RUSSIA’S PUTIN AND AMERICA’S TRUMP: A DISASTER TRAJECTORY FOR OUR NATION?

By

Harry C. Blaney III

We are coming closer and closer to some kind of determining of the trajectory of both the Trump regime at home and the direction and risks of the inherent divide between Putin’s Russia and its goals and Trump’s own goals or perhaps just incoherent daily utterances and thoughtless unknown schemes. For America this landscape is filled with unknowns and ever growing risks. If we continue as we have with Trump, the ending will likely be danger of more conflicts and with more calamities for both sides and the rest of the world.

For Trump, the world is closing in and his walls of defense are increasingly more desperate and self-contradictory. His efforts to change the direction of attention away from the Trump-Russian contacts and towards diversionary issues confirm his sense of vulnerability. This includes the intensity of his incoherent tweets and acts that indicate at least that he senses serious risk for him, his family and administration. He perhaps sees a point of final dangerous conclusion by the Special Counsel investigation and Congressional inquires.

To put the situation simply, the Trump “walls” are starting to crack (and we do not mean the non existent one on the Mexican border). All of this is solely due to Trump’s own nefarious behavior, his conflicting lies and those of his family and staff. Now we have proof of real collusion between Russian agents and the Trump family and staff according recent reported news on the now infamous Trump Tower meeting. This meeting was held clearly to work with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.

The meeting was with a total of eight persons, some with questionable backgrounds. It was focused much more on helping Trump’s election than Trump Jr. reported to the public or US officials originally. The fundamental question that must be in the minds of those alert to the legal and national security implications is that of collusion. The recent revelation of this meeting and that lies were told about it includes the fact that Trump’s son and people were offered Russian government information as a key inducement. And Trump Jr., in response to the offer said that he would “love it.”  Trump Jr. did not put down initially all the people in the room for his security clearance. That in normal times would bar him from access to high level classified information.

The recent revelation of Trump’s “private” and unannounced meeting at the G-20 dinner for about an hour with Putin with only a Russia interpreter present and no American interpreter, has raised many serious questions, not least about Trump’s primary loyalty and judgement. This is, even more so, as it may have been planned earlier with Putin to assure no Americans would know what was agreed.  And we note that Putin had a briefing paper and pen at hand and Trump had nothing!

We have had no real readout of what was discussed at this lone bilateral. Further we initially had strained obstruction regarding getting information on the heart of this meeting by the White House staff.

I can assure all readers, as a former White House staffer and Member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff, this was not normal if substance and deals were discussed and there was no planning or debate by officials on what Trump proposed. Efforts to make little of it only reinforce doubt. This was likely a very BIG DEAL! That there was no serious readout of the meeting only intensifies the feeling America may be sold out by our incompetent and unstable president. Does anyone who should be brief on this discussion really know what was agreed? Perhaps his family knows, or others in the White House or the Secretaries of State or Defense??? Or just the Russians?

One further question: is there other material, likely in the hands of the intelligence community or FBI, which should be shared with Special Counsel Robert Muller? If there is full sharing, we may see the start of far more serious inquires by the Special Counsel who already has asked to interview at least one member of that Trump Tower meeting and reportedly more.

At this time — with the President at the lowest point in public opinion polls and with a history of vitriol and lies in almost all that he does — the question is being asked if this nation can stand and be secure for the next three years with this individual and his “disruptive” family and staff. Not least in this regard Stephen Bannon with his Alt-Right views, seems increasingly to be behind some of the more cruel and hateful policies of this administration.

Some say impeachment is not possible with this GOP dominated Congress which itself says a lot about how our democracy has declined and the integrity of our elected GOP officials  as well. Think what the GOP would do if all this was done by a Democratic president? So many have been bought (literally in many cases), by dark wealthy forces wanting to undermine our democracy’s efforts towards fairness, equality, and justice for all. How many disasters will the GOP accept before acting?

Thus the issue is likely in the brave hands of the Special Counsel, the FBI and our overall justice system.  As Robert Mueller and staff examine the case for civil and criminal action against some in the highest levels in our land we many be able to discern who may have desecrated and shown they are disloyal to our constitution. We also need to thank some in the media who have exposed with courage much of the nefarious dealings of this administration.

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MORE ON THE TRUMP SYRIAN MISSILE STRIKES AND BEYOND & WEIGHING RISKS.

MORE ON THE TRUMP SYRIAN MISSILE STRIKES AND BEYOND & WEIGHING RISKS.

By

Harry C. Blaney III

Already there have been many comments on the impact of the missiles strikes and discussions of their implication and what they may mean going forward. The simple truth is that none of us know what risks may lurk ahead not even Trump, nor Putin, nor Assad. Trump has not indicated much in the way of his real aims and less about what hand he will play. Many bet he has no plan and others have surmised strategies from the more likely to the ridiculous. The one thing I think is true is that the old Trump we have seen is NOT a new Trump of a “grand sophisticate strategist.” I doubt he has little but a fuzze and probably ill-informed idea of what he must now do and what the future risks are.

Already after the initial Trump strikes, Syrian government warplanes were back bombing the same site that was hit by the sarin chemicals. And as sited in the Washington Post (4/9/17), reportedly there were more strikes also against civilians at Khan Sheikhoun, where Tuesday 68 people had been killed. Assad planes are still active in brutal killings. Thus nothing much has changed for the people as a result.

