Sturmvogel 2 9 March 2020.

In 2004, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych lost his position as the result of street demonstrations known as the “Orange Revolution.”  Yanukovych wanted to get back in the saddle at some point, so he looked for help.  The oligarch Rinat Akhmetov suggested his friend Paul Manafort.[1]  From December 2004 to February 2010, Manafort reshaped Yanukovych’s image and that of his opponents.  In February 2010, Yanukovych regained the presidency.

In February 2014 Yanukovych lost the presidency to a new round of street demonstrations called “Euromaidan.”   The Russians soon expressed their dissatisfaction with the “Euromaidan” revolution by seizing Crimea and by fomenting pro-Russian uprisings in two eastern “oblasts.”  The Americans and Europeans responded by wall-papering Russian leaders with sanctions and by providing economic aid to Ukraine.  However, the Westerners recognized that Ukraine was a deeply corrupt country.[2]  They insisted upon the creation of a robust National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU).

Ukraine hopped to it: the legislature passed basic legislation in October 2014, then launched a search for a bureau leader in January 2015; and President Petro Poroshenko signed decrees creating the new bureau in April 2015.  Funding for NABU is mandated under American and European Union aid programs and it has an evidence-sharing agreement with the Effa-Bee-Eye.  However, while NABU could investigate corruption cases, the actual prosecution of those cases fell to the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO).  It looks like the idea was to build a fire wall between eager-beaver investigators and actual prosecutors, who could always find fault with the investigations in order to protect the corrupt.

In August 2016, NABU announced that it had discovered a previously secret document that recorded $12.7 million in payments from Yanukovych’s “Party of Regions” to Paul Manafort.[3]

In August 2016, Serhiy Leshchenko,[4] a Ukrainian investigative journalist who had won election to the parliament as a supporter of Petro Poroshenko, held a news conference.[5]  In it, he emphasized the importance of NABU’s so-called “black ledger,” which recorded $12.7 million in cash payments from Yanukovych to Manafort.  Leschenko called for Ukrainian and American authorities to investigate Manafort.  In support of his charges, Leschenko provided a sample of ledger items for six months of payments in 2012.

According to the Steele Dossier, on the day after the New York Times published its story on the “black ledger,” Yanukovych met with Russian President-for-Life Vladimir Putin.  Yanukovych admitted that he had authorized “substantial kickback payments to Manafort,” but “that there was no documentary trail left behind which could provide clear evidence of this.”

A week after the Times story landed on door-steps, Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign.

Two weeks after the press conference, Leshchenko told the Financial Times that “For me, it was important to show not only the corruption aspect, but that he [Trump] is [a] pro-Russian candidate who can break the geopolitical balance in the world.”  The FT reported that Trump’s candidacy had alarmed Ukraine’s political leaders.  It led them to “do something they would never have attempted before: intervene, however indirectly, in a U.S. election.”  The FT reported that Leshchenko claimed that most Ukrainian politicians “on Hillary Clinton’s side.”[6]

What to make of this information?

First, these allegations and reports have nothing to do with CrowdStrike or missing servers or any other fantasy developed by Rudy Giuliani or Donald Trump.  Nor does it bear on the activities of Hunter Biden, let alone any insinuated intervention by his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden.  All those things are mixed together in one of the most squalid scandals of American political history.

Second, it seems perfectly reasonable to believe that in 2016 the prospect of a Trump presidency would scare the bejeezus out of Ukrainians.  President Obama had expressed his withering disapproval of Russian actions in Ukraine after the eviction of Viktor Yanukovych, but American aid came in the form of money, economic sanctions on Russia, and non-lethal military aid.  Trump had expressed sympathy for the return of Crimea to Russia and had hoped for improved relations between the US and Russia.  Ukraine’s leaders had every right to expect that their country—and all their chances for stealing stuff–would suffer under a Trump administration.

Third, it’s difficult to argue that individual politicians and government officials in Ukraine didn’t try to meddle in the 2016 presidential election when they insist that they did.  Obviously, those interventions didn’t work and the same people later mostly tried to deny what they did.[7]

Fourth, a lot of this stuff makes sense if we go with the original intelligence community assessment of the Russian meddling.  First, they said that the Russkies wanted to sow seeds of division in America so as to discredit democracy among its participants.  Later on, they amended this to say that the Russkies wanted Donald Trump elected president.

