Category: Foreign Policy

Russia, Putin, and the American Right

George S LedyardHow did a party, that still pays lip service to Ronald Reagan is the father of modern conservatism end up as the tool of Vladimir Putin’s Russia? Reagan spent his entire career fighting against Russian influence globally. In just a few years, his beloved party is now an apologist for Russian efforts in their own country domestically and around the world globally.

To understand all of this, one needs to see just how brilliant Vladimir Putin and his intelligence service have been. Historically, the old Soviet Union would launch covert ops designed to co-opt the left. Socialist groups, anti-Vietnam War groups, progressive journalists, pretty much anyone on the left that was anti-establishment could be targeted. They looked for sympathetic political allies.

In those days it was simply assumed that guys like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who had gotten a start in their political careers crafting their foreign polices with countering Russian influence around the globe as the central goal, were not easily influenced. So it was the lefties that got targeted for manipulation by Russian intelligence.

This was true all the way back to the very beginning of the Soviet state when the Comintern infiltrated every Russian emigre group, used lefty socialist student groups at universities to recruit spies, and so on.

The brilliance of Putin’s intelligence effort to influence US policy towards Russia is that he made the decision to target American Conservatives. Russians have a very sophisticated understanding of individual and political psychology. During their entire history since the Revolution, the field of psychology has been treated as a tool for maintaining state control.

Russian intelligence has realized that the main objection to Russia as a nation on the part of the US was it’s adherence to Godless Communism. Now, that any pretense of being a Communist country has been dropped, they have realized that as an autocratic, totalitarian state, there are many areas on confluence with the American right. Now that Putin’s Russia has embraced its Orthodox heritage and dropped notions of socialism and communism in favor of oligarchy in which a small group of fabulously wealthy individuals run the country, the American right has realized just how much they have in common with their former enemies.
 

Russian intelligence understands this. They know their history. Back in the 1930’s, it was the American right that toyed with Fascism as a perceived defense against the popular revolt of the unemployed working class. The American oligarchs, the Bushes, the Morgans, Duponts, Fords etc actually initiated a coup to overthrow President Roosevelt which never coalesced. Up until Pearl Harbor these people openly admired the Fascist leaders like Hitler in Europe in just the same way we see Donald Trump openly expressing admiration for Vladimir Putin.

Putin’s intelligence service recognized that Putin’s narrative of Russia as the Christian bulwark against the Asiatic menace of the Islamic hordes, their draconian anti-LGBT policies, even Putin’s strong man ability to crush media opposition all appeal to the American right and represented points of entry for targeting Russian influence efforts.

Really, what it comes down to is that the American right has a built in bias towards authoritarianism. Donald Trump is openly admiring of various strong men around the world. The GOP has been praising Vladimir Putin’s leadership.  All of this is the result of a twenty year campaign on the part of Russian intelligence to influence the American right.

They still do work the left. It’s fairly clear that the Russians used Jill Stein as a tool to split voters off of the Democratic Party and prevent at least a portion of progressive voters from unifying with the Clinton campaign after Bernie Sanders lost the nomination. This continues… `It is quite revealing to see that the pro-Russia narrative being pushed by many members of the far right is virtually identical to that of the far left radical progressives. But the Russians understand that the far left in the US is politically marginalized and has no actual political power.


As voters, we need to look at administration and Republican policy from the stand point of how it serves Russian policy objectives. Despite Putin’s courting of Donald Trump and other right wing figures, he is not a “friend” of America but a savvy adversary whose real interest in in creating division between the US and its European allies, damaging political unity on the US, and even damaging our essential confidence in our democratic institutions. We need to be very careful to see what is happening through this filter or we risk being manipulated into policies that damage the country in the long run.

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We Put These People in DC, It’s on Us

George S LedyardIt has become fashionable lately to talk about corruption in government and the need to “throw them all out”. While Donald Trump ran on a right wing “drain the swamp” promise, the folks on the progressive left often talk in much the same way. They refer to the “establishment” Democrats as embodied by the DNC as irredeemably corrupt and advocate forming a new party with fresh faces to rework our government.

