Tag Archives: Putin;s aggression

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.

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The presence of evil


Perhaps the most horrendous aspect of the ghastly decapitation of innocents by the ISIl jihadists is that it is a part of their successful appeal to a growing part of the Muslim world. Apparently the media astute leaders of the movement understand the psychology of power better than those in the West, shocked and infuriated by these events. The jihadists have chosen to publicize them, at least in part, as a way of attracting additional followers – alas! some of them out of the bosom of Western societies. And there is apparently every reason to believe they have been proved correct.

After two cataclysmic internal struggles that almost demolished Western civilization, the more than half century of peace in the European societies despite their own legacy of centuries of bloody conflict – some of it framed along religious lines –are now unprepared for this outbreak of bestiality. Having themselves rejected conflict for ordered methods of negotiation and conciliation, the prospect that there is such a thing as evil in the world is difficult to entertain.

The U.S., itself, of course, an outgrowth of Europe’s culture, with its formidable military and its resolve has led the effort to establish international order during this period, the guarantor of that peace. But now that order is threatened on two fronts: Russia, still wrestling with its age-old doubt about whether it belongs to the West or is only a projection of Oriental despotism, is again a menace. Vladimir Putin’s outrageous duplicity as much as his invasion of Ukraine is epic. The bloody sword of Islam, too, is again reaching out of the retrograde societies of the Middle East. But this time using the very technocratic tools developed by the West, it threatens to cross the old barriers of time and space to destroy what optimists such as Pres. Barack Obama had hoped was the generally accepted dedication to a peaceful new order.
The West’s response, this time haltingly led by Washington, measures its response still based on a hope that reason and self-interest for material gain will stem the new tide of violence. That aspiration arises out of a refusal to recognize the existence of the phenomenon of evil. The Europeans, having thrown off for the most part their old religious practices that tried to frame good and evil, and the Americans with their fervent hope no more sacrifices in blood and treasure would be required, are both reluctant to recognize the new conflicts for what they are.

It is this refusal to accept old verities that explains best, perhaps, the confusion which has dogged the Obama Administration’s response – not very different from its European allies – in the face of the new threats to peace and stability. This coupled with hubris arising from The White House’s claims of sophistication pretends to be able to scientifically measure out counters commensurate to the threat.

Nothing is so doomed to failure as such carefully orchestrated but limited responses to the armed threat of the jihadists. The old clichés that military plans collapse with the firing of the first shot, or [whether he actually said it or not] Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s axiom that victory is dictated by “the fustest with the mostest”, are as true as ever.

How long will it take the West’s leadership to wake up to the ugly reality: evil is abroad in the world and it will take a total commitment to defeat it, just as was so often true in the past?
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A euro for your thoughts


by Sol Sanders

The European Union has entered a multifaceted and what promises to be an extended crisis.

It will reshape European politics and its outcome will have far-reaching effects on the world economy and international politics. Resolution of the crisis will come with even more difficulty since the Europeans for the first time since the end of World War II cannot count on a strong role of Washington as mediator and mentor.

First off, it is important to remember that despite all the propaganda to the contrary about newly arriving power centers – and the weaknesses exposed by its current troubles – Europe remains the force in world affairs unmatched except by the U.S. Its more than half a billion population with almost a quarter of the world’s total economic activity, enormous cultural diversity and heritage, with infinitely fecund research and technological innovation, and with a diminished but technologically powerful military, still dominates the world scene.

When we speak of “Europe”, of course, we are lumping in a set of complicated relationships as well as groupings. The geographic Europe is everything west of the Urals in mid-Russia, but for the moment Russia has excluded itself from the European family. That’s in part because the European Union now includes all the countries of Western Europe except Norway and Switzerland, and more recently central, northern and parts of eastern Europe for a total of 28 countries [with four more former Yugoslav states soon to join].

The EU institutions include the European Commission, the Brussels-based appointed executive, the Council of the European Union, its upper house of parliament composed of executives of member states, the directly elected European Parliament, the lower legislative house, the Court of Justice, the European Central Bank and the Court of Auditors. At least theoretically, these countries now have a common market and are moving toward a standardized legal system. A separate treaty removes passport controls among all the countries [including Norway] with the exception of the U.K.

Eighteen of these countries – with the exclusion of the U.K., Denmark, Sweden and Poland – are part of the Erozone, using the Euro as their currency. [Seven additional states are obliged under their treaty obligations to join the common currency at a later date.] Since the international crisis of 2007-08, the European Central Bank has become a mini-International Monetary Fund. It has taken on a role of handing out emergency Euro loans to some of its members in deep trouble and is helping to work out individual national economic reform agendas. Through it purchase of national government bonds – Germany has blocked Eurobonds – it also indirectly helps direct the finances of the individual members.

Rather suddenly, a series of problems have grown acute, testing to their limits these and older European institutions in a way not seen since the onset of The Great Depression and the resultant collapse of much of Europe into authoritarianism. These developments put into question whether national interests can be subsumed in a superstate which has become the aim of many of the proponents of further European economic and political integration. Or whether, as an alternative, national and regional sentiments within some older nation-states will scotch this movement, or, indeed, reverse the whole effort.

