Category Archives: Russia

18Reality and foreign policy


 

 

Donald K. Trump and his base went into office – unexpectedly for most observers – with a promise to cut back on American commitments abroad and to avoid new ones. That was the essence of ”America First”, an echo of an isolationist group and slogan in the pre-World War II debate over U.S. involvement in European arguments.

 

But what they have found to their chagrin is that it is not possible. Overwhelming relative power of the U.S. not only in relation to smaller countries but to other major world leaders makes it ipso facto a determining factor – even when it exercises the option not to take part in the decision-making.

 

The extent of U.S. power in relative terms cannot be overstated. The American GDP of almost 19 billion – the sum total of all its economic activity — in 2016 was $8 billion more than its nearest rival, China. That GDP is a combination of high average individual incomes, a large population, capital investment, moderate unemployment, high consumer spending, a relatively young population, and technological innovation. None of these are challenged by most of its competitors, again save China, and then only n a couple of categories.

The United States shares 24.9 percent of global wealth, while the smallest economy, Tuvalu, a Polynesian island nation, contributes only 0.00005 percent. Fist ranked China shares 18.3 percent. In nominal data, in 2017 five economies would have GDPs above $1 trillion, 62 above $100 billion and 177 above $1 billion. The top five economies account for approximately 53.82 % of the total of world production, where as the top ten account for approx. 67.19 %.

The U.S. overseas involvements continue with few changes in American policy by the Trump Administration.

Washington’s involvement in the Middle East continues to be one of its most important foreign entanglements. The U.S. alliance with Israel depends not only on the important lobby of pro-Zionist Americans including the influential Jewish community, but important commercial and technological ties based on their commercial relationship.

When Trump initially tried to downgrade if not reject American participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO], he encountered counter pressure. The threat of NATO intervention blocked further Moscow action against Ukraine, and supported UN and U.S sanctions against Russian as a lever against further aggression against its Western neighbors which its leader Vladimir Putin had threatened.

Trump’s short-lived love affair with China’s Xi Jinping has been torpedoed by China’s aggressive moves in the Sea of Japan and the South China Sea. Beijing’s base-building athwart one of the major commercial naval routes of the world is inimitable to America’s longtime advocacy of freedom of the seas for itself and all navigators.

The China relationship also is critical to fending off the threat of North Korea to use its intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons against Guam or other U.S. territory. China not only accounts for 90% of North Korea’s external trade, but Pyongyang’s IBM and nuclear weapons owe much to the earlier transfers of Chinese technology.

A Trump hands-off policy in the civil war which has developed in Venezuela is not likely to be sustainable. The attempt to set up a so-called :”socialist” dictatorship backed by the Castro Regime in Cuba is an effort to seek anti-American allies among the left throughout the Hemisphere. Washington’s relations with Latin America are too intimate in terms of trade, immigration and defense capabilities to be left to the machinations of the bankrupt regime in Havana whose only strategy continues to be anti-American.

Trump, as his predecessors – since the end of World War II – finds increasingly that the U.S. must have a policy toward any of the major developments in world politics.

Sws08-09-17

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

16China’s strategy clear


 

In a world of regional conflicts, new fighting in the high Himalayas in Bhutan sheds further significance on Beijing’s world strategy.

Bhutan, an incredibly beautiful retreat in the heart of the highest mountains in the world with only a million inhabitants, was a “protectorate” of British India. It, and a half dozen other frontier states – including Nepal with 30 million – drifted either into incorporation, semi-independence or independence [Nepal’s 30 million] in the new Subcontinent divided basically between predominantly Moslem Pakistan [later Pakistan and Bangladesh] and India [with its Islamic minority almost as large as Pakistan’s population].

In late June Beijing accused India of sending border guards from Sikkim, one of the Himalayan kingdoms that eventually became part of India, on to the Doklam plateau in Bhutan. [Bhutan maintains no formal relations with China.] Historically Bhutan  was linked geographically to Tibet rather than India below the Himalayas.]  China accused the Indians of trying to obstruct road construction. New Delhi did admit it had approached the Chinese crew warning them against disturbing the current status.

Indian and Chinese forces have clashed in various parts of the 3,000-mile frontier – much of it either disputed or indefinitely marked – since 1962. Then as a result of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s pushing the Indian demarcation of the British Indian border – apparently with the assurance from his chief foreign policy advisers, V.K. Krishna Menon, a Communist sympathizer, that Moscow would intervene with their Chinese Communist ally to prevent violence. Instead, the Indian military – heirs to the great British Indian Imperial tradition – suffered a devastating blow which brought the Chinese into the lowlands on the south side of the Himalayas but then with a rapid unilateral withdrawal.

Since then, there have been clashes between them– especially after their occupation of Tibet and the flight of the Dalai Lama, its religious-civil leader, to India in 1950, where he leads a government in exile among Tibetan refugees. Despite Pakistan’s one-time alliance and heavy dependence on U.S. arms, Islamabad has drifted into an alliance with Beijing

As American influence and aid has diminished, Beijing’s role in Pakistan – which already had nuclear weapons – has grown. China has been given permission to establish a naval base at Gwadar, on the Iranian border at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. An official announcement came just a few days after U.S. Navy SEALs conducted a secret raid to kill Osama Ben Ladin in Pakistani when relations between Washington and Islamabad took a nosedive.

Beijing plans for Pakistan to play a major role in China’s “Belt and Road”, a $1.4-trillion global trade plan, a rebuilding of the historic Silk Road from China’s west to the Persian Gulf and Europe. If the Chinese are successful, it could shift the global economy and challenge the U.S.-led order. Islamabad is banking on receiving more than $50 billion in Chinese loans and grants including a pipeline to bring Mideast oil and gas to China’s western province of Sinkiang.

Pakistan leadership – always fraught with division and corruption — has just lost its prime minister after a court’s ruling on his massive corruption. Some Islamabad politicians see China as its new “equalizer” with the U.S. and Indian relationship – after the decades of New Delhi’s alliance with Moscow — increasingly stronger. Prime Minister nahrenda Modi, during a two-day visit to Washington in June, called on Islamabad to end its support of terrorism, supporters of the Kashmir state disputed between the two neighbors.

American aid to Pakistan, once the third-largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, is expected to total less than $1 billion in 2016, down from a recent peak of more than $3.5 billion in 2011.

The Trump Administration is again face to face with a decision: should it continue military and economic aid to nuclear armed Pakistan in order to win whatever support there is for the West among its elite or throw in the towel to what has become a Chinese ally in Beijing’s strategy to reach around India to extend its political influence based on its rank as the world’s No. 2 economy?”

 

 

Sws-08-04

The end of World War II


In a sense, the current Hamburg meeting of the world’s most important economic powers represents the end of the more than six decades of the Post-World War II Era.

In 1945, the second civil war among the European powers ended with the almost total devastation of Europe. Although the U.S., as a late arrival on the scene, suffered almost a half million deaths, its homeland remained isolated from the conflict.

Furthermore, the war effort had left behind an enormously new powerful industrial and managerial revolution.

It therefore seemed logical enough that not only would the U.S. participate in the rebuilding of Europe, but that it would assume a greater proportionate share of the burden.

That arrangement, in which the U.S. “inevitably” assumed a larger per capita role in any international undertaking has continued as the norm. That is despite the fact that the rebuilding of Europe with American production enhanced its already overwhelmingly leading worldwide economic role.

The Europeans – to a greater or lesser degree, notably Germany most of all, ironically one of the originators of the war and the major enemy.– profited from this assigned disproportional contribution. It became part and parcel of an international strategy of the American political Liberal Establishment – which profited from being its administrators, aided by the more conservative/corporatist business community which gained directly from its activity.

But left behind was the debris of the policy; not least was the growing erosion of the U.S.infrastructure which had not kept up nor pushed forward with the maximum new technology.. Also there was the burden – with whatever incidental profit to the economy and it was considerable – of a military defense force against the new threat to Western Europe of Soviet Communism and its international appurtenances.

