Archive for the ‘Foreign Affairs’ Category

What we know about Trump’s ties to Russia

September 8, 2018

Here’s what is known so far about Donald Trump and his relationship to Russia.

He has had extensive business dealings with rich Russians, including organized crime figures.  He son spoke of how the Trump Organization benefited from Russian money.

President Trump

Like many right-wing Republicans, he admired Vladimir Putin as a decisive, authoritarian leader.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump expressed a desire to improve relations with Russia.  I personally think that was a good thing, not a bad thing.  There is no conflict of interest between the USA and Russia that justifies risk of nuclear war.

President Putin, in response to questions, publicly said in 2015 and 2016 that he would welcome Trump’s election because he wanted better relations with the United States.

Various Russian agencies tried to aid Trump’s campaign, almost certainly by using social media to campaign and probably by leaking embarrassing e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  I’m not sure how significant this was.  It may have been more significant than I thought.

President Trump has weakened the Western alliance against Putin and Russia, not by making concessions to Russia but by breaking up the unity of the alliance.  Trump’s trade war threatens the economic interests of allies.  So does his demand that they participate in sanctions against Iran and other countries.   His insults and threats are damaging in themselves.

What I see no evidence of is the claim that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin made an explicit deal that Trump would ease up on economic warfare against Russia in return to Putin’s help in the election campaign.

I think Putin would have been a fool to make such an explicit deal, especially with someone as erratic and lacking in self-discipline as Trump.  A deal also would be unnecessary.  All that is necessary for him to advance his goals is for Trump to be Trump.

I also think that the various meetings and attempted meetings between Trump’s supporters and Russians in 2016 are an indication that no deal had been made.  If there had been a deal, what need for further meetings?  Trump and Putin would have made sure to keep their supporters apart.

The solution to U.S. problems regarding Russia are in the United States, not in Russia.  Congress should curb presidential power to change tariffs at will and to commit acts of war.  It should reconsider economic sanctions against Iran and other countries that do not threaten us.

Voting systems should be secured against electronic hacking by means of publicly counted paper ballots.  Social media should be protected against robo-memes.  Confidential computer files should be made secure even if it means making FBI and NSA surveillance more difficult.

Unfortunately there is no way to curb Trump’s erratic personal behavior between now and the 2020 election.

LINKS

Interview of Glenn Greenwald for the Huffington Post.  Russiagate skeptic’s new view of what’s proven and not proven at this point.

Manafort, Cohen and why Republicans won’t turn on Trump by Emily Stewart for Vox.

How the West empowers Central Asian tyrants

August 8, 2018

The regime of Islam Karimov, who ruled the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan from 1991 to 2016, once had a couple of dissidents boiled alive.  When the grandmother of one of them complained publicly, she was sentenced to six years in prison.

People under his rule could be jailed, tortured or killed for the slightest reason.  Police raped women at will.  His country’s chief export crop, cotton, was picked by forced labor.  Karimov’s family, especially his daughter Gulnara, and his cronies controlled the economy.

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But he was not a primitive tyrant ruling a backward country remote from the centers of civilization.  Rather he and his fellow Central Asian dictators were intimately connected with global finance and politics, and owed their power to those connections..

International banks helped Karimov and his family take their wealth out of the country and hide it.  Russian, American and Chinese governments completed for his favor, and turned a blind eye when his secret services reached out to capture and kill political opponents living abroad.

Corrupt Third World dictators that Western governments support are not mere puppets.  Empowering them means compromising and corrupting institutions that are supposedly based on the rule of law.

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I recently read two books about Central Asia – MURDER IN SAMARKAND: A British Ambassador’s Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror by Craig Murray (2006) and DICTATORS WITHOUT BORDERS: Power and Money in Central Asia by Alexander Cooley and John Heathersaw (2017).   I’ll first comment on Murray’s book, then on the other book.

Uzbekistan and the other Central Asian nations were part of the Soviet Union until it broke up.  Their governments were continuations of the former Communist governments.

Craig Murray was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004. His descriptions of life in Uzbekistan reminds me of accounts of the USSR in the 1930s

He was a colorful character—a drinker, a womanizer and a proud Scot who appeared in formal occasions in Highland dress complete with kilt.  But his physical and moral courage were indisputable.

He once found himself with a stalled car on a country road, alone except for his female interpreter, a female staff member and the widow of a murder victim.

A couple of roughnecks approached, and the widow whispered Murray that they were the murderers of her husband.  Murray pushed one of them in the chest, told them he was the British ambassador and to get out of his way.  He did.

He in theory was supposed to advocate for human rights laws that the British government had endorsed, but in reality, his superiors wanted him to go along with U.S. policy, which was to support Karimov as a valued supporter of the U.S. “war on terror” and interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Uzbekistan was part of the Northern Supply Route, by which U.S. forces in Afghanistan are supported by way of Russia and Central Asia, and it allowed a U.S. air based on its territory.

This mean that Murray was expected to overlook at lot, as he told a Guardian reporter at the time:

People come to me very often after being tortured.  Normally this includes homosexual and heterosexual rape of close relatives in front of the victim; rape with objects such as broken bottles; asphyxiation; pulling out of fingernails; smashing of limbs with blunt objects; and use of boiling liquids including complete immersion of the body.  This is not uncommon.  Thousands of people a year suffer from this torture at the hands of the authorities.

