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/

Get Carter.

The Report of the Inspector-General of the Department of Justice on the beginnings of the Russia investigation makes fascinating reading.  There’s a lot of information in it, even only in the Executive Summary.  So, like the Mueller Report, it will take some time to digest.  However, little bits and pieces are worth a quick look.

How did the “Crossfire Hurricane” team select targets?  A “ consensus among the “Crossfire Hurricane” agents and analysts … identified individuals associated with the Trump campaign who had recently traveled to Russia or had other alleged ties to Russia.” (p. iv.)  These individuals were George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michel Flynn.

“[I]mmediately after opening the investigation [31 July 2019], the Crossfire Hurricane team submitted name trace requests to other U.S. government agencies and a foreign intelligence agency, and conducted law enforcement database and open source searches, to identify individuals associated with the Trump campaign in a position to have received the alleged offer of assistance from Russia.”  (p. iv.)

In August 2016, the other agency [apparently the CIA] had informed the FBI that Page was approved as an “operational contact” of the other agency from 2008 to 2013; that Page had provided information about his past contacts with a Russian Intelligence Officer, and that an employee of the other agency had judged that Page had “candidly described his contact with” the Russian intelligence officer.  (p. ix.)

In late September 2016 the OI Attorney had specifically asked the case agent whether Carter Page had a current or prior relationship with the other agency. In response to that inquiry, the case agent advised the OI Attorney that Page’s relationship was “dated” (claiming it was when Page lived in Moscow in 2004-2007) and “outside scope.” This representation, however, was contrary to information that the other agency had provided to the FBI in August 2016, which stated that Page was approved as an “operational contact” of the other agency from 2008 to 2013 (after Page had left Moscow). Moreover, rather than being “outside scope,” Page’s status with the other agency overlapped in time with some of the interactions between Page and known Russian intelligence officers that were relied upon in the FISA applications to establish probable cause. Indeed, Page had provided information to the other agency about his past contacts with a Russian Intelligence Officer (Intelligence Officer 1), which were among the historical connections to Russian intelligence officers that the FBI relied upon in the first FISA application (and subsequent renewal applications)…. Thus, the FBI relied upon Page’s contacts with Intelligence Officer 1, among others, to support of its probable cause statement in the FISA application, while failing to disclose to OI or the FISC that” Page was candidly reporting on thee contacts to the other agency.  (p. ix.)

Thus the October 2016 FISA warrant application “Omitted information the FBI had obtained from another U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Page, …” (p. viii.)

So, I don’t understand why Attorney General William Barr is so upset.  I can certainly see that the FBI and Department of Justice need to update their policies and procedure to prevent unintended errors like these from occurring again.

Just Typing Out Loud 9 December 2019.

First, the House of Representatives is going to impeach President Donald Trump.  The vote will be on a straight party line vote.  People shouldn’t make more of this than it deserves.  James Madison, in The Federalist, argued that the bad behavior of one group would be held in check by the bad behavior of the opposing group.  In short, this is how the Founders expected things to shake out.

Second, the Senate will try President Trump.

Third, they will acquit him him of all charges.  This will happen on a straight party line vote.  See above for an explanation.

There could be significant political fall-out from this trial.

On the one hand, the Republicans will have “gone loud” on Trump.  What if some new disaster of the president’s own making comes to light midstream?   What if the majority of American voters in November 2020 then decide  that they’ve had enough?  Not only will Trump be defeated, but so will Republicans in swing districts.

On the other hand, Democrats will have “gone loud” in impeachment when it was fated to lead to nothing.  Democrats and their media dog-whistlers will have made this the central issue in American politics during the Democratic primaries.   Whoever wins the nomination could be dragged down by this issue.  Or, perhaps, if enough Americans are persuaded by the trial testimony rather than by their established positions, then it will work against Trump and hos republican supporters.

On yet a third hand, former VP Joe Biden may be called to explain his “don’t ask, don’t tell” relationship with his son and his son’s choice of employment.

Hunter Biden may be called to explain his work on behalf of a  Ukrainian energy company when his business partner–Chris Heinz–wouldn’t go near it. “What has four wheels and flies”  A garbage truck.”–My Dad.

Ambassadors Marie Yovanovich and William Taylor may be asked–as they should have been if the House Republicans had any brains–if there was any discussion within the Embassy or between the Embassy and the State Department of Hunter Biden’s position with Burisma.  Were government officials concerned about his role and about any actions of the VPOTUS?