But what if the Russkies didn’t care who was elected?  What if they just wanted us to fight among ourselves?  As we have done.  (I no longer communicate with one of my oldest friends.)  “Twas a famous victory.”[8]

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rinat_Akhmetov#Connected_to_2016_Donald_Trump_United_States_Presidential_Campaign_and_the_Robert_Mueller_Special_Counsel_investigation

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption_in_Ukraine  Probably helps if you have read Eric Ambler novels from the 1930s.

[3] Andrew E. Kramer, Mike McIntire, Barry Meier, “Secret Ledger in Ukraine Lists Cash for Donald Trump’s Campaign Chief,” New York Times, August 14, 2016https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/15/us/politics/what-is-the-black-ledger.html  For NABU’s published statement, see: https://nabu.gov.ua/en/novyny/statement-regarding-pmanaforts-appearance-party-regions-black-ledger

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serhiy_Leshchenko

[5] Kenneth P. Vogel and David Stern, “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump backfire,” Politico, 11 January 2017.  https://www.politico.com/story/2017/01/ukraine-sabotage-trump-backfire-233446

[6] See: Roman Olearchyk, “Ukraine’s leaders campaign against “pro-Putin’ Trump, Financial Times, 28 August 2016.  : https://www.ft.com/content/c98078d0-6ae7-11e6-a0b1-d87a9fea034f  On the FT, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_Times

[7] Leschenko is an exception, but then he gets into brawls in airport lounges and on the floor of parliament.  Not a lot of back-down in that guy.

[8] Robert Southey, “The Battle of Blenheim,” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45178/the-battle-of-blenheim

American Public Opinion on the Impeachment 3 February 2020.

A nation-wide poll taken between 26 and 29 January 2020, sought to establish attitudes toward President Trump during the impeachment hearings.[1]

First, what did a majority of Americans believe?

A large majority (c. 59 percent) of respondents believed that the Democrats in the House and the Senate were inspired to impeach Trump by political motivations.

A majority (53 percent) of respondents believed that President Trump obstructed Congress in his resistance to the House impeachment inquiry.

Over half (52 percent) of respondents believed that Trump had asked the President of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden in order to influence the November 2020 election.

Republicans overwhelmingly (91 percent) opposed Trump’s removal from office.

Democratic voters overwhelmingly (84 percent) support Trump’s removal from office.

Among Independents, 50 percent opposed removing Trump from office.

A plurality just short of a majority (49 percent) of respondents believed that Trump should not be removed from office by the Senate.

Did the partisanship ascribed to the House inquiry and by its managers in the Senate delegitimized the whole process in the eyes of many Americans?

Does President Trump’s resistance to the partisan House inquiry fall within the category of legitimate “punching back” in the eyes of many Americans?

Does President Trump’s suborning of an investigation into Joe Biden fall into the category of a scandal, but not a removable offense?  Or, in essence, does he get a pass on this one because of the sustained bad behavior of the Democrats in the three years since his election?

 

Second, what do minorities believe?

Almost half (46 percent) of respondents believed that Trump should be removed from office by the Senate.

Among Independents 45 percent supported removing Trump from office.

In spite of all the testimony produced by the House inquiry, 41 percent of respondents did not believe that Trump had asked the President of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden in order to influence the November 2020 election.

About a third (37 percent) of respondents believed that the Democrats were inspired by the defense of the Constitution.

A little more than a third (37 percent) of respondents did not believe that Trump obstructed Congress.

There is a big chunk of people—Democrats, Independents, and Republicans—who want Trump removed from office.  They don’t add up to a majority.

There are two separate one-thirds or more of the country who believe absurd things: that Democrats are defending the Constitution and that Trump didn’t invite an investigation.

 

[1] Aaron Zitner, “Americans’ Opinion of President Barely Budge After Impeachment,” WSJ, 3 February 2020; https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/nbc-wsj-poll-country-remains-divided-over-trump-s-impeachment-n1128326

Listening to the Impeachment Hearings.