The losers in this macroeconomic arrangement were the American constituency of lower middle income families and especially those which saw their more menial industrial jobs move abroad to lower wage countries. Their rebellion against their disadvantaged situation suddenly, unperceived initially by the political and bureaucratic establishments, brought the election of Donald K. Trump to the presidency. Trump, of course, was neither a rebel nor an innovator, but ipso facto he began to speak for what he himself labeled “the forgotten Americans”.

It was inevitable, perhaps, that this new domestic American scene was to be reflected on the international tableau. Rather suddenly it was recognized that there was nothing sacred about the rule of thumb which had assigned the U.S. a larger than proportionate cost in any international economic undertaking. The most dramatic, of course, was the American military expenditures [$600 billion in 2017] which maintained armed forces far larger than all the others in the world in order to defend a European constituency which as individuals for the most part did not bear its share of the load.

The expression of this new call for the U.S. 350 million gross national product, almost one quarter of the world’s total, is now being put forward by the Trump Administration in such international fora as the G20. To a world – and even part of the American public – that does not recognize the change of mood and its U.S. policy and strategic implications, it is seen in the Establishment circles – including the Mainsteam Media – as a reversal of all the chosen criteria for U.S. policy, and to an extent it is just that.

But the world – and the American Establishment – is going to have to live with a new U.S. strategy which claims “what is mine is mine”, not what is mine could be partly yours. The political manifestations could turn ugly.
Sws-07-06-17

The Syrian crisis deepens


With growing civilian casualties and some nine million refugees, Syria’s civil war has taken a turn for worse.

Direct participation of both the U.S. and Israel now appears to have become inevitable. That adds a new dimension to what too often has been seen as a parallel to the Spanish Civil War [1936-39]. That war, with Mussolini and Hitler aiding the Nationalist/Fascist revolt with weapons and advisers while the Allied powers remained neutral, has often been seen as the prelude to World War II.

In a recent defense engagement the U.S. brought down one of Syrian Dictator Bashar al-Assad’s fighters, its first direct intervention in the war where it has maintained a defensive shield protecting U.S. interests. But it has carefully avoided conflict with either Russia or Iran, allies both on the ground supporters of the al Basher regime. Israel, a contiguous neighbor, has tried to remain neutral. But it recently returned artillery fire across its northern Golan Heights border when bombardments inside Syria from ISIS strayed albeit with no casualties. But both ISIS and Hizbollah, Moslem terrorists operating as part of the rebellion against the al Assad regime, but are also Jerusalem’s opponents.

With this threat of direct U.S. and Israeli intervention, Syria now becomes a critical test for Pres. Donald Trump’s foreign policy. A threat to intervene directly if al Assad or the Soviet and Iranian forces allied with him use chemical weapons, in effect against unarmed populations, would be a major test of Trump’s overall policy of nonintervention. That includes, of course,Washington’s close alliance with Israel. Trump had made such nonintervention basic to his new foreign policy following “America First” goals.

Chemical warfare in Syria would put into question three very different but important aspects of U.S. policy:

1] Chemical warfare in the increasingly chaotic conflict would lead to a massive increase in noncombatant victims. The Syrian fighting, much of it for control of strategic urban areas, has taken heavy casualties among women and children as well as the combatants. The fighting often involves unrestrictive bombing by Soviet aircraft supporting the regime. These civilian casualties have become an increasing concern for American public opinion as well as official government policy.

2] although Trump has recently endorsed the strategy of keeping his policy options secret in oder to use ambiguity as a strategic tactic, the fact is the rest of the world sees opposition to the spread of chemical weapons as a basic American policy in Syria. It is assumed that their use would bring direct U.S. intervention as was threatened but ultimately rejected by a more reluctant Obama Administration.

3] Chemical warfare was initiated in World War I with an arms development race among the warring parties. By the end of the war, scientists working for both sides had tested some 3,000 different chemicals for use as possible weapons. Some 50 of these poisons were actually tried out on the battlefield including a widespread use of chlorine for which there were continuing postwar casualties for U.S. military., But the horror and fear of the weapons’ use – even though responsible for less than 1% of WWI’s fatalities and about 7% of its casualties – led to repeated and relative success in banning them in various international treaties and wars leading up to WWII. Nor were they used in WWII.Were chemical weapons to become pervasive in Syria now it would be not only be a serious new development in the war there, but would break the general taboo that has held them in check since 1915 as a weapon of even in all-out war.

sws-06-28-17

Living with Putin


July 5, 2017

Marcus Wolf, “the man without a face”, infamous East German intelligence operative who once put a Communist spy into West German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s bed, has commented pithily on Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Wolf doubts Putin lived in Dresden for 15 years as liaison between the Soviet KGB and the Communist East German spies. He said that Putin couldn’t have been important if he, Wolf, as the East Berlin regime’s external security apparatus boss, had not known him. On the other hand, Wolf admitted an accomplishment of a good spy is to make those around him think he is a mediocrity – and Putin certainly accomplished that. That’s been the assumption for why the former Moscow leader and strongman Boris Yeltsin chose him as a successor.

Those observations help explain the difficulty American leadership has dealing with Putin as head of the Russian state. His ambitions are clear: Putin wants to restore Russia to its former Soviet glory. No Communist, he has nevertheless said that the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. Whatever odds, Putin dreams of rebuilding a Russia that can compete with the U.S. as a world superpower. That means incorporating eastern and central Europe, even when he risks retribution from the West.

On the other hand, in an increasingly complex world of alliances, Washington looks to Putin to help fight Islamic terrorism, an equally great threat to American security. He has lent his air force to Syria’s Basher al Assad to defend that tyrant against a rebellion led by Washington’s chief terrorist enemy, ISIS. But Washington and its allies are dedicated to ousting al Assad as a menace to Mideast stability. Furthermore, Putin’s war on Islamic extremists is compromised by European Russia’s collapsing birthrate making Moscow increasing dependent on Moslem military recruits from the Russian Federation’s Central Asian republics.

Putin’s survives near bankruptcy with oil and gas exports mostly to Western Europe and Japan. But the high energy prices of yesteryear are only a memory. U.S. technology has found unanticipated huge new reserves in shale deposits at home and around the world. [When Saudi Arabia tried to undercut American pricing with its own vast oil reserves, U.S. oilmen upped their productivity with a technological ante.] There’s a pretty good chance that the U.S. will again take up its prewar and early post-WWII role as a net energy exporter.

Putin’s pretensions to superpower status, however, do have a basis. Although its conventional military badly eroded when the Communists imploded in 1990, Moscow has an arsenal of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Putin rattles these from time to time. He reminds Washington that while it can generally round up an anti-Putin Western coalition – at least when it is not trying “to lead from behind” as in the Obama years – he still can harness and lead anti-Americanism.

Furthermore, Putin’s Russia is not the old Communists’ continuing failure to create an autarchical economy – independent of the rest of the world. The dollars that roll in for energy and cannot be absorbed because of Russia’s primitive investment climate almost as quickly roll out to Western Europe and the U.S. It‘s this access to Moscow energy profits that tempts Westerners to play games with individual Russians – often closely associated with Putin’s coterie.

Reports of clumsy Russian efforts to hack and otherwise influence American elections are as much as anything else part of this international chase for profits from its energy exports. It’s this Putin and his clique that challenges American policymakers trying to maintain world peace and stability. It also explains the contradictory reporting and welter of often unsubstantiated gossip that surrounds the contacts between Russian and Washington players.

Untangling U.S. foreign policy


American geopoliticians in the 100 years the U.S. was coming of age as the superpower had the “luxury” of facing a relatively monolithic enemy. From the early 30s, it was fascism dominated by Mussolini and then Hitler until his downfall at the conclusion of World War II. Stalin and his worldwide Communist apparatus moved into that role in the immediate postwar period.

It was only with the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1990 that Washington planners faced what had been the more normal historical array of a number of powerful national and imperial entities vying for power. Turning their hand to this complex has confronted American policymakers – however the disproportionate size and power of their country – with new and perplexing conflicting interests.

Nowhere is that problem more apparent than with Washington’s relations with the Russians. The muddled argument now taking place in the public arena is only the most obvious expression of this.