Source: The Guardian

He once interviewed an old professor about imprisoned Uzbek dissidents.  A short time later, the body of the professor’s 18-year-old grandson, bearing the marks of torture, was dumped on the professor’s doorstep.  That is the “murder in Samarkand” in the title.

The U.S. ambassador strongly opposed Murray’s meddling.  At the time was Uzbekistan was a destination for American “extraordinary rendition” of suspected terrorists.  The CIA set great store by information obtained by torture and so did the British government.

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Are normal relations with Russia even possible?

July 19, 2018

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump in 2016, but I thought one of the good things about his campaign was his promise to try to improve relations with Russia.

Now I wonder whether this was even possible.

President Trump in the Helsinki summit showed himself incapable of engaging in normal diplomacy.

Even if he were, he is locked in to Cold War by Congress and by the Mueller investigation.

I have no liking for Vladimir Putin’s regime, but since Russia is the only country in the world with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the United States, I think the drift toward military confrontation with Russia is dangerous.

Trump in his rhetoric seems to agree.  But his administration has armed Ukraine, continued to deploy nuclear weapons around Russia’s borders, sought an increased military budget agreed to increased sanctions against Russia and kept troops in Syria, which is Russia’s ally.

Either Trump does not understand the implications of what his administration is doing or he Is not in control of his administration.

Probably both are true.

It’s also hard for Trump to justify peaceful co-existence with Russia or North Korea while he is stepping up military operations around the world and flirting with war with Iran and Venezuela.

Since he is ignorant and inexperienced in diplomacy, he would need the help of experts to negotiate successfully.  But he has staffed his administration with war hawks who oppose normalizing relations with Russia.  He fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the only one who could have helped him.

He is an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.  He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

Even if he were not the person he is, the ongoing Russiagate investigation stands in the way of peace.  So long as Trump and members of his administration remain under suspicion of plotting with Russian agents to rig the 2016 election, it is not politically feasible to treat Russia like a normal country.

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What’s behind Trump’s demands on NATO?

July 18, 2018

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President Trump last week demanded that NATO allies, who have already pledged to increase their military spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2024, raise their spending to 4 percent.

This is supposedly necessary to defend against Russia.  Whether or not he really thinks Russia is that much of a threat, the fact is that the European members of NATO already outspend Russia by a considerable amount.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Institute, Russia’s spending military spending last year was $66.3 billion, down from $69.2 billion in 2016.

France spent $57.8 billion, the UK spent $47.2 billion and Germany spent $44.3 billion—a combined total of $149.3 billion, more than double what Russia spent.  Estimated US spending was $610 billion.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies made different but similar estimates.

Its estimate was that Russia spent $61.2 billion last year, while the UK spent $50.7 billion, France spent $48.6 billion and Germany spent $41.7 billion—a combined total of $141 billion, also more than double Russia’s.  The IISS estimated that US spent $602.8 billion.

So what was the purpose of Trump’s demand?  I think it was to increase sales by the U.S. armaments industry.

I think his motivation was the same for his criticism Germany for importing 70 percent of its natural gas from Russia and planning a second natural gas pipeline across the Baltic.

His goal is to have Germany import American liquefied natural gas (LNG), despite its higher cost and current lack of suitable infrastructure.  Russia is just an excuse.  He wants American companies to get Germany’s business.s.

The European Union countries are competitors of the United States in world trade.  Hence his hostility to the EU.   Russia is not.  Hence his lack of hostility to Russia.

Donald Trump sees foreign affairs in terms of trade, and trade in terms of making deals. That is shortsighted.  The way for the United States to regain our advantage in world trade is by building up our own industry, not by demanding other countries do things that are not in their own interest.

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When the shoe is on the other foot

July 17, 2018

Jack Goldsmith, who posts on the Lawfare blog, asked what will happen when Russia, China and Iran start naming and indicting U.S. officials for computer intrusions and interfering in their politics.

As the Snowden documents and David Sanger’s great new book and other books make plain, and as U.S. officials are wont to brag, the U.S. intelligence services break into computers and computer networks abroad at an astounding rate, certainly on a greater scale than any other intelligence service in the world.

Every one of these intrusions in another country violates that country’s criminal laws prohibiting unauthorized computer access and damage, no less than the Russian violations of U.S. laws outlined in Mueller’s indictment.

This is not a claim about the relative moral merits of the two countries’ cyber intrusions; it is simply a claim that each side unequivocally breaks the laws of the other in its cyber-espionage activities.  [snip]

Recall that President Obama boasted that U.S. offensive cyber capacities were the greatest in the world.

Sanger reports that “the United States remains the world’s stealthiest, most skillful cyberpower.”

Then consider:

  • The wide array of U.S. cyber intrusions abroad revealed by Snowden.
  • Olympic Games, the operation against Iranian centrifuges that Michael Hayden compared in significance to the use of nuclear weapons in August 1945.
  • The Shadow Broker leaks of many of the NSA’s offensive tools and what the NSA was doing with those tools.
  • The U.S. Internet Freedom program, which (among other things) provides cyber tools and training to activists in authoritarian nations with the aim of achieving political change there.
  • U.S. officials assisting and urging U.S. social media giants such as Twitter to help activists bring down foreign governments.

