THE FRENCH ELECTION AND ITS WIDER MEANING!

By
Harry C. Blaney III

Last June and earlier this year I reported from London and Brussels on the issues, problems and trends of the critical issue of the unity of Europe and the fragility of also the Atlantic Community in the face of far right and Fascist forces. These corrosive forces would undermine and indeed destroy unity, democracy, and the key elements that have kept the peace, prosperity and democracy in Europe. The next great test for Europe will be the French final election between the two leaders of the first round election who will vie for the Presidential role on Sunday.

This Sunday election round will comprise first the moderate centrist (center-right) candidate who is without a traditional party Emmanuel Macron, who some polls show winning by about 20 percent. Against him is Marine Le Pen who’s party The National Front, has neo-Nazi origins and expresses deep hatred of immigrants and the EU. These two have left behind all of the candidates for the presidency of the traditional French parties after the result of the first round of voting.

Now in France however, these values are again threatened by the Neo-Fascist and racist National Front Party and by its leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. She threatened to, in effect, blow up Europe by getting out of the Euro Zone and perhaps even the EU and has attacked Germany who in the past has been the key partner on European unity and accused Chancellor Merkel as “dominating” Europe.

Le Pen has a close association with Russia’s Putin who is trying to undermine the unity of Europe and separate it from American cooperation. A Russian associated bank has loaned her far-right anti-Europe party money to help her campaign of hatred for immigrants, for liberal democracy, and really decency. As a indicator of her intentions and affinity to far right “disruptive” forces she has been praised by Donald Trump who also seems to want a disunited Europe (he supported Brexit and admires the British Alt-Right racist politician Nigel Farage, and clearly has an anti-EU perspective and questioned in the past NATO.

This election is so important to the unity of the West that former President Obama has made his views known via a video in support of Macron. Here is some of the text:

“The French election is very important to the future of France and the values that we care so much about,” … “Because the success of France matters to the entire world. … (Macron) has stood up for liberal values. He put forward a vision for the important role that France plays in Europe and around the world, and he is committed to a better future for the French people. He appeals to people’s hopes and not their fears. … Because of how important this election is, I also want you to know that I am supporting Emmanuel Macron to lead you forward. En Marche! Vive la France!”

There are many possible outcomes from this election given the fractured nature of the French political landscape. There is no assurance, despite the polls, that Macron will win since many do not want to declare their public support for a far-right xenophobic party. And Le Pen has campaigned with venom against Macron.

Sadly the left candidate who came in third did not endorse Macron. If Macron wins he must at some early point reconcile with enough members of parliament and the key parties to govern with some effectiveness and authority. The outcome could either set a direction of cooperation within Europe despite Brexit or the start of the dismantlement of European stable peace, security, and unity and cooperation with the full Western democracies. And also effective dealing with the underground anti-democracy activities of Putin and his gang of hackers and “false media”of the Russian “active intelligence.”

In contrast, center right and left traditional parties and others seeking responsible and decent goals could ensured if an alliance can be worked out with Macron, that there would be a strong voice in Europe for decency and cooperation around the world. Given in the West (and elsewhere) the disruptions of the last year or so and dysfunctional response of some governments to the needs of our citizens, with the rise of racial and national division, as well as moves towards in some cases hate filled political leaders, some united response by forces dedicated to democracy, justice, and true democracy is now required on both sides of the Atlantic.

We welcome your comments! (See comments section below)

BREXIT, ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR WESTERN UNITY: UNITED EUROPE AT HIGH RISK

BREXIT AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR WESTERN UNITY:

UNITED EUROPE AT A TIME OF HIGH RISK

By

Harry C. Blaney III, Dateline: London

The year 2017 will likely turn out as a watershed of European unity but filled with potential disruptions and divisions which may create a fundamental shift in European politics, economy and security. The risks are in large, part self created and could have been avoidable. But they were also due to extraordinary poor UK political management, myopia and narrow nationalism. These are perspectives that kill the fundamental idea of the EU and a cooperative sharing community – namely the key idea of one for all and all for one.

On Wednesday Britain takes formally the foolish step of evoking Article 50 of the EU Treaty for withdrawal from membership. A step it did not have to take but a step driven by the worst of motivations. It will result in many dangerous outcomes even beyond the economic one, or concern over immigration, that has been so much talked about among many actors in this debate on leaving the EU.