Vladimir Putin’s success at accumulating near-dictatorial powers, his potential to employ the former Soviet Union’s reservoir of weapons of mass destruction including hydrogen bombs, give him heft that has to be considered beyond the crippled power and condition of his country.

Especially is that true because he has sought to wield it against his neighbors and former Soviet appendages Georgia and Ukraine, threatening Poland and the Baltic states.The U.S. and its European allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization could not ignore what was again a threat to peace by an aggressive neighbor, seeking as Putin has, the reconstruction of the foreign Russian Empire/Soviet Union.

If Putin does not aim at the superpower status of the former Soviet Union – although not nominally a Communist, he said “the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” – he had the power to disrupt the peace and stability of the post-Soviet world.

Washington does not find it easy to deal with Putin’s Russia which in some parts of the world over which the U.S. still has the obligations of the principal, and at times, only, peacekeeper. It must oppose and lead an alliance against Moscow in Putin’s efforts to move back to the Communist/Imperial western borders. But in the critical Syrian civil war – with its growing foreign participation – Washington seeks to oust the Basher Al Assad government which Moscow supports although both find a common enemy in the ISIS Moslem terrorists who are the chief opponent of the Basher regime.

This leads to tactical contradictions such as U.S. bombing of Russian forces supporting the Damascus government, Washington’s chief enemy in the region and perhaps now the world.

In Western Europe, Washington’s half-century of backing the economic and political integration of the continent as a solution to its centuries of internecine warfare – which twice within the century have drawn in the U.S. – is collapsing. The withdrawal of Britain and its attempt now to boost its commercial and political relations with the U.S. and the English-speaking former Dominions, resurrects the old dilemma – what to do about a Germany that overwhelms its traditional enemy France, flirts with the Russians, and is dismayed by its own power.

In Asia, the U.S. has the prospect of an increasingly powerful and aggressive China which threatens to dominate both Japan and manipulates the two Koreans, menacing the most important sea lane in the world through Southeast Asia. A short-term U.S.commercial policy toward China that has been a net transfer of resources through below-cost pricing is now reaching its climax, but having destroyed much of the American manufacturing base on which the new digital revolution must build a completely new concept of production.

Washington is faced with the prospect of increasing its expensive buildup in East Asia or encouraging Japan and South Korea to adopt nuclear weapons in their defense.

The Trump Administration – a rogue if powerful political force built on the resentment of a large part of the population outside the three elitist urban centers – may be blessed with a certain naïve vitality. But it has only a short time for it and its successors to create a new U.S. approach to world diplomacy.

sws-04-04-17

 

 

 

 

The Obama Legacy


Historians will debate the importance of the Obama Administration and its role in American history for decades to come, of course. The legacy which presidents leave behind them is always a concern of our chief executives, and it has been of even more importance to Barack Obama. As he marked a milestone in his tour of duty. leaving on a foreign tour, with a successor he opposed now chosen, he publicly drew his own optimistic record. He carefully picked, of course, in a press conference, what he considered the best interpretation of events over the last eight years. But at least for the time being, when his policies and their repercussions are still relatively fresh, it is hard to draw a balance sheet which is less than disastrous.
Obama, of course, perhaps more than any other recent president, is an ideologue – and he insisted in his political campaigns that he aimed at a “transformation” of American society. His framework for events is a combination of his studies of history but overlaid by the socialist and pro-Communist views of the little social-political group around the University of Chicago who launched his career.
There is no doubt that he has effected changes, whether they are indeed transformations, and whether any have been beneficiary, only time will tell.
But any honest examination of the effects of his strategies is a record of miscalculation and failures. Perhaps the most dramatic ones have been in foreign policy. His campaign to withdraw American power and decision-making from the international scene has demonstrated what had always been apparent to serious students of foreign affairs: the enormous power of the U.S., economic, political and military, has a role in any international confrontation even when Washington chooses to remain neutral or withdraw its influence. A world order without U.S. participation is not only unimaginable to our allies but something our adversaries always question as a possibility.
The Middle East is the most dramatic example of the failure of Obama’s effort to remove American leadership and power in the interelated conflicts there. First, his effort to weaken the U.S.-Israel alliance encouraged the Moslem terrorists in the area. Then, Sec. Hillary Clinton’s courted the brief Moslem Brotherhood regime in Egypt – overthrown by the military through popular demand. Obama and Hillary attempted to boycott the new military rulers thus providing an opportunity for Russian arms sales and influence where it had been expelled a half century ago by pro-Western Egtptians. In Syria, Obama’s initial declaration of opposition to the Basher al Assad regime was followed by withdrawal. Washington’s retreat assured the descent into a bloody, irresolute civil war sending a flood of millions of refugees into neighboring countries and Europe. The threat of force followed by its withdrawal has returned Moscow to a base in the eastern Mediterranean and helped extend Tehran mullahs’ state terrorisn excesses across the Fertile Crescent, even into Latin America. A treaty to curb Tehran’s nuclear weapons, never submitted to the Senate as the Constitution fdemands, is rapidly disintegrating
In East and South Asia, Obama’s ambivalent policies toward Chinese aggression have encouraged Beijing to aggressive territorial claims against its neighbors, discouraged unity among the Southeast Asians against Chinese Communist threats. Again Hillary’s much publicized pivot to the Western Pacific has failed to materialize. Slowly, the rape of the American economy by the Chinese through export subsides and currency manipulation – begun in the Bush Administrations — has become so clear that the Trump Administration qill have no option but a dangerous crackdown.
Obama’s role as the first American Afro-American president was, whether admitted in public discussion, seen as an important opportunity to continue to heal the historic American race problem. But whether in part because his own exotic background linked him neither to the rising black middle class nor the poor of the ghetto, he either took nondefensible positions on individual race incidents or neglected completely the mayhem of his own Chicago hometown. One has to assume that the American black leadership can only see these past eight years as a failure by a president, whatever his color, to contribute to solution of the race problem which appears to most observers to be in an even worse condition than at his entry into office.
Obama’s claim for his Affordable Care solution to long-term U.S. medical care is nearing collapse with skyrocketing costs and failure of the insurance framework which was to support it. His steady stream of executive directives for additional regulation and environmental restraints has contributed toward the slowest and most erratic economic recovery since World War II.
Despite his rhetorical skills and personal popularity as the first black president, Obama’s legacy will be a negative one. As the anti-Obama vote for Donald Trump has demonstrated, it will also cast a shadow on many of the techniques and political forms his very talented political team gave the nation.
sws-11-14-16

.

What to do about Turkey?


