THE RUSSIAN-TRUMP CONNECTION: GETTING TO THE TRUTH AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WEST

THE RUSSIAN-TRUMP CONNECTION: GETTING TO THE TRUTH AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

By Harry C. Blaney III

DATELINE :LONDON

The perspective from London: the news that both the Director of the FBI James Comey and the head of the National Security Agency Admiral Mike Rogers have confirmed two key points has given some light here on America’s own disarray: the most important revelation is that of Comey in affirming that an investigation of the connection between the Trump team and Russia is taking place. The other statement by the NSA head, at the congressional committee, is that they could not find any evidence that Obama or his administration called for a wiretap on Trump Tower and affirmed that such a request would be illegal by Obama or any president. This severely undercut the Trump White House assertion that such wiretapping was ordered. They are looking at whether there was any collusion between Trump’s team and Russia to influence the election.

Russian Interference in the 2016 election is the other key issue and the need to look more at this seem on the agenda and will have still public profile until more if revealed and this is also a finding which Trump fears.

Here in London this Russian connection story was given wide coverage especially on BBC News and in the quality newspapers. The question was also raised here whether the Trump unproved accusations that the UK GCHQ, the counterpart of the American NSA, had spied on the Trump camp. This only added to the unease about American leadership. The GCHQ stated that any idea of their spying was nonsense. In fact, at the US House Intelligence hearings on these issues, the NSA head confirmed that such an order was expressly counter to the so-call “5 eyes” of nations with special access to and sharing of intelligence information, and was contrary to its firm rules and no such order was ever given.

With all of that, the White House totally denied any reality of collusion with Russia and stood on their untenable positions, with no indication of any apology or refutation of the now totally denied chargers.

With the affirmation of the FBI Trump-Russian connection inquiry, the possibility of some connection between the Trump people and Russian, before the election and before taking office grows more worrisome. It is clear that something odd was at work in that Trump’s staff. The Trump associates did approach the Russians before the election and that the former NSC head Flynn felt he had to lie to the American Vice president about his talk to the Russian Ambassador. Also US intelligence did report that at least 3 or possibly more members of the Trump team also had contacts with Russians. There were also hints that some of these Russians were from Russian intelligence agencies.

Another disheartening news for Europe is that Secretary of State will not be coming to the forthcoming NATO Council meeting of Foreign Ministers and news reports confirm that he supports the drastic cutting of the State Department and USAID budget which will cost million of vulnerable lives. This only adds to the unease here in Europe and brightens Putin’s efforts to divide the West.

One other element is that UK Prime Minister May has set Wednesday March 27th as the date she will invoke Article 50 to leave the EU. This plays into also Putin’s goals and it seems, that the British right-wing is in its ascendancy and the Labour Party here is in even more disarray than earlier which is saying a great deal given its critical internal turmoil. There seems, as noted before, a rush of the lemmings over the clef.

Finally, the combination of Trump fighting with our allies and pushing, it seems, for their disunity, along with the UK Prime Minister May also on board with the Brexit plunge into even greater isolationism and nationalism, add also lurking economic crisis upon actual breakup. One then must mix in the ascendancy in Europe of the Alt-Right-neo-Fascist parties and groups, despite the Dutch vote, along with the factor of Putin’s Russia playing a not so secret effort to weaken and divide Europe and undermine democracy, result: we have a very dangerous landscape.

All this exacerbated by a very foolish, uninformed, and clearly malevolent man. Not a very good picture for those that prize peace, democracy and security. The costs here are too great to imagine.

More in the coming days from Europe and it’s “discontents” and America’s role in all this.

We welcome your comments! See box below.

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.

We welcome your comments. See box below for your comments.

A FEW WEEKS AND MORE UNMITIGATED DISASTERS PERPETRATED BY TRUMP AND HIS BENIGHTED TEAM OF AMATEURS AND FOOLS

A FEW WEEKS AND MORE UNMITIGATED DISASTERS PERPETRATED BY TRUMP AND HIS BENIGHTED TEAM OF AMATEURS AND FOOLS

By

Harry C. Blaney III

It has been quite a few weeks of one disaster after another. All at the instigation of Donald Trump and his motley squad of amateurs, racists, bigots and extreme ideologues. There is no or little sign that either the new Secretary of Defense nor the new Secretary of State had much to say or influence in the weeks series of incompetence and unmitigated international disasters instigated by “The King of Chaos.” If there is any light so far the weekend visit of Japan Premiere Shinzo Abe has not yet produced a major blunder. But the problem is can Abe take to the bank anything that he is told by Trump? The Korean missile test was a clear signal that serious thought should be given to North Korea and its nuclear weapons. But equally clear is Trump has no effective strategy other than bluster.

