Tag Archives: Putin

Loose Ends, Dots, and Access

First, could we, as Charlie Pierce suggested, turn the presidential debates back over to the League of Women Voters?  I think I might be tempted to stay for the entire program under those circumstances.  Further, it might free up some reporters to investigate topics which seem to get lost in the muddle.  Some examples–>

Saudi Arabia and the whole nuclear thing. There appear to be some story lines converging. There’s a crown Prince of dubious reputation involved with the murder of a journalist for an American newspaper.  How much involvement is unresolved.  There’s a deal for nuclear technology in which a long time backer of the current president is involved, and reporting of a deal struck with Israeli psy-ops which includes Saudi connections. The deal, the details, and the possibility of interconnections are a bit murky, but they could be part of a more integrated piece.  It would seem there is much more reporting gold to be mined from these seams.

Russians. Both FBI Director Wray and DNI Coats mentioned ongoing efforts by the Russians to continue their assaults on our elections, and on our political system in the past several days. Not that we shouldn’t already be aware of this systemic assault. Senate Majority leader McConnell may not like the appellation Moscow Mitch, but as long as story lines entangle him with the likes of Deripaska, and an aluminum plant, and lobbyists seeking preferential treatment for Russian concerns, that appellation may stick. Dots remain to be securely connected.

Add to this the strange tale of sanctions being legislated against Russia (and Saudi Arabia too) only to be left unimplemented or lightly enforced by the administration, or of sanctions being vetoed by the President (Saudi arms deal.)

Did someone get played when Trump launched his trade war with China and see them retaliate with tariffs on soy beans, only to discover later China decided to purchase soy beans from…Russia?

And yet, there’s the President out there for his chopper talk this week with reporters challenging the veracity of reports about ongoing Russian assaults on the US.  There’s Senate Majority Leader McConnell blocking election security bills in the 116th Congressional session.

This advice is far from original, but it’s perhaps useful to remind members of the 4th Estate “you ain’t learning anything when you’re talking.”  Please, sign off Twitter and other social media, use your telephones the old fashioned way, to contact sources, or to add sources and information to your reporting.  You don’t need to be on every pundit panel every hour during the A block. You really don’t need to be on pundit panels at all. Investigate, verify, report. Stop worrying about access.

Access is highly overrated.  Access didn’t break open the Tea Pot Dome Scandal, nor did it bring into light the Watergate Scandal.  Access gives you information someone wants you to have. Investigation gives us information the rest of us need to have.

Please follow the loose ends, see if the dots connect, uncover what you can, reveal what you can verify. We will be better off for your efforts.

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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

The Russians Are Already Here: Contrasts and Comparisons

A peek at the past — Most people know that Japanese forces attacked the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941.  The US entered World War II immediately.  President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his famous “Day of Infamy” speech to Congress on December 8th.  While most Americans recognize the first lines of the speech, it’s time to remind ourselves of Roosevelt’s remarks later in his brief address:

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.”

At the end of the war in 1945 there wasn’t much public appetite for additional war investigations, but Congress did act.  A resolution adopted on September 6, 1945 called for the formation of a joint committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack.  One of the results of the investigations and other efforts was the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, which among other things consolidated the military into the Department of Defense and established the Central Intelligence Agency.   In other words, after an attack on the US, we were capable of thorough investigations, even when public sentiment was divided on the results, identifying problems, and legislating proposed solutions.

On September 11, 2001 radical terrorists attacked targets in New York City, Washington, DC, and attempted a third attack thwarted by passengers.  The 9/11 Commission was established by PL 107-306 on November 2002.  The commission was independent, bipartisan, and directed to publish a full and complete account, and mandated to make recommendations to prevent future similar attacks on the US and its citizens.

These are two of the most commonly cited examples of US responses to attacks on the United States as people try to evaluate current attacks on our country and our responses to those assaults.  While these are useful markers, and excellent examples of our capacity for both action and self-reflection, they aren’t precisely analogous to present Russian attacks on American institutions. To repeat the obvious, the two major previous attacks were physical and highly visible. They were both ‘mechanical’ in the sense that the main elements of the attacks were either weapons or weaponized aircraft.