It is also the case that a good portion of the public has to a large degree lost respect for expertise and professionalism. Of course we see this in the tendency to discount scientific evidence that goes against right wing agenda on climate change and environmental protection. But nowhere is the disconnect greater than between the average citizen and the professionals who run our government, largely anonymously behind the scenes.
Washington, DC and its suburbs, is probably one of the most highly educated cities in the country. Certainly, it has more lawyers per square inch than any other city. But it is also full of folks with advanced degrees in government, political science, international studies, public policy, defense studies and so on. These are the professionals who typically spend their careers in intelligence, government, etc. They represent the institutional memory of the various agencies in DC. They provide the continuity that keeps things functioning as each administration comes and goes according to the whims of the voters at any given time.
These people are not elected by the voters. They are hired in much the same way anyone gets a job. They build resumes by working internships, the get advanced degrees, they start at the bottom and work their way up. They seldom make the news, that’s for their appointed bosses. But they are the ones that do the work and keep things functioning.

I bring this up because it occurred to me that Donald Trump is showing us just what it looks like when we decided to simply “throw the bums out” and bring in people who have absolutely no experience in government. Not only is Trump a government neophyte but he has surrounded himself with people whose entire experience has been in corporate America and have no backgrounds whatever in government.
Enough of the voters were persuaded by the propaganda that assassinated the character of Hillary Clinton that we brought in a man with no government experience at all. The theory was that we should run the US government more like a business. But Trump’s business experience is in real estate development, an area in which wheeling and dealing is standard operating procedure and the reputation for ethical behavior is exceedingly low.

One can see the same dysfunction in Congress. The Tea Party far right outsiders who came into Congress during the previous elections are the ones who have created legislative grid lock. They are ideologically driven and have no experience running a country or desire to compromise with even the moderates in their own party. And the lack of intellectual credentials among them is frightening.
I think that voters, from the left and the right, should look at the resulting chaos and understand that experience does actually matter. Bringing in a whole group of outsiders with no experience as a recipe for disaster. Only two groups of people are happy with the dysfunction of having amateurs at the helm and that is the Russians, who helped bring this on, and the super right wing libertarians who think government paralysis is a good thing.
In the future, it would be a good idea to look at a candidate’s resume rather than his ability to tell you what you want to hear. And we need to understand that success in one area does not necessarily transfer to success in another. While we do wish to have a government that is responsive to our citizenry, we really want people running the government who are experts at doing so. Populism and electing candidates because they remind you of yourself is not a good way to achieve good governance.

Trump and Afghanistan an Exercise in Hubris

George S LedyardEver been through a corporate reorganization? The new management comes in, inevitably a bunch of “type A” personalities, and absolutely believes that they will do a better job than the folks that came before them.
Employees from the old regime find their experience discounted and their influence marginalized. If one points out that some new proposal was tried before and didn’t work, the response is always, “Well, you guys just didn’t execute it properly”.

The GOP spent years criticizing Democratic administrations for what they saw as “nation building”. But after 9/11, George Bush not only committed the US to a full scale invasion of Afghanistan, but immediately set out to do nation building. This despite the reputation for Afghanistan as the “graveyard of empires”. It wasn’t that the dangers weren’t known… But the Bush team put out the word that no one was allowed to even utter the word “quagmire”. Yet quagmire it has become.

Afghanistan military invasion
A US soldier in front of the remains of ancient invaders, long gone.

No one in history has ever successfully invaded and occupied Afghanistan. Afghans could be seen as one of the most ornery cultures in the world. Historically, the only thing that unites this culture is a foreign enemy on its soil.
Barrack Obama inherited the Afghanistan war. Despite our best efforts, it has become clear that despite this being the longest war in US history, we are no closer to the goals we set down when we invaded then we were.
Now, with all the incredible arrogance we would expect from the Trump administration, we are reversing Obama’s attempts to disentangle us from this disaster. We are, in effect, jumping back into the “quagmire”. The fundamental assumption behind this effort is that the previous administration didn’t “do it right”.

MOAB Mother of all Bombs
Trump’s latest “bigger hammer”

Trump’s default setting is the “use a bigger hammer” approach to just about everything. He uses threats liberally and then, in order top not appear as a paper tiger, needs to back these threats up militarily. A man who used to wield economic leverage as a weapon to win in business now has the most powerful military in the world at his disposal. And the newly appointed gurus of national defense are certainly not inclined to tell their new boss that they can’t accomplish the “mission”.
Trump’s obsession with showing that he is a better leader than Barrack Obama is going to cost this nation dearly. He is simply incapable of following any direction his predecessor took unless pressured strongly by his advisers and fellow Republicans.

US military in Afghanistan
US forces in Afghanistan

So, it’s back into Afghanistan we go with increased boots on the ground. There is absolutely no evidence that this will accomplish anything over time. It didn’t work for the Maurya Empire of ancient India, Alexander the Great of Greece, Umar, an Arab Caliphate, Genghis Khan of Mongolia, Timur of Persia and Central Asia, the Mughal Empire of India, various Persian Empires, the British Empire, the Sikh Empire, the Soviet Union, or the United States to date.. The idea that Donald Trump is going to succeed when everyone else has failed is pure hubris.
Washington Post: U.S. poised to expand military effort against Taliban in Afghanistan

Domestic Politics “Trumps” Foreign Policy Positions

George S Ledyard“There’s no such thing as foreign policy, there is only domestic policy” – Justin Raimondo of AntiWar.com in an interview on NPR today.
In this case he was talking about Donald Trump’s recent bombing of Syria, ostensibly in response to Assad’s sarin gas attack on civilians. His take on it, and I think it makes sense, is that Trump is basically bombing Syria, in order to try to show the American people that he isn’t in bad with the Russians.
Cruise missiles SyriaInterestingly, the total flip flop from the Reagan era when the GOP was full of anti-Russian cold warriors and the Democrats, as the opposition party were obligated to oppose Reagan’s global anti Communist efforts, we now have a Republican administration which is clearly positively disposed towards Russia and an almost hysterically anti-Russian Democratic Party.Anti RussianThis creates the most amazing political conjunction. Many of the far left Progressives who supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 campaign, seem far more focused on the perceived evils of the Democratic Party establishment, the so-called Neo-Liberals, than they are  with what the people on the ultra right are doing. So, we find these Progressives putting forth the same pro-Russia, anti-Democratic messages that the far right talk show hosts are putting out.
WikiLeaksThey question whether the Russians really did hack the DNC, they deny that the Russians intervened in the election to benefit Donald Trump, they are depicting the Syrian gas attack as a false flag operation designed to generate support for anti-Assad  forces and pressure the Russians to perhaps distance themselves from their ally.
Isn’t it rather insane that a group of people who share absolutely no agenda items in their vision of America with the GOP or the Tea Party radicals end up allied on foreign policy issues with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin?
And the Democrats themselves, have so committed to the anti-Russian narrative that, when their arch enemy, the Great Satan, Donald Trump chooses to bomb Syria in order to convince people he isn’t in the pocket of the Russians, they end up praising his actions and actually assisting him in his attempts to appear more “Presidential”. It is actually the far right nationalists, who thought Trump was going to be an isolationist that are upset about the bombing and his flip flop on the US as a global policeman.
My point here is that the Syrian issue ends up highlighting just how irrational most folk’s foreign policy positions are. They have little or nothing to do with the realities of the political and military situation on the ground in Syria. Folks take their positions based on the interplay of political considerations here on the domestic scene.
Trump PutinTrump clearly has a serious Russian influence problem. So, he goes against his publicly stated stance as an isolationist, and bombs Syria in order to show he’s not in the pocket of the Russians. The Democrats who have suddenly become hyper anti-Russian (just since the election amazingly) have been using the Russian influence scandal to bludgeon Trump. So, when Trump actually does something that runs counter to Russia’s stated interests, the Dems end up helping to legitimize and normalize this man whom they strongly oppose. This of course totally validates Trump’s attempts at deflection.
Hillary Clinton Progressive OppositionThe far left Progressive fanatics are trying to create a movement to set up a third party. Their narrative is that the Democratic Party is compromised beyond repair. They want to split off Democratic Party support in order to grow support for their new party. This means that their major focus isn’t on resisting Trump or the Alt Right, it’s on opposing any and all Democratic efforts to appear to recover from the Hillary Clinton / DNC electoral loss. So, if the Democratic establishment is taking an anti-Russian stance in response to Trump’s clear pro-Russia agenda, the Progressives end up pursuing the same agenda as the Trump forces.
Can everyone see just how little this has anything at all due to historical, cultural, and political reality in Syria? While I am sure that in the intelligence and military communities there are educated people striving for fact based decision making. But if one is listening to the leaders of ANY of the different political factions, Tea Party, Republican, Democratic, Progressive, it doesn’t matter, you see their positions change with the wind, based on domestic political concerns and with little regard to educated and consistent foreign policy agendas.

Watergate and Its Relevance to the Trump Administration Scandals

George S LedyardFor those that are impatient to be rid of Donald Trump, it is good to remember that Watergate, the worst scandal in US history, took 26 months to unfold.
The Nixon people had a war with the journalistic establishment every bit as vicious as what we are seeing with Donald Trump and company.
Initially, the GOP attempted to shield the President but as more and more information came out, they hung him out to dry and began to distance themselves.
The importance of having an independent investigation in bringing Nixon to justice can’t be overestimated nor should the integrity of various members of his administration who refused to go along with his attempts to shut the investigation down.
Our current scandal isn’t just one of political evil doing… it’s about foreign influence over our electoral process, possible collusion with a foreign power by current members of our administration,and even potential penetration of the administration by Russian FSB agents.
I was in college when the Watergate scandal broke. I was quite the aficionado of all the details. I knew the names of all the Watergate burglars, the names of all the “Plumbers” inside the white house. Everyone in the country watched the Senate hearings presided over Sam Ervin. Every day more details emerged of just how much illegal activity has been occurring. It was stunning.
The biggest thing I came away with was the extent to which people will go when they are “true believers” in a cause. Nixon and comp[any really believed that everything they did was necessary and justified in order to protect the nation from Socialism at home, Communism abroad, and dissent from liberals, minorities, women, etc who didn’t understand the realities of world power politics.
These people had a “mission” and they believed that it was their job to save the rest of us, often from ourselves. The law was inconvenient and could justifiably be circumvented for the greater good, as determined by… themselves.
The similarities with today are too many to ignore. We have a sociopathic leader for whom truth is what currently suits him, surrounded by zealots. Some are religious zealots some are captains of capitalism once again saving us from creeping socialism. Some are single issue zealots on issues like abortion, others are big picture Global strategists in the East West culture wars fighting for the lest vestiges of white Eurocentric American culture. But the one thing that Trump’s people all have in common is that they are all “true believers”  in much the same mold as the old Nixon minions.
They all are on a “mission”, they all see themselves as important figures in turning back the forces of progressivism, of undoing just about every advance we have made since the New Deal in terms of the government role in protecting civil rights, providing the social safety net, and managing those areas we have deemed “public goods” such as clean air, drinkable water, workplace safety, safe food, and so on. Some are fighting what they see as the result of globalization which is diversity itself. They are “crusaders” for America first”. which really means white America first.
I bring this out as a way of understanding that for “true believers” there is seldom any behavior that is out of bounds in advancing the agenda. Couple that with the very real possibility that one or more of the administration figures may have been compromised by the Russian FSB and are compelled to do their bidding and one can see just how threatening the current situation is to our democracy. This is a crisis of the first order, potentially worse than the Watergate scandal.
Robert Redford has written a wonderful piece on Watergate and its relevance to what is happening now. Take a look, it’s a great piece of work.
45 Years After Watergate, The Truth is Again in Danger
Trump as Nixon and Watergate - Russian Hacking

Trump Goes on the Offense – Here Comes the Witch Hunt

George S LedyardBy now. anyone who pays even the least attention to politics, knows about the issues with potentially inappropriate ties to Russia on the part of Donald Trump and associates. The number of campaign workers, even family members, who had meetings with the Russian Ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, also known to be Russia’s top spymaster in the US, during and after the campaign seems to grow almost daily.

Sergey Kislyak with Vladimir Putin
Sergey Kislyak at the center

The timing of many of these meetings seems suspicious as various events took place around the same times, such as the change in the language of the GOP platform regarding the Ukraine (a softening of the position vis a vis Russia) and the release of the hacked emails which are seen by members of the intelligence community as almost certainly coming out of a state sponsored Russian hacker effort.

Russian influence scandal, Sessions, Flynn, Kisyiyak

Mike Flynn met with the Russians and said he didn’t and has resigned. Now Jeff Sessions is in the spotlight for precisely the same thing. Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner is also known to have met with Kislyak, a fact kept quiet until just recently,  and the question remains about all of these meetings, what was being discussed? Why were members of a camping team having multiple contacts with the Russian Ambassador?
Suffice it to say that this whole affair has occasioned something of a crisis within the new Trump administration. Try as he might, Trump has failed to shake this widening scandal and comparisons with Watergate and Richard Nixon abound.
So, what is Donald Trump’s response to these perceived attacks on his new regime? What it has always been throughout his career, go on full counter attack. In a series of tweets is has accused Barrack Obama of having Trump Tower wire tapped during the campaign. Today, he is calling for an all out Congressional investigation into these supposed wire taps, while calling them a form of McCarthyism.
Well, the GOP has closed ranks behind their leader and so far, steadfastly refused to initiate investigations into the Russian hacker activity and whether it improperly influenced the election. Now, the President wishes to turn the tables and loose his GOP controlled Congress on the former Obama administration.
This is clearly, transparently, a standard Trump response to any attack he can’t make go away or from which he can’t distract attention with outrageous behavior, and that is attack. Trump learned this tactic as a young man from his friend and mentor, Roy Cohn, the vicious lawyer behind Joe McCarty and a New York mob lawyer and ruthless litigator.

Roy Cohn and Donald TrumpThe attacks against the previous President serve multiple purposes for Trump. First, they fit his on-going narrative that Obama administration holdovers are waging a guerrilla war from with the various government agencies via leaks that embarrass the administration. This has been an only partially effective tactic given the fact that Trump would probably not be President if it weren’t for the infamous email leaks which targeted the Clinton campaign.
Also, these accusations now dominate the news cycle, giving the Trump team some time to regroup. They also put the GOP members of Congress in a position where they have to start choosing sides. While it is clear that virtually all of the Republicans members of Congress are perfectly happy to stone wall any possible investigation into the Trump campaign’s involvement in Russian interference in the election, they have been able to sit back on the sidelines so far.
Bannon and Miller, Donald Trump advisers, Russian scandalBut now, Trump’s strategy, no doubt worked out with his closest advisers, is to attempt to turn Congress into a weapon to be used against the enemy. Because Trump has been in full control of the government, having won the election and with a GOP controlled House and Senate, Trump hasn’t had anyone to act as a foil for his inherently aggressive instincts. Obama and Clinton are gone, former Obama administration officials are being purged, and the Democratic Congress is powerless to do much at all. So, the Trump tactic of finding an external enemy to go after has not been helping him.

Trump tweet Obama wire tapNow, completely out of the blue, he is trying to turn his Russian problem into a Congressional witch hunt focused on the previous Obama administration.  Of course, as usual, his diatribe against Obama has no basis in fact. The President of the United States has no power to order such wire taps. It requires a court order to do so. This begs the question, if there were wire taps, what was the probable cause that justified them? This may actually be Trump’s attempt to expose and discredit a classified investigation into his own campaign by the intelligence service and the FBI. Either that or this is another one of his completely fictitious creations which are so hard to refute because there’s no factual information involved at all.

