By Harry C. Blaney III

Via NBC News

We have two worries on the Trump-Putin connection, one is Trump himself and his nearness to dangerous power and his absurdity as Commander-in-Chief. And the other is Putin and his desire to undermine American power, influence, and democracy and his desire to divide Europe from America. I’ll leave our well informed readers to figure out who is the more cunning, experienced and shrewd strategist.

Much has been written about the Trump-Putin relationship already but some areas have not been fully commentated to the general public by the media. Indeed the subject has not even been asked often by the media or the public when they have had the chance. Yet the very heart of American security and our relations with the rest of the world including our allies has not been deeply covered on TV or in much of the conservative papers around the country. That itself is shameful, but it applies not just to the Putin connection but also to most substantive issues – we hear a lot about the horse-race and not much else except effort to keep Trump on the airwaves and getting his voice to citizens for free and without any pointed questions or commentary.

America has never had to face such a clear real threat to America from within, but we never had a Republican candidate for the President being so close to having not only his finger on the atomic button, but the power and motivation to undermine our entire alliance structure, to make a shambles of American influence in the world and within our economy, and to create chaos and even more of a divide among Americans with his crazy policies. And according to the polls, this candidate is now just three percentage points away, in the right states, to making that nightmare a reality.

This would not make America “great again” but make America impotent and vulnerable to some of the worst dangers of an already high risk world which has existed for several decades. What is needed is not “Trumpism,” as in very high risk global poker – in effect a stratagem of dangerous bullying.  But rather we need the Obama strategy of not taking “stupid” high risks when the odds are greatly against you, the field murky, or when the field of conflict is overly dangerous and we clearly face greater costs than any gain. But look for more effective if deliberate options.  In short, the correct approach of giving serious analysis and careful thought to the consequences of military action and, when necessary, acting with allies and with caution.

Trump does not think of cost, of human lives lost needlessly. (Note his statements on the first use of nuclear weapons, building a wall on the Mexican border, or illegal use of water boarding and torture.)  These statements have already caused serious doubts about American leadership with our allies and joy from our adversaries.

Not least does trump’s vision of the world encompass the same destructive action as we are seeing from Putin his vision of a “strong leader.” His admiration for authoritarian Putin could possibly be his own view of what he wants to become. Is his vision of a “strong leader” the model like Putin, Stalin, Assad, Napoleon, Hitler and if so what does it mean for the future of a democratic just nation or of the US presidency? And  American civil society?  That outcome is the last thing we need in a high risk world.

We welcome your comments below.

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By: Harry C. Blaney III & John Gall

Via NBC News

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump took the opportunity to elaborate on national security issues at NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum on Wednesday night. He also made statements recently, some off the cuff and others scripted, that we will report. Let’s review what each candidate said on a variety of topics, along with some analysis:


Hilary Clinton – “We have to defeat ISIS. That is my highest counterterrorism goal. And we’ve got to do it with air power. We’ve got to do it with much more support for the Arabs and the Kurds who will fight on the ground against ISIS… We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again. And we’re not putting ground troops into Syria. We’re going to defeat ISIS without committing American ground troops.”

Donald Trump – ” Well, the generals under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have not been successful…and I can just see the great — as an example- General George Patton spinning in his grave as ISIS we can’t beat.”
” But when I do come up with a plan that I like and that perhaps agrees with mine, or maybe doesn’t — I may love what the generals come back with. I will convene…”

Commentary – Clinton outlined a foreign policy strategy similar to how the Obama administration is handling the conflict in Syria. From this plan, the key to success in military conflicts is the use of strategic air strikes, cooperation with allies, and the provision of military supplies and tactical training via support troops on the ground to aid local allied entities in achieving victory. The use of the phrase “ground troops” is a bit of a misnomer, as the United States currently has troops deployed on the ground to serve in a support and training role with allied factions in Syria and Iraq. A promise of no more US combatant troops in the conflict region was most likely Clinton’s intention, if she’s continuing to follow the strategy laid out by the current administration.

Trump’s criticism of the current administration’s efforts against ISIS was centered on an inability to win the fight in a manner similar to General Patton or MacArthur, as today’s military leadership is too politically correct to take the necessary actions for victory. Such a critique makes Trump come off as a candidate who fails to grasp the toll of American military and local civilian lives by adapting a more heavy-handed approach to Syria. Trump’s secret plan to defeat ISIS was also put into question by moderator Matt Lauer when he pointed to Trump’s thoughtless announcement on Tuesday to convene his generals and give them 30 days to submit a plan to defeat the Islamic State. The Republican nominee muddled between weighing the strengths of his supposed plan and the generals’ and stressing the importance of not divulging details lest they be used by listening ISIS members. In fact, Trump either has no plan at all or his plan is of such stupidity and recklessness that he and has staff do not want it to see the light of day before the election.

