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!

RUSSIA REMAINS REGRESSIVE AT HOME AND ABROAD: CAN PUTIN EVER LEARN?

Vladimir Putin Speaks in Moscow.
Vladimir Putin Speaks in Moscow.

By: Harry C. Blaney III

With news that conflict in Ukraine has increased with Russian troops and their insurgent rebels still trying to make brutal advances, in Moscow Putin remains in a state of denial about the Russian economy and gloates over his assumed “victories”. With this, one must wonder what world Putin is living in and will there ever be a revelation of reality and desire to do good for the Russian people?

At home Russia may be in a mini recession of 2% and seems on a trajectory for more drops in its GDP in the coming months.  The Ruble has increased some and oil which also has increased slightly seems to be hitting a plateau but still far from its high, but the long range fundamental economic condition of Russia seems very bleak especially for the majority of average Russian citizens.

On the international stage, Russia has announced the “sale” of ballistic defense systems to Iran.

The offer of the Russian S-300 missile defense system to Iran remains problematic. While it may not be an immediate delivery, as a Russian Foreign Ministry official said on April 23rd, it “is not a matter of the nearest future,” according to Haaretz.  The TASS official news agency reported Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov saying “It is more important that a political and legal decision, which opens up such a possibility, is taken.”  Putin also made overtures to a dangerous North Korea.

In the cyber area, Russian hackers also broke into unclassified networks at the Department of Defense earlier this year, Pentagon Secretary Ashton Carter said on April 23rd. No real surprises there, however an indicator of hostile intent.

NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg, the organization’s secretary general, said on Thursday that it is seeing a “substantial Russian buildup,” along the border with and inside Ukraine. This is violating the Minsk cease-fire agreement and again shows that Russia still is using misinformation and lies as a tool of its diplomacy and propaganda strategy. In the long-run this will undermine Russia’s believability and, when at another time, it will need creditability it will have been lost.  There will be a point, as in Soviet times, when respect at home and abroad is imperiled. Already the outflow of funds indicates that this has already taken place.

The West needs badly a new and serious reassessment of Russian actions and strategy, but it can’t be a kneed-jerk reaction, or an overreaction. It needs to be rather a rational consideration of the dangers from an aggressive Russia and a long-term strategy of turning the relationship around to more productive and safer conditions as we did in the old “cold war.” Then firmness, restraint and engagement worked. One of the best ways to react would be to start a set of strategies within NATO, EU, G-7 and the OECD countries of a growth and productivity strategy rather than the conservative and failed “austerity” programs that have slowed growth, caused large unemployment, and created instability in key countries.

We need to stop the fights within our open society communities and start to jointly move rapidly to increased employment of the “middle and poorer” majority, improving our own infrastructure both physically and intellectually, become fairer, and start to cooperate on the many global challenges that threaten to set asunder our societies and our globe. President Obama has tried to do this, Europe remains divided over Greece, growth, immigration and beset by racist right-wing parties that threaten democracy and progress. These need to be addressed and addressed with vigor and in common. Then, Russia as a regressive nation with a backward looking regime might see a real future in cooperation with a growing and robust West and act in its own interest.

 

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!

UKRAINE: AN UNNECESSARY AND DANGEROUS CONFLICT SPIRALS OUT OF CONTROL

President Vladimir Putin
President Vladimir Putin

By Harry C. Blaney III

News reports have Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers coming through the Ukrainian border while NATO  reports that the Russians have unleashed rocket attacks from both inside Russia and Ukraine. Added to this are reports that Russian paratroopers were captured inside Ukrainian territory just at the moment when key talks in Minsk were attended by the presidents of Russia and Ukraine and with representatives of other European countries.

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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

TRANSCRIPT: KERRY AND ASHTON ON APRIL 17 GENEVA DEAL ON UKRAINE

1b6ea27c-fb68-4b18-86d3-f75dee6b0d9d-460x276Transcript: Kerry and Ashton on April 17 Geneva deal on Ukraine

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: Well, good afternoon, everybody — or good evening, actually, I guess. I’m very, very grateful to be joined here today by the high representative, Cathy Ashton, my friend and colleague, and a terrific partner in this and in other efforts. And I thank her for her leadership throughout this particular initiative. Diplomacy requires willing partners, and I also want to thank Minister Deshchytsia and also Minister Lavrov for their willing work in the course of today, their readiness to engage in a constructive dialogue. Continue reading