Vice President Joe Biden’s highly publicized visit to Turkey next week is likely to prove critical, if inconclusive. Whether he is able to establish a new relationship with a North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO], the one with by far the largest military forces after the U.S., is crucial to the whole Middle East as well as the U.S. bilateral alliance and with its European NATO allies.
Biden is seen as trying to make a new bargain with Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In the past few months, Erdogan has accelerated his accumulation of power through the usual machinations of a popular leader but with authoritarian tendencies, shucking elements of Turkey’s secular constitution. The recent failed military coup – apparently by the last remnants of the secularists who through military dominance have been the guardians of an effort to maintain the non-Islamic state – has been an excuse for increased repression and rampant anti-American propaganda.
The fear is that Erdogan is now turning his back on almost a hundred years when the country tried to move to a modern state with top-down Westernization. The abandonment of the state capitalist role for liberalization of the economy over the last decade had delivered unprecedented growth and prosperity. But that boom has ended, in part another victim of the worldwide economic slowdown.
Turkey had always been a model for other Moslem governments trying fitfully to break away from traditional Islam which combines government with religion. That struggle goes on among the 1.3 billion people in the Arab-Moslem world – from Morocco to Indonesia. And while no adequate response has yet surfaced, Turkey had been perceived to have made the transition. That now appears dubious at best.
But once again, the world is in one of those periods when 1500-year-old concepts of Arab-Moslem conquest and forced conversion has been part of the religion’s creed. That many, perhaps most, Moslems would ignore this concept is not enough to block a determined, fanatical minority from jihad – propounding the duty of a Muslim to maintain and spread his religion by whatever means.
Erdogan has played a clever game. He has managed, despite the bitter rejection by many outspoken European Union officials, to continue the hope of Turkish adherence to the Bloc. His flirtation with the Islamists — with such moves as reestablishing the death penalty — has now, however, vitiated that prospect.
He blackmailed German Chancellor Angela Merkel for free movement of Turkish nationals within the EU, swapped for Ankara stemming the flow of Syrian and other Middle East refugees into Western Europe. But Merkel’s original welcome resulting in more than a million migrants entering her country last year is increasingly producing a backlash. Integrating newcomers with completely different cultural values has failed spectacularly, demonstrated in highly publicized crimes including rape.
Unlike the Europeans, Biden has the luxury of negotiating from a stronger hand, unlike the Europeans’ proximity and increasing problem of their growing largely unassimilated Moslem minorities. He can exploit Erdogan’s wildly fluctuating foreign policy which has failed in establishing a neo-Ottoman regime building on its once imperial presence in the region. A flirtation with Moscow – which supplies half its energy thereby running a huge trade deficit — is a feint aimed at Washington and its European allies. But just as they find themselves on different sides in the Syrian civil war, Erdogan cannot ignore Moscow’s threatening attempt to reinstall the Soviet role in the Black Sea and the Balkans.
Biden has to come home with something. One trophy would be at least promises for Turkey to tighten its borders, stop permitting aid to flow to the Muslim terrorists, and promising a more active Turkish collaboration in fighting Daesh [ISIS and ISIL], hoping that Erdogan recognizes that his Islamicism will not protect him from rising Moslem terrorism. But getting Turkey firmly back into the Western alliance would require stronger leadership of those partners than the Obama Administration can muster.
sws-08-16-16

Obama’s deadly compromise


President Barack Obama confirmed in his press conference Thursday that he has accepted as unavoidable the recurrent, periodic Islamic terrorist attacks in the U.S. and abroad. That was the import of his answers to questions wherein he indicated that he would not modify what he considers his winning policy in the Mideast to “degrade and destroy” Daesh [ISIS or ISIL].
His response to criticism and demands that the U.S. should undertake a more aggressive policy toward the Mideast source of Islamic terrorism was to warn about additional civilian casualties from any such American action. Yet he acknowledged that Russian intervention in the Syrian conflict is accompanied by massive attacks on the civilian population. He mocked spokesmen, including inferentially the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who have called for the kind of all-out military effort against ISIS that destroyed Nazism and held the Communists at bay during the 35 years of The Cold War. Obama’s response is despite the fact that most American military commanders and planners argue that ISIS falls only behind Russia as Washington’s principal threat.
In effect, Obama’s program of action accepts an unspecified duration when the current worldwide wave of terrorist activity would continue. His rationalization for accepting such a level of violence against the civilian population was that there has always been terrorist activity from many different quarters over the past decades and that it was therefore not a new phenomenon. The implication was that terrorism is a natural phenomenon and may not ever be completely eliminated.
Obama outlined at some length the failure of his continuing negotiations with the Russians to end their support of the Basher al Assad regime in Syria. However, he took no note of the limited Moscow commitment in Syria today compared with Soviet times because of Russia’s diminished military capacity. Admitting that negotiations with the Russians have not produced any diminishment of Moscow’s activities in Syria, he offered the admonition that should such activity continue, it would condemn Russia as an international pariah in world opinion. That such an epithet would have already been accepted in most democratic circles around the world did not seem to reduce for him the importance of such additional evidence coming out of the Syrian civil war. Nor did Obama’s concentration on the Syrian conflict take account of Russian aggression in the Crimea, its subversion among Russian-speakers in the eastern Ukraine, and its continuing threats to the Baltic states.
The President did argue that the U.S. military activity against Daesh in the Mideast, however successful, would require a more comprehensive program to meet ISIS’ ideological concept. Yet, he failed again, to grapple with that very problem, that is to meet the challenge of the terrorists’ allegiance to Islam which forms their ideological framework. Obama continues, as do most observers, to acknowledge but intellectually ignore that however perverted and distorted their view, the terrorists base their creed on their own version of Islam. Obama ignores that a discussion of Islam and its relation to the terrorists is critical to any examination of their ideology.
Like other important international spokesmen, in fact Obama refuses to advocate that the world examine and discuss whatever tenets that religion holds which produce the current wave of terrorism. Instead, he like others fall back on such clichés as “Islam is a religion of peace” and the obvious conclusion that most Moslems are not advocates of terrorism. What Obama and his supporters ignore is that the terrorists are not Christian Scientists nor Mormons, but while all Moslems are not terrorists, all terrorists are Moslems. They ignore the long history of Arab and Moslem holy war [jihad] to force non-believers [kafirs] or face death or enslavement.
Obama’s acceptance , in effect, of the current level of world terrorism will lead to further augmentation of ISIS as it spreads it network around the world, gaining psychotic and fanatical adherents of an aggressive version of Islam because of its “success” in terrorizing the civilized world.

sws-08-04-16

Obama’s Mideast muddle


The U.S.’ strategic position in the Middle East is becoming increasingly muddled by internal conflicts in the Obama Administration’s strategy.
For one thing, Washington finds itself engaged in a conflict with the Russians through surrogates in the complex Syrian civil war. Moscow supports the regime of Basher al Assad whose ruthlessness against its internal enemies now seven years ago turned popular peaceful demonstrations into an escalating armed conflict.
Obama gave tepid support, if from time to time withdrawing behind red lines he had drawn. to a small democratic position to al Assad. But it has been virtually annihilated in the growing conflict against the regime led by various terrorist groups, including Daesh [ISIS or ISIL] and al Qaeda. The most recent episode has been a devastating attack by Russian aircraft on a splinter of the democratic moderates ostensibly supported by Washington. The growing success of Daesh in Syria, of course, becomes a problem on the larger screen for Washington who is still pondering how to curtail its growing worldwide influence, including on so=called American “lone wolf” terrorists.
A minor crisis ensued when the Russians a few days ago bombed a group of anti-al Assad rebels backed by Washington. Moscow, apparently attempting to avoid a more open conflict with the U.S., claims its bombers were not informed adequately about the nature of the largely civilian population it attacked. But that seems a lame excuse given the access of the Russians not only to al Assad’s intelligence but the increasingly active participation of the Tehran mullahs, now cozying up to the Russians.
The U.S. position, too, is becoming less transparent and more committed with its alliance to the Saudis who support rebel Syrian groups. Inferentially, the U.S. Sec. of State John Kerry’s solution, a negotiated settlement which would see the departure of al Assad, seems further away than ever. Negotiations among all the parties in Geneva have achieved little more than a further definition of their varying positions.
The American position has become even more confused with the denunciation of the earlier aspects of the problem by a memorandum signed by 51 career foreign service officers. Leaked to the mainstream media, it blames the Obama Administration for refusing to pursue a policy of destruction of the al Assad regime. Aside from a violation of the unspoken code of ethics among career appointees to contain their opposition to policy within official channels, the memo seems tries to shut the barn door after the horse had long been stolen. That may have been a solution early on in the Syrian Civil War, but with al Assad at least temporarily improving his position with growing Russian and Iranian assistance, it hardly seems an answer to the present difficulties.
Critics of the American diplomats’ position point out it offers no solution to the current military impasse. The danger, of course, is that Vladimir Putin, up against European and American opposition in his seizure of Crime, and efforts to dominate Ukraine, and his threats to the Baltic States, may overplay his hand. A further escalation by Russian forces in Syria, with the likelihood they could defeat al Assad’s internal opposition, would help solve the growing problem of Islamic terrorism, a threat to Moscow as it its to other powers. But it would likely require an American response rather than see the Russians – with their new Tehran mullahs’ assistance – reestablish a strategic hold in one of the Mideast’s most important states.
The Russian threat, in part, has already forced the Israelis – on not very good terms with the Obama Administration – into a series of personal negotiating trips to Moscow by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. How far Netanyahu is coordinating these negotiations with the Obama Administration isn’t altogether clear. Nor is the Chinese position, although of lesser importance, apparent.
One thing does seem obvious. The Obama Administration is rapidly losing any ability to influence the outcome of the Syrian civil war. With so many players – and such enormous potential impact on its Arab neighbors – that becomes another major defeat for Obama’s foreign policy and another hot potato he is leaving for his successor next year, whoever he may be and however qualified to deal with the situation.
sws-06-26-16

Undiplomatic diplomacy


Fifty-one career diplomats have signed a protest to the Secretary of State and Pres. Barack Obama concerning U.S. policy toward the chaotic situation in Syria. Their essential point, that the U.S. should be doing everything it can to unseat the barbarous regime of Haffez al Assad, is well taken. Al Assad’s regime is now responsible for some 400,000 deaths by using weapons of war including aerial bombing against innocents caught up in the fighting. The barbarism of the regime is unparalleled. save perhaps that of Al Assad’s father, the former Syrian dictator. Unfortunately the regime is now regaining lost territory and taking a stronger line against any negotiated settlement of the civil war proposed by the U.S. and its allies in the Geneva peace conference which would see Al Assad go.
Yet we think the diplomats’ protest is a mistake. First of all, diplomats are civil servants, whose duty lies in implementing policies in which they have a participatory contribution, but one that demands public loyalty. For diplomats who cannot and will not abide by what they see as unredeeming strategic or policy mistakes, there is only one position: either keep still and work against policies within the Department or, resign with a public denunciationt as the Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, a career diplomat, did in May 2014. Ford was pulled out of Syria in a U.S. protest in February 2012 as the civil war escalated. He remained ambassador until 2014 but with an active campaign on against the regime on the social media.
But the diplomats’ statement – and surrounding publicity engendered by its being leaked to The New York Times. — has a much graver problem. The memorandum, or at least what has been released to the media, places the entire onus for the current state of Syria, on the al Assad regime. Unfortunately, there is not much now to choose from as far as U.S. policy is concerned in the parties in the chaotic internal struggle.
A moderate and democratic opposition to the al Basher regime — if it ever existed in sufficient numbers and influence even had it had American assistance which was not forthcoming from the Obama Administration — has been wiped out. Opponents of the regime now consist of Islamic terrorists of whatever flavor, but including both the two principal American enemies, Al Qaeda and Daesh [ISIS or ISIL].
While one can make the argument, and that is implied in the diplomats’ statement, that the nature of the al Basher regime was the fundamental reason for the breakdown in civilization in the country, today the threat to U.S. national security comes from the Islamicist opponents of the regime. That has been proved conclusively in the series of terrorist attacks in the U.S. over the last year culminating in the greatest mass killing in U.S. history in Orlando.
The final outcome of the civil war in Syria – with growing Russian and participation by other Arab regimes – appears likely to culminate in an international conflagration ended only by an international negotiation. From the U.S. standpoint, absolutely essential to such a settlement would be the disarming and destruction of the regime’s Islamicist enemies. In that, at least, we appear to have the support of Moscow and certainly of our Western allies, led by the French with their long influence in the country and who have long advocated a more aggressive policy than the Obama Administration.
The Obama Administration has made its concept of threats to U.S. national security the sine qua non of its foreign policy. Whether it has, indeed, always recognized the issue in the tangled Syrian environment is another question. It may well be argued that it was Pres. Obama’s reluctance to intervene, after initially announcing a “red line” in Syria, and his earlier overly rapid withdrawal from Iraq, which brought on the current situation.
It would be well, then, were the concerned diplomats to consider the broader issues involved in the current Syrian inferno, before taking a position outside what are their normal demanding functions.
sws-05-18-16

Twilight for social democracy


Ironically, at a time when American politicians are flirting with social democratic concepts, their historic parties are fading in Western Europe where those political slogans originated.
The prime example is Spain. There the PSOE [Partido Socialista Obrero Español], the Party of the Spanish Worker, the country’s oldest, has weathered many crises. During the 40-year-long Franco dictatorship, it maintained its role as the principal anti-Communist left opposition operating among refugees in France.
After governing in Madrid 21 of the last 39 years, the PSOE will probably lose its commanding position in this month’s elections, even losing role as leader of Spain’s left where the majority of the voters self-identify. Shorn of their old Soviet attachment and command structure, a revolutionary movement on the left, Podemos, and a right of center party, are likely to reduce the PSOE to less than 20% of the vote. Spanish political theory is highly influential throughout the whole Ibero-American world, and Latin American styles are almost certain to follow – as already demonstrated in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and soon in Venezuela, where left-wing regimes are being ousted.
The loss of popularity of the social democrats in Spain echoes throughout Western Europe where for more than a half century they have played a dominant role. In Germany, the original home of social democratic concepts, the socialists are polling new lows. The ruling French Socialists have become increasingly unpopular under their Pres. François Holland, in part because he has adopted a program of economic and labor reforms ignoring traditional socialist nostrums.
In the early 90s, Italy’ socialists – in the early postwar years with a Soviet line by far the largest party, an ally of the Communists — under their first prime minister, Bettino Craxi, was almost wiped out by corruption. Three Socialist deputies committed suicide as a result of the scandals. Splinters of the early socialist parties, from anti-Communist to those fellow-traveling in the Soviet era, have joined forces forming the Socialist Party (PS), renamed Italian Socialist Party (PSI) in 2011. But many former social democrats have deserted the socialists for four-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s bigger tent, largely a right-of-center grouping.
Europe’s social democrats have become discredited through their growing association with the policies of the moderate right — austerity, deregulation, liberalization and free trade. Virtually the whole technocratic community has seen these as necessary economic measures to restore prosperity. These have been increasingly seen by the media and among many younger politicians as the cause of Europe’s present economic decline.
But as voters of the traditional left have grown bitter as they saw their party of the welfare state, the public sector and of the blue-collar workers, reverse its governing strategy. That feeds a growing separation between social democratic politicians who view these policies as the only options as jobs have disappeared and economies flattened and the street, always ready to find leaders for protest and violence..
In Spain, an inconclusive general election last December left the socialists in a dilemma: either adopt the centre-right promises of tax cuts and more supply-side reforms, or bend to a new left that calls for an end to austerity and channels the anger of the mob.. In the U.K., this dilemma has produced a new leftwing leadership in the Labor Party, But whether, even with the conservatives in disarray over the question of withdrawal from the European Union, they have a formula to gain power is dubious.
It seems unlikely that this paradox won’t be present for the European socialist movement for the indefinite future. Whether it has application to the American scene – current political fashions to the contrary – seems highly unlikely. The U.S. economy, while not roaring forward, still is the envy of most of the Western world, with few calls even from the “progressives” for the nationalization and “socialization” of the major industries.
sws-06-22-16

Southeast Asia heats up –again!


Whispers of

a secret arms conference in Vietnam with U.S. suppliers attending is one more sign that events in Southeast Asia are again heating up. The fundamental issue is, of course, Beijing’s effort to build a series of military bases on excalated shoals which lie across one of the world’s most important ocean commercial arteries.

