Some Ukrainian Background.

The first “Russian” state was Kievan Rus, created by conquering Vikings.[1]  In the 13th Century the Mongols showed up and put a stop to that.  “Independent” Russia came to mean a small territory around Moscow.  Over the following centuries, Ukraine became a contested ground between empires: the “Golden Horde” of the Mongols, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the rising Austrian Empire, and an expanding Romanov Russia.  By the end of the 18th Century, the Austrians held Galicia, while the rest of the Ukraine belonged to Russia.

As was the case elsewhere in Eastern Europe in the second half of the 19th Century, local nationalism began to burn.  Tsarist Russia repressed this just as it did every other form of non-Russian nationalism.  Still, Ukrainian nationalism survived.  When the First World War wrecked the Austrian and Russian Empires, Ukraine declared its independence (1917).

Tragedy followed for Ukrainians: the territory and its people were savaged by Poles with an expansive definition of “historical” Poland; and by “Whites,” “Reds,” and a variety of crazy people like the Anarchist anti-semite Nestor Makhno during the Russian Civil War and the Russo-Polish War.  Then Ukraine fell under the hammer during Josef Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture in the 1930s.  About 3.5 million Ukrainians were starved to death during this “Harvest of Sorrow.”[2]

During the drive for industrialization that followed close on the heels of the “terror famine,” Stalin moved in millions of Russians to eastern Ukraine.  Their descendants still form a large part of the population of Ukraine.  Then the Second World War brought both massive suffering and deep divisions, as Ukrainians fought on both side.

In 1954, possibly trying to make amends to the Ukraine for the whole unfortunate “terror famine” thing, the Soviet Union transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine.  This remained something of a sore spot for the ethnic Russians of Crimea.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine held a referendum on independence.  Overall, 90 percent of those who voted supported independence.   However, voter participation varied a good deal throughout Ukraine.  The Russians weren’t happy with this secession, but there wasn’t much they could do about it because Russia itself was in massive turmoil.

The post-independence history of Ukraine has not been a happy one.[3]  Corruption is endemic.  Mismanagement is widespread.  Bureaucracy is pervasive and stifling.  Investment in productive capacity fell far short of needs.  Where banks did lend, they often made bad loans.  Business law and an incompetent (or corrupt) judiciary make property insecure.  Investors don’t want to risk their capital.  By 2014, Ukrainians were among Europe’s poorest people.

In 2004, Viktor Yanukovych won election as president amidst charges of massive fraud and interference by the Soviet Union.  An “Orange Revolution” turned him out of office.  His “Orange” successors then mismanaged things on a grand scale.  Eventually, in 2010, Yanukovych managed to win election as president without charges of massive fraud.  In late 2013 he suddenly rejected a long-prepared economic agreement with the European Union.  This act sparked a new round of demonstrations that ended with Yanukovych chased from office once again (February 2014).

After that, things got even worse.  By 2015, the conflict with Russia cut Ukrainian-Russian trade by half.  Inflation and unemployment both rose.  Foreign-exchanges reserves at the central bank sank to their lowest point in a decade.  Experts estimated that the country would need $40 billion in financial assistance over the next four years.  In early February 2015, the International Monetary Fund granted Ukraine a $17.5 billion credit.

It was against this background that the Obama administration, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund began pressuring Ukraine to root out corruption and address a host of other problems.

[1] “In Russia’s shadow,” The Week, 14 March 2014, p. 11.

[2] Robert Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine (1986); Anne Applebaum, Red Famine: Stalin’s War on the Ukraine (2017).

[3] David M. Herszenhorn, “Economic Woes Will Test Kiev, Even if Truce Holds,” NYT, 14 February 2015

JMO 3 November 2019.

“Donald Trump is a terrible person.”—Mick Mulvaney.  Agreed.  I voted against him the last time and I plan to vote against him the next time.   (Unless Elizabeth Warren is the Democratic nominee.  I don’t care to have my hard-earned retirement savings destroyed.)

Donald Trump was right to confront China in a forceful way over its trade practices.  Some Americans had suffered from those practices for many years.  Many of them lost jobs.  No one else cared very much.  “Capitalism is creative destruction.  Lump it.”  It’s ludicrous now to say that Trump’s tariff policies are illegitimate because they are forcing up prices of some consumer goods.  Lump it.

