TRUMP’S IRAN NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE: A BLIND DESIRE TO DESTROY OUR SECURITY FRAMEWORK

By

Harry C. Blaney III,   DATE LINE: Berlin, Germany

The decision to undermine the Iran nuclear deal was sadly but another, albeit momentous, act of destruction of American and global security.  It is apiece with several other actions by Trump that are acts of destruction of key frameworks that support security, peace, justice and prosperity for our nation and for our entire earth and the people who share our fragile planet with us. That is how many European citizens and leaders are feeling and it undermines a global framework of cooperation and peace.

Here in Germany there is a deep fear of what Trump is doing to global security and indeed also unity and democracy here. His model is total destruction of all past structures that were created by anyone except himself. Most apparent is that he wishes to “deconstruct” anything that keeps the peace, respect human rights, supports international cooperation and serves the interest of common people at home and abroad. “America First” sounds not unlike here the Hitler’s similar “Germany Over all.”

In the case of the Trump unbelievable and stupid Iran deal rejection he is also making unhinged belligerent words and actions towards North Korea. It all looks like he is looking for war so as to deflect the move towards the dangers to him and his presidency of revelations and possible indictments of deals with Russia and obstruction of justice or simply his hate of all that is good. Many of his military advisors and civilian cabinet members have all said that the Iran nuclear deal is in American security interests, yet he seems to have chosen the likely path of catastrophic war in both cases.

In Europe there is near total agreement that the Nuclear deal is good for global security, has been adhered to by Iran, and the alternative is for possible immediate action by Iran to renounce the deal and start the move we to build its nuclear program without much limits. Contrary to some right-wing writers some real restrictions continue beyond the 10 years set by the Iran nuclear deal. Fortunately, America can’t unilaterally dissolve the deal since our European allies, EU, Russia and China support it. Europeans look in horror also at the reality that no agreements made now by America can be trusted. Those on the street and others in Berlin that I talked to are truly frightened by what they see in Trump’s actions which are totally contrary to American values and destabilizing of global peace.

Now it is up to the American Congress to act to either do Trump’s cruel bidding to destroy an agreement on which there is almost total support even by some that opposed it originally, or to keep our word and not vote for withdrawal but agreeing to Trump’s demand of imposing new sanctions when none are called for and which the Europeans can and will ignore. We should work via diplomacy on the outstanding issues we have with Iran. That has a much better chance to getting results than blind anger and the cost of war. We all need now to fight for that outcome as the alternative is mutual catastrophic harm for all.

We welcome your comments!!!

EUROPE, GREECE & AMERICA AT A CROSSROAD: WE NEED A BROADER VISION!

EUROPE, GREECE & AMERICA AT A CROSSROAD: WE NEED A BROADER VISION!

By

Alan Berlind

It is hard to read the daily press coverage of the Greek financial crisis and the increasingly ugly public bickering between officials of the leftist regime in Athens and the conservative guardians of fiscal responsibility at the European Union without wondering how they can all keep a straight face while pretending that money is all that counts. This is not the space and this blogger not the man for a close and expert examination of the financial arguments put forward by the debtor and creditor. Leaving that to The Economist (April 25) and others, let us take a look at the political game being played on all sides and the very serious consequences of failure to reach a deal that (a) subjects neither Greece nor its current leadership to shame and poverty, that (b) saves face as well for national leaders in Germany, France and elsewhere, that (c) preserves full membership in the Eurogroup as currently constituted, that (d) enhances the position of the EU itself as a major actor on the world stage, and that (e) offers no gifts to either Russia or Turkey. The United States stands to gain from such a result and lose considerably from failure.

There is no question but that Greece has experienced a long run of domestic political turmoil responsible in large part for the economic hole in which it finds itself today, beginning a half-century ago with the military coup d’état of April 21, 1967. It must be added at once, however, that acquiescence followed by more active support in Washington back then and over the succeeding seven years was a welcome gift to those seeking to deal a death blow to democracy in its birthplace. As it had been since the end of WWII, the US was the major source of foreign influence in NATO member Greece, but President Lyndon Johnson slapped the new “government” of colonels on the wrist with a mild reduction in military aid and turned the other way, and successor Richard Nixon, advised by Henry Kissinger, was more than comfortable having a military dictatorship as an ally for another four years. In 1974, however, those colonels, with no apparent objection from their American fans, tried to incorporate independent Cyprus into the Hellenic homeland. Reacting swiftly, the Turks invaded and left more than 30,000 Turkish troops in place, still in place today as a more enlightened US administration works hard to forge agreement among Turkey and the two ethnic Cypriot communities on an independent, non-occupied bi-zonal federation.