This is but a bit of the public evidence—surely a tiny sliver of the overall evidence—of U.S. “interferences” abroad using offensive cyber tools of various sorts.

This is not to say, Goldsmith wrote, that Robert Mueller is wrong to pursue his investigation or that we Americans should not be concerned about securing our computer systems.

But if we want other governments to change their behavior, we must be willing to admit and change our own.

LINKS

Uncomfortable Questions in the Wake of Russia Indictment 2.0 and Trump’s Press Conference by Jack Goldsmith for Lawfare.  Worth reading in its entirety.

How to Stop Russian Election Interference by Ian Welsh.

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The danger of peace has been averted

July 17, 2018

Here are my takeaways of the mainstream press reporting on the Trump-Putin summit.  [Note: This is sarcasm.]

  • The overriding issue of our time is Russians trying to influence the 2016 elections by using illicit means to reveal true facts concerning Hillary Clinton.  This is nothing less than an attack on democracy itself.
  • The threat of nuclear war and a nuclear arms race is not even worth mentioning.
  • The default policy toward Russia is to threaten and punish Russians until they become more friendly.
  • The CIA and FBI are like an independent fourth branch of government.  Showing disrespect for them on foreign soil is unpatriotic.
  • Meeting with the President of the United States is such a great privilege that Vladimir Putin should not be allowed to do so without making major concessions.
  • Other nations should do as we Americans say, not as we do.

For some non-mainstream views, click on links below.

LINKS

U.S. Media Is Losing Its Mind Over Trump-Putin Press Conference by Joe Lauria for Consortium News.

The Helsinki Debacle and U.S.-Russian Relations by Daniel Larison for The American Conservative.

A walk on the wild side as Trump meets Putin at the Finland station by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

When Did Russia Become an Adversary? by Gary Leupp for Counterpunch.  Answer: Since 2014.

Has the U.S. interfered with Russia? Yes

July 15, 2018

The U.S. government engages in regime change, which is much more than simply interfere in foreign elections.   Just in the past 20 years, it has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, funded foreign fighters to attack governments of Libya and Syria, and supported military coups in Honduras, Ukraine and Venezuela.  The coup in Venezuela failed, so the U.S. government uses economic warfare instead.

In 1996, the U.S. State Department engineered the election of the unpopular Boris Yeltsin.  He disbanded the Russian parliament, took over Russian TV and used all the techniques later used by Vladimir Putin to stack elections in his favor.   Time magazine actually ran a cover story hailing the U.S. success.

The results were that he crashed the Russian economy for the benefit of a few corrupt insiders, and destroyed the possibility of U.S.-Russian friendship for a generation, maybe longer.

Yanks to the rescue, a PDF of the Time cover article for July 15,1996

“Yanks to the rescue”: Time’s not-so-secret story of how Americans helped Yeltsin win 1996 presidential election from OffGuardian.

Currently many foreign-backed NGOs operate in Russia.  Their stated purpose is to promote democracy and freedom.  Many get funds from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy, which is funded by the U.S. State Department and private philanthropists.  Some are supported by billionaire George Soros.

It is possible that most of them or maybe all of them, are doing things that I, as a believer in democracy, would approve of.  If so, I can understand why Vladimir Putin might not think so.

I have no way of knowing what, if anything, the CIA is covertly doing to spread information or disinformation in Russia.

Russia Expels USAID over ‘political meddling’ by Deutsche Welle.

The Mueller indictments have convinced me that Russian intelligence services probably did disseminate confidential e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, that certain Russians used social media to comment on the election and that Russian intelligence agencies tried to gain access to voter registration rolls.

I think there are a lot of other things that had much more influence on the election that this.  The question is: What happens if and when the Russian covert agencies try again?

I don’t believe in “moral equivalence,” if the meaning is that, just because the U.S. government has done bad things to other nations, we Americans should sit back and let them do bad things to us in return.

Neither do I believe that we get very far by saying “you are bad, we are good, so you should stop doing certain things while we keep on doing them ourselves.”   It would be very interesting to see if U.S. intelligence agencies would be willing to sacrifice their manipulations of foreign politics if that would safeguard the integrity of our own.

Americans can spot election meddling because they’ve been doing it for years by Owen Jones for The Guardian.

Russia Isn’t the Only One Meddling in Elections | We Do It, Too by Scott Shane for The New York Times.

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Putin, Trump and a hypothetical question

July 15, 2018

Suppose Donald Trump, as many Americans urge, demands that the Russian government cease all interference in American politics.

Suppose Vladimir Putin says he’ll agree, provided that the American government ceases all “regime change” activities against Russia and other countries.

What should President Trump’s response be?

LINKS

Russia Indictment  2.0: What to Make of Mueller’s Hacking Indictment on Lawfare.

The Mueller Indictment by Ian Welsh.

Trump, Russia and the NATO alliance

July 13, 2018

President Donald Trump wants to (1) force European allies to commit to more than double their military spending to meet the Russian threat and (2) engage in peace negotiations with Vladimir Putin without consulting European allies.

