Category Archives: Foreign Policy

Montenegro, The Port of Bar, and Putin’s Puppet

Port of Bar

This is Montenegro.  The Orange Thing highlights the Port of Bar.  This link will take you to an AP article explaining how Russia was interfering in Montenegrin affairs as of March 22, 2017.  This Reuters article explains how Montenegro “jilted” Russia and joined NATO in May 2017.   And, this 2013 article reports how Montenegro refused Russia’s request to build a military base at the Adriatic port of Bar to support the Russian naval fleet in the Mediterranean Sea.

Any questions?

 

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And Then Helsinki Happened

Nothing happened yesterday in Helsinki, Finland, which offered anyone any hope for a more peaceful world, a world wherein the behavior of Russia will be restrained from — shooting down civilian aircraft, from invading neighboring nations, from attacking the democratic institutions of free nations, from poisoning and killing people in the United Kingdom, from supporting other egregious regional dictators, from assassinating journalists, from fomenting disorder in western democracies and western democratic institutions both economic and military.

What does Putin want? Does he want to take back control of the Baltic nations? To make further incursions into Ukraine? To increase the influence of the faltering Russian economy?  To fly the Russian flag — physically and metaphorically over the world camouflaging the fundamental weakness Reagan recognized; Russia as a third world nation with a first world military.  Whatever Putin wants, whatever goals he wishes to achieve, he has a willing tool — a useful idiot? an unwilling accomplice? a willing foil? — in the President of the United States of America.  We can rationally assume Mr. Putin wants more than just a press conference with an obsequious President.

There will be many commenters who can provide context and additional information about the geo-political ramifications of the Debacle in Helsinki, some have already weighed in.  I’m going to retreat to my comfort zone — my soybeans if you will — and look at the debacle from that narrower perspective.

Russia’s economy isn’t even in the same ball park with the United States and China.  The US has the world’s largest GDP,  (pdf) China has the second, then it’s downhill.

GDP ranking 2017

Notice that Russia isn’t in the top five, it isn’t even in the top ten; it’s number 11 on the 2017 wold bank rankings.  If we were looking to obvious alliances to maximize economic benefits the US and China have the most to gain by cooperating.  We have the top two economies, by far and away the most powerful economic engines in the world.   Yes, we have differences — intellectual property rights issues in particular — but given the inter- connectivity of modern manufacturing, logistics, and capital, cooperation will get both countries ahead of what they could accomplish singularly.  So, what does the current mis-administration do? Assault the EU and slap trade penalties on China.  So, this is reported this morning:

President Trump is inciting a trade war, undermining NATO and painting Europe as a foe. It’s no wonder, then, that the European Union is looking elsewhere for friends.

On Tuesday in Tokyo, it signed its largest trade deal ever, a pact with Japan that will slash customs duties on products like European wine and cheese, while gradually reducing tariffs on cars. The agreement will cover a quarter of the global economy, and is the latest in a string of efforts either concluded or in the works with countries like Australia, Vietnam and even China.

Now, look back up to the ranking list.   Then, the article continues:

While the president was threatening to rip up the North American Free Trade Agreement, the European Union was putting the final touches on a free-trade pact with Canada. It took effect late last year.

Europe also reached a deal in principle with Mexico to update an existing free-trade agreement, one that should be finalized by the end of the year. Accords with Vietnam and Singapore are going through the final stages of approval.

Lovely, nothing like spurning all the girls at the dance and then wondering why one is  rapidly becoming the world’s wall flower.  So, we’re throwing in our lot with the Russian economy? Why?  The *President may call Russia a competitor, but I can call my dachshund a rottweiler too, all to the same effect. [WBUR]  And, there’s this observation to contemplate:

Two other GDP comparisons are illustrative of Russia’s economic weakness. Its GDP is barely more than that of South Korea, yet South Korea’s population is slightly more than one-third of Russia’s. In effect, the South Korean people are three times as productive as the Russians.

The GDP of the European Union (EU), which Russia is aggressively trying to undermine, is 11 times greater than Russia’s GDP even though the EU has only three-and-a-half times as many people as Russia. Like the South Koreans, the EU population is three times as productive as the Russians.

[…]

In international trade, Russia does not amount to much other than as an energy exporter and, increasingly, selling wheat to China. Ranking just 16th among the world’s exporters, in terms of dollar value, Russia’s impact on global trade is minuscule compared to China or Germany despite its substantial oil and natural gas exports.