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen makes a strong argument for a reasonable compromise between unreasonable senior financial negotiators from Greece, the stressed but combative debtor nation, and other EU and Eurozone nations seemingly bent on punishing a noisy leftist government unable to repay excessive loans. Cohen wrote on April 24: “Despite a brutal fiscal adjustment, the fact remains that Greece’s debt is not repayable …. At some point there must be debt forgiveness; the cost of stupid loans has to be recognized. Or there may be a Greek default. The worst outcome for Europe would be a Greek exit from the euro. Joining the shared currency, for all the nations in it, was an ‘irrevocable’ decision. Once one country goes, the whole edifice wobbles. Markets are not sentimental about probing weakness. The constant question will be, ‘Who’s next?’ “

It is crystal clear that the question of overriding concern in Cohen’s view is the future of Europe rather than the angry, spiteful bickering over who’s to blame mentioned at the start. As he convincingly puts it, Europe today is “a borderless market of more than half a billion people between whom war has become impossible …. a continent where entitlements including universal health care are seen not as socialist indulgence but basic humanity …. it (Europe) has delivered peace above all, prosperity however frayed, and freedom to former inmates of the Soviet imperium. It has also created an awareness of European identity that falls short of European patriotism but is nonetheless a counterweight to the primal nationalism that stained the continent with so much blood”.

Whether it is Greece, the Eurozone, the EU itself or the US that stands to benefit most from a halt in the warfare that has driven the negotiations underground, there is a new light at the end of the tunnel: the recent news from Athens that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has reorganized his team so as to remove Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis from the negotiating table without relieving him of his policy responsibilities. It is to be hoped that tempers will no longer override diplomacy at the table and threaten all parties with a result that serves nobody. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

We welcome your comments!

AFTER THE TRAGEDY OF DEBALTSEVE UKRAINE IN DISTRESS: WHAT NOW?

Leaders of Belarus, Russia, Germany, France, and Ukraine at the  summit in Minsk on February 11th and 12th.
Leaders of Belarus, Russia, Germany, France, and Ukraine at the summit in Minsk on February 11th and 12th.

By: Harry C. Blaney III

The harsh realities of the defeat of the Ukrainian forces at Debaltseve and the implications of this debacle highlight two realities. One is that Putin never intended anything but deception and aggression, and the West knew it capitulated to overwhelming force of arms. The second reality is what now needs to be done? On this, there is some disagreement. The Europeans seem content with the results; they did not have to do anything to help the Ukrainians, the Ukrainian government is in a state of disarray, and now the question is whether Europe, and perhaps America, can marshal the will, resources, or the moral inclination to save what remains as a result of their inaction and indifference.

Within the NATO alliance, or what is left of it now, there are a range of differences. Some want to go to back to the “normal-normal,” reduce economic sanctions, increase trade with Russia and pretend nothing has happened as Putin incorporates Ukraine into his own cruel dictatorship and forever deny Ukraine the opportunity to be part of a democratic Europe. The hope of this view is that Putin will forever be content with 46 million more souls under his power and no more desire to test the West as he has done with his armies, planes flying to NATO countries boundaries, and his subs around the world.  There is some “real politics” to this position; an acknowledgment that the West is at a military disadvantage in this geographic space, most due to the massive cutting back on defense spending, and a loss of a sense of a united and strong Europe by those who do not remember or would like to forget, like Merkel, WW II and its lessons. 

The other school frankly is also in some disarray. That school of strategy recognizes the debacle for what it is and argues for a robust response, mostly by strengthened sanctions and added economic assistance for Ukraine, and for a few provisions of arms.  There is a real fear that the Baltic States are the next objective of Putin; mostly because they are easy targets with their Russian minorities, and there is an ease of destabilizing tactics by Russian special forces and pressure despite being members of NATO.

What is now clear is that Putin and his mercenary separatist forces violated the latest Minsk cease-fire agreement, and a strong Western reaction will be needed. However, there is likely to be a messy argument about what these reactions should be if anything. With the Europeans in some disarray, the allies are looking to the United States to see our reaction. So far we have gotten words but no action. Likely, there are urgent quiet talks about next steps among Merkel, Hollande and perhaps even the so far immobilized Prime Minister Cameron who seems to disappear under the covers on this other than his empty mindless words. 