Not least of concern is the reaction of Putin to these actions and dangers of mistakes on both sides. Our larger approach with Russia must be an integral element of our strategy.

Trump’s national security team is about the worst I have seen in 50 years. Leaving aside the fractious White House still dominated by Alt-Right ideologists, one glaring weakness is the selection of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State without any previous knowledge or experience in foreign policy and national security areas. He is like a lost soul out of his depth. Worst he won’t talk to or listen to experienced hands at State according to reports. Part of that may be that he knows he may have to fire many of them to meet the demands of his harsh circus ring boss who has a desire to ensure that foreign affairs belongs exclusively in the White House and as a fiefdom of an incompetent family.  Thus we see the Trump inspired 30% cut in State’s budget.

Trump said his motivation for the strikes were humanitarian for saving of lives, but his proposed State and USAID budget cuts will result in millions of added deaths including women and children in poor and conflict ridden nations around the world. Is that an act of a real “humanitarian?”

The results on the policy side of this action many end with no serious negotiations and with no strategic game plan behind them. This results in no long-term thinking or seeking peaceful win-win solutions. It seems the major fault is lack of respect of the tools of deep analysis and the concern and understanding of risks as well as end-game benefits for peace by Trump. That is dangerous for America and the world.

He has now made a “big bet” with a rather limited strike in Syria. He warned the Russians ahead which meant that the Assad air force had some kind of advanced warning. The damage done to the airfield and planes were modest in the extreme. He did not destroy all their planes and they can continue the killing of innocent civilians with what seems impunity with the protection of Russian arms. Did Trump foresee that outcome or even desire it?

The questions that many of us are asking is: given the military strategists have likely already developed complex scenarios for potential contingencies, has Trump given any consideration to both their analysis or recommendations or recognized the risks they may present? Another question is he even asking what options or problems they might  have over looked. And does he have people around him with deep knowledge that can ask the right questions, note the pitfalls, weaknesses, and provide him with additional realistic options?

I hearken back to the recommendations by DOD, CIA and even State to President John Kennedy in the 1960s Cuba missile crisis to attack with nuclear weapons Cuba, when unknown to US, Russian forces there had permission to use nuclear weapons against the US should Cuba be attack. President Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy together ignored the “nuclear war option” and choose, rightly, the negotiation option which saved mankind from mass obliteration. Is there any sign of this kind of  depth and serous thinking among the Trump gang?

Finally, I like senator Chris Murphy’s recent analysis of our Syria actions:

“As a theoretical matter, a targeted military strike in response to a major violation of non-conventional weapons norms is justifiable. Why have rules against chemical weapons use if no one is going to pay a price for violating the rules? International norms should be upheld by the international community–not the United States acting alone–but it’s hard to argue against Trump’s action last night when viewed in isolation as a response to Assad’s barbaric attack.

The problem is military strikes never happen in isolation–the before and after are arguably even more important than the strike itself. The actions Trump took leading up to Assad’s chemical weapons attack, as well as the all-important and totally unanswered question of what comes next, highlight the administration’s immoral and hypocritical approach to violence in the region.”

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THE UNWINDING OF AMERICAN SECURITY: WHITE HOUSE CREATED CHAOS ON DISPLAY AT THURSDAY PRESS CONFERENCE

THE UNWINDING OF AMERICAN SECURITY:

WHITE HOUSE CREATED CHAOS ON DISPLAY AT THURSDAY PRESS CONFERENCE

By

Harry C. Blaney III

The Trump press conference on Thursday was one of the most surreal experience I have ever had in Washington for 45 plus years. But it was emblematic of the whole Trump world. It was filled with lies and exaggerations. It was aimed at attacking his critics and trying to undermined especially the press and news outlets and not least also the intelligence community. But its strategic aim was to deflect attention from his most recent serious debacle namely the relationship of him and his people to Russian intelligence and officials and the failure of himself to run an effective logical and constrictive White House let alone the government that remains in disarray.

The embarrassments of his key NSC head Mike Flynn who made a surreptitious contact that likely was illegal with the Russian Ambassador showed an out of control dysfunctional staff. And we still do not know if Trump knew of or order that meeting, as Trump at the press conference avoided a direct answer. One key question is whether US sanctions on Russia were discussed. At the likely urging of Bannon Flynn was picked but Trump should have known Flynn was a total flake. It seems Trump had no intention of running a true professional NSC. This was proved by appointing Bannon to an official NSC seat and initially taking his intelligence chief and Military Chief of Staff off of the NSC Principles Group all indicating his aim was to conduct a secretive truly only personally directed “disruptive” foreign and security policy.

An example of how chaotic is Trump’s White house his next pick for head of the NSC was retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward who declined the offer. It was reported that he was not promised the ability to pick his own staff as he saw the need for staff that actually know what they were doing given what was at stake. It was said theat there were three persons on a new list and they seem all to have problems. One John Bolton is an extreme war hawk and disliked for his rough personality, in the end the head of the NSC turned out to be Lt. General H.R. McMaster, an active duty officer without any high policy coordinating experience. Trump has almost entirely picked active or former military flag officers in un-presidented numbers for national security and diplomatic positions that normally are largely filled by high ranking civilian officials and experts. At the recent Munich strategy conference Senator John McCann decimated the Trump security and foreign affairs record of Trump in front of the European defense community but later praised the selection of McMaster and the revised NSC team.