Then, what if Mitch McConnell decides to use the hearings to investigate the possible role of individual Ukrainians–rather than the Ukrainian government as a whole–in the 2016 election?  After all, Candidate Trump said many pro-Russian things during the campaign.  President Obama had denied “lethal” aid to Ukraine in the early stages of the Russo-Ukraine war.  Would a Trump victory lead to a cut-off of all aid?  (In the event, just the opposite happened, but there was no way for Ukrainians to know this before the fact.)  Might some of them have considered opposing Trump by transmitting secret information to the Americans?  Do politicians play be different rules in Ukraine than in the United States?

Then, the Republican are sure to cite the example of Iran-Contra: a president accused of crimes, but never subjected to impeachment.  Peggy Noonan already raised this question in today’s Wall Street Journal.   Sometimes a scandal is only a scandal, rather than grounds for impeachment.

Then, , a prolonged trial might “dirty up” Joe Biden, while trapping Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in Washington during important elements of the Democratic primary season.  For that matter, it might give free rein to Senator Kamala Harris’s cross-examination “skills.”  Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg will stand above the fray.

Where will we be when this ends?  I’m just trying to see this from the opposing points of view here.

Democrats may be further enraged.  First the Trump-Russia “collusion” (John Podesta’s term I think, rather than Donald Trump’s) goes into the ground.  Then the Biden-Ukraine corruption thing goes into the ground.

Republicans may be further enraged.  First, there was the Democratic and media “with-hunt” in anticipation of the findings of the Mueller Report.  Second, there was the impeachment-looking-for-a-cause movement that fastened on the imperfect telephone call.

Another election is looming.

“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”–Thomas Jefferson.

 

 

 

A Contrarian Spirit 20 November 2019.

Edward M. House (1858-1938), called by courtesy “Colonel House,” served as a diplomatic advisor and personal representative for President Woodrow Wilson.  He came to the fore during the First World War.  America began as a neutral, no different in name than Switzerland or Venezuela.  However. America’s economic and human resources made it a country of the first rank.  It could decide the outcome of the war.

Bypassing the State Department, House spent much of 1915 and 1916 in Europe.  He sought to broker a peace between the “Entente” powers (Britain, France, Tsarist Russia) and the “Central” powers (Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire).  When that effort failed, House came to believe that a victory for Britain (and its so-called allies), followed by a “moderate” peace, offered the best path forward from that awful war.

At war’s end and afterward, House played key roles.  He helped define the terms of the Armistice of 11 November 1918.  He played an important part in the creation of the League of Nations (antecedent to the United Nations).  He urged moderation on President Wilson in the campaign for Senate ratification of the Versailles Treaty. Wilson would hear none of it.  Eventually, the two men broke, ending a deep friendship of many years.

Harry Hopkins (1890-1946), after long service in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” domestic reform programs, served as Roosevelt’s personal diplomatic representative in the Second World War.  Hopkins never belonged to the Foreign Service or was an employees of the State Department.  Still, he was Roosevelt’s “man in Havana”—well, London and Moscow.

The United States had hoped to remain neutral in the Second World War.  If the Germans and the western Europeans wanted to kill each other over ancient quarrels, well, that was OK with the US.  Germany’s astonishing victories in Western Europe in 1940 quickly changed many minds.  On the one hand, the United States needed to launch a rapid build-up of it military power.  On the other hand, the United States had to keep Britain in the war against Germany.  A British surrender Roosevelt used Hopkins as a direct connection to British prime minister Winston Chamberlain and, more fitfully, to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.  Hopkins also played an important role in the allocation of Lend-Lease aid—lethal weapons and many other supplies—to countries opposing Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

So, American presidents sometimes use non-State Department people as their official emissaries to vital foreign powers.  People in the State Department often don’t like these “unofficial” back-channel lines of communication.  Tough luck.

However, all depends upon the president and the circumstances.  It is easy to believe that Wilson would have done better to listen to House.  It is possible to believe that Hopkins served merely as a mechanical arm to FDR, for good or ill.

It seems to me that former mayor Rudy Giuliani was an instrument of President Trump in an effort to smear a future domestic political opponent—Joe Biden–in the presidential campaign of 2020.  That seems to me an impeachable offense.

Yes, a Ukrainian oligarch hired Hunter Biden to keep the Ukrainian anti-corruption people at bay.  Yes, the Obama administration delayed providing any “lethal” aid to the Ukrainians for about four years, while the Trump administration delayed providing some “lethal” aid to Ukraine for about four weeks.  Yes, Kenneth Vogel’s articles in Politico and the New York Times, raise interesting questions about Ukrainian interference in the election of 2016.  All of these deserve to be investigated at length.  But Donald Trump should be impeached.

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