, the question is whether the work of these operations contributes to peace or just makes the status quo and the lack of a final resolution of the conflict permanent.

U.N. military observers in Ramallah, Palestine, 1948.
UN Photo

U.N. peacekeeping began after the war at Israel’s creation in 1948. Its first operation was the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization. It is still headquartered in Jerusalem, and its only real function is to provide military officers to other U.N. operations in the region. That could be accomplished by simply folding the required personnel into those operations and in my opinion no longer requires an entire standalone peacekeeping operation.

The second oldest is the U.N. Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, a relatively small and inexpensive operation. However, its presence since 1949 has not prevented India and Pakistan from fighting each other over the years. Since both countries have nuclear weapons, it could be argued that the U.N. presence makes some contribution to stability in the region, but that premise needs to be examined closely.

One reason these operations have lasted so long is that politicians on both sides often prefer the status quo. The alternative would often mean surrendering some of the territory the war was fought over.

Take the U.N. Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, launched in 1964 after fighting between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Various attempts over the years to bring the two communities back together have failed because the politicians involved haven’t engaged in serious negotiations to resolve their differences. The only thing this operation does at this point is allow that intransigence to have no consequences. The $56 million annual cost of the operation should be borne by Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, and not the U.N., so that there is some incentive to find a solution.

Because of the civil war in Syria, peacekeepers of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, established in 1974 after the Yom Kippur war, have been forced to retreat from Syria to the Israeli side of the border. Since they can no longer monitor the ceasefire zone between the two countries, the operation should be at least suspended.

What if there is no peace to keep?

The U.N. Interim Force was created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 1978. Today, the force must contend with Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, which controls all of southern Lebanon and is stockpiling tens of thousands of rockets there. There is little hope that the Lebanese government will change this situation since Hezbollah has become part of it and holds a number of seats in parliament. The U.N. could save half a billion dollars a year by simply abolishing this operation, as it provides no deterrent to another war.

The mere presence of the peacekeepers is not going to change that situation either, as the mandate given to them by the Security Council does not allow them to search for weapons. To make matters worse, there is not a hint of a political process underway that might resolve the differences between Israel and Lebanon. As a result, this operation is unable to make meaningful contributions to peace and has even failed to investigate when Hezbollah arms caches have exploded in the past.

In the interest of saving the American taxpayers some money, there is one more non-U.N. peacekeeping operation that should be ended. It is the Multination Force and Observers, which was set up after the Camp David accords were signed in 1979 to monitor Sinai in order to permit Israelis to withdraw and Egypt to return.

It is not a U.N. operation because Russia threatened to veto any Security Council action to establish one. The MFO was set up to keep the Egyptian and Israeli armed forces apart, but those armies are now conducting joint combat operations, including drone strikes against terrorists in Sinai. The terrorism has also forced the peacekeepers to relocate to the southern end of the peninsula, far from the area they should be monitoring.

Peacekeeping has changed

The remaining 11 U.N. peacekeeping operations largely deal with civil wars in Africa. They are younger and more complex. The U.N. often must gather and demobilize most of the combatants, form a new national army from the rest, help organize democratic elections, provide humanitarian aid and begin economic reconstruction and development.

Because the fighting is over political power and the armies involved are usually poorly trained and equipped, they often resort to attacking noncombatants as a way to weaken the other side since one measure of political power is the number of supporters one side has. In these situations, civilian casualties and refugees spilling over into neighboring countries create humanitarian disasters, which places great pressure on the U.N. to send in the peacekeepers in their traditional blue helmets.

In her remarks, Ambassador Haley said that because the peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo deals with a corrupt government, the U.N. is aiding its predatory behavior. Her solution is to simply end the operation. In such unstable situations, however, U.N. peacekeepers can save lives. When stronger action against corrupt governments is needed, it is the responsibility of the Security Council to act and not the failure of peacekeepers.

Having spent the first half of 2016 on a Fulbright grant in Israel researching peacekeeping, I’m convinced that the operations in and around Israel are not making a significant contribution to its security. To the extent they do, the same work can be accomplished with a few drones and a handful of people to facilitate communications between both sides when they are talking to each other.

