Posted tagged ‘ukraine’


September 3, 2014

Syria and the Ukraine offer insight into how a delusional person, place or thing is can come to be. Both countries reflect truly delusional thinking from political parties, the press, and the average citizen. The crisis in both these countries reflect failed US foreign policy coupled with dysfunctional behavior by others.

US foreign policy is built upon a false premise that capitalism and democracy can flower almost any place in the world.

In many places, “covert” US policy has tried to give this presumed thirst for democratic ways a boost (in fact, actually many boosts). In the 50’s and 60’s, dictators were preferred over popular governments because the US feared subsequent movement to communism.  In the 80’s the cold war ended.


  • When the Soviet Union imploded, US policy thought the timing was perfect for NATO and the European Community to expand, right up to Russia’s door steps. This view was “policy”. What drove policy, however, was the business and banking communities’ belief that billions in profits lay ahead, especially if Russian communism could give way to a democratic Russia.
  • With Syria, a similar foreign policy view was held. The Arab Spring had turned many into the streets to demand more from their governments. Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and then Syria all hosted demonstrations and government attempts to suppress.
  • The US Syrian policy was particularly confusing. Just as with Saddam Hussein, Bashar al Assad was a brute of a leader. The Assad Government was broadly viewed as repressive and unrepresentative of the Syrian people.  But with the exception of Lebanon, Syria kept within its borders.
  • American policy, following the Arab Spring called for Assad’s resignation and nothing more. Assad had already seen what happened to strong minority leaders once they were out of office or overthrown. Assad wanted no part of that. Hence, a civil war.
  • The overthrow of the Russian friendly Ukrainian President Yanukovych was the last straw. Shortly there after, the reality of Eastern Ukraine and its Russian speaking majority became clear. Crimea voted with their feet.
  • Now, the eastern part of Ukraine is doing its best (with much Russian help) to pull more geography into the Russian sphere. These Russian loving Ukrainians are expressing the policy of mother land and free expression. The driving forces, again are economic with Russia wanting more geography (customers) and the separatists leaders expecting personal gains in a Soviet win. Syria, on the other hand, is a bit more complex.
  • The well armed Islamic extremists (ISIS) are simply crazy people by 21st century standards. They represent a continuation of al Qaeda and the Taliban. One can speculate that ISIS, aside from its advertised religious motivation, is driven by trying to build another Saudi-like State where this group of leaders become very rich men.

The ISIS foreign policy of converting everyone in their paths to strict Islam is totally delusional. Money and power drive this activity.

This week when ISIS released two videos showing the beheading of American journalists, most civilized people were appalled and disgusted. American politicians, member of the press, and everyday citizens have cried out for action. “These barbarians must be eliminated”. Hmmm.

There is no time like the present to reflect for a moment.

  • Who facilitated the current situation with a well intended (?) but naive invasion and occupation of Iraq… while that country could have been concentrating its efforts on “hot pursuit” of al Qaeda and the Taliban?
  • Which country spoke openly of Middle Eastern countries adopting “one person, one vote” when these people have never know democratic rule?
  • What country supported the overthrow of the Ukrainian freely elected President?
  • And what country openly encouraged regime change in Middle Eastern Countries during the Arab Spring?

Looking forward, the issue should not be “what would be ideal”, rather the issue is “what is possible” given the actual conditions.

The 2003 Iraq invasion has been intertwined with allegations that oil or Israeli foreign policy objectives greatly influenced American Middle East policy. Both seem plausible and may have been contributory. What cannot, however, be denied that American domestic politics and the simplistic “good and bad” labels were applied to the Middle East players.

More apropos would be to perceive all the players as bad and our job, if we insist upon interfering, is to pick those players who might create the least damage.

President Obama has learned that the entire American apparatus, CIA, State Department, Defense Department, and the business community see the world through very shaded glasses. Libya, like large parts of norther Africa will soon be a lawless failed State. Syria, without Assad will follow. It is not clear about Iraq but very recents events suggest a soft Federation (Sunni, Shiites, and Kurds) maybe the most practical outcome.

