THE RUSSIAN-TRUMP CONNECTION: GETTING TO THE TRUTH AND ITS IMPLICATIONS
By Harry C. Blaney III
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.
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THE STUPIDITY OF THE TRUMP MUSLIM REFUGEE AND VISIT BAN
Harry C. Blaney III
There are few acts by a uninformed and clearly not balanced Donald Trump which have an immediate horrendous impact both at home and abroad. The ban on seven Muslim majority nations is just such an act and it has already enlisted major reactions by people around the world. It is simply a disgrace for America and it is dangerous to our security.
What this executive order on immigration and refugees does is bans Syrian refugees from entering our country, suspends the entire refugee program for 120 days, cuts in half effectively the number of refugees we can admit. It halts all travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The reaction at home includes demonstrations around the nations especially at universities and colleges and by churches and civil liberty groups. Harvard and Yale presidents and other academic leaders have denounced this act Many experts believe is counter to our constitution, our laws, and treaty obligations. Already a judge has in effect said so…but without so far Trump complying.
In reaction is an open letter to Trump top national security officials by over 100 National Security Leaders on the Refugee Executive Order. The signers include Madeleine Albright, Janet Napolitano, and Susan Rice, and many others including high level former officials and military from Republican and Democratic administrations. The headline statement was:
“As former cabinet Secretaries, senior government officials, diplomats, military service members and intelligence community professionals who have served in the Bush and Obama administrations, we, the undersigned, have worked for many years to make America strong and our homeland secure. Therefore, we are writing to you to express our deep concern with President Trump’s recent Executive Order directed at the immigration system, refugees and visitors to this country. This Order not only jeopardizes tens of thousands of lives, it has caused a crisis right here in America and will do long-term damage to our national security.”
In Washington even some Republicans are concerned, and the Democrats are considering opposition to this on a number of fronts. Chaos prevails at our airports and airlines and in governments around the world. It was denounced by leaders in Germany and France and on the floor of the House of Commons.
It is clear to me that this action was without much doubt the deliberate act of designed chaos and cruelty by Donald Trump likely aided and abated by Stephen Bannon the Alt-Right racist, bigoted Trump campaign leader and past editor of the white power media outlet Breitbart News and now counselor to the President with equal status to the White House Chief-of-Staff and now a member of the highly sensitive and powerful National Security Council and the committee of Principles (Cabinet and agency heads) which he will attend as a full member – in effect perhaps a spy on other member views, or voice for the far racist right at home and abroad and enforcer of Trump’s crazy far right policies and lies.
This act is a test of what we may see going forward in foreign and national security policy. Already Trump has upset and weakened our ties to our key allies that are aghast at his recent statement, tweets and actions which undermine NATO, EU and the UN. In particular, they have undermined our allies and embolden Russia’s Vladimir Putin to hope he can destroy Western unity and strength and prosperity and weaken its defense. All this hardly lifting a finger but letting Trump do his dirty work. Already trump has helped Putin by supporting disunity in Europe by his encouragement of Brexit and putting down NATO, and favoring of far right fascist groups in Europe.
We need to ask quickly why and at what cost to peace and security for us and our allies?
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BETWEEN TRUMP, BREXIT, AND PUTIN – WILL THE WEST MAINTAIN ITS UNITY AND SECURITY?
Harry C. Blaney III
In the last post I tried to empathize that our key focus now should be that “there is a lesson to all of us who worry about the direction that humanity is moving and not less what direction America will go in the future.” Recent events have already reinforced this concern and need for all of us to recognize the challenges we will be facing in a likely Trump and Putin dominated world. The declarations in the inaugural address and other statements have not changed the judgement that we are in for a very risky era and especially dealing with Russia.
As we move into Trump’s presidency he has, even before being president, created more chaos and disunity and doubt among our dearest allies and friends and given joy to those that wish us ill. He has acted as if his main and only goal is to be a major disputer of our shared international democratic and security framework that has held our common values and security together. Already there is talk that his main strategy is to create chaos and thus increase his control as his management style.
The 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. day “massacre by tweets” from Donald Trump, and his interviews with European publications, has already severely damaged our relationship with our allies. His actions include the degrading of the key institutions upholding decades of peace, security and cooperation in Europe.
These institutions and our promises of collective security and maintaining peace for all are underpinning the essence of global stability and unity. The Atlantic community ties are key and even hinting that we could do away with them and indicating his disdain for the EU and NATO have set in motion confusion among our friends and empowered dark authoritarian forces in Europe.