Overall, Clinton laid out a more comprehensive strategy that echoed President Obama’s current course with a minor gaffe between ground and combatant troops. Trump used the questions about the conflict in Syria and Iraq to lob criticism at his opponent and the current administration while failing to set forth any tangible alternative plans.


Hillary Clinton – ” I have been very clear about the necessity for doing whatever is required to move the V.A. into the 21st century, to provide the kind of treatment options that our veterans today desperately need and deserve … But I will not let the V.A. be privatized. And I do think there is an agenda out there, supported by my opponent, to do just that.”

” twenty suicides a day… And I’ve spent a lot of time with family members, survivors, who’ve lost a loved one after he or she came home, sometimes suffering from PTSD or TBI or sexual assault, being handed bags of opioids, not being given an appropriate treatment to help that particular person, which is something, to go back to the sergeant’s question, we have to change.”

Donald Trump – ” Vets are waiting six days, seven days, eight days. And by the way, Hillary Clinton six months ago said the vets are being treated essentially just fine, there’s no real problem, it’s over-exaggerated. She did say that.”

” Under a part of my plan, if they have that long wait, they walk outside, they go to the local doctor, they choose the doctor, they choose the hospital, whether it’s public or private, they get themselves better… We will pay the bill. They go outside, they get a doctor, they get a prescription, they do what they have to do, and we pay the bill.”
“And actually it’s 22. And it’s almost impossible to conceive that this is happening in our country, 20 to 22 people a day are killing themselves.”

Matt Lauer: ” In 2013, on this subject, you tweeted this, quote, “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military, only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?””

Trump: ” Well, it is — it is — it is a correct tweet. There are many people that think that that’s absolutely correct.”

Commentary – On the topic of the Department of Veteran Affairs, both candidates expressed an urgent need to improve the quality of care given to returning soldiers, while making a political jab at their opponent. Trump pointed out Clinton’s claim earlier this year that the 2014 VA Scandal was not “as widespread as it has been made to be,” in which Clinton cited three surveys expressing general satisfaction by a majority of veterans after receiving care from the VA. However, such data only covers post-care vets and fails to take into account the major concerns raised at the Phoenix VA in excessive wait time and over-scheduling. Since then, the Clinton campaign has shifted its position in expressing an urgency to improve the quality and delivery of VA care.
Clinton’s criticism against Trump on his desire to privatize the VA reflects some Republican desire to shift much of the VA’s health service to the private for-profit sector. It does raise a valid concern of increasing the role of the private sector in Veteran Affairs benefits. Trump supports veteran access to private health care if distance from a VA medical facility or over booking makes it difficult for veterans to receive public care which is already being done in some cases. The involvement with the private sector could increase overall costs for VA services compared to an expansion of public-provided services.

Trump and Clinton both expressed concerns on the high suicide rate among US veterans. Although Clinton’s 20 suicides per day figure is more updated than Trump’s rate of 22, the two presidential candidates didn’t express contrasting positions on improving veteran suicide prevention.

On the subject of sexual assault within the military, Trump stuck to his previous comments linking the high level of unreported assaults to the mixing of men and women in the armed forces and suggested a need to establish a more effective court system within the military. Trump’s continued assertion is flawed, as it fails to take into account the under reported male-on-male sexual assaults that comprised 53 percent of cases found in a 2012 Pentagon report.


Hillary Clinton – “Look, I think that the decision to go to war in Iraq was a mistake. And I have said that my voting to give President Bush that authority was, from my perspective, my mistake. I also believe that it is imperative that we learn from the mistakes”
” Now, my opponent was for the war in Iraq. He says he wasn’t. You can go back and look at the record. He supported it. He told Howard Stern he supported it… He refuses to take responsibility for his support. That is a judgment issue.”

” With respect to Libya, again, there’s no difference between my opponent and myself. He’s on record extensively supporting intervention in Libya, when Gadhafi was threatening to massacre his population. I put together a coalition that included NATO, included the Arab League, and we were able to save lives. We did not lose a single American in that action.”

Donald Trump – ” Well, I think the main thing is I have great judgment. I have good judgment. I know what’s going on. I’ve called so many of the shots. And I happened to hear Hillary Clinton say that I was not against the war in Iraq. I was totally against the war in Iraq. From a — you can look at Esquire magazine from ’04. You can look at before that.”

