Archive for the ‘Russia’ category

The Russian Connection

July 12, 2017

The news media has had a field day this week with the leak and publication of a Donald Trump, Junior meeting with a Russian lawyer immediately following his father’s Republican Presidential nomination. Ah ha, have they finally found the smoking gun?

What smoking gun? And what exactly was so wrong with Trump Junior meeting with a Russian lawyer? And why is the media making such a big deal of this?

The most recent news bulletin revealed, with respect to this revelation, the meeting was premised upon the lawyer sharing some unfavorable information about Hillary Clinton which might be useful in Junior’s father’s campaign. Does this constitute meddling by a foreign country?

Three implications seem reasonable to speculate. The meeting could indicate

  • A larger, coordinated Russian Government effort to help Trump and hurt Clinton
  • Or, a Trump family interest and intention to cozy up to Russian businesses and financial sources,
  • Or, both.

The possibilities seem like “no brainers”.

  • Of course the Russian Government was interested in weakening America by fooling American voters into electing a weakened Hillary Clinton, or even stranger than fiction, an unqualified, narcissist like Donald Trump.
  • Donald Trump and his staff were resigned to a likely election loss, but could see potentially a boat load of lucrative connections where the Trump brand might thrive. Hmmm.

One must be careful about showing to much disdain for Russian meddling. While unacceptable, what does one think the CIA does for a living. America has a long history of interfering with the internal affairs of other nations and courtesy of the NSA, electronically listening to all sorts of foreign leaders private conversations. Our leaders ought remember that when we interfere with others, these other countries try their best to uncover our sources and disable our listening and propaganda networks. The same behavior might do the US well too.

The far greater teaching value the “the Russian Connection” could have is to underscore the wanton disregard President Trump (and his associates) have for speaking truthfully, and to what lengths they would be willing to employ to be victorious over an opponent.

Boorish may be too polite a word to describe the President.

Ironically, the media reminds us often that previous public officials have been toppled, not due to the “crime”, but due to the cover up. The longer this investigation festers, the more frequent will be the leaks, and the more chance there will be for obstruction of justice.

Beginning To Look Back

January 11, 2017

President Obama gave his farewell speech yesterday in Chicago. Pundits suggested President Obama wanted to write his “legacy” before the Trump Administration has a chance to eviscerate it. George W Bush, when asked in the ashes of his failed Presidency, what would his legacy be, replied to the effect, “don’t know. History will determine that and history takes a long time”. Hmmm.

Comparing the two men and their terms in office, President Obama would look hands down the more successful President. But with whom would you rather have a beer?

George W Bush, despite his wealth and familiarity with the moneyed class, seemed such an easy going person and a comfortable person to be around. Barack Obama could also at times display a friendly look but too frequently flashed a message of disdain or intellectual arrogance.

President Obama appeared not to suffer fools well. And in Washington there is no shortage of self centered, free loading, bureaucrats and legislators only too ready to claim something based on half truths or no truths at all.

President Bush was quite correct in saying history takes a long time before it renders a clear verdict. President Obama has much to be proud about but the repeal and replace of Obamacare may obscure his bold (but not bold enough) steps towards universal healthcare coverage. His efforts towards renewable energy and other quality of life issues may confront an unsympathetic Congress and Presidency once Donald Trump is inaugurated. Obama’s 8 year efforts around immigration reform, voting rights support, and inclusion will be an afterthought with the new Administration. What will remain in 8 years is open to question.

On the foreign stage, IMO, President Obama has diagnosed the Middle East (including Israel) correctly. One can argue whether the Arab world should offer the peace branch to Israel or Israel should initiate a sincere proposal first. But until the Arab world settles its power and Islamic sect differences, there is little reason to expect success. The next Administration is likely to take sides, picking which ever group seems most useful short term. Hmmm.

With respect to China and Russia, President Obama rowed against long held State Department views of a proper world order. China and Russia both have a different view, not surprisingly placing their country’s interest ahead of other countries including the US. President Obama diagnosed Asia and in particular China as the country to watch and to update US China foreign policy accordingly.

China is far wealthier and more populated than Russia. Maintaining government control requires meeting the economic needs of its 1+ billion head population.  Unfortunately it will not be easy task for China to continue spreading new wealth to Chinese peasants without 10% growth each year.  Authoritarian countries usually look for outsiders to blame when domestic policies falter.

