Category Archives: Foreign Policy

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

This Isn’t Normal And We Can’t Let It Be

In 1830 the United States had a total population of 12,806,702 spread among 24 states. New York City was our largest urban area with 202,589 people, Baltimore was second with 80,620. [Cen]  There was nothing about the American economy, which lurched from crisis to crisis during the 1830s, that would cause European powers to see the US as a power player:

“During this time, English traders could not collect on their sales in America, and many of them went bankrupt. Cotton mills closed in England, and American planters saw their markets disappear. By the summer of 1837, business was paralyzed, and it was not until the early 1840s that a semblance of confidence in business was restored.” [RU.edu]

We’re not, obviously, in the same category as we were 180 years ago, but we aren’t on the trajectory we were following a matter of months ago.   This, for Americans, isn’t normal.  Out of the economic and social debris of the American Civil War came an industrial nation,  fully prepared to compete with European nations, far ahead of some nations in terms of industrialization, financial markets (not that we were free from speculation and its results), and growing into importance as a world leader.  After booms and busts, periods of isolationism and nativism, and two world wars the US emerged as a super-power.  By 1953 President Dwight Eisenhower could say,”Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.” [NA]

Former General Eisenhower had another line which should resonate with us today: “Now I think, speaking roughly, by leadership we mean the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it, not because your position of power can compel him to do it, or your position of authority.”  [NA]

A Quick Review 

Other presidents following in this tradition sought to use American leadership in this manner.  President Kennedy’s foreign policy problems were legion, but he did manage to take a step towards arms control in the Limited Test Ban Treaty.  Lyndon Johnson’s presidency is associated with the Vietnam War, however during his tenure the US negotiated the Outer Space Treaty with the Soviet Union and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  President Nixon followed through with the SALT talks and the ABM Treaty.  President Gerald Ford signed the Helsinki Accords.  President Carter is remembered for the Camp David Accords. President Reagan changed the SALT formula to the START format: Strategic Arms Reduction Talks, and the tension evident in 1983 ended with Reagan’s trip to Moscow toward the end of his term in office. President George H.W. Bush managed to steer a steady course when relations with China threatened to implode over Chinese reactions to popular demonstrations, and his careful commentary in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet-era regime in Germany is said to have mitigated the reaction of hardliners in Eastern Europe.  President Bill Clinton pursued what he called his Policy of Enlargement, i.e. a policy based on promoting democracy and human rights abroad.  President George Bush’s foray into Iraq has encumbered the US with several foreign policy challenges, as did Clinton’s failure to deal assertively with Rwanda, however it would be remiss to omit Bush’s initiatives to deal with global HIV/AIDS programs and treatment.  The presidency of Barack Obama included negotiations concerning climate change (Paris Accords) and the limitations on the Iranian weapons program.

However mixed the policies and results of American world leadership since the Eisenhower Administration one aspect has remained fairly constant.  Every president has sought to get someone else to do what we want because they want to do it.  This was normal American foreign policy.  Until now.

America First America Alone

The first speech was a clear signal:

“President Trump’s speech Friday will go down as one of the shorter inaugural addresses, but it will also be remembered for its populist and often dark tone.“From this day forward,” Trump said at one point, “it’s going to be only America first. America first.” Trump appears to have first used the phrase last March in an interview with The New York Times when he denied he was an isolationist. “I’m not isolationist, but I am ‘America First,’” he said. “So I like the expression. I’m ‘America First.’” [Atlantic]

He appears to understand the dark origins of the America First movement, but adds a transactional element to the implied isolationism:

“Not isolationist, but I am America First,” he said. “I like the expression.” He said he was willing to reconsider traditional American alliances if partners were not willing to pay, in cash or troop commitments, for the presence of American forces around the world. “We will not be ripped off anymore,” he said.”[NYT]

He may like the expression, but it is irrevocably associated with the infamous Lindbergh Speech delivered on September 11, 1941:

“The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.  Behind these groups, but of lesser importance, are a number of capitalists, Anglophiles, and intellectuals who believe that the future of mankind depends upon the domination of the British empire. Add to these the Communistic groups who were opposed to intervention until a few weeks ago, and I believe I have named the major war agitators in this country.”