This also serves to force the media into devoting their limited resources to another investigation. Hours spent digging to verify a potentially unverifiable accusation translates into hours not spent looking more deeply into Russian penetration of the Trump administration.
But, this whole thing may backfire on the Trump regime if it serves to make public the reasons a court would grant a surveillance order involving Trump and his associates. The Russian influence / hacking scandal when combined with so many of Trump’s associates having extremely close ties to Russian government and business figures takes one very close to the line past which we start talking about espionage or spying. Trump may not like what comes out now that he’s opened another can of worms.
Joe McCarty, Roy Cohn, Trump Russian scandal, wire taps, ObamaIn any case, Trump is ready to take us back to the McCarthy era. He wants to initiate a Congressional investigation into his perceived enemies. If he can get this started, one can rest assured its scope will expand from wire taps during the campaign to searching for anti-Trump “leakers” within the various government agencies, especially the FBI and the intelligence services. If he can get this started, it will turn into a witch hunt. I believe this is Trump’s excuse to go on the offensive and identify and purge the government of any resistance to his administration.
We have not seen a vicious, attack dog, like this in the white house since Richard Nixon. Trump and his minions are every bit as ruthless about consolidating power as anyone who has ever been in the office. This is not a man who plays “defense”. After a couple weeks of taking hits, he has rallied himself and his minions and the have gone into full attack mode. Expect to see this played out today (Sunday) on all the talk shows.

Trump and Putin, Russian influence scandalWe cannot let this counter offensive succeed. Our representatives must keep on pushing for a special prosecutor to investigate the Russian hacking scandal and possible related improper relationships with Russian officials / spies. We must encourage the media to stay focused on the real story and not let Trump get away with distracting them. And we have to keep our representatives focused on the continuous effort to get Trump to release his tax returns. All of his outrageous behavior is designed to protect him from what could be politically lethal revelations and we should not allow that effort to succeed.

Our National Intelligence is at Risk

George S LedyardWe are all freaking out over the evolving disaster over the Trump administration’s domestic policies, which really represent nothing less than a total giveaway of our country to the corporate elites. Add to that the shift of domestic security considerations to a blatantly anti-immigrant agenda and we hardly recognize what our country is becoming.
For most of our citizens, the workings of our national security establishment are a mystery. They take place in the background of our lives and they seldom intrude into our consciousness unless there’s a major event, like 9/11, which reminds us how important the intelligence function is and what the cost can be of mistakes.
Normally, the President, as Commander in Chief not only heads up the military but also presides over the entire intelligence apparatus, covering both domestic and foreign intelligence functions. However, we now have an unprecedented situation in which the President of the Untied States is actively at war with his own intelligence community.
From the start of his candidacy, Trump has treated the intelligence function with disdain, often suggesting that his own expertise is enough to ensure good decision making. He is known for not bothering to receive the daily intelligence briefings which summarize the world military and political situation each day. But even worse, he has treated the intelligence community as an unwanted step child, especially the CIA.
Now, it seems that the Trump administration’s much discussed relationships with Russia are being treated by the intelligence community as a serious security breach. The implications for this are staggering. What happens when the intelligence community, whose members are sworn to protect the nation, believes that their own President is a security risk? Additionally, intelligence gathering relies on the sharing of intelligence with ones allies. What happens when our allies begin to assume that anything they tell the United Sates will go straight to the Russians?
Cambridge Five, Blunt, Philby, Burgess, McLeanThe idea that our CIA is operating on the assumption that anything that gets as far as the oval office is also in the hands of Putin and the Russians is a bombshell. It places us in much the same position that England was in after Blunt, Maclean, Burgess, and Philby, all senior members of British Intelligence had been Soviet Spies since the 30’s. British Intelligence was crippled for years. No ally would risk sharing intelligence with them. We could find ourselves in the same position.
Mike Flynn, National Security AdviserTrump has appointed Mike Fynn as National Security Adviser. Flynn was actually fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency for his erratic, behavior and inability to provide coherent management. Now, it has been revealed that during the campaign, Flynn met with the Russians and essentially tried to undermine the diplomatic efforts of President Obama, something which he and the administration deny.
Now, we find that the CIA has refused to grant Robin Townley, one of Flynn’s closest deputies, a security clearance which caused him to be removed from his seat of the National Security Council. The move was apparently sanctioned by Mike Pompeo, Trump’s newly appointed Director of the CIA.
Donald Trump, Mike Flynn, National SecurityTake a look at this article in the Observer tiled The Spy Revolt Against Trump Begins
Its conclusions are chilling indeed. While the Trump administration seems obsessed with immigrants as a threat to national security, we might find that his administration itself is a bigger threat. No one knows how this is going to play out but it is a scandal of huge proportion for an administration less than a month into power.