I believe this was a deliberate act of sabotage of existing key institutions that have kept the peace in Europe and kept America as the respected and undisputed leader among free nations. That confidence no longer exists. In the Trump world of support for the racist and fascists factions in far right parties of Europe the result is we have deeply hurt the shared values on both sides of the Atlantic.
These parties that Trump has praised are themselves calling for disunity, hate for immigrants, adapted extremist views, denounce democracy, and advocate conflict and disunity within Europe and in society. In some nations they have already taken actions contrary to democratic norms, undermine media independence, and the rule of law. Not much difference than the tact Trump increasingly has taken here – witness his attack on the press and opposition leaders like Rep. John Lewis.
The one person who has gained the most from all this disunity is Putin. The gambit for as early summit portends possible decisions which might further undermined security in European and beyond. Europeans wonder if Trump would sell out their security for a “mess of porridge.” This with the background of the consequences of the disastrous Brexit which seems now to run on autopilot, thanks to UK Prime Minister Theresa May who now directs her nation off the cliff of influence in Europe and the world.
Frankly, Trump has done in just one or two days of tweets and interviews with European publications more damage to the security and unity of Europe and of the Atlantic community, than Putin, in decades with all his underhanded efforts to subvert European democracy and unity by promoting far right fascists groups and subverting European media. Either this is from madness, stupidity, or something even more dark and terrible?
Can the damage be undone? The prospects of Trump wanting to be a positive and stable voice in global affairs looks very dismal as it does here at home after the John Lewis debacle. This is demonstrated in his continued desire to undermine our fundamental American values of justice, racial and social tolerance, our need for strong public education which is key to our democracy, the protection of our environment, and not least a strong social and health safety net. These actions at home and those we cited abroad divide rather than unite. They also diminish America’s image among our allies and decent people everywhere.
The only ray of hope was in President Barack Obama’s last press conference, where he indicated his faith in the good judgement and decency of a majority of the American people to persevere and in the end win out against our worst instincts.
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By Harry C. Blaney III & John Gall
The American people have spoken as has Donald trump and Hillary Clinton and already our newspapers and social media are having their say. But like it or not America is but about 4% of the world’s population and we depend on our allies and partners. We are not an island standing alone. The path ahead remains uncertain to say the least. Darkness lurks at every wrong turn and bad or reckless decision.
One judgement can be that rationality and kindness has lost and hate and stupidity is on the rise. We are all in disbelief and shock. It is a time however for better thinking, courage, and the forces of good to work together as they never did before.
It is not just America, but as I said, Europe is also on the edge of the forces of darkness with the rise of the far right groups. Britain and Europe and our allies in Asia will also need to keep their heads. Leaders abroad are mulling what all this means as you will see from the quotes below. The structure of the post-WWII security order is now in shambles and the question is whether the elections here will make it even more in disarray.
It is a testing time and we are seeing only now a bit of the implications and these quotes will give us just an initial look at how the world now sees what can only be descried as untested and dangerous waters.
- UK Prime Minister Theresa May – “I would like to congratulate Donald Trump on being elected the next president of the United States, following a hard-fought campaign. Britain and the United States have an enduring and special relationship based on the values of freedom, democracy and enterprise. We are, and will remain, strong and close partners on trade, security and defence. I look forward to working with President-elect Donald Trump, building on these ties to ensure the security and prosperity of our nations in the years ahead.” (BBC)
- French President Francois Hollande – The election of Donald Trump as US president “opens a period of uncertainty…We must be aware of the concerns provoked by the disorders of the world in all the peoples, including the American people. We must find answers that are capable of overcoming fears.” (EuroObserver)
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel – “Whoever the American people elect as their president in free and fair elections, that has a significance far beyond the USA. Germany and America are bound by their values: democracy, freedom, the respect for the law and the dignity of human beings, independent of their origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political position. On the basis of these values I offer the future president of the United States, Donald Trump, close cooperation.” (DW)
- Russian President Vladimir Putin – “We realize and understand that this will not be an easy road given the level to which our relations have degraded,” Putin said in congratulating Trump on his electoral victory. A moment later, he added, “We know this will not be easy…It is not Russia’s fault that our relations with the United States have reached this point,” (Time)
- UK Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn – An economic system that “isn’t working for most people” had been rejected. (BBC)
- Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – urged Mr Trump to “reach out” to those feeling “marginalised” by his campaign. (BBC)
