Tag Archives: Ukraine

Help Ukraine!

Among the many issues where Pres. Barack Obama has defied the will of the American people as expressed by the Congress is the case of Ukraine.
Like all geopolitical issues, of course, this one is ensnarled in contradictions.But they include the bitter memory of some two million Ukrainian victims of famine during the forced agricultural collectivization by Stalin in the mid-1930s.
Several facts are startlingly clear: The newly liberated Ukrainian people through in1994 in keeping with the American government’s pursuit of a worldwide program of nonproflieration of nuclear weapons agreed to end their production and destroy its stockpile. In exchange, the Budapest Memorandum signed by Russia, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and the United States guarantees the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Kyiv followed through on the settlement.
Perhaps even more important, however, is the geopolitical argument.for aiding Ukraine. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, in his pursuit of reconstitution of the Russian/Soviet empire, is determined to bring Ukraine, the most important of the captive nations long under Moscow’s rule, back under his control. This follows, of course, Moscow’s attack in 2008 on the pro-Western government of Georgia, again a former “Soviet republic.” Then Vice President Dick Cheney warned that “Russian aggression must not go unanswered, and its continuation would have serious consequences….” In fact, after a strong rhetorical response, the U.S. did not respond, Putin detached important minority regions from the state, ending its courtship with EU membership. But as a “reward” for this aggression, the new Obama Administration’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flamboyantly offered Putin a “reset” intended to cement a new period of cordial relations. It did not, of course.
It could well be argued that Putin’s unilateral annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsular last year was an almost inevitable outcome of this continuing appeasement of Russian aggression. Historical analogies are often misleading, but Putin’s continuing agitation of small Russian-speaking minorities in former Soviet conquered territories smells far too much like Hitler’s tactics through the 1930s leading to World War II.
After extensive Russian meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs, in 2013 Kyiv began negotiations to affiliate with the European Union. It is no secret where this movement arose and why: Western Ukraine has a long history of rule by Central European governments. And it is clear that the majority iof Ukrainians, including in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea, where there are large Russian-speaking and pro-Moscow minorities, wants to move into the more prosperous freedom of Europe. [Ukraine has seen its neighbor and historical rival, Poland, triple its per capita growth in the past 25 years while its own has stagnated if not fallen.]
As Russian fighters and heavy equipment surreptitiously have been introduced into the continuing conflict – which surprisingly has shown a Ukrainian force punching above its weight – Moscow has signed armistice agreements. But Putin has continued to violate Minsk II signed only in February 2015, and shows every indication not only of continuing the subversion of Ukraine but hints at such actions in the Baltic states as well.
The military situation is deteriorating, not least because, again, an international organization – this time the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – has refused to take a clear stand on Putin’s clandestine operations. Sec. of Defense Ash Carter – who whether through innate honesty or hoof-in-mouth often exposes the Administration’s policy gaffs – put it bluntly: “What’s clear is that sanctions are working on the Russian economy…what is not apparent is how that effect on his economy is deterring Putin from following the course that was evidenced in Crimea last year.” We beg to differ: the current situation in Ukraine indicates exactly what Putin is driving for, if not always how far he will take his tactics, and that is domination of the Ukrainian state.
Congress has authorized the president to lend military assistance to Ukraine. Former NATO Commander Gen. Wesley Clark has laid out a list of what effectively could be given now. It’s time to move, to halt a deteriorating international geopolitical situation as well as to bloc the Russian overthrow of an Ukrainian regime sympathetic to the West.

Transformation of U.S. foreign policy

Barack Hussein Obama, with a group of largely ideologically primitive amateur policymakers but skillful media manipulators, set out in 2008 with the stated purpose to “transform” the American Republic. Although their emphasis was more related to domestic issues, their goals also required a linked fundamental reorientation of American foreign policy.

With the prospect that in a few days, another defeat in Congressional midterm elections will severely limit his further initiatives in the remaining two years of the Obama Administration, it must be acknowledged that at least temporarily Obama & Co. have succeeded in their overall aims in the international arena.

That is a stark contrast to the domestic scene where most Obama policies have either failed spectacularly or are in a state of continued dispute in the face of, however eroded, traditional values, the weight of inertia, and that incredible American entrepreneurial utilization of technology. In energy, for example, perhaps the most important ingredient of economic policy, the technological breakthroughs in the exploitation of gas and oil – the shale gas revolution – have completely upended Obama’s energy strategy. Not only is the outlook for fossil fuel reserves, worldwide as well as domestically, been completely changed, but the always volatile energy costs now appear headed for a long period of falling real prices. Obama’s attempt to stampede the U.S. economy into highly government subsidized so-called alternative sources of energy are in shambles – at an untold cost to the taxpayer, or course.