A fair President Obama criticism might be that in all matters, his preference for “no drama” and “no theater” probably kept him from communicating effectively to the American people in terms they would understand. Whether the issue was healthcare where America spend twice as much as the modern world, and do not provide coverage to all Americans, or where America’s defense budget is 10 times as large as the next biggest spending country, or where America spends more per student on K-12 education than any other country, yet produces test score results in the middle of the pack, President Obama shunned any attempts to bring about change by dramatizing these facts.

President Obama will, however, be remembered from day 1 as a decent man with a smart and gracious wife who lead a White House life, with their children, which was above the fray but not aloof. President Obama’s few emotional occasions dealt with tragedies like the Newtown Elementary School shootings, not whether the Dow Jones Average reached a new high.

Strangely some of President Obama’s most vocal critics come from the African American community. And some of the unkindest words reference little or no progress in jobs and opportunities. Using a football analogy, offensive linemen can out block defensive linemen for just a few seconds creating an opening for a running back. If the back is not ready, or does not run through the opening quickly enough, the running back will be caught for no gain. I wonder why the African American community does not see the chance they had and squandered?

The next Administration will initially be graded in comparison to President Obama’s record. Soon however, Trump Administration policies and unforeseen world events will shape America’s history and the Obama comparisons will cease being relevant. Then historians will have their chance to cast a more informed light on legacy.

Can 90 US Senators Be Wrong?

December 28, 2016

CNN ran a bottom of the screen headline “90 US Senators Oppose Change in US Policy Towards Russia”. This is a signifiant number and almost assuredly is greater than the number of US Senators that accept man is playing a role in global climate change. What does it mean and is it significant?

The headline was most probably a shot across President-elect Trump’s bow. CNN did not cajole 90 Senators into taking this public position but the network was delighted to flash it across the screen. Maybe the Trumpster will begin a “tweet” avalanche.

The larger issue relates to why 90 Senators might agree on any policy. US Russian policy dates from the cold war when “containment” was the bi-partisan goal. With the fall of the Soviet Union, rather than adopt a “live and let live” policy versus Communist Russia, US policy switch to a hubris based view that Russia’s end was near. The path to this end was to entice the bordering countries (like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, etc) to join NATO and the Common Market. The big idea was to enable these countries to thrive economically and demonstrate to Russian people how their communism system was doomed for the trash heap. Then, these experts theorized, Russia would crumble from within.

The experts appear not to have read the Catherine The Great biography by Robert K Messie. This biography reveals the deeply entrenched Russian DNA which is paranoid about threats from abroad. US inspired intrusion into these former “buffer” States set off nationalistic alarm bells. Russian conservatives and Communist hardliners have marshaled the Russian public’s support for saving Mother Russia. Hence we have seen intervention in Georgia, Crimea, and now Syria.

So much for that policy.

Thinking Americans should seriously question any US Russian policy which worries about Communism. If there is not already sufficient evidence that pure Communism does not work (compared to most democratic capitalist systems), then a new US Russian foreign policy crafted to change Russia is day dreaming.

This a long winded way of saying that the Senate would be wise to listen to what President-elect is really thinking about in terms of Russian relations. Assuming instead that the State Department is prima facia correct is a risky bet.

The world has changed. Think about it. There is the West led by the US, there is Russia, there is China, and there are a number of rogue or potential rogue nations, possessing nuclear weapons, and all with ideologies truly foreign to Western thinking. So how can the US follow a foreign policy with a singular view of Russia? How can a US Russian foreign policy not consider China and these rogue nations too?

The world has become too small for a set of specific country oriented foreign policies. There is a need for an overall US policy towards all foreign powers.  This policy must envision US values and what the US would be willing to fight about.

Peaceful coexistence ought to be the base minimum with mutual economic growth as the preferred outcome.

The world is a messy place and President-elect Trump needs to express his views too.

Whether the Trump Administration can put forward a strategic vision or will prefer a series of one-off policies time will tell. Until such time, there is no reason to be critical of Trump given the current out of date US policy.

ISIS and World War II

October 27, 2015

News reports today said President Obama would soon announce his approval of a military plan to move US military assets closer to the front lines in Syria and Iraq. What does that really mean?

On one level moving troops who are already there and not changing their mission seems like “no news news”. This announcement, however, could mean much more. And much more is probably not wise.

As World War II drew to a close, Allied Forces raced towards Berlin intent on getting there before Soviet troops. The race was all about territory and seizing most of Germany and its capital thereby keeping the Soviet Union contained in Eastern Europe. The Soviets had the opposite goal and wish to extend its influence as far as it could.