Here is a shorthand summary of what has happen to the former respect and leadership that America had for decades since the end of WW II. In just three weeks or so Trump has not make “America Great” but made “America small and distrusted.”

– TRUMP STARTED HIS DERANGE SERIES OF INSULTS AND HARM TO OUR ALLIES EARLY: Early on Trump in just one or two days of tweets and interviews with European publications did more damage to the security and unity Europe and of the Atlantic community than Putin, with all his underhanded efforts of subversion of European democracy and unity. He earlier welcomed and praised parties and movements in Europe promoting far right fascists who are subverting European unity and democracy. Either, this was done, as I said earlier, from madness, stupidity, or something even more dark and terrible?

– A NASTY AND UNNEEDED INSULT BY TRUMP OF ONE OF OUR CLOSEST ALLIES AUSTRALIA IN A CALL WITH THEIR PRIME MINISTER OVER AN AGREED REFUGEE PROGRAM: Trump made a gratuitous and stupid insult to an ally that has fought by our side in World War II and in the Middle East and lost lives and hosts our Marines in deployments to the region to help the common defense in the Pacific.
– LIFTING SOME SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA AFTER A PHONE CALL FROM PUTIN?: He indicated lifting some sanctions on Russia unilaterally without consultation with our allies that have put on sanctions at our urging. He got after talking with Putin so far nothing in return except further aggression in Eastern Ukraine by Russia. Our allies are furious over this slight of our tradition of consultation. There is a pending summit between Trump and Putin and we must wonder what else will be given to Putin for but a bowel of portage or is it borsht? What has also come out is before Trump was president of talks between the Russian Ambassador and Lt, General Flynn representing Trump, which has elicited questions on a leaked transcript of that talk that might show took place and any deals discussed which would have been illegal.

– THE BAN ON MUSLIM REFUGEES AND VISITORS: What can one say. This act by Trump has both domestic constitutional and justice questions and impacts. It also caused a major deterioration on our relations throughout the world. It drew a massive rebuke by many Americans and world leaders. But it key stage was in American counts. It also brings to the fore the question of our democracy and the importance of respect for laws and treaties which binds us and other nations to a system of governance and cooperation. This is necessary for a world order that applies accepted rules and adherence to justice and binding agreements. These keep our security and global cooperation together. The White Houses’ last report is about putting out a new ban in an order that might pass judicial review so uncertainty reigns!
– DISASTROUS CHOICES FOR NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS LEADERSHIP: No action by Trump indicates his direction and irresponsibility than his recent choices for leadership in this area. As in the Biblical saying “you should know them by their acts.” Trumps pick in both domestic and foreign affairs reflects, in almost all cases, a desire to cause real massive harm to past successful policies of Western unity and security.

The Trump instinct is to create chaos whenever possible it seems. The choice of Lt. General Flynn as National Security Council head, a man of distorted values and perspectives, who now seems to be ineffective in halting the “madman” actions of his boss. Or simply powerless. The initial banning from the NSC and Principles Group of the heads of the CIA and Director of National Intelligence, while putting on the Council Stephen Bannon the racist, KKK supported and White Nationalist leader and new Counselor to the President on both of these very sensitive and critical groups. His influence has been felt in every stupid and counterproductive act of Trump in the international domain.
DISRUPTING OUR RELATIONS WITH MEXICO: One of the first acts of incompetence in terms of talking with the leaders of other countries was the phone conservation with Mexico’s President. Trump carried out, according to reports, a blistering set of demands and insults about building and paying for a wall between the two countries. Further, Trump’s spokesman announced a 20% tax on Mexican imports to pay for the border wall on Thursday. Staff did strange clarifications to some of this. In the end the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, refused to meet Trump to discuss the issue and American relations with Mexico and its people went into deep disarray.