On the one hand, Russia is a menace that the NATO allies must unite against.  On the other hand, Russia is a normal country with which normal negotiations are possible.  And, by the way, U.S. dealings with Russia are no business of our European allies.  So which is it?

Donald Trump

President Trump presents himself as a master negotiator, but he weakened his negotiating position by advertising and widening the divisions in the Western alliance.   I can’t tell what his objectives are, or even if he has specific objectives.

My best guess is that the Putin-Trump talks, like the Trump-Kim Jong-un talks, will end in vague generalities that each side will interpret differently.  Trump’s erratic behavior frightened the South Korean government into talking with North Korea on its own.  Maybe his current behavior will be to frighten the European nations into making their own agreement with Russia.

That’s not to say that a summit meeting with President Putin is a bad idea.  It is just that Trump by his actions has shown that he can’t conduct normal diplomacy.

So what should U.S. policy toward Russia be?  The most important fact about Russia is that it is the only nation with enough nuclear weapons and missiles to destroy the United States.  To be sure, this would involve the destruction of Russia itself.

So American leaders should avoid backing Russia leaders into a position where they might think they have nothing to lose, or in which a nuclear war could be triggered accidentally.

The missile defense systems put in place by the U.S. in Poland and Romania, and the deployment of nuclear missiles to the borders of Russia, gave the Russian leaders reason to think that the U.S. was planning a nuclear first strike.  Their response has been to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons with which they could strike the United States.

The aim of negotiations should be to reduce the nuclear threat on both sides.  I don’t think President Trump understands this issue, and he has surrounded himself with war hawks such as John Bolton who see no point in negotiation.  This is dangerous for both sides.  We need new negotiations to wind down the nuclear threat.

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Maybe Kim really would give up nuclear weapons

June 13, 2018

I’ve never believed that Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un would give up North Korea’s nuclear weapons, mainly because, if I were him, I would regard nuclear weapons as the only way to deter an attack by the United States.

But Joel S. Wit, a former American diplomat who participated in negotiations with North Korea in the 1990s and again in informal talks in 2013, said he believes Kim really would be willing to give up nuclear weapons in return for cessation of hostilities by the United States.

Kim wants diplomatic recognition by the United States, a peace treaty formally ending the Korean Conflict and an end to trade restrictions and economic sanctions, Wit said.  In return, KIm would freeze nuclear weapons development and, step by step in return for U.S. actions, to dismantle nuclear and missile test sites.

This would not be the same thing as giving up nuclear weapons entirely, but it would be a sign that Kim wants peace, and a first step to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.  There is nothing that the United States is doing to North Korea that is of any direct benefit to the American people.

These objectives weren’t achieved at the Kim-Trump summit, and maybe the negotiations will ultimately fail, but the door is still open.

The biggest reason for hope is the desire of President Moon Jei-in of South Korea to make peace with North Korea.   As long as the governments of the two parts of Korea were enemies, peace was impossible.  If they are no longer enemies, peace is achievable.

President Moon’s accomplishment is like West German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik, which resulted in the signing of a treaty in 1972 between the West and East German governments recognizing each other’s right to exist.  This didn’t end the Cold War, let alone end the East Germany Communist dictatorship, but it helped make possible.

I don’t see any path to democracy in North Korea, but bringing the North Korean people into contact with the outside world would be a good thing, not a bad thing.

LINKS

North Korea’s Denuclearization and the ‘Libya model’ by Joel S. Wit for The Atlantic.

How Corporate Media Got the Kim-Trump Summit All Wrong by Gareth Porter for Truthdig.  Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

How Moon Jai-in Brought North Korea to Negotiate by S. Nathan Park for The Atlantic.

Singapore agreement will end the cold war, South Korea’s President Moon Jie-in says by the South China Morning Post.

The key word in the Trump-Kim show by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

The North Korean summit and deal by Tyler Cowen for Marginal Revolution.

What price U.S. world power?

May 18, 2018

Many commentators think U.S. power is declining, largely due to long-term trends, but speeded up by Donald Trump.

I think that’s true.  How much should we the American people worry about this?

Paul Street wrote a savage but accurate article for Truthdig about reasons why the world in general would welcome the downfall of U.S. power.   The enumeration of the death and destruction caused by U.S. military interventions, acts of war, covert action and economic sanctions makes is painful reading for an American.

And what benefit have we, the American people, gotten from it?  Little or nothing, that I can see.  In fact, the welfare of Americans has been sacrificed to maintaining American military power.  We can’t afford to maintain decent public services, but cost is no consideration when it comes to the military.

That doesn’t mean that loss of American global power would be painless.  We would have to find new ways to employ the millions of people employed by the U.S. military, the covert action agencies and their many contractors and suppliers.

Having a large number of unemployed, some highly qualified in the use of lethal force and others in covert political action, would be no small problem.  Neither would being a pariah among nations, as the Germans were for a time after their defeat in World War Two.

The British and French people were better off in the long run after they lost their overseas empires.  The German and Japanese people were better off in the long run after their defeats in World War Two.  We Americans will be better off in the long run if we give up the quest for world domination.