The Obamaites have been far more successful in their pursuit of a dramatic reorientation of U.S. foreign policy. It remains to be seen, of course, whether those initiatives are a permanent feature of the international scene. But, for the moment at least, Obama has accomplished his goals: Gone largely is continuing recognition of Washington’s post-World War II leadership of the coalition of allies which not only won the greatest war in history against the Nazis and Japanese militarists but also outran the threat of another totalitarian enemy, Soviet Communism.

The Obama view was that in the half-century-plus of Washington world leadership, if not in its longer history including slavery, America had made too many mistakes, that its worldwide dominance was on balance deleterious, that a better role would be one of, at most, primus inter pare. Furthermore, reaching out rhetorically to former perceived victims of American actions would be a pathway toward peace and stability. In short, what he and his colleagues saw as a more compassionate and understanding American executive could go far in curing the world’s problems rather than using its power to help stabilize the world scene. [Never mind their dismissal if remarked at all of the enormous extension of aid to the world over previous decades.]

To a considerable extent, Obama – with the aid, however reluctant she now says, of his former secretary of state Hillary Clinton – has been able to achieve these policies.
But the daily headlines also tell us that the goals of this strategy has not been achieved in any quarter of the globe. But to the contrary, the world has hardly ever been in such disarray with or without an activist U.S. leadership.

Two points need to be made quickly:

The Obama Administration and its policies are not responsible for most of the world’s political problems, misgovernment and violence. It did inherit what despite one of the longest periods of peace in Europe’s history with its overwhelming influence on world affairs, was a volatile world scene. In short, the world is the jungle it always was. And recent events have shown us political movements demonstrating the ugliest aspects of human nature, too, are still with us. In short, it is clear that no farseeing American strategy could have done more than ameliorate the world scene, as some of us would argue it did for some six decades.

Secondly, the history of ideas suggests that Obama’s international perspective did not spring like Athena fully formed and armed from Zeus’ forehead. Obama’s theories of international relations rely heavily on that strong undercurrent of American thinking which always sought to minimize our exposure to the rest of the world’s problems.

That was the case, rather successfully throughout most of the 19th century with the help of His Majesty’s British Navy, and the God-given geographic isolation that two oceans afforded the U.S. [One has to recall, for example, that only a little over a year before the Pearl Harbor attack, legislation for extension of universal military service passed the House of Representatives by only one vote] Not only was that complicated concept, generally dubbed “isolationism”, part and parcel of American political thinking from the beginning of the Republic, but its supporters in more recent past have included a wide swath of supporters across the political spectrum from “Prairie radicals” to the complex sympathies of the warring parties in the U.S. electorate. [Pacifist and Socialist Norman Thomas sat on the same “America First” – the most active of prewar isolationist organizaions — platform with members of the pro-Nazi German American Bund in Yorkville in 1940.]

Still, the list of successful “accomplishments” of the Obama strategy to diminish America’s role in international affairs is long.

• By abandoning the deployment of anti-missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, arduously negotiated, Washington not only dealt American missile defense a body blow but awakened the old threat of decoupling European security from America’s worldwide strategies.

• The refusal to lead the alliance which overthrew Qadaffi in Libya resulted not only in the tragic and ignominious death of an American ambassador and three other Americans but is leading to an anarchic situation there – with its threat to Egypt and the rest of North Africa and oil markets – with possible jihadist ascendancy.

• An amorphous position toward the U.S.-Israeli alliance, despite pro forma statements to the contrary, emboldened jihadist Hamas and further diminished the possibility of a Palestinian negotiating partner for an accommodation between the Jewish state and the Arabs.

• The refusal to lead a Western alliance in support of Ukraine against the Hitler-tactics of infiltration and puppetry of Russia’s Vladimir Putin has not only diminished the fragile Kyiv government but put into question the guarantees of the NATO alliance to its Central and Eastern European members.

• Neither Obama’s ostensibly seminal addresses in Cairo and Istanbul with apologies for pretended insults to Islam by the U.S. and a more than sympathetic reading of the history of Islam have improved relationships with the Muslim world nor diminished the growing Islam;s traditional jihadist elements.

• Courtship of the controversial Muslim Brotherhood, apparently a critical part of Mr. Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan’s nonconventional view of Islam, has widened the gap with the Egyptian military now ruling what has been the most important Arab country and a leader of the Muslim world and other Arab allies in the Gulf.

