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Trump the Negotiator

Originally published in RURAL RUMINATIONS

President Trump says constantly that he is an extraordinary negotiator (The Art of the Deal).  That may be true, but in considering the relevance of his self-centered praise, one has to understand that his experience as a negotiator was established in the dangerous canyons of New York City,  and the way he discusses his negotiating style makes it clear that he does not feel he has to abide by many rules. That may work in New York and the USA and maybe even in the international commercial world.  The real question is whether it is likely to work in the far more complicated world of foreign policy.

 

The world is a frightfully complex place.  It is beset by regional, political, tribal, economic, military, and confessional issues.

 

Take the issue of Syria.  Mr. Trump would like to depose the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad.  In pursuit of that goal, he has enlisted the military assistance of the Kurds.  The Turks despise the Kurds, constantly referring to them as “terrorists”.  In fact, the Kurds, who live in a number of countries in the Middle East as well as Turkey, are the largest ethnic population in the world that does not have a country of its own.  All told, they total 35-45 million souls.  The Turks are members of NATO and at least until we brought the Kurds on board on the volatile Syrian issue, were among our best friends in the Middle East.  The Turks are infuriated with this new Trump policy and are rapidly turning against us on many other issues that are important to us.

 

Or look at Palestine/Israel.  In recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Mr. Trump has created a firestorm of anger, not only in the Islamic world which favors a mutually negotiated solution to that issue, but also in thoughtful countries, most prominently in Europe and in many other countries around the rest of the world. This Trump position on Palestine/Israel, a radical American departure from the past seventy years, is clearly a move to court ideological Americans who strongly support Israel.  It is certainly not the first time US foreign policy has been designed purely to woo American voters, but it has been focused on a region that does not need further foreign meddling causing further tensions.  And that is precisely what it has done.  It may please some of Mr. Trump’s political base, but it has further destabilized an area that desperately needs stability.

 

Despite the fact that Mr. Trump calls himself a “stable genius” on many issues, most emphatically including foreign policy, he presents as the exact opposite.  He doesn’t like to read and says that for him it is not necessary. So, he insists that all policy papers submitted to him be limited to one page in length. Issues like Israel/Palestine and Syria simply cannot be appropriately covered on one page.  Policy decisions based on insufficient information are always dangerous.

 

Mr. Trump acknowledges that, rather than reading, he gets his critical information from watching a lot of TV. Apparently his choice of stations is highly focused on the most politically partisan.  In this case, only the word “partisan” is important.  It makes absolutely no difference if it is far right or far left.  Either way, he is not getting the impartial information that is critical to, first, understanding this complicated word and, second, formulating foreign policy.  And this is true both for a “stable genius” and for a blithering idiot!

 

Assuming that he really is an extraordinary negotiator, he got his expertise in the commercial world.   Clearly that world thrives on uncertainty and instability, the kinds of things that make  businessmen and commercial companies say yes to avoid financial chaos.  That is the exact opposite of what is needed in the world of international relations.   What is needed there is stability and predictability.  Those were the elements that got the world through the Cold War.  Both sides understood that and followed policies that were predictable and stable.  We survived.

 

So far, Mr. Trump has followed policies that have been unstable and unpredictable.  That’s OK if you are buying a new hotel, or talking about an irrelevant country like Monaco, but it is not the case for places like North Korea, China, Russia and now, additions like Pakistan, which he has recently offended – all of which have atomic weapons.

 

It would be nice and almost certainly potentially productive to see and hear some more dignified and less inflammatory verbiage both within and emanating from the White House.  It might even make us some international friends, the exact opposite of what our current modus operandi is bringing us.

 

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served during the Cold War in East and West Europe, and the Middle East, focused on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.  He also served as Executive Assistant in the Director’s office and as the first Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff.