Trump a made no attempt at the conference to discuss in a serious way key challenges like climate change, what to do about North Korea, the issues of Iran, nuclear weapons, poverty, not least his failure to maintain American respect or how exactly to deal with Russia and Putin and a host of domestic issues including immigration and refugees.

He avoided serious questions from the press. Probably he has no clue on how to seriously deal with the issues that are on his desk. He has not advance a rational or even creditable national strategy or program. This was proven by choosing many individuals who’s main aim is to destroy the agencies that they head or to put forth policies that are clearly destructive of our nation’s moral, economic, and security fabric and interests. It almost seems that he wanted to choose people who were even less experienced but as destructive as he was.

My main view is again that Trump’s aim was to attack the media and their coverage and thus deflect from the chaos that he himself has caused. Phrases like “dishonest media” and ‘fake news” were designed to fend off criticism or public understanding of accurate facts and objective news analysis of his incompetence which has taken on a crescendo recently given the massive dysfunction and stench emanating from Trump and his people. Trump’s attacks oddly are to attack others for the same characteristics and flaws he has himself!

During the conference Trump tired to depict himself as popular with our citizens and quoted one Republican orientated poll of 56% support when in reality it is closer to 40% in recent polls. He said he inherited “a mess” at home and abroad but the reality is that he inherited fewer large wars, normal global challenges and a growing economy. His acts are undermining of American respect. He has made enemies of our friends and brought joy to our opponents. He and Bannon support far right parties in Europe whose main aims are to destroy both the EU and the unity of the Atlantic community. He argues the moral equivalence of Russia and America. He even took credit for pre-Trump growth of our economy.

Russia may turn out as his most vulnerable arena and challenge. Trump denied that his people had contact with Russians during the campaign and transition while the intelligence agencies has clear evidence that in fact there was contact with Russians during the campaign by his associates which some of these associates deny. Reports in the news seem to indicate that the professionals in the intelligence community do not fully trust him and his staff with the most sensitive data, while still providing him with the main intelligence and assessments to make key decisions. Frighteningly, Trump seems bent on destroying the objectivity and competence of the intelligence community which, if carried out in a political “house cleaning.” could endanger the security of our nation.

The simple fact is the White House under Trump is a disaster zone without rational leadership and the people that Trump has surround are, and there is no other way to put it, a bunch of the most ignorant, bigoted, and incompetent people every to have inhabited the White House in its history. I simply cite Stephen Bannon a White nationalist supremacist and formally key founder and manager of the fascist Alt-Right news outlet Beritbart and follower, like Trump, of Ayn Rand’s version of brutal extreme right ideas and avaricious destructive capitalism. But look at the likes Kellyanne Conway who also lies and violates civil service rules, disgraced Mike Flynn who we have already described, a press assistant that also lies, and a host of others without any government experience and with far right ideology that drives bad decisions and reinforces prejudices.
Trump’s excuse for his actions is that there was a “mess” before he arrived, and he alone with unlimited powers can fix it. But he has deliberately made our nation and whole globe a real “mess” with his twisted madness and made us all more insecure.

There is in short, dysfunction but more than that it is, in my view, in key part deliberate misleading and manipulation of our citizens and the media (which they have too often acted as accomplices), accompanied by a destructive world view. He acts so as to run, in time, an authoritarian state based on one man and his family’s interests. A kind of conspiracy to up-end our best values, decency within our diverse society, to rip out the effort of government to help our most disadvantage citizens, and to create a world of even more conflict and chaos. This all to justify such rule. Already, he has undermined the institutions that have held this nation together protected our citizens and surely take from us all a nation truly great and doing good.

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PROSPECTS FOR A “TRUMPIAN” FOREIGN AND SECURITY AGENDA: INCOHERENCE & IGNORANCE VERSUS THE REALITY OF OUR MESSY AND DANGEROUS WORLD


By Harry C. Blaney III

Image result for President-elect Trump

THE PROBLEM OF TRUMP THE MAN AND THE DEFICIENCY OF NO CREDIBILITY

Trying to understand what a Donald Trump foreign and security policy might be is like reading tea leaves in a very dark and mushy tea. There is no consistency, little true knowledge of diplomacy and security issues, and no cohesiveness to his many pronouncements. His formal documents and off-hand remarks and his stances are, to say the least, not very enlightening and often rather simplistic, silly, and dangerous.

There will be great efforts to have him look like a “statesman,” but if his campaign is any indication he will be, as they say, out of his depth and playing it “by the seat of his pants.” You can only do so much with a Teleprompter or printed talking points when you have no depth of knowledge and not a clue to what the other side wants and dangers of misunderstanding when tens of thousands of lives are at stake for example.   In this world, those empty grey cells will likely not be enough to ensure the security of our nation nor solve the deep and complex challenges of our conflict-filled messy world.

Subtlety, attention to detail, and seeing the other side of the equation have proven not to be Trump’s strong points. However bullying and lying are. What do we do with a leader that has told so many lies that it would be hard for a leader of another country to believe any word he says?

Further, he starts his new presidency with a set of positions that the rest of the world already sees as a disaster, not in their own national interest, and indeed a danger to the entire globe. Here are a few examples which we will examine in more detail in forthcoming posts:

– CLIMATE CHANGE:  His rejection of the Paris Global Warming accord which has now come into force. Not only will he not support that agreement despite the science, he does not even believe its reality that man made global warming and ignores its impact on our earth, and has even advocated churning out CO2 with more coal-fired power stations and expanded mining.

– THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL: His stated goal is to repudiate the Iran nuclear deal, which bars Iran from developing nuclear weapons for some 10-20 years and beyond. It will be a total disaster for the world’s security and that of Israel, as Iran would be within months of being able to build a nuclear bomb. Further, the alternative of a massive bombing campaign against Iranian targets would do little in the long run, exacerbate the situation, and create even more conflict in the region. Such an effort might draw us into a war we would not have to face with the agreement in place.

– NATO AND OTHER ALLIES: He said we would, in effect, not support NATO allies that do not pay fully for their defense. This is contrary to our NATO treaty obligations AND ALSO REGARDING OUR OTHER ALLIES IN Asia and elsewhere. His position undermines our defense credibility and deterrence power.

– TRUMP AND INTERNATIONAL LAW: Trump has said he supports torture and water boarding, but there is the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions to which the United States is a party. He can withdraw from these conventions, but that would put our people still under danger of being found criminals if we carried out such horrific inhumane acts. Such action are in any case counterproductive and encourage terrorism. How is that for a moral American position and what it does to us as a presumptive leader of other decent countries?

– DEALING WITH ISIS AND TERRORISM: On 60 Minutes after the election, Donald Trump said he will destroy ISIS as he has said earlier, but gave little indication of how he might do this. He still maintained that he knows more than the generals.

There are facts on the ground which will not change after the election. Much has already been done by Obama’s strategy which has severely weaken ISIS without major commitment of U.S. combat forces on the ground and without huge loss of American lives. The concept behind that strategy is to let regional forces carry the fight to ISIS as they do have much to lose and they know the environment that they are fighting in. Our main contributions now are bombing, intelligence, training, and logistics.

What more can be done with an eye on also not ending up mired in a costly “endless war” with high costs of American lives and resources or unneeded and counterproductive destruction of civilian populations? The new president will have to weigh many options but also many major risks in an area he knows almost nothing about, but thinks he knows more than the generals or for that matter perhaps our diplomats and intelligence experts. Also, in the end, it will be politics and diplomacy that will be needed to create the conditions for lasting security and stability in the Middle East. Will he act before he learns and listens or will he act precipitously with high costs for all?

– TRUMP AND CHINA: It can’t help but be a clash, but the constraints on the reality of continued trade and their importance as well as cooperation on key issues like North Korea. All the constraints and realities should give some pause to hasty actions by both sides. But it may not if China is aiming for a predominant role in the Pacific and sees Trump as leading America to global weakness. Trade and economics and security are deeply intermixed and the question must be asked if both sides see the advantages of cooperation rather than confrontation. Up to now Trump seems perhaps to often favor confrontation and the American economy may suffer as well as China’s from such a strategy. But absent a creditable presence and strong economic and military ties in the Pacific region, China is likely to be even bolder to gain predominance.

– RUSSIA/PUTIN:  Trump and Russia remain a hazard zone for both sides. Things can go very badly quickly depending on the reaction of just two people: Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.  Will Putin push too hard, and test the mettle of neophyte Trump? Will Trump think he can make a deal with Putin? But at what cost to American leadership and security or that of our allies? On the agenda is the question of continued sanctions on Russia for the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine, and not least how to deal with Russia’s violence to civilians and military action on behalf of Syria’s Assad, who has committed butchery of much of his own people with Russian help..

NUCLEAR WEAPONS: Of high importance is trying to deal with key nuclear weapons issues. That includes the future of the Iran nuclear deal which Trump has said he will scrap. But also it must address the danger of nuclear war which is the most important issue that needs some kind of understanding between the two largest nuclear nations. Putin seems to think that the nuclear weapons and his military are his high cards which he has used to some success and a way to intimidate America and the West generally. What might Trump do to offer a counter action to obtain a mutually cooperative and fair “deal?” More belligerence from both sides and greater risk of military confrontation is one option, or some measure of cooperation and backing away from dangerous actions is another. In the end, a key question is whether Putin sees in Trump an easy pawn, a partner in his goals. or make deals that can complete his ambitions and harm the West without any cost? For Trump the question is whether he even understands the high risks for all. The whole world will be asking what kind of “deal” can come out of this mix.

There are many other questions that will need to be examined in forthcoming posts on this site, and we will examine in more detail in the coming weeks these and the cited topics here. A key will be who Trump advances as high level national security and foreign affairs officials. However, their influence might be either as bad or even if they are more reasonable, Trump might not listen or even want to learn.  We have seen that Trump seems to desire to act compulsively without thought of the long-term harm.

One thing is certain with Trump: we likely will be living in a world sliding quickly into unknown conflict and chaos.

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THE FINAL DEBATE: THE LAST DISTORTED WORDS OR MORE TO COME?

By Harry C. Blaney III

Photo Credit via ABC News


The last campaign 2016 debate was, as expected by some, was a horrific mess but it exposed again the terrible reality that Donald Trump is a dangerous man if not likely with an unbalanced and offensive mind too. And that leaves aside even much of his reprehensible words and behavior. Much of the debate was silly and often off subject and not very deep. Wallace was probably among the worst moderators I have ever seen in not pressing on the topic and keeping people talking over each other.