For America and for Europe the easiest and least “aggressive” option would be a massive economic assistance to Ukraine with lots of strings attached to guard against corruption and incompetency. But most serious strategic analysts believe that providing arms and training should be key part of a new and bolder approach to save what remains of Ukraine and provide some hope for its people for a democratic future. Frankly, this looks and feels like closing the door after the horses have left, but better late than never.

The question then becomes for decision-makers whether to “save” a dismembered Ukraine or let it all fall into Putin’s grip without any further effort. This option has its own implications and risks, which may fall in Putin’s assessment that the West is but a “Potemkin village” empty of will, enfeebled by loss of vision, moral courage, and prime for the pickings.

In sum, there are a number of things we can do to help Ukraine even in its dire straits to survive. I do not agree with the implied assumption of some that we should abandon Ukraine, some 46 million people who longingly want to be part of an open democratic West, to the cruel hands of Putin. President Obama rightly tried to engage Putin with his “re-set button.” But Putin had other less benign objectives.

But the blame game does not get us to a more constructive relationship. It will require a frank acknowledgment that we seem to be dealing with a Putin that is not willing to either reach out cooperatively with the West, nor is willing to tell the truth in his dealing with the West.  That does require a deep rethink of our strategy, short term and long-term. 

In this sad situation the real losers are not the West, but rather the Russian people. Yet we must not give up on our strategic key long-term goal to help Russia be part of a responsible international community and an open society. For the present moment, Russian hopes are doomed to a dark cold future and real decline, not rise in Russian influence, prosperity, and engagement in global problem solving if Putin continues his aggressive and authoritarian ways. This is sad for all sides. We also need to look after our allies and their fears and concerns.

 

We welcome your comments!

THE UKRAINE CONUNDRUM CONTINUED: TO SAVE OR NOT TO SAVE?

US Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poreshenko on February 5, 2015. He is meeting a few other Ukrainian officials and the leaders of Germany and France to discuss a joint plan of action to deal with continued escalation of the conflict. Reuters/Jim Watson
US Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poreshenko on February 5, 2015. Kerry is meeting a few other Ukrainian officials and the leaders of Germany and France to discuss a joint plan of action to deal with continued escalation of the conflict. Reuters/Jim Watson

By Harry C. Blaney


Quotes on opposing views and supportive views on the critical decision for the United States to provide military to aid Ukraine. We will provide a few examples  over time to get a sense of both sides of the argument:

OPPOSITION TO ARMS AID TO UKRAINE:

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen:

“More weapons in this area will not bring us closer to a solution, and will not end the suffering of the population. We need to put a lot of pressure on the separatists and Russia in an economic and political way to find a solution at the table and not on the (battle)field because to give input to a potential escalation is not a good solution. We need a sustainable political solution for this area.”

(Article from Reuters written by By Adrian Croft and David Alexander, published February 5, 2015)

Eugene Rumer, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment and Thomas Graham senior director for Russia on the National Security Council staff:

“Ukraine cannot win this conflict now. It will deepen the tragedy if soldiers are sent to fight in a hopeless battle. A free and independent Ukraine, a solid defense of the European order and a firm rebuff of Russian aggression are worthy goals. But they do not absolve us of our responsibility to consider the consequences of our actions. The current proposal to arm Ukraine does not meet that standard.” 

(Financial Times Article by Eugene Rumer and Thomas Graham, published February 3, 2015 as an Op-Ed.)


SUPPORT TO ARMS AID TO UKRAINE:

President of Brookings Institution Strobe Talbott and Director of Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at Brookings Institution Steven Pifer:

“Even with enormous support from the West, the Ukrainian army will not be able to defeat a determined attack by the Russian military. This point is well understood in Kyiv. The more appropriate goal of Western assistance should be to give the Ukrainian military additional defense capabilities that would allow it to inflict significant costs on the Russian military, should the Russians launch new offensive operations, sufficient enough that Moscow will be deterred from further aggression…A firm Western response can bolster Kyiv’s ability to deter further Russian attacks.”

(Brookings Institution Report: Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must do, by Steven Pifer and Strobe Talbott, published February 2015)

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter:

“My responsibilities would be to protect America and its friends and allies in a turbulent and dangerous world.” We need to support Ukraine in defending themselves.”

(Quoted from his testimony at his Senate Confirmation Hearing on February 4, 2015)


THE UKRAINE CONUNDRUM CONTINUED: TO SAVE OR NOT TO SAVE?