First, there is no doubt that President Trump extorted the President of Ukraine to announce an investigation of Joe Biden.  He did so, apparently, to besmirch a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Second, there is no doubt that the Republican majority in the Senate is going to acquit Trump of both counts.  There seems to be a shrinking likelihood that enough Republican “moderates” will join the Democrats to even call witnesses.

Third, the obstruction of Congress charge seems ridiculous because the Democrats on the Intelligence and Judiciary committees never made any serious appeal to the courts.   The Trump administration has been sued many times.  They have fought it out in the courts.  Whenever they have lost, they have complied.

Fourth, once Trump has been acquitted, do the Republicans have any plan to keep him from doing some other outrageous thing?  Throw Mike Pence overboard at the convention and impose some really serious person as Trump’s second vice president?  Grit their teeth until Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been replaced with a conservative.  Behind these actions would be the implicit threat that “Next time, you dumb son-of-a-bitch, we will impeach you.”

Fifth, Trump’s defense has argued that many, perhaps most, political acts combine a legitimate policy interest with a politician’s selfish or self-absorbed personal interest.  Hence, these decisions can not be described as “corrupt.”  Democrats have countered that, under the law, any “corrupt” purpose overwhelms any legitimate purpose.  It renders the whole action “corrupt.”  Well, the Democrats have been bug-eyed with fear and rage since November 2016.  They talked a lot about “collusion” (their term, not Trump’s before they started using it on talk shows).  They raised high expectations that the Mueller investigation would prove that Trump had committed crimes that merited impeachment.  They tried to make a case for obstruction of justice after the Mueller investigation “failed to establish” (i.e. couldn’t find any proof of) such “collusion.”  They wanted Trump removed for political reasons that would advantage the Democrats and disgrace the Republicans.  By their own standards, that would seem to meet the definition of “corruption.”

The Next President of the United States of America.

“What’s troubling you is the nature of my game.”–The Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil.”

There is the coincidence of the Democratic primaries for the November 2020 presidential election and the current impeachment trial of Donald Trump.  This has created a great deal of uncertainty.

First, there seems to be a good chance that Donald Trump will be re-elected president if he is not removed from office and barred from all future elective office.  There is no guarantee, but if you look at the past election and the current polling data, trump seems to have a shot–at the least.

Second, if Trump is removed, then the Republicans will lose the White House.  Mike Pence is a joke as vice-president and could not mount a credible presidential campaign.  John McCain has died.  The future possible Republican presidential candidates–take Nikkie Haley as one example–are nowhere near ready to run and would not want to run just to get creamed.

Third, Donald Trump will not be removed from office.  It would take 67 votes in the Senate.  The Democrats have 47 votes at the moment.  They might have swung 4 votes on admitting witnesses and documents before Adam Schiff and Jerrold Nadler worked their oratorical magic during the hearings, but they were never going to swing 20 votes.

Fourth, the current Democrat presidential candidate mix “moderates” (Biden, Bloomberg) with some “radicals” (Warren, Sanders), and a bunch of munchkins.

Fifth, the Caucasian Caucuses in Iowa haven’t occurred yet.  It’s hard to tell who will win there.  It is even more difficult to tell who will win the actual primaries to follow.  Sure, it seems likely that Joe Biden will win the nomination, but “count no man happy until he is dead.”

Sixth, the uncertainty about which Democratic Party will actually show up in the presidential election colors my thinking about impeachment.

Seventh, in 2016 I held my nose and voted for Hillary Clinton in order to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.

Eighth, in 2020 I will not vote for Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders in order to keep Trump out of the White House.  Both, but especially Warren, are threats to my middle-class life and retirement savings.  A President Sanders might appoint Warren Secretary of the Treasury, so neither one is an acceptable presidential candidate.

Ninth, until I know that the Democratic presidential candidate will be someone reasonably sane and practical, then I’m in favor of keeping Trump available as an insurance policy.   The trial in the Senate is now, while the Democratic nomination is in the future.  So I support letting Trump go.  That doesn’t guarantee that I’ll vote for him next time.  That’s up to my Democratic friends.

The Russia Thing Again 18 January 2020.

