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.

AMERICA MADE SMALL AND THE WORLD MORE DANGEROUS! THE TRUMP AND BANNON WAR ON AMERICAN GLOBAL LEADERSHIP.

 

AMERICA MADE SMALL AND THE WORLD MORE DANGEROUS!

THE TRUMP AND BANNON WAR ON AMERICAN GLOBAL LEADERSHIP.

By

Harry C. Blaney III

DATELINE: LONDON

Donald Trump’s recent budget is an attack on America’s vital role in ensuring global security, prosperity, and continued cooperation with the rest of the 94% of humanity. Trump’s budget is nasty, myopic and downright dangerous to America and the rest of the world.

It will make not “America Great” it will make America Small” isolated and weaker in every metric that matters. It would make the world more dangerous both for itself and for all. It would undermine world peace and create greater risks and insecurity for mankind.

Their budget which cuts at home and abroad programs that have proved their worth for decades are derided by Trump and his new clueless and far right OMB Director. They have chosen again and again at home and abroad to cut our most needed and vital programs that help humanity, advance shared prosperity, and protect security while further enriching the extremely rich and increasing inequality. They advance polices that promote narrow and dangerous war like programs and rhetoric along with new weapons systems that only enrich the military-industrial sector and it’ s executives, but do not really advance our security, or work for a more peaceful world, just the opposite.

On specific implications, these deep nearly 30% cuts eviscerate our diplomacy, foreign assistance, the United Nations and its vital bodies and programs that maintain international cohesion necessary for needed collaboration to solve our global challenges. Together they help safeguard our fragile and conflict ridden world. They safeguard vulnerable refugees, they feed the desperate poor and children who otherwise would have no hope for health or even life. They advance non-proliferation of dangerous nuclear weapon. And yes, their work is relevant and needed. It does good where most needed. The proposed immanent cuts will bring disastrous impact especially on the most vulnerable and even in my native Manhattan and beloved London, let alone to billions of others in less prosperous lands!

Through our State and USAID programs we save millions of lives and I have seen personally the good they do around the world. The lives of our most threatened populations and the poorest in the world would die without our full assistance bilaterally and through international organizations.

The Trump budget would totally cut funding, for the UNHCR, and greatly reduce payments to UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and World Food Organization programs that are the first line of protection for the millions of refugees and displaced persons fleeing from conflict, famine, and natural disasters. This would increase not decrease the growth of conflict and terrorism that Trump says he will conquer.

We can’t defeat ISIS or religious, ethnic or inter-communal conflict by just bombing and killing or denigrating a religion or ethnic groups. But we can through diplomacy and “soft power” including a show of concern and support for “the least among us.”

Trump’s policies and budget cuts call for just the opposite of what we need to win against our greatest threats and to protect our nation’s values. This trajectory must be stopped and immediately before it does total harm to the fabric of a responsive and cooperative international community and global security.
I am now in London and can attest to the dismay from our closest ally and even a sense of a deep alienation from Trump’s policies. The TV screens here are filled with the unhappy meeting of Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House which was seen here as not helping convince Europeans and specifically the British, that Trump cares for the unity of the West. This includes seeing the EU, and specifically NATO as vital interests, despite of some reassurances, as binding long-term unquestioned commitments especially in times of possible conflict. The sense is that many Western leaders can’t depend on Trump’s words or that of his officials, has given a deep chill and anxiety to our European partners. That sense has never existed in the decades I have been active as a diplomat and analyst with concentration on these issues.

Cruelty and indifference to human suffering or to authoritarian rule are not American values either at home or abroad. Yet these attributes  appear from his actions as unquestionable values of Trump and his alter ego Stephen Bannon, and it appears most of the GOP in Congress. Even in my still early encounters here in London the view of Trump is one of fear and worried.

. More on this development in coming posts.

We welcome your comments! See box below indicating “comments.”

OUR AGE OF DISCONTENT AND ITS PERILS

OUR AGE OF DISCONTENT AND ITS PERILS

By

Harry C. Blaney III

As we face a coming November election which will be historic on so many different levels and which could bring not just to America great tribulations but also throughout the world. The simple fact is that our acknowledged discontent is mirrored also in many countries including democracies like our own.

This discontent has been exacerbated by the impact of the global “great recession” and the rise of religious conflicts which have destabilized much of the Middle East and beyond. But also by the growth a pernicious inequality and greed authored by authoritarian parties and governments and criminal corporations, banks, and super rich ideologues among the elite.

In America, it has been a deliberate trajectory sent in motion by much of the Republican Party and the mainline conservative media not least Fox news and “talking heads” hate radio shows spuing bigotry, lies, greed and far right-wing attacks on minorities, the poor, and good science. Not least, a key enabler was the Koch Brothers and others with the buying of State legislators, support for rigging of elections against minorities and other opposition voters, and backing candidates filled with hate and racism.