LINK

The World Will Not Mourn the Decline of U.S. Hegemony by Paul Street for Truthdig.

Can the US bring about ‘regime change’ in Iran?

May 11, 2018

President Trump’s administration appears set to wage economic war against Iran in order to bring about “regime change.”

The pattern would be the economic war the U.S. government has waged against Venezuela, which has crashed that country’s economy and created desperate poverty.

Top members of the Trump administration have long been committed to overthrowing the Iranian government.  But they’re not going to get the American public and Congress to support war with Iran.

What’s left is covert warfare, subsidizing dissidents and rebels in Iran, and economic warfare, using U.S. financial power to punish businesses that do business with Iran.

Because most international trade is done in U.S. dollars, and because most transactions in dollars go through U.S. banks, the U.S. government is in a position to do great damage to businesses and business owners that displease it.

This comes at a price, though.  Each time the U.S. government forces foreign governments and businesses to sacrifice their own interest to do its bidding, it brings the day closer when foreigners unite to set up an alternative international financial system that doesn’t use the U.S. dollar or U.S. banks.   That is the ultimate goal of China, aided by Russia. (more…)

Trump: the art of the deal-breaker

May 9, 2018

As a business tycoon, Donald Trump was noted for breaking contracts and not paying bills.  He relied on his wealth and his lawyers to deter less-wealthy contractors and creditors from collecting what they were owed.

In renouncing the nuclear arms deal with Iran, he is trying to treat a small nation the way he once treated small businesses.   He evidently thinks he can do this without any bad consequences to the United States.  If so, he is wrong.

President Trump

The reason the Iranian government was willing to negotiate limitations to its nuclear program was that Iran faced economic sanctions by the United Nationals Security Council, which represents all the great powers, not just the United States, which has been waging economic warfare against Iran since the present regime came to power in 1979.

The nuclear agreement was negotiated with six countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, not the United States alone.   Renunciation by the U.S. government isn’t binding on any of the others.

It’s highly unlikely that Britain, France and Germany would agree to resume economic warfare against Iran, especially since President Trump did not consult them in advance.

It is certain that Russia and China will not, since the U.S. government, unlike when the UN Security Council imposed sanctions against Iran in 2006, now treats these two countries as adversaries.   So what Trump has done is to force Iran into alliance with Russia and China.

No objective observer doubts that Iran has kept its side of the agreement.  The problem from the standpoint of the United States is that the agreement has not affected Iran’s struggle with Saudi Arabia and Israel for  geopolitical power in the Middle East.

But what has made Iran so powerful?   U.S. military interventions are what has empowered Iran.

In 2001, Iran, which is ruled by Shiite Muslim clerics, was hemmed in by two hostile powers—the Taliban in Afghanistan to the east and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to the west.

The U.S. overthrew the Taliban, who were Sunni Muslims, with the aid of Shiite Muslims friendly to Iran.  The U.S. overthrew Saddam Hussein, another Sunni Muslim, and empowered the Shiite majority in Iraq.

Then the U.S. government-funded Sunni Muslim rebels against the Assad regime in Syria.   Bashir al-Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect, called on Iran for help and got it.   Presumably he wouldn’t have wanted Iranian fighters in his country if his government hadn’t been in danger..

Another consequence of Trump’s decision is that North Korea will keep its nuclear weapons for at least a generation.   Why would Kim Jong Un negotiate over nuclear weapons with a government that has demonstrated it does not keep agreements?

But maybe the North and South Korean governments, out of fear of Trump’s recklessness, will negotiate a peace agreement between themselves.

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It’s okay to negotiate with North Korea

March 13, 2018

It isn’t wrong to negotiate with tyrants and terrorists.  It is wrong to prop them up with money and weapons, but it isn’t wrong to negotiate with them when the alternative is mutually destructive war.

But if you have no plan to get rid of them or if there’s no assurance that their successors will be any better than they are, then sooner or later you have to deal.

President Nixon negotiated with Mao Zedong and ended the Cold War with China.   President Reagan negotiated with Mikhail Gorbachev and ended the Cold War with the USSR.

President Trump’s willingness to negotiate with Kim Jong-un is a good thing, not a bad thing.  I think the odds are against success, but you never know.

Donald Trump

The reason I think the odds are against success is that the U.S. goal is for North Korea to give up nuclear weapons, and, if I were Kim, I never would agree to that.

Kim in the past has said his government would never give up nuclear weapons so long as the United States refused to sign a peace treaty ending the Korean Conflict of 1950-1953 or to guarantee it would not attack North Korea.

The implication is that if a peace treaty was signed, and if the U.S. government renounced the use of force against North Korea, Kim would consider giving up nuclear weapons.

But without nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, there is no way North Korea can deter an attack by the United States, except maybe by the threat of a massive attack with conventional weapons on Seoul, which is just across the border.

Would negotiations with the United States even by on the table if North Korea didn’t already have nuclear weapons?

President Trump is talking about renouncing the U.S. nuclear weapons agreement with Iran.  How could Kim be sure he wouldn’t renounce an agreement with North Korea?

Maybe Kim would agree to give up nuclear weapons in return for a guarantee against attack by China and/or Russia.  Is this something the U.S. government would want?

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Trade war tactics and strategy

March 5, 2018

Reuters reported that the European Union is considering applying 25 percent tariffs on American motorcycles, bourbon and blue jeans, if President Trump imposes new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Motorcycles, bourbon and blue jeans?  Kevin Drum of Mother Jones explained the significance.

Hmmm.  Harley-Davidsons are made in—what?  Wisconsin, right?  In Menomonee Falls, actually, about 50 miles from Janesville, where Paul Ryan lives.  The Jim Beam bourbon distillery is in Clermont, Kentucky, about 20 miles from Mitch McConnell’s house in Louisville.  Levi’s is headquartered in San Francisco, about two miles from Nancy Pelosi’s house.

I think that’s a pretty funny example of trade war tactics.

Americans and Russians in deadly clash in Syria

March 2, 2018

Update 3/5/2018:  According to this article in Der Spiegel, Russians didn’t participate in the attack and few of them were killed.   If that’s so, how did the other version of events originate?  Fog of war, or something more sinister?  At this point, I don’t know what to believe. 

During the whole of the Cold War, American and Soviet troops never engaged in direct combat.   But early last month, Russian mercenaries attacked a U.S. position in Syria, and an estimated 100 to 300 Russians were killed.

The Russian troops reportedly were employed by a private company funded by a Russian named Yevgeny Prigozhin, who also funded the company accused of illegally meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

U.S. troops and an allied militia called Syrian Democratic Forces were protecting an oil refinery at Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria.   The SDF position was attacked by Syrian government forces along with by Russian troops employed by the Wagner PMC (private military company).

U.S. forces counter-attacked with artillery, air strikes and drone strikes, smashed the attacking force and didn’t suffer any casualties themselves.

The Russian government said no Russian government troops were involved.  All the Russians in the battle were private individuals who were in Syria for their own reasons, the government said.

The U.S. government also had no official comment, but since then journalists have written a good bit based on off the record comments by U.S. intelligence and Treasury officials.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, known at “Putin’s chef,” got his start as a hot dog vendor, then the owner of a chain of restaurants, a caterer to the Kremlin and then a caterer to the Russian armed forces.   He owns two companies, Concord Management and Consulting and Concord Catering.

Both he and his companies were indicted on charges related to interfering in the 2016 election, and he and his companies are on the U.S. sanctions list.

He reportedly is an investor in Wagner PMC, which was founded by Dmitry Utkin, also on the U.S. sanctions list.  Wagner PMC reportedly employed the “green men,” troops without insignia who engineered the Russian takeover of Crimea and supported Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Prigozhin allegedly owns or controls Evro Polis, a Russian company that has been promised a 25 percent share of oil and gas revenues in territories recaptured by the Syrian government from the Islamic State (ISIS).  Evidently Wagner PMC’s mission is to help secure these territories, and that was the reason for the attack.

I can see why Vladimir Putin might work with a private individual such as Yevgeny Prigozshin.   I don’t think Russians are any more willing than Americans to see their sons drafted to fight wars in distant countries for obscure purposes.  Hiring mercenaries solves this political problem, and also provides a way to deny responsibility if thing go wrong.

But what if it is the other way around?  What if this whole operation is to serve the business strategy of a Russian oligarch?  This is a dangerous situation, because both the Russian and U.S. governments could be sucked in a conflict they didn’t intend or expect.

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Russiagate and the lost hope for peace

February 19, 2018

Prior to the 2016 election, Vladimir Putin said he would welcome the election of Donald Trump because Trump advocated better relations with Russia.

But, as Robert W. Merry of The American Conservative pointed out, any faint hope of that happening was snuffed out by the exposure of Russian attempts to influence the election by means of fake posts on social media.   The Russians shot themselves in the foot.

Most of us Americans have no perspective on this because we don’t know, or choose to ignore, the extent of our own government’s meddling in foreign countries.

U.S. meddling not only includes propaganda, open and covert, but taking sides in civil wars and outright invasions of foreign countries whose leaders oppose U.S. policy.

I don’t argue the U.S. government should tolerate violations of American election law by foreigners in order to atone for American sins abroad.  I do say this should not be used as an excuse for risking war or suppressing dissent.

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Why does hawkish Trump object to sanctions?

February 8, 2018

President Donald Trump is resisting congressional mandates to punish Russian individuals through economic sanctions.

At the same time he is going along with sending advanced weapons to the Ukrainian government to use against Russia, and with keeping American troops in Syria where they may come in conflict with Russian troops.

And he acts as if he was getting ready for war with North Korea and Iran.

So why is he digging in his heels over this one thing?

I don’t see any fundamental conflicts of interest between Russia and the United states, except maybe in the Arctic, and none that are worth the risk of nuclear war.

Vladimir Putin is authoritarian and ruthless, but no more so than many other world leaders, including Boris Yeltsin, with whom the U.S. government got along and gets along with just fine.

The problem with economic sanctions directed against whole countries is that they harm the common people of a country without touching the leaders.  If American leaders want to use U.S. economic power to reward and punish, economic sanctions aimed at individuals are probably the least harmful and most effective of doing it.

But overuse of economic sanctions of all kinds will be harmful to the United States in the long run because foreign countries will protect themselves by disconnecting from U.S. banks and the U.S. dollar.

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The meaning of North Korea’s “ghost ships”

January 22, 2018

Last year the wreckage of at least 104 North Korean fishing boats washed up on the shores of northern Japan.  The crews were either missing, or dead from starvation and exposure, or, in a few cases, only half-dead.

What happened was that they got so far from home that they did not have enough fuel to make it back home, and so died at sea.

Never before have so many derelict North Korea fishing boats been found.  No doubt this is but a fraction of the actual number of lost boats.

What this means is that North Koreans are so desperate for food that they will risk going out to sea in dangerous waters with inadequate fuel.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview that this represents a triumph of American policy.  North Korea is really feeling the bite of American economic sanctions, he said.

Economic war can be as deadly as a shooting war, although it hardly ever brings about a change in regime.   If there comes a time when there is only one bowl of rice left in North Korea, it will be eaten by Kim Jong Un.  If there are only two bowls left, they will be shared by Kim and his bodyguard.

The U.S. has been waging war by means of economic sanctions long before Tillerson or President Donald Trump took office.  Economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein back in the 1990s resulted in the deaths of thousands of young Iraqi children want of medicine and proper nutrition.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the price was worth it.  To what end?  I can’t see anything good that the Iraq blockade accomplished for us Americans.  It did not remove Saddam Hussein from power.

The appeal of economic sanctions as a substitute for war is that it seems to be a safe way of waging war.  That is true only in the short run.   Generations later people in North Korea, Iraq, Venezuela and other countries will remember how their people suffered under the U.S. economic blockage.

During the First World War, Britain blockaded food imports into Germany.  The food blockade continued even after the German army surrendered, in order to make force the German government to agree to the Allies’ peace terms.  Many Germans grew up with stunted growth because they were born during the blockade.

I don’t say the food blockade was, in and of itself, the main reason for the rise of Hitler, but it surely contributed to the German hatred of the Allies and desire for revenge, which the Nazis exploited

I think in generations to come, there will be millions of people through the world with similar reasons for a desire for revenge against Americans.

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Haiti’s problems mostly originate outside Haiti

January 18, 2018

Haiti is poor largely because outside powers keep it poor.   Not that Haiti doesn’t have its own home-grown crooks and tyrants, but the Haitian people would be better able to deal with them if the crooks and tyrants weren’t backed by the U.S. government.

President Trump’s recent vulgar comment about immigrants from Haiti and other majority-black was offensive.  But offensive language isn’t the main problem.  The problem is the centuries-long history of the United States and other powerful countries holding Haiti down, of which Trump is just the latest example.

LINKS

One of the most repeated facts about Haiti is a lie by M.R. O’Connor for VICE News.

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U.S. interventionism started long before Trump

January 15, 2018

Click to enlarge.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a supporter of Donald Trump.  But American foreign policy was on the wrong track long before Trump took office.   It’s not enough to just put things back the way they were in 2016 and before.   It is necessary to abandon worldwide military intervention as a policy and worldwide military intervention as an achievable goal.

LINKS

U.S. Counterterrorism Forces Are Active in Many More Places Than You Know by Catherine Bateman and Stephanie Sowell for U.S. News.

Trump Isn’t Another Hitler, He’s Another Obama by Caitlin Johnstone for Medium.

When Washington Assured Russia NATO Would Not Expand by Andrew J. Bacevich for The American Conservative.

The Duplicitous Superpower by Ted Galen Carpenter for The American Conservative.

The real winners in Iraq and Syria

January 2, 2018

Pipeline map via Southfront

Russian-backed forces have defeated the so-called Islamic State in Syria.  U.S.-backed forces have defeated the Islamic State in Iraq.  Peace may be at hand.

The winners in these wars were Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Shi’ite militias in Iraq.  The losers, in addition to the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL and Da’esh), were Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates and Israel.

The United States was in a contradictory position.  By invading Iraq and overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. gave power to Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, which is aligned with Iran.   This went against long-range U.S. goals, which are to support Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Also, the official justification for intervention in the Middle East was to fight Al Qaeda terrorists.  But the regimes attacked by the U.S. government—Saddam’s Iraq and Assad’s Syria—were enemies of Al Qaeda, as was the Ayatollahs’ Iran.  No matter what U.S. did, it would either strengthen Al Qaeda or strengthen Iran.

Given the inherent contradiction in U.S. policy, I think the current outcome was the best that could be expected.   Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump deserve credit for not escalating a new war to keep Russians out of Syria and Iranians out of Iraq.   I’m not sure Hillary Clinton, given her record of starting wars, would have shown the same wisdom.

LINKS

As guns fall silent, Russia to shape Syrian endgame by Sami Moubayed for Asia Times.  [Added 1/3/2018]

Iraq War 3.0, the War to End All Wars, Is Over by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Are the Wars in Syria and Iraq Finally Coming to an End? by Patrick Cockburn for Counterpunch.

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China tries to draw Afghanistan into its orbit

December 30, 2017

China’s ancient Silk Road

China’s modern Silk Road

The U.S. government for 15 years has been trying to pacify Afghanistan, without success.