ISRAEL AND TRUMP’S POLICIES AND AMBASSADOR PICKS: MORE DISASTERS: Trump initially has sided with the extreme right wing hawk Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and also the position of supporting Israeli and settlements. After being told that this would harm the possibility of negotiations with the Palestinians, cause more anger by the Gulf States, and bringing harm to our diplomats abroad, he pulled this back and stated that the settlements were a danger to peace and not a good idea. What position he really wants given his record of contradictory views is unknown. But we know his pick as our Ambassador to Israel loves the settlements!
MIXED GROUP OF IMBECILITIES: Among a mixed group of costly acts or policies which deserve their own analysis but for lack of space here is a short list:

First, the botched assault ordered by Trump by our forces in Yemen that got one of our own killed and death of innocent women and children which cause the local authorities to put restrictions on our actions. Yet another disturbing problem is the handling of the Iran sanctions issues where contradictory views are expressed by Trump and his key advisors – who is to be believed? Add to the list how Trump will deal with nuclear weapons and especially move to taking our and Russia’s nukes off hair trigger release? And will he stand down on massive costs for new weapons and un-needed military hardware since he has taken the occasion of the North Korea missile test to call for more, un-needed, military weapons.

One possible positive act of Trump is on a phone call with China’s president Xi Jinping Trump pledge agreement with the now decades old U.S. policy of one China. Again how long will this last and will Trump also back down on a trade war with China? The other relative calm meeting of Trump was with Japan’s Premier noted earlier but Japan can’t but have doubts about the steadiness of American commitment.

There seems to be a tug of war between some of Trump’s more realistic advisors and what can only be described as Trump’s dementia and mindless prejudices. This is reflected in the influence of people like Bannon who seems to want to see great chaos and destruction at home and abroad so he can re-build a White nationalist and fascist domestic authoritarian rule in the ashes of democracy and support extreme groups abroad to enhance the destruction of Western liberal democracies. Surely, these are also the goals of Putin.

Dear reader you can see it was a busy but catastrophic weeks for our country and an unhappy one of our allies and a great period for our opponents like Russia. Thank you Donald Trump.

We welcome your comments! See section below.

TODAY OBAMA LEARNED THE EXTENT OF RUSSIAN HACKING TO UNDERMINE OUR DEMOCRACY AND LIKELY MONDAY AN UNCLASSIFIED REPORT BY OBAMA. SENATE HEARINGS TODAY

TODAY OBAMA LEARNED THE EXTENT OF RUSSIAN HACKING TO UNDERMINE OUR
DEMOCRACY AND LIKELY MONDAY UNCLASSIFIED REPORT  BY OBAMA WITH SENATE HEARINGS TODAY

By Harry C. Blaney III

Today President Obama was briefed on and received the intelligence community’s CLASSIFIED report of Russia’s hacking of Democratic officials and likely other US hacking activities especially aimed to influence the 2016 presidential elections. It is reported that the unclassified version will be released possibly Monday and Obama will brief our citizens on its content and its import and possibly US actions.

Already on Capital Hill hearings are taking place on this subject with the Republican Senate leadership adamantly opposing a separate investigation and bipartisan committee to look into the issue. In the hearings the intelligence heads today have made clear, on an unclassified basis, that Russia did the hacking and it was aimed at influencing the 2016 presidential election outcome and it was ordered by the highest levels of the Russian government.

The witnesses included Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers and Marcel Lettre, undersecretary of defense for intelligence,  testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Russian cyberattacks or hacking during the 2016 election as well addressing the greater cyber threat Russia poses to the U.S.

There was concern about this action by both Republican and Democratic members. Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, brought up the Watergate scandal and cited the congressional investigation that followed. “It is my hope that this Congress is willing to stand in a bipartisan way…as the Congress did in 1974.” Kaine talked about how he was a victim of fake news during the election and criticized Mr. Trump’s incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who has promoted some of those stories.

On the Republican side Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, asked Clapper if there’s a difference between espionage and Russian hacking. Clapper said that espionage “implies passive collection,” but the hacking is “activist.” Sen Graham said. “If we don’t throw rocks, we’re going to make a huge mistake.” “It’s time now not to throw pebbles, but to throw rocks,” ….. “Putin’s up to no good; he’s got to be stopped. Mr. President-elect, when you listen to these people you can be skeptical, but you have to understand they’re the best among us.” When asked later, why we did not retaliate for espionage fully Clapper said “If we’re going to punish each other for acts of espionage, that’s a different policy issue.”

When Clapper talked about Russia’s “multifaceted campaign” against the U.S. He said, for example that RT, funded by the Russian government, was “very, vert active in promoting a particular point of view, disparaging our system, our alleged hypocrisy about human rights, etc.” Further, Clapper added that Russia used RT, social media, fake news. “They exercised all of those capabilities in addition to the hacking. The totality of that effort, not only as DNI, but as a citizen, is a grave concern.”

The exchange in the Senate Armed Service Committee hearing was clear as to who did the hacking and beyond with Director Clapper noting that “Hacking was only part of it,” he added told the panel that “It also entailed classical propaganda, disinformation and fake news.”

The question before both Obama, and now soon, Donald Trump is what will be done about the action or any repeat of such activities? So far Trump and his team seem to throw doubt and disparagement upon the entire Russia hacking effort against the Democrats.

The question that needs to be asked and will be taken up next week by this blog, is what President Obama will say about what needs to be done and the import of these actions for American democracy, and not least, shortly a statement by Trump “after briefing on this issue by our intelligence people, our thoughts whether if Trump is protecting himself or our nation as president!

So far my judgement, contrary to some commentators like in the Washington Post today (“Could Trump be playing Russia?” by the conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt), that it is Trump playing a game on Putin. My bet is the other way around by far, as the evidence shows Trump is ignorant of Russian realities, ignores facts, and seems to put “relations with Putin” and his own ego ahead of national interests and use of smart diplomacy including understanding the U.S. intelligence findings and its consequences.

We welcome your comments!

NEW CABINET & AGENCY PICKS: FROM ONE DISASTER TO ANOTHER FOR OUR NATION AND THE WORLD

By Harry C. Blaney III

As readers of our blog, you know we have been following Donald Trump’s pick for top jobs in his administration, primarily those related to foreign and national security issues. To date we have noted that they represent individuals by and large unsuited for the responsibilities they may assume if they are passed by a compliant Senate that has no courage to do its job of truly vetting these individuals with a critical eye.

SECRETARY OF STATE

The key outstanding position remains that of Secretary of State which people thought would be selected this last week but it seems Trump in his kingly procession wants to milk these acts for all they are worth in headlines and attention from the chattering classes. No appointment has a higher profile than at State and Trump has played like a ring-master in the circus…..dribbling out each nomination and keeping the world guessing as long as he can to deepen the suspense.

While several candidates seem to have dropped from the “A List” for State, those that remain are not even in that category from the viewpoint of our “best and brightest” and most experienced. The only person who now seems to be considered for Deputy Secretary is John Bolton, who while experienced in foreign affairs is a far right war hawk and an individual who his former colleagues at State and the UN found impossible to deal with and a rather unpleasant personally. He shares with Trump a distaste for international organizations trying to enhance global prosperity and security.  He would be allied with the new National Security advisor retired Lt. General Flynn, who is seen more as a crazed and irrational individual to hold such a vital position.

But the key figure to emerge now is Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, who it seems has a direct and friendly connection with President Putin who gained a contact for energy exploration in the Arctic area of Russia for Exxon which was sidetracked by the sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine. Putin gave Tillerson Russia’s highest order for a foreigner. He has no experience in government and diplomacy and carries with him huge conflicts of interest.

Trump has been considering a host of possibilities for secretary of state, widely seen as the most prominent cabinet position. Giuliani’s dropped out thankfully, and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is still perhaps under consideration, but opposed by the most Alt-Right types in the Trump camp. Others who have interviewed include retired Adm. James Stavridis, Sen. Bob Corker and former Ford CEO Alan Mulally. None are what can be described as competent for this demanding job.

ADMINISTRATOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

One of the most important “international” appointments was just announced and it may surprise some people, but the work of the EPA is critical to the wellness, peace, health and viability of our globe. The consequences of what this agency does in dealing with the impact on climate change will either save our environment for future generations or destroy its true livability. The bottom line is that Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has been named to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.  Pruitt shares in spades all the president-elect’s catastrophic views on a safe environment and climate change against all sound science. Both have made their political life based on lies and deceit and in support of these industries that are bringing cataclysmic end to a truly livable planet.  They both have made this quite clear by their actions.

This choice was made just after Donald Trump met with Al Gore and it seems made some kind of more moderate noises that indicted Gore might come back for a further chat and might have an open mind. This now seems a calculated charade and an effort to mislead the public and the press to his real intentions. Trump has said all along that he did not believe in human impact on climate change and supported the coal and carbon-based energy industries during his campaign and in his policy statements.

In reality Pruitt is about to be the worst person ever to head the EPA.  It seems from this pick Trump truly means to give a mandate to destroy the very purpose of this agency and the goals of that agency under its legislation which goes back to the Nixon administration and The Environmental Protection Act. That responsibility is  to “protect ” our environment, but it is clear from Pruitt’s positions and stated goals it is to dismantle that agency and do the bidding of the oil, mining, coal, and gas industries which he has supported most of his professional life.

This pick just abut firmly eliminates any notion that Trump would maintain an “open mind” on climate change or do anything to protect our environment.  President-elect Donald Trump has chosen a strong climate denier, a darling of the oil and gas industry and opponent of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in all that it does to protect our citizens ands especially children from the health and environmental impact of pollution, toxic chemicals, air and water, and climate change.

It is just not doing simply anything at all but turning back the whole effort of protecting our environment and safety of our people and turning over to the polluters the running of this key agency and undermining efforts keeping our globe habitable.

Pruitt has supported fossil fuel industry with extraordinary tenacity. He tweeted that if Climate “Skeptics” Can Be Prosecuted for Fraud, So Can “Alarmists.” He has led the Republican Attorneys General Association, which has acted together in opposition to the legal investigation into Exxon’s climate denial, and they have, in general, been collaborating with corporations and lobbyists in filed lawsuits and challenged federal regulations on everything from fracking to air pollution.

But that is the least of Puitt’s many attacks on the EPA.  Pruitt was caught in 2014 in a conspiratorial alliance with oil and gas industry leaders aimed at tearing down environmental protections. Emails obtained by the New York Times show Pruitt and other Republican attorneys acting to protect industry, not their citizens.

According to reports one fossil fuel insider was Harold Hamm. Hamm was Trump’s top energy adviser and a CEO of the country’s largest fracking company. Hamm ended up chairing Pruitt’s 2013 re-election campaign. He was reported to be as one of the biggest proponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline and his company’s fracked oil would have flowed through the pipeline if completed. Not least, it is reported that Pruitt has received $318,496 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry since 2002. Not a good sign for a man whose job is to protect our environment!

What is interesting as a side factor, the head of EXXON as noted above has been mentioned as a possible cabinet pick as Secretary of State and that position plays a key roll in the negotiation of climate change agreements and policy on a global scale….the same company that has for decades denied climate change science with some minor revisions just recently.

We welcome your comments, click here to add to the discussion.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE NOMINATION AND ITS IMPLICATIONS : A MIXED BAG?

By Harry C. Blaney III

On Friday, Donald Trump nominated retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, who served more than 40 years in the Marine Corps.  According to the press, Trump said to a rally Thursday night in Cincinnati: “We are going to appoint ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as our Secretary of Defense.”

General Mattis is by all accounts a mixed bag. Some say he has a number of redeeming qualities and others see him as an undisciplined character who from time to time gets into trouble with his mouth and his policy perspectives and actions. Nothing new in Washington!

There is also two problem areas: one is a conflict of interest with a blood testing firm that has problems with the FDA, and the other is that there is a rule that bans a retired military officer serving as Defense Secretary until he has been retired for at least seven years. According to the reports, word from Capitol Hill hints Congress will exempt Mattis from the ban. But he is likely to be given close scrutiny by the Senate Armed Forces Committee at his hearing for the post.

This may be unfortunate as he may take with him all the preconceived military perspectives and may look at key issues with a stove pipe perspective that an experienced civilian secretary would not and must weigh and be able to question effectively the advice of the “generals.” We need to remember that the US generals advising John F. Kennedy all recommend preemptive massive bombing of Cuba in the crisis of the 1961, which would have resulted in a nuclear war since the Russian commander in Cuba had nuclear weapons in place and had been authorized to use them on the US without further orders. This would have been a global catastrophe. Diplomacy by elected civilians saved the world from that result.