Once again Hillary Clinton showed her firm grasp of some of the key issues that we face in our high risk world with all its complexities. But just fifteen minutes were not enough to give time to dig deeper into so many issues that needed better time and more depth. The Fox moderator Chris Wallace did not help matters in keeping on topic and challenging both candidates to not just say what they wanted to accomplish but also just how. He also let Trump go on despite the rules and interrupt Clinton while not stopping Trump’s interference.

Defeating ISIS or Islamic State was an issue that was more assertions than strategy, limited to saying they will be defeated in battle, or asserting who is tougher or more fearsome. The reality is the President Obama strategy of providing help in terms of air strikes, intelligence, logistics, training, and other assistance without putting too many U.S. troops in to do this job and keeping them away from direct combat. With this strategy, in fact, some real progress has been made by relying on local forces who know the “terrain” better than we ever could.

The salient question is not now whether they will take Mosul but when and how and what will be left and how can we put this shattered place back together and get the people to cooperate no mater their ethnic or religious background. The aftermath is key to long term security and stability of the region. The same is true in Syria. But little time was addressed to this topic. Displaced persons and refugees are a horrendous problem and we and our allies including the Gulf states have not done enough to deal with this problem.

Nor did anyone really address the question of the role of Putin’s Russia now and later in the region. This is a major conundrum for not just for America but our allies and the Islamic states of the region. Here Wallace was weak.

Some of the key takeaway points are below in this debate on foreign and national security issues:

IMMIGRATION

Donald Trump: “I mean, these are unbelievable people that I’ve gotten to know over a period of years whose children have been killed, brutally killed by people that came into the country illegally. You have thousands of mothers and fathers and relatives all over the country. They’re coming in illegally…

One of my first acts will be to get all of the drug lords, all of the bad ones — we have some bad, bad people in this country that have to go out. We’re going to get them out; we’re going to secure the border. And once the border is secured, at a later date, we’ll make a determination as to the rest. But we have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out.”

Hillary Clinton: “I don’t want to rip families apart. I don’t want to be sending parents away from children. I don’t want to see the deportation force that Donald has talked about in action in our country…

I think that is an idea that is not in keeping with who we are as a nation. I think it’s an idea that would rip our country apart.

I have been for border security for years. I voted for border security in the United States Senate. And my comprehensive immigration reform plan of course includes border security. But I want to put our resources where I think they’re most needed: Getting rid of any violent person. Anybody who should be deported, we should deport them….

And Donald knows a lot about this. He used undocumented labor to build the Trump Tower. He underpaid undocumented workers, and when they complained, he basically said what a lot of employers do: “You complain, I’ll get you deported.”

I want to get everybody out of the shadows, get the economy working, and not let employers like Donald exploit undocumented workers, which hurts them, but also hurts American workers.”

RUSSIA

Clinton: “It’s pretty clear you won’t admit…that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do, and that you continue to get help from him, because he has a very clear favorite in this race.

We have 17 — 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.” 

Trump: She has no idea whether it’s Russia, China, or anybody else.
Clinton: I am not quoting myself.
Trump: She has no idea.
Clinton: I am quoting 17…
Trump: Hillary, you have no idea.
Clinton: … 17 intelligence — do you doubt 17 military and civilian…
Trump: And our country has no idea.
Clinton: … agencies.
Trump: Yeah, I doubt it. I doubt it.
Clinton: Well, he’d rather believe Vladimir Putin than the military and civilian intelligence professionals who are sworn to protect us. I find that just absolutely…
Trump: She doesn’t like Putin because Putin has outsmarted her at every step of the way.

Wallace: You condemn their interference?
Trump: Of course I condemn. Of course I — I don’t know Putin. I have no idea.
Wallace: I’m not asking — I’m asking do you condemn?
Trump: I never met Putin. This is not my best friend. But if the United States got along with Russia, wouldn’t be so bad.

ALLIANCES AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS:

Trump: “We’re in very serious trouble, because we have a country with tremendous numbers of nuclear warheads — 1,800, by the way — where they expanded and we didn’t, 1,800 nuclear warheads. And she’s playing chicken.”

Clinton: “I — I find it ironic that he’s raising nuclear weapons. This is a person who has been very cavalier, even casual about the use of nuclear weapons. He’s…advocated more countries getting them, Japan, Korea, even Saudi Arabia. He said, well, if we have them, why don’t we use them, which I think is terrifying.”

Trump: “As far as Japan and other countries, we are being ripped off by everybody in the — we’re defending other countries. We are spending a fortune doing it. They have the bargain of the century.

All I said is, we have to renegotiate these agreements, because our country cannot afford to defend Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany, South Korea, and many other places. We cannot continue to afford — she took that as saying nuclear weapons.”

Clinton: “The United States has kept the peace — the United States has kept the peace through our alliances. Donald wants to tear up our alliances. I think it makes the world safer and, frankly, it makes the United States safer. I would work with our allies in Asia, in Europe, in the Middle East, and elsewhere. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to keep the peace.”

Trump: “They have to pay up. We’re protecting people, they have to pay up. And I’m a big fan of NATO. But they have to pay up.

She comes out and said, we love our allies, we think our allies are great. Well, it’s awfully hard to get them to pay up when you have somebody saying we think how great they are.

We have to tell Japan in a very nice way, we have to tell Germany, all of these countries, South Korea, we have to say, you have to help us out.”