Putting America First, Lindbergh rushed past the fact that the British were  blitzed in the Summer and Fall of 1940, and the Jews were the subject of Nazi genocide.  His rationale was that neither the British nor the Jews were “American” and therefore they were promoting their interests at the expense of American interests.  At the time Lindbergh delivered his speech in Des Moines the British weren’t fighting for their empire — they were fighting for their existence; and, the Jews were fighting for their lives.  Given this context, the expression “America First” should have been assigned to the great trash heap of really bad phrases, however in Trumpian terms it’s a banner to be waved in front of our adversaries, and unfortunately our allies as well.  This isn’t normal.

Normal recognizes that Article 5 of the NATO Treaty states an attack on one ally means an attack on all — no strings, no demands for payment, no second guessing — as when it was invoked after September 11, 2001 on behalf of the United States.  It is not normal to address a gathering of NATO allies and delete a reference to the article.

Normal recognizes that voluntary accords such as the Paris Climate Agreement aren’t binding, but do express the aspirations of the global community toward adopting policies and practices which do not impinge on the health of our shared planet.  It is not normal to unilaterally discard an agreement most of the changes to which (from the Kyoto version) were made at American insistence.

Normal recognizes that the deployment of U.S. forces around the world is a deterrent to adventurism and the disruption of financial and commercial functions in the global domain.  It is not normal to view these expenses as being “ripped off” by other nations.  It is truly beyond normal to decry these expenses and then advocate for a $700 billion increase in the U.S. military budget.

Normal recognizes that not everyone gets exactly what is wanted from any international agreement, but that small steps can often lead to greater improvements.  The SALT talks begat the START talks and the START talks begat a nuclear non-proliferation treaty.  It is not normal to demand that the treaty with Iran contain precisely what the American government wants when it wants it — without securing international agreement as to the terms of the specific treaty.

Normal recognizes that it is necessary for a nation to be perceived as cooperative and willing to be held to one’s word.  It is not normal to have allies questioning whether or not the U.S. will sustain its support for NATO, cooperate with global initiatives on trade, health, and climate change, and keep its word concerning threats to global peace.

Normal recognizes that the foreign policy of other nations, such as Russia, is not in alignment with American interests.  Normal recognizes that the creation of a “Russian Century” is not in the best interest of the United States.  It is not normal to have an American president deny or try to minimize the significance of a Russian assault on American democratic practices and institutions.   It is not normal to have an American president omit reference to what is occurring in the Crimea, in Ukraine, and along the borders of western Europe.

The United States of America cannot allow the abnormal to become the new normal.

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Filed under Defense spending, energy policy, Foreign Policy, Politics

Who Is Supposed To Watch The Henhouse?

Let’s assume for the moment that while we may not yet know the full extent of Russian efforts to attack our election systems and voter rolls, we do know that they did so and will make future efforts to repeat their invasions based on what they have learned from 2016.  If this proposition seems reasonable, then the actions of the current administration are almost incomprehensible.

We have the official announcement that Chris Painter will leave the US State Department’s office of cyber issues at the end of this month. [TheHill]   Why the coordinator for US cyber issue policy would be leaving isn’t clear, but what is worthy of note is that Secretary of State Tillerson says staffing is a matter of “leaning in” and that the Cyber Security unit of the Department of State was organized by Secretary Clinton in 2011 to organize disparate parts of the department which dealt with cyber crime, cyber-security, internet freedom, and the protection of dissidents’ digital security. [NextGov]  One possible conclusion is that Tillerson is further truncating an already compressed organizational chart.

There are at least 50 reasons why more, not less, departments of the US government should be gearing up (not down) before the next round of elections: Alabama…Wyoming.

In September 2016 ABC News reported that Russian hackers targeted nearly half the US state voter registration systems and were successful in infiltrating four of them.  By that time 18 states had reached out to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson for assistance with cyber-security.  As of June 2017 reports were published saying that there may have been as many as 39 breaches of state cyber security in regard to voter rolls and/or election systems. [VF] The hackers may have targeted swing states, and voter registration officials.

This onslaught would seem to support the idea that MORE needs to be done by the US Department of State, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security (as well as the Election Assistance Commission) to help states prevent future hacks and assaults on our elections.  At this point the obvious clashes with the ideological.

There is baked into Republican ideology the notion that more can always be done with less.  The central concept appears to be that offices are filled to the transoms with unnecessary employees doing unimportant jobs.  However, consider the manpower needed to assist 50 states with 50 disparate voting systems from attacks by foreign powers intent upon doing everything from malicious mischief to outright fraud.  We might well ask not only who’s watching the hen house, but who’s even available to answer the phones?