Donald Trump was right to open negotiations with North Korea over the nuclear weapons issue, and he was right to meet with Kim Jong-loon.  Severe economic sanctions have been imposed on North Korea for a long time without any sign that they of forcing North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs.  If we’re willing to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, then why shouldn’t we negotiate with North Korea?  Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Joseph Stalin and Richard Nixon met with Mao Zedong.  Why shouldn’t Donald Trump meet with an arguably less evil and less insane foreign leader?

Donald Trump was right to support cutting the corporate tax.  The American tax was much higher than international norms.  It deterred foreign companies from investing in America and it encouraged American companies to keep their foreign earnings over-seas, where they paid a lower tax rate.

Donald Trump is right to try to end the “endless wars” and to avoid becoming involved in new ones.  The invasion of Afghanistan had to take place.  It was the only fast way of getting hold of Osama bin Laden in revenge for 9/11. Having missed our punch in 2003-2004, the United States made the fatal error of staying in Afghanistan in hopes of transforming a primitive society into a modern democracy.  Endless disaster have followed.  Nothing—Nothing–can justify the attack on Iraq in 2003, let alone the botched occupation policy that followed.  A long chain of human and foreign policy disasters have unspooled from that crime a decade and a half ago.

Recognizing the destructive futility of these wars, President Barack Obama claimed he wanted to get out of them.  He did reduce the American presence in Afghanistan—over the resistance of the Pentagon—but he didn’t end American participation in a war that the Taliban is fated to win.  President Obama did manage to end the American military presence in Iraq.  He then allowed the country to be partially sucked back in to prevent Iran—our “enemy” in all things other than the nuclear agreement—from crushing ISIS and expanding its influence.  President Obama, at the price of considerable personal humiliation, managed to keep the United States from being drawn directly into the Syrian civil war.

Donald Trump has done some important things right.  Yes, he’s done them in a ham-handed way.  He has done them in violation of long-standing policies, bureaucratic procedures, and norms.  Those policies, procedures, and norms were the very things that got the country into these messes in the first place.

Even if he is impeached, it is unlikely that Trump’s successors will reverse course.  They’ll just try to break less china while criticizing Trump as a terrible person.

An Innocent Abroad 2 November 2019.

After graduating from Yale Law School in 1996, Hunter Biden[1] went to work for MBNA.  MBNA is a bank-holding company based in Wilmington Delaware.  It was reportedly a major contributor to the political campaigns of Joe Biden.  Within two years, Hunter Biden had become an executive vice president.  From 1998 to 2001, he worked for the Department of Commerce during the second Clinton administration.  From 2001 to 2009, he worked as a lobbyist, and served for two years on the board of Amtrak.  From 2009 to 2019, Hunter Biden was busy on several fronts.  He worked for the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner; he founded an investment firm with Christopher Heinz, the step-son of John Kerry; and he formed an investment firm focused on China (2013-2019).

In April 2014, Hunter Biden was recruited to a five year term on the board of Burisma Holdings, a major Ukrainian natural gas company.  The company is run by Mykola Zlochevsky.

It is fair to ask why Hunter Biden was invited to join the board.

In 2014, the prosecutor general for Ukraine began investigating Burisma.

It has been reported that Hunter Biden himself never was under investigation, let alone charged with anything.  Similarly, the investigations of Burisma were wound up after the payment of back taxes and penalties.

Nevertheless, then and later, Hunter Biden’s position raised eyebrows.  Reportedly, Christopher Heinz opposed his business partner joining the board because of the risk to their firm’s reputation.[2]  Biden went ahead.  Heinz then ended his business relationship with Biden.[3]

Others also questioned the decision.  In June 2014, the Associated Press wrote that “Hunter Biden’s employment means he will be working as a director and top lawyer for a Ukrainian energy company during the period when his father and others in the Obama administration attempt to influence the policies of Ukraine’s new government, especially on energy issues.”[4]

In December 2015, Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Center, told the Wall Street Journal that “If an investigator sees the son of the vice president of the United States is part of the management of a company … that investigator will be uncomfortable pushing the case forward.”

In late 2014, Mykola Zlochevsky hastily left Ukraine after it was alleged that he had illegally enriched himself during his time as Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources in 2010-2012.  In December 2017, the government’s investigation of Burisma ended with no charges filed against Zlochevsky.  In February 2018, he returned to Ukraine.