This appointment has special need for care. The Secretary of Defense is in the line of command on the use of nuclear weapons. Enough said.

General background of “Mad Gog” General Mattis:

The Mad Dog tag in question was retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, who for more than 40 years served in the Marine Corps. The 66-year-old general, called a “warrior monk” by his peers for his depth of knowledge and lack of family — he never married — is also known to turn a memorable phrase, including: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” (Washington Post, 12/2/2016)

Mattis in 2001 was a one-star general who led a task force of more than 1,000 Marines on a mission in Kandahar province in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, led the seizure of the airport there establishing an early coalition command centers in the country.  He commanded in 2002 a division of Marines during the invasion of Iraq and returning in 2004 to lead the savage urban combat in Fallujah.  Mattis, had an assignment with the NATO’s supreme allied command and has warned that the Russian president is trying to “break NATO apart.”  He finally served as the head of the U.S. Central Command, the combatant command that is in charge of U.S. wars in the Middle East. He was commander of Centcom from 2010 to 2013 when his assignment was cut short for some say differences with President regarding dealing with Iran which he saw as a major threat.  In that capacity, he oversaw the surge of forces in Afghanistan and the start of the Syrian civil war. Mattis is now a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Here in simple format are the pros and cons:

ONE THE POSITIVE SIDE:

Mattis does not share the islamophobia of the appointed National Security Advisor to Trump which is a good thing and may temper stupid acts that would worsen the situation in the Middle East and beyond.  There are reports that he urged his troops in Iraq to be sensitive to local feelings and work with the local people. But Lt. General Flynn at the NSC will be far closer to power and Trump the final decision-maker, along with his prejudices which are well known bringing some of his weaknesses in terms of facts and reality.

On the question of torture, Trump told the New York Times that he was very impressed and might even rethink his position on torture, which he advocated using throughout the campaign. Specifically Trump said:

“General Mattis is a strong, highly dignified man. I met with him at length and I asked him that question. I said, what do you think of waterboarding? He said — I was surprised — he said, “I’ve never found it to be useful.” He said, “I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.” And I was very impressed by that answer.” (Note: It is illegal to use torture, especially by the military.)

There are a host of former military leaders and some outside military and strategic analysts that think Mattis wold be a good pick given the ignorance and instability of Trump. One problem is that often both the Secretaries of Defense and of State are not present when a president makes a key strategic decision and often it is only the National Security Advisor who is there along with the White House Chief-of-Staff whose knowledge of strategic and war issues is normally quite limited. In the case of Lt. General Flynn the chosen NSC head, his past behavior and prejudices are indicators of a not very balanced mind with too many blinders in his perspective. Can Mattis prove a balance to irrationality time will only tell.

Mattis’ long experience on the high level military front as noted above is a positive.

Of interest, is that the present Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement: “I have known General Jim Mattis for many years and hold him in the highest regard,” adding that he would work to facilitate a “seamless transition.”

ON THE NEGATIVE SIDE:

Mattis holds strong feeling against Iran and initially the Iran deal. Absent that deal the consequences could have led America into a war and and without it permit or lead Iran to start building nuclear weapons free of the strong constraints of the Iran agreement. But that attitude is balanced by Mattis more recent support for the Iran nuclear deal which he believes should remain in place with very strict oversight of compliance.

He is said to have a bias towards the Sunni gulf nations and prejudice against the Shia sides of Islam.

He has, as others have noted, little experience in Asia which looms as a key strategic theater and needs high level focus on its many high risks.

There is a real danger that at the NSC meetings of principals there will be a large set of former high level military officers at the table who may have a unified and “uniform” perspective but a wrong one from a long-term  strategic and diplomatic perspective. The first thought of this group may be to “make war” with military intervention rather that to “make peace” and apply diplomatic tools to problems solving. Most problems often need a diplomatic answer in order to not become needlessly involved in risky adventures with no positive outcome in sight and with great cost.

Much will come out in the Congressional hearings on this top key appointment and we will also see to what degree that Mattis can influence now Trump towards a more thoughtful approach to foreign and national security affairs and risks.

Finally, a new added set of possible prospects for Secretary of State have emerge over the weekend and this week, which frankly from reports are not looking to be the top people one would hope for. But they are saying a decision will be made this week.  More on this in another post.

We welcome your comments, click here to make a comment.