So what does that mean about ISIS?

The press needs to surrender the ISIS headlines and go dark. US and appropriate allies should put together clandestine operations which eliminate this extremist element or at least remove ISIS ability to create havoc. The world and surely Americans do not need hour by hour chants about what is the US going to do about these beheadings? I wonder whether the press or political figures have thought that our drone strikes almost assuredly decapitate both their targets and many unintended. Hmmm.

So what about Russia (versus the Ukraine)?

A wise move would be for the US to consolidate its post cold war gains and stop trying to move up to Russia’s border.  The American mentality does not understand “mother Russia” as it does not understand the Caliphate.  A soft surrender of the eastern parts of the Ukraine is probably the best option of rather poor (and delusional) choices.  Hmmm.



The Key Question – Why?

August 12, 2014

The news media is reporting that President Obama’s approval rating is hovering around 40. Pretty low for a President.

The media normally introduce this information when also reporting some foreign event which is either bad in itself or uncertain as to how it would ultimately turn out. Cause and effect? Or just a random occurrence?

The President is and has been a poor communicator as it relates to providing both context and rational for American actions or lack of actions. There is no doubt in my mind that the President has thought about foreign events, has considered consequences of possible actions (or non-actions), and has chosen the path which maximizes the possibility of not getting deeper involvement. Avoiding foreign entanglements was a chapter of history Barack Obama must have studied well.  He just can’t find the way to explain it.

So why would these new media sources constantly reference the President’s approval rating? While his approval rating is news worthy, it is far more likely the reporter is trying to question wisdom of the Presidents decision without appearing to be providing editorial content.

So lets follow this “why” a little further.

  • Why did the US not get involved on the ground in Libya? The US did participate in the Qhaddafi regime change but chose not to stay around for the next phases.
  • Why did the US not get involved in the Syria insurgency? The US did clearly indicate it favored the removal of Assad but has been reluctant to provide arms and supplies to rebel groups.
  • Why has the US not laid out terms for what it thinks is a just settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? The US (and the world) pretty much agree on the broad outline of a just settlement.
  • Why has the US not inserted itself into the Ukrainian situation more forcefully and threatened Russia with military force? The US has clearly stated that it wants the Russians to let well enough alone.
  • Why has the US not shown greater support for Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines in their dispute with China over who owns what in the South China Sea? The US has expressed the wish that the parties would resolve this issue through negotiations.

In many regards, each of these situations lies on a slippery slope which ends (or could end) with US military involvement. In addition, even with a military successful solution in any of these situations, it is difficult to see the future state related to any US national interest.

Of course humanitarian considerations are motivating (stop the hunger or senseless killing) but why would that be a US national interest? Who made us king? And more basically, who in the US is willing to pay for it?

One can imagine a future state where too many regions of the world have open armed conflicts or have become populated with pirates and rogue states. International commerce could become captive and such a state of affairs could negatively hurt the US economy and our quality of life.

But can you imagine such a state and it not also hurting Russia, China, and Europe too?

As the run up to the 2016 Presidential elections unfolds, we will hear all sorts of descriptions of what’s in the US national interest. One might even recall hearing that invading and occupying Iraq was in America’s national interest. Be careful.

Today US domestic politics are horribly confused. Some advocate deep cuts in government spending without any plan to deal with the consequences (economically or socially). Others advocate a moral code and see that code applying to all Americans while others are as adamantly opposed.

Others see the US as exceptional and propose our way of living as the model for the rest of the world. And still others see no place for US involvement in world affairs. There is no consensus.

Any foreign policy which brings with it the probability of a slippery slope to armed conflict is very dangerous given the lack of national resolve.

The US economic and political model is as good as any, and probably the best, in the world. Our model, however, is not so good as to have the capacity to take on all the problems the world has to offer.

Our government needs to have the confidence that very limited foreign engagements (the path we appear on) are superior to whole scale military efforts.

It would, however, be special if President Obama could say this like Bill Clinton would have.