By: Harry C. Blaney III

Once again we are faced with a critical decision, which now seems imminent, as to whether to provide defensive combat weapons to Ukraine in the face of an onslaught of offensive weapons, supplies, and direction not least from direct Russian troops in Ukraine. The separatists are now on a major offensive with the aim of either destabilizing Ukraine or taking over a large proportion of the sad country. This includes the key section of South Ukraine which provides a land corridor to Crimea and would mostly block Ukrainian access to the Black Sea to the East.  The question is both simple and direct: either stand down and have Ukraine decimated to one degree or another by total defeat with essential Russian control or a major partition of the country; or supply major  arms and financial aid to either prevent further inroads by the Russian backed separatists or regain some ground and preserve Ukrainian independence and freedom to choose close relations with a democratic Europe.

There are strong voices in Europe and the West on this question. The New York Times reports a proposal to send $3 billion worth of weaponry and military equipment to Ukraine. The essential argument for action is that defeat and takeover of Ukraine by force of arms without any effective efforts to stop the attack would be a major act destabilizing the security of Europe, undermining NATO’s credibility, as well as undermining America’s own commitment to a “Europe whole and free.”  Also, 49 million Ukrainians would be living under Putin’s kindly hands forever as it did under Stalin and his successors in the Soviet Union days.

On the other side is the argument by two groups otherwise differing groups.  One is the liberals, who are opposed to added wars and their cost in lives and money and believe that U.S. action might only exacerbate the U.S. Russian conflict.  In the other group, there is an isolationist tendency of some right wing Republican libertarians to say to hell with the lives of other people abroad, and that we should stay out of the world’s problems no matter the cost to them, global security, or lives, unless others directly attack America.  On the strategic side some writers have argued that we can’t rescue Ukraine if the Russians make a full out effort and our action could escalate the conflict with unknown risks. Thus stay out.

The most recent news is a push back by the Obama administration on the provision of weapons to the Ukrainian government.  While the issue is supposedly under review the signals recently are that they are not clearly the “preferred” option.  The State Department Spokeswoman, Jen Psaki told reporters this week at the daily briefing that there is an “ongoing discussion” but that no decisions had been made in response to  The Times report on Sunday that the Obama administration is taking a “fresh look” at the question of military aid.

But Psaki on Monday said Washington is particularly concerned about “escalating separatist violence” and the rebels’ attempts to expand the territory they control beyond the cease-fire line agreed to last September in Minsk, Belarus.

“Naturally, we take into account events on the ground and events that are ongoing,” Psaki said.  She said the focus remains to find a political and diplomatic solution and that the U.S. and its Western allies have no interest in engaging in a proxy war with Russia. “Our objective here is to change the behavior of Russia,” Psaki said. “That’s the reason why we’ve put the sanctions in place.” 

As part of this push back, Ben Rhodes, deputy White House national security adviser, told CNN on Monday Feb. 2nd “We still think that the best way to influence Russia’s calculus is through those economic sanctions that are biting deep into the Russian economy.” Rhodes also said in the interview on CNN Monday February 2nd “We don’t think the answer to the crisis in Ukraine is simply to inject more weapons.” 

More recently this week on Thursday there is a key meeting in Kiev with the Ukrainian government leaders, Secretary John Kerry, and the leaders of Germany and France. The aim is to hammer out a joint plan of action to deal with the continued escalation of the conflict and Russian increased aggression. Kerry made it clear that a political solution is the preferred approach but that the U.S could not ignore Russian aggression.

The other recent development is the statement in Senate hearings of the nominated Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter that he was “very much inclined” to provide arms to Ukraine.

On Friday, the German and French leaders will go now to Moscow, where they are to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to discuss the situation in Ukraine. Mr. Hollande said that he and Ms. Merkel would present an initiative to end the fighting and guarantee the “full territorial integrity” of Ukraine.

Clearly, there is still some debate in Washington, and probably in NATO capitals, about the feasibility and the risks of direct lethal military aid as well as that economic sanctions still seem to remain a preferred tool for altering Russian behavior despite, so far, not inhibiting Putin to put even more military force and fighting on the table.

Frankly, there are elements of good and honest views on the part of some of the proponents of both positions. But the problem in my mind is that the costs of inaction clearly create a possible total breakdown of the security framework that was built at great cost after World War II, which gave Europe the prosperity and security it has had for decades under frankly the American security umbrella. It undermines American credibility globally. It is also argued that inaction may embolden Putin to push even further into NATO countries knowing that the West is incapable of action out of a fear of Russia.