One possibility for the US Syrian repositioning might be similar to WWII. If one believes Assad is about to fall, then the US might want to have a presence in Syria.  Subsequently, a partitioned Syria might geographically provide the West with territorial advantages helpful in concluding a larger peace plan. In return for Russian withdrawal, the US could agree (without losing face) to withdraw too.

The US Iraq repositioning could follow similar logic but this time towards Iran. Iran will have continuing interests with Iraq and will want a route to resupply its client, Hezbollah, in southern Syria.

There is, unfortunately, another explanation.

“Head to tail” thinking (the opposite of comprehensive) has marked US Middle East involvement since George W Bush’s ill-fated Iraq invasion and occupation.   US military may be just saying they need their special operations personnel closer to the front than where they are currently placed without necessarily thinking about unintended consequences. Just a military tactical adjustment. Hmmm.

Until last week, it had been over two years since a US military member was killed in Iraq. With the death of a special ops master sergeant, the US may be stepping again onto a slippery slope.

The level and quality of Congressional “war talk” is extremely worrisome. There is no shortage of politicians willing to criticize President Obama, calling him weak and lacking any type of Middle East plan. If you listen, however, not a one of these chicken hawks has a comprehensive Middle East plan. The politicians are acutely aware that there is no stomach in the voting American public for another ground war in the Middle East but with elections ahead, these politicians want swagger points.

President Obama needs to demand comprehensive plans from the military which entail only the amount of troops currently there. The illusion that if ISIS were suddenly eliminated there would sunshine and peace in the Middle East must not take root in military or political thinking. ISIS is just the current group of thugs.

The Middle East is fundamentally a mess and will remain so until radical Islam is rejected and a real move to modernity is made. This is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

One of the great foreign affairs successes of the Cold War went by the name “containment”. US policy was aimed at containing, not eliminating the spread of Soviet Union influence. The US Middle East enemy is not Russia, it is rather the failed States/lawless radical Muslim extremist groups who are set on making a better life for themselves without adopting modernity.

Containment could be the answer once again.

Dick and Liz, Truly Exceptional

August 30, 2015

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal carries a half page op-ed column by Liz and Dick Cheney. The father daughter team went way beyond attempting to rewrite history in their piece. One is tempted to believe their column was really an attempt to hawk their new book due out in September. Seeing it in any other light would either bring further discredit to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s long years of public service, or more cynically, underscore the failings of those who cannot bridge world changes and insist upon living in the past.

The Cheney’s column, titled “Restoring American Exceptionalism”, is roughly constructed in three parts. They open with a claim that American Exceptionalism has its roots in the founding days of our Country. Hmmm. The Cheneys do not belabor this claim and immediately move on to slamming President Obama for abandoning Iraq and making a “bad” deal with Iran.

The Cheneys omit any explanation why President Obama was in a position to remove US troops from Iraq in the first place, and say nothing about what a mess Iraq became after President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney invaded and occupied Iraq, thereby opening Pandora’s Box. Probably just a minor detail in Dick and Liz’s opinion (or an inconvenient truth in many other’s minds).

By this point, Dick and Liz are full throated in their denunciation of President Obama over the Iran nuclear deal. Their argument reads like the words were from AIPAC or maybe even Prime Minister Netanyahu. As you might guess, the Cheneys offer no alternative path or explanation why no agreement does not lead to war while an agreement does. Hmmm.

After making a “President Obama – Neville Chamberlain” comparison, the Cheney’s catch their breath on reminisce over the successes of WWII and post war recovery, and of course, the winning of the cold war. I guess these are things “exceptionalsim” is made of.

It is doubtful any one can accuse the Cheneys of being unsure of their visions nor hampered with too many facts. Simply check out PNAC (Project for the New American Century) begun in 1997.  Cheney’s view of the world (especially the Middle East) and the unbridled use of American military power is on display. What’s so wrong with using other people’s children to fight on the ground? It’s called an all volunteer Army and a great thing when there are not so many other civilian jobs.

The kindest light that can be put on this column is it represents a crass attempt to merchandize a book. The Cheneys show complete ignorance of true American Exceptionalism and instead attempt to conceal America’s foremost foreign policy failure (Iraq War) with shameful comparisons to former great Americans. George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, and Harry Truman would spin in their graves if they could read this column.