• A studied neutral position toward Chinese claims on Japanese occupied territory returned under bilateral postwar agreements to Tokyo and no immediate followup to Clinton’s statement of reorientation of U.S. strategy toward Asia has unnerved traditional Asian allies.

• Continued flirtation with the tottering Communist regime in Havana has encouraged Moscow to try to resurrect its alliance with Castro Cuba, encouraged elaborate Cuban espionage in the U.S., and undermined the continuing dissident democratic movement in Cuba supported by Cuban Americans in the U.S.

It is far from clear that in the kind of volatile world in which we live, the “success” of Obama’s transformation of American policy would not be the object of a concerted reversal by a new administration in 2016. Or, indeed, as despite cryptic language and new names for old crimes [workplace violence for jihadist terrorism], the Obama Administration is now by force majeure is being made to reverse course. The great danger is, of course, as in the present attempt to cope with the ISIL phenomenon in Iraq and Syria, Obama’s half-measures will lead to further disaster.


Saving NATO


It was one great historical irony that when NATO’s famous Article 5 – an attack on any member is an attack on all and demands their assistance – was invoked, it would be not in the aid of the European states for which the Treaty was designed but for the U.S. Nor did the 9/11 attack come from NATO’s anticipated enemy, the Soviet Union, but the new international jihadist terror network.

Thus history’s most successful alliance – it protected Western Europe at the highwater mark of Communism both without and within for a half century until the Soviet Union imploded — met a new challenge in far-off Afghanistan. Yes, the German contingent spent too much time drinking beer and refusing night warfare, most of the Europeans sent token forces, and “the Anglo-Saxons” [certainly not excluding the Australians!] as usual carried the weight to a quick military victory despite outrageous rules of engagement. And, with the current kind of political impasse in “nation building” in Kabul, the longest war in U.S. history might still come to less. But the Treaty obligations worked.

Now, almost two decades after Moscow seemed a convert to a new universalism of free elections, an independent judiciary and media, a civil society and market economics, the European leadership is back to square one. A lying, hypocritical Russian dictatorship in all but name – if basically weak — has challenged with naked aggression the whole benign concept of what the Obama Administration keeps preaching is a new universal morality. Somehow, Putin doesn’t seem to have heard that sermon.

No, the Russian threat it is not now against a member of NATO. Only now, belatedly, has Kyiv decided to press for admission. But with Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin’s infamous remark that the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century, it doesn’t take much imagination to see what is his goal. It is the restitution of domination of the Soviets over the old Tsarist Empire including much of eastern and central Europe [and Central Asia].

A good deal of fiery rhetoric from all the usual suspects in the West including the President of the United States as been launched against this new threat to more than a half century of relative European peace and stability. And even a learned professor, Dr. John Mearsheimer, is now willing to argue that it was all the fault of the U.S. and European leadership that Putin has been seduced into naked aggression. The fault, we are told, is that too many including our liberal government and media elite, had accepted pronouncement that the nature of world affairs had changed. [It certainly doesn’t take a call up of a lot of examples of the new horrors to make the case that human nature and world affairs hasn’t changed all that much.] But it hadn’t and so we should have recognized, this contrarian interpreter insists, that winning the 30 million people of Ukraine to Western values and prosperity was a trap we set for ourselves: we were messing around on Putin’s doorstep. We should have known better. But his obvious contradiction is clear: if one believes that international power politics are what they always have been [and by and large, I do], expressions of power and the will to use it, why would it have not been incumbent on the the West to welcome Ukraine and strengthen it precisely so it could resist potential aggression from a Russian neighbor dedicated to the old values?

If NATO falls away, it would have not been the first successful human institution to have fallen into decay precisely because of its success. At the moment, that certainly seems the case. America under the Obama Administration has chosen to join a multilateral cheering section rather than to lead a military alliance. The Europeans, for the most part, refuse to maintain their military effort at agreed standards of expenditure and discipline. Turkey, once looked to as a reservoir of strength for both its birthrate and historical fighting skills, has turned into the ragtail end of the alliance, often defying Brussels’ policies at the same time it asks for additional NATO support along its eroding Syrian border.

But most of all, NATO has no answer to anything less than an all out Russian aggression which, of course, however ad hoc his strategy, Putin will not choose.