TRADE DEALS:

Trump: “So my plan — we’re going to renegotiate trade deals. We’re going to have a lot of free trade. We’re going to have free trade, more free trade than we have right now. But we have horrible deals. Our jobs are being taken out by the deal that her husband signed, NAFTA, one of the worst deals ever.

I am going to renegotiate NAFTA. And if I can’t make a great deal — then we’re going to terminate NAFTA and we’re going to create new deals. We’re going to have trade, but we’re going — we’re going to terminate it, we’re going to make a great trade deal…

Now she wants to sign Trans-Pacific Partnership. And she wants it. She lied when she said she didn’t call it the gold standard in one of the debates. She totally lied. She did call it the gold standard.”

Clinton: “Well, first, let me say, number one, when I saw the final agreement for TPP, I said I was against it. It didn’t meet my test. I’ve had the same test. Does it create jobs, raise incomes, and further our national security? I’m against it now. I’ll be against it after the election. I’ll be against it when I’m president.

There’s only one of us on this stage who’s actually shipped jobs to Mexico, because that’s Donald. He’s shipped jobs to 12 countries, including Mexico…

In fact, the Trump Hotel right here in Las Vegas was made with Chinese steel. So he goes around with crocodile tears about how terrible it is, but he has given jobs to Chinese steelworkers, not American steelworkers….

We’re going to have trade agreements that we enforce. That’s why I’m going to have a trade prosecutor for the first time in history. And we’re going to enforce those agreements, and we’re going to look for businesses to help us by buying American products.”

ISIS:

Trump: “Take a look at Syria. Take a look at the migration. Take a look at Libya. Take a look at Iraq. She gave us ISIS, because her and Obama created this huge vacuum, and a small group came out of that huge vacuum because when — we should never have been in Iraq, but once we were there, we should have never got out the way they wanted to get out. She gave us ISIS as sure as you are sitting there. And what happened is now ISIS is in 32 countries. And now I listen how she’s going to get rid of ISIS. She’s going to get rid of nobody.”

Clinton: “Well, I am encouraged that there is an effort led by the Iraqi army, supported by Kurdish forces, and also given the help and advice from the number of special forces and other Americans on the ground.But I will not support putting American soldiers into Iraq as an occupying force…

The goal here is to take back Mosul. It’s going to be a hard fight. I’ve got no illusions about that. And then continue to press into Syria to begin to take back and move on Raqqa, which is the ISIS headquarters.

And I’m going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees, but to, frankly, gain some leverage on both the Syrian government and the Russians so that perhaps we can have the kind of serious negotiation necessary to bring the conflict to an end and go forward on a political track.

Trump: “I have been reading about going after Mosul now for about — how long is it, Hillary, three months? These people have all left. They’ve all left.

The element of surprise. Douglas MacArthur, George Patton spinning in their graves when they see the stupidity of our country….

Iran should write us yet another letter saying thank you very much, because Iran, as I said many years ago, Iran is taking over Iraq, something they’ve wanted to do forever, but we’ve made it so easy for them.”

Clinton: “But what’s really important here is to understand all the interplay. Mosul is a Sunni city. Mosul is on the border of Syria. And, yes, we do need to go after Baghdadi, and — just like we went after bin Laden, while you were doing “Celebrity Apprentice,” and we brought him to justice. We need to go after the leadership.”

Trump: “We don’t know who the rebels are. And when and if — and it’s not going to happen, because you have Russia and you have Iran now. But if they ever did overthrow Assad, you might end up with — as bad as Assad is, and he’s a bad guy, but you may very well end up with worse than Assad.”

ACCEPTANCE OF AMERICAN DEMOCRATIC PROCESS

Wallace: “Do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely — sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?”
Trump: “I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now. I’ll look at it at the time….What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”

Clinton: “So that is not the way our democracy works. We’ve been around for 240 years. We’ve had free and fair elections. We’ve accepted the outcomes when we may not have liked them. And that is what must be expected of anyone standing on a debate stage during a general election. You know, President Obama said the other day when you’re whining before the game is even finished…”

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American-Russian Cooperation: The Lynchpin to Effective Nuclear Nonproliferation

By John Gall

               This month has been marked by Russia’s decision to withdraw from a plutonium disposal agreement and a uranium research agreement with the United States in response to the American end of bilateral efforts in Syria. These actions continue a trend of Russia stepping away from nonproliferation activities with the United States. Earlier this year, Russia argued that its decision to not attend the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington was based on concerns that hosting countries received an unfair advantage against dissenting opinions. However, such a reason may simply be a convenient excuse to not commit to nuclear material reductions. Regardless, in order to effectively combat the spread of nuclear arms to more countries and dangerous non-state actors, Russian involvement is essential in both bilateral action with the United States and collaboration with the international community.

               As the two states with the largest nuclear arsenals in the world, the United States and Russia have the greatest capacity, and arguably obligation, to lead the global effort against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the partnership of these nations was crucial in deterring the threat of proliferation by dismantling the weapon stockpiles and securing the fissile materials within the other former Soviet states. Recent cooperation was initially successful, as the Obama administration’s ‘Reset on Russia’ produced the New START treaty in 2010. However, the increasingly hostile relations between Russia and the United States resulted in the cancellation of multiple nuclear cooperation agreements and caused the current halt to any future arms-reductions negotiations.

            The strain placed on the American-Russian relationship by the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine by Russia in 2014 and competing interests in the Syrian civil war are well known and impacted tensions in the bilateral relationship. Nevertheless Russia’s deteriorating nuclear collaboration also warrants serious concern.

            The 2013 reworking of the Nunn-Lugar agreement scaled back inspections of nuclear weapon and fissile material storage facilities. With the Russian economy suffering from low world fuel prices and economic sanctions, there are doubts that it can ensure the security of its radioactive material and less international oversight of these facilities raises the risk of undetected smuggling activity.

            Nuclear modernization efforts from both sides have also created a sense of competition rather than cooperation. The United States current modernization plan calls for an estimated $1 trillion over the next thirty years. Russia’s announced modernization efforts are part of a broad military buildup by Putin to project national strength and as a response to American innovations in missile defense systems. Although these efforts won’t change the number of nuclear weapons each of the two countries have, a sense of an arms race may deter future efforts to negotiate additional arms reduction treaties.

            But the development that could inhibit nonproliferation efforts the most would be the lack of arms reduction negotiations since the New START Treaty was signed and ratified half a decade ago. As the owners of the two largest nuclear stockpiles in the world, arms reductions send a signal to the other nuclear states of their commitment to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons; an important message to send to deter other growing stockpiles or aspiring weapon programs. One would think the fiscal costs of modernization would be an incentive to further reduce stockpiles, but the current icy relations between the US and Russia have put a halt to any potential talks.

            It would be disingenuous to claim that Russia has been absent in recent
nonproliferation efforts, as Moscow has played a crucial role in the negotiation and implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran. As a member of the P5+1 negotiations, Russia agreed to take Iran’s low-enriched uranium as part of the state’s obligations to drastically reduce its enrichment ability. Russia and Iran’s previous nuclear fuel dealings gave the five permanent security council members and Germany some diplomatic goodwill to reach a deal. The JCPA was an important achievement in worldwide nonproliferation efforts, and while it’s currently a fragile success, it does show that Russia is willing to contribute in some ways to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

            A lack of cooperation with Russia may not harm the United States’ nonproliferation efforts in some cases, when a more suitable nuclear power partner may be better suited. In the case of North Korea’s nuclear aspirations, China has an exceptional amount of leverage, but not yet willing to fully use it for fear of North Korea instability. The DPRK is economically dependent on official and illicit trade with its neighbor to the north and if China exerts new pressure on North Korea, a breakthrough might be reached where previous sanctions from the international community failed. Russia was involved in the six party talks that previously attempted to curb North Korea’s nuclear efforts and may do so in future negotiations. However, success in this major challenge won’t rely on the United States’ relationship with Moscow, but rather Beijing.

            The growing diplomatic distance between the United States and Russia doesn’t jeopardize all international non-proliferation efforts, but it does seriously hinder many worthwhile bilateral efforts. Even if the two governments refuse to work together on major projects such as new arms reduction treaties, some thawing could take place through third channel talks between respective academics. Smaller obligations, such as the return of bilateral inspections, could improve rapport between the two states on at least this crucial policy sector. Unfortunately, if such possible routes aren’t viable, American and Russia non-proliferation activity may be limited to multilateral methods until changes in national leadership occur. In the mean time, a major concern is that such an arms race could lead to taking higher risks from both sides from miscalculation, misjudgment, and high risk behavior.

          

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PRESIDENTIAL SECOND DEBATE: RISING BEYOND THE SORDID AND INTO SUBSTANCE?


By Harry C. Blaney III

The debate on Sunday night October 9th was one of the most depressing debates on record. The personal invective and behavior of Trump and avoidance of any positive elements or real substance made for an ugly debate and loss of time to address many foreign affairs key issues. This debate only confirmed that this format is a disaster and did not permit the candidates to fully address most of the key issues America and our allies face in a landscape filled with complex choices, instability, nuclear weapons and many high risks.

This debate started focusing on Trump’s previous behavior, but the debate made a new low in American politics. Trump brought up sordid elements that debased himself and dominated much of the debate. What it also clearly demonstrated was that Trump is unfit even as a decent human being, let alone fit to be Commander-in-Chief with his finger on the nuclear button.

Moderators permitted Trump especially to use his time and interfered with Clinton’s time to let him do inflammatory and off subject general personal attack statements. These included: Trump threatened to jail Clinton…….he said about e-mails: “You’d be in jail.” About Clinton and Obama, Trump said “Never been so many lies, so much deception….never been anything like this.”

He added “She has tremendous hate in her heart.” He said he would instruct “a Special Prosecutor to look into [her] situation” against Hillary. Trump also invoked extreme religious reference when expressing his shock of Bernie’s support for Clinton as “I was so surprised to see him sign on with the devil.” How does any of this help American understanding of key issues like nuclear weapons or climate change?

The thought that he might gain the power to send US forces mindlessly into harm’s way and alienating ourselves permanently through reckless actions, which he has already done from the statements of many key leaders around the world (as seen in our post on Voices Beyond Our Borders), is very disturbing. But his behavior in his personal life has already proved that he has no internal moral core, which should be a vital precondition for anyone to head the American government domestically or globally. His actions as well as his words all indicate that the man is either very stupid or mentally unbalanced. The debate only reinforced this judgement.

As for Clinton, on foreign and national security issues, she showed again a command of the issues and the problems the US faces abroad. But there was little time to get into details.