Chinese activity in the South China Sea also impinges on claims of the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia to these waters and their miniscule islets.
The Vietnam symposium, closed to the media and with no public announcement, is part of Hanoi’s effort to get the U.S. to lift its arms embargo against the Communist victor in the long and bitter Vietnam War which cost some 54,000 lives. In fact Washington partially lifted the embargo in 2914 but warned that more progress would only come with improvement in Vietnam’s human rights record. The U.S. official who presides over human rights policy, Tom Malinowski, is in Hanoi this week, apparently taking an on the spot look at Vietnam’s continued suppression of opposition to the Communists and to persecution of religious groups.
Although Russia continues – as it did during the Vietnam War – to be Hanoi’s principal supplier of military equipment, the Vietnamese want access to American fighter jets, helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft, often considered superior technology to Moscow’s exports. Vietnamese Vice Defense Minister Lt-Gen Nguyen Chi Vinh was quoted in the official media saying that Vietnam’s relationship with the United States lacked defense industry cooperation, but that Hanoi wanted Washington “to provide modern, suitable and adaptable technology”.. Already buying weapons from India and Israel as well as Russia, Hanoi is aiming at a strategy of not depending on one single country suppler.
.Hanoi has recently purchased six modern Kilo-class submarines from Russia equipped with Klub cruise missiles, Russian-built S-300 surface-to-air missile batteries, and from Israel, and Jerusalem’s Galil assault rifles and AD-STAR 2888 radars. Vietnam also has Tarantul-class corvettes, known as Molniyas, modelled on Russian designs equipped with 16 missiles with a range of 80 miles..
Some decision may be forthcoming after Pres. Barack Obama’s visit to Vietnam starting May 22. With a growing dispute between Hanoi and its old ally in Beijing over claims to the Paracel and Spratly Islands and more than one report of minor clashes over the last few years between the two East Asian powers, the enemy of my enemy is my friend law of geopolitics seems to be invoked by Washington.
Access to American technology is only part of the new Hanoi courtship with the U.S. producers. The Vietnamese, increasingly seeing themselves as victims of the powerful Chinese push into the South China Sea – some Vietnamese claimed territory is already occupied by Beijing – want to increase American intervention in the growing crisis area and use Washington as part of its maneuvering against Beijing.
We hope that the Obama Administration, not noted for its subtlety in withdrswing American leadership from critical areas around the world as part of Obama’s concept that U.S. is over-committed, will take a “tough love” stand toward Hanoi. Vietnam needs the U.S. more than we need the Vietnamese despite their confrontation with the Chinese making them de facto allies. Lessening the government’s oppression of its own people with every weapon carried over from its years in the Soviet Bloc have to be an important concern in any move to give Hanoi access to U.S. weapons, and inferentially, U.S. tactical and strategic concepts.
sws-05-12-16

Corruption international


There are more questions than answers, at least so far, in the leak of bits and pieces of what is said to be 11.5 million documents from, again, allegedly, said to be an incredibly corrupt Panamanian law firm.
The first gleanings from “the papers” has already toppled the prime minister of Iceland, caught ostensibly in a conflict of interest with the country’s banks which helped bring on the 2007-08 worldwide financial crisis. So far, more than seventy current or former heads of state and government have been implicated in the whole affair.
. According to findings partially published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, itself a somewhat mysterious newsgathering alliance of leftwing newspapers around the world, the records include three dozen entities blacklisted by the US. Why has this group refused to release all the documents? They apparently include everything and everyone from Mexican druglords to terrorist groups to sanctioned North Korea and Iran.
It’s not exactly new news that heads of state and government around the world have been dipping into the public trough, sometimes rather deeply as in a still blossoming scandal in Malaysia. There our colleagues at The Wall Street Journal are reporting a cool $1 billion has turned up mysteriously in the personal bank account of Prime Minister Najib Razak assuring his debtors his checks wouldn’t bounce.
We are being assured that overseas bank accounts are not necessarily intended as a way of evading taxes. But no one seems able to explain what other worthy uses they could be put to. Tax authorities in Australia, New Zealand and the UK apparently have come to the same conclusion since they have already announced they are looking into the whole Panamanian caboodle.
One big question occurs to us, however, about which we have heard no speculation. How is it that all this was going on in Panama, apparently on a scale that it is hard to believe the locals were not aware, and for some time, without the intervention of U.S. Treasury authorities? So far no prominent Americans have been implicated. But with the size of the documentation, we can’t believe that will not be long awaited.
The reason we ask is that the U.S. and Panama have a long and intensive and extensive association. As early as 1846 a treaty between Colombia and United States obliged Washington to maintain “neutrality” in Colombia’s Panama department in exchange for transit across the isthmus. Panamanians already had a long history of armed insurrection against the federal government in Bogota. In one of the later periods of instability, the U.S. in 1885 took over the Panamanian city of Colón to be met by a Chilean counter occupation of Panama City. Latin Americans speculated Washington was moving for annexation but it did not come..
In 1903, when the Columbian parliament rejected a treaty with the U.S. to grant Washington the rights to continue building a canal between the two oceans which the French [the builders of Suez] had started and could not finish, the Americans switched to supporting Panamanian independistas. The extraterritoriality of the U.S. Canal Zone that was created, was finally abandoned by Pres. Jimmy Carter in 1977 to much domestic U.S. controversy.
But a decade later, Pres. H.W. Bush intervened to dethrone a new corrupt dictator Manuel Noriega. Washington had tolerated Noriega’s drug facilitating operations but when he switched to pro-Cuban and pro-Soviet politics in Central America and stole a presidential election won by his opponents, the U.S. moved to unseat him despite strong criticism throughout Latin America and at the UN. Since, of course, a Hong Kong Chinese company with close connections to Beijing has acquired stevedore rights at both ends of the Canal, again to the consternation of some American strategists.
This brief review of the history begs the question: with the kind of traditional military and civilian ties to Panama, wasn’t the U.S. Treasury aware of these tax shelter shenanigans, some of them plainly illegal, but didn’t crack down, and if not, why not?
sws-04-06-16.

The ghost of Bork rides again


Robert Heron Bork was a renowned American legal scholar, serving as a Yale Law School professor, U.S. Solicitor General, Acting Attorney General, and a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Bork was also in his time the foremost advocate of “Originalism” – an interpretation of the Constitution as fixed in the time of enactment. Originalists insist the constitutional meaning can only be changed by the procedures for amendment set out in Article Five . Bork saw this interpretation as the only way jurists could be prevented from creating new law without a popular consensus through legislation. Bork’s Originalism with its delving into origins is sometimes confused with another school on the right, Textualism, which holds to a narrower interpretation that the law’s meaning can not go beyond its stated language. Scalia saw himself as a Textualist.
The current dispute over the naming of Scalia’s replacement on The Court, recalls an earlier dramatic conflict. In 1987 President Ronald Reagan nominated Bork to the Supreme Court. The almost immediate violent opposition from the left to his elevation never questioned his credentials, neither his scholarship nor his practical experience on the bench. But less than an hour after Reagan’s announcement, Ted Kennedy eviscerated him in a nationally televised speech from the floor of the Senate. “Robert Bork’s America,” Kennedy said, “is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.”
Although the views as well as the credentials of nominees to the courts had been questioned all through U.S. history, the controversy over Bork’s appointment marked a departure in which his political/judicial leanings would be a test. Then Sen. Joseph Biden presided over a committee hearing of Bork’s nomination, generally considered fair despite the uproar in the liberal media which had left no charge unmade. [It was, ironically, during a period when Biden’s own campaign for the presidency was falling apart.] On October 6, Bork’s nomination was rejected in committee by a 9–5 vote.
Despite the fact that a committee rejection made a negative vote by the full [Democratic controlled] Senate almost certain, Bork continued what had become a losing battle on principal. He maintained that “xxx there should be a full debate and a final Senate decision. In deciding on this course, I harbor no illusions. But a crucial principle is at stake. That principle is the way we select the men and women who guard the liberties of all the American people. That should not be done through public campaigns of distortion. If I withdraw now, that campaign would be seen as a success, and it would be mounted against future nominees. For the sake of the Federal judiciary and the American people, that must not happen. The deliberative process must be restored.”
But Bork’s political support went mum. Bork even complained of Reagan’s lukewarm continued endorsement. And on October 23, 1987, the Senate rejected his confirmation, with 42 Senators voting in favor and 58 against. The vern “Bork” entered the dictionaries. New York City. Feminist Florynce Kennedy later would lead a movement to defeat the nomination of Clarence Thomas, saying, “We’re going to bork him. We’re going to kill him politically. … This little creep, where did he come from?” But Thomas, perhaps in no small part because of the color of his skin, was not Borked, but confirmed after a contentious confirmation hearing.
It now remains to be seen whether “turn-about is fair play”, whether Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, again a justice with the proper credentials but unacceptable for his political beliefs to the conservative majority in the Senate, will make the grade. Or will he be Borked.

sws-03-17-16

Dancing with Putin


There is a wild Russian folkdance, like so many Russian cultural artifacts linked to the Tartar Occupation, called the kasatka [ka-zatch-ka]. In one of its many forms, it tests the dancer’s calisthenics by having him crouch but fling out each leg and foot alternately, testing his balance and the nerves of those aroumd him.

Vladimir Putin, old secret service operator that he is with some inherited talents of the Soviet regime but steeped in Russian folkways, has been dancing a katsatka around Pres. Barack Obama. And the effect is as usual unnerving to the encircled and annihilates whatever more formal and customary dance routine the imprisoned spectator might have pursued.

When Obama first suggested an aggressive American role in Syria, but then quickly reneged, Putin saw his chance. After his aggression in George, Crimea and Ukraine, and continuing threats elsewhere, he had unnerved the European Union and the U.S. It was to the point that they, however reluctantly, threatened formal resistance. And they did go as far as sanctions against the Russian leading lights around Putin.

But Putin has enough sense of history to know that bluff can often be successful, especially if like lies – as Hitler’s propagandist Josef Goebbels said – they are ambitious enough. So Putin plunged into Syria, set up the beginning of bases on the coast, and backed his would-be host, the collapsing regime of Basher Al Assad. The effort had great psychological and propaganda value, for Syria had once been the Soviet Union’s Mediterranean anchor, and a return there hinted at a return of Moscow to world leadership.

So the kasatka began. Putin’s oncoming disaster at home with the West’s sanctions and the collapsing oil price for Russia’s only export certainly left Putin in a precarious crouching position. But he flung his military, however much its technological stars and nuclear armory, still the decrepit carcass of the once grand Soviet war machine, far overcommitted into the Syrian row. His aircraft indiscriminately committing atrocities against a highly vulnerable civilian population, and his highly trained special forces encadred al Assad’s old professional French-styled Syrian army, were able to turn the tide against the multi-head opposition. That was especially true since neither Washington nor its allies could pull together demoralized Syrian democrats, and all were trying to keep their distance from al Assad’s main jidhadist opposition.

But then with a new kasatka thrust, Putin grabbed Obama’s gallivanting Secretary of State’s effort to set up an armistice and peace conference. The armistice gave Putin some respite from his overtaxed kasatka thrusts. His dance had so wearied Kerry & Co. that the conferees agreed to gather in Vienna, even though they clearly had totally opposite positions: Washington was demanding that al Assad go, the Kremlin had staked its successful dance on his remaining in office. With the long and ugly history of such conferences throughout the post-World War II history, between the West and the Communists, it was clear Putin’s kasatka meant he would whittle down the American/EU position. With successful negotiations always Washington’s primary target, negotiating with an opponent who does not give ground, ultimately always means the U.S. makes the concessions.

So Putin’s kasatka continues. The latest fling of the limbs is to “order” the Russian military out of Syria. Crouched as he is, he dearly needs to end his commitment before it collapses. But his kasatka presents this as great concession of a noble and enlightened opponent, and, of course, he has made no firm commitment on date nor which and what he will withdraw. In fact, as so often happened with Soviet promises of cooperation, the withdrawal might not take place at all, were he not in an overextended position that he needs to withdraw.

The kasatka never quite ends with any final tour de force. Usually the dancer is so exhausted he just leaves off. That may well be the case with Putin’s dance around the bemused Obama, trying desperately to make something of historical moment of the few months of his last tenure in the presidency. After all, the kasatka has achieved its purpose – it’s rescued Putin from economic collapse, at least for the moment, and has bolstered his flagging domestic support by a feint at the old Soviet international glory.

sws-03-14-16

 

The New Cold War


 

There is now no doubt that Vladimir Putin has launched a successful strategic offensive against the U.S. and its allies, attempting to reassert Moscow’s position as a world leader.

Putin’s challenge to the security of American allies in the Middle East and Central Europe despite his fragile domestic economy is not an historical anomaly. The combination of a skidding gas and oil price, Russia’s only major export, and limited sanctions by the U.S. and its allies, are sending the Russian economy into shortages and inflation.

But just as the fascist dictators of the 1930s, led by Adolph Hitler’s Germany, initially began their aggressive program with bluff, Putin has taken a leaf from their book. We know now that Hitler was ready in one encounter after another with France and other members of the Western alliance to backtrack if he had met opposition. That opposition was not forthcoming, however, in the long road of appeasement, hoping Hitler would end his depredations.

But, as the old saying goes, nothing succeeds like success, and Hitler road these victories to increasing power and his eventual catastrophe when he misjudged the Polish crisis in 1939. Putin is not Hitler, nor is Russia Germany, of course, nor is the world of the digital revolution the 1930s.. But the fact that Putin is immensely popular at home – in no small part because of his effrontery –works on that same old principle.

Like Hitler, he has exploited the presence of Russian minorities or pro-Moscow forces in his former Soviet neighbors. This has brought him success first in a weak Georgia, then in a Ukraine seeking to establish its independence after centuries under Russian domination, and the Baltic States with their history of Russian imperial rule and Soviet aggression.

But his most striking strategic victory has been in the Mediterranean where he once against has established a Moscow base in Syria. Putin has openly challenged the post-Soviet U.S. domination of Europe’s most important waterway by “establishing a permanent presence in the Mediterranean, and breaking out from their perceived military encirclement by NATO, economic sanctions and political isolation”, according to Adm. Mark Ferguson, the head of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa.

Moscow’s ruthless air support of the beleaguered Bashar Al Assad regime in Damascus with enormous civilian casualties has been only a cover for the reestablishment of Moscow bases. In fact, Putin has deployed weapons that have nothing to do with the war against Syrian terrorism. Deployment in Syria of Russian long-range aircraft can now operate all along NATO’s southern flank. The addition of advanced surveillance aircraft creates the beginning of long-range air-defense and precision-strike force. There are reports he has sold a highly capable anti-ship cruise missile to give Assad an advanced air defense systems. In strategic terms, these have to be seen as a challenge to Turkey’s own airspace and therefore to NATO as a member of the alliance.

All this has given Putin the opportunity to put additional pressure on a diminished and overworked American military. The U.S. is going to be forced to redeploy resources now needed in the Persian Gulf to meet the growing challenge of Iran and in the Sea of Japan and the South China Sea where Beijing is rapidly expanding its military clout.

By refusing to go after the terrorists allied to Daesh, [the self-proclaimed Islamic sultanate in Syria and Iraq], Putin has produced a split in NATO. His success has reached such proportions that Donald Trump, a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president, talks of extending a negotiating hand to the Kremlin.

The Obama counter-strategy has been a continued reliance on a policy of open-handedness to enemies in order to bring them to the negotiating table and compromise. There is no evidence, either with the Islamic terrorists, nor with Putin, that this strategy has been successful. Most experts on the area do not see Obama’s “deal” with Tehran on nuclear weapons as effective. And releasing Iranian assets as part of the bargain have probably freed them for additional operations as the world’s greatest state terrorist.

The Obama persistence in following his initial strategy will inevitably speed up the Russian expansion in the Mediterranean which will increasingly be seen by our allies in the region as the threat of a new cold war.

sws-01-23-16

 

.

 

The Shale Revolution [Cont.]


The  Shale Revolution continues to wreak havoc as revolutions are wont to do.

The abundance of U.S. natural gas, in many ways a more satisfactory fossil fuel than either coal or oil because of its lesser emissions, has dynamited the whole worldwide energy market. Whether or not the Obama Administration wants it, the export of oil and gas is going to be a function of the new energy picture with the growing economic pressure to sell off our low priced gas to a world market which hasn’t yet taken advantage of the new mining technologies.

Along with the flagging economies of Europe, and now China, and subsequent lower demand, energy prices are under attack everywhere. The stock markets, long dependent on high energy costs and their very profitable producers, are lurching under the torpedoing of the old price structures. Fuel economies, sometimes at the insistence of government fiat as in the American automobile industry, are also finally having their effect and slowing growing energy demand.