Cyber-attacks are now common.  As a result, governments have developed defensive capabilities.  Holland’s General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) is chiefly concerned with domestic political and security issues, but it does maintain a cyber-defense section.  In 2014, this section of AIVD found a way to tap the communications and activities of one group of hackers linked to Russian intelligence.  The group is nick-named “Cozy Bear.”[1]  The access allowed the Dutch a continuing view of “Cozy Bear” activities.

As a NATO member, AIVD would naturally share information with its allies, particularly the United States.  American partners would include the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The cyber-attacks by “Cozy Bear” included ones against the State Department and the White House (begun in 2014), the Pentagon (2015), and the Democratic National Committee (2016).

At some point, AIVD provided the Americans with a document stolen from “Cozy Bear.”  The document analyzed a purported e-mail exchange between Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL and then the Chair of the Democratic National Committee)[2] and Leonard Benado, a vice president of the Open Society Institute.[3]  The document referred to the then-ongoing FBI investigation, begun in Summer 2015, into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server during her time as Secretary of State.

In the message being analyzed by the Russians, Schultz told Benado that Attorney General Loretta Lynch would make sure that no criminal charges would be filed against Clinton in the server investigation.[4]

“Is it live or is it Memorex?”[5]  Is the Russian document real or is it disinformation?  The Dutch kept the interception operation going because it provided valuable continuing intelligence.  This supposed that the Russians would not become aware of the interception at some point.  If they did become aware, then they would have a choice between closing the security breach or using it as a conduit to funnel false information to Western intelligence.

Wasserman Schultz and Benado have denied ever having had the e-mail exchange.  Reportedly, American officials didn’t believe that Attorney General Lynch would interfere in the investigation.  However, in late June 2016, it was reported that Lynch had met privately with former President Bill Clinton at the Phoenix airport.

FBI Director James Comey reportedly believed that the Russians would release the “document”—whether real or false—if Lynch played any role in clearing Clinton.  So, in July 2016, he acted on his own initiative.

News of the document first became public in an April 2017 article in the New York Times.  A May 2017 article in the Washington Post elaborated on the story.  Now the Justice Department is probing the leaks to the Times and the Post.  Was the Dutch operation still producing intelligence at that time or had it been closed down?

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cozy_Bear  It has been active since about 2008.

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debbie_Wasserman_Schultz

[3] See: https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/who-we-are/staff/leonard-benardo

[4] Adam Goldman, “A Leak Inquiry May Put Focus Back on Comey,” NYT, 17 January 2020.

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhfugTnXJV4

Foreign Legions 13 January 2020.

A bunch of historical examples can be offered of peoples hiring foreigners to do their fighting for them.  The Roman Empire came to rely upon foreigners to fill up the ranks of the army once citizenship became de-linked from soldiering.  The Arabs recruited large numbers of Turks driven off the steppe by the Mongols.  The little Crusader states in the Holy Land depended upon the military religious orders to aggregate individual European Christian volunteers into formidable props to their survival.  The Englishmen John Smith and Guy Fawkes fought for foreign rulers.  The French and Spanish armies included regiments of Irish Catholic refugees from English Protestant oppression.  In the 19th Century both France and Spain created “Foreign Legions,” while Britain came to prize the Gurkhas.  During the Spanish Civil War, the Comintern created the “International Brigades” to fight against the Nationalists.  Muslims from many countries fought against the Soviet in Afghanistan.  Most recently, the Islamic State marshalled thousands of foreign volunteers under its black flag.[1]

The death of Qassim Suleimani brought some peripheral notice of his reliance upon “foreign legions” to fight as Iranian proxies.[2]  Suleimani adroitly used both Shi’ite and—less frequently–Sunni militias on behalf of his government’s long-term effort to expand Iran’s influence in the Middle East.  Suleimani deployed these militias in the civil wars in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, while Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza are closely linked to Iran.  This policy brought so much success that Iran is unlikely to abandon it just because its original architect is dead.

Foreign volunteers have reasons for signing-up.  Some come for adventure; some are inspired by religious or ideological commitment; some are veteran soldier seeking something that civilian life can’t provide.  The motives for governments that recruit foreign volunteers are less varied.  Where military service has become socially undesirable or where the native population possesses skills too great to be wasted on the battlefield, foreign troops allow a country to punch above its weight.  Foreign soldiers cost only money.  No one cares if they die.

