Category Archives: Foreign Policy

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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Filed under Constitution, Foreign Policy, Politics

Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Democrat’s Report on Russian Cyber Attacks

Here’s a link to the PDF file for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrat’s report on Russian interference in western elections and it’s assault on the west.  The file is fairly large (some 200 pages) so a download is recommended.

https://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/FinalRR.pdf

There are ten recommendations in the executive summary which should be of interest.  To find the original link, go to the Foreign Relations Committee site, then scroll down to the Minority section at the bottom of the page in the lower right hand corner.  Click on the access to the file.

 

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In The Midst of the Drivel: Trump, Russia, and Our NATO Allies

I need to mark this date on the calendar.  I’m grateful to Max Boot, the same Max Boot whose foreign policy opinions generally drive me down the short road to distraction.  However, credit where it is due — he paid attention to a portion of Trump’s rambling campaign speech in Pensacola which offers more illumination on this administration’s dubious foreign policy.   The ‘almost missed point’ comes about 20 minutes into the ramblings:

“Donald Trump’s performance at NATO was unacceptable.”  Ya know why they said that? I told the people of NATO while they were standing right behind me, they’ve been delinquent. They haven’t been paying, I said ya gotta pay! And now they’ve taken in, because of that, and I guess I implied, if you don’t pay we’re outta there, and took more heat from the press.  They said Donald Trump was rude to our allies. Well they’re rude to us when they don’t pay! Right? They’re rude to us.  So, we’ll have a nation that doesn’t pay then their nation gets frisky with whoever. Russia?  So we have a nation doesn’t pay, the nation gets aggressive, we end up in World War III for someone who doesn’t even pay. “

The context is generally, and rather loosely, a rant about “global bureaucrats,” the US foreign policy establishment, and how members of the audience should perceive Trump’s performance as a triumph of ordinary people against the Great Machine,  as the Ordinary Man is exemplified by one Donald J. Trump.

There is another context, one highlighted by Natasha Bertrand who caught the topic as it fits into the Steele Memos.  The core of the matter is here:

“The reason for using Wikileaks was ‘plausible deniability” and the operation had been conducted  with full support from TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team. In return the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/NATO defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine, a priority for PUTIN who needed to cauterize the subject.”

So, we have the President in Pensacola,  offering up a stump style recitation of his presidential accomplishments, bragging that he has directly criticized NATO leadership and questioned their contributions to mutual defense, while rationalizing American  reluctance to assist Baltic and Eastern European nations (read: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) if they “get frisky.”  With whom? The President answered his own question: Russia.

Now, why would the Baltic countries be getting “frisky” with the Russian Bear?  Step back to May 2015 and the earlier Latgale Proclamation.  Latgale is the easternmost region of Latvia, with a large Russian minority.  Officials in that nation took acute notice when in late January 2015 a website appeared boasting of the creation of the People’s Republic of Latgale.  The Los Angeles Times reported:

“Until the furtive creators of the website declared independence on behalf of the country’s Russian-speaking eastern enclave, authorities here had dismissed the threat of aggression by Moscow as all but unthinkable, thanks to the collective security shield wielded by a member of NATO.  But that first online hint of pro-Russia insurrection spurred an investigation that has identified the perpetrators, Latvian Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis said. He declined to name the suspects or say whether anyone has been arrested, disclosing only that “a criminal process has been started.”

And the connection between Ukraine and Latvia was readily apparent to Latvian officials:

“The Latgale proclamation, which journalists and others with intelligence connections say has been traced to provocateurs in Russia, continues to unsettle Latvians and their neighbors in Lithuania and Estonia for its similarity to acts of rebellion in Ukraine a year ago that have escalated into vicious warfare and more than 6,000 deaths.”

It was NOT the Latvians who were getting “frisky,” it was Russia promoting dissident elements in the Baltic nations, perhaps seeking to replicate their actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.   Further, the Estonians and Lithuanians were alarmed when Russia sent 2,500 troops to the Estonian and Lithuanian borders in July 2017.

“Concern about a possible war in the Baltics is high, with majorities in Lithuania and Latvia naming armed conflict as a prime concern and all three fearing the likelihood of war more than that of extremist attacks, according to various polls. Russia has formally denied it would ever attack a member of NATO, which all three nations of the Baltics are.