On a per-capita basis, Russia is even more deficient as an economic competitor. In 2017, Russia’s per-capita GDP was under $11,000, less than one-fifth of U.S. per-capita GDP and on a par with Turkey and Romania.

Russia’s economic shortcomings long predate the sanctions imposed on it by the United States and other countries. Its economy is hardly a first-class performer for its citizens due to its weakness. In fact, they are not faring well.

In short, Senator John McCain was correct in observing that Russia is a gas pump masquerading as a country.  If someone can take a look at that GDP ranking list and explain to me — in rational terms — why the US would pick fights with Mexico and Canada, with the European Union, with the UK, with China, and then cuddle up to a “gas pump masquerading as a country,” please do so!

In addition to statements being constitutionally deplorable, militarily insane, and morally reprehensible, Orange Blossom added a large dollop of unadulterated economic IDIOCY.

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More Random Thoughts and Musings: Friday Fun Edition

Trump windsor

Now this is interesting.  Her Majesty decided on a nice BLUE outfit.  A nice Democratic blue ensemble.  The Independent has more.  Perhaps she didn’t get a laminated copy of his election map? Neither, apparently, did the Evening Standard’s estimated 250,000 London Protesters. Faux News was pleased to call them “rowdy.”  And then the indictments came down, just before Orange Foolious’s meeting for his performance review with Putin in Helsinki. Timing in indictments, as in the preparation of Pilau Rice, is important.

Meanwhile, the Russians remain “unapprehended” as the Chicago Tribune reports nearly half the children under the age of 5 separated from their parents remain apart from their families. The ACLU has called for the Misadministration to hand over information regarding reunifying children with their families.

House Republicans may want some separation from the Misadministration after their Strzokanalia (©@Karoli) proved to be a “terrible day for Republicans.”  Stephen Colbert has more. He usually does.

Today seems not the day to shut the TV machine down. Thus, there may (or may not) be more updates to this post as the Blimp Baby Flies, The Brits march, the Misadministration squirms, and GOP members of Congress muse about how to salvage their tattered party banner.  The Queen showed her ‘tea guests’ the exit in about 58 minutes…wishing we could do the same.

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Random Thoughts and Backfill

trump baby blimpOkay, it’s official. At 18,000£ this is beyond my budget, but it will be so nice to see it in flight tomorrow.  That’s $23773.99 at today’s exchange rate. I can go the 99¢, the rest of it not so much.

So lovely to hear The Angry Man Baby say he wants to meet with former British foreign secretary Boris Johnson.  Precisely what Prime Minister May doesn’t need at the present time as she works to rebuild her rather fragile coalition in the wake of the Brexit debacle.  But, what does AMBaby know of this, he’s not even familiar with the term “hard Brexit.”  Click on that link and a British newspaper will explain it for you.

Now, there IS some news ringing pleasantly in my ears –> Jacky Rosen is outpacing Dean (I have more positions on more issues than the Kamasutra) Heller.  This, I could learn to like very much. Democrats also appear to be doing rather well in the voter registration department, at least according to reports from early this month.

I have an idea!  If the Angry Man Baby wants to see all of Agent Peter Strzok’s non-work related messages to his lover, then let’s swap — Strzok hands over the mushy gushy and Trump hands over his tax returns for the last 20 years?  Fair enough?

obama uk visit

Check out the photo on the left — the Obama state visit to the UK — and compare that to the BBC’s version of Trump’s “working visit” to the Isle this week.  First off, notice the ties the gentlemen are wearing.  Obama = white tie event in Buckingham Palace. Trump = black tie event at Blenheim.  Obama = Queen Elizabeth II herself is in charge of the events, formal and informal, and there were informal social meetings.  Trump = being hosted by QEII’s youngest son Edward, Earl of Wessex, at a Palace — just not one anywhere all that close to London.  Trump =definitely not at Buckingham Palace for a meeting with QEII, he only gets one quick introduction in Windsor.  Wagers his reception from what interested public there might be won’t look anything like the “Harry-Meghan” wedding thing? Somewhere some British bookie is making odds…

Meanwhile, on a sadder note.  CBS reports that “under 3,000” migrant children have NOT been reunited with their parents.   The Misadministration is trying to parse the term “eligible” children such that children of parents who have already been deported aren’t eligible, and thus “don’t count.”   I  still can’t stomach the comment from Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar that the Misadministration is performing great acts of “generosity and charity” by reuniting families. 48 hours after the comment and I still can’t swallow it. There is still obviously NO plan. No coordination. Cruelty begets incompetence.  It’s time for the cruelty to end.  it should never have started.