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Agents of influence

First Published in Vermont Digger

The Soviet Intelligence Officer’s Handbook defines an “agent of influence” as “an agent operating under intelligence instructions who uses his or her officialdom or public position, and other means, to exert influence on policy, public opinion, the course of particular events, the activity of political organizations and state agencies in target countries.” Thus, the concept of an agent of influence was well known in the USSR and remains so in today’s Russia.

During the Cold War, it was generally accepted at the CIA that coercive recruitments involving some sort of blackmail more often than not did not work at all, or if they initially appeared to work, they often fell rapidly apart. The reason for this is clear. People who are coerced into recruitment find themselves in a subservient position to the recruiter (case officer). They are constantly worried that the secret on which the coercion was based will become public and are continually concerned that the secret will ultimately be used to force them into increasingly dangerous situations. All of which is a shaky basis on which to start an inherently dangerous clandestine relationship.

We learned that good recruitments are based on mutual interest. Recruitment is a successful nonsexual seduction. If the potential agent can be found to have needs or desires that can be satisfied by the case officer, that is precisely where we wanted to be. We wanted the potential agent to understand that we supported him or her in many possible ways. Money? Perks? No problem! Some of our targets wanted revenge on their bosses. One particularly fascinating agent wanted revenge on the KGB because during collectivization in the 1930s, they had taken and later killed his grandfather’s cow! That was his sole motivation for cooperating with us. He never took a penny while he totally raped the KGB and the USSR.

In fact, some “successful recruitments” never involved acknowledgement on the part of the agent that he or she was an agent at all. Normally in such cases, some fig leaf of a noble motive for mutual cooperation was concocted to make such an admission unnecessary – support of world peace, avoiding conflict, etc.

This could be particularly important when dealing with a potential agent of influence, many if not most of whom were important people in their own environments. If they had not been, how could they be of assistance? The only important characteristic in an agent of influence, is that he be motivated to carry through on the goals important to the case officer. Even if he was recruited in a “honey pot operation” (sexual seduction), a critical staple of the Russians, or was motivated by his need for money, power, recognition, revenge or anything else, that agent could often be enticed into full cooperation on the basis of the premise that he was cooperating for reasons that were morally acceptable to him, that he was saving world peace or improving relations between the two countries involved. It mattered not one whit whether or not this was objectively true.

What mattered was that he support the goals of his case officer and take direction from him.

In this context, it is fascinating to look at the positions taken by President Donald Trump on U.S. national and international issues, as those positions clearly support the goals of today’s Russian government.

Putin would do everything possible to weaken the United States. He would love to see ethnic and religious divisions in the United States grow. He clearly revels in the dissent that now exists in our political system between Republicans and Democrats. Ditto our relations abroad, particularly those with European countries. He applauds our disengagement from economic cooperation around the world, seeing us therefore weakened.

Additional Russian goals include: The weakening or destruction of NATO and the European Union; the encouragement of authoritarian governments in countries like Austria, Italy, Sweden, France, the Netherlands and Denmark in the context that European dissent would weaken Europe and increase Russian chances of reestablishing hegemony over the USSR’s former Warsaw Pact allies. They support Brexit as it weakens European cooperation. These goals are supported by most Trump policies.

And through it all, Trump defends Putin in the context of Russian meddling in our elections over the judgments of his intelligence community!

Despite the fact that there are clearly jointly held goals and policies, this does not mean that any sort of formal relationship exists between Russia and Trump. If he falls into any convenient category, it may well be that of unacknowledged cooperation as described above.

 

First published in VERMONT DIGGER

 In 1953, America participated in the overthrow of the only democratically elected government Iran has ever had by removing Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh from office and installing the shah in his place. Iranians of all political persuasions have never forgotten that fact and the act itself has since played a critical role in souring bilateral relations between our two countries.

Viewed against the realities of official Iran’s hatred for all things American, it is not surprising that any number of Iran’s regional sectarian surrogates have run paramilitary operations, now labeled “terrorist operations,” against regional American interests. The bombing of the U.S. embassy and the Marine barracks in Lebanon come immediately to mind.

