American Versus Russian Intervention

Excellent WaPo piece about American intervention by Simon Waxman.

The point of the article is to lend understanding about why Putin supported a Trump presidency, but what I found most insightful was his point about Putin and Syria.

Of course, Putin does not oppose militant humanitarianism for idealistic reasons. He, too, claims to be a militant humanitarian. In justifying Russian policies toward Syria and Ukraine, Putin and his supporters have explicitly relied on arguments the Clinton administration used in Kosovo. If NATO can stumble into Yugoslavia’s civil war, why can’t Russia do the same in Syria? Indeed, Russia is Syria’s ally, sworn by treaty to protect its government. And if Saddam Hussein’s genocide against Kurds was a reason to violently unseat him from power, then why shouldn’t Russia protect persecuted ethnic Russians, as it has claimed to do in Georgia and Ukraine? If there is a principled difference between the Clinton and Putin approaches to militant humanitarianism, it is that the latter is essentially conservative, seeking to preserve the status quo or restore the status quo ante, and the former is transformative, attempting to build new states along lines preferred by U.S. politicians and strategists.

The rest can be read here.

His homepage is here.

 

Russian Advisers Help Taliban in Contested Province

Russia’s role in Afghanistan was questioned again Tuesday when the provincial police chief in Uruzgan told Afghan media that intelligence reports showed visiting Russian generals were providing Taliban militants with weapons and training.

 

“Eleven Russians, including two women, dressed in doctor’s uniforms and guarded by four armed Taliban, along with an Afghan translator, have been spotted in various parts of the province,” Ghulam Farooq Sangari, Uruzgan police chief, told VOA’s Afghan service. “They have been enticing people against the government, providing training and teaching how to assemble land mines.”

The reporting is by Noor Zahid. You can read the rest of the article here.

Trump and Russia: The Right Way to Manage Relations

That is the name of an essay from the March/April edition of the Foreign Affairs.

Here is it’s opening

 

Relations between the United States and Russia are broken,and each side has a vastly different assessment of what went wrong. U.S. officials point to the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and the bloody covert war Russian forces are waging in eastern Ukraine. They note the Kremlin’s suppression of civil society at home, its reckless brandishing of nuclear weapons, and its military provocations toward U.S. allies and partners in Europe. They highlight Russia’s military intervention in Syria aimed at propping up Bashar al-Assad’s brutal dictatorship. And they call attention to an unprecedented attempt through a Kremlin-backed hacking and disinformation campaign to interfere with the U.S. presidential election last November.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his circle view things differently. In Ukraine, Moscow sees itself as merely pushing back against the relentless geopolitical expansion of the United States, NATO, and the EU. They point out that Washington and its allies have deployed troops right up to the Russian border. They claim that the United States has repeatedly intervened in Russian domestic politics and contend, falsely, that former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even incited antigovernment protests in Moscow in December 2011. And they maintain that the United States is meddling in Syria to overthrow a legitimate government, in just the latest example of its unilateral attempts to topple regimes it doesn’t like.

Informative and objective throughout. Highly recommended.

Putin and Erdogan’s Marriage of Convenience

Excellent read at the Wilson Center on the evolving and odd relationships between the United States, Turkey, and Russia. In late 2015 Turkey was shooting down Russian fighter jets. In August of 2016, Erdogan was praising his dear friend Putin. This turnabout was largely a result of America’s intervention into Syria.

Here is one bit from the article.

Overnight, America had transformed the Syrian Kurds into a legitimate actor, enabling them to consolidate territorial gains adjoining Turkey. For Ankara, however, this was nothing short of a victory for the hated Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which had been instrumental in the creation of the YPG and waged a decades-long guerrilla war against the Turkish state

Yet, like most American allies, Erdogan is more than happy to free ride on American security treaties.

Still, it would be foolhardy to suggest that Erdogan would contemplate abandoning NATO. Turkey lives under the shadow of the Russian giant — its anger at the United States and its Western allies notwithstanding, it needs the protection the alliance offers. Without it, the Russians would be able to intimidate Ankara at will. Erdogan correctly calculates that he can be a free rider in the alliance, cozying up to Moscow and antagonizing Washington, all the while knowing that the U.S.-Turkish relationship is deeply embedded in NATO.

Do read the entire thing.

The author is Henri Barkey.

Trump, China, and Russia

Should we be as concerned as most have been regarding the ongoing love affair between Trump and Putin? Jennifer Rubin at the WaPo has been especially active on how dire we should be over the expected thaw in US-Russian relations. See here, here and here.

I’m not as alarmed.

Russian aggression offends my western sensibilities, but not my perception of American strategic interests. The atrocities committed by Russia in Syria are truly tragic, and the there should be serious consequences for their recent cyber crimes, but you ally not based on values, but interests…otherwise, how would WW2 have ended if we refused to work with Stalin?

It seems clear to me that Trump has identified China as the biggest threat to the United States and from the phone call to Taiwan to nominating Peter Navarro as the director of the National Trade Council, you can read Trump’s early maneuvering as building leverage for when he has to deal with China.

How does Russia fit into this? From his outlook on Syria, nominating Tillerson to Secretary of State, and to his dismissal of Russia’s interference in the election, Trump seems to be courting Russia to help balance against the future country which will be the most important player in what is expected to be the most important region. I disagree with this approach., but it isn’t crazy. If your international outlook emphasizes a focus on power, which I presume Trump’s does, on nearly every metric China should be the more concerning country. Just look at a very crude metric of power, GDP. Assuming both states are illiberal and that one is the recognized potential hegemon of their region, who should the United States ally with?

Perhaps I’m giving too much credit to Trump to assume this is the framework that guides his thinking (as opposed to his suspected need to be adored by powerful men), but either way, an improvement in relations with Russia will be a welcomed change of pace.

Cuba and certainty in the legislative process

The Miami Herald has a good piece on how Cuba is trying to figure out how to move forward with relations with America.

Alarmed by signs that its fragile relationship with the United States might fall apart under President-elect Donald Trump, the Cuban government is quietly reaching out to its contacts in the United States to determine how best to protect the communist regime’s tenuous diplomatic position.

 

The Cubans are trying to figure out who Trump is, what his real thinking about Cuba might be and how they might be heard by his fledgling administration.

 

 

The Cubans’ chief problem: The contacts they’ve spent years cultivating had the ear of President Barack Obama’s administration. No one close to Trump is — at least publicly — an advocate for their cause.

 

“They did not anticipate a President-elect Trump,” said Jorge Mas Santos, president of the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami.

Now, Trump’s policies positions are at best, erratic. I can’t defend any of what he does let alone understand where it is coming from. But some of the issues raised by the Miami Herald article can be attributed to President Obama’s governing style which had become increasingly marked by bypassing legislative obstacles when implementing his agenda. I supported the rapprochement with Cuba, but process is important. The steps towards a normal relationship with Cuba were achieved through an executive order which can be easily rescinded by the next president. Senate ratification in the treaty process was included to reflect one of the core principles of the founding philosophy that “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” State relations shouldn’t be determined by one person. All sorts of warnings can be given for why one individual should have checks on his or her ability to manage interstate relations, most prescient of which is 

An avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth. An ambitious man might make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents. The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a President of the United States.

Who knows what sort of deals Trump may cut with Putin through executive orders, but for being such a steely eyed business man, it appears flattery goes a long way with the Mango Mussolini.

There is also the more practical issue of legal uncertainty. The founding fathers required treaties to be approved by 2/3 of the Senate so as to allow American foreign relations to have a certain amount of certainty built into them and to allow for stable expectations about future relationships. Without this process based credibility, companies are trying to allocate capital in the dark as the article notes that

The companies have been in negotiations for months, following the lead of President Barack Obama’s administration, which relaxed commercial and banking sanctions against Cuba’s communist regime. With Trump signaling he’ll take a much harder line toward Cuba, the Obama administration is pushing to settle business agreements that would make it more difficult to undo the president’s Cuba opening.

Hopefully Trump maintains the process of normalizing relations with the Castro regime. But more importantly, lets hope that he doesn’t use the Obama precedent of using executive orders for how he deals with other authoritarian regimes.

Our new Secretary of Defense will be James Mattis

It is official. President Elect Trump has confirmed that former General James Mattis will be his Secretary of Defense.

As a libertarian, I’m pretty skeptical of stocking any administration with so many former generals. I prefer civilian control of the government and some of these picks, like Mattis, are not very far removed from their military service.

Who knows what Trump is up to. He campaigned on disparaging our military leadership so I’m not sure what to make of all these reports of him courting so much former brass. But Mattis isn undoubtably a hawk.

See his suggested “blue print” for America.

He claims that the instability of the world is a consequence “…of 20 years of the United States operating unguided by strategy.” He also adds “The international system as we know it — and as we created it — is under assault from the forces of entropy that fill vacuums and corrode order when the United States is not actively engaged.”

Nothing can be further from the truth. The American strategy of the past 20 years has been some version of “engagement and expansion” which was the Clinton Doctrine of actively engaging the world and expanding democracy and markets. All three post cold war presidents had some version of this.

Mattis notes that a lack of American strategy has resulted in world where “Russia invades Ukraine, shaking the post-World War II European order. China chips away at others’ sovereignty in Asia.” I have no idea what he is talking about. In the far east we have the pivot. In eastern Europe NATO has grown, not shrunk. The recent revanchism of China and Russia are not desirable but the west has done something similar by invading Somalia (91), the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan and engaging in military operations in Yemen, Somalia (2016), Pakistan, and Syria, among others.

As well, the west proudly chips away at others sovereignty with the defense of Responsibility to Protect and such institutions such as the ICC.

All of this western preoccupation with the internal politics of other countries represents a direct threat such illiberal regimes survival. I’m not defending these systems, and I certainly think that they are inferior to what we in the west offer, but exerting pressure on these regimes to liberalize results in a less stable world and a less secure America. If all this instability is the cost of making an omelet, where is the omelet?

I disagree with most of the next Secretary of Defense policy stances. He wants to tear up the Iran deal and bomb ISIS, among other hawkish policies. But the more I read about his personal narrative, the more impressed I become. The “warrior monk” apparently owns 6,000 books and doesn’t deploy without them. Despite his erudition, he still connects with his troops at a personal level. Yet, he will do more damage to American security if he continues to frame China and Russia as a threat to the American “way of life”. Instead, the biggest threat to American democracy was just elected.

 

Who are “key allies?”

Over at Duck of Minevera Phil Arena has a piece discussing information failure and the possible outbreak of war under a Trump presidency.

 

He writes…

…Trump’s electoral victory is so alarming. Trump has famously questioned what the US is getting out of its military presence in South Korea and Japan and indicated that the US should no longer serve as the world’s policeman (source). He has expressed admiration for Putin and indicated that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are legitimate – when he’s acknowledged that they’re even occurring (source). One could hardly blame Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un for thinking that the United States would not respond if they chose to attack traditional US allies in the Baltics or South Korea.

 

The bold text is original.

he concludes with…

As horrifying as the prospect of a return to warfare on a scale not seen in decades is, I cannot hope for the abandonment of key allies. That is why I am so troubled; if Putin and Kim respond to Trump’s comments the way leaders have often responded when the US signaled that it was unwilling to check aggression, there is no best case scenario.

My issue with his post is that he doesn’t want to “abandon key allies.”

We have almost 30k troops in South Korea so I don’t expect the scenario described to occur in Asia. And either way, I actually lean towards supporting the American hub and spoke alliance system of the Far East as it dampens the security dilemma. There are probably too many historical grievances in Asia to allow for multipolarity to emerge.

But what about Europe?

What exactly is a “key ally” in this region? Like everyone else, I’ve written about the lack of military spending by those the United States is obligated to protect. It’s a standard post and you can read it here. But look at this lineup of “key allies” I pulled from wikipieda. You can sort them into basically three different groups. (1) Most are utterly meaningless for American security. Does anyone think that if Russia annexed Slovenia and Slovakia that this means anything for the defense of American sovereignty? (2) Some are actually not just meaningless but pose a serious threat to American interests and, in a rare but worst case scenario, could drag us into conflict. Turkey is an obvious example. The last group (3) can actually defend themselves and are free riding. This includes states such as Germany, and France.

Military personnel[edit]

Country Active personnel Reserve personnel Total
 Albania 100,500 5,000 105,500
 Belgium 24,500 100,500 125,000
 Bulgaria 46,712 302,500 349,212
 Canada 68,000 27,000 95,000
 Croatia 18,000 180,000 198,000
 Czech Republic 21,057 2,359 23,416
 Denmark 20,003 63,000 78,000
 Estonia 3,209 60,000 63,209
 France 222,215 100,000 322,215
 Germany 180,676 145,000 325,676
 Greece 180,000 280,000 460,000
 Hungary 29,700 8400 38,100
 Iceland 210 170 380
 Italy 180,000 41,867 220,867
 Latvia 6,000 11,000 17,000
 Lithuania 15,839 4,550 20,389
 Luxembourg 1,057 278 1,335
 Netherlands 47,660 57,200 104,860
 Norway 26,200 56,200 82,400
 Poland 120,000 515,000 635,000
 Portugal 44,900 210,930 255,830
 Romania 73,350 79,900 153,250
 Slovakia 16,000 16,000
 Slovenia 7,300 1,500 8,801
 Spain 123,000 16,200 139,200
 Turkey 620,473 429,000 1,041,900
 United Kingdom 205,851 181,720 387,571
 United States 1,369,532 850,880 2,220,412
 NATO 3,585,000 3,745,000 7,330,000

The United States has far too much “free security” offered by two oceans to consider NATO essential to its security. My suspicion is that the US insists on maintaining NATO because being the “leader of the free world” is a public good. NATO doesn’t have any real meaning for America outside of generating pride for the uninformed. Either way, we shouldn’t refer to any of these countries as allies but dependents. An ally helps pursue the national interests and I’m not sure what interests any of these “allies” help us pursue.

Russia and internet censorhip

Writing as early as 1880, Russian writer Dostoyevsky wrote that man

“will only become free when they renounce their freedom to us and submit to us. And shall we be right or shall we be lying? They will be convinced that we are right, for they will remember the horrors of slavery and confusion to which Thy freedom brought them. Freedom, free thought, and science will lead them into such straits and will bring them face to face with such marvels and insoluble mysteries, that some of them, the fierce and rebellious, will destroy themselves, others, rebellious but weak, will destroy one another, while the rest, weak and unhappy, will crawl fawning to our feet and whine to us: “Yes, you were right, you alone possess His mystery, and we come back to you, save us from ourselves!”

This is from his masterpiece The Grand Inquisitor, the final chapter of a larger piece of work, The Brother Karamozov. The “us” is the Church but can be any form of authority. There is a tradeoff between freedom and security, and as readers of this blog know I don’t think that their balance is the same for all cultures. You obviously have to be nuanced when discussing the “Russian soul.” There are Russians who prefer liberty to state control and cultures can adopt and change. The Korean peninsula was for the most part culturally homogenous in 1952 but today have a full democracy next to a full totalitarian state. Yet, as reported in the Washington Post, “Sixty percent of Russians believe that Internet censorship — in particular, the banning of certain websites and material — is necessary…” To me, this number is especially telling considering it is well known, even by the Russians, that the media is largely an apparatus of the state and alternative views are found on the web.

Freedom is an artifact of historical circumstance and there are good reasons why it is not as valued in Russia as highly as it is in America.

More data is available and you can read the WaPo article in full here.

 

It’s Nato that’s empire-building, not Putin

That is the headline of a piece written by Peter Hitchens.

Here is one bit here.

Just for once, let us try this argument with an open mind, employing arithmetic and geography and going easy on the adjectives. Two great land powers face each other. One of these powers, Russia, has given up control over 700,000 square miles of valuable territory. The other, the European Union, has gained control over 400,000 of those square miles. Which of these powers is expanding?

Obviously there is a difference between annexing territory through hybrid wars and joining a common market via some sort of democratic process, but the zero-sum description above is how Russia interprets EU and NATO enlargement.

He then goes on to point out the contradictions of the Western alliance patterns and liberal morals.

…we have a noisy pseudo-moral crusade, which would not withstand five minutes of serious consideration. Mr Putin’s state is, beyond doubt, a sinister tyranny. But so is Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, which locks up far more journalists than does Russia. Turkey is an officially respectable Nato member, 40 years after seizing northern Cyprus, which it still occupies, in an almost exact precedent for Russia’s seizure of Crimea. If Putin disgusts us so much, then why are we and the USA happy to do business with Erdogan, and also to fawn upon Saudi Arabia and China?

This article is dated, by the way. It was written in March of 2015, prior to the authoritarian backlash following the failed coup.

Do read the entire article.