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DYI Guide to Orange Blimpy’s Potential NATO Disaster

Proposition One:  Yes, the Orange Buffoon can be, and probably is, too uninformed and too downright stupid, to comprehend what his ridiculous comments and assertions mean in terms of the overall diplomatic and military alliances among western nations.  After all, he’s the one who’s pulled out of the Trans Pacific Partnership leaving the field to the Chinese in the region; the one who pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords leaving nations which tailored their policies to meet our objections to the Kyoto standards wondering what happened; and, the one who is undercutting the renegotiation of NAFTA, while making the G8 the G7 Plus 1.  So, why should we expect any other behavior from him?

Proposition Two:  He is committed to distributive negotiation/bargaining (as previously noted) and lacks the will and the commitment to engage in the more difficult, nuanced, and  complex forms of integrated negotiations.  Further, he does not have a firm grasp on facts, and those he may manage to grip he places out of context or uses in inappropriate settings.  And, now off to the NATO races…

NATO background and history:  See Department of State, Office of the Historian, “Milestones” which is no longer maintained, but still available.  This will provide information about NATO from 1945 to 1952.  NATO itself has a page devoted to the history of the alliance.    This site offers an update into current NATO perspectives such as:

The 21st century will not be all about peacebuilding, however. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its aggressive actions against Ukraine have been a sobering reminder of the importance of NATO’s core task: collective defence. This, coupled with the Syrian conflict, the rise of ISIL and terrorism (and often home-bred terrorism), has become a brutal reality across many continents. Meanwhile, tensions rise as migrants seek refuge from conflict in countries that are struggling with the weight of ethnic and religious strife, demographic pressures and economic underperformance. Cyberattacks are becoming ever more frequent and ever more destructive. And through social media and other means, the opponents of liberal open societies are spreading disinformation and propaganda that seek to undermine the values that NATO has always sought to protect and promote. Altogether, the complexity of the current security environment is such that NATO’s flexibility is, yet again, put to the test.

NATO funding and support:   Again, NATO itself maintains Internet publications of the various types of funding and mutual assistance projects associated with its core missions.  Please note that most of the contributions are indirect (national) as when countries send forces, equipment, and supplies to assist operations; or, provide assistance to the US for its operations in conjunction with NATO interests.  There are direct contributions and a system is in place to provide coordination and oversight.  Readers will also find it useful, I think, to read the 2014 Wales Summit Agreement on NATO, which can be found here.

Again, NATO is NOT a country club with dues. It is NOT a protection racket. No one “pays” to support it. It IS a mutual defense league.

Who is meeting the 2014 defense spending criteria? For starters, the US is spending 3.6% of its GDP on defense.  Forbes has a handy, up-to-date, interactive showing the percentage by country for defense spending.  While I periodically disagree with some of Forbes’ editorial policies, I usually have no reason to quibble with their statistics.  I’d recommend this source for accurate information on national defense spending.  At this point it might be advisable to return to the brief aphorism of British general Lord Hastings Ismay.  “The purpose of the new treaty organization founded in 1952, Ismay asserted, was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

The French, in particular, may have their reasons for finding a reassertion of German militarization problematic — as in 1870August 1914  to November 1918, and May 1940 to April 1945.  We should probably be understanding if they are a bit edgy on the subject.

We should also see NATO from the “keep the Russians out” perspective of the Baltic States.  See: “Trump Derides NATO as ‘Obsolete.’ Baltic Nations See It Much Differently.” in the New York Times, June 10, 2018.   See also, Business InsiderRussia appears to be building up its military bases near a weak point in the NATO alliance, June 10, 2018.  I’m rather glad not to be an Estonian right now.  I don’t want to be Ukrainian now either. See Radio Free Europe.  Ukraine’s water supply in Sky News.  Russian texts to Ukrainian soldiers in Unian Post.  And, then there’s that thing with Crimea.

Meanwhile, we can only hope that the US House of Representatives will follow the Senate’s lead in offering resolutions in support of the NATO alliance, and that Congress will continue to hold fast to the Magnitsky Act and the sanctions, although that little junket by Congressional GOP Moscow Mules over the 4th of July has me a tad worried.