Instead, whether by design or because of the nature of his regime, Putin has borrowed all the old tools of Hitler’s strategy which sapped European democracies’ will in the 1930s leading up to the final denouement of the attack on Poland and World War II. He has harked back to old territorial claims, only enforced in the past by Tsarist and Soviet power. He has claimed extraterritoriality for Russian ethnics in former Tsarist and Soviet territories liberated in the 1990 implosion. He has sent “volunteers” masquerading as locals to aid insurgencies he has initiated. And he has taken the old Josef Goebbels’ advice that the bigger a lie the easier the propaganda can be sold. [That has even brought the ultra-conservative Pat Buchanan as well as professors to his side.]

The miracle on the Don, in fact, is that a corrupt, inefficient and unstable Ukraine has nevertheless been able to achieve initial victories against the insurgents. It gives the lie, at least in part, to the generally accepted hypothesis in the Western media that Russian-speakers necessarily sided with Moscow in its effort to undermine Ukrainian unity. The word creeping out of relatively large numbers of prisoners taken by Ukrainian forces and deaths of Russians in the fighting being masked by the Moscow regime further confirms that not for the first time the Western mainstream media have it all wrong.

Perhaps the most serious threat to the cause of reinforcing a NATO peace is in diplomatic circles. Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel has talked the talk, and to some extent, given her country’s corrupt dependence on Russian energy, walked the walk, she is now becoming the principal negotiator between the West and Moscow. There is a growing suspicion that she – with the tacit agreement of American Secretary of State John Kerry who appears less and less competent – are acceding to Putin’s calls for an imposed Ukrainian “federalism”. Confederations, however accommodating they might appear to libertarians and other democrats, are the most difficult form of government. A Ukrainian federation, with its history of unique top-down bureaucratic government, might well lead to just the sort of watered-down independence that Putin aims to dominate, rather than another outrageous carving out of territory such as his grab of the Crimea.

Unfortunately, a pattern established in Ukraine could be all too much a template for all of the former Soviet-occupied Eastern and Central Europe – save perhaps the increasingly prosperous and successful Poland. Most have significant Russian-speaking minorities. Only tiny Estonia is bestirring itself to begin the kind of mobilization of military force that could make any Moscow feint difficult if not embarrassing. [The memory of The Winter War comes floating back; a defeat for the Finns but probably as much as anything a sacrifice which maintained their independence and eventually their incorporation in the European prosperity sphere.]

It doesn’t take a military genius nor, indeed, an amateur strategist to understand that NATO now needs to move quickly toward not only reinforcing its overall shield but in stiffening the resolve of its more exposed members in Eastern and Central Europe. That would include polished boots on the ground, a generally significant expansion of U.S. presence – including the re institution of the anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic which Obama so cavalierly dismantled in his “flexible” approach at winning Putin’s friendship.

That’s the agenda awaiting the world but above all Washington at the meeting this week in Wales. Only the wildest optimist can hope it will be met.


The bear is loose


No, not the self-designated ursus in the White House, but the Kremlin’s ruler.

Having launched a program attempting to reinstate Moscow’s hegemony over the former Tsarist/Soviet Empire, Vladimir Putin now has been hoisted on his own petard.

When his naked aggression in Georgia in 2008 elicited no significant American-EU response, he followed it with his 2014 annexation of Crimea. When that produced little more than Western denunciation, he mobilized for further aggression, attempting to use the Russian-speaking minority in eastern Ukraine.

But he has now become a prisoner of his own rhetoric and aggression.

True, like the European dictators of right and left of the 1930s, he has gained wide popular support at home. But the chauvinistic reaction of the Russian public is a false flag. Shamed and humiliated by the implosion of the Soviet Union [“the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century”, Putin has said], a catastrophic declining population, a start-and-stop economy, and an enormous flight of capital, Putin has used aggressive nationalism to try to reinvigorate a failed regime with all too well remembered demagoguery.

But he is now riding a tiger. Earlier he seemed to have won in Ukraine with an administration succumbing to pressure to back away from the overwhelmingly popular demand to move closer to European Union’s prosperity. [Even relative objective polling of Russian-speakers in Ukraine show their choice is to move into the EU orbit rather than to tie their destinies to a failing Russia.] Then when a popular movement overthrew that Kyiv administration and installed a new pro-European Union executive by a democratically elected parliament, reinforced now with new elections, Putin grabbed Crimea and began to try to manipulate the Russian-speaking minority in eastern Ukraine for his program to reestablish empire.

The criminal stupidity – and how far the Russian finger was actually on the trigger would still have to be determined – of his own intelligence operatives and their following inside eastern Ukraine in bringing down an innocent passenger aircraft has jeopardized his strategy. The scandal has rocked even the most timid in the EU — perhaps even the Germans with their aggressive business interests in Russia. [Citizens of the Netherlands, so often “the swing vote” in EU decision-making, were the overwhelming majority of the victims in the downed aircraft.]