President Donald Trump has decided to decertify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. This will transfer to the American Congress the right to reinstall sanctions on Iran. Ultimately, if the agreement is killed, the Iranians will be able to resume their currently suspended nuclear weapons programs.

Many Americans, including many of today’s senior military advisers and professional foreign policy specialists, think that the suspension of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the concomitant reinstallation of sanctions is a really bad idea. Along with virtually all the European countries, even Russia and China think the suspension could preface a disaster, putting the potential for the unfettered development of nuclear weapons back in the hands of the Iranians.

It appears that Trump, believes the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was poorly negotiated. He believes that we should have gone after other activities in which Iran is involved, even though Iran made it crystal clear during the original negotiations that they were prepared to discuss and negotiate only the nuclear weapons issue. To have done otherwise would have been to renounce their perceived sectarian responsibilities to regional Shia minorities.

What seems perfectly clear is that Trump believes that the plan is essentially worthless without the inclusion of provisions banning what he sees as unacceptable behavior on the part of the Iranians. First and foremost in this behavioral arena is the involvement of Iran in supporting its Shia co-religionists in their centuries-old struggle with Sunni Islam. Ongoing since 632 AD, this activity is now often labeled “terrorism.” America condemns Iranian behavior simply because we, along with most of the West, have traditionally supported Sunni Islam, probably because that is where we have traditionally found critical supplies of petroleum.

Islam split into Sunni and Shia with the 632 AD death of the prophet Muhammad and the question of who was going to succeed him. That rift continues to this day. The most influential Sunni state is Saudi Arabia. Iran is clearly the most influential Shia state. As self-appointed leaders, and like their opponents on the Sunni side, they feel an overwhelming motivation to protect Shia interests in the Muslim world — and thus their own.

Shia majority countries are Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Bahrain. They are also the largest group in Lebanon. Shias constitute 36.3 percent of the entire local population and 38.6 percent of the Muslim population of the Middle East. In addition there are many countries in the Muslim world where Shias are in the minority but still have significant populations. Where that is the case, those Shia minorities are almost always under the Sunni gun and thus worthy of Shia (read Iranian) protection. Such situations exist and are currently critical in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.

In Syria, the Shia, known there as Alawites, are less than 20 percent of the total population, but run the country. They are under the gun from the large Sunni majority of the population (supported by America) and, as a result are supported in every way by Iran.

In Yemen, Shia Houthis comprise about 35-40 percent of the population and are involved in a civil war against the Sunni majority. Here we see the perfect international sectarian struggle with Saudi Arabia (supported by America) openly supporting the Sunnis and Iran supporting the Shia.

In the uneasy situation in Lebanon, Iran gives material and political support to the Shia Hezbollah in their ongoing political and military struggles with the Sunni and the Christians (supported by America).

In addition to the fact of Iranian support to Shia minorities in the Muslim world, Iran is virtually always condemned here in America as “supporting terrorism.” This is not to say that Shia minorities do not use terrorist tactics. They clearly do. What it does say is that many American political leaders, most emphatically including Trump and his “alternative facts,” indiscriminately use the words “terror and terrorist” to marshal public opinion in support of their policies.

It may not change your opinion of Iran and its activities in the region, but what they are doing is what any nation or group might do. They are trying to protect their fellow believers who are under the guns of traditional enemies in other countries.

We have been known to do the same.

 

First Published in VERMONT DIGGER

 

President Trump’s stated goal during his Aug. 21 speech in Arlington, Virginia, was “winning in Afghanistan.” The unfortunate fact is that between U.S. and Middle East realities, “winning in Afghanistan” is highly unlikely – probably impossible.

Part of the problem is the extraordinarily complicated nature of Afghanistan and the Middle East region that has existed for centuries, complications that have been exacerbated in recent times. In the past two centuries, England, the Soviet Union and the U.S. have all invaded Afghanistan, yet none of those invasions has been a “winner.”