Buckle Up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

 

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Flashback: The Long Telegram

Every once in a while at least one of the pundits on the Chatty Channels appears to have a functioning grasp of the history of US / Russian relations, and a sense of how prescient former diplomats have been in the past.  Such was the case when Ambassador Kennan’s 2/22/46 “Long Telegram” was referenced.

Kennan was describing “soviet” policy in post WWII relations but he might easily have been describing current Russian foreign policy.  What are some important Russian goals? Are they similar to what Kennan listed in 1946?

“(a) Everything must be done to advance relative strength of USSR as factor in international society. Conversely, no opportunity most be missed to reduce strength and influence, collectively as well as individually, of capitalist powers.

(b) Soviet efforts, and those of Russia’s friends abroad, must be directed toward deepening and exploiting of differences and conflicts between capitalist powers. If these eventually deepen into an “imperialist” war, this war must be turned into revolutionary upheavals within the various capitalist countries.

(c) “Democratic-progressive” elements abroad are to be utilized to maximum to bring pressure to bear on capitalist governments along lines agreeable to Soviet interests.

(d) Relentless battle must be waged against socialist and social-democratic leaders abroad.”

“…deepening and exploiting of differences and conflicts between capitalist powers” isn’t far from the current Russian efforts to create divisions and undermine coalitions like NATO, the European Union, and the United Nations.  We should also notice that it was, and is, a Russian goal to create problems for western nations both “collectively as well as individually.” Then as now.   There is another paragraph which deserves reflection, and Kennan delves into the origins of Russian opposition to western nations.

“At bottom of Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity. Originally, this was insecurity of a peaceful agricultural people trying to live on vast exposed plain in neighborhood of fierce nomadic peoples. To this was added, as Russia came into contact with economically advanced West, fear of more competent, more powerful, more highly organized societies in that area. But this latter type of insecurity was one which afflicted rather Russian rulers than Russian people; for Russian rulers have invariably sensed that their rule was relatively archaic in form fragile and artificial in its psychological foundation, unable to stand comparison or contact with political systems of Western countries. For this reason they have always feared foreign penetration, feared direct contact between Western world and their own, feared what would happen if Russians learned truth about world without or if foreigners learned truth about world within. And they have learned to seek security only in patient but deadly struggle for total destruction of rival power, never in compacts and compromises with it.”

This analysis goes a way toward explaining the Russian efforts to control news, indulge in state propaganda instead of a free press, and its propensity to destroy those who would provide information about Russian machinations to western authorities.  [EveningStandard] Witness the changing Russian stories about the Salisbury Attack: (i) It wasn’t Russia; (ii) If it was a Russian nerve agent it wasn’t us; (iii) We don’t know if it’s Russian because the British won’t share all the elements of their investigation; (iv) It’s a false flag operation by the British themselves. As the British Prime Minister explained, there really is no other plausible narrative concerning the Salisbury Attack other than Russian operations.

Substitute “Russian” for “Soviet” in the Kennan telegram, and we see substantiation for the Prime Minister’s conclusion:

“Soviet policy, as Department implies in its query under reference, is conducted on two planes: (1) official plane represented by actions undertaken officially in name of Soviet Government; and (2) subterranean plane of actions undertaken by agencies for which Soviet Government does not admit responsibility.”

Kennan’s perspective is also applicable to current Russian diplomatic “objectives.”

“(e) Everything possible will be done to set major Western Powers against each other. Anti-British talk will be plugged among Americans, anti-American talk among British. Continentals, including Germans, will be taught to abhor both Anglo-Saxon powers. Where suspicions exist, they will be fanned; where not, ignited. No effort will be spared to discredit and combat all efforts which threaten to lead to any sort of unity or cohesion among other [apparent omission] from which Russia might be excluded. Thus, all forms of international organization not amenable to Communist penetration and control, whether it be the Catholic [apparent omission] international economic concerns, or the international fraternity of royalty and aristocracy, must expect to find themselves under fire from many, and often [apparent omission].”

Using the evaluation offered above by Ambassador Kennan, the negative diplomatic reaction to the US President’s failure to mention Article 5 of the NATO agreement last June is more understandable.