The problem with both the questions and the moderators, Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz from ABC, were that once again they did not get into or demand any real depth on most of these issues. Rather they permitted repeated statements by Trump to avoid any questions of his behavior and his substantive policies. They let Trump ramble on off topic statements while cutting off Clinton. This made the debate a bit more one sided than it would be with some real, fair discipline. They let Trump repeatedly interrupt Clinton even as she talked on serious issues. In sum, the candidates were not challenged or forced to reply to the questions asked except in one case, so we lost much insight about topics of great significance.

Perhaps the greatest cost of this display of utter coarseness and continued show of hate for much the world’s people especially women, Muslims, Latin Americans and beyond has threatened respect for and willingness to follow our leadership. How can anyone who is a true decent leader look to this brute of a man ever and give any respect or believe in his word? That does not and will not happen with Obama and nor for Clinton. Trump’s  dark and brutish gutter talk only deepens fear abroad.  His behavior along with his attacks and false accusations only contributed  to the sense around the world that America itself has lost its way. People of substance abroad are asking how American politics could produce such a man of such abhorrent quality.

Looking at a Few  Key Subjects That Were Raised or Not Raised with Commentary :

General Foreign Policy and Security:

This needs little commentary:

Trump cited “stupidity” of our foreign policy, but refused to give much specifics of how or what he would do.

Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control:

There was almost nothing said on nuclear weapons or arms control. The blame lies with the commentators and the networks that ran this debate that avoided real strategic issues and what direction they would take.

Trump – “But our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they’ve gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good. Our government shouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We’re tired. We’re exhausted in terms of nuclear.”

Clinton – “I think wherever we can cooperate with Russia, that’s fine. And I did as secretary of state. That’s how we got a treaty reducing nuclear weapons [referencing coarsest New START treaty]. It’s how we got the sanctions on Iran that put a lid on the Iranian nuclear program without firing a single shot.”

Terrorism, Syria and Domestic Security Policy:

Trump once again took up terrorism as an attack in response to a question about hate statements about Muslims. Trump brought up again “extreme vetting” again citing the example of the refugees from Syria.

Clinton on the other hand made a strong case of accepting Muslims and not discriminating while saying that ISIS would be defeated and Trump played into the hands of terrorists. Clinton defended Syrian refugees while bringing them under tougher vetting.

On the question of Syria, Clinton said the situation was catastrophic and noted in the Aleppo bombing there is Russian determination to destroy Aleppo. She reaffirmed the need for a safe zone, that we need leverage over Russia, and to work with partners on the ground. Regarding the aggressiveness of Russia, she said that she stood up to Putin. She added that we should continue diplomacy and would hold Russia accountable for humanitarian crimes.

Trump did take up ISIS in the context of Syria and other nations like Libya but did little to enlighten onlookers with specifics of how he would address the multiplicity of terrorism threats. He gave the impression that he would be more aggressive without much specifics on how and at what risk or costs.  Clinton did outline how she would deal with ISIS in Syria. She also noted that progress against ISIS was being made in both Syria and Iraq without putting our troops into danger.

Key quotes are:

Donald Trump – “I think Aleppo is a disaster, humanitarian-wise…I think that it basically has fallen”

Hillary Clinton – “I do think that there is a good chance that we can take Mosul….I would go after Baghdadi. I would specifically target Baghdadi, because I think our targeting of Al Qaeda leaders – and I was involved in a lot of those operations, highly classified ones – made a difference… I would also consider arming the Kurds. The Kurds have been our best partner in Syria, as well as Iraq.”

Building The Wall on Mexico’s Border and Relations with Latin America and US Latinos:

The coverage of this topic was, except for building “a strong border,” not deeply addressed and neither were the means and costs addressed except Trump said, as he has in the past, keep illegal immigrants out and send them back.

Donald Trump – “We’re going to have borders in our country, which we don’t have now…We have many criminal illegal aliens. When we want to send them back to their country, their country says we don’t want them. In some cases, they’re murderers, drug lords, drug problems. And they don’t want them. And Hillary Clinton, when she was secretary of state, said that’s OK, we can’t force it into their country. Let me tell you, I’m going to force them right back into their country. They’re murders and some very bad people.”

The Russia-Putin Challenge: NATO, Ukraine, Syria and Defense of Europe and EU Unity:

There was only very short mentions about Russia and Putin. There was no policy or specific approaches discussed or really asked by the unenlightened and unbalanced moderators. Clinton noted broadly she would be tough on Putin’s aggression. Trump, against reports to the contrary, said he had no interests in Russia. Other documents show Russian investors and his staff included a key advisor who helped the Russian-backed Ukrainian President as a political advisor. When Clinton said he could prove this by releasing his taxes, Trump went on an attack against Clinton not related to Russian influence.

International Trade, Global Economic Policy and Global Poverty and Inequality:

Trump again went after TTP and demonstrated he might close much of our trade with large parts of the world. Clinton did not engage in this subject in any specific way. Global poverty and inequality were never mentioned.

Climate Change and other Environmental Issues:

This topic was never really addressed. The only mention was in relation to the issue of the energy industry. Trump said he would support clean energy but clearly was in favor of expanding coal and other fossil fuels. Clinton argued in favor of using natural gas as a transition to reliance on green energy, which would help address the serious problem of climate change.

Asia: North Korea, China, Japan, South China Sea, South-East Asia Pakistan- India Conflict and Africa:

These topics were not asked about by the moderators and the subjects never came up in substance

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