However, I’m also not convinced that Washington will make the right decisions when it comes to reducing American support for peacekeeping. If the victims of such a move are innocent civilians in Africa, another casualty will be the claim that America is the moral conscience of the world.

Dennis Jett, Professor of International Relations, Pennsylvania State University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump’s immigration executive orders: The demise of due process and discretion

A screenshot of the article published on The Conversation.

By Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia | Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar and Founding Director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic


The U.S. immigration code, passed by Congress in 1952, rivals the tax code in its level of complexity. The Conversation

In January, President Donald Trump signed three executive orders on immigration that have made matters more complicated for immigrants and the lawyers and advocates who fight on their behalf.

As an immigration lawyer and teacher, I have spent countless hours helping those in need and educating my community, which includes residents, educators, professors, international students and scholars, along with local government about the contents of the orders, and the guidelines released by the Department of Homeland Security in February and how they will be implemented.

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia

Specifically, the two orders on deportations and enforcement, both signed on Jan. 25, reveal that the government is making three major changes.

First, the orders are making virtually every undocumented person a priority for deportation.

Second, they seek to maximize existing programs that allow deportation of individuals without basic due process. This includes the right to be heard by a judge, present evidence or challenge a charge of deportation.

And third, pursuant to its Feb. 20 memorandum, DHS has rescinded most documents that offered guidance on prosecutorial discretion.

Prosecutorial discretion in immigration law refers to the choice made by a government official or agency to enforce or not enforce the immigration law against a person. It has been the central focus of my research, and is a critical component in our immigration system. Officials must choose whom to prioritize for removal because they have limited resources. The government has also recognized other compelling reasons why a person might deserve to not be deported. For example, a person without papers who has lived in the United States for several years and has family ties, steady employment or community leadership may temporarily be protected from removal.

Do Trump’s executive orders signal an end to this practice?

Everyone is a priority

DHS has rescinded the 2014 Johnson Priorities Memo, which provided a framework for determining who is a priority for immigration enforcement and articulated the factors that should be considered when making decisions about whether to deport someone.

For example, the memo instructed DHS to consider amount of time spent living in the United States and “compelling humanitarian factors such as poor health, age, pregnancy, a young child, or a seriously ill relative.”

Now, the government is taking a hard-line approach to immigration enforcement, without explicit consideration for a person’s circumstances. The orders list specific parts of the 1952 immigration statute that target those eligible for deportation for reasons related to crimes or misrepresentation. But enforcement officials will also now target deportable immigrants who:

  • have been convicted of any criminal offense;
  • have been charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved;
  • have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
  • have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter before a governmental agency;
  • have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;
  • are subject to a final order of removal but have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or
  • in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.

DHS guidance does not stop with this priority list. It goes on to suggest that any person without documents might be a priority. It repeatedly states: “All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”

Arguably, an undocumented parent living in the United States for several years and taking care of children who have formal or permanent immigration status, or United States citizenship, could be targeted as a person “in violation of the immigration laws,” whereas before this same person would have more clearly been eligible for prosecutorial discretion and not been labeled as a priority. Similarly, a student who overstays her visa and then jaywalks may be treated as an enforcement priority because jaywalking constitutes a chargeable offense.

The cumulative effect is fear that everyone is a priority.

Despite major changes to enforcement, the guidance from DHS suggests that individual prosecutorial discretion may be exercised on a case-by-case basis, and preserves three policies relating to enforcement.

One pertains to “sensitive locations” and instructs DHS to avoid enforcement in places like schools, places of worship and hospitals.

The second is a guideline on granting parole to certain arriving asylum seekers after a “credible fear” interview has been conducted. When an asylum seeker is “paroled,” she is released from detention and able to pursue her asylum claim outside of custody.

The final memo that is still intact is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA enables qualifying noncitizens who entered the United States at a young age, often referred to as “Dreamers,” to apply for protection from deportation and work authorization.

While I see the preservation of these guidelines as positive, the overriding message of the executive orders and implementation memos is one of speedy enforcement without discretion or due process.

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia is the Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar and founding director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Pennsylvania State University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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