” She made a terrible mistake on Libya. And the next thing, I mean, not only did she make the mistake, but then they complicated the mistake by having no management once they bombed you know what out of Gadhafi. I mean, she made a terrible mistake on Libya. And part of it was the management aftereffect. I think that we have great management talents, great management skills.” ….” What I did learn is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow what our experts and our truly — when they call it intelligence, it’s there for a reason — what our experts said to do. ”

COMMENTARY – Clinton and Trump identified a sense of good judgment as an essential skill in being an effective Commander-in-Chief. Trump cited Clinton’s support of the invasion of Iraq and military intervention in Libya as poor judgment and contrasted it to his opposition to both military actions. Although this made for a good soundbite, Trump’s argument falls apart when one actually fact-checks his opposition to both decisions. Clinton was correct in pointing out Trump’s initial support to the Iraq War with an appearance on Howard Stern’s radio show in 2002. Clinton also claimed that Trump supported intervention in Libya and in the lead-up to the first US bombings; Trump did in fact express emphatic support for military action. In another flawed example of proper judgment, Trump criticized President Obama’s decision to continue withdrawal of troops from Iraq. This remark is somewhat perplexing, considering Trump suggested a need to remove US military presence from Iraq during an interview with CNBC in 2006.

These three examples that Trump gave of having a superior sense of judgment over Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were bald-faced lies that Trump has made multiple times at other public events. Unfortunately, moderator Matt Lauer failed to follow up on Trump’s dubious claims and allowed the Republican nominee to get away with blatantly false statements in front of a national audience.

The one serious fault of the program was the lack of focus on the truly key strategic and security issues. These include Putin’s aggression and acts of war in Syria, dealing with China including the South China Sea actions, the use of nuclear weapons (which Trump said earlier he would use). Likewise the session did not address Climate change that the CIA list as a security threat, nor the problem of global poverty, and not least the criticism and ignorance about by Trump of NATO’s role, or his support of both Brexit which divides Europe, and a admiring a dictator like Putin which is a danger to our allies security. The program was an opportunity missed and badly managed.

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2015 National Security StrategyJust recently, President Obama and the White House released the administration’s second, and likely final, national security strategy, laying out a blue print for powerful American leadership while highlighting the top strategic risks to American interests. Throughout the next couple of days, we will be posting the most relevant and key excerpts from this document to provide an understanding of how this strategy may influence current U.S foreign policy. 

For access to the Full Text online visit:

Security: Strengthening Our National Defense

“We will prioritize collective action to meet the persistent threat posed by terrorism today, especially from al-Qa’ida, ISIL, and their affiliates. In addition to acting decisively to defeat direct threats, we will focus on building the capacity of others to prevent the causes and consequences of conflict to include countering extreme and dangerous ideologies. Keeping nuclear materials from terrorists and preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons remains a high priority…Collective action is needed to assure access to the shared spaces—cyber, space, air, and oceans—where the dangerous behaviors of some threaten us all.” (pg. 7)

“Although our military will be smaller, it must remain dominant in every domain. With the Congress, we must end sequestration and enact critical reforms to build a versatile and responsive force prepared for a more diverse set of contingencies… We will be principled and selective in the use of force. The use of force should not be our first choice, but it will sometimes be the necessary choice. The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our enduring interests demand it: when our people are threatened; when our livelihoods are at stake; and when the security of our allies is in danger.” (pg. 8)

“The threshold for military action is higher when our interests are not directly threatened. In such cases, we will seek to mobilize allies and partners to share the burden and achieve lasting outcomes. In all cases, the decision to use force must reflect a clear mandate and feasible objectives, and we must ensure our actions are effective, just, and consistent with the rule of law.” (pg. 8)

Combating the Persistent Threat of Terrorism

“Specifically, we shifted away from a model of fighting costly, large-scale ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in which the United States—particularly our military—bore an enormous burden. Instead, we are now pursuing a more sustainable approach that prioritizes targeted counterterrorism operations, collective action with responsible partners, and increased efforts to prevent the growth of violent extremism and radicalization that drives increased threats.” (pg. 9)

“We will help build the capacity of the most vulnerable states and communities to defeat terrorists locally. Working with the Congress, we will train and equip local partners and provide operational support to gain ground against terrorist groups. This will include efforts to better fuse and share information and technology as well as to support more inclusive and accountable governance.” (pg. 9)

Specifically toward the Threat of ISIL:

“We have undertaken a comprehensive effort to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. We will continue to support Iraq as it seeks to free itself from sectarian conflict and the scourge of extremists. Our support is tied to the government’s willingness to govern effectively and inclusively and to ensure ISIL cannot sustain a safe haven on Iraqi territory. This requires professional and accountable Iraqi Security Forces that can overcome sectarian divides and protect all Iraqi citizens. It also requires international support, which is why we are leading an unprecedented international coalition to work with the Iraqi government and strengthen its military to regain sovereignty.” (pg. 10)

“Joined by our allies and partners, including multiple countries in the region, we employed our unique military capabilities to arrest ISIL’s advance and to degrade their capabilities in both Iraq and Syria. At the same time, we are working with our partners to train and equip a moderate Syrian opposition to provide a counterweight to the terrorists and the brutality of the Assad regime. Yet, the only lasting solution to Syria’s civil war remains political—an inclusive political transition that responds to the legitimate aspirations of all Syrian citizens.” (pg. 10)

Preventing the Spread and Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction

“For our part, we are reducing the role and number of nuclear weapons through New START and our own strategy. We will continue to push for the entry into force of important multilateral agreements like the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and the various regional nuclear weapons-free zone protocols, as well as the creation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.” (pg. 11)

“Having reached a first step arrangement that stops the progress of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for limited relief, our preference is to achieve a comprehensive and verifiable deal that assures Iran’s nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes. However, we retain all options to achieve the objective of preventing Iran from producing a nuclear weapon.” (pg. 11)

More Updates to Come!

We welcome your comments!


NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron welcome Barack Obama, President of the United States, to the NATO Summit in Wales (Source: NATO)
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron welcome Barack Obama, President of the United States, to the NATO Summit in Wales (Source: NATO)

By Harry C. Blaney III

As this is written there appear to be contradictory statements and reports from the field on whether there is a viable cease-fire in Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin called for one while his office provided a rough framework of seven points that were needed to make it work. All of this came after Putin spoke with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko earlier in the week. Afterward the Ukrainian government put out an optimistic press statement that implied a true agreement.  Soon after Putin said their views on ending the violence were “very close.”  But on the ground, fighting seems to be ongoing and recently more negative statements were put out by both sides. An agreement could be reached on Friday during planned talks in Minsk between Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists.  

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RAF Typhoon aircraft in front of the Celtic Manor, venue of the NATO Summit in Wales. Source: Nato
RAF Typhoon aircraft in front of the Celtic Manor, venue of the NATO Summit in Wales. Source: NATO

By Harry C. Blaney III

There is room for pessimism just before the key NATO summit that will start on September 4th. So far the Europeans have not shown much appetite for assertive action, increasing their military budgets, and even addressing the stupidity of their austerity economic policies that have pushed their economies into disaster zones and left their people disillusioned, alienated, and fearful of their future. They are now left wondering if the European Project (The EU institutions) or NATO can be of any help in facing their internal or external realities. Those policies have made Europe weaker on all fronts and less able to provide any focused leadership, only empty rhetoric.

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Syrian FighterJPG

Recent reports out of Syria and nearby nations indicate growing conflict and still more chaos and danger to both its population and the region, exacerbated by the now growing conflict between various opposition groups. These developments have caused pundits and experts to harden their interpretations of the conflict; some call to keep out of the “mess,” while others argue the United States should act more strongly with military support for moderate factions. What is one to do? There is no doubt that any position is fraught with uncertainties, dangers and unintended consequences.

Regarding the situation in Syria The New York Times’ Ben Hubbard, in Beirut wrote:

“In recent weeks, rebel groups have been killing one another with increasing ferocity, losing ground on the battlefield and alienating the very citizens they say they want to liberate. At the same time, the United States and other Western powers that have called for Mr. Assad to step down have shown new reluctance to provide the rebels with badly needed weapons. Although few expect that Mr. Assad can reassert his authority over the whole of Syria, even some of his staunchest enemies acknowledge that his position is stronger than it has been in months.”

Given the situation, I am still both against putting significant American “boots on the ground” and also against a head-in-the-ground approach of ignoring the growing unraveling of the region and the high cost to innocent people, which in terms of deaths is reaching the 100,000 region and could grow rapidly.

At this stage I am convinced that this is increasingly becoming a proxy war between Shia-Sunni sects, jihadist groups of various factions, and state actors that are interested in intervening like Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia etc. I still believe that Assad’s days are limited, but this is now a minority view. My belief is that the current balance is inherently unstable and Assad’s Syria is still crumbling, but the day of reckoning clearly has lengthened.    