- Former UKIP Leader Nigel Farage – drew parallels with the Brexit campaign and said he would “hand over the mantle” to the Republican. (BBC)
- Crispin Blunt, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Britain’s House of Commons – “We are plunged into uncertainty and the unknown.” (NYTimes)
- Gérard Araud, French ambassador to the United States – “After Brexit and this election, everything is now possible. A world is collapsing before our eyes.” (NYTimes)
- Henrik Müller, journalism professor at the Technical University of Dortmund – “It would be the end of an era. The postwar era in which Americans’ atomic weapons and its military presence in Europe shielded first the west and later the central European states would be over. Europe would have to take care of its own security.” (NYTimes)
- Vladimir Frolov, a Russian columnist and international affairs analyst – “Trump’s presidency will make the U.S. sink into a full-blown crisis, including an economic one. The U.S. will be occupied with its own issues and will not bother Putin with questions. As a consequence, Moscow will have a window of opportunity in geopolitical terms. For instance, it can claim control over the former Soviet Union and a part of the Middle East. What is there not to like?” (NYTimes)
- Kunihiko Miyake, former Japanese diplomat – “The question is whether you will continue to be involved in international affairs as a dependable ally to your friends and allies. If you stop doing that, then all the European, Middle Eastern and Asian allies to the United States will reconsider how they secure themselves.” (NYTimes)
- Izumi Kobayashi, vice chairwoman of Keizai Doyukai, a Japanese business group – “He has been focusing on the negative side of the global markets and globalization. But at the same time it is really difficult to go back to the old business world. So how will he explain to the people that benefit and also the fact that there is no option to go back to the old model of business?” (NYTimes)
- Shen Dingli, professor of international relations at Fudan University in Shanghai – “If he indeed withdraws the troops from Japan, the Japanese may develop their own nuclear weapons. South Korea may also go nuclear if Trump cancels the missile deployment and leaves the country alone facing the North’s threats. How is that good for China?” (NYTimes)
- Agustín Barrios Gómez, former congressman in Mexico and president of the Mexico Image Foundation – “All bets are off,” (NYTimes)
- Rossana Fuentes-Berain, director of the Mexico Media Lab, a founder of the Latin American edition of Foreign Affairs – “I see a clear and present danger. Every moment will be a challenge. Every move or declaration will be something that will not make us comfortable in the neighborhood — and that is to everyone’s detriment.”(NYTimes)
- Yohanan Plesner, former member of the Israeli Parliament, president of the Israel Democracy Institute – “Decisions cannot be postponed. The situation in Syria is very chaotic. The unrest in the region is continuing. America has to decide whether it wants to play an active role in shaping the developments of the region.”(NYTimes)
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UK IRAQ INQUIRY REPORT RELEASED, FINDS MAJOR FAILURES IN THE DECISION TO JOIN AND FIGHT THE WAR IN IRAQ
By: Harry C. Blaney III
REPORTING FROM LONDON
On July 6th, against the background of the Brexit referendum, the long-awaited report (click here to read) by Sir John Chilcot on the British participation in Iraq War was released after seven years. The Inquiry had approximately 2.6 million words that condemned the British decision to invade and the subsequent conduct of the Iraq War.
The report contained wide-ranging censure of the UK’s decision to enter the Iraq War and also the implementation of that war. It focused on former Prime Minister Tony Blair and UK intelligence reports that led to decisions on the planning and the strategy in Iraq that were made with insufficient debate in Britain. Chilcot said it was an intervention that “was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments.”
Chilcot and the report concluded that Britain went to war on the basis of unreliable intelligence. He added that planning for war was totally inadequate, concluding that there was insufficient debate on the decision. Chilcot further said that “in March of 2003, there was no imminent threat from the Saddam Hussein regime.” The implication was that the military action taken was not justified.
There was much criticism of the UK intelligence agencies, and in time more will likely come out on this in the UK and with implications also for the US intelligence agencies. Some have said the intelligence reports were flimsy and that MI6 in particular has been highly criticized.
The report found that diplomatic options had not been fully explored before the decision was made to go to war. This is a lesson today for both the UK and the US.
The families of the troops that were killed have supported the report and have both questioned how and why all went wrong in the buildup to war and argued for Blair to pay in some way for the cost of his actions. There has been talk about a legal action either domestically or in an international court. From a legal perspective, that is highly unlikely, however. But emotions will remain for a long time. The media has been exceptionally critical of Blair to the point of imbalance and unfairness, which indicates that the issue has created massive anger and bitterness in Britain.
FORMER PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR RESPONSE TO INQUIRY
After the release of the report, former Prime Minister Tony Blair held a two hour press conference (coverage linked above) in which he said he did not regret his decision to invade, which he said was the hardest of his term in office. He said he made the initial decision “in good faith,” adding that he “did not have the option to delay in response to the quick decision.” He also said he had more sorrow and regret over the decision than others will ever believe.