If we start with an examination of the physical characteristics of the region itself, it will immediately become apparent that the years of colonial rule did nothing to help today’s situation. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, European colonial powers drew and redrew national boundaries in ways that were in their own interests and for their own profit, but had no connection with demographic realities. A fine example of this is the Durand line of 1893, established by the British, which created the boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but divided a homogeneous Pashtun people into two groups in two countries.

The DNA of the region is based on tribalism, ethnicity and sectarianism. Those three things are the primary causes of most of the frictions that exist both within and between the countries of the region. The fragmented nature of these countries, Afghanistan most emphatically included, where primary allegiance is to some grouping below the nation level, makes national primacy difficult to impossible to achieve. National cohesion does not exist sufficiently within national boundaries to permit the establishment of nationwide democratic governments, encouraging the implementation of repression as the only feasible route to stability.

The Afghan constitution lists 14 separate ethnic groups and there are probably another six that are too small to be included. Ethnic Pashtuns alone divide into roughly 400 subtribes. Those subtribes can be cooperative, competitive or confrontational, depending on the situation.

And then we have the sectarian issue. Sunni Muslims comprise about 90 percent of the population of 30 million. Shia Muslims make up most of the remaining 10 percent with smatterings of another six to eight religious groups. These two branches of Islam are always at odds and often in conflict.

In addition, there is the two-edged sword of the Quran, the Hadith and the Sunnah. On the positive side, those foundations of Islam provide complete instructions for living a true Islamic life. There is almost nothing that is not covered. The downside of Islam’s religious teachings is that, from a non-Muslim perspective, many of Islam’s edicts are unacceptable – like the treatment of women. In many respects and from many non-Muslim points of view, Islam has suffered from not having gone through its own Enlightenment. It has never had to reconcile religious beliefs with ongoing scientific realities.

All of this stacks up poorly against U.S. policies in the post-World War II era. During that time we have attempted regime change to our own detriment (in Iran). We have denigrated Islam and promoted democracy for a region that is almost totally unsuited for it. We have invaded the region with uniformed military forces and seen regional attitudes toward us change from highly favorable, to the negative attitudes that exist today.

And in the midst of all this chaos, we have discovered shale oil in the U.S., moved to the point where we now produce more oil than Saudi Arabia and realized quietly that the reason that got us so involved historically in the region – our need for energy – was probably no longer valid.

We are told over and over that terrorism is the main problem we face as a nation. We invaded Afghanistan to wipe out al-Qaida. The problem is that in the course of doing that with our uniformed troops and later in our military invasion of Iraq, we changed our struggle from counterterrorism to counterinsurgency.

We know from every country that has dealt with terrorism that the last thing you want to do is fight it with military might. It simply doesn’t work very well because the presence of those troops forces local residents who may not like the terrorists, to choose between them and, often, a repressive government they do not support. When the military-based counterterrorist efforts are in the form of a foreign invader like the U.S. troops, they normally choose to support, or at least not to oppose, their own folks. The result is that we are no longer fighting a small group of terrorists, we are fighting a nation. Whether or not we like it, we are involved in a counterinsurgency.

U.S. Pentagon counterinsurgency policy requires a force commitment of 20 soldiers for every 1,000 in the local population. In Afghanistan with a population of about 30 million, that would require a force of 600,000 U.S. troops on the ground, which clearly exceeds our capabilities and intentions. Whether we like it or not, ISIL, however much it commits terrorist acts, is not a terrorist organization. It is an insurgency trying to establish hegemony over much of Iraq and Syria. America will not beat ISIL with U.S. forces.

The other important note here is that today’s terrorism does not require the establishment of bases inside the Middle East. The last, most visible terrorist operations have been planned in West European towns and cities. This kind of terrorism does not require military response. Quite the opposite, it is best handled with police, intelligence and special operations assets, as we now see in Europe.