The problems are, of course, interrelated and will require new efforts at international collaboration as well as mobilization of resources to move on to another stage whatever that may be. It’s no wonder then that any attempt to describe the ideological and more practical conflicts of the various constituents looks like a cat’s cradle of connections which alas! are not likely to fall apart as quickly as success at that old string game.

Putin’s challenge After more than a half century with sometimes bitter but relatively minor wars, Europe is faced with the continuing threat of naked aggression by a major power, Russia. An unstable Moscow regime glories in its inability to assimilate politically to the European consensus. But unlike its autarchic Soviet predecessor for which many of its leaders [and unhappily its citizens] have deep nostalgia, Putin’s Russia is not only directly intertwined with the world economy but virtually totally dependent on its sale of fossil fuels to the rest of Europe. [Recent feints to the East to China are just that with so-called trumpeted agreements falling far short of their ballyhoo.]

Using methods that could have been copied from the aggressive pre-World War II Fascist and Communist dictatorships, Moscow bluffs at least temporarily have overwhelmed European [and American] leadership. Neither Brussels, the national capitals, nor Washington have found an adequate response thereby inviting further aggression from Putin’s ad hoc agenda to restore what he claims is Moscow’s hegemony in Eastern and Central Europe if not a superpower. The fact that Ukraine has become the focal point for the conflict is symptomatic, for it is the irresistible attraction of participation in the European movement toward integration which draws Kviv away from its traditional domination by Moscow.

Democracy quotient The EU’s original deadly fault – top-down imposition of a new regulatory regime on self-governing societies – has finally climaxed in the candidacy of a new president of the Brussels bureaucracy. Tiny Luxembourg’s former prime minister, the lackluster politician Jean-Claude Juncker, has by happenstance become the nominee of the European parliament for the presidency of the EU on the claim that his party now has a majority in that assembly. That claim, reinforced by the lack of other major alternate contenders, in effect would establish parliamentary supremacy against what has been a tradition of hand-picked appointed Brussels bureaucracts..

But Juncker’s advocacy of more “federalism” – further political as well as economic integration – challenges London’s opposition to a stronger federal union at the same time its most ardent advocate is Germany. Furthermore, a clutch of anti-EU parties – some of them proto-fascist – now hold a fourth of the seats in the European parliament.

Britexit The sweep of anti-EU skeptics of the British delegation in a just completed Europe-wide election for the European parliament threatens to increase the growing minority in the U.K. who want to leave the EU. Conservative Prime Minister James Cameron, increasingly threatened by an anti-EU, anti-immigration, nationalist swell on the right, has promised a 2017 referendum on leaving EU membership. At the moment, British public opinion remains divided with apparently a small majority for remaining in the EU, but continuing as a limited partner. However beleaguered is its sterling currenmcy, most Brits count themselves lucky they stayed out of the Euro and thereby reinforcing the role of The City as perhaps the foremost international financial center.

Germany, a proponent of further integration, nevertheless makes preventing the departure of the British, its main ally in opposition to French and other EU partners’ statism, its highest if contradictory priority. Britain’s exit would, of course, have enormous repercussions inside the EU beyond its role as the main opponent of further bureaucratization, feeding skepticism which exists in Scandinavia, for example, and may even be growing in Germany where it has been a dogma of the post-World War II regime.

Economic malaise The European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi’s imposition of a negative interest rate – that is, the national central banks’ deposits into the Euro would be charged interest – is a groundbreaking effort to stimulate growth Theoretically, it would force the central banks to loose their lending policies. It is an attempt to counter the austerity policies throughout most of bankrupt southern Europe’s economies and the resultant high unemployment of low growth rates and increasing political instability.

Draghi’s policies are bitterly opposed by Germany with its paranoia about inflation from the deadly post-World War I expeience. Meanwhile, as by far the largest EU economy it continues to maintain a budget surplus through its “beggar your neighbor” trade policies. [Germany rolled up the highest trade surplus in the world at $270 billion in 2013 despite the fact that 60% of its exports went to other EU partners. [If Germans sanctimoniously blame their souther partners’ priofligacy for their situation, it was German-financed exports that in large part brought on the disaster.]

Germany’ situation is almost unique in the region. Its per capita income is 23% above the EU average with more than a fifth of the federation’s gross development product. That it is inimitable to Draghi’s grand strategy sets up an enormous conflict inside the EU at a moment of economic crisis.

Nor is it at all clear that Draghi’s effort will help given that the bulk of the Euro’s transactions still remain in national budgets, most of them already in deficit. That, of course, is the long term argument for further integration, welding differing financial strategies into a whole behind the Euro. But Berlin’s notorious historical incapacity to lead a democratic alliance contradicts Germany’s hegemonic economic role inside the EU, another reason why its effort to keep Britain inside the union is consered by many,m even in Germany, so critical.

This welter of crosscurrents takes place at a time of a growing perception – probably realistic — among European leaders that the U.S. is retreating from world politics and when the world engine of growth, the American economy, is sputtering.

Any of these various issues and contradictions could at any moment flare up into the kind of crisis that would feed popular sentiment and the 24-hour media, overshadowing the general confusion of these more complex economic and political issues. That question of unexpected events now dominates the European and ultimately, the world scene.

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