The argument is that now Britain can be free to seek more business on a global scale and all will profit from the EU exit! The phrase used here in London by the right-wing Tory “leavers” is “Global Britain.” This slogan has about as much meaning or truth as Trump’s “Make American Great Again.”

The racist and far right nationalists like the UK Independent Party and not least dishonestly by Tory Prime Minister Teresa May along with her flaky new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who helped lead the campaign for leaving. They all touted a great new prosperity and national freedom after they leave the EU.

Of course this was a nonsense. If one were to do a fundamental analysis Britain already was making “maximum” efforts to extend its business reach, and to think of markets out side the EU. That to think it could do better in net world trade with less market access than it has in the EU, was a myth perpetrated by the right-wing racist Tories and the UKIP. The judgement here was that outside the EU, Britain would have a better chance to make global profits than it is trying to do inside the EU. In fact, it would have to negotiate individually with each and every nation and without the advantage of the massive economic power of the EU market and already advantageous agreements they have with these nations.

On Tuesday, as part of a tour around the country to try to defend the exit, Prime Minister Theresa May said, in words without content: “historic opportunity to get out into the world,” as if Britain never tried to reach the rest of the world. Each day her statements have less and less content.

With the signature now on the Article 50 document by Mrs. May, the clock will start ticking towards leaving but there is no clue on what any “deal” on leaving will really look like. The only outcome will not be what Britain wants and there are to be no free lunch.

Newspapers here are reporting from EU members that their prime goal is to preserve European unity and not to give any incentive for others to leave and gain advantages equal to membership without any cost or commitment to common unity. EU leaders, German and French politicians have made it clear that a “free” access is not on offer. But also say that they do not seek a confrontation or will try to “punish” Britain. But the EU position, as much as we know, is not in the ballpark of what Mrs. May has so far set forth as her aim. Thus we may see very hard negotiations over the next two years with little hope Britain will come out totally whole given what has been promised by the “leave” campaign or Tory government.

The truth is that EU holds the cards not the UK in the coming negotiations. But this has not been explained to the British voters.

The more fundamental issue is the impact of this Brexit on the already fragility of Western European unity and security. We are seeing the growing growth of far right and Fascist parties with key elections in France and Germany and possibly other nations. Add to this the threat of Scotland holding a referendum on leaving again and their stance on staying in the EU. The Scottish assembly has just voted to have a referendum on independence but this must have the approval of PM Theresa May, which will not be given. But this act will only contribute to the sense of resentment by many Scots and reinforce their desire to remain in the EU.

Add the breakdown of the North Ireland Government coalition of “shared government.” that has just taken place which has been exacerbated by the Brexit with deep difficult implications for the North-South border and cooperation for both sides and for social peace.

The total cost of the Brexit is for Great Britain, for Europe and not least for America’s interest in a Europe that is “whole, free at peace and secure in unity”  is enormous. It is under severe threat by the idiocy and myopia and frankly immorality of leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. On the side of disunity and “deconstruction” is Trump, Mrs. May, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, and not least Putin. These together represent a threat to a peaceful and decent world community and for a sense of common interests and goals.

More from Europe on the implications of this act shortly, and especially a look at the perspective of the 27 nations that will be left in the EU. Also an examination of the Putin-Trump cooperation issue and its implications.

We welcome your comments!

NUCLEAR MADNESS: TRUMP’S DANGEROUS BABBLE AND IGNORANCE OF STRATEGIC REALITIES

NUCLEAR MADNESS: TRUMP’S DANGEROUS BABBLE AND IGNORANCE OF STRATEGIC REALITIES

By

Harry C. Blaney III

There seems to be no act by Donald Trump that does not endanger American and global security. We had the undermining of the EU and NATO, the beating up on America’s allies, and the threat to tear up the Iran nuclear and not least the still unknown relationship between Trump and Putin with overtones of selling out to Putin and rewarding him for helping in Trump’s election.  But in the most recent words by Trump in an interview Thursday, he said he thought an arms control treaty with Russia is a “bad deal” and that the United States should build up its nuclear arsenal to be the “top of the pack.” This, is my top pick of dangerous acts by this clearly clueless man on issues of war and nuclear matters.

As every knowledgeable person knows the American nuclear arsenal and capability tops that of any other nation on this earth and has for a long time. Our nuclear weapons can destroy much of the world almost instantaneously. Much of that nuclear capability is deployed in essentially invulnerable American ballistic missile submarines. That is why there is no reason for us to add to them or try to “modernize nukes” them beyond basic maintenance and safekeeping.

Contrary to Trump’s call for added military expenditure just adds to the overwhelming resources and war fighting capability we already have over either Russia or China. Any conflict with them would be as they use to say MAD –mutual assured destruction. That means they should never be used in any circumstance and their existence is purely as deterrence.

American experts and our allies know that a new arms race would not be to the interest of any nation either friend or potential foe. But now both Russia under Putin and Trump seem to not understand the importance to our security of past and present arms control treaties and agreements. The last was the New START treaty between America and Russia which capped the number of nuclear warheads by both nations. And under the Non-proliferation Treaty we and other nuclear nations are bound and promised to work toward elimination of these weapons. The treaty’s aim by this promise is to stop other nations from building their own nuclear weapons. Top leaders, Secretaries of State and Defense, etc. with great experience on nuclear issues, Republicans and Democrats have called for their eventual and timely elimination, known as “going to zero.” A worthy cause but requires all to moderate their own ambitions and work very hard on a true mutual reduction accompanied by other safeguards to ensure security for all nations.

US and Russian escalation of these weapons would undermine greatly the incentive of others to forgo their own weapons. Trump’s words and actions so far have only given other nation reasons to be frightened,  uncertain of our support, or  go alone in developing these weapons. The end being a world of chaos and destruction which Trump for some reason seems to relish.

What is at work in Trump mind or his real goals? Is it an initiative, not of gaining good and fair arms control agreements and seeking confidence building measures bringing security for the world population that make us all safer, or is it Trump’s chaos theory at work of unlimited and high risk blindness to an “arms race” that itself is massively dangerous?
What is needed is less such weapons, better training and practical equipment to ensure American defense, support of our allies, and safety of our people in the world we have today. We need not more money in weapons with no purpose in our time but the near elimination of humanity and global civilization.

Trump in this field has continue his exaggerations and reinforced his habitual lies in claiming the U.S. has “fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity.” There is NO nation on earth that can match America’s modern nuclear force or for that matter conventional war fighting and the safeguarding of our nation. To say otherwise is to deceive out people, waste our needed resources for building back our civilian infrastructure, ensuring our children get the best education in the world, and protecting our environment, not least addressing the massive threat of climate change.

We welcome your comments!! See section below for your comments.

BETWEEN TRUMP, BREXIT, AND PUTIN – WILL THE WEST MAINTAIN ITS UNITY AND SECURITY?

BETWEEN TRUMP, BREXIT, AND PUTIN –  WILL THE WEST MAINTAIN ITS UNITY AND SECURITY?

By
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.

We welcome your comments!  See the comment section below.

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: UNCLEAR “CEASE-FIRE” ON THE BRINK OF NATO WALES SUMMIT

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron welcome Barack Obama, President of the United States, to the NATO Summit in Wales (Source: NATO)
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron welcome Barack Obama, President of the United States, to the NATO Summit in Wales (Source: NATO)

By Harry C. Blaney III

As this is written there appear to be contradictory statements and reports from the field on whether there is a viable cease-fire in Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin called for one while his office provided a rough framework of seven points that were needed to make it work. All of this came after Putin spoke with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko earlier in the week. Afterward the Ukrainian government put out an optimistic press statement that implied a true agreement.  Soon after Putin said their views on ending the violence were “very close.”  But on the ground, fighting seems to be ongoing and recently more negative statements were put out by both sides. An agreement could be reached on Friday during planned talks in Minsk between Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists.  

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Syria: Events Overpowering Decisions and Knowledge in Dangerous Moving Environment, Will Arming the Opposition Make a Difference?

Syrian FighterJPGHaving just come back from two weeks in the UK observing foreign policy debates, there seem to be two conflicting schools of strategy both in the United States and in Europe over policy and intervention in Syria.  For example, in the International Herald Tribune on June 12, Javier Solana and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, both former NATO Secretaries General, along with James Carroll in a different op-ed titled “Stay out of Syria” of the same date, present their “solutions” but show their own conundrums and limitations. They do not fully address the question of the consequences of no action or failure of Geneva II conference – which is the only option supported by the former NATO officials.  

On the other hand, the position of some of the “hawks” on both sides of the Atlantic think a “full court press” of arms for the rebels, a no fly zone, and other direct support (not yet “boots on the ground”) are our best options.  Many sadly predict that the Geneva Conference will not likely produce a viable solution. 