How much it was the pull of a strategy he dare not halt or the push of the reluctance of the U.S. and the EU to engage him may be irrelevant. He has now decided to go ahead full blast. However, his bluff becomes increasingly more dangerous for his hold on the Kremlin as well as for the Russians generally. His difficulties are suddenly greater because even a fragile Ukrainian regime is pressing relatively successfully on his Ukrainian puppets. So, by all documented Western accounts, his response is to pour new weaponry across the border into Ukraine, even supporting his devastated puppets with artillery fired from across the border in Russia.

It is rapidly becoming an undisguised war of Moscow against Kyiv.

That will force even the Obama Administration – under Congressional pressure – to extend more than token aid to the Ukrainians. It may even move the Europeans to bite the bullet and challenge Putin to cut off his gas sales which he needs as desperately if not more so than the EU customers.

With the Russian economy dropping into negative growth and a World Bank estimate that more than $100 billion in capital flight is projected for this year – it has already exceeded by a third last year’s total – the domestic economic scene is rapidly deteriorating. No one expects Putin’s coterie of fellow KGB siloviki to desert him. But he can only confiscate and throw into prison so many corrupt oligarchs with their bank accounts in The City of London. They have been critical support for his regime. And economic distress will eventually erode the fashionable current ultra-nationalism of the Moscow bureaucratic elite which runs the country.

So Putin ploughs ahead into trying not to dismember the post-Soviet Ukrainian state but to dominate it, if perhaps with the cooperation of a Washington Administration still trying to accommodate him. That’s based on the incredible parity with which Sec. of State John Kerry publicly continues to conceptualize relations with friend and foe [whether Ukraine and Russia or Israel and Hamas].

But with an increasingly lame duck Pres. Barack Obama, probably facing a two-house Republican Congress after November, that, too, is eroding.

It is significant that Hillary Clinton, in full candidate mode, after endorsing the “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations as Obama’s secretary of state, now is publicizing her supposed differences with Obama when she was in office. She now takes a hawkish line, for example asking for U.S. arming of the Ukrainians. That, of course, is a part of her absolutely essential political gambit to distance herself from the increasingly unpopular Obama if she is, indeed, to make a successful run for the presidency. Her Sunday interview with Fareed Zakaria, who laid down a patter about the culpability of the Europeans – rather than the Obama presidency and Clinton’s failure of leadership while at the State Department, as the source of the deteriorating world scene is the foreign policy campaign line she will try to pursue. It could be no other given a poll that says 56% of the American people think Obama [and Clinton will get tagged in a campaign as his former Secretary of State] is not to be trusted on  foreign policy.

Meanwhile, the Obama-Kerry team continues to pursue its “lead from behind” catastrophic policies, pretending that there is no dire priority in the threat to U.S. national interest in the Russian aggression in the Ukraine [or for that matter, with international growing Islamic terrorism] That misapprehension of the current state of world affairs was illustrated with the incredible reporting of the Obama Administration’s current internal deliberations by The New York Times, the alter ego of the Administration. TNYT reports: “’The debate is over how much to help Ukraine without provoking Russia’”, said a senior official participating in the American discussions.”

Yes, indeed, without provoking Putin.














The Cool War Cometh

No, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin has not ushered in the return to The Cold War with his assault on the integrity of Ukraine. But he has confirmed that the United States and his Russian regime – very likely as long as he lasts – is engaged in a bitter new geopolitical contest. The Obama Administration – and its predecessor Bush II – had refused to acknowledge the onset of this conflict. Washington now finds itself wrongfooted in Ukraine, a crowning blow to an already growing perception of U.S. foreign policy failure and general retreat across a worldwide screen. That’s leading to a replay of old rivalries, if on a more temperate scale.

But the situations of both countries – especially Russia – has changed dramatically in the almost three decades since the Soviet Union imploded. Its hold on Germany, the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, under Communist domination is gone if not forgotten. . Moscow retains a huge nuclear arsenal and missile delivery systems that make it one of the world’s greatest potential purveyors of weapons of mass destruction. . But there are multiple signs the overinvestment in the Soviet military-industrial complex on which post-Soviet Russia has been coasting is about played out. Putin’s repeated effort to rebuild Russia’s limping conventional military has largely failed. And his economy, while rewarding a new urban class, still cannot cope with a collapsed agriculture and an almost total dependence on fossil fuel exports, eroding rapidly under the impact of the American shale gas revolution

Still, Putin certainly has won the first battle in the war for the future of Ukraine, an important east European country with its population of 45 million and considerable undeveloped resources – for example, once the breadbasket of the Soviet Union with its famous black soil belt. But more than any other region in the USSR, Ukraine took a beating from the Communist regime for most of the 20th century – oppression and mismanagement to the point of repeated famine. It also suffered disproportionately from the Nazi onslaught in World War II and the Holocaust where after Poland lived a great part of Europe’s six million Jews and a significant part of its entrepreneurial class.