What Makes People Do Such Things?

July 21, 2014

Why would any country supply irregular troops with high powered, sophisticated missiles? Why would anyone possessing such missiles fire them indiscriminately at a flying object some 35,000 feet above? Why would these irregulars, once the plane shot down had been confirmed to be a civilian, non-combatant carrying about 300, not have stood down and allowed international aide workers to humanly collect the remains?

Why would a country bristle at the notion they were using disproportionate force in trying to stop missile attacks? Why would that nation act indignantly even though the death toll was running about 500 of them to 2 of us? Why would a country allow itself to get “suckered” in so that any response, no matter how justified, was likely to kill non-combatants?

Why would one religious sect wreak havoc upon another, all in the name of Allah? Why would the political establishment insist upon no realignment of government ministries, assuring a continuation of violence? Why would anyone send another to self detonate a massive bomb in hopes of killing an many innocents as possible?

Power and wealth offer as good as any explanation. If you have what you consider too small a share or maybe you have been cut out entirely, one can understand efforts, within certain bounds, of trying to correct the imbalance. Money and the personal power to get money can usually be attributed to most conflicts.

This weekend in Philadelphia, the Catholic Archdiocese made all in order in the Cathedral. The occasion was the visit of a relic, a two once sample of Pope John Paul’s blood. The faithful were invited to worship in front of the blood sample and use the occasion to seek divine intercession. Hmmm.

Besides creating the allusion of vampires and other blood suckers, why would any foist such a thing on others hoping for something better in life?

All of these events, in one way or another, defy rational explanation. They do reveal the lengths man is capable of going while at the same time offering what he purports to be a rational explanation.

What makes people do such things?

Slow Boil Over A Surrogate War

July 20, 2014

The downing of Malaysian Air flight 17 was a shock. As time as progressed, the justification of the senseless murders of almost 300 people is no less murky.  Our madness slow boil seems centered upon a surrogate war.

Was this simply an accident of war or was the missile attack part of a premeditated message? The 300 unlucky passengers had nothing to do with either side in the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Malaysian Airlines is based in Kuala Lumpur, in an entirely different continent.

What message could be contained in this tragedy?

Reports that insurgents or possibly just local residents were scouring the debris fields picking up valuables including credit cards has added disgust. Instead of treating the death scene with respect, it appears to have turned into an opportunity for quick gain, at least for some.

Is that the message, human condition is abominable?

According to a New York Times report, the air route which the plane was using was open… open that is until the plane would have reached the Russian border. Unbelievably, the Russian airway authorities had closed the airspace beginning with its Ukrainian border eastward.

Flight 17 was downed about 50 miles short of the border. The question of the day is what would have happened had the plane not been short down?

The second question of the day, why would Malaysian Air have flown a route it could not have completed?

There are many conspiracy theories possible. A more straight forward explanation is human error. Sophisticated surface to air missiles in the hands of irregular military types makes no sense on all accounts. Command and control is lacking with irregulars.

Non-combatants should be expected to assume they are not a target, so flying the same route they have always flown ought to be expected. A responsible airline, however, would have been expected to have checked for any alerts.

The Ukraine conflict is a surrogate war. The West (Europe plus the US) versus the Russian Federation. The West is trying to extend its influence east and the Russians are trying to block these efforts. For the West, bluffing and then looking the other way is a preferred strategy. For Russia, bluffs normally do not exist. This contrast of style was for sure a contributing factor.

The top people on both sides know this, yet were willing to play the surrogate game.

The surrogate game is being played in other lands too. Syria, Iraq, Gaza, and to an extent, in Afghanistan to name a few. The mess called central Africa is another place to observe non-combatants dying from outside influence.

The problem with these wars is that the sides are not clear. Who are the good guys and who are the bad ones. The US has a role to play but it is not around the use of US military force.

More likely the US role is to reiterate where our influence will be placed, where we will be neutral, and where we will not exert any influence. Once these positions are made clear, then we must ensure our actions support them. The current world confusion has arisen because the US has gone silent (while still exerting force) and allowed itself to believe it could expand its influence unrestrictedly.