The irony of the current situation lies in the 2016 Republican Platform which made some important promises:

“The platform highlights the recent passage of cybersecurity information sharing legislation and calls for a U.S. response to national state attacks that would include “diplomatic, financial and legal pain, curtailing visas for guilty parties, freezing their assets, and pursuing criminal actions against them.” It also calls for the U.S. to take an offensive strategy against cybersecurity attacks “to avoid the cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor.” Supply chain issues, cyber workforce, cyber insurance, and the right to “self-defense” against cyber attackers were also included in the platform.”

Indeed, we’ve had the cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor, but all we’ve heard from the current Republican administration is the disparagement of investigations of Russian interference as a Witch Hunt and Hoax, the suggestion that it would be “nice” if we had better relations with the Russians, talks about returning the Russian spy compounds in New York and Maryland, and now the Department of State will be operating without a coordinator for cyber-security.

What Americans should be advocating are:

  1. Full and adequate funding for the Election Assistance Commission, the only agency specifically tasked with testing and certifying election equipment in our elections.
  2. Adequate staffing and funding for cyber-security activities in the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice.
  3. Prioritization of cyber-security efforts to prevent attacks on our election systems by agents of foreign powers or the foreign powers themselves, as demonstrated by a nationwide effort to coordinate with all the election jurisdictions in this country to assist them in countering cyber assaults.

What happened in 2016 was a serious attack, a “Pearl Harbor” in GOP parlance, and the American public deserves to have this issue taken seriously.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Politics

She Did It She Did It…well maybe sort of

One of these days the Fox News logo will be a shiny pretzel.  Not to be out-speculated by US broadcasts concerning the results of Donald Jr.’s June meeting with Russian emissaries, Fox News has cooked up a brew the ingredients of which require a long boil before the mass comes together…

This whole Moscow Mess shows that Hillary Clinton maybe, could have, might have, perhaps was associated with, could be considered to be cooperating, colluding, conspiring, with the opponents of the Magnitsky Act… because (now grip the rope on your logical thinking skills firmly) —

Secretary Clinton expressed the initial Obama Administration’s objections to the Magnitsky Act in 2010.  The administration argued that the State Department was already denying visas to those Russians who were implicated in Magnitsky’s death, also of interest to the administration in 2010 were Russian cooperation to keep supply lines to Afghanistan open, to negotiate with the Iranians concerning their nuclear program, and to deal with the Syrian Civil War. [NewYorker]

However, to the Residents of the Fox News Bubble Zone this translates to a flat statement of “Clinton opposed the Magnitsky Act.”  Now comes the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc portion of our program.   “Her initial opposition coincided with a $500,000 speech her husband gave…”  Yes a few weeks later Bill Clinton gave a speech at the Renaissance Capital annual investment conference.  No connection is demonstrated — it’s all in the timing, as in post hoc ergo propter hoc line of illogical thinking.

From the perspective of the Republican apologists we have to “fast forward” to 2016 when the Clinton campaign email (hacked and stolen) said: “With the help of the research team, we killed a Bloomberg story trying to link HRC’s opposition to the Magnitsky bill a $500,000 speech that WJC gave in Moscow.”  There are a couple of things to note about the use of this statement which illustrate the problems with Fox reportage.

First, if one doesn’t put much thought into the process, the image is created that there was a connection (between Secretary Clinton’s opposition to the act and the payment of former President Clinton’s speaking fees) and that the “killing” of a story implies something nefarious about this.  Remember, the Secretary’s opposition was tied to Obama administration policy regarding dealing with the Russians in 2010.

Secondly,  the image requires a person to ignore the initial clause in the e-mail, “with the help of the research team.”  It’s not too hard to spike a story if the publisher is assured that the report is a collection of idle speculation infused with inaccurate information.  Note as well that the pilfered e-mail stated the proposed Bloomberg piece was “trying” to link the Secretary’s opposition to the Magnitsky Act to her husband’s speaking fees — not that the report succeeded in making such a connection.  If the research shows no connection, there’s no story.  Little wonder the story got the spike.

And how did Fox News get the e-mail concerning how research submitted to Bloomberg News caused the latter to put the story in the bin?  It came compliments of the unfriendly hackers.  There’s no small amount of irony in having the Trump Apologist Network utilize the same stolen e-mail the Trump’s themselves may have encouraged?  To make this connection we need to wait for the conclusions of two Congressional intelligence committees, and the Special Counsel’s investigation.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, media, Politics

Bargaining with Babies

The Obama Administration closed down two lovely mansions used by the Russians to further their surveillance operations in the United States. We know that the mansions weren’t merely for tennis and tea dances because CBS reported that when the Russians decamped they destroyed documents and equipment, among the wreckage antennas, electronics, and computers.  Not the sort of thing on which one keeps score of bridge games or tennis tournaments among a few friends.  Now the Kremlin wants them back.  Their Foreign Minister says the closure was daylight robbery.  Better still, the Russians want them back,no little strings or threads attached.  One has to admire the chutzpah.   If the compounds (read SIGNIT stations) aren’t returned the Russians will “retaliate.”   The timing is interesting.

There was no “retaliation” in December, the obvious time for that sort of thing.  There was no threat of retaliation until: After Gen. Flynn was removed from the administration; and then more statements about ‘retaliation’ after the ill fated June meeting with 2, 4, 6, 8 (How many more Russians crashed the Gate?) with a Russian lawyer and lobbyist who wanted to discuss “child adoptions.”

By now, only the most willfully ignorant, or those who have been in a vegetative state since last December, don’t know that “child adoptions” is code for the Russian retaliation for the enactment of the Magnitsky Act.  This makes the following news bit disturbing:  “The State Department wants a deal that could include restarting U.S. adoptions of Russian children. It also has to deal with concerns at home – the FBI and some U.S. intelligence professionals fear giving back the sites would aid Russian spy efforts.”

The stoppage imposed on the US family adoptions of Russian children was Vladimir Putin’s reaction to the enactment of the Magnitsky Act.   And, the US State Department “WANTS” a “DEAL” to restart the adoption process?  Please tell me that the US State Department is NOT using babies and young orphans as cover for reducing the sanctions on a hostile foreign adversary that very much wants to sow discord among NATO allies, maintain its control of Crimea, indulge in military operations in eastern Ukraine, support the murderous Assad Regime, threaten its Baltic nation neighbors, and assault US, German, and French elections.

Not only should the US NOT cave to Russian threats and tantrums, but the House should pass S. 722 to maintain and upgrade sanctions against the Putin Regime — and this should happen now, and not later.

A word to one’s Representative in the House would be wise.

 

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Politics

Silly Season Comes To Town: The Semantics of Collusion

My ears feel a little battered.  I’m hearing some really creative contentions to explain away the Trumpian predilection for working with Russians.

“The story isn’t important because the American people are more concerned with jobs and employment.”

Whether the Russian assault on American democracy is important or not isn’t a popularity contest.   For example, just because Gallup polling indicates that only 1% of US respondents cite income inequality as a major issue in the United States this doesn’t mean the issue isn’t important or that it doesn’t have economic ramifications far beyond the current ‘click level’of interest.

The story isn’t important because it’s just about opposition research and everyone does that.

Please.  The rejoinder to this should be what Mom said when we tried to explain why we engaged in some ridiculous junior high prank that went south immediately: “Just because they did it doesn’t make it right for you to do it.”  Additionally,  campaigns DO NOT enlist the support of foreign nations, much less adversarial foreign nations, to assist with opposition research.  But, but, but, sputter the surrogates, what about Clinton and Ukraine!?  That’s been debunked.  One of my favorite surrogate sputters is to enunciate a list of Presidents who have “colluded” without offering any explanation or specifics whatsoever.  It’s meaningless drivel of the first water.

Yes, everyone’s campaign does opposition research, and if the campaign is run professionally the first order of business is to do opposition research on your own candidate on the theory that it’s always better to know what’s out there before the charges come flying at the campaign.  Secondly,  opposition research requires careful screening for toxic plants (stories which if repeated by the candidate will turn out to be false and the candidate looks like a dupe) and Tin Foil Hat Territory Residents (I saw candidate X’s campaign person at the airport feeding the geese so they would fly into jet engines and kill people.)  These need to be screened out immediately.

So, if candidate Y says, “I don’t see anything wrong with taking opposition research from a foreign adversary, everyone does it,” then what that person is saying is “I have NO scruples about accepting help from absolutely anyone if it will help me get elected.” Michael Gerson’s point is on target: “faith that makes losing a sin will make cheating a sacrament.”  I’d prefer to vote for a candidate who at least professes to have a few scruples.

“There was no collusion.” Or, There was a meeting but it wasnt’ collusion. Or, there was collusion but there was no conspiracy. Or, there was a meeting but nothing came of it.”

Spare me the moving goal posts. I’m waiting for the day when some surrogate states with all due profundity that while there might have been a series of meetings and assistance was offered and received, it didn’t meet the elements of 18 US Code 1030 on fraud and related activities in connection with computers.

“I don’t know why the media is spending so much time on this when we have issues like tax reform, infrastructure investments, and…. which are of greater importance.”

The last time I looked the American public was perfectly capable of multi-tasking.  Not only can we “walk and chew gum,” I have seen professional basketball players making some noteworthy plays on the court while chewing on their mouth guards.  Besides which, is there some story of more significance than that of a foreign adversary attacking the very foundations of our democratic processes?  Maybe we aren’t spending enough time talking about whether or not our state and local election officials have the technology and personnel they need to ward off such nefarious assaults in our next elections?  Do we have enough public knowledge of exactly how many states and localities were “hacked” in some way,  and how they have reacted to the assaults?  Do we have enough information about “disinformation” campaigns and how social media might have been used to target groups of voters?  The focus of this story will need to expand to incorporate not only how a particular campaign may have utilized foreign incursions, but also the nature and elements of election interference which may have taken place, and how disinformation and misinformation were ‘weaponized.’ In short, we actually need more information about this topic, and definitely not less.

We all just need to wait until the Mueller investigation report is made public.

No, we can talk about the general subject well before the investigation is completed, especially as it concerns the last two subtopics mentioned above.  The Mueller probe is focused retrospectively — what happened in 2016?  However, as noted previously there are some policy decisions to be considered, and the sooner the better. (1) How and with what technology will we conduct our elections?  (2) How and with what level of scrutiny will we analyze and evaluate the use of media, and social media, in our political processes?

What’s all the fuss about? There are important things we should do in conjunction with Russia?

Like fighting “terrorism?” What’s “un-terroristic” about one nation attacking the political institutions of another?  One of the more blatant semantic blunders from the Surrogati came in the suggestion that there are ways we can “collaborate” with the Russians.  There’s nothing quite like revisiting a term closely associated with the ill-fated British government under Neville Chamberlain in the context of this topic. No, the Nazis weren’t going to be happy with just the Sudetenland any more than the Russians will be satisfied with initial poking around in our lists of registered voters?

Meanwhile, we should be demanding MORE information not less, and more discussion of policy related matters not merely the explication of singular strands of Russian assaults on our politics and institutions.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, gold, media, Politics

Whatever Happened To… S 722 Russian Sanctions?

Whatever happened to S 722, the sanctions bill passed by the US Senate on a 98-2 vote?  Perhaps a more timely question is what happened to the amendment concerning US sanctions on the Russians:

“The amendment would do a number of things. It would codify and
strengthen six existing Obama administration Executive orders on Russia
and Ukraine and on Russian cyber activities and the sanctions flowing
from them.
It would provide for strict congressional review of any effort by the
President to relax and suspend and terminate or waive Russian sanctions
patterned after the Iran Review Act.
It would require mandatory imposition of sanctions on malicious cyber
activity against the United States, on corrupt Russian actors around
the world, on foreign sanctions evaders violating the Russia, Ukraine,
and cyber-related sanctions controls, on those involved in serious
human rights abuses in territories forcibly controlled by Russia, and
on special Russian crude oil projects around the world.”

Seems reasonable in light of what’s been going on to keep the sanctions, codify them, and give Congress a hand in the process in case the administration tries to modify them.  Although there is an argument to be made that allowing Congress to interfere with the sanctions process is problematic, there is a valid counter argument asserting that when an administrative proclivity toward softening sanctions against an international ‘bad actor’ is displayed, Congress needs to have some mechanism for putting on the brakes.   We might also want to pay particular attention to that last line in the amendment description, “and on special Russian crude oil projects around the world,” because this element is a thorny proposition in relation to the pro-fossil fuel policy of the current administration and State Department.

The amendment description continues:

“It would authorize broad new sanctions on key sectors of Russia’s
economy, including mining, metals, shipping, and railways, as well as
new investments in energy pipelines.
It would crack down on anyone investing in corrupt privatization
efforts in Russia–something we have seen a lot of over 20 years.”

This, of course would definitely not be music to the Oligarchs’ ears.  The “privatization schemes” began in the 90s, including the Aluminum wars and the oil grabs, along with other highly questionable distributions of Russian assets, natural and manufacturing.  The Wilson Center analysis is one of the better, more succinct, summaries:

“The small groups of individuals who emerged in control of the privatized enterprises fall into three different groups, according to Goldman. The first is former factory directors that became factory owners. This group outmaneuvered the workers, who were not organized, to gain control of the factories. The next two groups, argued Goldman, were the ones who obtained the greatest wealth–the nomenklatura and non-nomenklatura oligarchs. The nomenklatura oligarchs were the Soviet economic elites who took advantage of their positions to privatize the industries that they regulated. For example, Viktor Chernomyrdin, who oversaw natural gas production during the Soviet era, went on to head up Gazprom, the Russian natural gas monopoly and richest company. When Chernomyrdin went on to become Prime Minister, he passed control on to his deputy who worked under him in the Ministry.”

It’s easy to see why and how privatization became piratization.   And now we come to some of the items in the amendment the current administration might find potentially problematic:

“It would broaden the Treasury Department’s authority to impose
geographic targeting orders, allowing investigators to obtain ATM and
wire transfer records so Treasury can better target illicit activity of
Russian oligarchs in the United States.
It would require Treasury to provide Congress with a study on the
tangled web of senior government officials from Russia and their family
members and any current U.S. economic exposures to Russian oligarchs
and their investments, and that includes real estate.”

Let’s move to a side track for a moment and look at those geographic targeting orders in light of recent activity by FinCen:

“The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) today (2/23/17) announced the renewal of existing Geographic Targeting Orders (GTO) that temporarily require U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind shell companies used to pay “all cash” for high-end residential real estate in six major metropolitan areas. FinCEN has found that about 30 percent of the transactions covered by the GTOs involve a beneficial owner or purchaser representative that is also the subject of a previous suspicious activity report. This corroborates FinCEN’s concerns about the use of shell companies to buy luxury real estate in “all-cash” transactions.”

Now, who’s in the “high end residential real estate” business?  This brings to mind that transaction between Donald Trump and the Fertilizer King in south Florida.  Sometimes, it appears, the shells weren’t even thought necessary? However, the high end real estate market is attracting a stream of foreign “investment” which is perilously close to, if not definitively part of, good old fashioned money laundering.  Thus, providing Congress with a study of those tangled webs of Russians and their ‘investments’ and our economic exposure to their machinations might be embarrassing to the current administration?

The amendment also gives the administration some homework:

“It would require the administration to assess and report to Congress
on extending secondary sanctions to additional Russian oligarchs and
state-owned and related enterprises.”  (link to pdf)

Not only would be administration be tasked with enforcing or perhaps even increasing sanctions on the Oligarchs, but it would have to study whether secondary sanctions should be applied on those with whom they do business.

We should recall that this bill, including this amendment, sailed through the Senate on a 98-2 vote.  No sooner did the bill hit the House of Representatives than the leadership thereof displayed a heretofore relatively quiet amorous relationship with the Origination Clause.   Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) thought the origination questions had been settled in the final version of the Senate bill, but House Republicans continued to argue the question had not been resolved.

And now we turn to Nord Stream 2 pipeline, not exactly a subject of banner headlines in the US, but nevertheless an important piece in the sanctions discussion.  The Financial Times reports that the pipeline will pump gas from Russia to European countries in 2019, and is a “flagship project” for Gazprom; among those sanctioned would be investors in the pipeline.  The Oil and Gas lobby is particularly “concerned,

“Rep. Bill Flores, a Republican from Texas, said he’s been approached by “five or six of the majors” based in his state. The energy companies have told him they worry the bill as it stands is overly broad.

“You could restrict the sanctions of those activities within the borders of Russia, that might be a quick fix and also the national security carve out as well,” Flores said when asked how the sanctions bill might be changed to address those concerns. “Most of us are fine with having sanctions on U.S. interests operating inside Russia, with Russian companies, but then going outside of Russia is too broad.”

“Going outside of Russia” appears to be code for “Nord Stream 2.” Somewhere between Nord Stream 2 and the inspection of money laundering and other dubious transactions in the high end real estate business may lie the explanation for administration/House Republican opposition to the passage of S 722.

While Nevadans are calling Senator Heller’s office urging him to vote “no” on the health insurance bill, they may also want to contact our Congressional Representatives about advancing S 722.

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) can be reached at 775-686-5760 (Reno) 775-777-7705 (Elko) or 202-225-6155.   Representative Ruben J. Kihuen can be reached at 702-963-9360 or 202-225-9894.  Representative Jacky Rosen’s Las Vegas office number is 702-963-9500 and Representative Dina Titus can be reached at 202-225-5965 or 702-220-9823.

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