Neither of these two extreme positions, as I have argued previously, provide outcomes that are likely to either end the massive blood bath or provide long-term security for the people of Syria or peace for the region.  They are either empty of content and understanding, or they are filled with too much reliance on simple use of military force.     

We are faced with a continued civil war that has cost more than 80,000 lives and will likely cost many more unless some “solid” solution is found. I believe that “staying out” is not a solution, and will simply lead to ever more carnage and spread of conflict throughout the Middle East. Putting of all our options and hopes on Geneva II, as suggested by Solana/Scheffer, also risks more endless carnage should Geneva II fail, which in fact is quite possible. The simple “more war” option also is a “dead end.” 

There must be an alternative strategy, or the world will see human butchery continue and spread. What could happen if Assad gains victory with the arms of Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah? In  this case, absent of international intervention, we will see the continuation of a kind of unopposed killing of the opposition and inter-communal revenge, which will light a flame of conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims throughout the region. Yes, diplomacy is our best option, but it needs to be combined with “smart power” also.  

Geneva II should be tried, but the West and the Arab “Friends of Syria” need to be ready with “Plan B” to act by supporting the moderate rebels, and making their intentions clear in order to give the Russians and Assad  the incentive to compromise and find a peaceful transition. 

Thus, President Obama’s announcement that the U.S. will provide small arms, ammunition, and other assistance to moderate rebel groups provides some leverage towards getting Assad to come to the table, which he will not have if he thanks he can win,  on the fields of battle, despite the bloodshed. 

One test of the Geneva option will be the talks that UK Prime Minister David Cameron held with President Putin this week-end, the meeting of Putin and Obama this week ,and the wider talks at the on going G-8 meeting in Northern Ireland.

The problem is that Europe is divided on the issue of providing just arms, let alone sending in troops. In the U.K., despite Cameron’s push for arming the rebels, his  own Tory party is divided with a likely majority against doing so, his coalition partners the Liberal Democrats are strongly against it, and most of the Labour Party MPs are also probably opposed.  

Cameron seems to have also promised to have a House of Commons vote on the matter at some stage.  One of Cameron’s officials, involved in drawing up Syrian strategy, was reported in The Mail on Sunday of June 16th, to have said: “The one certainty is that, if nothing is done, not only will lives be lost, not only will Assad not negotiate, but we will also not stop radicalisation.” This quote probably gives us a concise insight into the some of UK top level perspective on Syria.  

Even France, the other nation supporting the option to supply arms, is divided fiercely on this question and Germany is firmly against as are other nations.  The irony is that both the Brits and the French are working to reduce their already meager defense budgets but asking their military to do more! There is a fight going on at this moment on the proposed British defense budget cuts.

I doubt that just giving small arms alone will make that great a difference without a wider set of options and a long-term strategy.  But it does give a bit of leverage for talks and defending Syrian areas under the opposition, especially if the “Friends of Syria”make clear that they are willing to do more to remove Assad and create a new broad based and responsible new government. 

But the problem is that Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah are providing not only outside fighters, but major arms and air defense and offense systems. The implication of Europeans, Arab states, and the U.S. giving small arms is that if our minimum policy is to not permit the opposition to be destroyed and Assad to be removed from power, then more either diplomatically or via military action or both will be required.  Geneva II will likely be the dividing line between a negotiated solution or use of stronger measures by all sides.  Let’s hope that the Russians see the wisdom of diplomacy and are willing, as will be necessary, to see Assad go. That remains only still a problematic hope especially since Russia has just said it will not allow a no-fly zone.  Putin’s real goals remain obscure, but still mostly confrontational. 
        
The “Friends of Syria” and others committed to security and peace in the Middle East will do well to adapt a long-term strategy and the necessary resources and complex set of tools and the determination to see it through. It will require seeing the Syrian conflict through a wide angle and dealing with the many difficult elements in the Middle East that are fueling this now growing clearly Sunni-Shia struggle.  

My suggestion again is to have a strong broad international robust peacekeeping/peacemaking force to stop the killing of civilians and permit large scale humanitarian help within Syria and to help create security for all groups within the country. This requires working diplomatically to heal the growing divisions and long standing upheavals in the region.  It is a large but necessary task, and one we may not be quite up to if narrow and partisan elements insist on narrow or conflict only solutions.