The Middle East (especially Iran), China, and Russia all represent complex challenges for America foreign policy. One foreign policy approach is unlikely to work for all. Selecting the best approach for each will be both difficult but critical to maintaining a peaceful world. Negotiating by laying down ultimatums is the quickest way to failure. Negotiating in good faith may not always produce desired results also but good faith is the only way win-win outcomes can be forged.

The Cheneys don’t recognize this alternative.

Political Lessons

June 11, 2015

Jeb Bush is currently touring Europe. With his “Statesman’s” glasses, former Governor Jeb Bush is taking every photo op he can muster in order to project a learned, but tough on defense image. The bad guys while in Europe are the Russians. While this is a safer position than getting involved talking about ISIS or the Middle East, Bushes comments beg many questions.

For example, Bush said he thought the US should increase its troop level in Europe. Hmmm.

Bush said that recent Russian actions in Crimea and the Ukraine should not go unnoticed. When asked should the US station troops on the Russia boarders, he replied “I don’t know yet”. What more does he need to know? What would he think about Russian troops in Cuba, Venezuela, or some other nearby Latin American country?

Beyond the obvious chest pounding and “how much better a President I would be compared to President Obama” symbolism, Bush’s comments seem shallow and poorly thought through. These are comments anyone could have already made from the US mainline. There was no need for a trip to Europe to suddenly gain this insight. (Most reasoned Statesmen, however, would keep this type of blustering demagoguing under control since there are limits to what the US can do without encountering an equal and opposite response from Russia.

Possibly the most cynical aspect of Bush’s comments, of course, comes back to the simple question, “how do you propose to pay for these increases in defense spending”?

It should be no surprise that Bush would either propose cuts in entitlements or emergency spending (code for putting the cost on the credit card and increasing the debt). There would be no references to increased taxes.

Bush’s comments sound attractive, almost leadership wise. They are, however, typical of what we are going to hear from most all the GOP candidates. Wrapping the American flag around themselves and proposing extending American presences around the world, this rhetoric sounds great. In addition to the patriotic appeal, GOP politicians will imply a contrast with President Obama and how today’s complicated world could have been different had one of them been President instead of President Obama. Hmmm.

Jeb Bush’s comments come as no surprise. What else would a candidate do in similar circumstances? IMO, Bush knows the shallowness of his comments and knows the complications reluctant American citizens could bring to anyone proposing more military engagements. Bush’s comments provide a “political lesson” should other GOP hopefuls want to learn.

Extending America’s military reach will be both dangerous and expensive, and come with a wide range of unanticipated consequences. With a political base that does not want to see any increase in taxes and has been condition to expect a decrease in the debt, there is no way Bush can accomplish these overseas moves without draconian cuts in entitlements.

Grandpas and grandmas get ready, your social security and Medicare will soon be in play.

Delivering The Mail

April 16, 2015

In an amazing feat of audacity, a Florida postal worker flew his ultralight from Harrisburg, PA to the steps of the Capital in Washington, DC. The pilot landed his craft without incident and was immediately arrested. The pilot explained that he was protesting the obscene amounts of money currently transforming the US political process. I guess this 60 year old individual feels strongly about the corrosive effect of unlimited money.

Listening to the evening news, the postman’s campaign financing protest was lost in their exploration of how anyone could have flown so close to the White House and the Capital. And if that was not enough, the Press reported that the postman had describe his intention about a year ago and had been contacted by local newspapers and Federal investigators. Money in politics, I guess, is both not newsworthy or attention getting for the Feds. Hmmm.

For Russia and China, this was probably a non-event. Would either country be pushed to the point of taking military action against the US, they could employ submarines, long range aircraft, and intercontinental missiles.

But for any of the dysfunction Middle East regimes, this incident may have been a wake up call. Al Qaeda wrote the first chapter in unconventional warfare with the attacks on the World Trade Center. Now their successors have been given a demonstration on how a small, unobtrusive aircraft could deliver a knock out punch to both the White House and the Capital.

Hmmm.

Mutual deterrents kept the cold war powers at bay even though there were conservative war mongers in the capitals of the major powers. With the emergence of Muslim radical groups who apparently possess nothing they wish to protect, the major powers have no mutual deterrent tools to combat them.

One would hope that the light bulb would go on in Washington, Moscow, and Beijing that it is high time to move beyond the cold war, and work together to contain, defang, and ultimately domesticate these radical Muslim threats before they possess weapons of greater mass destruction.