Expanding the European Union was risky, expanding NATO was bordering on foolish and trying to convince the Russians that “star wars” was good for them was a joke.

Most of the world is poverty stricken. Most of those region’s would be leaders are simply people in pursuit of personal wealth. Democratic rule (as we know it) is just not going to happen. Some form of benevolent authoritarian government is the best those populations can hope for.

Telling the American people that open elections, capitalism, and human rights will bring much of the world into the 21st century is a disservice to everyone and for countries such as Russia and China, represents a threat to their established governments. It times for the rhetoric which President Obama and members of Congress select to get real.

Real in the sense of the facts, real in the sense of what is truly possible.  Real in the sense of McDonalds or Subway or Nike or Facebook or Twitter.  These social forces will do more than bullets and bombs.


July 18, 2014

On a certain level, the Ukrainian insurgency is understandable. The West wants to draw the Ukraine away from Russian Federation’s influence in an attempt to weaken Russia.   The Russian Federation wants to do the opposite.

Russian strategy involves weakening the Ukrainian government (minimizing nationalism forces) and as a result, allowing century old natural ties between the Russians and Ukrainian people to show through. Just as drawing boarders around certain middle east territory and calling it “Iraq” or “Syria” does not make a natural nation, claiming the lands known as the Ukraine are separate and distinct from Russian ties is just as hollow.

On another level, however, special interests in both countries are mainly interested in their personal wealth.  Surprise, surprise. These special interests are closely linked to the national leaders (who also seek wealth enhancement).   From this alliance, foreign policy is drawn.

A weakened Ukraine will serve the needs of corrupt leaders best allowing them to divert money to themselves. In this regard, the Russian Federation’s self interest plays into the time honored practice of political leaders fleecing their people. The West’s strategy assumes a “zero sum game” and what Russia loses, the West gains.  

The Ukrainian insurgency has pitted Russian supplied “insurgents” against the formal Ukrainian military (surrogates for the West). Innocent Ukrainians as well as combatants from both sides have died in sporadic skirmishes. The loss if life on both sides has been senseless especially given the stated goals of the common people.

I wonder whether the political leaders think about these deaths?

Yesterday, however, there was an event that made these deaths look small. A Malaysian Airline Boing 777 jet plane, carrying close to 300 non-combatant passengers, was shot down while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

The already senseless insurgency can boast of even greater collateral damage.

It might be understandable were the downing of the 777 an isolated non-combatant event. When boys play with guns, bad things happen.   Just look to Gaza, Iraq, or Syria to see the impact of proxy wars upon the local non-combatant population.

I wonder whether they teach this (non-combatant collateral damage) in the schools where young men and women go to get their Statecraft degrees?

Learning From Recent History

April 30, 2014

The usual Congressional suspects are exercising their vocal cords again. These darlings of the Sunday talk shows are denouncing President Obama for lack of action in the Middle East and the Ukraine. Besides “leading from behind”, President Obama has simply been too tepid in his support of supposedly western leaning forces in these hot spots, they say. When asked to be specific, other than supplying arms to “our friends”, these critics have no response.


Syria is Iraq all over again. Were the US to get militarily involved, we should expect to be stepping into a totally amorphous situation. Everyone involved in the Syrian conflict is in it for themselves. The Syrian insurrection is not about ideals like the rule of law, or human rights. Rather it is about which political group can control which source of State revenue and benefit more than the others.

Israel and the Palestinians feel better off at the point of each other’s dagger than finding difficult sharing compromises. For the Palestinian Authority, this means continued employment and ready made excuses when the average Palestinian complains about the low standard of living. For Israel, no peace agreement allows the internal political process to avoid dealing with religious extremists. On the BBC evening news last night, a Jewish Hebron settler said that he was in Hebron because god wanted Jews living there. A peace agreement would undercut to this crazy thinking.