Trump which made a name as a Birther” an act of pure racism; a man who wants to build a wall with Mexico, keep Muslims out of America, and destroy our relations with our allies, and thinks Putin is just lovely. But he and the Republican Tea Party and its racists are also a threat to our some 250 years as a democratic republic.

Yet beyond America, we are seeing true threats to democracy, human rights, sense of a wider cooperative community and support for authoritarianism. This is accompanied also by particularism, narrow right wing nationalism of the neo-fascist Hitler type in Europe and beyond.

We will see soon a vote in Great Britain on the question of continued membership in the European Union. This crackbrained self-defeating idea is spurred by just the forces we have noted. The vote will take place on June 23rd and I plan to be in London to observe one of the truly great historic debates about the future of Europe which could lead to the ascendancy in Britain to the same kind of governance we could see in Donald Trump and those he would put in power.

Yes, we have a common problem. Britain has Boris Johnson, who may run for Prime Minister on the Tory ticket who makes Hitler comparisons that are outrageous and seems to hate the idea of a peaceful and united Europe (what is the other option?). And is also a bit crazy. We have Donald trump who makes racist, bigoted remarks, lies, and impugns our presidents birth place. He also seems to disparage a united Europe and NATO and admires the dictatorial and aggressive Vladimir Putin. And yes both have the same hair style!

The EU is an attempt, so far successful, to keep “Europe free and safe” The reality remains that the EU and the idea of a peaceful united Europe was and is a common dream of much of Europe and the UK; it remains the most significant result of Europe’s enlightened polices that brought prosperity to Europe, and held back aggression from the Soviet Union. That unity is as needed in today’s high risk world as it was in the 1940s and 50s.

Within the continent there are equally dangerous forces on the right that have already bred authoritarian governments in places like Poland, Turkey, Hungary, and in many places the rise of neo-Nazi and racist parties. More on this trend in another post.

In summary, Both Johnson and Trump are guided by an ignorant a-historical perspective and driven by misguided far right ideology along with dangerous personal ambitions that would put America, Britain, and Europe along a path of mutual destruction. National security requires many factors not least a sense of common decent goals, committed allies, and a moral center with wise leadership. These all are in danger on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. In many ways these trends may be as dangerous to national security than what we face from Russia or China.

We Welcome your comments!

Public Opinion on Ukraine Crisis Shows Lack of NATO Willpower

Photo: The Telegraph

By: Allison Gerns

The situation in Ukraine and the international threat that Russia and Putin pose has begun to shine a light on the flaws and lack of trust in the NATO alliance and among Europe and the United States.

Pew Research Center recently published polling data about Ukraine, asking residents of NATO countries, Ukraine, and Russia their opinions on Ukraine’s current situation. Overall, Pew found Americans were willing to defend NATO allies, while European NATO members were not willing to defend each other but instead expected the United States to come to their defense.

Two options have been introduced to address the crisis in Ukraine. First, Ukraine could join NATO. This would apply article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which states when one member of NATO is threatened or attacked then it is considered a threat against all NATO members. So far it has only been invoked once, in Afghanistan after September 11th.

However, would it really be the best option for Ukraine to join NATO? As the recent Pew poll demonstrated, European countries are not willing to back each other. In the end, the data suggests that the U.S. will probably take the lead in assisting Ukraine. The unfortunate reality for Ukraine is that given the current situation, they are not likely to join NATO anytime soon.

The second option for Ukraine would involve supplying arms to assist them in fighting off the ever-growing threat posed by Vladimir Putin and Russia. In another finding by the Pew poll, every country in NATO considered Russia a security threat, yet most are hesitant to contain the current situation in Ukraine.

Currently, the U.S. is considering supplying arms to Ukraine. This has left many Europeans skeptical. European NATO members, Germany in particular, are concerned that the U.S. will come in with a quick fix, and leave Europe to deal with the repercussions. As Europe waits around expecting the U.S. to intervene, some are quick to criticize U.S. policies.

With supplying arms, there is always concern over where the arms are going. History has shown time and again that arms can fall into the wrong hands, for example, currently ISIL has millions of dollars worth of U.S. military equipment. But as Constanze Stelzenmuller discussed at a recent Brookings event, many European countries are more caught up with their own current “security illusion.” Recent generations are not remembering how to world was when NATO and the EU formed. Since the expansion of NATO and the EU, many countries no longer understand the importance of article 5. These organizations were designed to help each other out, not abandon allies during an incident of isolated threat. Germany and others are in a safe bubble, surrounded by friends and allies, but they are thinking locally, not globally.

Not too far away, Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations and a leading world power. They are seen by some as threatening the world with their reemerging imperialist actions. Given the history, there are critics of the U.S. sitting back and watching as Russia tries to expand their borders and control.