But the promises of Moscow diplomats have done little to assuage worries in the former Soviet Union states, largely because of Russia’s interpretation of events in Ukraine. Russia initially insisted its troops were not participants in the Crimean annexation and continues to deny that it has a military presence in eastern Ukraine.” [Newsweek]

Again, the example of Russia action in Ukraine, is cited as a reason for Baltic insecurity NOT as an element of Baltic aggression against the Russians.  Or, “friski-ness” as the President might characterize it.   Nor is there anything subtle about Russian intentions in Europe:

“Putin has made clear his national security goals. He wants a sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space; a new security architecture in Europe and Eurasia; and a weakened and divided NATO and EU, so that he can expand Russian influence into Europe.”  [Newsweek 7/16]

It appears that in addition to assisting Putin “cauterize” the open wounds in Ukraine, and continuing to deflect discussions regarding NATO operations into debates about who owes what to whom, the President continues to hold up his end of his bargain with the devil in the Kremlin.

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FYI: State Department Vacancies with no nominations

No, the State Department is not “moving right along.”  The Foreign Service tracking system shows the following vacancies for which there are no current nominees as of December 4, 2017:

Argentina
ASEAN
Australis
Austria
Belarus
Belgium
Belize
Bolivia
DR Congo
Cote d’Ivoire
Cuba
Egypt
Eritrea
European Union
Honduras
Hungary
Iceland
Ireland
Jamaica
Jordan
Mongolia
OECD
OSCE
Saudi Arabia
Somalia
South Africa
South Korea
Sudan
Sweden
Syria
Tajikistan
Tanzania
Trinidad and Tobago
Turkey
United Arab Emirates
UN Deputy Representative
UN Human Rights Council
UN Management & Reform
UN Rome
UN Vienna
UNESCO
Venezuela

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Whatever Happened to HR 3364? The Amazing Disappearance of the Russian Sanctions Law

On July 25, 2017 members of the House of Representatives voted 419-3 to pass the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act; and on July 27, 2017 the Senate voted to pass it 98-2.  [HR 3364]  This is about as close to “veto proof” as any bill is likely to get.  The President* signed it on August 2, 2017.  [Hill]  Thus, HR 3364 became PL 115-44.

“Per the legislation, the administration was required to issue guidance by October 1 on how it was implementing the sanctions against Russia. That process includes publishing a list of the people and organizations who will be targeted by the sanctions, which are primarily aimed at Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors.” [TDB]

Yes, it’s now October 25, 2017 and what have we heard about those published lists of people and organizations targeted for (among other things) cyber attacks on our election systems and democratic institutions?

About all that’s come from the Oval Office is “we’re working on it,” at the Treasury Department, State Department, and Director of National Intelligence…but that October 1 deadline is in the rear view mirror and members of Congress aren’t getting any answers.  Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) did the ‘aw shucks’ reaction last Sunday:

“The Trump administration is slow when it comes to Russia. They have a blind spot on Russia I still can’t figure out,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. When asked what Congress could do to force the administration to act, Graham was vague, saying only: “The Congress will have a way to hold the president accountable.”  [TDB]

Perhaps the South Carolina Senator can’t figure it out, but it’s getting ever more obvious the President* is singularly unwilling to address anything even remotely critical of Russia and its klepto-dictator Putin. [see also VF]  A person might even think PL 115-44 has been sent to Siberia? That “blind spot” doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. [MSNBC]

However, there is some evidence the administration is aware of the requirements of the sanctions bill, there simply isn’t a sensation of alacrity or urgency?

“Several recent actions suggest that the Trump administration is aware of the bill’s sectoral sanctions requirements. For example, on September 29, President Trump issued a presidential memorandum delegating “to the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, the functions and authorities vested in the President by” Section 231. Additionally, the administration has complied with other 60 day sectoral sanctions-related deadlines. For example, Sections 222 and 223 effectively codified and intensified pre-existing sectoral sanctions that had been imposed under Executive Order 13662. The government made the modifications that Section 223 required be done within 60 days on September 29. Moreover, although President Trump’s signing statement included a number of constitutional objections to specific provisions of the bill (including Section 222), Section 231 is not among them.”  [Lawfare]

There’s no great urgency demonstrated when a bill is signed on August 2, 2017 and the initial instructions don’t go out to the departments until September 29, 2017.  Section 231 (Russia) isn’t all that complicated, and more could certainly have been done to implement the provisions.

It isn’t often that every member of the Nevada congressional delegation votes in unity on any major piece of legislation, and it seems a shame that the President* hasn’t seen fit to move on this topic of important national interest.  Unlike the South Carolina Senator, I think we can guess why little action is taking place concerning Section 231.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Heller, Lindsey Graham, Nevada politics, Politics

Thank You Senator Corker

Hmm, never thought I’d begin a post on a liberal blog with “Thank you, Senator Corker.” But, here it is.  The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued his now famous Tweet about properly staffing the Pennsylvania Adult Day Care Center, and followed up with a serious conversation including:

“The senator, who is close to Mr. Tillerson, invoked comments that the president made on Twitter last weekend in which he appeared to undercut Mr. Tillerson’s negotiations with North Korea.

“A lot of people think that there is some kind of ‘good cop, bad cop’ act underway, but that’s just not true,” Mr. Corker said.

Without offering specifics, he said Mr. Trump had repeatedly undermined diplomacy with his Twitter fingers. “I know he has hurt, in several instances, he’s hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway by tweeting things out,” Mr. Corker said.”

Simply airing these views is an act of civic responsibility, and if the Senator’s comments are accurate then there are more Republican Senators who hold these views; it would behoove them to chime in, even if only on the last few lines of the chorus.  We can imagine why we’ve not heard more voices.

The Republicans may now be victims of their own gerrymandered monster.  Those who break with the President may feel at risk of facing primary challengers.  However, a president with a 32% approval rating is not necessarily a creature to be feared.   That said, there are states in which the local politics could require senatorial and congressional candidates to pose close to the president, or at least could encourage it. Senators should recall that a Trump endorsement doesn’t insure election — ask Luther Strange in Alabama.

Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) has drawn a challenger who is (thus far) playing unabashed sycophant in the Trump parade, perpetual candidate for almost anything Danny Tarkanian.  (See also: Nevada Independent)

“I have so many people that are contacting me over the past couple months saying ‘you gotta run against Dean Heller,’ ” Tarkanian said. “They understand, as I do, that we’re never going to make America great again unless we have senators in office that fully support President Trump and his America first agenda.”

There are a few problems with that agenda.  If America first means America alone, then the President’s doing a fine job of that.  Right off the bat members of NATO got the message that Trump didn’t think all that much of Article 5, at least not enough to even mention it during a meeting concerning that important mutual defense clause.  Paris Accords — not even a treaty, but a mutual decision to follow voluntary self imposed guidance on climate change mitigation — and the US backs out.  When the President said he wouldn’t mind renegotiating the agreement the rest of the world’s nations said, thank you but NO we’re not interested.

We’re now in Round 4 of talks to renegotiate the NAFTA and the US Chamber of Commerce isn’t pleased with the administration’s demands, which border on protectionism (if they don’t ramble right into it).  As of two days ago the administration appeared poised to insert “deal breaking demands” into the bargaining process, some of which would seriously upset supply chains for the auto industry.  While there are certainly NAFTA provisions which might be improved, the current administration has proposed items which sound very much like the TPP provisions Trump opposed when he pulled the US out of those talks. [WaPo]

And then there’s North Korea.  While the remnants of the State Department (there are still a massive number of unfilled positions, many of which have NO nominees) try to tackle this problem, the President issues saber rattling tweets and undercuts his own Secretary of State.  [NPR]  It isn’t the least bit reassuring to hear informed comments like this when discussing the delicate and significant relations with the North Koreans:

“Without political appointments in place, governments in Asia and around the world are canvassing the Trump administration, trying to open lines to various advisors in the White House. And they’re getting mixed messages that are often hard to sort out.”

Oh, but wait there’s even more.  In addition to leaving our allies scrambling around at least since last August trying to find definitive answers to a chaotic foreign policy, they may also question whether our word means much of anything.  We need to recall that whatever Trump says, there are 6 nations involved in the Iran nuclear development containment deal and two of them aren’t happy: the Iranians and the Russians.  The Chinese government went on record in late September in support of the containment plan treaty, and three days ago the United Kingdom made its position clear in a medium Trump would understand (Twitter) “The Iran Deal is Working.”  The French foreign minister made a longer, but similar comment:

“It’s essential to maintain it to prevent a spiral of proliferation that would encourage hardliners in Iran to pursue nuclear weapons,” the minister told journalists in New York on the sidelines of this week’s UN general assembly.

French President Macron has also made his support for the agreement clear.  The German government has stated its support for a continuation of the agreement.   The P5+1 that signed the treaty could end up being the Chinese, French, Germans, Russians, and British vs. the US.  America “first” literally becoming America alone.

Senator Corker has a reputation for speaking carefully — all the more reason to listen to his warning.

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Filed under Economy, Foreign Policy, Heller, Iran, NAFTA, Nevada politics, Politics, Tarkanian