Notes about the present — By contrast, the Russian assault on US (and other western nations) is better seen as an extension of the Cold War between the US and the former USSR.  Any investigation of Russian activities must, of necessity, be broader than the more focused investigations of December 7th and September 11th.  It must also take into consideration the weaponized use of non-mechanical forms of assault.  It challenges our ability to reflect on the nature, extent, strategy, and tactics of the current attacks.

We have not responded all that well to this assault.   For one thing, the weapons used relied on our own strengths.  We have an open and engaged environment with constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and press.  This very environment was used to foment discord, and disinformation — and that was the point.

In January 2017 the US intelligence services released a public summary of their findings concerning Russian interference in the 2016 elections.  Two of those findings should be especially concerning:

“In unequivocal language, the report pins responsibility for the election attack directly on President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, ruling out the possibility that it was ordered by intelligence officials or simply carried out by Kremlin supporters.

 United States officials believe Mr. Putin wants to damage the image of American democracy to make it less attractive to Russians and their neighbors.”

In light of these remarkable conclusions, the US response has been equally remarkably tepid, partisan, and confused.

First, the current investigations of the matter are fragmented.  Instead of following the precedent of an independent commission (such as the 9/11 commission)  or even a bipartisan investigative panel (such as the Pearl Harbor committee) the Congress established a special counsel to investigate possible violations of US statutes, and relied on standard (and partisan) congressional committees to conduct a wider range of inquiries into the wider aspects of the Russian attacks.

Secondly, the partisan nature of the Congress has interfered with the efficient and efficacious collection of evidence and testimony in regard to the nature and scope of the Russian assault on our democracy.   Perhaps no committee has been such a signal example of what partisanship can do to an important investigation as the House Intelligence Committee.  The Senate Judiciary Committee’s efforts directed by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) are questionable:

“Grassley’s role in the congressional probes into Russian meddling in the 2016 election has perplexed and concerned members of his own party, Republican staffers on the committee told The Daily Beast.

The probe appears to have already missed one of its own deadlines. And rather than publicly needling potential Russian meddlers, Grassley has primarily used his bully pulpit to rip an opposition-research firm and the FBI.”

In short, Senator Grassley seems at present to be more concerned with casting doubt on a specific dossier and its origins than on conducting an independent investigation.   A reasonable person could easily conclude that the current Congress has failed to create an atmosphere in which the conclusions of its various panels will be accepted as credible by the general public.  Of all the failures of the 115th Congress, this may well be the one with the most lasting deleterious effect.

The Russians are here, and the 115th Congress has neither demonstrated its interest in focusing on specific problems and solutions as the Congress in 1945 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, nor the interest in exploring the nature, scope, and specifics of the attacks of September 11th.   Perhaps this is an example of the greatest danger posed by Putin’s assault on democratic institutions?

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Speculation and Speculators

So, the President of the United States delivered a lecture to the members of NATO today about “paying up,” and focusing on global terrorism.  Fine and dandy…members who can pay, should pay and there is a need to address incidents of global terrorism.  That said, one of NATO’s prime reasons for existence is as a North Atlantic counterweight to RUSSIAN incursions into Europe.  And we have a President who seems preternaturally incapable of making strong comments about the Putin Regime.  Since everyone else is piling into the discussion, DB will add some questions to the combination Mare’s and Hornet’s nests.

How did characters like Flynn, Manafort, Page, Sessions et. alia. get involved in the efforts to effect the election of Donald J. Trump?  We all know they had contacts with Russians.  Some contacts were reported, others were not.  Mere contact with Russians doesn’t necessarily prove nefarious purposes, but the context and timing of some contacts is certainly open to question.  Investigations and inquiries will add to the chronology and context, but that doesn’t serve to shed light on WHY this cast of characters was drawn to the Trump Campaign.

Are there among us those who would do the Kremlin’s bidding? For purposes of their own, or at the behest of the administration?