Under these circumstances it is likely that some emergency assistance will be provided. The questions that need and should be asked and answered are: (1) How much and will they be sufficient to save Ukraine from defeat? (2) Can they be provided quickly enough to prevent major conquest by the Russian backed separatists? (3) What are other possible tools that can be invoked that might lead to a cession of conflict and withdrawal of Russian troops, assistance, and some kind of halt of conflict and an independent Ukraine?  A number of key Western leaders, not just the usual neo-cons, including George Soros, have argued strongly for an immediate commitment for a major assistance package before it is too late. How will other nations react?

In each of these cases the key and almost unknowable issue is the ultimate intent of President Putin towards his stated desire to recreate some kind of new Soviet Union (called EURASIAN Union perhaps) or in some people’s view, a new “Russian Empire”. Is he willing to destroy Russia in the effort much like Hitler? Is he simply pushing to get as much as possible at the least cost?  Will the Europeans act in ways that will add further real sanctions or give military aid to help deter further aggression?

My view is the President Obama, for a host of good reasons, cannot stand down and do nothing at this moment of severe added conflict. Putin is pushing the envelope to its extreme. The question then in terms of our action is how much, for how long and at what cost?  Also how can we mitigate the possibility of escalation and do we have a strategy still for a creditable “off ramp for Putin” that preserves Ukrainian independence and democracy? None of the issues or options are easy and there is no costless option, but that of the cost of living in a world of conflict and uncertainty and of high risk.

If there is a moment of historical and strategic importance it is now, and the question is both to ask for wisdom and even caution from President Obama, and perhaps hopelessly wisdom, or if not that, self-preservation by Putin and other leaders of Russia.

We welcome your comments!

PRESIDENT OBAMA SPEAKS AND A STRATEGY IS OUTLINED – NOW THE HARD PART!

Leaders at the Iraq Peace and Security Conference in Paris, France (Reuters/Michel Euler)
Leaders at the Iraq Peace and Security Conference in Paris, France, September 16, 2014 (Reuters/Michel Euler)

By Harry C. Blaney III

Dateline London

President Obama’s speech to the American people on Wednesday, September 10th finally outlined for the American people, as he did with Congressional leaders on Tuesday, the key elements in the complex and difficult task of “degrading and destroying” ISIS. Much is at stake, not least is the future of the Islamic world, now at the point of a sectarian conflict between Sunni and the Shiite populations, as well as the Kurds. The Middle East is undergoing not only a large scale conflict, but also a fundamental struggle for the future of the entire Middle East and beyond. Obama is right that it is now self-evident that it is America who will lead, but at the same time work with others in this struggle, not least the nations and people of the region itself.

Continue reading

WHILE THE WORLD BURNS, EUROPE FIDDLES IN DIVISIVE BATTLES INCLUDING ITS OWN DISMEMBERMENT, AND LOOKS MYOPICALLY INWARD

Vladimir Putin and François Hollande celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. (The Presidential Press and Information Office via Wikimedia Commons.)
Vladimir Putin and François Hollande celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. (The Presidential Press and Information Office via Wikimedia Commons.)

By: Harry C. Blaney III

There is nothing more discouraging than to visit Europe and see it struggle bitterly over how best to divide itself, leave its poor behind, and move rightward towards racism, xenophobia, and irrelevance. With courageous leadership, all this could be much different. If they don’t watch out they may emulate some of the dysfunctional politics we face on this side of the pond. For both of us, our dysfunction means a less stable and peaceful world. Continue reading

Just A Band-Aid Again! But Some Recognition of Need for More!

The EU Summit was not a success if the main goal was to put in place a long-term and effective capacity to deal with the current economic and financial and political crisis. However, another Band-Aid did relieve the two most endangered states, namely Spain and Italy in helping them achieve hopefully lower interest rates on their debts.  But it also came at the cost of continued austerity imposed by the creditor nations, particularly Germany.

We shall see further summits in the coming months and years as measures to prevent a tailspin down in economic activity following the austerity requirements.

The problem is it does not solve the problem of moving towards the necessary growth trajectory which is truly the only solution.  More of the same austerity imposed on Spain and Italy will likely only lead to greater deflation and hardship on their citizens and for that matter impose harm on all of Europe, including Germany and possibly the US. That is hardly a solution one can see as benign.

There is a fig leaf of an investment fund, but as noted earlier, it is largely only old money and is insignificant to re-boost the economies of the sick partners.

In time the markets will likely acknowledge and punish this when the Euro Zone economics fall further and unemployment grows….as it must if the austerity requirement imposed already and new ones kick in fully.  A recipe for disaster!

A lot of economists and some governments are still making the point that a new direction is needed. But as I have noted earlier it will be at a larger cost.

We welcome your comments!