The post-Soviet regime has visited all the ills of a newly independent, only partially industrialized state including outrageous corruption among its leadership. [The guess is that Putin’s proffered $13 billion loan to the Viktor F. Yanukovych just about covered what the afrocked president had swindled away to foreign banks and investments, short of the gold plated plumbing fixtures in his palatial Kiev home.]

The whole question of Ukrainian identity, itself, often disputed before and after the fall of the Russian Empire and the Communist era, is probably moving toward a crescendo. The academic arguments over whether a separate Ukrainian nationality existed during its centuries-long close relationship with the Great Russians is irrelevant. {Just as in the case of Algeria or Palestine, once invented and politicized, the identities took on life. As late as World War II, for example, “Palestine” referred to Jews and Jewish institutions in the British Holy Land League of Nations Mandate.] Ukrainian nationalism is now the most powerful weapon in any struggle by the West to maintain any vestige of its independence and promote economic progress, even if there is danger of excesses from some of its advocates on the right.

That nationalism reaches full bloom in the western region of the country, where Ukraine’s small [8%] but potent Roman Catholic community lives [with its ties to Poland and Ukrainian Americans]. It is significant that while Ukraine has suffered the same catastrophic demographic decline as other former Soviet Slav areas, the western reaches, mostly rural, has among the highest birthrates in Europe. And if current trends continue, they – and not the dilapidated industrial areas in Eastern Ukraine along the Don River where Russian ethnics and pro-Russian sentiment predominates — are likely to dominate any future Ukrainian state.

That’s of course if its integrity can be preserved. One of Putin’s options, presumably, would be to try to detach the ethnic Russian areas in the east into a Moscow satellite — or even annex them as the Russian parliament hinted last week.. [Moscow has successfully used old salami tactics with the sliver of Trans-Dniestr to blackmail Romanian-speaking Moldava, keeping it from rejoining Romania where it was pre-World War II ]. One suspects that Putin, having bamboozled Pres. Barack Obama on Syria, Iran, and now Ukraine, will play his options by ear. Listening to the Soviet – oops! Russian UN Security Council delegate, one has proof that whatever else the Russians have lost of their Soviet glory, the old Communist agit-prop techniques are still held in high esteem and practiced with skill.

Staring bankruptcy in the face, the current pro-Western Kiev interim government is putting up a fight to fend off Putin’s domination – even if he does not move beyond his military action in the Crimean peninsular where Moscow had base rights among a Russian ethnic population. [Interestingly enough there is some evidence from on-the-spot interviewers that sympathy for affiliations with the EU and the West is strong even there, simply because of the economic pull compared with affiliation to a stagnant Russian economy.]  If worse come to worse, and Putin does go on the warpath, it is not clear his still largely conventional forces would do better in Ukraine than they did when they stumbled into Georgia in 2008 snatching off two provinces while a befuddled West watched after promising Tiflis NATO membership.

Among the many ironies of the situation, few recall that a newly independent Ukraine in June 1996 shipped its last 9,000 nuclear warheads to Russia for dismantling under joint Moscow-Washington auspices. Furthermore, it was dictated by the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances signed by the United States of America, Russia, and the United Kingdom, pledging Ukraine territorial integrity. That’s why if the Obama Administration fails to rescue some face-saving remnant from this present debacle for the West’s strategy, it will impact the whole structure of American treaty arrangements all around the world.

Sorting all this out will not be easy, even under the best of circumstances. The announced 90-minute conversation between Obama and Putin this past weekend is not comforting, nor was the U.S. President’s absence from an announced conclave of his security officials to discuss Ukraine about the same time. Remembering that live mike reference by Obama to how he would have “more flexibility” after the elections when in March 2012 in Seoul he met former Russian president [now prime minister] Dmitry Medvedev , one can only assume a compromise was being hatched despite the tough U.S. rhetoric at the UN. But with the history of Obama’s international deal-making, neither the Ukrainians nor the free world can take encouragement for the cause of longer-term world peace and stability.

The Ukrainians do have cards to play. Despite the corrupt deal by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to help Russian Gazprom in its effort to take over European gas markets by skirting the Baltic states and running a pipeline down the Baltic Sea from St. Petersburg to Germany, more than 40% of Russia’s natural gas sales to Western Europe go through Ukraine. Unfortunately, until Shell or Chevron, both looking for shale gas in western Ukraine, strike, Ukraine is dependent on Moscow for its own energy at whatever price they can make which in the past has included filling officialdom’s pockets. But Gazprom’s recent 10% discount to the Europeans suggest the impending pressure high-cost producer Russia will feel not only from U.S. shale developments and coming LNG exports but also new  sources of Central Asian gas reaching Western markets through Turkey, and even the new exports from Israel already arriving in its neighbor Jordan..

What the Ukrainians need right now, of course, is economic aid – some estimates put it at about $53 billion immediately, possibly to come from the EU, the U.S. and the IMF. [A million here, a million there, and pretty soon, you are talking about real money, as a Texas politician in Washington once said: the Greek rescue so far has been something like $150 billion and still counting.] It was in fact, what Kiev viewed as less than a generous EU offers for an associate membership that touched off this current crisis, giving Yanukovych an excuse to turn to Putin. That in turn brought on peaceful street demonstrations, which the former president answered with repression and secret police tactics, and some of the dissidents then responded with Molotov cocktails. The rest is history.

Putin now holds virtually a royal flush. He may settle for a relatively small deal with Obama now – why not, since as in other venues, he has welshed? Or he may be tempted to go for broke, what with his growing economic – and perhaps  political –difficulties as American future fossil fuel exports to Europe and East Asia dim his own export prospects.

At stake for Putin is his campaign to return Russia to former Soviet glory on the world stage. The first necessity for that is a return of Russian hegemony in the “near abroad”, the former Soviet “republics”, not least the oil and resources of central Asia, Siberia and Far East regions where the Chinese increasingly are competing for influence. But if Obama again “leads from behind”, Putin may well get all he needs for the moment in Ukraine without firing a shot,

But in any outcome of the current Ukraine crisis, there is little doubt the new Cool War will continue..


A world ablaze – but different fuels


A bane of modern military studies [let’s eschew “science”] is the concept of counter-insurgency – the idea that indigenous revolts around the world can be analyzed with “the scientific method” and a set of general principles if implemented could cure the problem. Common sense tells us that the essence of any dissidence/armed insurrection is its particularity, its basis in specific local conditions. They differ not only in geography but in the characteristics of individual societies. So, yes, the army should not steal the peasants’ chickens is a good maxim – but such bromides do not go far to tell you how to prevent civil war.

At the moment, we have one bitter internecine war in Syria, and three incipient revolts between two or more elements in Ukraine, Venezuela and Thailand. Other conflicts, even messier to define, are growing in the Central African Republic and Nigeria.

The question, of course, is whether there anything that connects all these conflicts? And, if so, what if anything can be done to lessen tension and conflict?


The ambivalence between Ukraine and Russia is as old as the two peoples. In fact, it was from centers in what is now Ukraine that Christianity spread to the Great Russians and where they even got their name.  More recently, Ukrainians have suffered disproportionately in the Soviet Union – a bitter irony, often at the hands of ethnic Ukrainian members of the Communist hierarchy. Stalin’s man-made famine of the 1930s followed on to the horrors of those of World War I when the engineer Herbert Hoover first emerged on the world scene. But a flame of Ukrainian identity survived, expressing itself at the height of Soviet repression in such small protests as citizens of Ukraine’s western metropolis, the old Hapsburg city of Lviv [Lvov, Lemberg] unofficially using “our time” [Central European] rather than Moscow’s time zone to express their identification with the West..

So it is no wonder that [Ras] Putin, the new Russian dictator seeking to restore Soviet glory has intrigued in a state once called in the two World Wars “a figment of the imagination of the German general staff”. Whatever the outcome of fast-moving events, Putin has the most to gain or lose – aside from the Ukrainians themselves. Ras – who has said publicly that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe of the bloody 20th century — is gambling. By his direct intervention, he either hopes to bring Ukraine again under Moscow hegemony, or failing that, to destroy its unity as a cautionary tale for other former Soviet “republics” holding on to their fragile independence.

But for the moment, the anti-Soviet forces have gained the upper hand in Kiev and he faces a choice of backing the ultra-corrupt Russophile Viktor Yanukovych as he attempts to cling to power, apparently setting up shop in Russian-speaking and industrial eastern Ukraine. Or Ras could wait to see if Pres. Barack Obama and the European Union will do the necessary to back their friends in Kiev. Or, unlikely, Putin retreats, taking his licks and admitting a disastrous defeat. That result could escalate Moscow’s growing economic difficulties with its almost total dependence on fossil fuel exports, undercut by the growing impact of America’s shale revolution on world prices.


As ghastly as is Basher al Assad and his Iranian backers’ war on Syrian civilians – matching the ugly trial run Nazi and Fascist aircraft waged on Spanish Republicans in that prelude to World War II – geopolitically its importance lies elsewhere. Every day that al Assad’s regime survives, U.S. interests and those of its allies suffer: there is an intensification of the influence and control of radical jihadists in the opposition to Assad, and the growing influence of the Tehran mullahs not only in Damascus but in neighboring Lebanon and even among formerly rabidly Sunni Hamas jihadists in Gaza.

Continued Syrian fighting risks the stability of both Israel and Jordan, the major two outright allies along with Saudi Arabia. The growing perception of Iranian strength is posing an increasing dilemma for the Gulf Arab sheikdoms and even the military in Egypt: whether they knuckle under to Iranian Mideast hegemony or go nuclear themselves. For long ago it became apparent that despite public pronouncements, the Obama Administration is prepared to settle for a supposedly nuanced arrangement whereby Tehran has the capability of weapons of mass destruction but does not “weaponize”. That for a country which for 17 years was able to disguise its uranium enrichment from UN regulators of the non-proliferation treaty it had signed.


With its long history of repressive regimes since independence from Spain almost 200 years ago, Caracas again is saddled with new oppression. But this time its incompetence matches any effort to tyrannize a divided opposition. With one of the world’s largest petroleum reserves, Pres. Nicolás Maduro has taken the country further toward bankruptcy, in no small part because of the largesse he has continued from his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. Chavez’ populist policies built a constituency among the nation’s poor until his death in 2013 and among leftist regimes around the continent.

Now Maduro, with his constant malapropisms, almost a caricature of Chavez, relies increasingly on Raul Castro’s Cuba and its secret police tactics, including Cuban “advisors”, against rising opposition. The cost in oil for the Castro dictatorship some observers reckon as much as $13 billion a year. Other discounts go to the leftist, and above all anti-American regimes, notably the Sandinista retreads in Nicaragua.


The old contest between Bangkok’s Sino-Thai elite and the more ethnic Thai rurals, especially those in the poorer northeast, has come unhinged in the rapid economic and international integration of the once isolated nation that never became a European colony.. Ironically, the rural areas – which once got some taste of social and economic upward mobility through the frequent encroachment of the military on the political process – have now been seduced with long-awaited social services. Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist handing out new entitlements while he used his connections for building an enormous personal fortune, is a fugitive from corruption charges. Nevertheless, from Dubai or wherever he has been running the country through his political machine with his sister as prime minister to the consternation of the old elite. [It is another irony that Shinawatra is, himself, only first generation Sino-Thai which he has never tried to hide.]

The elite, increasingly supported by students and Bangkok’s middle class, are now turning to the possibility of some sort of indirect rule rather than Shinawatra’s popular mandate. The crisis is deepening, beginning to affect Thailand’s tourism — $26.7 billion in 1013, up 20% over the year before. Street rioting has already canceled out an estimated 900,000 visitors in the next six months and their $1.6 billion. Violence would eventually cut into the steady low of foreign investment – Thailand’s auto industry dominates Southeast Asia, ninth largest in the world.

Solutions for half a century to periodic blowups have come from the intervention of the military, now more reluctant than ever before to jeopardize its $5.3 billion budget by bloodying its hands. Thailand’s sainted 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyade, despite his close associations with the elite, has spent much of the last year in hospital. The final arbiter in past political crises, he is coming to the end of a 68-year reign with the succession somewhat clouded by a scandal-prone crown prince.

Needless to say, the U.S. did not create any of these crises. But whatever the failings of the Obama Administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s endless peregrinations and John Kerry’s pledges of endurance, there is a growing worldwide perception that American power is retreating in the face of a poorly functioning domestic economy, a curtailment of military expenditures, and an Obama policy that attempts to “lead from behind”.Syria” has become the arch symbol of Obama’s indecisiveness. That carries over to a growing belief in a general withdrawal from the U.S.’ preeminent post-World War II leadership of free societies. With Obama’s threats and “red lines” increasingly ignored, an ominous vacuum in virtually all regions of the world invites chaos if not worse.