What is it that the Kremlin wants?  The Center for Strategic and International Studies issued its Kremlin Playbook in October 2016, with the announcement that in Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia, Serbia, and Bulgaria:

“This research determined that Russia has cultivated an opaque web of economic and political patronage across the region that the Kremlin uses to influence and direct decisionmaking. This web resembles a network-flow model—or “unvirtuous circle”—which the Kremlin can use to influence (if not control) critical state institutions, bodies, and economies, as well as shape national policies and decisions that serve its interests while actively discrediting the Western liberal democratic system.”

How the Russians proposed to do this is summarized in Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s prepared remarks for the May 8, 2017 session on Russian Interference in politics. (note: PDF)

What elements might create the confluence between Russian interests and American politicians and political campaigns?   There are as many possibilities as there are individuals involved, perhaps ranging from personal animosities to broader financial entanglements.  Nor should we dismiss the possibility of a combination of motives.

One avenue of inquiry might be the financial relationship between the Trump business operations and Russian funding. Trump’s “comeback” from financial disaster in the 1990’s has been cited as evidence of a shift from American banks to a reliance on Deutsche Bank.  Evidence unearthed thus far doesn’t substantiate claims of Russian financial entanglement, however there is much to be said for the Deep Throat (Mark Felt) advice during the Watergate investigations — follow the money.

We know from the CSIS study that “Using shell corporations and other devices, Russia establishes illicit financial relationships to develop leverage against prominent figures, through the carrot of continued bribery or the stick of threatened disclosure.”

What might we learn as investigations of the connections between Trump businesses and shell corporations continue?   Would this explain the attraction of the ‘cast of characters’ to the Trump campaign and administration?  Would this help explain the use of other Russian tactics — propaganda, fake news, bots, and Internet Trolls? Hacking and theft of political information?  Timed leaks of damaging materials?

There are two courts in play in these controversies — the judiciary and the court of public opinion.  While it may be difficult to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that a proximate cause of Trump’s pro-Putin stance is financial entanglement in a court of law, it’s far more likely that the political court of public opinion will find Trump’s proclivity toward pandering to the Russian Bear ever more unpalatable.  Stay tuned, it’s going to be a long and sometimes tedious ride.

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Focus on the issue, not the straw man in the corner

First, let me say I am utterly uninterested in re-litigating the 2016 election results. My attention to the Russian Connection(s) is based on my concern that the Russian government — read Vladimir Putin — sought to influence the trajectory and substance of American foreign policy such that it would align with Russian interests.

Russian national interests (elimination of sanctions for its actions in Ukraine, diminishing NATO support for the Baltic States, reintegrating Crimea within Russian borders, separating the interests of the United States and Germany, retaining the Assad Regime in Syria to secure its naval base) are not necessarily American interests.

Secondly, there is ample evidence that the Russians sought to influence the direction of US foreign policy.  If there was no coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, then why was Paul Manafort, a man with copious ties to Russian backed opponents of the Ukrainian government, hired as part of the campaign organization? What was the role of Carter Page in the campaign and its foreign policy pronouncements? Why did General Flynn lie to the vice-president about his discussions with members of Putin’s government? Our Commerce Secretary is tied to the Cyprus Bank and its connections to Russian money laundering.  And, now did Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions meet with the Russian ambassador on matters related to the Senate Armed Forces Committee, or did the agenda include aligning US policy with that of the Putin government?

And all the while the press reports the Oval Office incumbent said things like, “Russia is not going into Ukraine,” and trying to clean up this mess later when it was pointed out that Russia was in Ukraine — in Crimea. Further, the incumbent repeated his comments that ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we had better relations with Russia?’

The Obama Administration placed sanctions on Russia for (1) its activities in Ukraine, especially eastern Ukraine where it is still supporting rebel forces, and (2) for its hacking of American political organizations and individuals — the DNC, etc.  I think we can agree that Russian arms and personnel shipments to eastern Ukraine are a violation of that nation’s sovereignty.  So, why has the current Oval Office been silent about Russian recognition of citizenship documents issued by Ukrainian rebel forces? Or, the continued military operations in eastern Ukraine?  If the administration is not aligning its foreign policy interests with those of the Putin government then it is doing a remarkable impersonation of precisely that.