Only about one percent of Americans do military service.  Most of those who do serve come from the South and from military families living close to bases scattered through the South and West.[3]  Over three-quarters (79 percent) of Army enlistees have a family member who has served in the military; almost a third (30 percent) have a parent who has served.  Inevitably, that means that casualties are similarly distributed.  This trend has been developing ever since the military became All Volunteer in 1973.  There’s a political element to this as well.  Politically liberal areas often resist military recruiters in the schools and universities, while liberal parents rarely have done military service.  Young people have few models of military service.

Is this one reason for the “forever wars”?

No, I’ve never been a soldier.

[1] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/02/24/the-islamic-brigades-1/; https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/05/08/the-islamic-brigades-ii/; and https://waroftheworldblog.com/2016/06/17/the-islamic-brigades-iii/

[2] Karim Sadjadpour, “The Sinister Genius of Soleimani,” WSJ, 11-12 January 2020; Dion Nissenbaum and Isabel Coles, “Iraqi Militias Remain a Wild Card,” WSJ, 10 January 2020.

[3] David Philipps and Tim Arango, “The Call to Serve Is Being Unevenly Embraced,” NYT, 11 January 2020.

The Attack on Iran 9 January 2020.

“Trump did it, so it must be the wrong thing.”  Fair rule of thumb/heuristic device.  However, seen in a historical perspective, some further thought may be in order.

First, the military historian John Keegan dissected the liberal mindset with regard to international order on the eve of the Second Iraq War in 2003.  He called this mindset “Olympianism.”  According to Keegan, it “seeks to influence and eventually control the behavior of states not by the traditional means of resorting to force as a last resort but by supplanting force by rational procedures, exercised through a supranational bureaucracy and supranational legal systems and institutions.” Keegan regarded this view as delusional, but widespread.  He describes the “Olympian ethic” as “opposition to any form of international action lying outside the now commonly approved limits of legal disapproval and treaty condemnation.”[1]

European states weren’t the only ones touched by “Olympianism.”  The Report of the 9/11 Commission tells readers that the US Government struggled to respond to the early attacks by Al Qaeda.  These early attacks included the bombing of two embassies in East Africa, and the attack on the USS “Cole” during a port call in Yemen.  The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency doubted he had the authority to kill some foreign terrorist just because the terrorist was trying to kill Americans.  Much thought went into how to capture Osama bin Laden.  Many Republicans, but also Democrats, belabored President Bill Clinton over the missile attack on a suspected Al Qaeda site in Khartoum, Sudan.  The evidence in the 9/11 Report suggests that the Clinton administration then slow-walked the investigation of the “Cole” bombing so that it wouldn’t be forced to do something that would lead to a further tide of abuse.  Attempts to kill Bin Laden in Afghanistan with cruise missiles failed because the diplomatic proprieties required the US Government to inform the government of Pakistan that the US would be flying cruise missiles across its territory.  This in spite of the fact that Pakistani intelligence had close ties to the Taliban government that was sheltering Bin Laden.

The response to the killing of Qassim Soleimani suggests that “Olympianism” has taken hold elsewhere.

Second, the war correspondent-turned historian Thomas Ricks has sought to explain the poor performance of the US Army in recent wars.  In his explanation, during the Second World War, Chief of Staff George Marshall and ruthless subordinates like Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley, transformed a sleepy, gerontocratic peacetime army into a devastatingly effective instrument of war.  They did so, in part, by getting rid of any commander who didn’t cut the mustard.  After George Marshall and his followers had passed on, the Army reverted to a cautious, self-protective rather than self-critical, bureaucracy.[2]  Generals don’t get fired, except for egregious personal misconduct—when it comes to public attention.

If Ricks is correct in his analysis, how should we understand the apparent lack of enthusiasm in the Pentagon for the strike at an Iranian leader who has been asserting his country’s influence throughout the Middle East at the expense of the United States?

Third, it seems unlikely that President Trump’s order to kill General Soleimani is going to have a worse outcome than the decision by the Bush II administration to invade Iraq or the decision by the Obama administration to overthrow the government of Libya.

[1] John Keegan, The Iraq War (2005), pp. 109, 115.

[2] Thomas E. Ricks, The Generals: American Military Command From World War II to Today (2012).  See also: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/08/10/command-crisis/