Similar to the situations in Yemen and Syria, regional countries should be expected to lead the charge in stabilizing the region. A Saudi led coalition of states has led the charge in Yemen, a similar Europe based coalition should take the lead in dealing with Ukraine. Europe will have to deal with with whatever outcome comes from the Ukraine crisis, so why do they poll saying they would not jump to the defense of their neighbors?

The United States plays a huge role in NATO operations. The US contributes 75 percent of NATO’S military budget. It is not surprising given those statistics that the U.S. feels responsible for helping their allies – and their allies expect the US to come to their aid. So the US is dammed if they do intervene, dammed if they don’t in the eyes of many on both sides of the Atlantic

When looking at the recent Pew polls, it is difficult to blame the U.S. for seriously contemplating more drastic intervention. So far intervention has been sanctions, some training, the supply of non-lethal military equipment, and other aid. Russians blame the U.S. primarily for the sanctions recently imposed on Russia. Furthermore, Ukraine’s poll results demonstrate that they want assistance from the West.

It is understandable on many levels why the US is considering intervening and possible making the situation more dangerous, especially as current allies are slacking in their regional and  global responsibilities. European countries are not stepping up in their region and the U.S. is hoping not to repeat the mistakes of the past, most recently in waiting too long to intervene in Syria.

The U.S should act deliberately despite criticisms. It will be easy no matter what the U.S. decides to do for others to criticize in hindsight. It would be better for the U.S to intervene and properly equip Ukraine against Russia while continuing diplomatic efforts and not risk letting Ukraine fall into Russia’s hands completely.

We welcome your comments!

GREECE AND EUROPE: THE MOMENT OF RECKONING

comm-crisis

Photo: Getty Images

By: Harry C. Blaney III

The future of Greece in Europe and the future of a more united and inclusive Europe is now on the table after the Greek vote “NO” to austerity. The decisions that will be made in the next few days will shape the direction, strength and support for a united Europe for decades.

With the vote in Greece this Sunday, the people of this much punished nation, due largely to imposed outside austerity from its creditors, have clearly spoken democratically against the continued impoverishment of their nation by demands that are in reality impossible. The vote was NOT a vote to leave the Euro or the EU but a desire to have a fair chance to live in dignity and not experience further economic decline. 

How the Greek government will respond is still obscure but they are calling for new negotiations based on a realistic package of debt reduction in some form. This will likely entail some reforms that have been demanded, and some room to institute growth in the economy.

Yes, it is time  for serious thought and analysis. The time has come for a new serious dialogue between Greece and European leaders. The stakes are larger than just a country with 2% of EU GDP, it has to do with the need for Europe to care for all its people.  It is also key for democratic institutions to be strong. Citizens want to be cared for by their governments and for opportunity which austerity does not permit.   What is also at work is the long term security of Europe as a strong entity that can deal effectively with the many challenges it now faces including keeping its nations secure against external pressure and aggression.  Even now Putin is taking advantage of the disunity and bad decisions by the Euro Zone leaders and the ECB. It shows that he sees an opening to divide Europe. 

There are many ways for there to be an agreement between Greece and the EU/Euro Zone and ECB. Greece can’t pay the debt that is owed — even the IMF experts agree on that. The EU and the Euro Zone will both be stronger if the final deal permits real growth and some degree of future prosperity for Greece. Both sides need to make compromises. Such an approach is doable and the best option for all. I think we have a historic moment to act with a helping hand and constructive reform, not destructive “reforms” by the right wing wrongheaded leaders that see only “punishment” as a solution.

We should not forget the lessons of the sanctions after WW I on Germany and its results in Hitler, and the different response of the Marshall Plan after WW II, which made possible the unity and peace we see today.   We have a moment to make the right decisions and I hope both sides now will act in that spirit, not with the nasty and negative views that only too often have been destructive, Germany, in particular,  seems to want to see Greece outside the Euro and perhaps the EU. An inclusive Europe, dealing with its difficulties constructively is needed.

We welcome your comments!

THE UK DEFENSE DEBATE: A PLACE IN THE WORLD OR BY ITSELF?

Photo: http://www.independent.co.uk/

By
Harry C. Blaney III

London Dateline

I had the opportunity to attend an on-the-record “research” meeting at the Chatham House looking at UK defense policy and the presentations and discussions only reinforced the sense of a listlessness and disarray that characterizes much of Prime Minister David Cameron’s international policies and Britain’s role in the world. 

Two issues exemplify this. The first is Cameron’s foolish commitment to the right wing Tory MPs to a vote on UK membership in the EU, thus forever forfeiting Britain a role in European policy and decisions. The second, is on the UK defense budget and strategic stance which foresees cuts in funding which will weaken Britain’s ability to act as a major force on security issues in Europe and globally.  That means a diminished role in security matters with allies, and not least, to effectively defend British interests in conflicts abroad and in Europe.  It will further weaken NATO’s capability as the UK has been the second largest contributor to NATO overall defense resources. 