It seems to me that an international effort of key states including the U.S., the EU, and the Arab League groupings (as well as other “Friends of Syria”) need to develop effective humanitarian intervention along with support for moderate Syrian factions. I increasingly believe that creating some kind of protected humanitarian and security zone within Syria is necessary to protect much of its population, since the carrying capacity of neighboring nations for refugees has already been reached and the conflict is spreading throughout the region especially in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

The biggest problem is that those who seek both a democratic and moderate Syrian state and those who are mostly interested in one group or side winning are at odds and cross purposes. The result is a lack of unity and focus to end the killing and establish some security.The truth is that almost all sides have a real interest in a peaceful, secure Syria, but seem to either seek a total “win” for their side or group – they simply want revenge or domination of one group over all the others. That is where diplomacy is needed and also the application of some real carrots and sticks of pressure.  There are even reports that the European countries, most notably the UK, have fallen back on providing assistance even after the U.S. said it would.

Further, there are reports that despite the White House’s statement on providing light arms, nothing is being shipped or delivered. In the end, we need to get our act together both on the allied side and with the various opposition factions….and not at least to act in ways that discourage those that support Assad to stand down and seek a compromised peace with a new broad government. Frankly, that will not happen until the opposition becomes more effective on the ground and the people are given enough assistance to make their lives safe and livable. That likely requires a robust international intervention and the creation of ever widening “security and humanitarian zones” that give hope and provide space for diplomacy to work.

We welcome your comments!

Syria Still a Killing field and Diplomacy Fragile: New Developments

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss issues related to Syria in Paris.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss issues related to Syria in Paris.

Secretary Kerry: “[It] is our hope that we will come out of here with greater clarity about some of the issues that need to be worked on in the days ahead. We agreed that representatives of both of our governments, from the foreign ministry in Russia and the State Department in the United States, will meet as soon as possible in order to work through a number of these issues regarding how this conference could best be prepared for the possibility of success, not failure.”

Foreign Minister Lavrov: “I would like to express my gratitude to John Kerry for suggesting that we meet on this occasion, because the situation is not getting better on the ground and we all want to do everything in our efforts to stop the bloodshed and to reduce the sufferings of the Syrian people. And therefore we took stock today of where we are with the implementation of the Russian-American initiative which was launched when John visited Moscow on the 7th of May.”

-Remarks from Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov after their meeting in Paris on May 27

We are approaching a moment of truth with the Syrian civil war.  The battles are becoming more ferocious, in a conflict more dangerous and diverse that already extends the fighting beyond Syria’s borders.

The involvement of Russian support and arms, Iranian arms and fighters, and not least Hezbollah, all bode badly for a peaceful solution. Yet the diplomatic path is still the best option of all the other bad options. Secretary John Kerry is working on both a Syrian peace and also a Middle East peace process at the same time. The two are interconnected as the region will not find a solid measure of security and prosperity until both Syrian conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian problems are solved.

Secretary Kerry has been bolder, more determined, and more focused than any Secretary of State in the last decade or more. He is also playing the long odds in an area filled with failure and risks.  But, here the U.S. is doing the right things rather than the wrong ones despite carping from the right wing Republicans and neo-cons.  In this connection Senator McCain visited Syria and talked to various factions of the Syrian opposition and in particular General Idris, the leader of a more “moderate” fighting group who asked for lethal weapons, no fly zones, and airstrikes to degrade Syria’s air force.  Sen. McCain continued his crusade for American armed intervention but still says it will not be our “boots on the ground.” He would do well to support Kerry’s diplomacy.

Russia seems to be playing more and more a double game of helping intensify the conflict and possibly arming Assad with S-300s and other weapons while opposing the EU action to let the ban on sending weapons to Syrian opposition groups end. The duplicitous strategy and statements are not the first time Russia has taken “both sides,” as its relations with Iran show. Yet there seems growing recognition that a continued war in Syria may not be to Russia’s advantage, and without America, the cooperation of NATO powers, and the Arab League, there will be no peace. Yet here Russia may have to make a decision to either seek real peace or further its isolation from a productive long-term partnership with the West.

The key to success is not only the Geneva Conference scheduled in mid-June but back-up options should that fail. These by definition would be more risky and costly but it is becoming clearer and clearer that some added intervention will be required to rid Syria of Assad and also ensure a new broad based government and peace.

I am happy to report that Tom Friedman of the New York Times has finally come out in support of the intervention of an international peacekeeping force in Syria – I assume after some kind of agreement has been reached either in Geneva or through alternative “solutions” and a “Friends of Syria” consensus that this is the best post-Assad mechanism for stability in Syria and will help in preventing further communal killing.

Now is the time for not only the Geneva Conference but also a decision by the “Friends of Syria” to act to form a multilateral peacekeeping force with a robust mandate to keep the peace and help with reconciliation of the groups in Syria.