In the long run, there is every reason to hope and believe that lower energy prices will be an enormous fillip for the U.S. and the world economies. But, as Maynard Milord Keyes once quipped, in the long run, we will all be dead. Projections of energy demand and supply have in the past been notoriously wrong. And they may be again. But for the moment, what looks likely for several years if a continuing low price for energy. The U.S. which has always prospered on low energy costs, as compared with Europe, is likely to benefit from this new situation.

Geopolitical developments overseas, for the moment at least, seem to be bolstering this new abundance of energy. Iraq’s fabulous oil and gas reserves are coming back onstream after so many years of war and destruction. Pres. Obama’s “deal” with Iran is likely to see sanctions against its sales of oil lifted with new entries to the market.

Most important has been the effort of our friends the Saudis to regain their role as the marginal producer and dictator of the international market pricing. They have opened all the valves and are producing and marketing at record levels. The intent, without doubt, was to hammer the American shale gas and oil producers with their higher costs than those on the Persian Gulf. But while there have been some difficulties and cutbacks for the U.S. producers, the shale oil entrepreneurs have been adept at coming up with new technological fixes which have in the main maintained their role in this new struggle for prices and markets.

Meanwhile, much propaganda and pure and simple idiocy dominates much of the talk about energy and its application. Electric cars, for example, may eventually become a reality because of new battery developments. But recharging the electric car off their baseboard plug – if that becomes the reality – is going to demand that more electricity be produced somewhere and by someone with some fuel. Coal which has until recently dominated the electrical generating plants, about 60% of the total energy consumption, is fading as more and more quick fix gas generators go into service and environmental constraints demand cutbacks in coal emissions. The pain in the old and often poverty-stricken coal mining areas is something the rest of the country is going to have to be attended [and be paid for].

But, returning to our original point, progress is rarely achieved without considerable pain – for some part or other of our society. And it is clear that is going to be case as the Shale Revolution with almost daily announcements of increased reserves is no exception. Government subsidies for wind and solar will continue to feed the trendy enviromentalists’ pressure on more innocent lawmakers. That, too, is a burden which the taxpayer appears inevitably going to bear.

sws-01-26-26

 

 

Russian navy: another look


Just when we thought we could stow away our concerns about Soviet military power as a nightmare of the disappeared Cold War, we are finding out differently. A 68-page U..S. Navy studied has just been issued which in effect warns the American public and particularly policymakers that Russian naval strength is awesome enough to be of concern.
There is little doubt that Pres. Vladimir Putin is playing, if you will pardon the expression, Russian roulette with his aggression in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria. He does not have the power to sustain his current dramatic thrusts into these areas. That’s particularly true given the response, however faint-hearted in some quarters [not the leadst the Obama Administration] to a new threat to European and world peace and stability.
But the sanctions placed on his cronies and more importantly, the collapsing price of oil on which the Russian economy has been almost wholly dependent in recent years, is creating an economic crisis. It’s a terrible comment on Russian history and its civilization that his bombastic maneuvers, even including some adolescent bare-chested sex appeals, have earned him at least temporarily vast support at home even in the face of a deteriorating economy.
It’s important to remember that past aggressions that ultimately led to major wars were often the antics of diabolical leadership gambling that their bullying would be met by peaceloving acquiescence from the democracies. We know now, for example, that at every move by Hitler – whether the initial reoccupation of the Rhineland contrary to the Versailles Treaty ending World War I – was a feint. Had the French countered, he was ready to pull back. And, one might argue, the world tripped into World War II in Poland because even then Hitler thought he could get away with one more blackmail.
The new study tells us, that in effect, Putin’s Moscow is still reeping the benefits of the enormous overinvestment in science, particularly military science, of the Soviet era. We say “overinvestment” for we greybears remember the terrible suffering of the Russian peoples and their empire as the Soviets poured savings into military hardware. While Americans puzzled over their several dozen breakfast cereals in their overflowing supermarkets, Soviet groceries were literally bare.
Laying out the details, the report says that Russia’s navy, only smaller than those of the U.S. and China in size, soon could deny the US Navy access to the Black and Baltic seas. Moscow’s occupation of Crimea, again producing new economic strains on the economy, and its enclave in Kaliningrad, could keep U.S. forces out of the Black or Baltic Seas,. That might at some point deny assistance to other countries which border them under Russian threat.
The Russians have announced plans to revive and increase the size and scope of the country’s Black Sea conventionally powered submarine fleet, new specially designed craft to operate in shallow waters. And through a leak by Japanese sources a couple of decades ago, Moscow’s research has improved on their engines to make them the quietest underwater craft in the world.
The report details Russia’s Kalibr new missiles, put on display in October when Russian boats in the Caspian Sea fired at ground targets in Syria [even if some did fall short in Iran] The report speculates that Russia’s fifth-generation aircraft, the PAK FA aka T-50, could be deployed as soon as 2016. That aircraft’s increased stealth capabilities, as well as its potential role aboard a new Russian aircraft carrier, could spell big problems for the U.S.
Granted that there is always a tendency among our military intelligence bodies to take the most pessimistic view of the enemy’s capabilities, that is that he may be considered stronger than he actually is. But the tenor of the report is such that it cannot but be seen as another warning, if it were needed, against the Obama Administration’s determined efforts to reduce the size of our naval forces, and indeed, of all our military. This report shows just how dangerous that is in a time of worldwide instability and unpredictable events.
sws-12-31.15

Who’s on first?


Does the United States have two foreign policies, one out of the White House, and the other out of The Pentagon – or, thinking about it, maybe another third one out of the State Department?

That’s about the only conclusion you can draw from a recent exchange over an episode in the South China Sea.

It’s no secret that the Chinese are building military bases a thousand miles south of their Mainland territory, right straight athwart one of the most important sea highways of the world. It is the one that carries $5 trillion worth of manufacturing and raw materials on a supply line for not only China but Japan and South Korea, including oil from the Middle East. They are doing it even when they have to dredge up more coral for shoals that barely are above the water line, especially in these days of reportedly rising sea level.

On the other hand, freedom of navigation, freedom of the seas, freedom of international waters, has been an American institution even before our country won its independence from Britain. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams literally spent years trying unsuccessfully to get the European powers together to halt piracy in the Mediterranean. And it was as our second president, Jefferson, much against his previous prejudices against a standing military force and foreign interventions, who after all sent our first troops abroad. They went to North Africa, then the Barbary Coast, to halt the boarding, kidnapping and ransoming of American ships and their sailors. Remember: “xxx from halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli xxx” was not some idle ditty.

When we heard that our ageing [50 years now] B52 bombers were sent lumbering over the new Chinese bases, we assumed they were taking the advice of many of us and challenging Beijing’s effort to throw up a block to world shipping. But now comes Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright with a statement that the Dec. 10 mission was not a “freedom of navigation” operation and that there was “no intention of flying within 12 nautical miles of any feature,” nhinting that the mission may have strayed off course.

“The United States routinely conducts B-52 training missions throughout the region, including over the South China Sea,” Wright said in an email to The Associated Press. “These missions are designed to maintain readiness and demonstrate our commitment to fly, sail and operate anywhere allowed under international law.”

Wright said the U.S. was “looking into the matter.”

The announcement leaves everyone including us in a complete quandary.

First of all, do B52s – sometimes armed with nuclear weapons – stray off course in this day and age of super-GPS [Global Position System]? If so, not only their pilots and navigators need to be brought up on charges but so do the commanding officers, whether they be in Pearl or in Arlington.

Secondly, we had assumed that the “straying” B-52s were another effort to tell the Chinese in no uncertain terms that we would not permit the challenging of the right of freedom of the seas in international waters which they have declared unilaterally. They are, incidentally, stepping on the toes of the Filipinos and others who have claims to those shoals because they are in their territorial waters or zones of economic exploitation.

If this assumption is correct, why in the name of all that is holy in nautical strategy would you not maintain openly and loudly that you are challenging the Chinese! Beijing, sensing some ambiguity in Washington, was already ready, of course, with a protest over the overlights and making new threats The answer to that protest is a public statement reiterating our right to fly through the area because it is in international waters, and not Chinese territory as Beijing claims.

Who’s running this show, anyway? Or is our Helmsman missing altogether?

sws-12-21-15