In a 2002 memo to Bush, Blair said “I will be with you, whatever.” But he added, which the UK media did not fully report, that he also wrote that all of the difficulties must be examined. He said it was a good act to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but added that they underestimated the potential for subsequent upheavals. There was also criticism in the report that the UK military and intelligence leaders were under-resourced, arguing that the troops did not have the tools to do their best and do it safely.
Blair said that he “will take full responsibility for any mistakes that were taken.” However, he “will not apologize for going to war.” Blair also added “the report makes it clear there [were] no lies.”
Some of the commentators have noted Blair’s efforts to moderate US Policies, which in the end were only partly successful. They noted in particular the effort to go to the UN Security Council to get the authority to go to war, which was stopped by a veto by Russia.
Neither the report nor Blair’s statement will put an end to the politics of this emotional issue for many years. It is still unclear if some kind of general agreement on what took place has finally been reached. I doubt that there will be much relief from the bitterness and acrimony that clouds British politics and society.
SOME ADDED THOUGHTS FOR US ALL
The report and the response by Blair will sadly not lay to rest the criticism or the bitter debate in Britain about the Iraq War. It will continue to influence public and governmental attitudes towards going into conflict situations for a very long time.
In America, this report will likely continue the debate (which has never stopped) over the wisdom of the US decision to go to war in Iraq. That was, in my view, an unforgivable act by the George W. Bush administration and one that was based, as we all know now, on lies and false intelligence reports by our own agencies.
Blair’s most relevant statement for the world of 2016 was that “we do not have the right strategy to deal with terrorism.” That is, as they say, a British understatement. On this Blair is quite right. We all need to re-think our global strategy and it will take a united effort and deep assessment to go forward with new military conflicts. I have argued that we need always to seriously assess the costs before going into conflict situations. Decision makers must consider the consequences of our actions. One clear failure was the poor policies and efforts to deal with the post-conflict need to establish security and ensure a stable government in Iraq. Neither America nor Britain took this problem seriously.
Both the US report (which was critical of many decisions by the Bush administration) and the UK report made it clear that both governments did not understand the high potential costs of their actions. As Chilcot said, the consequences of the war were misjudged. I hope that, in time, these reports and a more historic assessment will compel both nations to make future decisions based on a careful debate on a long-term strategic and moral judgment, as well as look at the facts on the ground. War is always costly and sometimes necessary, but the argument must be made with great care. I hope that we will have more clarity rather than hate and divisions. In the end, we need to make careful decisions that will create a safer world for all.
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A PERSONAL NOTE ON THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME AND BREXIT
By: Harry C. Blaney III
Reporting from London
On July 1, 1916, Britain, France, and their allies fought in the historic and fierce battle of the Somme. It was the most mutually ruinous battle of World War I. Forces on both sides suffered horrible causalities. The first day of fighting was the most deadly day in British history with 57,470 causalities. On the hundredth anniversary, the ceremony was held at the British cemetery in France with a moving and impressive commemoration featuring all nations that participated 100 years ago. Heads of state and other leaders all came to pay their respects on that sad and tragic field.
The ceremony was one of extraordinary meaning and one could not help but be moved watching it. It was but a few years ago that I walked through the American cemetery overlooking the World War II beaches of Normandy, where the allies gained a foothold on the continent at a great cost. It was clear from my visit that America had made a great commitment for the freedom of Europe in order to ensure that another appalling World War would not face future generations.
What was most moving was the image of the line of tombstones with the music of choirs from Britain, France, Wales, and others including Germany in the background. There were moving remarks by the dignitaries that attended, including Prime Minister David Cameron, President of France Francois Holland, and Charles the Prince of Wales.
I could not but think, however, how peculiar these statements of comradeship, shared goals, and common struggle seemed against the background of the British vote to remove themselves from the inner center of Europe. One great irony of the day was that Cameron, who called the referendum but supported Remain, told the story told of how German troops at the Somme held their fire when a British solder moved through the line of battle to take a British wounded solder off a barbed wire fence.
The Brexit vote has already precipitated the rise of just those forces that so many died to abolish forever. The British vote to cut the ties with their common European brethren – their comrades in arms – just before they commemorated the cost of a war that could have been avoided if only the spirit of unity that created the EU could have found in the summer of 1914. Now those same dark forces are rising out of anger, racism, super-nationalism, and denial of our common humanity, both in Britain and on the continent.
My hope today is that in some way the lessons of the Somme might permeate into the consciousness of both Britain and the nations on the continent before it is too late.
More reports to come, focusing on the British referendum aftershocks, the rise of these divisive forces in Europe, and the resulting disarray of both major parties in British politics.
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