Did Burisma bring Hunter Biden on board not to entangle him personally in corrupt acts, but rather to put up a shield against prosecution by Zlochevsky’s Ukrainian enemies?

It would be useful to know what–if anything—the State Department, the Treasury Department, and the Central Intelligence Agencies reported on Hunter Biden’s time with Burisma.  Or, like Joe Biden and his son, did they also have a “don’t ask-don’t tell” relationship?

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter_Biden

[2] Paul Sonne, Michael Kranish, and Matt Viser, “The gas tycoon and the vice president’s son: The story of Hunter Biden’s foray into Ukraine,” The Washington Post, 28 September 2019.

[3] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7519043/Chris-Heinz-split-business-partner-Hunter-Biden-board-seat-Ukrainian-energy-company.html

[4] https://www.factcheck.org/2019/09/trump-twists-facts-on-biden-and-ukraine/

Election Investigations 2 21 October 2019.

In April 2019, soon after publication of the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Attorney General William Barr appointed John Durham, the United States Attorney in Connecticut, to investigate the origins of the probe into allegations of a conspiracy between Russia and the Donald Trump campaign.

According to the New York Times[1]:

President Trump has “attacked [Mueller’s investigation] without evidence as a plot by law enforcement and intelligence officials to prevent him from winning the election.”

“Mr. Durham and his investigators have sought help from governments in countries that figure into right-wing attacks and unfounded conspiracy theories[2] about the Russia investigation,…”

One of these is Australia, whose government reported the contact between one of its diplomats and George Papadopoulos.

Another is Italy, where Joseph Mifsud, suspected of being a Russian agent, first made contact with Papadopolous.  However, the American embassy in Rome also once played home to a senior F.B.I. agent investigating organized crime in Russia and Central Asia.  If that agent is still assigned to Rome, did Durham also want to talk to him and away from the hurley-burley of Washington, DC.?

Another is Britain, where Papadopolous first shared his news with Alexander Downer.  Did Downer share the information with his own Senior Adviser for Intelligence?  If he did, then did the Intelligence Adviser then share the information with MI-6 and/or with the CIA station-chief in London?  Then, there is the whole issue of Stefan Halper at Cambridge University.  What were his orders regarding the Papadopolous incident?

Durham’s team also “has interviewed private Ukrainian citizens,…”  Are these Steele’s intermediate sources for Russian affairs?[3]

Soon-to-be-not-the White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney “infuriated people inside the Department of Justice” by suggesting a connection between the Durham investigation and Rudi Giuliani’s investigation.  Barr’s office has denied any connection between his inquiry and that of Giuliani.

So far, according to the NYT, Durham’s team has interviewed lower-level officials.  Some of them have been questioned about why Peter Strozk signed to approve his own draft of the paperwork needed to open the investigation.  Normally, it seems, this process involves two separate officials.  Also, they have asked the witnesses about why Strozk began the investigation on a week-end.  Apparently, Strozk’s superior was Andrew McCabe, who did not sign the document.

Durham has “asked witnesses about the role of Christopher Steele….Law enforcement officials used some of the of the information Mr. Steele compiled into a now-infamous dossier” to obtain a wiretap on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign official [whose e-mails and phone conversations had been tracked and archived by the National Security Agency.]

Durham’s people asked why “F.B.I officials would use unsubstantiated or incorrect information in their application for a court order…”[4]

Standard investigatory procedure appears to be to start at the bottom and work upward.

William Barr’s investigators have not yet interviewed James Comey, Peter Strozk, Andrew McCabe, James Baker, John Brennan, or James Clapper.

Again, there is much still to be learned.

 

[1] Adam Goldman and William K.  Rashbaum, “Prosecutors Reviewing Russia Inquiry Appear to Seek Bias in F.B.I.” NYT, 20 October 2019, p. 22.  This statement ignores the fact that the “Steele Dossier

[2] “Unproven” is one thing; “unfounded” is another.  Which investigation has proven these allegations to be “unfounded”?

[3] Reportedly, Steele began having difficulty getting information directly from Russia in June 2016.

[4] See: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/19/us/politics/steele-dossier-mueller-report.html

Election Investigations 1 21 October 2019.

James B. Stewart is nobody’s fool.[1]  His most recent book paws over what is known of the near-simultaneous and mid-election investigations of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.[2]

Hillary Clinton had used a private e-mail server for business and personal matters when federal regulations banned that practice.  She then “wiped” the hard-drive, deleting tens of thousands of messages about purely personal matters.[3]  The subsequent FBI investigation concluded that there existed no sign of criminal intent.