The Russians perceive the expansion of NATO as a direct threat, what does the Oval Office say — we must require that all nations chip in more money to insure our support, leaving the Generals to clean up the mess and seek to alleviate the confusion on the part of our allies.  If this doesn’t align with Russian interests its hard to image what would.

The bottom line is that we need to focus on our national security, this isn’t selfish, it’s security.  We need to know if the current administration is compromised.  We need to know if the current administration is compromising American security interests.  We won’t be able to answer these questions if the Republicans are successful in driving the narrative as one of partisan politics informed by a reaction to election results.

The issues raised begin with Russian tampering in our election processes, but they don’t end there.  At issue is whether or not US foreign policy is focused on long term American interests, and is NOT predicated on promoting the interests of a hostile government.

Focus please.  The election result argument is a straw man. The “wouldn’t it be nice” argument is a straw man. The pontification upon whether specific laws were broken is a straw man.  The parsing of phrases in Senate hearings is a straw man. These subtopics are related to the essential issue but they should not be confused with it. Should these straw men take center stage, then it will be all the more difficult to discern IF American foreign policy is made based on OUR interests, or if American interests have been compromised.

We need an independent commission to investigate the possible compromising of American security interests, and the sooner the better.

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Meanwhile: What We Aren’t Talking About

World Map I have this miserable feeling that what is purported to be a debate including foreign policy on October 19th in Las Vegas, NV will devolve into a session about emails/Benghazi… both manufactured outrages which are GOP specialties.

Meanwhile in our very real world there are some important issues which are not being addressed, not being explained for the American public.  Here are a few —

Greece.  If we thought this issue of a European Union country in dire financial straits as over – think again.  There is currently more happy talk about the restoration of the Greek economy, but yet more bail out money is in the offing.  Another $3.1 billion loan has been authorized to the government.

“Greece’s debt stands at about 180 percent of Gross Domestic Product and the International Monetary Fund has been arguing that the primary surplus targets set by Athens’ creditors to secure the massive rescue loans will prove too tough to respect. It remains unclear whether the IMF will take part in future loans without some form of debt reduction, something the 19-nation eurogroup is reluctant to discuss, given the many billions already spent on keeping the country afloat.” [USNWR]

In other words the economic/foreign policy questions related to the Greek economic crisis and its implications hasn’t been resolved, it’s merely been postponed.  I’d like to hear candidates discuss how the US should address problems created in the Greek/Eurozone economy by the aggregation of debt and the reluctance of bond holders to reduce their interest rates or renegotiate the rates. I don’t think we’re going to hear it.

China. There will probably be some references to China in terms of US trade, and the balance of trade between the US and China – but let’s guess that there will be radio silence on the freedom movement in Hong Kong.  The democracy movement is still alive in that area, the vestiges of the Umbrella Revolution survive, but the delicate balance of interests has implications for US policy in the region.  Will the fate of the Umbrella Revolution be referenced in foreign policy debates? Probably not.

South China Sea.  Here’s a situation fraught with consequences for the region, and for US interests.  China seeks to expand its influence in the area, the position of the Philippine government remains unclear.  China has made inferences to US ‘intervention’  in the area, and has told New Zealand to ‘butt out.’ [NZHerald]  Meanwhile, Indonesia has made a show of force in the South China Sea, and Japan is joining US patrols.  Singapore has expressed concern over the safety of fishermen and coast guard patrols, even though it is not a claimant in any territorial disputes.  Explication? Again, likely not.

Democratic Republic of Congo.  The election disputes turned deadly in late September.  President Kabila’s term is supposed to end in December, but elections have been put on hold, precipitating the violence.  The Vatican has weighed in, calling for a peaceful resolution of the election issues.  The US State Department issued a revised travel warning for the country five days ago.

“The potential for civil unrest remains high in Kinshasa and other major cities. In addition armed groups, bandits, and some elements of the Congolese armed forces continue to engage in murder, kidnapping, and robbery in a number of areas of eastern DRC. Very poor transportation infrastructure throughout the country and poor security conditions make it difficult for the U.S. Embassy to provide consular services anywhere outside of Kinshasa.” [USSoS]

Is the US prepared to react to continued civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo?  At what point does the US express its position, and make it clear we’d support UN initiatives to secure a peaceful transition of power?  We aren’t likely to find out during campaign season.