Egypt has also prompted criticism. When the US called for “democracy” with free and open elections, they got their wish. The only problem, the Muslim Brotherhood won. Under the Brotherhood’s leadership, the Constitution was redrawn changing the rules of the game (a no no in a Democratic society). Now with the military back in charge, believe it or not, there are Congress Members calling for change again.

The Ukraine is the latest conflict zone. Again American’s sense of fair play has been injured. While the theater of the absurd plays out in Eastern Ukraine, it should be clear that at best there is ambivalence within the Ukraine residents over its central government. Ukraine has no rich history of capitalism and democratic rule There is, instead, a longing for dependable handouts from the government. The Ukraine will be a financial drain on who ever becomes its rich uncle.

So, it rang true the other day when President Obama wondered out loud what people were thinking when they advocated getting tough with Russia? He asked whether they had learned anything after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan?

It is true that these are all complex and complicated situations. Direct sustained intervention was wrong and costly in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  It would be even a greater mistake now.  For enlightenment to return to these lands, it will take a century or longer.

Arguably the US should exert light pressure in the direction of capitalism and democracy in order to guide the nations forward. Light pressure, however, is not the hallmark of the military.

Cream Floats

April 19, 2014

President Obama has been criticized for his so-called “leading from behind” foreign policy. While lacking bravado, and with certainty we know one strategy cannot fit all situations, “leading from behind” still has much to offer.

And, it is quite possible that President Obama may be wise again applying this approach to the Ukraine and Crimea.

Much has been written about Russian President Putin and his alleged land grab of Crimea. The news media portrays Putin and Russia as the black hats, strong and acting as a bully. Traditionally, the white hat role is supposed to be played by the US. It is the US who is supposed to oppose Russian aggression (as the US did in the past against the Soviet Union).

The typical picture puts the US military face to face with Russia’s. Not this time, at least not at this point with the Ukrainian situation. And, why is this a wise approach?

  • The Ukraine was previously a member of the Soviet Union and has had a long history of close Russian relations.
  • The Ukraine is Russia’s neighbor and if Russia chose to invade, the speed Russia could show would make it strategically impossible for the US or NATO to mount an armed resistance.
  • Crimea has closer ties to Russia than to the Ukraine.
  • There is no imminent threat to American interests.
  • And, both Russia and the people of the Ukraine and Crimea will soon learn that Russian rule is not the way to a better life.

By “leading from behind”, the US is allowing facts on the ground to become clearer to all parties. When the Soviet Union cut the Eastern European countries free in the 80’s, it did so because the Soviets could no longer afford what little support it provided these lands.

Communism, while possibly a very fair economic system in theory, in practice was both inefficient and unproductive for the average citizen. In short, most everyone endured a poorer existence and learned from experience to do as little as possible.

Separate from economic communism, but essential to how the Soviets administered their authority, was intense measures to control what people thought and said. Those living in the Soviet Union were told their form of government and economy was the best in the world. Hmmm.

Fast forward. The internet has changed the world. People can easily see that others live differently. Trying now to tell Ukrainians and Crimean residents that they must be content with even less than they had before will not be an easy sell.

Russia will also be faced with issues of food, water, and fuel availability. Does Russia intend to supply (or at least subsidize) their availability? And how much will the Russian Government be willing to take away from its domestic budget and prop up the Ukraine and Crimea?

One can find “hot heads” or mercenary soldiers for hire anyplace. At a reasonably low cost, these militias can project popular opposition. But when it comes to long term control the bills go up.

Russia is faced with this corundum.

“Leading from behind” should help the US stay out of another expensive conflict and allow natural forces to convince both the Russians and the Ukrainians that there is nothing to be gained by the Ukraine aligning with Russia.

This is not an open and shut conclusion.  Life will not be that rosy aligning with Europe, it just won’t be worse.  For the US, it should be a win-win.  Russia gets the extra costs and probably a very disgruntled people should Ukraine realign with Russia.  Or, if the Ukraine aligns with Europe, there will be one more chance for an open economy to grow.