However, FBI agents in offices which had previously dealt with the Clintons (Little Rock, New York City) were “hotbeds of anti-Clinton hostility.”  FBI Director James Comey told Attorney General Loretta Lynch that “there is a cadre of senior people in New York who have a deep and visceral hatred of Hillary Clinton.”[4]

The Inspector General of the Justice Department later excoriated Comey for having usurped the authority of the then-compromised Attorney General Lynch.[5]  He had denounced Clinton’s “extremely careless” handling of information.  Then, an unrelated investigation of Congressman Anthony Weiner revealed that his wife, Huma Abedin—Hillary Clinton’s chief aid—had not informed the FBI that she had another computer on which “sensitive” information had been stored.  This had forced Comey to re-open the investigation late in the election.  This may have cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election.[6]  Arguably, this was a violation of standard operating procedure in the FBI.

Stewart seems to suggest that there are a great many Republicans within the FBI and the Justice Department.[7]  Furthermore, they are motivated by their partisan commitments, rather than by a professional commitment to law enforcement.  “Comey felt bound to appease the Clinton-haters because they refused to accept any process that failed to yield their preferred outcome.”[8]

Exactly why Comey would feel obliged to appease the Clinton-haters is not clearly stated.  Would they leak embarrassing information about Clinton or someone else?  Would they compromise his re-appointment as Director?  Then, Comey seems to have leaked his memos to trigger appointment of a special prosecutor, who turned out to be Robert Mueller, a Republican.  Much remains to be learned.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_B._Stewart  I wonder if that makes him feel lonely?

[2] James B. Stewart, Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law (2019).  See the review by Jonathan Chait, “There Are No Winners Here,” NYTBR, 20 October 2019, p.  11.

[3] Apparently, she did NOT transfer this trove of treasured personal communications to an external hard-drive for future reference because she isn’t someone who dwells on the past or retains e-mails from her daughter.

[4] As I understand it, the New York office had wanted to investigate the allegations of influence-peddling suggested in Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich (2015).  They were not allowed to do so, probably because the source of the information was a partisan opponent seeking to discover harmful information.  FBI agents in the New York office may have leaked anti-Clinton information to conservative media.

[5] See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/world/scathing-justice-dept-watchdog-report-rebukes-james-b-comey-cites-major-missteps-by-fbi/2309/

[6] Actually, it is difficult to say exactly what caused Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the election.  See:  Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign (2017).

[7] So it’s like military service.  Most Democrats will not fight for their country, although Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard are exceptions.  For that matter, neither will most Republicans.

[8] Chait, “No Winners.”

Barr the Door 17 October 2019.

By April 2019, the investigation into allegations of conspiracy between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russkies concluded with a sort-of “Scotch verdict.”  Depending on your point of view of course.  Soon, Attorney General William Barr ordered an investigation of the origins of the “Russia probe” that had been carried out by the FBI before and after Donald Trump was elected President.  Barr wondered if the FBI might have “abused its power” in the investigation.  The Inspector General of the Department of Justice already had launched an inquiry into the FISA warrants used to justify surveillance of Carter Page.  However, the IG could compel testimony and secure documents only within the Department of Justice and the FBI.  Barr’s new investigation, backed by a presidential order for all agencies and departments to co-operate and permitting Barr to declassify any documents that he thinks right, seemingly could touch on the State Department, the Defense Department, and the intelligence community.  Barr had asked US Attorney John Durham to carry out that investigation.

In early October 2019, Barr and Durham went to Rome.  The two wanted the cooperation of the Italian government in their investigation.  Why Italy?  It’s the operating base for Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor who is suspected of having ties to the Russian intelligence service.  Mifsud had told Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.  Later, Mifsud eluded the FBI and then disappeared.  Where is he?  Will he talk?  Furthermore, in early July 2019, Christopher Steele met with an FBI agent stationed in Rome.  They had known each other from having participated in investigations of Central Asian-Russian organized Crime.  Steele shared his early concerns with the agent, who reported them to Victoria Nuland at the State Department.  It might be useful to sort out the details not covered by the documents and e-mails.