Turkey.  The coup attempt in Turkey created problems for US – Turkey relations.  [Fortune]  The relationship was complicated in the first place, and isn’t likely to get simplified any time soon. [WaPo]   Subtopics include our relationship with the Kurds, our relationship with the Erdogan government, our relationship with NATO.  And then there are Pentagon discussions about arming the YPG.  The situation is further complicated by talks between Russia and the Erdogan government over a pipeline.  

Russia and Eastern Europe.  Two days ago the Polish government expressed its disapproval of Russian missiles being deployed in Kaliningrad, in an area bordering Poland and Lithuania. [Reuters]  The Estonians weren’t pleased by the moving of the Iskander-M missiles either. [Guardian] The situation became more ‘touchy’ with Estonian charges of Russian incursions into Estonian air space. [EuOnline]  These aren’t issues to be minimized especially in light of Russian activities in Ukraine.

Putin is now claiming that Russian was “forced” to defend Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine, “Putin had denied sending troops into Crimea, before annexing it in 2014, and issued similar denials regarding Donbas. However, he has issued statements seemingly admitting to armed Russian presence in both regions since.”   Said Putin, stating the obvious.  The situation is rendered more tenuous as Germany is downplaying the idea of Four Way Summit on Ukraine. [Reuters]  There are talks scheduled for this Thursday and Friday, but evidently not much hope for any progress toward ending Russian incursions or the ‘separatist’ movement in eastern Ukraine.  The fighting continues.  

Without a better and fuller discussion of foreign policy issues in the political arena, Americans may have to live up to the old saw, “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”

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Pulling Representative Heck Slowly Toward Understanding Foreign Policy

SpaghettiRepresentative Joe Heck (R-NV3) is confused about the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.  “I don’t think we have a coherent foreign policy, and that’s part of the problem,” Heck said. “We have not exercised the level of leadership around the globe as we have over the past 20 years. … The world looks toward somebody to kind of set the example. And I don’t think we’ve been setting the example that we have set previously.” [LVRJ]

First there’s a big difference between something which is incoherent and something with which there is disagreement.  The limited engagement portion of what’s lumped together as Obama Doctrine isn’t too difficult to comprehend.  Unilateral force will be used if there is a direct threat to the United States.  That wasn’t too hard, was it?

Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance.  If force is to be used, it should be in a very precise way.  [FP] Also not all that hard to understand.  In case Representative Heck is still confused, let’s apply some examples.

ISIL: A direct threat to Americans or American interests. IS attacks threatening Americans and American interests in Iraq, especially in the vicinity of Erbil in Kurdish controlled areas presented a direct threat to Americans in the region.  Response? Air strikes.  So far so good.  IS momentum in the area has been blunted and American lives and interests protected.  Humanitarian aid and the rearming of the Peshmerga forces associated with the mission was augmented by efforts from the British, the French, and the Germans.  Multilateral, targeted, minimal force applied to secure desired results.  What’s confusing about that?  But, what of indirect threats?

Libya:  What should be done in cases of threats to global security? Once again, we find the Administration employing a multilateral approach. In 2011 an effort by the U.S., Canada, France, Italy, and Great Britain (in a coalition ultimately including 19 nations)  coordinated a campaign of air strikes, naval blockades, no-fly zones, and logistical assistance to Libyan rebels. It worked.

Syria: The civil war in Syria presents a more complicated problem for nations which perceive the situation as a threat to global security.  The Assad government has close ties to Russia, and the rebel groups range from small inexperienced moderate elements, to criminal gangs, to extremist groups, to the really extremist groups like ISIS.  Coalitions, alliances, and coterminous realignments and the creation of new coalitions, make this a very fluid situation.  Problem One was to get the stockpiles of chemical weapons out of the game.  Mission accomplished. Last month a Danish ship delivered the last 600 metric tons of chemical weapons to a U.S. ship (Cape Ray) at an Italian port, where the chemicals will be destroyed. [CNN] Multilateral. Minimal use of force (a show of force at one point) with a maximum use of diplomacy, combined with a specifically focused mission.

Calls for arming the anti-Assad rebels is a simplistic response to a complicated problem.  In December 2013 the BBC published something of a roster of Syrian rebel forces for those wishing to keep track of the players.  There’s a coalition now called the Supreme Council of the Free Syrian Army, the good news is that this is a relatively moderate group, but the bad news is that it is composed of some 30 different militias which retain their own operational independence, command structures, and agendas. In short it is a very loosely joined network of independent brigades. Then there is the Islamic Front, another coalition of about seven groups which wants to topple the Assad government and devise an Islamic state.  This is not to be confused with the Al Qaeda or jihadist groups, such as the Al Nusra Front, and the Islamic State.  But wait, we haven’t listed the independent groups such as the Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigades, Asala wa al-Tanmiya Front, or the group often associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, the Durou al-Thawra Commission.

Now, just who is it that the U.S. might want to arm?  And by the way, Syria is about 64% Sunni, about 20% of whom are Kurds, Turkomans, Circassians, and Palestinians.  The Shia represent most of the other Muslims in Syria, and are divided into three groups: Twelvers, Ismailis, and Alawis.  And then there are the recently discovered by the foreign press —  Yazidis.

Now Representative Heck might want to ask himself: Does he prefer a policy which keeps U.S. interests in mind in Syria by making maximum use of diplomatic multilateral efforts and a minimal infusion of force; or would he prefer getting the U.S. mired in another swampy situation in the Middle East?

If one’s idea of a coherent foreign policy is one of moving in with a maximum use of unilateral force — and with minimal consideration of the consequences — then the Obama Administrations doctrine isn’t going to meet with one’s approval. And, that’s the question which needs to be answered by Representative Heck — If you don’t like a mission specific use of force, applied in conjunction with a multilateral diplomatic and military effort, then what do you want?

The bellicose blustering of the Bush Administration sounded coherent, but ultimately proved to produce incoherent results.  Witness our next example: Iraq.

Iraq: A nation created in the wake of World War I, with significant religious and political internal differences, formerly governed by an intransigent and despicable (albeit secular) dictator, crumbles after Sunni populations in the north and west perceive the Shiite government in the south (Baghdad/Basra) to be ignoring or damaging their interests. Kurdish populations in the northeast see the Shiite government as inimical to their interests, and the compliment is returned by the southern Shia.

The removal of ISF military leaders who are Sunni or former Baathists by the Maliki government creates a security force (army) of questionable utility.  The question is answered as the Iraqis try to form a new government in July-August 2014, and  ISIL moves from Syria into ‘friendly’ territory around Mosul.  ISIL (IS) attracts support from local Sunni groups alienated by the Maliki government, and radicals from surrounding territories.

The fractures in the Iraqi political system, fully identified in a policy review with General Odierno in 2010, are visible today. [FP]  Our goals as set forth in 2010-2011 are to (1) encourage reconciliation, (2) help develop a professional civil service, (3) promote a healthy relationship between the parliament and the executive, and (4) to support the reintegration of refugees and displaced persons.  [FP]

Recent actions by the Obama Administration have sought to get the Yazidis to safety (a multinational effort), re-arm and supply the Peshmerga (a multinational effort), and get the Maliki government in the rear view mirror in order to restore the government and the Iraq Security Force into working order.  Is this too complex for Representative Heck to ponder?

How about we set an example of using multinational cooperation to  diminish threats to global security by applying the least force appropriate in the most multilateral format possible?  Is that too difficult to understand?

Carry a Big Bull Horn and Do What With It?

But wait, Representative Heck’s apprehensions go even further:

“Heck said a lack of follow-through on U.S. threats makes America appear weak. He didn’t cite Syria, but President Bashar al-Assad suffered no serious repercussions for using chemical weapons against his own people.

“Our adversaries need to know that if they do X, then the U.S. is going to do Y,” Heck said. “And there has not been that consistency. That’s why you see actors, not only in the Middle East, but also Russia and China, push the limits.”  [LVRJ]

Breathe.  Did Representative Heck miss the part where the Danish ship met the U.S. ship in the Italian harbor — and Assad doesn’t have his chemical weapons anymore? The serious repercussion is that Assad can’t use his chemical weapons on his own people anymore because he doesn’t have them.  He’s down to barrel bombs.

Breathe, and let the breath condense on the crystal ball Representative Heck seems to have about the intentions and actions of foreign parties. If we tell people we’ll do Y if they do X — What are X and Y?

Let’s explore some of the implications of Representative Heck’s simple formula, in the application of the administration’s doctrine: Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance.

Putin moves against Ukraine.  There is no direct threat to the United States therefore we will address the threat multilaterally and not necessarily with maximum (military) force.  Multilateral action is messy, can be slow, doesn’t make for dramatic headlines, and certainly isn’t conducive to the bellicose bluster approach. However, in this instance it’s a far better approach.

For example, the U.S. does about $160 million in trade with Ukraine, [Cen] by contrast Germany’s trade with Ukraine is estimated at $10 billion. [Siemens pdf] If economic interests are placed in the “threat” category then Germany has far more at stake in the problems between Ukraine and Russia than we do.  So do China, Belarus, Poland, Turkey, Italy, and Hungary. [Bloomberg]

But, but, but, sputter the critics, Putin moved into Crimea and we didn’t do anything.  Come to think of it, neither did the Ukrainians — possibly remembering Crimea was attached to Ukraine in 1954 as a matter of Soviet administrative convenience, and when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 Crimea negotiated terms which allowed it to be an autonomous republic. [AJAM]

While the Russians (Putin) continue to threaten interference with Ukrainian sovereignty, the latest efforts have been rebuffed.  The Russians are putting out the story that the destruction of an armored column is a fantasy — the Ukrainians have another version of events, one in which they destroyed at least half of it. [HuffPo] Meanwhile, the notion of sending arms to Ukraine sounds a bit like carrying coal to Newcastle — at one point Ukraine exported arms to Russia, included in a total of $1.3 billion in arms sales each year. [Bloomberg]

Perhaps there’s not enough drama in the careful ratcheting up of economic sanctions to cool the blood of those who, like Representative Heck, are unable to comprehend the current foreign policy direction of the Obama Administration?  However, it’s not like the Russians didn’t get some warnings as the sanctions were slowly increased until they started to hurt Russians in their grocery stores. [USAT]  Yes, Mr. Putin, if you continue to threaten (X) Ukraine, the western nations will (Y) hit you in the grocery baskets.  Worse still for Mr. Putin’s plans, the Germans, who have taken their own economic interests into consideration during the maneuvering, are now taking a much stiffer stance. [NYT]

Now, what part of Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance. isn’t clear?

China? It’s difficult to tell what Representative Heck might be talking about, other than a generalized appeal to the old Yellow Peril line of jingoism.  However, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he knows we’re monitoring what is going on between the Philippines, Vietnam and the Chinese regarding the South China Sea. [Reuters] And, that’s what we’re doing — monitoring to see if there has been or will be a de-escalation of tempers in that region.  We will be working with Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and China to resolve differences — meaning we will adopt the position that Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance.

Perhaps Representative Heck does understand that the Obama Administration will meet indirect threats with multilateral efforts and not apply the use of maximum force in each instance — then what is the substance of his criticism?  We don’t “sound” strong enough? What does that mean? We don’t “look” strong enough? What does that mean?

Representative Heck may be indulging in theater criticism — should the President’s voice have been louder? Deeper? Should the wording of policy statements have been more aggressive? Should aggressively worded policy statements be issued no matter what our friends and allies may say?  He may assert he doesn’t agree with the foreign policy direction of the Obama Administration, but surely he can’t mean he doesn’t understand it.

Never one to be considered a softy, Gen. George Patton offered this pithy bit of advice on leadership:

“You young lieutenants have to realize that your platoon is like a piece of spaghetti. You can’t push it. You’ve got to get out in front and pull it.”

President Obama seems to have received and understood that message, Representative Heck must still be working on it. Pull too hard on spaghetti and it breaks.

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