During these same 15 years, the Chinese government has been extending its power and influence into the interior of Asia by investing in railroads, oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure across the region at the invitation of local governments..

The Chinese call this the “Belts and Roads Initiative”—the belts being the oil and gas pipelines. Others call it the New Silk Road.

Recently China made an agreement with Pakistan to create an economic development corridor, culminating in a port giving China direct access to the Indian Ocean near the Persian Gulf.   Now China and Pakistan are trying to draw Afghanistan into their economic alliance.

I don’t know how all this will turn out.  Many things can go wrong.

But it seems clear that Beijing has been more effective in extending its power by offering material benefits than Washington has by means of military intervention and economic sanctions.

Furthermore China’s policies have made it economically stronger while U.S. policies have depleted U.S. strength.

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Background on the North Korean crisis

October 20, 2017

The important things to remember about North Korea are:

  • North Korea for nearly 70 years has been under a totalitarian government which has indoctrinated its people with absolute loyalty and obedience.
  • Its ruling ideology—called Juche—is based on the principles of national independence, economic self-sufficiency, cultural purity and glorification of leaders.
  • Despite loss of an estimated 20 percent of its population during the Korean Conflict, and starvation in later eras, the leaders have never given in to threats.
  • Based on past actions of the U.S. government toward Iraq, Libya and Iran, North Korean leaders have good reason to think that giving up nuclear weapons would be suicidal.

The Hermit Kingdom

Korea at the dawn of the 20th century had little relation with the outside world, except for Christian missionaries.  Japan made it a protectorate in 1905 and annexed it in 1910.  The Korean language and culture were suppressed, and Korea was exploited for the benefit of the Japanese Empire.

Kim Il-sung

Kim Il-sung was born in 1912 to Presbyterian parents.  His name, which is not his birth name, means “Kim became the sun.”  His birthday is a national holiday called “day of the sun.”

The Kim family fled the repressive Japanese regime and settled in Manchuria in 1920.  Young Kim supposedly founded something called the Down-With-Imperialism Union, dedicated to liberation of Korea from Japanese rule, in 1926, at age 14.

He joined the Chinese Communist Party in the 1930s and led a guerrilla band that fought the Japanese in Manchuria.  Ultimately defeated, he fled into the Soviet Union, where he became an officer of the Red Army.

As World War Two drew to a close, the USSR declared war on Japan, overran Manchuria and occupied Korea north of the 38th parallel, with Kim as head of the North Korean Communist Party.   US forces occupied the southern party

Supposedly this was a temporary measure until Korea was unified, but an independent Republic of Korea was declared in the south in May, 1948, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with Kim as the head, in August of that year.

In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea and nearly conquered the whole Korean peninsula before being driven back.  Max Hastings, a British military historian, said there had been considerable pro-Communist sentiment in South Korea, which might have led to a guerrilla movement as in South Vietnam.   But the brutality and mass executions carried on by North Korean troops soon changed their minds.

U.S. intervention turned the tide, and then Chinese intervention created a stalemate.  American air forces bombed North Korea until there were no targets left, and then they bombed the river dams, flooding the country’s sparse farmland.   General Curtis LeMay estimated that 20 percent of the North Korean population were killed.

The two sides agreed to a cease-fire in 1953, in which the division of the country was frozen along existing battle lines.  Part of the armistice agreement was that neither sides would increase the size of its force or introduce new weapons.  That agreement was broken in 1958 when the U.S. brought nuclear weapons into South Korea.

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′Deep Space Gateway′ planned by Russia and US

October 2, 2017

Click to enlarage.  Source: Popular Mechanics

Despite geopolitical conflicts, the United States and the Russian Federation are still working together on  space exploration, as this news item indicates.

Work on a joint US-Russia space station orbiting the Moon is to begin in the mid 2020s. The base is intended to serve as a launching point for manned missions to Mars.Deep Space Gateway (NASA)

The station would be serviced by craft such as the Orion space vessel.

The US and Russia on Wednesday [Sept. 27] announced plans to cooperatively build the first lunar space station.

Roscosmos and NASA, Russia and America’s space agencies, said they had signed a cooperation agreement at an astronautical congress in Adelaide.

The agreement brings Russia onboard to the Deep Space Gateway project announced by NASA earlier this year, which aims to send humans to Mars via a lunar station.

The proposed station would serve as a base for lunar exploration for humans and robots, and as a stopover for spacecraft. 

While the Deep Space Gateway is still in concept formulation, NASA is pleased to see growing international interest in moving into cislunar space (between Earth and the Moon) as the next step for advancing human space exploration,” said Robert Lightfoot, acting administrator at NASA headquarters in Washington.  [snip]

Roscosmos and NASA have already agreed on standards for a docking unit of the future station,” the Russian space agency said.

“Taking into account the country’s extensive experience in developing docking units, the station’s future elements — as well as standards for life-support systems — will be created using Russian designs.”

Source: DW

The International Space Station is a joint project of the USA and Russia, and many of the spacecraft visits to the ISS are launched from the Russian-operated Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

I hope this new project bears fruit.  It shows that the United States and the Russian Federation have more to gain through cooperation than ramping up a new Cold War.

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