In addition, the two hoped to get help from the governments of Britain and Australia.[1]

They are interested in Australia because Papadopoulos told the Australian High Commissioner to Britain and his assistant, that he had learned that the Russian had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton during a meeting in May 2016.  Durham may want to know exactly when the Australians communicated this knowledge to the Americans.  Did they share the knowledge immediately, by mid-May, with the FBI or the CIA?  Did they share it in mid-June after the Russian hack of the computer server of the Democratic National Committee and of Hillary Clinton’s secret server became public knowledge?  Did they wait until mid-July, as the timeline of the FBI seems to suggest?  If they waited, why did they wait?  It was interesting news.

They may be interested in Britain because of the potential involvement of the British intelligence services, both MI-5 (domestic) and MI-6 (the foreign Secret Intelligence Service).  Christopher Steele had been a senior member of MI-6.  Now he runs a private “intelligence” organization out of London.  Can that business thrive if the intelligence “community” doubts you?  So, what—purely out of self-defense—did Steele tell the British s well as various Americans?  Did British agencies share that information with their American “cousins”?

It is important here to not confuse William Barr with Rudolph Giuliani.  Nor—so far–do the subject areas of their investigations overlap.  Will Barr’s investigation survive?

[1] “Barr hunts for signs of a plot to undermine Trump,” The Week, 11 October 2019, p. 5.

The Kurdish Crisis-of-the-Moment 16 October 2019.

The Kurdish crisis requires some explanation. First, the idea of Nationalism[1] began in Western Europe, then spread to other areas, slowly.  Eventually it reached the Middle East during the last stage of the Ottoman Empire. It penetrated the Greeks of Ionia, the Armenians, the Kurds, and the Arabs.

Just as the body’s immune system generates resistance to dangers, so did Nationalism among the subject peoples of the Ottoman Empire generate Nationalism among the Turks. Horrific things followed. In brief compass, the Ottoman Turks drove out the Armenians during the First World War, and the revolutionary Turkish Republic slaughtered large numbers of Greek Christians. Regardless of whether these were acts of “genocide,” a ton of Greeks and Armenians died as a result of Turkish government action. (Certainly, lots of Greek soldiers deserved to die for their actions in Turkey, but most of them got away to ships for home, while the civilian population was abandoned to the revenge-minded Turks.[2])  However, many Kurds remained within the boundaries of modern Turkey.

Second, when the George W. Bush administration decided to attack Iraq in 2003 for no good reason, one effect was to fracture the country into its component parts.  A Shi’a Arab majority in the east opposed a Sunni Arab minority in the west and the Kurds in the northern part of the country. Us liking it or not, the Iraqi Kurds saw their self-governing territory as the core of a united Kurdistan. The projected Kurdistan would include Turkish Kurdistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Syrian Kurdistan, and even Iranian Kurdistan. So, Kurdistan has many enemies and few friends.  OTOH, “neither are they afflicted by the disease of indecision.”[3]

Third, when ISIS attacked out of eastern Syria and over-ran much of Iraq, the armies of Iraq and Syria were rotted by corruption and civil war. The US faced a choice: leave it to Turkey, Iran, and–needs be–Israel to solve the ISIS problem OR thrust ourselves back into regional affairs. The Obama administration chose a partial re-engagement.  Send Special Forces troops as trainers and target-spotters and send US air power. The real heavy lifting would be done by an “Arab” army of mostly Kurds, with an icing-on-the-cake of “moderate” Arabs.

Fourth, basically this worked OK.  Not perfect, but OK. Now we’re faced with the question of how to get out of the “Forever War.” What do we owe to the Kurds, who have been fighting for their own nationalist interests? What do we owe to Turkey, a NATO ally with a large and restive Kurdish population? What do we owe to ourselves, to our self-image?  “You dance with the girl you brung,” my Dad always said.[4]

Fifth, Russia gets Syria? So what? The place is a ruin. The Russians already have alliances with Iran, the Shi’ites in Iraq, and the Alewites of Syria.  All formed under the Obama Administration. Turkey has already bolted on NATO. Much of that seems to be on the watch of the Obama administration. Focus on the essentials of American interests: oil from Saudi Arabia; and–more importantly–the Far East.

[1] I’ll leave aside all the BS that has been talked about of late about Patriotism as “the love of one’s own country” versus Nationalism as “the hatred of other countries.”

[2] See: Smyrna.

[3] See: “”In Harm’s Way.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXzNQHNsQHk

[4] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcBplbfXgSY