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President Trump addressed our NATO allies in Brussels today, giving a speech that perfectly well could have been written by Vladimir Putin. Why Putin? Because it was brazenly inappropriate for the NATO venue and almost certainly was badly received by those allies and their constituents.Forget his boorish, egocentric behavior in abruptly and rudely shoving a fellow NATO member out of the way so he could move to the front of the assembling pack of dignitaries. Focus instead on what he actually said and did not say during his speech and on the likely effect that those words, or lack of words, would have on his fellow NATO presidents and their people.

The president hit hard on his view of the need for NATO members to tighten their immigration procedures. That is one of his ongoing complaints and one on which most Europeans disagree with him. It is an issue on which he has minor support around the world or even at home. It was hardly appropriate for that particular meeting of NATO heads of state.

In addition, he used the occasion to complain bitterly about the ongoing disinclination of many NATO member countries to pay their way, thus saddling the American taxpayer with expenses that should have been borne elsewhere. All of that is true and it is a theme that has been addressed by every American president since Harry Truman. This was a message well known to NATO and one which, under two of Trump’s predecessors, was beginning to have a positive impact resulting in rising contributions. His harping is not likely to help his cause.

In short, it was very much along the lines of ongoing Russian policy on Europe, NATO and the West.

What would have been appropriate for Trump to cover was a reiteration of America’s support to its fellow NATO members to accept and support the provisions of Article 5. That NATO provision commits every member to support any and all attacks against any of its fellow members. It was Article 5 that prompted the entire NATO membership to sign on with America after 9/11.

We are now at a moment in time when Russia is behaving very aggressively with most of the Western world, most emphatically including NATO’s European members. We have seen it in Ukraine and in Crimea. Additionally, the Russians have clearly been meddling in European elections. Here at home we have seen it in their covert meddling in our primary election process.

Under present circumstances, what our fellow NATO members wanted from the United States president was a clear, unequivocal statement that we still support NATO and adhere to the provisions of Article 5. They got neither.

What they got was a speech that never seemed to contradict Trump’ previous negative statements on NATO or the European Community. It never stated this new American administration’s commitment to NATO and the provisions of Article 5.

In short, it was very much along the lines of ongoing Russian policy on Europe, NATO and the West. It was almost entirely negative and non-supportive on those issues on which the NATO members wanted, needed and expected to hear — a strong reiteration of America’s past supportive policy.

America will find diminishing support for its leading role in NATO and the world, including in the counterterrorism arena, one of great importance and one of Trump’s favorites.

Just what Putin would have wanted if he had written the speech himself.

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During the Cold War, the United States Intelligence Community was plagued with conspiracy theories covering just about any event that was deemed to be important to our national interest. Some of those theories were so wild that they were unprovable one way or the other. Others were clearly the product of some individual’s paranoia. Many of them were the product of a general unease within the Intelligence Community over the aggressive activities of the Soviet Union and her allies.At the end of the Cold War, those paranoid concerns began to drop by the wayside. They were not revived until the planes hit the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania field on 9/11. That raised a wholly new paranoid concern – that the 9/11 events had somehow been engineered by unidentified powers within the United States government. The Bush administration, the Pentagon, the CIA and the Intelligence Community were all labeled at one time or another as the evil powers behind that horrendous event.

In retrospect, what finally put most of those old conspiracy theories to rest were two realities. First, there was never any hard intelligence provided to prove the theories. Second and more important was the realization that any theory that relied on the participation of vast numbers of American citizens would be doomed to failure simply because, at the very least, one of them would have blown the whistle on the plot. The best example of that was the realization that American government involvement in 9/11 would have required far too many participants to have kept it secret. And such a conspiracy was never proven or revealed by hard intelligence or human penetrations.

Was that the end of the age of conspiracies? No way! The 17 member organizations of the U.S. Intelligence Community have said unequivocally that Putin’s Russia was involved in a conspiracy to effect the U.S. elections of 2016. Although few “facts” have been made public, there is a solid consensus that it really happened and that the Russians were actively involved in the operation.

However, unlike past presidents, he somehow feels compelled to publicly express his admiration for a group of foreign leaders whose activities are so questionable that they would never have been praised by any of his predecessors.

One thing that makes today’s new conspiracy theorists so intensely focused on this Russian involvement is the clear picture that our president has given about his likes and dislikes, most emphatically including his views about the world leaders with whom the United States must deal. What he has told us is that, first and foremost, he admires strongmen who seize power and exercise it in whatever way is necessary to maintain it. However, unlike past presidents, he somehow feels compelled to publicly express his admiration for a group of foreign leaders whose activities are so questionable that they would never have been praised by any of his predecessors. What sort of intellectual, moral and ethical environments do these attitudes set for members of this administration?

The list is endless and includes primarily those who, at best, have terrible human rights records and employ what in this country would be seen as extra-judicial methods in order to maintain their power. His favorites begin with Vladimir Putin of Russia and continue with Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Abdelfattah Said Al Sissi of Egypt, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. In addition, he has spoken admiringly of Syria’s Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Moamar Khaddafi, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, China’s Xi Jinping, Thailand’s Prayuth Chan-ocha and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Why would any president of the USA openly deal with or speak positively of such a group? When thinking about that, one has to consider that that may be precisely what our president would like to be, a powerful autocrat. If that is the case, and particularly given Russia’s involvement in our 2016 elections and his recent praise for Putin, it becomes less problematical to speculate about Russia’s further involvement in U.S. politics.

Today’s Russia, particularly under the leadership of former KGB Col. Vladimir Putin and his former KGB colleagues, and specifically in the fields of intelligence collection and intelligence manipulation, is simply a continuation of Soviet Russia. The KGB’s successor organization, the SNB, is simply a continuation of the old days with new people.

The questions that any conspiracy theorist has to ask are pretty simple. What was the nature of Russian intervention in the 2016 election? What if any assistance did the Russians get from people in the Trump campaign? If they exist, who were they? Most important, if such relationships existed, as broadly alleged, have they been maintained by the Russians into the president’s first term?

That is the crux of the matter and that last question is essentially rhetorical. Soviet and Russian modus operandi dictates that they would maintain such relationships, particularly given the overriding importance of America to them as an intelligence target. Given the acknowledged meddling of Russian intelligence in our election, it would be foolhardy to assume, at least until proven otherwise, that the Russians have not recruited and are not running any penetrations of the current American administration.

In the end, conspiracy theories will persist. Some of them are accurate, particularly when they appear to be supported by existing facts.

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