Among the recommendations there’s this paragraph from the 1946 document which should remind us that “America Alone” is not the best way to face the Russian regime:

(2) Gauged against Western World as a whole, Soviets are still by far the weaker force. Thus, their success will really depend on degree of cohesion, firmness and vigor which Western World can muster. And this is (?) factor which it is within our power to influence.

“Cohesion, firmness, and vigor” should be a matter of collective response between and among western nations if Russian policy is to be thwarted, not a policy of disengagement with our allies.

Kennan’s last recommendation is poignant and compelling:

(5) Finally we must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society. After Al, (?) the greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet communism, is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.

I’d highly recommend going to the link for the entire document, and taking a few moments to give serious consideration to its insights, and applicability to today’s diplomatic situation.

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Foreign Agents Bills Moving and Immobile

While the news is full of Government Shutdowns, payments to porn stars, and the assorted detritus attached to this federal administration, one rather important topic related to meddling in American politics is resting between parts.  When the  TV types mention Paul Manafort, think of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Perhaps instead of machinations to protect the occupant of the Oval Office members of the 115th Congress could be addressing several bills intended to change the way we deal with foreign businesses, especially those with close ties to foreign governments, and those foreign governments themselves.

Several bills were introduced in the wake of Mr. Manafort’s arrest, and these deserve more daylight than they are getting in congressional pigeon holes.

HR 2811 and S 625:  The House version of this legislation was introduced on June 7, 2017 by Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) and has three co-sponsors, two Democrats and one Republican.  It falls under the jurisdiction of the House Judiciary Committee.  S. 625  is an identical bill sponsored by Senator Jean Shaheen (D-NH).  The official title is phrased as follows: “To preserve the integrity of American elections by providing the Attorney General with the investigative tools to identify and prosecute foreign agents who seek to circumvent Federal registration requirements and unlawfully influence the political process.”  The bill text includes the revisions:

“Whenever the Attorney General has reason to believe that any person or enterprise may be in possession, custody, or control of any documentary material relevant to an investigation under this Act, the Attorney General, before initiating a civil or criminal proceeding with respect to the production of such material, may serve a written demand upon such person to produce such material for examination.”

The intent of the legislation is to require more transparency in communications inserted into public discourse from foreign countries and those agents who act on their behalf.  Or, to put it less delicately,  to make it more obvious when foreign governments (read: Putin) are inserting themselves into American media.  As the paragraph above says, the rules of the game are changed to allow the Department of Justice the power to demand the materials (tapes, written media, etc.) before there is a civil or criminal case.  The current statute only allows for accessing media items after a case is opened, thereby making it a bit more difficult to get a case underway.

If a person would care to contact a Senator or Representative in support of these bills it might be phrased: “I would hope you would co-sponsor and support (HR 2811 or S 625)  to make it more difficult for foreign countries and those acting on their behalf to insert themselves in our political processes and institutions.”

HR 4170 sponsored by Rep Mike Johnson (R-La) was introduced on October 31, 2017 and assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.  Its official title:

To amend the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 to promote greater transparency in the registration of persons serving as the agents of foreign principals, to provide the Attorney General with greater authority to investigate alleged violations of such Act and bring criminal and civil actions against persons who commit such violations, and for other purposes.

The bill was reported out of the Judiciary Committee on January 18, 2018 on a 15-6 vote.  As indicated by ranking member Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) there has been no oversight hearing recently on FARA, and the Committee hadn’t yet considered HR 2811.  In short, the bill went from introduction to mark up without a hearing in between.  Democratic members of the Committee objected to the lack of detailed consideration such as an analysis of potential conflicts with the 4th Amendment, and wanted further discussion of HR 2811.

The intention of the bill is laudatory, but the “haste makes waste” commentary by Rep. Nadler should be given more careful consideration.  It doesn’t do all that much good to enact legislation which has rather clear conformance issues with Constitutional provisions like the 4th Amendment.  Better to amend the bill at this stage than to go through the judicial process only to find that revisions which could have been made at the outset have to be made after a conviction or civil penalty is challenged in court.

Granted there are other priorities at the moment — DACA, CHIP, and community health centers,  but we should also be tracking legislation in the 115th Congress which is pertinent to the Russian interference in our political institutions and processes.  Investigations are both welcome and beneficial (when they aren’t partisan and protective) but they don’t directly address issues about which we are already all too aware.

FARA should be modernized and improved.  As carefully, and as promptly as possible.

Members of the Nevada congressional delegation should hear from their constituents about these bills.

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