Our continued military presence in the Middle East is counterproductive and should be terminated. On the downside, our departure will unleash the hostile tribal, ethnic and sectarian forces that exist in virtually every Islamic country. The only way that conflict will end will be that peace will be imposed in existing countries by strongmen. It will be repressive and autocratic, as it was under Saddam Hussein in Iraq before our 2003 invasion, but it will be familiar to the people of the region and it will bring local stability, something that is beyond our capabilities. Our involvement should be limited to diplomatic, political and economic measures.

Most important, it is long past time that we adopted a more realistic basis for our foreign policies. Americans, including many elected officials, tend to see the world as they would like it to be rather that as it really is. That approach does not produce good policy.

 

Originally published in RURAL RUMINATIONS

The development and implementation of the Trump administration’s current Afghan policy appears to have been deferred to the Pentagon. All we know about Trump policy toward that region is that he vowed during the presidential campaign to completely destroy ISIS, Al Qaida and any other threatening terrorist organization.

Estimates coming out of the Pentagon indicate the likelihood of an additional commitment of several thousand troops to Afghanistan. Before we make any moves in Afghanistan, it is important to look critically at the past and at our motivation for what to do now and in the future.

We got to Afghanistan based on two realities. The immediate catalyst was 9/11. Second, we saw it as a key element in our oil interests in the region, a way to get our foot in the door. The outgrowth of that was our fabricated rationale for the invasion of Iraq. which morphed into our current array of difficult dilemmas in Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

In short, that momentous decision in 2001 launched us into a region which our government studiously never chose to understand and which was so incredibly complicated that it flummoxed one US administration after another.

So, what do we want or expect from our continued military involvement in Afghanistan and the Middle East? Apparently, we would like to see a stable region under democratic rule. We never hear US officials talking about self-determination, only about regime change and democracy.

In fact, it makes no ultimate difference what the US wants for Afghanistan and the Middle East. It only matters what they want for themselves and as long as we are pushing values and ideas that are alien to them, we will never see the end of chaos.

Afghanistan’s geographic location has made it an important cog in the Middle East. It has been fought over and occupied for millennia by big powers seeking regional hegemony. That has relatively recently included England, Russia and the United States and none of those powers has succeeded in changing the country or the minds of its peoples. Over many centuries, those and other struggles have caused hundreds of thousands of Afghan deaths and significant resentment.

Given recent developments in the world, oil no longer plays the role that it did 25 years ago.   That alters one of our reasons for remaining militarily engaged in the region.

Terrorism is our other worry. We were hard hit on 9/11, but that sort of operation against us seems to be far better controlled now than it was in 2001. The fact is that the nature of terrorism has changed. It no longer requires hideaways in the mountains or deserts of the Middle East where terrorists can be given rigorous military training. Terrorism today involves self-motivated, highly disaffected individuals who volunteer to ISIS or any other terrorist organization to carry out suicide attacks. They work with automatic weapons and murderous vehicles. Even bombs are within their reach and recent operations have shown that those weapons can be developed undetected in apartments in major western cities.

Terrorists have no need for “bases” like those previously operated in the Middle East. All they need are volunteers and central direction and that can be found, as is now the case, in countries that are not in the reach of US troops assigned to Afghanistan or the Middle East, making them no longer critical to our counterterrorism needs.

What, therefore, could possibly motivate US policy makers to continue and even augment a decades-long war that is today virtually irrelevant to the realities and motivations that got us there in the first place? It would seem that the only rationale that stems logically from that is that we are interested in regime change and the subsequent maintenance of a democracy imposed on them by us. And yet, we know that doesn’t work.

Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that Middle Eastern nations have values that differ from ours. In doing that, we would also have to acknowledge that there are major, conflicting differences between some of the states in that region and that to leave them to the resolution of their own conflicts would likely be a violent process.

Yet, the only real peace and stability that can ultimately exist in the region is that engineered by the people involved. Perhaps we should give them the opportunity to work that out in the absence of on-site US military power while limiting ourselves to diplomatic, political and economic involvements.

 

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.

 .

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.