Over the decades I have been witness to many discussions and debates about NATO, UK and American defense issues both within and outside of government. This session was among my most disappointing, not because the speakers were bad, but because they were very frank on the implications and inevitability of long-term decline in UK “hard power” reach. 

Further, it was clear that despite many governmental and non-governmental studies some of their thinking was declared by participants to be somewhat limited and often too driven by bureaucratic and ideological and budget forces. They were not always driven by good strategic perspectives. Also one speaker reflected that the influence of the disastrous participation in the Iraq war had also installed among the public and politicians distaste for further military action abroad.

All of this retreat from defense engagement is worrying in the face of a series of uprisings, conflicts, the Arab Spring and its consequences, ISIS, Putin’s aggression, China’s military buildup and South China Sea adventures, and not least, the spread of terrorism and civil and ethnic war.

One commentator said that NATO was looking petty shaky after the UK budget cuts were fairly well known. Clearly Britain’s voice in the halls of EU and NATO defense decisions has been weakened and it was acknowledged that such decisions will diminish UK’s influence in America, noting that France seems now to have the ear of Washington. 

This is especially the case since Prime Minister Cameron at the earlier NATO summit in Scotland had criticized other NATO countries for not meeting their 2% NATO commitment to military budgets and is now in danger of missing this benchmark.

One commentator said basically that Britain had resigned as “a great power” while another phrase used was “giving up as a “world power” in foreign policy. Yet conversely the concept of being a world power had not yet been given up by Cameron. The other view was Britain is still playing a “supporting role.” The implication was that Britain could no longer act on its own. 

There was very little discussion of Britain’s nuclear force which is being questioned as being useless by some and as a “necessity” by others. Trident’s future still has not been finally decided but some feel this capability is losing its attractiveness. 

In my own intervention, I asked why the larger strategic geopolitical assessment had not played a bigger role in either the discussion or in the new government. Clearly it was a case of the “Emperor having no clothes.” Asking these key questions in drawing up the budget would undermine the decision to cut the UK defense budget willy-nilly. Clearly it was overall political budget cuts that ruled. All this was a result of a promised “forever” budget surplus by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Mr. George Osborne, a strident advocate of austerity and right wing causes and possible future Prime Minister, and not of honest strategic assessments. The political decisions were all that mattered.

The real need for a hard look at the strategy and then shape the budget was urged and priority should be the need for UK military’s to aim for “adaptability.”  This approach was argued due to the reality of still unknown risks and opportunities. The point was made to the hard fact of the actually realities at existing “mid-level” strategic situations, not just at uncertain long term theories and projections, which can never be fully known or accurate. In short, keep open your options and prepare for the unexpected.   

In the end, it was real flexible capability not just grand strategy that Britain needed to achieve. So the real question is what is Britain’s role in the world?  What are its fundamental interests and what are the risks it faces now and in the near future? 

A question that I also asked was if there was any thought of not just conflict responses, but looking at playing a larger role in conflict prevention and “soft diplomacy” and peacemaking/peacekeeping which requires an adaptable force, that would help make Britain be again a useful payer on the global stage. Some liked the idea, but there is not much defense industry interest in this more human level capability verses profits of large weapons systems. 

As one speaker said we need to ask “what are we?” The answer is sadly diminished, inward looking, greedy for the interests of the rich and damn the poor, and now equally damn national security or our alliances, if we can lower the taxes on the rich and create a surplus and stay in power.  The right wing is in the ascendency here for the moment and it is ironic that it is the Tories, that in the past and until now, have claimed the role of guardian of national security and global reach, that now have sold that honor down the river of expediency and concessions to misguided Euro-skepticism  and “Little England” isolationists.

We welcome your comments!

NATO SUMMIT: UKRAINE/RUSSIA, ISIS – WHAT NOW?

NATO Summit leaders discussing security challenged during a working dinner.
NATO Summit leaders discussing security challenged during a working dinner.

By Harry C. Blaney III

Dateline Oslo, Norway

The NATO Summit is now over but its ramifications remain uncertain.  Its impact is still unknown and depends in large part on the continued cohesion and steadfastness of the alliance and the EU which in the best of times is hard to obtain. But the solution to the crisis clearly also depends on Putin’s own present actions and willingness to use force, as well as his short-term and long-term intentions. At this time the direction of this conflict remains highly undetermined.  As of Monday night in Europe, despite the cease-fire, some conflict continues, especially in the South East with Russian tanks and forces moving towards the key port Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. The Ukrainians have said they will defend this city. But the hope is that the Russians will move back and not instigate anymore fights with the Ukrainian forces, but that hope remains just that.

Continue reading